Archive for the ‘1960s’ Category

Paul Newman

Paul Newman (1925-2008) was a Hollywood actor and sex symbol, from the 1960s and early 1970s. He was married to Joanne Woodward for 50 years.

On this blog at the end of 2009 he was voted the eighth most gorgeous man in the world – over a year after he died at age 83!

His best films (those receiving an IMDb rating of at least 8.0):

  • 1958: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • 1961: The Hustler
  • 1967: Cool Hand Luke
  • 1969: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • 1973: The Sting

The first he did with Elizabeth Taylor, the last two with Robert Redford, both Hollywood sex symbols in their own right. He is known for playing anti-heroes. He was acting almost right up to the end of his life.

His name was put up for an Oscar for best actor eight times, but only won once, for “The Color of Money” in 1987. Some say his acting got better with age – the Oscar nominations seem to bear that out.

He was born the son of a Cleveland shopkeeper. Both sides of his family come from Eastern Europe (Slovakia, Hungary, Poland). Like his father but unlike his mother he is Jewish.

In the Second World War he wanted to be a pilot and fly planes but his colour blindness prevented him. He almost fought in the battle of Okinawa but the pilot of his plane got an ear infection and they stayed back. Everyone else in their detail died in battle.

After the war he went into acting, at first on Broadway and television and then in Hollywood films. He did terribly in his first film, “The Silver Chalice” (1954), but then did well two years later in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956) – a part he got through the death of James Dean. Soon he was starring opposite Elizabeth Taylor. His acting was not as good as, say, Marlon Brando’s, but his good looks made up for it.

In 1958 he starred with Joanne Woodward in “The Long Hot Summer”. That year he divorced his first wife of nine years and married Woodward. He has three children by each wife. In 1960 he and Woodward moved to Connecticut.

In 1978 his only son died of a drug overdose at age 28.

Newman was a race car driver. He came in second at Le Mans in 1979.

He used to make salad dressing as a Christmas gift. It caught on and in 1982 he started selling it under the brand name Newman’s Own. He later branched out into spaghetti sauce and popcorn. Since Newman was not interested in getting rich, he gave the profits to charity – education, health, the environment, disaster relief, etc. He joked that Newman’s Own brought in more money than his acting ever did (true).

In 1988 he started the Hole in the Wall Gang, a free summer camp in Connecticut, between New York and Boston, for children who are dying or who have spent a long time in the hospital.

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The 1967 Detroit Riot, also known as the Twelfth Street Riot or the Detroit Rebellion, was the worst American race riot of the 1960s. For five days during the Summer of Love Detroit burned. At the end 43 lay dead. In American history only the 1992 Los Angeles riot and the 1921 Tulsa riot were worse. It came less than a month after the Newark riot, which killed 25.

It took 17,000 armed men to put it down: the governor called in the National Guard and the president called in the army. Tanks rolled through the streets of Detroit.

  • Dates: July 23rd to 28th 1967
  • Deaths: 43 (33 black, 10 white)
  • Injured: 1189
  • Buildings destroyed: over 2,000
  • Property damage: $40 to $80 million (20 to 40 million crowns)

Part of what made the riot so bad was the heavy-handed approach of the Guardsmen. They shot a four-year-old girl dead, for example, when they saw her father’s lit cigarette in a darkened window.

How it started: At 12th and Clairmount on the West Side at three in the morning the police broke into an after-hours bar with a sledgehammer:  they found themselves in the middle of a party for two servicemen coming home from the Vietnam War. Now they had to arrest four times more people than expected.

It took an hour and a half to arrest everyone. In the meantime word spread and 200 onlookers gathered. One of them kept shouting at the police, “Motherfuckers! Leave my people alone!” Then people began to throw bottles and the police tried to get out fast. As the last police car pulled away the riot broke out.


