Tag Archives: #blackhistorymonth2016

Maya Angelou the Philosopher

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

Recently, in the hallowed halls of intellectualism known as the internet, a question was posed to a forum I frequent: “Who is your favorite philosopher?” Responses of the usual suspects, mostly white men poured in.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, versed as so many of us are in the basics of Western Philosophy. But there are contemporary alternatives that are often overlooked. Perhaps because they lack a rigorous theory of reality or some other puffed up notion of knowledge, or perhaps because they don’t fit the physical mold of a philosopher, such authors are praised as poets but left off the table when folks discuss the love of knowledge.

eventhestarsThus, Maya Angelou wasn’t mentioned on that forum, but that day I realized there had been a major oversight in the musings of my fellows. If you are unaware of Ms. Angelou’s writing, stop doing what you’re doing (yes, even reading this post, it’ll be here when you get back, I promise), run to your nearest Library, and grab a copy — any copy — of her work.

My first exposure to Ms. Angelou came from books like Even the Stars Look Lonesome and Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now. These books contain autobiographical meditations to inspire and teach.

Ms. Angelou doesn’t ask the question, “Do I exist?” but favors, “How do I live?” in its stead. Her soul is passionate, knowing the pains and joys of the complex connections we make and deal with while living on Earth.

momandmeandmom“How did I get to be Maya Angelou?” she asks in the preface of Mom & Me & Mom. This is a question everyone would do well to ask, but it is Ms. Angelou who delivers with resonance that reaches across racial barriers, class divides, gender roles and norms. I say this as a young white man whose soul has been pierced and enriched by her influence. Though my life and hers are undoubtedly different, she reaches across social barriers to touch and inform my ways of being and knowing.

I’m not sure an argument for “Maya Angelou the Philosopher” would hold weight in a scholarly forum. Indeed, disdain for poets reaches far back in Western Philosophy (Plato kicked them out of his city in The Republic). Reading Maya Angelou makes one wish those two could meet and discuss what it is about life that poets reveal, and how they know just the same, if not more, than those who profess love of knowledge.

I think Ms. Angelou would say she loves life, and therefore should not be considered a philosopher. Indeed, she is better than that. A reader need only look at her vast catalog of cookbooks, picture books, poetry, essays and biography to know that they are dealing with a truly wise woman.

Reserve a copy of one of Maya Angelou’s books in print or digital versions through our catalog.

-Carl

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Shuffling Through with Paul Beatty

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

bookcoverSo, I finally finished The White Boy Shuffle and I honestly don’t know how to feel about it. Half the time while reading this book I was wondering, “What’s the point?” I could tell from descriptions of the book and while reading the book that it was a satire. I admit that I did laugh a few times, but I was still confused. It took me until I was two thirds done with the book that I realized the purpose of this book.

The main character, Gunnar Kaufman, was dealing with accepting and embracing his blackness. In the beginning of the book, Gunnar lived in Santa Monica, which was a predominately white neighborhood and in classrooms he was always the only black kid. Then, he, his mother and his two sisters ended up moving to West Los Angeles, which was mostly made up of black & Latino people.  He was considered an outcast and often got bullied because he talked “proper,” listened to rock music & dressed differently than the other kids.

It wasn’t until Gunnar met Nick Scoby in a class that he got friends in his new neighborhood. Then Gunnar’s popularity skyrocketed when it was discovered that he was good at basketball. He was also very smart & a great poet. All of these things made Gunnar very popular, but Gunnar had a complex with his newfound fame throughout the book. At times, he embraced it & other times he rejected it.

The book is chock full of stereotypes about the different races and how others feel about them. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading a more sophisticated version of Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. As the book went on, readers got to see Gunnar embrace his blackness and call out people who he felt didn’t genuinely like him for who he was, but for his talents on the basketball court & with poetry.

At times, I was caught off guard with what the characters were saying & at times I didn’t understand it. In the end, I still found two quotes that stood out to me. One was when Gunnar said:

The only time it’s permissible to cry is when you miss the lottery by one number or someone close to you passes away. Then you can cry once, but only once. There is no brooding, n***ers got to get up and go to work tomorrow.

This quote stood to me because I found it to be true. It’s like black people are constantly being policed, even on our emotions. We can’t express outrage or even be upset about something not going our way without being labeled as thugs for our behavior.

The second quote was when Gunnar stated:

The people of Hillside treat society the way society treats them. Strangers and friends are suspect and guilty until proven innocent.

