In 1989, I went out on tour with the Rolling Stones. On the first night of the tour, I renewed my acquaintance with Vernon Reid, the amazing guitar player of Living Colour. At that point I found out that he had taken up photography. I suggested that we go out on some photo excursions on days of from the tour. A week later, I awoke to the phone ringing in my room in Birmingham, Alabama. It was Vernon- “Meet me in the lobby, let’s shoot some pictures,” he said. So I grabbed a camera and some film, and headed out the door. I ran into him in the hall and we stepped into the elevator. As we approached the first floor, we heard a lot of noise in the lobby. As the doors opened, we stepped into a party of blue haired southern ladies. I was dressed as a bum, per my usual style. Vernon was wearing a full length dashiki (black and white pattern) and his dreads were piled on top of his head, some of them dyed red, green and yellow. As we stepped out of the elevator, all sound in the room stopped. About 100 women stared at him as jf he was an alien from a movie. Not a breath was taken until we were out the front door, when talking inside resumed. Vernon just shrugged at me and we kept on walking.
I was reminded of this when I read all the coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida this week.. The most chilling of all the stories was in the April2 issue of Time. It is written by Toure’, an author and music journalist. It is titled “How to Stay Alive While Being Black.” The article is written in eight parts, sort of rules to living in a white world. The first one starts with- “It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Black maleness is a potentially fatal condition.”
It goes on to describe ways to protect yourself. They all seem very logical and pragmatic, but taken as a group, they paint a chilling picture of the racial divide in America today.
I have had several black people tell me, simply as a fact, that black and white can never be equal, because every day, when I get up and look in the mirror, I see a white person, and every time that he looks in the mirror, he sees what, as Toure’ says in this article, what a lot of people in America sees- “a thug- even if their only evidence is skin color.”
When my father got out of the Army after WW2, he helped start Ebony Magazine. He was the only white staff person, and after 2 years, it was agreed that he should quit, so that a black magazine could have a black chief photographer. I am guessing that he is rolling over in his grave today thinking about the nonsense that passes for equality in America today.