The main things that blacks in Detroit were unhappy about before the riot:

  1. Police brutality: This was the main cause given by the rioters themselves. The police force was nearly all white and nearly half were “extremely anti-Negro”. Because whites wanted the police to be “tough on crime” they refused to set up the civilian review board demanded by blacks. So the police were unaccountable: they beat people to death, shot a woman in the back, thought that ordinary women were prostitutes, called men “boy” and stopped people for no reason, arresting those who could not produce ID.
  2. Housing: The city tore down the heart of black Detroit to make way for Interstate 75 so that people from the suburbs (mainly white and middle-class) could get into the city more easily. It cut black Detroit in two. It not only destroyed businesses but a good share of what limited housing space was open to blacks, thereby worsening living conditions and making more of black Detroit into a slum.
  3. Employment: more than a sixth of black men were out of work – what whites would call hard times. The car makers were moving their plants out of the city and replacing men with machines.

After the riot the president set up the Kerner Commission, which found that America was:

moving toward two separate societies, one Black, one white –
separate and unequal.

It advised the government to pour money into helping blacks get better housing, education and employment opportunities.

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Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was an American writer, best known for the play, “A Raisin in the Sun” (1957). It was the first play by a black woman to appear on Broadway.

James Baldwin:

… never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage.

It is such a great play that even with a limited actor like Sean Combs playing the lead it is still powerful.

The play is about a black family that buys a house in a white suburb – something her own family did. The first two acts are kind of slow but the last act about moving day is pure, utter genius.

In 1961 it was made into a Hollywood film starring Sidney Poitier, who had played the lead on Broadway. She wrote the screenplay.

Her two other main plays are “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window”, which was on Broadway in 1964 but was not a hit, and “Les Blancs”.

Some of her writings were made into an autobiography after her death, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (1969). James  Baldwin wrote a beautiful introduction, “Sweet Lorraine”.

Incomplete works at the time of her death:

  • “Toussant”, an opera
  • “All the Dark and Beautiful Warriors”, an autobiographical novel

She was also thinking of doing plays on Pharaoh Akhnaton, Mary Wollstonecraft and Charles Chesnutt’s “The Marrow of Tradition” (1901).

Born on Chicago’s Southside. her family moved to a white suburb when she was eight. Angry whites gathered in front of their house.  A brick was thrown through the window that narrowly missed her. The police were unwilling to protect them. Later the state supreme court ordered them out of the house.

In 1948 she went to the University of Wisconsin. There she became interested in left-wing politics and theatre, studying Ibsen and Strindberg.

In 1950 she dropped out and headed for New York. There she took courses at the New School and, for three years, wrote regularly for Paul Robeson’s Freedom. Later she taught school in Harlem and took part in protests. At one protest she met Robert Nemiroff, whom she married in 1953. In 1956 he wrote a hit song with a friend (“Cindy, Oh, Cindy”) which allowed her to become a full-time writer. She started writing “A Raisin in the Sun”.

In 1960 she wrote “The Drinking Gourd”, a television show for NBC about slavery. NBC never aired it because it was too violent and too “divisive”. But you can read it in “Lorraine Hansberry: The Collected Last Plays” (1983).

In 1962 she joined SNCC and a year later she and James Baldwin went to see Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney General, to try to get him to understand race in America. In time their words sunk in.

In 1963 she began to lose her strength: the doctors said she had pancreatic cancer. Two years later she was dead – at age 34. Over 600 came to her funeral in Harlem.


Her going did not so much make me lonely as make me realize how lonely we were.

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AnAutobiographyOfAngelaDavisWritten: 1974
Read: 2009

“An Autobiography” (1974) by Angela Davis tells the story of the first 28 years of her life, from birth to her arrest, imprisonment and trial. It was edited by Toni Morrison, who had already written “The Bluest Eye” and was then working for Random House.

I got it from the library because it was out of print – but now it seems to be back in print again!

It is not as good as, say, the autobiography of Malcolm X, but it is still well worth reading.

