Sunday, September 30, 2007

African Orphans? The New Toys?

Text and photograph © 2007 by Julius Lester

I like Angelina Jolie. With her multicultural family she reminds me of the black American and expatriate entertainer, Josephine Baker, who eventually adopted twelve children from all over the world. However, quite unwittingly, it seems that Jolie has started a fad, and children from black Africa are becoming the new "in thing" for the well-to-do and celebrated.

Madonna adopted a black child from Africa. Now actress Mary-Louise Parker has adopted a black African child. Paris Hilton has announced she is going to Rwanda in November. "I want to visit more countries where poverty and children's issues are a big concern. I know there's a lot of good I can do just by getting involved and bringing attention to these issues."

This concern by white celebrities for the black children of Africa reminds me of the differing attitudes southern whites had of American blacks and Africans in my youth. I was 18 when the film “Boy on a Dolphin” starring Sophia Loren and Alan Ladd came out in 1957. I really wanted to see it, but in Nashville, Tennessee, and throughout the south, movie theaters were segregated. Blacks had to buy tickets at the window, then walk down the alley and enter a side door through which there were stairs to the balcony. I had never done that, and I wasn't about to start, not even to see the outlines of Sophia Loren's breasts in a wet shirt, which ads for the movie had focused on.

A friend of mine and I borrowed some robes from African students at the college we were attending. Wearing these robes and speaking in what we felt were African accents, we went to the movie theater, bought tickets at the window, walked in the front door and saw the movie. In the mind of white southerners of the time, blacks from Africa were acceptable; American blacks were not.

Why is it that poor black children from Africa are acceptable to white celebrities, but poor black children from America are not? There are thousands of black orphans in every major city across the country waiting for someone to adopt them. And if Paris Hilton is sincere about “bringing attention” to “poverty and children’s issues,” she does not have to leave Los Angeles.

Fifty years have passed since my friend and I were admitted to a segregated white movie theater because it was thought that we were Africans, not American blacks. It seems like African blacks are still more acceptable.


Mississipi, 1966

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Republicans Could Win the White House in 2008

Photograph and text © 2007 by Julius Lester

I tried to watch the “debate” Wednesday night between the Democratic candidates for President. It took barely ten minutes for boredom to set in. I tuned back in after watching a "Law and Order" rerun and boredom set in after five minutes.

How is it that the Democratic Party has learned nothing from the Gore and Kerry campaigns of 2000 and 2004? With the exception of Bill Clinton, Democratic candidates for president refuse to show passion. Because they don't, they come across as insincere, as people without principles or convictions. While Republican candidates for office at every level make clear what they believe, and they express those beliefs with passion.

Thus far, none of the leading Democratic candidates have garnered my trust. I am impressed with Hillary Clinton’s ambition but nothing more. Barak Obama is criticized for lack of experience. Given what a mess the people with experience have made of governing, his lack of experience is an asset. However, he leaves me wondering if anyone is home behind that handsome fa├žade. And John Edwards? He comes across as a well-manicured lawn. Any of the other candidates - Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, and Christopher Dodd - are more to my liking because they do have passion, but they do not command media attention, and media attention is the fuel of our presidential election system.

On the front page of my local paper tonight is a story that the Pentagon is asking Congress for $190 billion dollars to support the war in Iraq for another year. “If approved, Congress would have appropriated more than $760 billion for the two wars [Iraq and Afghanistan], having already approved of $450 billion for Iraq and $127 billion for Afghanistan.”

I read this and I am OUTRAGED!!! I am outraged that billions of dollars are readily available for war while scarcely any is available for universal health care, for the homeless, for the environment. I am OUTRAGED, but Clinton, Obama, and Edwards appear not to be. Why aren't they OUTRAGED at how our taxes are spent, at how much worse off this country and the world are after eight years of the Bush administration and his Republican enablers? I think a significant number of Americans are OUTRAGED, but need someone to express that rage for them and meld it with a vision of how things should be and can be. This was the political brilliance of all three Kennedy brothers.

As of now there is no Democratic presidential candidate remotely close to expressing our anger and, at the same time, giving us a vision to live by. But this is what the Republican candidate will do. I don't like where Republicans direct their anger, nor do I like their vision for America, but at least the Republicans profess belief in something and are passionate about those beliefs. Unless the Democratic Party candidate understands this, there will be another Republican president in the White House in 2008.

If the election were held today, I would write in the name of Al Gore. At least he is a Democrat who has found his passion and expresses it passionately.


San Francisco, 1966

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Writing A Blog

Photo and text © 2007 by Julius Lester

When I thought of starting a blog it was because there were thoughts and ideas
I wanted and felt a need to share with whomever would read them. That is still the case. What I did not want was for the blog to begin to feel like an obligation, or, God forbid, work. Because blogging is a form of publication, what I write here is given the same attention as I give to writing a book or an article for print. Thus writing for the blog takes me 1-2 hours or more, because I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

When time goes by and I have not posted anything for a while, it is either because 1) The blog is beginning to feel like work; 2)I have nothing to say; 3)I am busy writing, scanning negatives from the 60s and making prints; or 4) I don’t feel like talking.

But I have not abandoned the blog and wanted to let you know.


"Rose Sky Evening," the view from my front door.


Having just observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the following quote from Henrich Heine may seem to be against the spirit of the latter observance, in particular, but Heine's words also express a truth.

"Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before their death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must it is true forgive one's enemies---but not before they have been hanged."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Mindset List for Class of 2011

Photograph ©2007 by Julius Lester

During the thirty-two years I taught at the University of Massachusetts, one of the challenges was having a sense of what information students brought into the classroom and what they didn’t. What could I safely assume they knew and what would I need to explain?

Perhaps the most dramatic example I encountered was the day in class I alluded to “Adam and Eve”. A young woman raised her hand and asked, “Who are Adam and Eve?” That was the day I realized that I could no longer assume that my students knew anything at all, and that was not their fault.

During the past ten years of my academic career (I retired at the end of 2003) a useful tool was a list put out by Beloit College (Wisconsin) each fall describing the “mindset” of each year’s freshman class, “the cultural touchstones that have shaped the lives of today’s first-year students…the experiences and event horizons of students as they commence higher education.”

Here are edited excerpts from the Mindset List for the Class of 2911, most of whom were born in 1989:

1. What Berlin Wall?
2. They probably have never “rolled down” a car window.
3. They have grown up with bottled water.
4. Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
5. Pete Rose has never played baseball.
6. Rap music has always been mainstream.
7. Russia has never been Communist.
8. They were introduced to Jack Nicholson as “The Joker.”
9. Fox has always been a major network.
10. They drove their parents crazy with the Beavis and Butt-Head laugh.
11. A major in Women’s Studies has always been offered at universities and colleges.
12. They learned about Malcolm X from Spike Lee and JFK from Oliver Stone.
13. MTV has never featured music videos.
14. Jerry Springer has always been on television.
15. They get much more information from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from the newspaper.
16. The World Wide Web has existed since they were born.

For the complete list and lists from previous years, click on
Beloit College


San Francisco, 1966


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