That’s my mantra, generally. I also keep this quote by e.e. cummings on my wall:
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight and never stop fighting.
Sometimes the battle isn’t just against conformity, it’s against pressure to serve as someone else’s mascot—Neesha pointed me to this article in The Nation about Obama’s decision to check “Black” on his census form. It’s an obvious choice to me, but I guess some folks were confused and others wished he had checked multiple boxes to represent his white parentage. But as Melissa Lacewell-Harris rightly points out, “He did not deny his white parentage, but he acknowledged that in America, for those who also have African heritage, having a white parent has never meant becoming white.” I don’t know why that’s so hard for some folks to understand.
Yesterday Kate and I went to the Brooklyn Museum—I wanted her to see Mickalene Thomas’ magnificent portrait of a reclining nude, A Little Taste Outside of Love. We also saw art by Kehinde Wiley (above), Kiki Smith, Judy Chicago, Kara Walker…but it was the art of black women that we talked about the most…and we’d just come from Greg Christie‘s studio, where Kate bought a book and a print of Sojourner Truth (another great print is below). Kate collects art, and she told me in advance that she was hoping to buy some original art during her short visit from Nova Scotia. We’re “quirky black girls” but it took us a long time to be okay with that…and I love that here in Brooklyn there are so many other black folks who aren’t afraid to be different, to express their ideas and present their own particular vision of what beauty is. Having company always makes me realize how lucky I am to live in NYC. Today we’re going to see Ailey, and before the show we’ll pick up some more black books for Kate’s girls, we’ll shop a little, maybe grab some soul food (or a cupcake!). Yesterday we didn’t even leave Brooklyn—within just a few blocks from my house there’s the garden, the park, fellow artists, the library, the museum–we’ve had Thai food and pastries and we tried out the new Cuban spot that caught my eye. This is NOT the world I grew up in, so I am *very* grateful that NYC called to me—and that I was able to respond. My father’s been on my mind a lot lately; seems every other sentence coming out of my mouth starts with, “I remember the time my Dad…” Bought me jellybeans to share with my new classmates when I had to move to a new school. Met me for lunch along 7th Ave after his classes at John Jay let out. Sat in his car and honked, hoping I’d come downstairs ready to accompany him to Brooklyn Tab on a Sunday morning. I’ve got a lot of history in this city…and as Kate pointed out, it’s hard to imagine me living any place else. Ok, time to get on with the day. Be who you are. It’s a waste of time trying to be anyone else…