My grandmother, Geneva Wright, in the 1950s in Syracuse, New York.
I grew up hearing a story.
My grandmother was a cleaning lady for a white family that kept the fingers and toes of black people in a jar on their mantle. No, this was not slavery. This was 1940's South Carolina. When I saw Lee Daniels' The Butler, I thought of my grandmother's experience, and how one can endure and somehow withstand dehumanization on a daily basis, only to survive, and love after it all.
As a little girl, Samantha Knowles didn't stop to consider why most of her dolls—her American Girl dolls, her Cabbage Patch Kids, her Barbie dolls—were black like her. But black dolls were not common in her upstate New York hometown, whose population remains overwhelmingly white. So when Knowles was 8 years old, one of her friends innocently asked "Why do you have black dolls?" And she didn't know quite what to say.
But that question stuck with her, and in college, she started to consider how she would answer as an adult. Finally, as an undergraduate film student at Dartmouth, she connected with a small but passionate group of black doll enthusiasts who gather at black doll shows around the country, and for her senior honors thesis, Knowles, now 22, completed a documentary called "Why Do You Have Black Dolls?" to articulate the answer.
What the Brooklyn filmmaker didn't know was that her mother felt so strongly that her daughters, Samantha and Jillian, have dolls of their own race, that she would stand in line at stores or make special orders to make sure they got one of the few black versions. "My parents made sure to get us a lot of black dolls in a wide variety of hues and shapes," Samantha Knowles says. "We didn't have exclusively black dolls, but we had mostly black dolls. After I started working on the film, I had a lot of conversations with my mom, and she would say, 'Oh, you don't know what I had to go through to get some of those dolls!'"
Don't Explain, a collaborative effort between blues revivalists Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, hit stores yesterday. It features a range of traditional blues, soul and even gospel classics first made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Of course, the intention is homage, but the artists are facing criticisms about cultural appropriation.
The opening track, "Sinner's Prayer" (lyrics) was recorded by both Lowell Fulson and Ray Charles in the 1950s. Here's their version: