Thursday, April 13, 2006

2005's honor (Marian Anderson) v. 2006's shame



The stamps above are of Marian Anderson who lived from 1897 to 1993. Ms. Anderson was a singer who fought racism and was internationally known. I'll assume we all know her and say thank you to Rebecca for posting the stamps and move on to my point.

Each year, the United States Postal Service puts out many stamps. Due to Black History, they usually do a "Black Heritage" stamp. In 2005, it was Marian Anderson. This year it's Hattie McDaniels. I wasn't aware of that. It's one of the many things I learned over the week. (I think Mike's going to write about that Friday night so I'll just say I think everybody had a great time and know I did.)

Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar (or attend the ceremony as something other than a servant apparently). So I guess the thinking was, "Them Blacks will just love this stamp!"

Here's the thing. We don't all love the stamp. McDaniel's is a part of history and her story is of interest but that doesn't mean she qualifies for the honor of a stamp. McDaniels played mammys and maids and did so gladly. They were stereotypes. Before someone says, "Oh that's in looking back! In looking back, everything can seem outdated!" No, in real time, McDaniels was criticized for her choices by the NAACP.

McDaniels is a complicated figure and certainly worthy of discussion. She is not, however, worthy of the one stamp we can count on each year -- the one where we can see one of our own applauded for accomplishments.

I'd like to know who decided Hattie McDaniels was the person to pay tribute to this year? My guess? Some White person.

Probably a Gone With The Wind freak who thinks "those people must love that movie because McDaniels won an Oscar for it!" Yeah, that's what we like to do, sit around watching movies about the Civil War where all the characters of color are just happy to be serving Miss Scarlett and bound in slavery. That's our idea of a feel-good movie.

No, "those people" don't all swoon over the love affair between master Scarlett and her Confederate lover Rhett. We don't get all excited in the rooting that things will work out for them (slavery will prevail?) and then feel sad that the plantation system has crumbled.

I'm thinking only under the Bully Boy could the post office make such a ridiculous choice, such an insulting choice.

McDaniel's life is a complicated one and it is certainly worthy of discussion and debate. It is not, however, worth being noted in the Black Heritage series over the very real accomplishments of African-Americans, past and present, who have worked to dispell stereotypes and to advance the cause of civil rights. In the end, the best that may be said of her is that she achieved when others couldn't. Saying that requires examining how she managed that feat and there's not a great deal of pride in that story.

Will 2007 find us honoring Amos & Andy?

I'm posting because I should be the first one who landed. Mike thinks he's going to post tonight but he's getting home late (Wally's getting home the latest, I think). Rebecca's got three entries today so check her out and note that when the rest of us were unable to post she carried her weight and then some. Thank you to Rebecca.

I'll note one thing from Democracy Now! today and call it a night:

Rev. William Sloane Coffin, 81, Dies
And the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. has died at the age of 81. For the past half century he has been a leading anti-war and civil rights advocated. During the 1960s as chaplain of Yale University he was a leading critic of the Vietnam War and strongly advocated the use of civil disobedience to protest the war. In one of the most celebrated trials of the 1960s he faced charges along with Dr. Benjamin Spock and others of conspiracy to encourage draft evasion. He was also an early supporter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and took part in some of the first Freedom Rides. Courage, he preached over the years, was the first virtue, because ''it makes all other virtues possible.'' In the 1970s he went on to become a senior minister at the Riverside Church in New York. And in the 1980s he played an instrumental role in the anti-nuclear movement.

If you missed the program today, read C.I.'s "Democracy Now!: The Death of The Village Voice?" and you'll know why you need to catch it. Now.

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