Malcolm X was not only more important in history, his story is one of self-discovery, a search for the truth that remakes him. Like St Augustine’s “Confessions”.

Angela Davis’s life was far more straightforward: she saw how unjust American society was growing up and sought to change it by taking part in SNCC, the Black Panthers and the Communist Party. In time this landed her in prison.

The part about the trial was well written: it could have bored you to tears with all the ins and outs that trials have, but she avoided that. Best of all was the ending: even though you already knew she would win, you were still overjoyed when she does win! That is how the book ends.

The book starts two years before with her on the run from the FBI. She is arrested in New York and put in prison. Since she is to stand trial in California, she is sent back. At that point the book jumps back to fill in the first 26 years of her life and then ends with her imprisonment in California and the trial.

She writes at great length about her time in prison. It affected her powerfully, but not me: I expect prison to be terrible, so nothing she said shocked me.

The same goes for what she said about the police in Los Angeles: from living in New York I already knew how they can be. But it is nice to know that I am not just imagining it.

One of the best parts is her account of growing up in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s. It makes you see how some things have changed like night and day (like being able to walk in through the front door) while other things remain the same (like the police).

She won me over when she said she loves reading books but hates going to parties.

Another good part was her account of the Los Angeles police trying to wipe out the Black Panthers.

She lives in Los Angeles in the 1960s. There are no Jim Crow laws  there, yet in some ways the racism is worse: because the whites there know and understand blacks less they seem to regard them more like wild animals to be threatened, shot and put safely behind bars.

She says little about philosophy, which she studied for years, and little about racism in New York, where she lived during part of high school.

It is called “an” autobiography. Is she going to write another one?

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Angela Davis went from Brownie to Communist, from bookworm to black revolutionary. To her it seemed natural.  To accept American society the way it is would be to accept that there is something wrong with black people.

She grew up under Jim Crow in the American South in the 1950s in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents taught her to think for herself. The black schools in Birmingham were in terrible shape, but they did teach her black pride and black history. What she did not learn at school she made up for by reading books.

In 1959 at age 15 she won a scholarship to study at a private high school in New York: Elisabeth Irwin High School. It was where all the teachers who were too left-wing for public schools went to teach. Her school did not turn her into a communist, but it did make communism a respectable opinion.

She got another scholarship, this one to Brandeis University. She was almost the only black person there. She largely kept to herself – it was easier that way – and so she read and read, read books of French and books of philosophy – and books of French philosophy.

In 1963 she went abroad to study a year in France. She was barely in France when news hit that four black girls were killed in the bombing of a Birmingham church. She knew two of them. From growing up in Birmingham she knew bombings were used to keep blacks in line by fear and terror.

She noticed that the French saw the Algerians like how whites saw blacks back home. The Algerians were fighting a war to free themselves from French rule.

After Brandeis she studied philosophy in Germany under Theodor Adorno and then under Herbert Marcuse in San Diego in America. Of all the schools of philosophy she thought Marxism was the closest to the truth.

One summer she went to Cuba with friends, helping to cut sugar cane and seeing first-hand how communism had overturned racism.

Then back in America she saw first-hand how the Los Angeles police tried to wipe out the Black Panthers.

The police ruled the ghetto by fear and terror, not law and order. Shooting a man in the back they called “justifiable homicide”. They would break up protests by blacks, not allowing them the right of peaceful assembly. They would break into houses without a warrant and start shooting.  In the prisons it was even worse. The police and the prisons did whatever they wanted to black people –  the courts and the press did not care.

The only way to make them care was to stage mass protests. She helped to do this first as part of SNCC and then the Communist Party. She joined the Communist Party in July 1968 by paying 50 cents in dues. From her study of philosophy she found they had the best-grounded ideas and from her experience of Cuba they were the only ones who proved they could overthrow racism.

