The tide turns again on Jim Crow…

I thought some of you might like to see this;

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I post this with no sense of triumph, despite my previously stated concerns over the last ten years.

Thanks to a recent intervention by the father of the late Stephen Lawrence, the national spotlight was once more on the rock and this time, local opinion was shaken and the tide began to turn. One night, someone covered the rock with a different kind of graffiti.

The rock is a mess, but some of us might still regard it as an improvement on what was there before. It might surprise you to know that I am not one of these, for this reason;

The rock has been decorated with blackface imagery for over one hundred years. There have been numerous attempts to complain about this, each time the complainant was repulsed by local opinion, by local ‘historians’. Political representatives (not the current ones I hasten to add!) have publicly defended the rock as not racist and called for previous (less colourful) defacers of the blackface images to be pursued as vandals. It has also been repainted several times, arguably with images even closer to the golliwog of youthful memory. Perhaps it might yet be repainted again, but for now, it has gone.

It would be the natural thing for those of us who live here to want to hide this history, and pretend it never happened, but no matter what happens to this rock, it’s history remains. Whether we chose to acknowledge our history, it still forms us.

Therefore, glad that I am that we have reached a moment when we are confronted with this history, there is a danger that we sanitise it rather than use it to inform. It is easier to try forget than to engage with what we were, particularly when that involves a measure of healthy shame.

So, I want to give my voice to a call to place an information board on the sea front. I invite others to join me in this call. I would even go as far as to suggest some content;

  • Say what we know about the rock, how long it was painted, how we have disagreed about the meaning
  • Talk about the prevalence of blackface images around the world, how it was spread by popular culture, through ‘entertainment’ that made a display of a harmful stereotype, even though most people did so with little awareness of the damage done.
  • Describe how the word ‘Jim Crow’ was used, and what laws it gave name to in the USA
  • Remind us of the legacy of slavery and its bastard cousin, ‘indentured labour’ in the wealth of this area. How slave ownership was greatest amongst Scottish people, home and abroad. How sugar, tobacco and cotton were directly traded into the Clyde, resulting in wealth and prosperity that gave birth to the holiday destination called Dunoon
  • Remember the race wars that happened in the town during the time the American base was in the Holy Loch
  • Finally, it must give space to people whose life was affected directly by these things. Contact the Jim Crow museum, or the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

 

Because although the tide might have turned, it is only a few hours until it turns again, and who knows what those waters might bring…

 

 

Where the streams come from…

water falling, pucks glen

Things change.

Just over a year ago, I stopped my day job. I had been given an amazing opportunity to develop a life that embraced creativity, to focus of writing and developing a business called seatree.

We had no idea whether we could make it work – we still have kids in university and no matter how much veg you grow, life ain’t free – but so far so very good.

I am still writing. I am involved in some fantastic projects. Amazingly, we are getting by; each month that we sell enough ceramics, driftwood and poetry feels like a new blessing. It is the new almost-normal.

Lest I become too self-congratulatory, I should remind myself that this is not really about me at all. Michaela works so very hard. Also, we are ever more appreciative of those who we travel with. The networks of trust we build are vital, because creative businesses are fragile, as are we.

It is less about paddling, more about allowing the water to carry us…

water wheel

So, it is with great excitement that I am able to say that seatree have been invited by the lovely Tighnabruach gallery to put on an exhibition. Yesterday we met with Ros and Neil from the gallery, sharing with them our half formed ideas and fully realised doubts and fears, because this will be out very first venture into putting on our very own exhibition.

It will be entitled Where the streams come from and will combine poetry and ceramics. It will run at TIG gallery from the 31st of March until the 22nd of April. (Which doesn’t give us long!)

Some of you may recognise the title from here. An old project that nagged at me.

waterfall processed

I wrote my first poem for the exhibition the other day. Here it is…

 

I am

I am bird, I am wind

I am scaled, I am skinned

I am soil, I am stone

I am flesh, I am bone

I am ebb, I am flow

I am stream, I am snow

I am all of these things

And I am nothing

 

I am love, I am light

I am morning, I am night

I am atom, I am star

I am close, I am far

I am start, I am end

I am stranger, I am friend

I am all of these things

And I am nothing

 

I am silence, I am song

I am right, I am wrong

I am sea, I am shore

I am less, I am more

I am young, I am old

I am iron, I am gold

I am all of these things

And I am nothing

Things to get you through the winter…

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So friends, another year arrives. May it be good to you.

Yesterday, before the gathering of friends for music and chat, Michaela and I had a couple of hours to ourselves. The house was tidy and goodness wafted in from the kitchen so we sat and listened to music. And we wept. Only those of you who are blessed/cursed by that certain vulnerability of the soul will understand how this was a good thing, a beautiful thing; sitting with the woman/man that you love and weeping together to songs that break you open.

As the year turns, I find myself reflecting on the direction of the things I write here. I am conscious of my attempts at ‘worthiness’- a desperate pull inside me towards justice making, in my limited way. But sometimes you just need something to get you through the winter.

So, this is where I am heading for a while. Looking for signs of grace in the unfolding not-quite darkness. Poems. Songs. Pictures. Pieces of art.

Friends, worry not. I have not become the unwilling body-host to an optimistic alien. It is unlikely that I will be reaching for anything from the Abba back catalogue. After all sometimes it is good to weep.

