Everybody has an opinion. Thank you for reading mine.
This is my post for April 26, 2015. My column, "I Beg to Differ," ran from 2005 through 2011 in the Sunday Morning News of Oakland, California. I have posted some of my columns on this website as examples of my writing. I periodically change the columns here for variety. Please enjoy these columns. Thank you for stopping by!
"I BEG TO DIFFER"
a weekly opinion column by Akilah Asha Jeffery
(as featured in the Sunday Morning News of Oakland, California)
(Special Note: "I Beg to Differ" ran from March of 2005 until May of 2011 when Sunday Morning News ceased production. In appreciation of the support of my readers over the years, I will continue to post popular columns from past publications on this website.)
I Beg to Differ
(November 28, 2007)
by Akilah A. Jeffery
Going Crazy Over Stuff!
Talk about "out of control!" The day after Thanksgiving is a time when price-conscious consumers get the opportunity to load up on Christmas presents on sale. The day is called "Black Friday," the day when stores expect to balance their books after heavy sales. It's also perhaps America's most embarrassing day of the year.
Stores have been preparing shoppers to take advantage of the day, with at least one chain of stores, Target, going the extra mile. One Target ad featured a figure of a person practicing a kick move. The figure ran, pushing a shopping cart and tossing a chasing dog into it. "Don't let anything get in your way," said the ad's announcer.
Shoppers at Fry's Electronics store in Fremont, California took such a notion seriously. As the stampede of shoppers rushed the barely opened doors of the store, an unlucky man trying to walk along the side of the crowd was knocked down to the ground by the mob. He screamed as people stepped on top of him in their zeal to get to the deals.
I'm sure that the average person on any other day probably would have looked down, thinking, 'Gee, what moving thing did I just step on?' But on this day, only a couple of shoppers stopped long enough to check the man's condition. With such a display of calculated indifference, it would not be surprising if a few store openings attracted some non-shoppers just looking for a fight.
There are some impromptu rules for Black Friday bargain-brawlers. Rule number one: get in where you fit in. That means squeezing through doors, navigating your way through people and, if necessary, pushing them out of the way. People might not only be crushing in from all around. If you're not careful where you step, you may end up joining grounded shoppers who have found themselves temporarily out of circulation.
Rule number two: if you fall onto your back, roll over to your knees. If you manage to get back onto your feel, run as fast as you can to make up for lost time.
Rule number three: you must believe the hype. If you think sleeping on a sidewalk outside of a store at midnight is too extreme, then you might put things into perspective. That might cause you to remember what Christmas is really about, and then you'll toss less money at the altars of consumerism. Wall Street needs your cooperation.
Is the feeling of being first in line with some trinket worth the guilt or, worse, the apathy towards physically knocking someone out of contention for it? Hopefully not!
The song of the Little Drummer Boy extols the perfect contradiction to the culture of consumerism. The little actions we do out of love for others are the things that really matter, not all the superfluous stuff we can give them. You can log on to www.akilah.com to send feedback.
I Beg to Differ
(Originally published December 25, 2005)
by Akilah Asha Jeffery
"No Such Thing As Santa?"
If you have an older child who still believes in Santa Claus, your next moment of truth might sound a little like this.
Mother: "There's something you really need to know."
Child: "What is it, Mom?"
Mother: "Do you remember all those presents you got last year?"
Mother: "Well, Santa didn't give them to you. I did."
Child: "What? But you said that Santa left them for me."
Mother: "Honey, Santa's not real."
This admission may be met by stunned silence, tearful acceptance, or maybe even the angry indictment: "You lied to me!"
If you have already had this conversation, or if you dread doing so, here is some honest information about good ole St. Nick that might lessen the blow for children and parents alike. Santa Claus actually is, or was, a real person.
The real Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas of Myra, was a Turkish bishop, born around 280 A.D. Santa Claus is an anglicized form of the name, "Sinkterclaus," which is Dutch for "Saint Nicholas." St. Nicholas is also referred to as "Kris Kringle," "Papa Noel," "Father Christmas" and "St. Nick." St. Nicholas had a reputation for giving gifts to the poor from his sack, particularly at Christmastime. He was known to show compassion to beggars, the infirmed, and people who were shunned by society. After giving away all of his inheritance, he traveled the Turkish countryside, helping others. According to ancient Greek history, he was imprisoned by Diocletian during the persecution of Christians and later participated in the Council of Nicea, where the first complete Bible was codified.