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linda40Linda Harrison (1945- ) is an American actress. She is world-famous, though not by name, for one part in one film where she spoke no lines at all: she played Nova, Charlton Heston’s girlfriend in “Planet of the Apes” (1968). She was also in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970) where she said just one word: “Taylor!”, the name of Heston’s character.

linda43I think she is one of the most beautiful white women ever. I was reminded of her when I was on Zaius Nation the other day.

She grew up in Berlin, Maryland on the Delmarva Peninsula. In the early 1960s she won a string of beauty contests in Maryland, becoming Miss Maryland in 1965 – and coming close to winning Miss USA.

In 1965 she came to New York to become a model and maybe an actress. She did a screen test for 20th Century Fox and landed a seven-year contract!

In 1966 she played a cheerleader twice on the television show “Batman” and was in a Jerry Lewis film, “Way… Way Out”.

linda04In 1967 she was in “A Guide for the Married Man”: she appears for five minutes with blonde hair but says no lines. She also became the first woman ever to play Wonder Woman for television (the show failed).

In 1968 she was in “Planet of the Apes”. Again no lines, but this time there was a good reason: her character lives in a world where apes talk and humans do not!

linda06About playing Nova she says:

I felt very intuitive that my particular personality and nature were like Nova. Automatically, I’d say that’s about 80% of the part. The director, the producer and the writer talked with me about her, and they described her as “sub-human.” We hadn’t really had an actress play “sub-human” before. Nova’s not like Raquel Welch’s character in “One Million Years B.C.” (1966). She was more primitive because of the apes’ suppression. We played it by ear and experimented. It was really a moment-to-moment thing.

The trope is Nubile Savage, kissing cousin of the Jungle Princess.

linda51In 1969 she played a regular character on the television show “Bracken’s World”, which was cancelled in the second season. About this time she made the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine and became friends with editor Helen Gurley Brown.

Also in 1969 she married Richard Zanuck, a producer whose father ran Fox. After “Bracken’s World” Harrison dropped out of sight to become a mother to two sons, Harrison and Dean. She divorced in 1978.

She later appeared in some other films, like “Airport 1975″ (1974) and “Cocoon” (1985), but nothing to top Nova.

She almost played Roy Scheider’s wife in “Jaws” (1975). Her husband produced “Jaws” and wanted her for the part, but unfortunately he was overruled by the head of Universal who put in his own wife instead.

Harrison appeared briefly in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes” as Woman In Cart.

These days you can still see her at science fiction conventions!


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Forty years ago this weekend, at the height of the Vietnam War, guitar great Jimi Hendrix played the national anthem at a concert in upstate New York. He appeared Monday morning at the very end of the three-day concert when many of the 400,000 concert-goers had already left. Hendrix came on after Sha Na Na. Hendrix had made his name in America two years before at the Monterey Pop Festival. In another year and a month Hendrix would be dead. He was a shooting star across our sky.

Jimi Hendrix was not particularly anti-war at the time. In 1967 he even did a radio spot urging young men to serve in the army, as he had done in the early 1960s.

He was probably attracted to “The Star-Spangled Banner” mainly as a musical challenge to see what he could do with a well-worn piece of music that had lost its freshness. He did the same to “God Save the Queen”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “Auld Lang Syne” and “Silent Night”.

Hendrix performed “Red House” at the same concert. His E string breaks during the song but he carries on and does the rest of the song without it. “Because he is that awesome,” as my son puts it.

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The Woodstock Music & Arts Fair (August 15th to 18th 1969) is one of the most famous music festivals of all time. It has become one of the images people have of America in the 1960s. About 400,000 came to Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York for “three days of peace and music”.  They heard Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, The Who and many others. The first day was largely folk music, the second two rock music, but much bluesier stuff than you hear now.

People see it as the height of the 1960s counterculture, but most who came were hardly hippies.

