“I am not your negro!”

“I am not your negro!”

After having seen the Oscar film “Moonlight” at the cinema and read the American Classical “Black Boy” by Richard Wright published in 1945 (see my blog from March), I started to investigate further on the situation of colored people (or as Malcolm X put it: “the so-called negroes of America“).

First I went to see a great exhibition, “I Am You” with photographs of the multi-talent Gordon Parks. He is best remembered for his iconic photos of Americans during the 1940s, for his photographic essays for Life magazine, and as the director of the 1971 film Shaft. His essay “a Harlem gang leader” published 1948 in the Life Magazine was one of the best sociological descriptions about young people and their strategies to survive poverty. Gordon Parks was the first African American to produce and direct major motion pictures—developing films relating the experience of slaves and struggling black Americans, and creating the “blaxploitation” genre. The poster of the exhibition shows the famous “Doll-Test“: In the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed and conducted a series of experiments known colloquially as “the doll tests” to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. The Clarks used four dolls, identical except for color, to test children’s racial perceptions. The (colored and white) children between the ages of three to seven, were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which doll they prefer. A majority of the children (also the colored ones!) preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem. The results of the test and the subsequent public discussion lead to the end of segregation in public schools de jure in 1954, after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. In the decade following Brown, the South resisted enforcement of the Court’s decision. States and school districts did little to reduce segregation, and schools remained almost completely segregated until 1968. Nowadays white racists send their children simply to private schools where the director could decide only to admit white students…

I also browsed through Robert Frank’s book “The Americans”, another important book in the American History of Photography, published 1958 and full of lovely black and white photographs. One of his famous ones is the cover picture that shows the segregation in the bus services: blacks had to sit at the back of the bus and if it was too crowded, then blacks had to leave. Another great and famous picture about segregation is by one of my favorite photographers, Elliot Erwitt; you see a water dispenser, divided in two parts: the bigger one for whites, the smaller one for blacks.

Then I watched I Am Not Your Negro, a 2016 American documentary film directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin‘s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson (in the German version narrated by Samy de Luxe), the film explores the history of racism and violence in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. all three assassinated in the 60ties of the 20th century. “The history of Black Americans is the history of the Americans and it is not a good one”. It is a beautiful film and I was deeply impressed by the last words in the film, that are the very essence of the whole question when he says (click on the link an watch it): “I am not a nigger, I am a man. You invented the idea of negroes and you should ask yourself why. Who thinks that I am an nigger needs one!”.

Deeply impressed by James Baldwin, I read his very important book “The fire next time”, (a quotation from the bible when God speaks to Noah). in the first part, in a letter to his nephew, he explains that after 100 years of freedom from slavery there are still no equal rights for Blacks in the US. In the second part, Baldwin states clearly that the “racial question” is not something that matters only to colored people but that is THE question for the future of the US American society. “The future of colored people in the US is precisely as dark or bright as the future of this country”. What place in society is assigned to Colored? Listen to ho Baldwin expresses this with his own words here.

Last but not least I went to the cinema to watch the documentary “Do Not Resist” written and directed by Craig Atkinson, 2016. This film is an urgent and powerful exploration into the militarization of American police forces. Starting on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, as the black community and civil rights movement demonstrates asking for justice for Micheal Brown – a black student killed by a policeman with 12 bullets on August 9th, 2014) – this film shows that the difficult relationship between law enforcement and Afro Americans has not changed until today. (Did you know that the predecessors of the today US police are the slave patrols of the Old South that could do whatever they wanted to the slaves but not killing them, as they were the economical asset of their owners?). The film offers a stunning look at the current state of policing in America and a glimpse into what it means for the country’s future. You see a weird police training seminar and you get shocked by new technologies including predictive policing algorithms that assign scores to people based on their education and race to forecast how likely it is that this person will commit a crime or even become a murder.

Bloody tomatoes from Southern Italy

Bloody tomatoes from Southern Italy

No, this post is not about cooking. It is about slavery. It is about the book I just finished reading: “Uomini e caporali” (“men & foremen”) written by an Italian journalist and writer, Alessandro Leogrande.

We all love “Spaghetti al pomodoro”, noodles with tomatoes – don’t you, too? Made with tomatoes in cans, most of them coming from Southern Italy: Puglia or Campagna. (In the latter many of the tomatoes coming from Puglia are processed and put in cans or bottles). But who is harvesting those tomatoes and what are his or her work condition?

Every summer men and women from Africa and Eastern Europe pour into the “Tavoliere”, a region of Puglia to engage in harvesting tomatoes. They are the modern day-laborers of agriculture. They become victims of corporatists who in alignment with the landowners deploy them through the region. They live in insanitary dwellings and accept wages that are far below any legal standards which often are not paid at all. They are isolated. They suffer hunger and thirst. Their passports are taken away. They have to pay exaggerated prices for food and water and transport from their already misery wages. Sometimes they are even beaten. Some of those new slaves who try to rebel just “disappear” or die in “strange circumstances”. As of this list from an Polish association called “Italy” today there are still 115 people missing.

