On the A Train, New York, New York.
Duane Reade drugstore, near the Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn, NY.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently in Brooklyn; and it was wonderful to be surrounded by some many different kinds of Black people. I also mentioned that I grew up on Long Island (Nassau County) in the 1970s. During that time, the Black community was growing in diversity, and in my school and in my neighborhood I encountered people of African descent from Aruba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti, as well as from the American South (like me).
Even then, Blackness came in a lot of different languages and accents, and the African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Afro-Latino kids debated between and among themselves about how being Spanish speaking or coming from an island outside of the U.S. impacted one’s relationship to Blackness. For example, one question that came up over and over was about whether or not Puerto Rican and Cuban kids of African descent were Black like “us” (African Americans) or Latino like “them” (Puerto Rican and Cuban folks whose skin was light or white and whose hair spoke more of indigenous and European ancestry than of a connection to the so-called Dark Continent).
As a child, I was both confused and offended by these arguments. When immigrants of African descent argued to those of us with roots in the American South that they were (for example) Caribbean, but not Black, it felt like rejection. Today, though, I appreciate that such statements were more about maintaining a sense of nation and culture in the face of the virtual tidal wave of African American history and culture that faced (and faces) all Black immigrants to the U.S., and less about denying the triple legacy of Africa, Middle Passage, and slavery that all of us share.
Sunday morning at the Buttercup Grill & Bar in Oakland, CA.
It’s been a whirlwind of a spring semester for me in my other (but related) life as a professor of African American literature, and I’m really glad to be able to return to posting portraits of Bay Area Black men.
Even when I’m not posting, I’m still drawing; and I’m literally backlogged by about 126 drawings. Even during those periods when I don’t have time to sit down at my computer and upload my art, I am still sketching the men I encounter in my daily travels. The 1001 Black men project is still active, even during those weeks when I’m not regularly updating my website. In the last few days, I’ve had time to add color to my drawings, and I now I submit them, humbly, for your inspection and enjoyment.
During the month of May, I’ll be posting daily (with a couple of possible exceptions). By the end of the first week of June, I hope to have posted all of my backlogged drawings, and then some. My goal is to have all of this work done in time for the opening of my upcoming show at Oakland’s Solespace, on Friday, June 5.
Check back here for more art and more details about my show. Hope to see you there!
I’ve got less that 200 drawings left, and my goal is to have completed this series by the beginning of June. Every 100 drawings, I’ve tried to take stock of which kinds of Black men and Black men’s experiences I’ve depicted in my drawings and which kinds of brothas I’ve overlooked.
At this point, I know that I still have some work to do in terms of the inclusion of homeless men, gender non-forming men, and the young brothas in the baggy pants and big shirts. It has also occurred to me that one of the places I enjoy seeing Black men most is in their cars. Whether young or old, alone or with friends, in a late-model lexus or a vintage conversion van, brothas in their cars are the embodiment of independence–the fundamental refusal to be told where to go, how to be, and when to be it. To me, they look like freedom
I love how a man like the one is this drawing–an elder who doesn’t drive with as much speed and control as he used to–is nonetheless holding space, driving slower in the passing lane than is really acceptable, but either oblivious to or uninterested in other peoples’ honking, gestures, and tailgating. Even if he doesn’t own a home, and even if he’s never been anybody’s boss, his car is his domain, and he’s going to drive it however he wants.
Sports Chalet, Pleasanton, California.
Just got back from a wonderful vacation. I was in Kauai with my fabulous partner and several good friends. We had great food, saw great sights, and laughed a whole lot. I also did a lot of drawings; but I didn’t post any new images while I was away.
Frankly, I needed the rest. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live in a society in which the fear of Black men is endemic. What does it mean that the same people I associate with kinship and love, friendship and beauty are experienced as threatening and monstrous by so many others?
It’s overwhelming and enraging and heartbreaking, all at the same time; and yet even those words fall short of the complexity of how I and so many other people of African descent are feeling during this period of protest and mourning. So, I’m turning to the wise words of others. Over the next several posts, I hope the pairing of other people’s words with my own images will convey more than either could on their own.
The corner of Jack London Alley and South Park Street.
I’m not one to believe in conspiracy theories or hidden organizations that shape the trajectory of all of our futures. Recently, though, as I’ve gone about my errands on both sides of the Bay, I have noticed what, if I was given to such thoughts, would look an awful lot like a secret network of sentries. They stand on street corners in all kinds of neighborhoods and business districts and keep silent watch over the areas in which they live, neither intervening nor abandoning the rapidly changing communities around them.
It seems that everywhere I’ve gone during the last couple months, there is an older Black man standing on a corner somewhere, not hanging out with friends or waiting to cross the street or even talking to himself. Instead, he’s just staring at the people and the cars who pass by, his expression inscrutable.
They wear full beards and close-cropped haircuts, polo shirts and jeans. Their snow white hair suggests a lifetime of wisdom; their quiet stare suggests neither enthusiasm nor judgment, but simply acceptance.
I met this friendly guy at the checkout counter at the grocery store. He was with a co-worker, and they were buying a few hot bar items to eat during their dinner break. It was late afternoon, and they were on their way to work a late shift at the Southwest Airlines terminal of the Oakland International Airport. It was Memorial Day weekend, a holiday weekend for the company, but they’d been called in because they’d put themselves on the list of employees who were willing to work holidays in exchange for double pay. The man in this drawing explained that he was also willing to work on Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
He was friendly and eager to talk about his workplace options and the decisions he’d made. Something about his enthusiasm, his friendly smile, and his willingness to chat with a total stranger made an unforgettable subject for my latest sketchbook post.