What gets me through the winter are those moments of beauty where we are taken beyond ourselves into something deeper. We are not removed from what we are, but we catch glimpses of our truer selves. We do not escape our circumstances, but see that they contain more than we thought possible.

So, come with me if you will. Your company will be welcome.

Here are some of the songs we listed to yesterday;

Jim Crow rock hits the news again…

Dunoon is in the news, for all the wrong reasons.

jim crow,

The story is now being picked up by national newspapers, but long term followers of this blog may remember a number of previous posts reflecting on the presence of this rock on our foreshore and the history it may or may not connect us to. Here are a few links if anyone fancies a retrospective review;

https://thisfragiletent.com/2009/11/02/jim-crow-laws-and-a-painted-rock/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2010/03/10/jim-crow-and-the-coon-songs/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2010/07/10/the-battle-against-racism-returns-to-dunoons-foreshore/

This on the importance of sugar to our area;

https://thisfragiletent.com/2014/11/27/absent-voices/

Then there was a debate I had via the letters column of our local paper;

https://thisfragiletent.com/2010/07/16/4027/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2013/12/07/dear-dunoon-observer/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2013/12/24/whats-in-a-name-jim-crow-rock-again/

https://thisfragiletent.com/2014/01/18/jim-crow-another-letter/

 

Despite the fact that the rock was repainted as recently as last week, I continue to hope that eventually, we in Dunoon would start to engage with the murky history of this rock in a more thoughtful and engaged way. Certainly, thanks to the spotlight focused on Jim Crow by Dr Lawrence, we have a new opportunity to do so and for that, I am grateful.

Despite the persistence of (some) local opinion that Jim Crow is just a ‘bit of local colour’, with no racist connection whatsoever, the wider scale counter reaction is growing. I understand that it features as part of the teaching material for understanding racism in Scotland at Stirling University.

There are powerful voices at present who rail against an evil called ‘political correctness’. The rhetoric they preach means that all sorts of attempt to challenge injustice can be set aside with a scornful ‘that is just political correctness gone mad.” Dr Lawrence might tell you a different story about what happens when casual prejudice is allowed to fester in the shadows. This is why people like Trump are so dangerous- they legitimise injustice and inequality. They claim to be the voice of reason, the voice of ‘the people’ even, whilst in fact defending elitism and prejudice. To hell with that, and to hell with them.

I think that ideas matter- even if the ideas are not fully understood; even if they are buried beneath two centuries of history. This is all the more important when the ideas make victims out of people who are singled out as some how different and ‘less than’ you and me.

jim crow prejudice

One final thing- when I started out writing about this bloody rock, I wanted to get rid of it, but I have changed my mind and here is why; If we get rid of it, we potentially get rid of an object that allows learning and reflection.

Let us make a spectacle of the rock. Lets put a board there explaining what we know of the history.

Let us make another piece of art next to it that tells the story of oppression as well as the story of prejudice.

 

Simple, lovely things…

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Well, what a lovely Christmas. I wanted to write some grateful words, by way of simple thanks for what I have been given.

Of course, it is family, close by and at distance that we always think of at Christmas.

There was a bitter-sweet arrival at our house just before Christmas, in that we became custodians of a beautiful piano that belonged to a friend who is no longer with us. She left the instrument to a local church, who have no need of it yet, so it will live here until it is called in to communal action. This has meant that I have fallen in love with playing again, particularly with my own family. To the family who have lost, we offer our song.

I could mention other lovely things received, but instead, because I am so proud of her, here are some pictures of the present from Michaela, who made me a piece of art to celebrate my visit to St Kilda last year. It is stunning.

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TFT Christmas card, 2017…

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Feast

 

Let Christmas day be fat and full

All bloated up by blessing.

Let joy belch out.

Let love be thine and stain like wine on

this old carpet.

Let tables groan under the weight of the elbows

Of many generations.

Let every plate be piled up high

Around raucous conversation.

May chocolate sauce thicken blood

To make our hearts beat

slowly.

Gorge your soul with goodness, friends

Then may slumber hold you

Kindly.

 

 

 

 

 

Two against the world…

Advent, day twenty two.

When I try to write dialogue, words are mostly shaped by two things; the character of the participants and the context they find themselves in. Applied to the Christmas story, we only have the merest hints of the characters of Mary and Joseph, but what a context. Two frightened people, sheltering in a stable, she close to term and about the give birth to a baby. Forget the portents and the back story Forget the angels and the prophecies and what we are left with is a man and the woman he loves, holding on to each other.

Dear friends, not everyone is blessed with companionship, certainly not for life. But we can all recognise the beauty in the story of two people, holding each other close and pushing the frightening world away.

Sometimes the story looks right back at us.

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The stable, BC

 

Hold me close, my gentle love

The night is cold and hollow

Make me a cave

Within your arms

And deep within I’ll

Burrow

 

See that floor all trodden down?

Let it be our carpet

Make me finest silk

Like buttermilk

From this feed-sack

Blanket

 

Let’s whisper dreams of things to come

When we are done with caring

When what we have

Will be enough

With a little spare for

Sharing

 

The light from stars is far away

It takes a long time falling

So just for now

It is enough

To hear your gentle

Snoring