Riff Raff: Observations, the politics of color, and celebrating creativity

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 540 views 

Again we take a few bite size bits from the thoughts that bounce around my head during a regular week. Or an irregular week. Normal seems to have taken an indefinite vacation after Nov. 8. As has been noted before in this space, Logic is no match against Loud. Quiet reflection follows. (And apologies to social media friends for any repeats.)

• It doesn’t take long. When the awards shows – Oscars, Grammy’s, Tony Awards, etc. – are televised the haters hit the Facebook feed. Those whose politics can’t afford alternative views make sure we all know how out of touch is Hollywood. And Broadway.

Maybe so.

But my family likes to celebrate creativity. We work to look past the politics; seek to absorb the music and the dancing and the writing and the talent of folks who use various mediums to shine a light on the world around us.

For it has been the creative minds who brought all of us progress and inspiration and challenged us to think beyond our realities. Copernicus, Shakespeare, Einstein, Madame Curie, Ms. Anthony, Ms. Stanton, Salk, Jobs, Rodgers, Hammerstein, Ford, Fonda, Sinatra, Coppola, Miranda, and so on and so forth.

To be sure, the creative folks are different and odd and sometimes unsettling. But we as a society have rarely moved forward when comfortable; contemporary thought is fleeting and fortunately so. Imagine a world in which we refused to accept the rights of individuals beyond the divinity of a monarch.

At the Tilley house, we watch as many awards shows as we can. We realize some of these folks are different and disconnected from our world. But the parents of two wide-eyed daughters want them to be aware of other boundaries, to know the views and eccentricities and even the silliness of those engaged in creative pursuits that inform our pop culture.

The freedom of creativity is considerably more important to me as a parent than the fear that a few acceptance speeches might somehow pollute our views of what allegedly is good for love of God and Country.

• The good thing about being a Johnson County farm boy is that we may not always appreciate the complexities of big-stage politics and business, but we know people. And we know that when our President blatantly refuses during a photo-op to shake the hand of an important foreign leader, well, we know that President is a jackass. The more polite folks of Johnson County would say such a person “is not good people.”

“That boy missed a month of whuppins’,” would be the likely assessment of one of the fellas who during my formative years sat amongst the semi-retired brain trust just inside the entrance of Castleberry Brothers Grocery in Lamar. God, I miss that thick-cut bologna.

• Mom and dad were living in a trailer in Morrilton and I was not yet four-months old when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead on a hotel balcony in Memphis. Dad was a laborer on the Arkansas River navigation system then still under construction.

Mom grew up in Michigan. In an integrated school. She was introduced to segregation and the southern brand of racism when her parents moved to open a restaurant and gas station in Knoxville, Ark.

“Oh yes, like it was yesterday. It was horrible. It just made me really sick,” mom said recently when asked if she remembered the King assassination.

That day was April 4, 1968. It was her 19th birthday.

“I didn’t know a lot about him, except he was doing peaceful marches trying to get people to be more accepting of blacks,” she said. “I was really afraid it was going to be a big setback for the movement. … I didn’t know who he had around him that was as strong as he was, and as it turned out, it was nobody.”

Her mom, my grandmother, also did her part to convince people to be “more accepting of blacks.” It was standard for black truck drivers working U.S. 64 – then the major national highway before Interstate 40 – to come to the restaurant’s back door to eat. Mom, not fully understanding the issue, loved it when the black truck drivers would eat in the back. She would visit with them. Make sure they were waited on. It was her connection back to the relative normality of Michigan.

But Grandma Evans fully understood. After a few months she had enough of segregated eating.

“Mother just went out there in the front (of the restaurant) and asked if the black truck drivers could eat out there. But the way mother put it and the authority mother used when she asked everybody, well, they didn’t object. … And to my knowledge, we never had anybody say anything about it.”

“I will never forget that day.”

That day was in 1961. Jim Crow was prevalent. Selma and Birmingham and the Washington march had yet to happen. The “Dream” speech was more than two years in the future. And yet with some folks character was already more important than color.

• Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday (March 20) is scheduled to sign into a law a measure requiring Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday be its own day. Meaning the day will not also be a holiday for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Prior to Monday, Arkansas was one of three states still observing a King-Lee holiday. Alabama and Mississippi will continue to do so.

“The support for a separate holiday to recognize Martin Luther King far exceeded my expectations and speaks well of the General Assembly and our state,” Hutchinson said when the bill was approved with 66 votes (out of 100) in the Arkansas House. “This bill was one of my priorities, and I was honored to testify for it in both chambers. I look forward to having a signing ceremony that emphasizes the historic dynamic of this new day.”

This now segregated holiday – muse at your own pace on that irony – comes 56 years after a tiny – 5 foot tall on her tiptoes – and determined restaurant owner engaged in what is likely millions of undocumented but important actions to call bullshit on a reality that wouldn’t exist if we all were blind.

Folks have been speaking well in Arkansas for decades. It’s nice to see the authorities catch up.