Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Lunch, Art and Reality.

We walked out in the sunshine today to have lunch with friends. There is something civilised about sitting outside on the terrace of a cafe/bar/restaurant, watching the world go by even if, as on this occasion, the service was a little slow and we had to keep reminding the waiter that we had actually ordered stuff. Maybe the heat was getting to him. 

On our way to the restaurant we passed at least five "parking beggars", the chaps who carry out a mild blackmail, ushering drivers into spaces they have already spotted and then expecting a tip for doing so. The drivers will still have to go to the machine and buy a ticket for the parking spot in most cases but will also pay the "parking beggars" or run the risk of something untoward happening to their vehicle before they return. As I said, a form of blackmail. 

Many beggars, buskers, homeless people have a dog. It's for companionship, I suppose, and possible for protection when sleeping rough. Even if the dog doesn't provide much actual protection as such it can at least alert the rough sleeper to the fact that someone is messing with the few possessions he carries around with him. And, of course, it also serves as a means of tugging the heart strings of sentimental passers by. My heart strings are not so easily pulled, however. Today we saw a chap without a dog but with a small soft toy canine sticking out of his bag. Different, I suppose! And possibly less messy. Although less protection is afforded by a soft toy! 

There is a character in Armistead Maupin's Tales from the City series who takes medication to darken the pigmentation of her skin. Her lover, discovering that she is regularly taking pills, is convinced she must be dying of some thing horrible. This is not the case. She simply wants to be black. I don't remember what her motivation was, some artistic, hippy thing perhaps. It might even have been that her career opportunities as a model would be greater if she were black. Maybe I should reread the books to find out. 

In a weird case of life imitating art, a woman working for the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in the USA has been doing a similar thing. She hasn't got as far as taking medication, as far as I know, but she wears dark make-up and has her hair in Afro curls. Her parents have "outed" her, stating that she was born Caucasian, with some German and other European blood in there, although perhaps just a little Native American. Childhood photos show her to be blonde. Her brother, who is adopted, is mixed race. Perhaps she wanted to be like him. When he found her secret, she asked him not to reveal it as the people she worked with believed she too was mixed race. 

It's an odd case of confused values. Once you start on that sort of deception it demands a lot of work to keep it up. The stress and worry about someone finding out must be enough to give you grey hair. She appeared to be carrying out this deception for all sorts of good reasons. Maybe she feared people would not believe in her dedication if she were not mixed race. But surely the struggle for racial equality would benefit more from more white people standing up and arguing for it. If racial equality is going to become a reality it needs ALL races to fight for it. 

Here's a link to an interesting view of the question. I can't help feeling that there is still something wrong with a society where it is still important to define yourself racially and where people who have taken you at face value can change their view of you if they discover you have, or indeed don't have, that all important drop of "coloured blood". There was a time when some coloured people tried desperately to "pass" as white and now white people work hard at being as tanned as possible. What a strange world! 

Meanwhile Rachel Delezal, the lady in question has resigned from her job as a consequence of all the controversy. She has been made to feel she can no longer do the job. In an ideal world, of course, she would never have felt the need to pretend to be something she wasn't or, if she really believed in that identity, to emphasise that one aspect of herself. Possibly she did not want to appear as a 'do-gooder", an outsider trying to reform a society. Who knows?

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