It became the third largest city in New York state – a city of children, Edwin Newman called it. Everywhere there was drugs, mud and great music. Some were naked,  some had sex in public. Some had tents, some slept under the stars – or in the heavy rains that came the first night. Pneumonia became a fear. Two were born there and two died (of heroin and a tractor backing over a sleeper). It was amazingly peaceful, laid back, live and let live. Peace, man.

The Who did not get on stage until five in the morning on Sunday – they wanted a certified cheque first. But once paid they delivered. They did all of “Tommy”, their new album. Right after the song “Pinball Wizard” Abbie Hoffman came on stage and took the microphone and said, “I think this is a pile of shit, while John Sinclair rots in prison!” Pete Townshend yelled at him, “FUCK OFF my fucking stage!” and hit him on the head with his guitar. Hoffman left.

After The Who played the sun came up and Grace Slick sang “White Rabbit”.

Jimi Hendrix closed out the show. He got on stage at nine Monday morning right after Sha Na Na (whose music was dated even then). Many had already left. Hendrix played for an hour doing 16 songs, among them his unforgettable “Star-Spangled Banner”. Then it was over.

A year later both Joplin and Hendrix would be dead.

The line-up:

  • Friday August 15th 1969
    • Richie Havens
    • Sweetwater
    • Bert Sommer
    • Tim Hardin
    • Ravi Shankar
    • Melanie
    • Arlo Guthrie
    • Joan Baez
  • Saturday August 16th 1969
    • Quill
    • Country Joe McDonald
    • John Sebastian
    • Keef Hartley
    • Santana
    • Incredible String Band
    • Canned Heat
    • Grateful Dead
    • Creedence Clearwater Revival
    • Janis Joplin
    • Sly and The Family Stone
    • The Who
  • Sunday August 17th 1969
    • Jefferson Airplane
    • Joe Cocker
    • Country Joe & The Fish
    • Leslie West/Mountain
    • Ten Years After
    • The Band
    • Johnny Winter
    • Blood Sweat And Tears
    • Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
  • Monday August 18th 1969
    • Paul Butterfield Blues Band
    • Sha Na Na
    • Jimi Hendrix

Who did not come:

  • Bob Dylan: his son was sick
  • Joni Mitchell: wanted to be on “The Dick Cavett Show” instead
  • The Doors: Jim Morrison does not do outdoor concerts
  • The Moody Blues; could make more money in Paris
  • The Byrds: did not think Woodstock would be anything great
  • Led Zeppelin: would not get top billing

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“Black is beautiful”

erykahbaduDisclaimer: Surprisingly, as much as this phrase is used, little is written online about it directly. So this is mainly from my imperfect memory:

“Black is beautiful” (1968) was a catchphrase from the Black Power movement in America. It meant that even though American society teaches in a thousand ways that white  is right and good and beautiful and that black is ugly and shameful and no-good, it was just so much brainwashing. “Black is beautiful” was an attempt to begin the unbrainwashing, to undo the internalized, black-on-black racism.

Malcolm X in Harlem in 1964:

We must recapture our heritage and our identity if we are ever to liberate ourselves from the bonds of white supremacy. We must launch a cultural revolution to unbrainwash an entire people.

Stokely Carmichael in 1966:

We have to stop being ashamed of being black. A broad nose, a thick lip and nappy hair is us, and we are going to call that beautiful whether they like it or not. We are not going to fry our hair anymore.


James Brown in 1968, reaching far more people through his songs:

Say it loud – I’m black and I’m proud.

The song in fact was about equal rights and freedom, but that line is what stuck in people’s heads. The song came out just when “Black is beautiful” was on everyone’s lips and helped to push it to the forefront.

Back then part of the power of “Black is beautiful” – and of the James Brown song – was the word “black”. It was not yet the main term for blacks like it is in this post. Instead people said “Negro” or “coloured”.

“Black” was the opposite of white and proud of it. “Negro”, meanwhile, got a bad name as being used by those who thought blacks should try to be more like white people in order to fit in and be accepted – assimilation, integration. So much so that “Negro pride” seems laughable whereas “black pride” does not.

