Peet’s Coffee, Market St. near Castro, San Francisco, California.
There / are / Black men in the south
Of America who / are soooooooo pretty
That their beauty
Sucks in fat gulps the breath from your mouth.
–From “On Seeing the Black Male As #1 Sex Object in America” by Etheridge Knight
This is a drawing from a recent afternoon of sketching at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in the Castro. What this drawing does not capture is the subject’s incredibly muscular body. I didn’t post this with the other drawings from this session, but I thought that this week would be a good time to post as many drawings of vivacious, beautiful, powerful Black men as I can. Just think of it as my way of reminding all of us that those who fear and kill Black people are not, in fact, defeating us.* Every Black man who is striving, thriving, or surviving enacts the daily defeat of those individuals and institutions that would see men of African descent reduced to subservience or eliminated entirely.
*By “us” I mean Black people and everyone who loves, befriends, creates family with, or makes community with Black people.
Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Market Street near Castro, San Francisco, CA.
Peet’s Coffee, Market St. near Castro, San Francisco, CA. I loved that this guy was wearing an autumn-style sweater vest and blazer ensemble in late Spring.
PS: Every time I see someone with a gap in his (or her or their) teeth I think of the Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales. In The General Prologue to the Tales, poet Geoffrey Chaucer describes her as “gat-tothed.” I might be the only in Black person in America who can look at a 21st-century Black man and be reminded of a 14th-century white woman.
Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Market St. near Castro, San Francisco, CA.
This guy’s smile was so open and welcoming that just looking at him made me feel like we must have been friends at some time. His was one of those smiles that required his entire face, including his eyes. In fact, I think it was his eyes that made him seem so accessible. Although, it only took me a moment to realize that I did not actually know this gentleman, it’s really quite amazing how little it takes to feel at ease with a perfect stranger. It’s even more interesting to consider how feeling a certain level of comfort with someone makes them feel like a friend, even when they’re not.
A curious thing has happened since I first set out to draw 1001 Black Men. Somehow, I have managed to find Black people in all kinds of spaces in which I’ve been told there are no Black people. One such place is Alameda, CA. Literally a stone’s throw from Oakland, Alameda has a reputation not only for having very few Black residents, but also for being generally hostile to the presence of Black people. I cannot speak to the latter, but I can say that the African American minority is increasingly present. Over the years since I’ve been visiting Alameda–to see movies, have dinner, shop, and visit friends and family–the African American population has visibly increased, especially in the downtown shopping district.
All of this brings me to today’s drawing, because it is set in another area in which I have been told there are no African Americans, but in which I see Black people all the time. The Castro’s reputation for being hostile to the presence and participation of African American men is in many ways well-earned. But as is the case in every environment in which Black people have been shunned, excluded, or isolated, Castro’s Black patrons, residents, and visitors have pressed on, undaunted by the racism that they have encountered. The result is that there seem to be many more Black folks in the Castro than in past decades (based on what I have gleaned from older photos of that community). This brother, whose mustache seems straight out of a bygone era, was one of a number of Black men who entered or walked past the Castro area Peet’s during the two hours that I was drawing there. So were the next few men in this series.
If you want to see Bay Area male grooming at its best, go to the Castro district in San Francisco. I think it’s fair to say that there are a lot of Black men on both sides of the Bay with incredibly stylish facial hair. Still, the brothers in the Castro take that attention to detail and raise the bar a few notches.
This brother’s facial hair captures a certain rugged haphazardness, but in a studied and deliberate way. His knit cap created the effect of bookish Black Paul Bunyan.
One of my favorite places to draw and to write is the Peet’s Coffee and Tea on Market near Castro. I like the window seats because I can watch the people and cars and Muni as they make their way up and down this stretch of the street. This happy looking guy entered and exited the coffee shop several times as he greeting one and then another and another of his friends who passed outside. I loved his smile, his gregariousness, and his unique little hat.