The artwork was the familiar, contained on a business card – a little more than three inches by two inches – embed with a blended image of the great ape and people of color – my color, the Negroid race – making an explicit point. At the bottom of the picture, sometimes on the back, was the contact information for the Ku Klux Klan. The card was never handed out personally to me, meaning someone saying, “Here is my card, if you’re interested.” No, no, that wasn’t the point. Theirs wasn’t an invitation to join. Placed in the door jam, on the counter, slipped inside a book, near enough, close enough, so there wasn’t any misunderstanding who the intended recipient, our place on God’s green earth.
The act(s) was actually behavior more complex than the issuance of a simple business card. Behavior embed in the culture.
Language, art, the written word – benign and covert acts – powerful symbols capable of converting fruit to an obscene level, degrading, “Animal like creatures they are.” Watermelons, bananas – causing some who looked like me – including me – to refuse to eat those fruits in public. Theirs was a participatory sport, and they all participated, historians, social, physical, medical scientists – all participants – continually supported and provided cover for the differences in the species. In actuality they were enforcing a system of enforced inferiority, protecting a caste system at the same time. This is where Roseanne Barr’s tweet was directed. Her act was no different.
It confuses me when we as a society pretend to not understand the outrage and why a publicly traded corporation (Walt Disney Company) in this century refuses to participate in Roseanne’s revisionist tweet and why it – the corporation – decided not to allow her to continue to represent their corporate interest.
She apologized? She didn’t apologize? She took it back? She didn’t? It matters not, ABC/Disney properly said no – not this century, not this time was an appropriate response. If you have spent generations believing, I guess ABC’s actions are mind-boggling. If you find nothing wrong with the “joke”, this is why I muse.
I have told the below story before. I will repeat it. It is apropos, even though the events took place over twenty five years ago.
I was visiting the client’s business at the time. I don’t remember the exact year. I don’t remember the particular season. I do remember the weather was seasonably hot and humid, accompanying us as we stood in the parking lot talking about the client’s new problem.
A Mississippi boy, thirty years my senior, who grew up at a time our attorney-client relationship – in all probability – would not have existed, would have not been permitted. At the time I had represented the client’s personal and business interests for five years. We had been successful in acquitting him against multiple criminal indictments and had at least three courts dismiss as many as fifteen different criminal cases filed against him and the businesses.
During our conversation, he – the client – looked my way, and frowned. His wasn’t a sun frown. He didn’t seem to have gas. It seemed something else was bothering him.
“Mr. Griffin, how much money do I pay you a year?”
I shrugged a simple shrug, both shoulders moving up, hands extending outward, not knowing why he asked; not knowing the exact amount, knowing a range instead.
“I don’t know Doyle, $50 – $60,000.00 a year for the last five years, on average.”
Doyle frowned again. He moved his head in the other direction, away from me, avoiding eye contact. Doyle’s frown and movement seemed familiar.
The frown was not the frown seen when someone bites too fast, too deep into a lemon. No different, his was a historical frown. The same frowns etched across faces on those Fort Worth’s buses, when we – as children – entered and sat anywhere we wanted, besides them – white women, white men – part of the dismantling of segregation. The difference on the day I stood with Doyle, in Texas’ relentless heat, was time had continued to changed.
I never questioned those I sat near on the bus. Absolutely, I was insulted – and hurt – when their frowns were coupled with their moving both face and nose, like we stunk. I brought the event to momma. She explained racism nicely, and explained to “play them no mind.” I never questioned those sitting in the bus. I did question Doyle, about what my eyes saw, what my memory said.
“Doyle, can I interpret your frown?”
Doyle being Doyle, answered, with Mississippi accent still intact, “Sure Mr. Griffin, be my guest.”
So I did. I took a swing. Smooth as Bobby Bond’s swing – bat back, arms straight, stepping forward and through – swinging pure and sweet.
“You thought you would never see a day, growing up in Mississippi, where you would ever pay a Black man that kind of money…that was the frown I saw Doyle.”
And not to my surprise, Doyle answered, “You’re right Mr. Griffin, except I didn’t think the words, ‘black man.’ I thought another word. I thought only one word instead.”
I didn’t laugh. Doyle didn’t laugh. We didn’t need to. Ours was the act of sharing a bit of honesty and history. I said what I saw. He confirmed what I saw, correcting me for using two words instead of one. He knew he couldn’t use the word anymore and wasn’t about to do so. We wished each other well. He went back to work. I did too. When I was driving off, I understood things were a changing, something folks like Roseanne and her ilk refuse to accept, forever wanting to return to those years of psychological comfort and imposed superiority.