But in the summer of 2005, three Polish students managed to escape from their guards and reach the Polish consulate in Bari. Due to their denunciation it was possible to arrest dozens of formen or better said slave drivers. The author met the victims, studied the techniques of those new “Kapò” and interviewed magistrates, lawyers, doctors and syndicalists who tried to oppose this cruel exploitation. Three years later he returned and the situation seems to have improved: The landowners or farmers decided to engage machines because they are now more convenient. They hadn’t been in respect to the slaves. The situation for the Polish improved. But today, there are dozens of Romanians missing and a handful died in “strange circumstances”. Because as long as the companies behind this system will try to lower even more the labor costs to raise their own profit this system of modern slavery will continue.


How tourism changed their world

How tourism changed their world

Since 1972 we come as tourists to this small village in Sardinia. Every year, sometimes twices. I even worked here for two seasons. In 1989 at the bar of one of the restaurants. This is where I learned Italian and made friendships for life. One year later I had the best job ever – I was renting bicycles to tourists, sitting virtually the whole day in the sun, reading newspapers or books and waiting for tourists to sign a small contract, joking with them in different languages. Good times!

In those two long summers I got to know the people and the culture here quite well and I saw the growth since then. But also my father observed how things changed. Until the 60ties main income was based on mixed farming. Then tourists from “the continent” (how the islanders call their fellow citizens from Italy) as well as from Germany, Switzerland, France and other countries arrived and changed the live of the around 3000 inhabitants. The entire village was catapulted from a simple and archaic culture with ancient traditions into a modern, globalized and complicated world – in only four decades. High speed. What did this do with the people here? How did they manage to stay humble and build a sustainable tourism without committing the mistakes so many other touristic places and coasts in Europe did? Big questions I try to find answers to by interviewing people, taking pictures and also collecting pictures from the last four decades. The one you see above is said to be from the 1950ies.

Based on this material I want to write a book and dedicate it to the wonderful people of this small paradise on earth. Now in my sabbatical I finally have time for this project. By the way, I am not the first German writing a book about the village: the other one is much more famous in Germany, Ernst Jünger. He wrote “Am Sarazenenturm”, (in Italian: “Terra Sarda”) in 1954. The book was published one year later, the year electricity arrived in all households. Jünger was forecasting that progress and modernity would destroy this idyllic life and I want to find out if he was right with his premonition…

(c) The holder of the copyright of the picture above from the 1950s is unknown.

Ma father and the sea

My father

When have you spend exclusive time with your father (or your mother) lately?

I hadn’t for years. During school and my university studies, my father was very busy, working in IT. Since he retired I was very busy, working in IT.

Until some weeks ago, as you know…

Now we are in Sardinia together. Just he and me alone. For two weeks. We are discovering each other again. What we like to drink and eat. When we go to bed or wake up. What we read, what we think. I have plenty of time to ask about the past. How was I as a child? How was Sardinia in the seventies? Why he married my mother? Why did they buy a territory and build a house in Sardinia? How was his father when my father was a boy? How was my grandmother as a mother? What are my fathers’s values and drivers in live?

He has time to discuss with me his thoughts about the future of humanity, when Artificial Intelligence Systems will gain more and more influence. My father is engaged in a foundation caring about The Human Use of IT :  How can we avoid that one day mankind is ruled by machines? What rules do we have to set to make machines respect human beings and their values?

You think this is kind of ‘voodoo’ and far away? You are wrong. It isn’t. we are almost there. Read the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers and you realize that IT Technology is already ruling our daily lives. Have Or look at the new generation, feeling under pressure by having to “like” their friends’s Social Media contributions in a timeline that never ends. Have you heard about cars driving alone? You certainly know Siri or other “smart assistents”on your “smart phones”. They will get even smarter. Filter your phone calls for you, take decision for you. But based on which values or parameters?

My father is a visionary men. He worked in IT since the early nineteensixties. He is passionate about philosophy, he already was as a young man. This is a rare combination and our daily walks at the seaside or through pine-tree forests are full of interesting discussions about strengthening human rights and democracy: today and in a future dominated by artificial intelligence.

First week: at home, reading books

First week: at home, reading books

It is four weeks now that I quit my job. At my first day of freedom I catched a cold and had to stay at home. You know that: The very moment you start to relax, also your immune system does. Well, time to read at least some books: “Bergsteigen im Flachland” for example, 600 pages. Very interesting, deep dive into the Balkans in the late 90ies.

Or Black Boy, a literary classic of the US, written in 1946 by Richard Wright. I was deeply impressed by the poverty and permanent hunger this boy experienced.

I also made it to the cinema: Moonlight. It was different from the typical Hollywood productions and I liked it. Is this film about being black? Or being gay? Or isn’t is more about (non-) communication? Is the key question of this film the dialogue between the protagonist and his best friend at the beach, the older telling the younger that there will be a day when you have to chose which way to go and what to do with your live before others chose this for you? Or is it the final dialogue between the protagonist and his then best friend about living the life you always wanted instead of doing what others expect from you?