Monday, November 22, 2010

A Portrait in Blackness

Dr. Margaret Burroughs--Queen of Southside, USA.

Gather possums,

When mummy was a little girl, traipsing the streets of the Washington Park--affectionately referred to it's citizens as "the mothafucking ghetto",  I had the great fortune of being granted audience with her royal highness Queen Burroughs.  Though her salutation often read Dr. Burroughs, I always knew that she was an HRH.  I met her in the library at William Carter Elementary School on 57th and Michigan Ave. But before I go on about that encounter, a bit of filler.  I was the closeted geek who loved assemblies, guest speakers, and Harlequin troupes.  If there was a field trip?  I actually spent more time in the morning agonizing over my outfit, because I wanted to make a good impression on adult strangers that may have laid eyes on our group.  I wanted them to look at us and say "My what a beautiful group of children from the tenements. These little niglets may live by the gates of Hades, but their hearts are pure. See how they adore art? Oh Monty, lets sponsor one. Yes that one, with the freckles!  That negress cherub will be our very own Webster.  We are white & wealthy, and will give her money! Money to thrive...money..."

Buuuut mostly people looked at us with disdain and barely tolerated us. So my fantasy of being welcomed into the world by adults of art actually sounded like this: "What in the Sam hell! Why didn't we go the the Museum of Contemporary Art? Goddamnit Millicent! These little ghetto rascals are running amuck in the Art Institute! They have no respect for culture--hey! Stop that you little creep! I don't know what mild sauce is but don't you throw that on the canvass--That's a Jackson Pollock you little fucker! What in the name of J. Daley are we going to do with this bastards! That's it! We're moving far away from these ghettos! We're moving to Tinley Park. Oh god, not the Rodan.  Oh--the humanity...."
It was like every time our yellow school bus pulled up in front of a museum, people would scatter as if a Hindenburg full of Nazi's had crash landed. It kind of gives you a complex as a kid, when you pick up the nonverbal signs or even blatant messages that say "you don't belong here."  Now don't get me wrong, I believe that children should be neither seen NOR heard--but they have the right to look at art, swim in pools, eat Madeline's and all that shit.  If I'm lucky enough to pass a child through my vagina, and stay sober long enough to teach her a lesson, I'd tell her not to carry the burden of labels or socio-economic bullshit.  When she sashay's up the stairs to the Art Institute or the matinee of Alvin Ailey, or to see Helen Mirren play Harriet Tubman (nope, I would not mind) that she has the right to be there.  I will teach her that, just as Margaret Burroughs taught me.  Queen Margaret was one of the founders of the Jean Baptiste DuSable Museum of African American Heritage located in Washington Park.  You see when you're a southside kid in the Chicago Public Schools, going to the DuSable Museum is like visiting Vatican City or a pilgrimage.   The DuSable Museum and the park will forever hold a place in my heart.  Its where I learned about American heroes and legends that happened to be black.  It was our rock. Our foundation. Our church (without churchianity). I held hands with my very first boyfriend there, in the museum.  It is the place where a gentle woman, with caramel skin taught me the majesty of art and a place where I could shed my skin, and be me.  I was lucky enough to be granted audience with the queen when I was 9 years old.  She came to my school for a visit, and after her "talk" to us in the library, I went right up to her and started talking.  I remember she was very beautiful, and didn't have a trace of makeup.  We chatted about her growing up in the same neighborhood as I did, and how she makes art.  She was encouraging, kind, and fierce.

For years I carried the shame of my ghetto, until one day I realized that I was actually in good company.  Lorraine Hansberry grew up 5 blocks from my home, and Margaget Burroughs grew up blocks away from me too.  So, if they turned out okay-- and they were from the Southside--then maybe I would be okay too. Like Lorraine I grew up to write plays, and though I'm not an artist...I know what belongs in a museum. See, the curator in me wants to display this.
Yes, it's vodka. In the hands of Michael.
Art is for everyone. 
Even you possum! And just like that, I started accepting that I did belong!
I too sing, America.

Dr. Burroughs, may the gods bless your queendom. Rest in Paradise my dear girl. 

ciao for now kiddies,

x

NEXT BLOG: According the the NY Times, a teaspoon of semen equals 50 calories.  So you can blame your diet on the reluctance to service your mate.

1 comment:

Rusty said...

Bravo, my dear girl! Well said.