Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: civil rights

Stronger than one building

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest 

Shotgun, Third Ward #1, 1966, by John T. Biggers.


John T. Biggers painted this image, Shotgun, Third Ward #1, in 1966–yet to me it hauntingly resonates with recent headlines.

Likely inspired by a rash of arsons in black churches during the early-to-mid-1960s, Biggers chose to focus on the community, rather than the sensationalism of the fire.

Then as now, the church is more than just a building, although churches were a central gathering place for the African American community during the Civil Rights era. Thus, attacks on black churches were attacks on civil rights activism, as well.

The word Shotgun in the title refers to the houses, not the weapon–and not, as popularly alleged, because a fired shell would travel through from one end to the other. Indeed, the African word “shogon,” which means “house of God,” is more likely the origin of the term (bringing us full-circle back to the church).

Shotguns, 1987, by John T. Biggers

The narrow, rectangular design, in which several rooms in a row open directly into one another (with no hallway) was popular for several decades, especially in the South. By the 1960s, however, “Shotgun houses” were associated with poor people, especially impoverished African Americans. Biggers returned to the image of the shotgun house for his iconic 1987 painting Shotguns

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, for the image of Shotgun, Third Ward #1, and to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) blog, for the image of Shotguns. I deeply appreciate both.

Counting our . . . you’re kidding, right?

As I write this, we are one week and counting away from the most feared and dreaded election in recent memory. The news stories and commentary, and all too often our social media, email inboxes, offices and homes are rife with discord and polarization.

Seems like a strange time to talk about gratitude for blessings.

Yet, here we are at the dawn of November, the month of Thanksgiving. Traditionally, this is a time for Harvest, for in-gathering and coming together, and yes, for a time of meditation upon our blessings.

As you’ve possibly noticed, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’ve been following monthly themes in the images, quotes, and at least some of the articles I’ve been posting this year. Months ago, in my editorial calendar, it seemed a good idea to make this month’s theme “Creatively Grateful.”

I’m not sure what I was thinking. It’s certainly true that many of us are gonna have to get real creative to find anything at all to be grateful for, in this scorched, cratered battlefield of a social discourse.

Or so it seems, at first knee-jerk.

It’s true things have been tough, lately. We’re only gradually pulling out of a “jobless” recovery, and income disparity is wider now than many realize. Worse, that disparity may be polarizing us into ideological ‘tribes,’driving us further and further apart.

But with all these forces driving us apart, how can we buck that trend, and work together?

I’d like to start by invoking, with gratitude, the bedrock values that we’ve used as a guide and touchstone in the past: that we’re all created equal, that we all have certain rights, including the right to be heard, to follow our conscience, and to think for ourselves. We can’t dictate how others must believe–and, just as important–no one else can dictate how we must believe. 

Whatever happened to justice for all, and innocent until proven guilty? Whatever happened to generosity, and neighbor helping neighbor? Whatever happened to reaching across the aisle, and working for the common good?

We can reclaim those values. We can demand them. We can live them, no matter what others do. And when we consistently live them, we can change the climate of our social and political lives.

But first we must look beyond our fearful little tribes and realize we’re all just people. We may not see eye-to-eye on all things, but we also know that blood in the streets is not the road to peace. There is a more excellent way.

It starts with gratitude for our society’s foundations, and it blossoms into respect for our fellow citizens.

Let’s be grateful for an institutional framework that has kept our elections mostly un-rigged, our successions of power mostly peaceful, and our rule of law–while clearly not flawless–founded upon a thirst for true justice.

Let’s extend a hand, and curb our impulses to name-call and denigrate each others’ ethics or intelligence. We can do better. Let’s make that roll-call of blessings. Let’s remember the vital ties that bind us together–even now.

We can do well by ourselves, our neighbors, our political allies and opponents. We can do well by our country. Hope yet abides, and blessings abound. Can you count them?

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Sustainable Leader, for the “political tug-of-war” image, and to Lori Rosenberg for the meeting-of-hands image, and Hideaki Matsui for the handshake photo.

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