The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘America’

Oh—Tannenbaum …

December 16, 2015 | by

Christmas trees have served as political lightning rods for nearly as long as Americans have been decorating them.

Viggo Johansen, Glade jul, 1891.

In 1937, the Federal Writers’ Project interviewed Junius Quattlebaum, who’d grown up enslaved in South Carolina, about his Christmas memories. He spoke of gathering around the Christmas tree to take his share of the

candy, apples, raisins, and nuts for all de chillum … Christmas morning, marster would call all de slaves to come to de Christmas tree. He made all de chillun set down close to de tree and de grown slaves jined hands and make a circle ’round all … missus would stand in de middle of the de ring and raise her hand and bow her head in silent thanks to God. All de slaves done lak her done.

Frederick Douglass denounced such parties as being “among the most effective means in the hands of the slaveholder in keeping down the spirit of insurrection … These holidays serve as conductors, or safety-valves, to carry off the rebellious spirit of enslaved humanity.” The white South Carolinian William J. Grayson rhapsodized in his 1856 poem “The Hireling and the Slave” about the “smile and bow” and “abundant cheer” of the slave’s Christmas: “No ennui clouds, no coming cares annoy, / Nor wants nor sorrow check the Negro’s joy,” for “In all his master’s joys he claims a part.” Yet for all their paternalism, slave owners betrayed a suspicion that the pleasure in Christmas wasn’t mutual, and that slaves might not be satisfied with raisins: Christmas was the time when white Southerners spread the wildest rumors of slave insurrection, restocked their ammunition, and built hiding places in the woods. Read More »

Our Prefab Thanksgiving

November 25, 2015 | by

Celebrating the old-fashioned way: at an African-themed indoor water park in Wisconsin.

The yellow three-track potato sack slide is encased in ice, and the go-kart tarps are encased in ice, and the Paul Bunyan chain-saw carving has grown a beard of icicles so tentacular one can’t help but imagine him having been recovered from one of Verne’s deeper leagues. The afternoon-shift dancers outside the Wisconsin Dolls Gentlemen’s Club wear parkas with fur-lined collars and smoke their cigarettes, waiting for the gentlemen to arrive. Their lips are chapped and their calves are rosy and their exhales hang in the cold air in front of their faces, nowhere to go. They take turns reading the club’s Yelp reviews from a single cell phone, which they pass between them.

Every dancer working was cute, with the exception of one.

What could be improved? 1. Men’s bathroom. 

There were 100% more people wearing head bandanas than I expected-saw like 6 dudes wearing them. Also, the Outlaw motorcycle gang represented with a couple of people rocking their colors! 

Pro tip: with so many blacklights inside, remember to wear your white pants.

Housed in a double-wide trailer (for real) and next to a sleazy strip motel (also, for real), disappointing ladies shake and shimmy on a tiny pit-style stage.

This last trip was particularly depressing, mainly due to the preggo dancer who was prancing and spinning topless and bottomless with a modified tube top covering her baby bump.

For some god-awful reason, I've been here twice. 

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Black History

November 24, 2015 | by

Celebrating Umoja Karamu, a “ritual for the black family,” on Thanksgiving.

From the cover of Disgruntled, Asali Solomon’s debut novel.

Back in the early 1980s, no one at the mostly white elite prep school I attended had heard of Kwanzaa, which I’d grown up celebrating instead of Christmas. This was a yearly hassle of explaining: yes, presents; no, Santa Claus. But absolutely no one had heard of Umoja Karamu, “a ritual for the black family” that we observed at Thanksgiving. This one I never volunteered to explain. Black families who celebrated Umoja Karamu (Kiswahili for “unity feast”)—and we were the only one I knew of—were to trade in the ritual of senselessly stuffing ourselves for one in which we used food and words to reflect on the grim, glorious trajectory of black people in America, to recall the crimes of the “greedy one-eyed giant” white man, and to keep the “Black Nation” energized and focused, struggling toward liberation from racism.

During Umoja Karamu, which lived in a 1971 booklet (a mere two years older than I was) published by a fellow Philadelphian named Edward Sims, we sat at our special holiday table and took turns reading solemnly aloud from a pithy narrative of African American history that moved from the ancient kingdom of Mali to the Watts riots. Between readings, we ate a symbolic sequence of aggressively non-Thanksgiving foods, including black-eyed peas, rice, corn bread, and leafy greens, all served unseasoned, perhaps to make us more thoughtful. Blessedly, my mother always insisted on a normal holiday meal after Umoja Karamu. But Edward Sims was certainly about his business. Each Thanksgiving, as I waited to get to the stuffing and gravy, I did indeed taste the suffering we read about. I experienced the “bland and tasteless condition under which Black Folk lived during the slavery period” in the form of unsalted white rice and chalky black-eyed peas. But happily, enduring Umoja Karamu, unlike the suffering of the Black Nation, was a private shame, one about which my school friends knew nothing. That is, until I received a fifth-grade assignment to write an essay about family Thanksgiving traditions and to read it aloudRead More »

Paradise Fire

November 19, 2015 | by

Ghost Forest, Eatonville, Washington, August 2015, 2015, archival pigment print, 48" x 61". Courtesy of the artist and Moran Bondaroff, Los Angeles.

David Benjamin Sherry’s exhibition “Paradise Fire” is at Moran Bondaroff Gallery, in Los Angeles, through December 12. Sherry photographs the American West using an unwieldy 8x10 field camera. “My interest lays in the changing American landscape, and this new series of pictures reflects my unease,” he wrote in a statement for the exhibition. He told Opening Ceremony, “I was drawn into the desert for its sheer brilliance of fossilized time, the blinding luminosity of its stones and rocks, the infinite desolate space, the wildly varied and brightly colored sun-bleached palettes, the supernatural light, the invisibility of space and surroundings, the supreme silence like no other natural landscape, and the infinite horizon and endless repetition in minimal form.” —D. P. Read More »

The Eternal Ham

September 25, 2015 | by

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still Life with a Ham, 1767.

Dorothy Parker is said to have been the author of one of the best quotes in history: “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Like many such quips, it’s hard to find the original source—although in this case, we can safely assume that life was certainly the direct inspiration. 

It’s not just that hams are big—they were even more massive in Parker’s day than they are now—or that a little of the salty meat goes a long way. It’s also the fact that a ham goes immediately from a thing of festive beauty (cue pineapple rings, scored surfaces studded with cloves, glistening patina) to a professional leftover. It goes very gentle into that good night. And, because it is cured, and because it can be used in so many ways, and because you can always, always scrape more meat off that bone—well, you’re really never justified in throwing it away. It’s with you for eternity. Read More »

Where We Live

May 28, 2015 | by

Atlanta, GA, 1996

Atlanta, Georgia, 1996. Photo via Laurence Miller Gallery

David Graham’s “Where We Live: Photographs of the American Home” is at Laurence Miller Gallery through June 26. Graham’s photographs span more than thirty years; he aims to “document the American home as both sanctuary and playful expression of individuality.” You can see more of his work here.
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