February Is Black History Month

A primitive-style painting by W.H. Johnson of WWII soldiers, Training for War
A 20th century painting by W.H. Johnson of WWII soldiers, Training for War. William Henry Johnson was an African-American painter, who studied modernism in NYC and Paris, where he developed his popular primitive style.

Monthly Themes

Nowadays, it seems that every month of the year has at least several attached themes that are designed to inspire the enlightened person to take at least a small glimpse outside the world, which surrounds them. February is no exception, for this winter month has several themes associated with it. February is Children’s Dental Health Month, Cholangiocarcinoma Awareness Month, Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, Senior Independence Month, National Bird-feeding Month and last but not least is National Condom Month. Nonetheless, by far the most widely known theme for this, the shortest month of the year is Black History Month.

The Slave Ship was done by the English painter, JWM Turner, in 1840 during the heyday of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Based on the real life event, whereabouts an English sea captain through over a hundred slaves overboard on a trans-Atlantic voyage  to the New World, this piece of art helped raise awareness to the horrors of the booming business of importing African slaves to the Americas.
The Slave Ship was done by the English painter, JWM Turner, in 1840 during the heyday of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Based on the real life event, whereabouts an English sea captain through over a hundred slaves overboard on a trans-Atlantic voyage to the New World, this piece of art helped raise awareness to the horrors of the booming business of importing African slaves to the Americas.

Black History

No matter how you look at it, Black History is inevitably linked to slavery. Even though African slaves had been brought to Europe and other places before Columbus,
the transatlantic travels of the great explorer opened the door for the slave trade. Beginning in 1502, Portuguese
and Spanish ships routinely carried slaves from Africa to the New World. Even though black slavery in America
ended in 1863, the aftereffects and legacy of this human condition still carries on into the present. And this is the essence of American black history.

Barrack Obama was the first black president elected to the White House. He took the oath of office in 2009 and will leave the White House in January 2017.
Barrack Obama was the first black president elected to the White House. He took the oath of office in 2009 and will leave the White House in January 2017.

Beyond Slavery

There is a lot more to Black History than just slavery, especially if you consider that the Emancipation Act was passed just over a 150 years ago.
Since then, the essence of Black History has been about urban migration, de-segregation of the schools, voting rights, equal pay and fair housing.
Also of importance, has been the individual accomplishments of various individuals from the black community. This includes not only politicians,
like our current president, but also, a long list of athletes, actors, musicians, visual artists and authors.

Writing A Story About Black History

Anybody can write a story about Black History. Mark Twain explored new ground with his colorful 19th century
story of Huck Finn and Jim (a runaway slave) and their journey down the mighty Mississippi. Their journey did not end in freedom for Jim, but the struggles
of the two vagabonds has captured the hearts and minds of many readers, ever since the novel was first published in 1884. Since then many literary works,
songs and films have dealt with the sensitive subject of race relations in America. A list of other such classics, viewed from a white viewpoint might include
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Go Down Moses by William Faulkner and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
In fact, February might be a good month to read one of these classics, but don’t stop here for there are many books that have been published
over the years that deal with this important subject.

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Five Disturbing Trends From 2012 That I Hope Are Not Continued In 2013

640px-Otley_Cemetery
A municipal graveyard near Otley, Yorkshire, Great Britain, from Wikipedia, photo by TJ Blackwell

The Mass Killings

Two mass killings in the U.S. during the second half of 2012 have saddened and shocked the entire nation. The last one in Connecticut was particularly disturbing because of the large number of school children that died and since its occurrence happened so close to the Christmas holidays. I hope that finally universal awareness that over 10,000 handgun deaths a year is way too high for such a technologically advanced country as the United States. However, bringing the number of deaths down in the future, may be not be so simple. The silver lining in this ominous cloud is that the goal has been clearly defined.

journey-h-kopp-delaney
Journey; photo by H. Koppdelaney

Awareness Of Global Warming

The situation with global warming is twice as complicated as the first issue. Awareness of the extent that global warming affects our lives is much more varied. Take for example the current cold snap that has gripped Southern California and the Southwest. Even though weather scientists attribute the root cause of this weather phenomena to unseasonably warm winter temperatures over Greenland, there will be many that see the cold weather outbreak as proof that global warming is a hoax. Please note that unseasonably warm temperatures have also found their way into Alaska.  And then, there still remains the common scenario that even if global warming was more readily acknowledged, the solution to the problem may still prove to be very elusive.

ravens
photo by H. Koppdelaney

Fifty Shades of Anything

English author E.L. James (Erika Leonard in real life) got this ball rolling with Fifty Shades of Grey. The popular piece of erotic fiction quickly sold millions of copies and soon thereafter morphed into the Fifty Shades Trilogy, which now includes two new volumes, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. So far the bundle, which is somewhat derivative of Stephanie Meyer’s characters in the Twilight series. So far, Miss James has sold over 65 million copies worldwide, making her one of the most popular modern authors.

