Beach Review: Venice Beach

I skipped the Venice boardwalk on Sunday and went down to the beach, south of the pier. Venice Beach is smaller and humbler than Santa Monica Beach in many ways – the beach is narrower, the beach houses are closer to the water, and the pier is plain concrete.  The water is just as blue and the waves are just as pretty. It is family-friendly and remarkably clean. I could only find three pieces of trash on the walk back to the bus stop.  

Three people were arrested on Sunday night when the “drum circle” did not disperse promptly at sunset. The boardwalk is famous for cheap trinkets, Muscle Beach, and freaks. Gang trouble has been reported after dark. If you don’t like loud noise and crowds, avoid it.

Venice was annexed to Los Angeles in 1926. When it was created as a resort in the early 1900s, it was segregated. A black man who inherited a house in Venice had to move it across the Los Angeles border, to live in it. The bad old days.     

African Heritage Unearthed: Way Past O-ke

Russell McLendon at Mother Nature Network has finally, sort of admitted that “ok” came from the Mandingo language, spelled o-ke. McLendon tried to cover all bases by claiming a 175-year history for [white] “ok,” and including “och aye” (Scottish), “oikea” (Finnish) and “ola kala” (Greek).

Can’t we just all get along, o-ke?


Elided Citizens of These Yet to be United States

“Now they were calling the kind of music they were playing ‘cool jazz.’ I guess it was supposed to be some kind of alternative to bebop, or black music, or ‘hot jazz,’ which in white people’s minds, meant black. But it was the same old story, black shit was being ripped off all over again.” Miles Davis, Miles: the autobiography (1989)

“Blacks have never been, and are not now, really considered to be citizens here.” James Baldwin, The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985)

In a stunning revelation of how much New America is just like Old America, the Los Angeles Times has published a “Roll Call of Cool” showing seven whites, zero anyone else. (March 9, 2014, page E2)

The Times gives a mention to Miles Davis, but no black people are cool enough to be included in the pictures, selected from a National Portrait Gallery exhibit called “American Cool.” Presumably the Smithsonian has better sense than to exclude African-Americans as the primary source of the “cool” concept.

Gloria Naylor says “cool” started with African drums. Baldwin describes it as a form of grace under pressure, specifically, the risk of living under the constant threat of humiliation and homicide.

The contribution of California casual to the concept of “cool” should not be overrated. Whites should be very careful in their attempts to overtake and define “cool” for their own purposes, without remembering where it came from. This is no small thing. The whitening of the good, while consigning blackness to danger and inferiority, has firm roots in slavery and contributes to the death of young men such as Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

Black people have been here since 1513. They have made great contributions to our language and culture. They have given us our music, as Du Bois knew very well. Exclusion is inexcusable, and above all, just Not Cool.

Oscar Update

Congratulations to Lupita Nyong’o, John Ridley, Brad Pitt and Steve McQueen, for their Oscars. The slave narratives deserve more respect, which they might get now that one of them has been made into Best Picture of the Year.

15 Minutes Wrong: Artistic License in “12 Years a Slave”

Director Steve McQueen has “taken liberties” with Solomon Northup’s narrative which may confuse the viewer. The film is very good at provoking emotions. The cast is marvelous; the acting, excellent. But some of the scenes make no sense. Invariably, these are fictional constructions, with no basis in fact.

The worst of these is the “Hollywood style” death of a male slave in the hold of a ship. We have just seen him muzzled, now he is walking around without shackles. Northup states that the men were shackled in the hold, and male slaves were generally separated from female slaves, not only on ships, but in coffles for overland transport.

McQueen is clearly fascinated with lynching, so much so, that he repeatedly conflates post-Reconstruction and slavery. Northup stood in the sun for hours after Tibeats tried to hang him, firmly tied, but not hanging by the neck. Indeed, it is very doubtful he would have survived several hours in that condition. The overseer, Chapin, would not have allowed it, simply from a commercial point of view.  

The narrative states Mrs. Epps sometimes threw chunks of wood or broken bottles at Patsey in the yard, but did not knock her unconscious, or scratch her face, as shown in the film.

The initial conversation between Northup and Bass occurred while they were accidentally left alone. Their subsequent meetings occurred in the middle of the night, far from any witnesses. Epps would not have left Northup alone with Bass, since he already suspected Northup of trying to talk to white men to send a letter.  

Other than the direct attacks on Patsey by Mrs. Epps, the brutality was not exaggerated. My brother, Greg, read the narrative before viewing the film, and he agrees with this assessment. It is difficult for anyone to realize, even in a small way, just how bad it was.

The film is a good introduction to the horrors of slavery. If you have any questions, consult the narrative.