As to “beautiful”, the phrase came when the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement showed how White America was not always so good and right and beautiful as it imagined itself to be. Even some young whites began to question it, protesting the war, becoming hippies, etc.

Some things that “Black is beautiful” helped along, though most of these were already in motion by 1968:

  • The term “black” instead of “Negro”
  • Natural hairstyles become way more acceptable: Afros, dreadlocks, etc.
  • Black ideas of female beauty become less openly white.
  • Fake African names (Shaquanda, etc)
  • African American Studies
  • Afrocentrism
  • Kwanzaa
  • Black History Month
  • Multiculturalism in America or, as the right puts it, cultural relativism
  • Blacks all over the world take more pride in themselves and their background as well as other ethnic minorities, like American Indians.
  • James Brown loses most of his white fans.

While it helped to increase black pride, internalized racism is still with us.

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a_cosmetics102Naomi Sims (1948-2009) was a black American supermodel from the 1960s, one of the first. Before there was Naomi Campbell, there was Naomi Sims. In November 1968 she became the first black woman on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal, the first to appear on a mainstream women’s magazine in America. She later went into business selling her own line of wigs and make-up designed for black women and wrote books about beauty and modelling. She died yesterday of cancer at age 61.

She was born in Mississippi but her family later moved up north to Pittsburgh, where she lived in a largely poor white neighbourhood. By 13 she was already 5 foot 10 (1.78 m) . She was picked on and became a loner. Growing up in an age before Twiggy and “Black is beautiful”, she was too tall, too thin and too dark to be considered beautiful. But her upbringing and her Catholic faith taught her to always walk with pride and dignity.

In 1966 she went to New York to live with her sister and study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her scholarship money was not enough, so she turned to modelling to put herself through school.

The model agencies all said no because she was black. So she called fashion photographers herself. One of them, Gosta Peterson, agreed to meet her.  His wife, it turned out, was the head of the fashion pages of the New York Times. In August 1967 she appeared in the Times.

After that success she went back to the model agencies but they still said no! So she talked one of them into letting her use their name and sent her layout in the Times to 100 advertising agencies. To the model agency’s utter amazement the calls started coming in! By November 1968 she was on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal.


life1969Her dark skin worked to her advantage: This was just when “Black is beautiful” was becoming a catchphrase and black tokenism was cutting edge stuff.

Within two years she was in all the fashion magazines. She made anything she wore look great and had her own way of walking down the runway that was beautiful to watch. She modelled for Halston, AT&T, Virginia Slims, Life magazine and others.

In 1972 Hollywood wanted her to star in “Cleopatra Jones”, a blaxpoitation film. When she read the script she said no: she was shocked at how racist it was.

In 1973 she made the cover of Cosmopolitan and then quit modelling.

Four years before she had said, “There is nothing sadder than an old, broke model.” So she went into business making wigs. She found out how to make hair that looked like straightened black women’s hair and then designed wigs in all the latest styles. In the 1980s she branched out into perfume, skin-care and make-up. By the 2000s, however, large white companies started to push her out.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s she wrote five books. One of them,”All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman” (1976),  is still in print.

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Thank God for “Soul Train”! Not only did they have all these great acts perform, they are still embeddable from YouTube.

The first number one hit of the Jackson 5 and still good 40 years later!

You might know the beginning of this song from another artist who sampled it. His name escapes me right now.


When I had you to myself
I didnt want you around
Those pretty faces always made you
Stand out in a crowd
Then someone picked you from the bunch
One glance was all it took
Now its much too late for me
To take second look

Oh baby give me one more chance
To show you that I love you
Wont you please send me back in your heart

Oh darlin I was blind to let you go
But now since I see you in his arms
I want you back
Yes I do now
I want you back
Oo oo baby
Yeah yeah….naw….

