COVID-19 Journal: Day 82

It's a strange habit I've made, doing this. It's now almost midnight and I've watched telly and I'm tired and should probably go to sleep, but instead, I come in here, and write this. I had a little cry at the telly tonight - I've been watching Normal People on BBC about two people who love each other and one of the people was tipped into sadness by a friend's suicide and he sees a shrink and it all bursts out about how actually he's very unhappy and feels very isolated and there are tears and he misses her, but he doesn't say that. Except to her.

It was only a little cry. Probably mostly because he was crying. 

I had been cooking up a plan for today's journal, about swinging from specificity to impression and back again. Let's see... For work, I've been making a very specified thing understandable, and I think I'm getting there. You have to make things black and white, and use straightforward language and I find a diagram usually helps. Perhaps I'll add a link when the work is finished, although this journal isn't about work.

I'm still listening to Seeing White and today's episode (Season 2, Episode 12) was excellent. Its main subject is a Black photographer called Myra Greene, who made a series called My White Friends. Over the course of the work, Ms Greene was attempting to discover if she could distill the essence of whiteness into a photograph. 

By photographing friends, peers, and mentors, Greene visually ponders if photography can capture and describe the nuances of whiteness.  Do gesture and environment allude to a lived truth, a performance by the sitter, or stereotype implored by the photographer herself? These photographs offer descriptions instead of resolutions.  Readers charged with dissecting coded information, are confronted with their own notions of race.

One thing she mentioned in the podcast was that before she began this project, she'd been making self-portraits that made her react as if she looked like a slave, in Character Recognition

Am I nothing but black?

What happens when you're not in control of your own story? What happens when you're reduced to an impression? Who is the photographer?  

Today I also learned that Jim Crow is not a who, but a how to. State by state, between 1877 and the mid-60s, laws were written to define the "race caste system". There's a Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Michigan, just north of Grand Rapids. Here are some more actual Jim Crow laws (and there are more through the link above):
  • A black male could not offer his hand (to shake hands) with a white male because it implied being socially equal. Obviously, a black male could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a white woman, because he risked being accused of rape.
  • Blacks and whites were not supposed to eat together. If they did eat together, whites were to be served first, and some sort of partition was to be placed between them.
  • Under no circumstance was a black male to offer to light the cigarette of a white female -- that gesture implied intimacy.
  • Blacks were not allowed to show public affection toward one another in public, especially kissing, because it offended whites.
  • Jim Crow etiquette prescribed that blacks were introduced to whites, never whites to blacks. For example: "Mr. Peters (the white person), this is Charlie (the black person), that I spoke to you about."
  • Whites did not use courtesy titles of respect when referring to blacks, for example, Mr., Mrs., Miss., Sir, or Ma'am. Instead, blacks were called by their first names. Blacks had to use courtesy titles when referring to whites, and were not allowed to call them by their first names.
  • If a black person rode in a car driven by a white person, the black person sat in the back seat, or the back of a truck.
  • White motorists had the right-of-way at all intersections.

These laws are about power and occupying space and forcing silence. I've never read them before. Imagine living under them your whole life.

I noticed too that Oprah had gathered people together to ask Where do we go from here? this week. She's been talking about racism since the 80s, and I knew I wanted to watch what she'd arranged. You can find the video on Facebook. She assembled a panel to discuss the question: Stacey Abrams, Bishop William J. Barber II, Charles M Blow, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Ava DuVernay, Jennifer Eberhardt, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ibram X. Kendi, David Oyelowo, and Rashad Robinson. It is the first time I've seen a panel of eleven Black folks. It's the first time I've seen such a stellar panel of anyone.

Bad picture of the panel

The main things I noted were that police are at the bottom of the power chain; at the end of the leash. They're there to "protect property and control bodies". Charles Blow, who's an Op Ed writer at the New York Times explained that privilege is a seesaw: if you're up, someone else is down. And that yes, longer term answers to the question Where do we go from here? will have to be very specific and not impressionistic in the slightest, and will take us all a long time. 

The system we're in now is working as it was designed and is centuries old. I can hardly see it.