The race mess

I hate that young black men in America seem to be heading toward a place on the endangered species list. I hate that police officers who do their jobs honorably and well are reaping a harvest sowed by less competent colleagues too, but that’s another post for another time.

First there was the Trayvon Martin mess. Then there was the Michael Brown mess, which was quickly followed by the Eric Garner and Tamir Rice messes. And here, locally, there is the Dontre Hamilton mess.

Things are not great on the race front these days, and that is bad for everybody.

Besides channeling my rage about this into action, which I get to do on a daily basis because I am incredibly lucky, I would like to recommend two terrific books.

“Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History” by Joel Christian Gill is an amazing collection of graphic biographic tales of black historical figures.

Gill’s managed to infuse whimsy and gentle irony into the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who traveled via post – in a crate – from slavery to freedom. He keeps it straightforward in the rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Marshall “Major” Taylor, a bicycle racer known as “The Black Cyclone who was, by 1899, the fastest in the world. In “Two Letters,” Spottswood Brown stares into the face of evil for the sake of love. Gill’s illustrations, tender and savage, are perfectly calibrated to the power of Brown’s words.

The drawings are a remarkable combination of comic and fine art. Gill mixes it up, using lush, full-page drawings and varying the sizes of the frames to convey a sense of emotion that matches the story he’s telling.

The other is “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,” Written By Himself.

Except for telling you that he learned to read on the streets, away from his owners, I’m just going to tell you to read it if you haven’t already. The man was a lovely writer who knows how to tell a story.

We can’t change the past. But we can find stories that inspire us to make the future better, and use that inspiration to create newer stories. Stories that, hopefully, will have happier endings than those we’re living  through in Milwaukee, Ferguson, Cleveland and New York.

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