One of his most famous deeds was saving the three impoverished daughters of a Christian woman from her husband's plan to sell them into prostitution. St. Nicholas provided the dowries of all three girls. Perhaps it was this deed that led many to consider St. Nicholas a heavenly advocate for the merciful treatment of prostitutes. In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, St. Nicholas is also considered a patron saint of prisoners, pawnbrokers, lawyers, seamen, archers, pharmacists, and perhaps most happily, children and merchants.
St. Nicholas' life of generosity became legendary after his death and fueled folkloric traditions across Europe and throughout the world. In Russia, "Der Moroz," (Russian for "Grandfather Frost") was believed to wear a long white beard and a red suit with white fir trim. In England, St. Nicholas was thought to fill children’s stockings and pillowcases with toys.
The Episcopal minister Clement Clark Moore gave the English-speaking world its definitive notions of a magical Santa Claus through his classic poem, "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," which opens with the famous words, "'Twas the night before Christmas?" Artist Thomas Nast popularized the American icon of Santa as a portly, rosy-cheeked fellow, dressed in the red and white uniform of "Der Moroz," when his drawings of Santa Claus appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1881.
One of the most famous editorial accounts of Santa's true nature was published in the New York Sun in 1897. In a letter to the editor, 8 year old Virginia O'Hanlon asked, "Is there a Santa Claus?" Editorialist Francis P. Church responded, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." I think the real St. Nick would agree.
Fans of American baseball often speak of the "boys of summer," an old euphemism for American baseball players. The girls of summer are lesser known but nonetheless accomplished.
Female baseball players were portrayed in the docudrama, "A League of Their Own." The film featured a real life all-white women's baseball league during the World War II era. In one scene, a black woman served as a guest pitcher and threw out the first ball of the game. The scene symbolized that black women were also talented ballplayers even if they didn't often get the chance to play for the All American Girls Baseball League. Few people may know that the Negro league also had female players, and they played right alongside the men.
An August 8, 2010 article in the United Kingdom's "Guardian" newspaper touted 18-year old Eri Yoshida as "only the third woman in history ... to play in the US male professional baseball leagues." Of course, that statement is inaccurate. Yoshida, who plays for the minor Golden Baseball League's Outlaws of Chico, CA, is not the third woman by a long-shot.
Women played against men in professional baseball leagues as early as the late 1800s. "Bloomer Girls" clubs were mostly female or all female teams that played against male teams. One of the first Bloomer Girls clubs was the Dolly Vardens, an African American women’s baseball team in Philadelphia established in 1867. The Dolly Vardens were the first paid team, male or female, receiving a salary two years ahead of the all male Cincinnati Red Stockings team of 1869.
While African Americans were segregated to the Negro Leagues for much of the 1900s, talented novelty women players made their mark there, too. Connie Morgan, Mamie "Peanut" Johnson and Toni Stone were three African American female crowd favorites in the otherwise all-male Negro League. Excluded from the All American Girls Baseball League because of their ethnicity, Morgan, Johnson and Stone played for Negro League teams during the 1950s. A book entitled "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League," by Martha Ackmann gives a biographical account of life for an African American woman in major league baseball during that time.
When "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron left the Negro League to play for the Major Leagues in 1952, Toni Stone replaced him on the Indianapolis Clowns Negro League team. She had the fourth highest batting average in the league in 1953, batting .364. That batting average was not due to a lack of competition, either. Stone played against top African American players of the day including Willie Mays and Satchel Paige.
In time women players fell out of favor in Major League Baseball and the Negro League folded. Baseball became an all-male sport, but in another era the African American girls of summer took to the fields, blazing paths for Eri Yoshida and other female professional athletes.
I Beg to Differ
(Published March 27, 2011)
by Akilah A. Jeffery
Black Pioneers of the Pacific Northwest, Part 1
Did a Black man explore the western United States alongside Lewis and Clark? For generations American school children were taught that Lewis and Clark were the brave explorers who made their expedition out west from 1804 to 1806 with the help of Sacagewea, a Native American chief's daughter. What the history books fail to mention is that a Black man named York came along for the journey.
York, William Clark's Black slave, was an invaluable member of the expedition party who accompanied Lewis and Clark in their extraordinary journey, but York is rarely depicted in paintings of the expedition. His name is largely forgotten, perhaps out of embarrassment that a national hero like William Clark owned a slave. Organizations like the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, WA and blackpast.org provide a wealth of such little known facts.
Although he was an impressive historical figure, York was not the first person of African descent to reach the western coast of North America. That distinction belonged to Marcus Lopez who explored the west coast aboard an American ship called the Lady Washington in 1788.