Trying to live without your love
Is one long sleepless night
Let me show you girl
That I know wrong from right

Every street you walk on
I leave tear stains on the ground
Following the girl
I didnt even want around

Abuh buh buh buh
All I want!
Abuh buh buh buh
All I need!
Abuh buh buh buh…..

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blue-green-eye-race-experimentThe blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise (1968) is a way to teach white people what racism is like. It was something that an American schoolteacher, Jane Elliott, came up with to teach her class of eight- and nine-year-olds in the all-white town of Riceville, Iowa.

Elliott had made Martin Luther King, Jr the Hero of the Month for her class in April 1968. But then a few days later he was shot dead. Her students asked why.

She asked them what they knew about black people. Even though few of them had ever met one, they informed her that:

  • They’re dirty
  • They stink
  • They don’t smell good
  • They riot, they steal
  • You can’t trust them, my dad says they better not try to move in next door to us.

So then she in turn informed them about blueys, you know, those blue-eyed people: they lacked intelligence, they do not work hard, they cannot be trusted. They just were not as good as brown-eyed people. Science has proved it!

She had a blue collar pinned round the neck of each blue-eyed child in class.

Because brownies, the brown-eyed people, were better, they got special privileges: five more minutes of playtime, second helpings of lunch, the right to drink water straight from the water fountain instead of from a cup, the right to tell the blueys what to do.

The blueys meanwhile suffered disadvantages: they were not allowed to play on the playground equipment and were not allowed to play with brownies.

In addition whenever a brownie did something good, she pointed it out. And when a bluey did something bad she made sure everyone knew about it.

What came next shocked even her.

Schoolwork: Some of the brownies were dyslexic, they had trouble reading, but then suddenly they could read and spell words they never could before! The blueys meanwhile became unsure of themselves and did poorly even though they had done just fine the day before.

Behaviour: The brownies called the blueys names and got into fights. The brownies became “arrogant, ugly, domineering, overbearing”. The blueys became sad, violent and their spirits sank. Not unlike the prisoners in the the Stanford Prison Experiment a few years later.

She did not tell the brownies how to act, she did not tell them to be mean, she just told them they were better and favoured them. But, as she pointed out later:

They already knew how to be racist because every one of them knew without my telling them how to treat those who were on the bottom.

The next day she told the class that she had lied: blue-eyed people, in fact, were better. After all, she was blue-eyed. So the collars went off the blueys and onto the brownies. Now the blueys did better in school and became overbearing – but they were not as bad as the brownies  because they knew what it was like to wear the collar.

It proved to her that racism is learned, that it is not something you are born with, that it does not have to be.

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Vietnamese Amerasians are those who were born to an American soldier and a Vietnamese mother during the time of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s. Outcasts in Vietnam, most are now in America living in poverty. Few have ever seen their fathers.

There are about 22,000 of them in America, at least 4,000 of which are black. Maybe 2,000 more still live in Vietnam but there is no way of knowing.

In Vietnam they were called “half-bloods” and “children of the dust”. They had no fathers in a land where fatherhood is strong. They were mixed in a land where almost everyone is pure Vietnamese. To the Vietnamese they looked like black and white Americans, they looked like the enemy of a long war in a country broken by that war.

They were outcasts. They were unwanted. Sometimes their mothers were outcasts, seen as loose women. Sometimes even their own mothers threw them out to live on the streets. Other children called them names, beat them up or were not allowed to play with them. Most only went to school for a few years. Some cannot even read.

When Saigon fell in 1975, about 2,000 of them were flown to America and were adopted. Of the rest many were hidden or made to look more Vietnamese. Any proof of their American fathers, like pictures and letters, were destroyed for the most part to save them from being killed by the army.

In 1988 America passed the Vietnamese Amerasian Homecoming Act. If you went to the Amerasian Transit Center in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), an American official would look at you and if you looked white enough or black enough he would send you on to a camp in the Philippines where you would learn a bit of English and something about America (not necessarily what you needed to know) and then be sent on to America where you would get some help for six months and then be left to sink or swim.

