Today, March 30th would have been my mother’s 79th birthday, had she not passed away on January 9th, 2005 so I thought maybe I’d post a few pix and say Happy Birthday, mom! This first one is from her trip to India in the early 1960s. One of my regrets regarding my parents is he lack of conversations I had with them about their lives. At least with dad I have his book to read and re-read (will be doing so later on this trip, actually) but with mom, all I have are fragments of her memoirs, which she was working on before she died. I would have loved to talk to her more about India and the Movement, but I can’t. So I make due with her writings and stories from her friends and pictures.
In 1960 mom was working for the National Guardian and it was for this newspaper that she would cover the Civil Rights movement. While packing up the apartment, I came across her official press ID card, signed by the notable and much revered journalist, James Aronson, for whom the James Aronson Award for Social Justice is named.
In 1957 mom traveled to “Red” China, in violation of a US State Department ban. (Not the first or last time she’d do something “against the rules,’ BTW!) She was already at a world youth conference in Moscow, so what the hell, right? She went with 40 others, some of whom would become lifelong family friends, including my godmother Faye Goodman, the reverend Warren McKenna and his wife Elizabeth and the late Sally Belfrage, one of the finest people I ever knew. Below is a picture of mom (2nd left), Warren and Faye. Not sure who the young Chinese woman is. I suspect a translator.
Below is the New York Times article from August 15th, 1957 about the trip to China:
I’m going to take a moment here and post a rare personal piece on this blog. I don’t do it very often, so bear with me, ok?
Four years ago today my mother, Joanne Grant Rabinowitz died suddenly of heart failure. The family was not expecting this and to say it turned things on their heads would be an understatement, as anyone who’s experienced a similar situation can understand. Mom and I had what might be called a rocky relationship and as is often the case, it is only in death that our relationship “improved,” as I find myself forgetting and letting go of the bad memories and feelings and missing the good, regretting not having the chance to improve our relationship.
At her memorial service a few months after she died, countless family friends payed their respect in addition to people I didn’t know, all telling me how wonderful my mother was. The thing is, they didn’t live with her, so it was like there were two people being remembered: Joanne Grant (her maiden/professional name) award-winning filmmaker, journalist, author and civil rights figure and Joanne Rabinowitz, my mother who drank too much and with whom I fought on a daily if not hourly basis for as far back as I can remember.
She was an amazing woman by many measures and it is only now, removed from our relationship as mother and son that I can begin to really appreciate her and mourn her loss and mine. All the rancor and anger fades with time, leaving the good memories and the sadness that comes with unfinished projects, again hers and mine. We never got to repair our relationship and I never got to read her memoirs or see the films and books she was working on.
I do have her existing books to read, film to watch, friends to talk to and memories to recall. In the end that’s all I can ask for, I guess.
It’s been some time since Barack Obama was declared the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party and I meant to write something then, but well, you know. I got busy and stuff. I meant to write about how proud I was, as a mixed-race, politically active man in a heretofore white political world. I wanted to write about what a party my mother Joanne Grant would have thrown at our house and how, as a fiercely proud mixed-race woman she would have whooped and hollered. (I think she would have supported John Edwards in the beginning because he ran to the left of Obama, but when it got down to it, she would have been ecstatic.)
I meant to write about how I sat there, watching Obama’s speech early in the morning on June 4th, weeping and missing my parents. They were so politically and socially active and they would have been so happy to have lived to see that day, a day that even as recently as this past spring many thought couldn’t happen. Until very recently, even for the most enlightened and progressive among us, the idea of a black presidential nominee, a serious presidential nominee was a quixotic tale, at best.
To presume that Obama was followed around by store detectives in the Honolulu, LA and New York malls he probably frequented when he lived there would not be a stretch. Hell, I bet he got that treatment when he was a lawyer, state legislator and US senator. Of course that was only until someone recognized him. Then it was all nervous “please don’t sue us” apologies. The equivalent of the store saying “Oh! We didn’t realize you were the good kind of nigger!” There are thousands of tales of driving while…, shopping while…, jogging while… and walking while Black.
Continue reading Black (And White) Like Me: Thoughts On Obama, Race And Me In America