As United States territories expanded west during the 1800s, so did the dreams of African Americans longing to escape to a land that did not yet know societal prejudices. Fed up with racism in Missouri, an African American man named George Washington Bush and his wife Isabel left for the Oregon territory by wagon in 1844. They arrived in Oregon in 1844, but unlike other travelers Bush would not feel free to settle there. The Oregon Provincial Government had enacted a Black Exclusion Law stating that Black travelers who settled there could be punished by lashing, and that the authority to carry out the punishment was vested in any White citizen in Oregon. Some citizens were happy to carry out the punishment, so Bush and his fellow travelers continued north to Washington's Puget Sound area.
Upon arriving in the south sound area they cleared trees and built homes in what later became the greater metropolitan area of Washington's state capital, Olympia. In doing this Bush became the first known settler of African descent in the state of Washington. His exploits became the subject of a series of paintings by African American artist Jacob Lawrence. Bush's son, William Owen, an accomplished farmer, was later elected to the state legislature where he drafted the bill for the creation of the Washington State University system.
Black pioneers in the mid 1800s faced another obstacle to settling in the northwest at that time. They were not allowed to acquire homesteads, but they learned to be resourceful. In 1850, another Black settler named simply George Washington bought his property from a White family who were able to acquire the land. He founded the city of Centralia, Washington.
Other African Americans followed and found work on railroads, ships, in coal mines and as farmers and servants. They won public offices in majority White towns. Their children attended integrated schools, and for the lucky few who found themselves in Washington, opportunity was within reach.
I Beg to Differ
(Published April 3, 2011)
by Akilah A. Jeffery
Black Pioneers of the Pacific Northwest, Part 2
North America's Pacific coast was still considered a frontier for much of the 1800s. Only the bravest and most determined settlers ventured to the far west. African Americans were among these persevering men and women.
Oregon's Black Exclusion Law did not stop one Black woman, Mary Jane Holmes Shipley Drake, from remaining after settling there in 1844. Outside of Oregon, Jasper and Belle Evans, an African American couple, found success as farmers in Yakima, Washington.
Some African Americans were elected to high ranking positions in majority White communities. Mifflin Gibbs left the racism of California behind and became the first Black elected official of Victoria, British Columbia in 1858. In 1897 a Black man named Nathaniel Sargeant was elected Officer of the Peace in Seabeck, WA.
Some African Americans might have crossed west along the Beckwourth Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This pass was named after James Pierson Beckwourth, a legendary African American fur trapper and miner who discovered the pass and lived at various times with the Crow Indian Nation.
California's early landscapes, gold rush towns and settlements were immortalized in the paintings of Grafton Tyler Brown, California's first professional African American artist. Brown, also a lithographer, owned the San Francisco-based G.T. Brown & Co. in 1867. Brown sold the business in 1872 and opened an artist studio in Victoria, British Columbia. He later became a member of the Portland Art Society in Oregon. A champion of preserving the northwest's open land, Brown produced a map of Yellowstone National Park in 1894 before dying in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Northwest demographics changed dramatically when 300 Black replacement workers were brought to Roslyn, WA in 1888 during a strike at a mine. Many more Black mine workers followed, perhaps making a stop at "Our House." Founded by an African American named William Grose in 1861, "Our House" was Seattle's second hotel.
Annie Kate Garrison, the grand niece of Chief (Sealth) Seattle attended one of the first public schools in the Kitsap area. Her father was John Garrison, the first African American settler in Kitsap County, WA who cultivated a large land area and operated a successful oyster farm.
African American crews paved Spokane, Washington's famous Riverside Avenue in 1898. In 1904, the "Buffalo soldiers" of the all Black 9th Cavalry Regiment participated in maneuvers at American Lake, Washington which later became Camp Lewis.
Portland's Black newspaper, "The Advocate," was established in 1903. Its slogan was, "Don't ask for your rights, TAKE THEM." The newspaper's owner and operator after 1912 was Beatrice Morrow Cannady, an African American female graduate of Northwestern School of Law and a Portland attorney who helped repeal Oregon's laws prohibiting African Americans from settling or voting in the state. By the mid 1940s African Americans worked in Portland shipyards, Seattle aircraft factories and the Hanford nuclear reservation.
Langston Hughes summed up the thinking of African Americans heading west in "One Way Ticket" (1948), "I pick up my life and take the train to Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake, any place that is north and west - and not south."
ABOUT ME I am pleased to announce my first weekly column, "I Beg to Differ," featured in the Sunday Morning News in Oakland, California, U.S.A. I grew up in Oakland, California and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and Vanderbilt University Law School. I am an immigration attorney, working to uphold the rights of immigrants and every human being. I enjoy art, music, cooking and volunteering in my spare time.