This quote stood out to me because I’ve been in the situation that the people of Hillside were in, which is that people are passing judgement on them without getting to know them just because of where they’re from. I’ve gotten awkward pauses or looks or sympathy when I’ve told people where I live because it’s been deemed a “dangerous neighborhood.” Just because some bad things have occurred here doesn’t mean that every resident of that neighborhood is a bad person.

In the end, Paul Beatty wrote an interesting book about how to embrace your blackness and how you can be perceived by society just by being black in America. The White Boy Shuffle is cousins with the novel Oreo (read an Eleventh Stack review here) so you can check that out or one of Beatty’s other novels if you’re interested. Happy reading!

~Kayla

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Are You Experienced?

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

“Crap. My paper is due tomorrow, and I looked all over the web, but I still need two more sources.”

“The arguments in my Facebook feed are breaking my brain. Where can I learn more about this stuff without all the nasty comments?”

“I wonder how many people this issue actually affects. Different websites have different numbers — which one is right?”

If you’ve asked questions like these, you know that the web is a great place to start learning about something, but it’s not perfect. Granted, nothing is truly perfect, but it is possible to get your questions answered quickly and easily. All you need is 5 minutes, your CLP Library card and an internet connection.

Skeptical? I don’t blame you. It almost sounds like an infomercial, doesn’t it? Let’s test it out with the African American Experience, one of the online collections the Carnegie Library offers.

Sources Teachers Love 

Let’s say you’re writing a paper about the Black Arts Movement. You’ve found a lot of great websites, but your teacher says you can only use two: everything else has to come from a book, newspaper, magazine, or other print source. You get wrapped up in other stuff (it happens), and suddenly, boom: the paper’s due tomorrow, and the Library is closed. Now what?

Screenshot, The African American Experience - topics section / Black Arts Movement

Screenshot, The African American Experience – topics section / Black Arts Movement

Now you grab your library card, log into The African-American Experience, select your topic from the main page (helpfully grouped in chronological order), and use the drop-down menu on the side to explore further resources. The best part? Because the information here originally comes from print books/encyclopedias, you’re getting what you need and still following the rules of the assignment. There’s even a correctly-formatted citation at the bottom of each source, should you need one.

Problem solved. Next!

No Fighting, No Trolls

You know how, when certain topics come up, suddenly everybody’s an expert? Opinions get heated, comments get ugly and everybody walks away feeling bad. Wouldn’t it be great to get some information that covers controversial topics in a neutral, facts-based way, without having to sift through thousands of search engine results?

One question some people argue about is whether to say “Black” or “African American” in conversation. The African American Experience tackles questions like these in its “Perspectives” section, using a neutral tone, and discussing the topic in an even-handed way.

Screenshot from the "Perspectives" section of the African American Experience.

Screenshot from the “Perspectives” section of the African American Experience.

Each perspective begins with the key question on the table, then offers, via the drop-down menu, the main facts you’ll need to know followed by several perspectives that look at different sides of the question. If you’re in a hurry, you can jump to the closing, which summarizes the perspectives. Finally, the “Investigate” option takes you to a list of resources—both web and print-based—you can use to dig deeper.

Now that you’ve got an objective view of the question and the way it’s been answered historically, you can decide for yourself what you think without all the drama. And you might even have a great response to Uncle Know-it-All next time he says something ignorant, which you can deliver calmly and confidently.

The Numbers Game

Statistics are always tricky, because they can always be counted in different ways by folks who have different agendas. Still, at some point, you’ve got to decide whose numbers are trustworthy enough to make up your mind. So why not generate them yourself?

CLIOView, a chart-building tool within the African American Experience, lets you arrange and compare raw state data on a variety of topics, such as:

  • Number of voters in a given election
  • State population during a given time period
  • Population living below the poverty level
  • Marriage rates

and a lot more!

After clicking on the CLIOView tab, you’ll select which states you want to compare.

Screenshot of CLIOView tool, from The African American Experience.

Screenshot of CLIOView tool, from The African American Experience.

Next you’ll choose which data sets you want to work with. You can compare up to three categories in multiple states, so your search can be as simple or as complex as you like.

Screemshot, CLIOView tool, The African American Experience.

Screemshot, CLIOView tool, The African American Experience.

Once you’ve got your results, you can print them, organized by state or by category. If you need the data to look a little fancier, you can use the Graph tool to create a more attractive design. And if you’re curious about where the raw data comes from, you can click “Sources” to find out. Now your personal curiosity is satisfied, and you know where to go if you ever need those numbers for a presentation or report.

