Here’s another image from my What Do Brothas Do All Day ‘zine. The sun and the flower/star shapes in the background are versions of Ananse Ntontan, the spider’s web. This West African Adinkra symbolizes wisdom and the complicated nature of life.
Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, California.
If you can’t afford a fancy paint job or racing tires and chrome rims, then you can rely on your body language to give the car a little extra style. The way you and your friends sit in the car, the way you position your seat, and the configuration of limbs you drape outside of your window can say almost as much as if you were driving around on a set of Yokohama tires. I haven’t even mentioned that large, loud speakers can elevate the coolness level of even the oldest, dirtiest, rustiest hooptie. You don’t need a new or customized vehicle if your car stereo has some seriously window-rattling bass.
And now, a poetic homage to the hooptie:
My hooptie rollin’, tailpipe draggin’
Heat don’t work an’ my girl keeps naggin’
Six-nine Buick, deuce keeps rollin’
One hubcap cause three got stolen
Bumper shook loose, chrome keeps scrapin’
Mis-matched tires, and my white walls flakin’
Hit mickey-d’s, Maharaji starts to bug
He ate a quarter-pounder, threw the pickles on my rug
Runnin’, movin’ tabs expired
Girlies tryin’ to dis ‘n say my car looks tired
Hit my brakes, out slid skittles
Tinted back window with a bubble in the middle
Who’s car is it? Posse won’t say
We all play it off when you look our way
Rollin’ four deep, tires smoke up the block
Gotta roll this bucket, cause my Benz is in the shop
–Sir Mix-A-Alot in “My Hooptie”
Fruitvale BART Station, Oakland, California.
(The background for this drawing is a satellite image of the Fruitvale Station area in Oakland.)
Fruitvale BART Station, Oakland, California.
I don’t think anyone can overlook the irony that this and a few other recent drawings on this website depict Black men I recently encountered at Fruitvale Station. This, of course, is the very same location where, 4.5 years ago, Oscar Grant lost his life. At first, I thought I’d be troubled by this irony; but, in fact, the contrast between the living Black men I’ve portrayed in the same setting in which an unarmed Black man was shot by BART police gives me a peculiar kind of hope.
The tragic shooting of Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009 could have had a terrorizing effect on Bay Area Black men. It would have been completely understandable if, in the wake of this killing, Bay Area men of African descent had decided to avoid the BART system entirely; and yet they did not. Whether the assailant, Johannes Mehserle, intended to kill Grant or not, this and other so-called accidental shootings of Black men, when taken together, convey the troubling message that it is not the shooters, but Black men themselves who are mistaken — in believing that they have the right to equal protection under (and by) the law; in hoping that, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, they will be presumed innocent; and in behaving as though they have the right to freedom of movement (whether strolling through a gated community in Florida or riding on a Bay Area commuter train on New Year’s Day).
And yet, despite the dehumanizing messages conveyed through the actions and words of those who fear or distrust them, Black men persist in seeing the humanity in themselves and each other, they persist in living their lives as free and equal citizens, and they persist in traveling to the places they need to go, by bus, by ferry, even by train, and even through Fruitvale Station.
PS: The background image is the evening schedule of trains traveling to and from Fruitvale BART.
This is the face of a not-so-happy older guy who apparently agreed to accompany his wife on a trip to the craft store. I remain quite amused by the fact that craft stores are so very gendered. Like their male-associated counterpart, the hardware store, the products that craft stores sell are essentially gender neutral; and yet their clientele is anything but. And, to be perfectly honest, hardware stores are not the bastions of maleness and masculinity that they used to be. Take a trip to Home Depot or Ace some time. If you’re there on a weekday, you’ll probably notice that, while most of the contractors who shop at the hardware store are men, the amateurs–the shoppers who are preparing for a do-it-yourself home improvement project or repair–are pretty much all over the gender spectrum. The gender of craft store shoppers, on the other hand, seems to have changed very little since the mid-70s, when craft mega-stores like Michael’s first appeared. No matter where I go, from the Bible belt to the Bay Area, the craft stores are filled with women and girls; but men (and even masculine women) are conspicuously absent. One hypothesis is, of course, that femininity is less fragile than masculinity and, thus, women feel freer to cross gender lines into traditionally male activities like carpentry and plumbing than men feel about crossing into traditionally female activities like quilting and scrapbooking.
Whether or not this is the entirely true, I can say that the man in this drawing, seemed almost comically uncomfortable in his craft store surroundings. While his wife browsed rather leisurely through the Halloween-themed fabric squares, he stood frowning, with his hands awkwardly hanging at his sides, seemingly afraid to even touch anything in the store.
If the number of unemployed and underemployed men asking for food or money outside my local grocery is any measure of the economy, then times are pretty tough. There are more than twice as many people asking for money outside the store than there were even a year ago. And, despite the news of an impending recovery, the number of these men has increased dramatically in just the last two to three months.
As the number of homeless men seeking donations from shoppers has increased, the patience of the customers appears to be wearing thin. When asked for money, most people just keep walking. The number of people who react with anger or frustration, however, seems to be increasing. When approached by a gentleman asking to wash his car windows for spare change, the man in this drawing said nothing, but the curl in his lip made his annoyance quite clear.
The tension between the shoppers and the mostly homeless, mostly African American men who ask them for donations is almost inevitable. I certainly understand the need of Oakland’s most marginalized residents to be able to feed themselves, and when the social safety net has failed you, you really have little recourse but to ask for money from strangers. At the same time, I also understand the frustration of those who are confronted with requests for donations, but who may themselves be struggling financially. Shared financial woes can end up being more divisive than unifying, at least in this case.
Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, CA.
I passed this gentleman and his seriously beautiful dreadlocks on the sidewalk near Spectator Books on Piedmont Ave. I didn’t have a current photo of that street on my camera, and so I used for the background a stereoscope photo depicting turn-of-the-last-century Broadway in Oakland, instead.
From what I can see, African American men have adopted several different ways to deal with male pattern baldness. Some shave their heads entirely, a look that many a brother can rock with style and confidence. Other men keep the same hairstyle they wore before baldness set in, only without as much hair in the middle. (Think Roscoe Lee Brown.) One thing you won’t see on many Black men is the comb-over. This style is largely (and, some might say, fortunately) incompatible with tightly-curled hair and, as a result, most Black men just can’t wear a comb-over … but, at least some of those who can, do.
Trader Joe’s Grocery Store, Alameda, CA.