Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: MacArthur Genius Grant

Human indignity for all?

Is this the best we can offer?

Indignity: treatment or circumstances that cause one to feel shame or to lose one’s dignity. Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or country of origin. Which, in my book, amounts to indignity for all of us.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was simple: human dignity for all.

Or, as Dr. King put it when writing in 1963 about his own children:

I dream that one day soon
they will no longer be judged by the color of their skin
but by the content of their character.

The quote comes from the opening pages of Dr. King’s book, Why We Can’t Wait.

Today, 57 years later, we’ve gone backwards. Especially, though not only for African Americans.

Yesterday D and I went to see Just Mercy, a recently released movie. It’s based on Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy: A story of Justice and Redemption. Stevenson, a Harvard-trained attorney and recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant, writes about one of his first cases as a young black attorney working in the South.

The movie depicts what happens to two black men placed on death row before receiving a fair trial, and what it takes to deal with the status quo. The judicial system’s message is clear: You won’t get out of here alive, no matter what evidence is produced in your trial or on appeal. But what happens in the end, and how?

February is Black History Month here in the USA. Just Mercy is being shown in several cinemas in the Philadelphia area. If you haven’t or can’t see the movie, check out a copy of the book. It’s at least as clear, heartbreaking and challenging as the movie.

This movie was my choice yesterday evening, rather than watching/listening to the President’s State of the Union address. It was a splendid choice.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 February 2020
Image from the movie found at

Listening to Rhiannon Giddens

Have you met Rhiannon Giddens? She was recently chosen to become a MacArthur Fellow which includes receiving a MacArthur Genius Grant. You can see a list of all recipients since 1981 at the link above.

So why was Ms. Giddens chosen? Not for anything she had already accomplished, but as an investment in her originality, insight, and potential as a musician. The award has been given out every year since 1981, always to a group of persons with potential in a range of areas. A committee chooses the recipients; there is no application process.

Ms. Giddens is the daughter of a White father and a Black mother. They met and married in North Carolina in the 1970s, just three years after the USA legalized interracial marriage. The song above, accompanied by Ms. Giddens on her banjo, uses two voices. Julie is a Black servant; Mistress is her White mistress. Each verse is in a different voice. This is Ms. Giddens’ way of drawing on her bi-racial identity. Particularly given the history of North Carolina that led to the brutal massacre of 1898.

The song takes us back to 1898 and the moments leading up to the arrival of White men intent on killing as many Black men, women and children as possible. In the last stanzas we learn the truth about Julie and her Mistress.

Lectures and books about our current racial issues are important. Yet they don’t move me or give me as much insight into the tangled mess we’ve inherited than do music, poetry or stories of this depth from artists such as Ms. Giddens.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 April 2018
Video found on YouTube

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