Stylistically, Fifty Shades of Grey has fallen under the slang of “mommy porn”, due to the age and gender of a majority of its readers. The trilogy definitely falls under the catch-all category of erotica, but more specifically is labelled as BDSM or dominance/submission erotic fiction. Critical reception has varied widely, as many authors have joined the bandwagon and put out their own version of Fifty Shades. These titles range from 50 Shades of Alice In Wonderland to 50 Shades of Obama (or Romney)…..your choice.

Self Published Erotic Authors

Sites like Smashwords are filled with the works of amateur erotica authors, who now due to the ease of self-publishing an e-book, are putting out one title after another. Presumably following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Anais Nin, Erica Jong, Anne Rice (alias A.N. Roquelaure), Henry Miller, Mark Twain, Marquis de Sade and Susie Bright, these budding authors will all probably be millionaires by year’s end.

lifeofpi
Movie still from The Life of Pi

Loss of Biodiversity

The biological diversity of our planet has been decreasing, as of late. This sad fact has been well documented by many scientific organizations and more often than not the root cause is closely related to man’s economic activities on the planet. Some good news is out there, in that conservation efforts are still quite numerous and their practitioners are often very optimistic and dedicated towards this issue.

Life On the Mississippi; Mark Twain Without Huck Finn

Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis photo by David Hinkson from Wikipedia
Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis photo by David Hinkson from Wikipedia

Since I last posted about the New South publication of Huckleberry Finn without the N-word, I have done a lot of thinking about the influence this book has generated. Maybe some historical context might help illuminate the situation.

Before Mark Twain became a successful novelists he was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi and then a rounder and newspaper reporter in the western territories.  From these experiences he put together a humorous account  of riveting of life in 19th century America. Such books as “Life On the Mississippi”, “Roughing It” and “Tom Sawyer” helped make Mark Twain a household word in mid-century US. His ability to capture the dialogue, conflicts and attitudes of the times, especially since the American man of letters never attended college, is quite remarkable. Perhaps, it was his early experience working in his father’s print shop that gave the young Sam Clemens his love of words, but no matter how you look at it Twain was the least likely candidate to become one of the nations leading writers.

Regardless of how good his “slice of life” and travel writing was, Mark Twain would have had a different impact on American readers without a view of life from the son of a river rat, named Huck. Twain’s classic does several things throughout the course of Huck’s journey down the Mississippi. Most importantly he humanizes the struggle of Huck to deal with slavery. Even though this book was written after the civil War had ended, it clearly deals with the aftermath of issues that resulted from the centuries, when slavery was legal.

 

The Mississippi River near New Orleans, from Wikipedia
The Mississippi River near New Orleans, from Wikipedia

60 Minutes and the N-word

Book Cover for first edition of Huckleberry Finn
Book Cover for first edition of Huckleberry Finn

I have a confession to make. I am not very comfortable using the N-word. I have heard the word all my life, used in all types of situation that vary from a Richard Pryor stand-up routine to the other end of spectrum, where the six-letter noun is used to put somebody down. And yes the word (at least in my experience) can be applied to anybody, though the most common usage might still occur, when it is directed towards black people from other races. Now that I have gotten this matter off my typing fingers, I can address the issue that 60 minutes raised. And that is the publication of a new version of Mark Twain’s classic, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, where the word, “nigger” has been changed to slave throughout the text.

The publisher for the “new” edition is called New South and the  book is now available and selling well. New South is a book publisher located in Montgomery, Alabama and the reason for changing the offensive language was to make the book for available for classroom usage, especially in pre-college situations. I do not have a problem with this alternative version, as long as readers are aware that the language has been changed. However, if this new edition were to become the norm, and the original version were to become the exception, more would be lost than gained. 60 Minutes did a nice job of airing the debate including interviews with proponents, opponents and high school English teachers, who teach the book in their American literature classes.