Obviously, using The African American Experience takes a little more of your time than a web search might. But if you’re at the end of your rope and the internet just isn’t delivering, the Library is here for you. Take The African American Experience for a test drive, or ask a librarian to give you a walk-through.

Where do you turn when the internet drives you bananas? Did you know this tool was part of the Library’s online collections? Anything you share will help us help you better, so give us the dirt on the ways you search!

–Leigh Anne

 

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One Shot Harris

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

oneshotPittsburgh owes much appreciation to one man for documenting the city’s African American urban life during the Jim Crow era—specifically, this sharp lensman concentrated on the Hill District and a once-thriving social life that has long-since passed and faded to memory.

The Hill District during its heyday was a vibrant place, the city’s cultural center—where people of all ethnicities lived alongside each other, and where independent businesses and Pittsburgh’s Jazz scene thrived.  Who is this man?

We’ll give you a couple hints: He’s had numerous exhibitions of his photographs over the years in Pittsburgh and nationally (the Carnegie Museum of Art showcased his work in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011), has an archive devoted to his work of over 80,000 negatives and worked for the Pittsburgh Courier.

The answer: Charles “Teenie” Harris.

Harris was born in 1908 and was an avid baseball player in his youth, later becoming a semi-pro athlete, and among other things, playing for the Negro league Pittsburgh Crawfords. It wasn’t until the early 1930s that he bought his first camera. He proved to be a natural, and within a few years opened his own photography studio (earning the nickname “One Shot” because he rarely made his subjects sit for long) and became the main photographer for The Pittsburgh Courier, one of America’s leading black newspapers during the 1930s and Civil Rights eras.

tharrisThis working class beat photographer snapped well over 100,00 images for The Courier during his years at the paper (1936-1975). And he did it in a unique way, shooting the important and influential people of his day, with the city’s everyday life. Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and John F. Kennedy were all photographed by Harris, alongside Pittsburgh’s weddings, nightlife and little-league games. He found them all equally important and celebrated and portrayed the dignified lives of African American people that became even more influential during the 1960s. You can learn more about this fantastic man at the Library. Just a few of the titles we have for you to peruse:

-Whitney

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Read Harder: Vol. 2

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

This year, I plan on chronicling my adventures with Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

In Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, Delphine and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are heading to Oakland, California to spend a month with the mother they barely know. Cecile left them seven years ago for a new life as an artist and poet on the West Coast.

Oakland in 1968 is nothing like their California dreams of Disneyland, movie stars and days at the beach. Cecile has no interest in showing them the sights — her work with the printing press in the kitchen is far more important. Instead, every day Cecile sends the girls to a summer camp held at the community center run by the Black Panther Party. Delphine’s ordered world view is altered by the time spent learning about the fight for justice and her mother’s role in the Party.

This quick read sent me on a quest for more information about the Black Panther Party, and I can recommend Stanley Nelson‘s documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

For those following along with the Read Harder challenge, One Crazy Summer will help you cover the “Read a middle grade novel” and “Read the first book in a series by a person of color.” You can follow more of Delphine’s adventures with P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama.

– Jess

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Listening to Citizen

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

It’s been nearly a year since I read Claudia Rankine’s award winning book, Citizen: An American Lyric. Up until now, I’ve resisted every opportunity to review this book or even participate in a discussion about it with others — yet when we Eleventh Stackians were self-selecting our topics for Black History Month, offering my thoughts on Citizen was the first topic that came to my mind.

It’s a book that’s difficult to talk about, yet one that has the potential to serve as the gateway to some of our most important conversations. For just as Claudia Rankine isn’t defined as simply a poet, a playwright, an artist or an essayist, Citizen is a book that defies being boxed in by a single genre.  Is it a poem?  An essay?  A meditation or prayer?

I think it’s all of these things, and it feels fitting that this book doesn’t conform to a singular label. In some ways, that lends itself well to the immediacy of emotions that makes reading Citizen an experience.

CitizenAt times, that immediacy can be an uncomfortable one — and maybe that discomfort stems from my being a white, middle class, raised-in-Suburbia person in today’s America. Sometimes it is hard to know how to talk about issues of race (Am I going to offend her? Is he going to get upset? Do I sound ignorant? Privileged? Something else? Maybe I should just stay quiet, pretend I didn’t see, didn’t hear, was distracted).  After all, how can we ever really know or understand someone else’s reality?  My reality is not yours and vice versa. Claudia Rankine’s point in Citizen is that the unshared experience doesn’t excuse us for not seeing and acknowledging the experience of others.