Most sank. Good work was hard to find: their English was bad, they had little education and no car. So most live in poverty.

met_amerasianLambert1Only 3% found their fathers. Partly because they had little to go on, partly because most of these men did not want to be found. Most fathers, when found, refused to see their children. Yes.

Full-blooded Vietnamese who live in America want little to do with them – they do not seem Vietnamese to them. Even to Asian Americans they often look too white or too black. And, because they are foreigners in America, black and white Americans do not see them as one of their own either.

So they are caught in the middle with no place they can truly call home. “Children of the dust” turned out to be a cruel truth.

For those who are black, sometimes called Afro-Amerasians, it is the worst. They got the least education in Vietnam, experienced the most racism and learned all the Vietnamese stereotypes about blacks, so much so that self-hatred and self-doubt is common.

– Abagond, 2009.

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Sandra Laing (1955- ) was a black girl born to white Afrikaner parents in South Africa back in the days of white rule and apartheid, of keeping the races apart.

It seems that her white father was her true father: blood tests showed that his blood matched hers. Sandra also looked too much like her brother Adriaan, who was white.

Although Sandra’s great grandparents were all white, someone in her family tree must have been passing for white, probably several people on both sides. Their genes came together in her. Most white Afrikaners are only about 89% white by blood.

The trouble started when she went to school. The white children called her names, like “blackie” and “frizzhead”. They hit her. The school did nothing to stop them: it saw her as the cause of the trouble.

For four years parents and teachers of the school pushed to have her kicked out. Then on March 10th 1966 the police came and took her out of the school: the government said she was no longer white in the eyes of the law but coloured (mixed-race).

For two years her father fought to have her changed back to white, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. He won. But it did little good: few white schools would take her. Nine said no. Only a Roman Catholic school far away said yes. By then she had fallen too far behind in her studies and never caught up.

Very few whites would befriend her. Nearly all her friends were black. She felt more comfortable with blacks than with whites.

At 14 she fell in love with a black man. Her father pulled a gun on him and told him never to come back and told her that if she married him, he will cut her off from the family.

At 15 she married him and ran off with him to Swaziland where she became his second wife. Her father made good on his threat.

LAING_3When she returned to South Africa she was forced by law to live in a black township, a place with no power or running water. Even worse, her children were not allowed to live with her: they were “black” and she was still “white”. She tried to get herself changed back to coloured so they could stay with her, but her father blocked it! It took her ten years to get them back.

Her father went to his grave never seeing her again. Even her two (white) brothers, who are still alive, will not see her. They blame her for their parents’ unhappiness: ever since she ran away they were never happy again. But she did get to see her mother in 2000 just before she died.

Her story was made into a documentary in the 1970s – which was not allowed to be shown in South Africa! It has also been made into a book, “When She Was White” by Judith Stone, and a British film, “Skin” (2009), starring Sophie Okonedo and Sam Neill.

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One of those songs I have played to death. Although it is from 1967, I did not get into it till 1997, probably through the U2 version.


Hearts go astray
Leaving hurt when they go
I went away
Just when you needed me so
Filled with regret
I come back begging you
Forgive, forget
Where’s the love we once knew

Open up your eyes
Then you’ll realize
Here I stand with my
Everlasting Love
Need you by my side
Girl to be my bride
You’ll never be denied
Everlasting Love
From the very start
Open up your heart
Be a lasting part of
Everlasting Love

Where life’s really flows
No-one really knows
‘Till someone’s there to
Show the way to
Everlasting Love
Like the sun it shines
Endlessly it shines
You always will be mine
It’s eternal love
Whenever loves are gone
Ours will be strong
We’d have our very own
Everlasting Love

Open up your eyes
Then you’ll realize
Here I stand with my
Everlasting Love
Need you by my side
Girl to be my bride
You’ll never be denied
Everlasting Love

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