Understanding and acknowledging the hard truths of our lives begins with listening and by paying attention to others’ experience. By directing her reader’s attention to the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) instances of racism that occur in American society, Claudia Rankine brings her experience and hurt and pain to the page where we see it in all its rawness and honesty.

Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lung. Like thunder they drown you in sound, no, like lightning they strike you across the larynx. Cough. After it happened I was at a loss for words. Haven’t you said this yourself? Haven’t you said this to a close friend who early in your friendship, when distracted, would call you by the name of her black housekeeper? You assumed you two were the only black people in her life. Eventually she stopped doing this, though she never acknowledged her slippage. And you never called her on it (why not?) and yet, you don’t forget.

The poetry (the American lyric) of Citizen forces us to slow down, to listen, as Claudia Rankine writes eloquently of real-life instances of racism that we know from the headlines — the cover illustration is of a hoodie, symbolizing the killing of Trayvon Martin — as well as the more subtle, yet personally searing moments that too often get glossed over and dismissed altogether.

Two examples that have stayed with me:

Because of your elite status from a year’s worth of travel, you have already settled into your window seat on United Airlines, when the girl and her mother arrive at your row. The girl, looking over at you, tells her mother, these are our seats, but this is not what I expected. The mother’s response is barely audible — I see, she says. I’ll sit in the middle.

and

The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?

It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

I am so sorry, so, so, sorry.

~ Melissa F.

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We Want the Funk

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

George Clinton – songwriter, impresario, music producer. I’ve seen him referred to as the “Count Basie of Funk.” The first thing I noticed about  Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t that Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?, Clinton’s memoir (written with Ben Greenman), was that it was very readable and compelling. It is fun to see the stories behind the songs, and get to know George Clinton’s thoughtfulness, sincerity and intelligence. And his love of a good pun.

We want the funk.

bookcoverHe starts out by talking about the culture of his old neighborhood and what it meant to be black in the 50s when Motown dominated the scene. George Clinton took the paradigm of how R&B songs were created and recorded and funked it up. He gradually put together a collective of over 50 musicians who worked with him in two separate bands, Parliament and Funkadelic. The sheer volume of records that came out in the ’70s and ’80s speaks to the creative power of Clinton and his collaboration with Bootsy Collins, Eddie Hazel and the rest.

Give up the funk.

Funkadelic had funky psychedelic rock jams. The white groups from British Invasion days were playing the blues developed by black Americans. Black musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone turned around and started incorporating what was thought of as white rock. Clinton cites the influences of Hendrix, Sly, Bob Dylan, Cream and others for helping to gel the sounds and flavors of Funkadelic. They used no costumes or stage props. They played smaller venues, and the focus was on the hooks and jams.

Ow, we need the funk.

Parliament presented the “pop” side of funk, with freaky costumes, multi-layered instrumentals, driving and intense rhythms, its own mythology, and it was closer musically to James Brown. Parliament albums were put out on a second record label and aimed at a wider radio audience. The lyrics contained critiques of American culture wrapped in humor. Parliament performed long, wild concerts and used elaborate stage props. The Mothership would land on the stage with the band members inside. Its presence on stage meant that they had to treat the show like a well-rehearsed play. The size of the stage and touring crew, and the transportation needed to go from city to city, was the equivalent of a touring Broadway show.

We gotta have that funk.

Both bands featured the same cast of musicians. Clinton coalesced the separate entities in the 80s and toured as “George Clinton,” The P-Funk All-Stars, and a few splinter and side-groups. Legal troubles abounded with different factions vying for the rights, royalties, and residuals of the songs. Clinton places some of the blame over this tangle on his own drug use and the befuddlement it caused in him in his business dealings. He now has a much clearer outlook and is trying to regain the intellectual property rights to songs that he wrote. His good friend Sly Stone just won a similar lawsuit.

The legacy of P-Funk lives on in part with the thousands of sampled grooves by hip-hop artists. One of the appendices in the book has a “selected sampleography” of popular hip-hop songs and the P-Funk songs they came from.

Hey, look out! The Mothership has landed. This cultural icon is now permanently housed at the Smithsonian.

Here is a little factoid of special interest to us Pittsburghers: While trying to find a shortcut through Pennsylvania on an early tour, Clinton and his band freaked out when they ran into zombies! It was in fact the movie set of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Check out Parliament and Funkadelic on CD, on DVD or on Hoopla, and prepare to boogie.

-Joelle

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