MCI: There is no race
A Thread of Cotton in Philadelphia
He Will Erase Your Past to Protect Your Future

I dream the following dream the night after finishing Albert Murray’s new novel The Seven League Boots.

A white man of uncertain age stands next to a black woman with a long linen dress, sort of like the dress worn on the woman on the cover of Eudora Welty Photographs, but cleaner. It is a plain dress but it sheathes her slim body well. She has shoulder-length dreads. Her class or even her era (from the present? the past?) is ambiguous.
The man and woman stand facing each other, not too far apart but not that close. When the man moves, the woman imitates him. (He stands in place but moves his body in other ways.) This happens several times. At first, it seems as if this began spontaneously on her part. But as it evolves it seems that she is imitating and parodying every move he makes, turning them into a pose. (Her imitations are not quite exact; they are broader and somehow more expressive and ironic, thus suggesting parody.) After awhile, what is “original” and what is “imitation” or “parody” seem confused & intermixed.
Then the woman says something like, “We use just the right words, quick and to-the-point. Like seventeen syllables.”
“Seventeen syllables” seems to be a reference to haiku, the art of implying many complexities but with just 17 total syllables, in 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables each.
Who is the “we” in the woman’s comment referring to? Women? Blacks? Black women?
Who’s the white man? me? someone else? a generic figure?
‘Haiku’ as a code for any racial otherness to you, thus the inconsiderate blending of black + Japanese, etc.? If so, really sloppy.
A last thought: the “point of view” in the dream kept shifting, from through the man’s eyes to the perspective of an (invisible) onlooker seeing both figures interacting. Attempting to get ‘outside’ the white man’s ways of seeing. At no time did the dream see things from the woman’s point of view.
Hey, Dreamcaster---I have an issue to raise with you!

and relevance to the Murray reading? Contrast this dream with the ease with which Murray’s fantasy-hero in Boots is accepted everywhere, a wish-fulfillment superman. it’s a disappointing end to the Scooter trilogy of novels*, by in large, though Murray’s signifyin’ on the history of the Ellington and Basie bands is fun and fascinating to follow.

*which also include The Spyglass Tree (1991) and Train Whistle Guitar (1974)


No Race

A black girl goes to a blackboard, where the word RACE is written in capital letters. She draws a line though it.

After various other such scenes, where voices say things like, “there is no race,” “there are no disabilities,” etc., a voice then says, “There is only mind.” Then printed on the screen appear these words: “Is this Utopia?” The reply: “No, it’s the Internet.” To conclude the commercial, a graphic appears explaining that MCI has the largest Internet network of any of the major telephone services.

This vision that race is now irrelevant; that we all can be whoever we say we are, is a new version of Crevecoeur’s famous 18th-century definition of the American as a “new” man, an invented self without history. It is a Utopian racial vision of U.S. at turn of the millennium, precisely a hundred years after the formal legal approval of the most systematic apartheid separation those with constitutional/citizen rights and those without, solely on the basis of supposed “racial” identity (1896). First, this new market-oriented utopian vision denies history completely; it is a modern, secular version of original American millennial thought: all can be made new (= history erased).

[1997, MCI TV ad]

A Thread of Cotton in Philadelphia

A sign on the vestibule walls of 1508 Walnut St., Philadelphia, uncovered during demolition and reconstruction of the building’s interior in 1995 to turn it into a record store. This nineteenth-century sign demonstrates the thin but unbreakable cotton thread linking Philadelphia’s economy to that of the slave plantations and cotton mills of the South.

Joshua Baily & Company
Philadelphia selling agents for

Erwin Cotton Mills, W. Durham, Duke, and Cooleemee (?), N.C.
Durham Cotton Mfg. Co., E. Durham, N.C.
Pearl Cotton Mills, E. Durham, N.C.
Locke Cotton Mills Co., Concord, N.C.
Neuse Mfg. Co., Neuse, N.C.
The Toccoa Cotton Mills, Toccoa, Ga.
Riverside Mills, Inc., Worthville, N.C.

---found in an article by Richard Jones, “The Scene In Philadelphia and its Suburbs,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 3-10-95, p. B2. Above commentary is my own.

Malcolm X: “I call it up South, not up North” (paraphrase).

another joke (source forgotten): “Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh at one end and Philly at the other and Alabama in the middle.”

Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Surplus Disorder

“He will erase your past to protect your future.”

This promo for a summer 1996 Hollywood movie (Schwartzenegger’s Eraser) also sounds like the perfect slogan for our country’s politics. Vanessa Williams, the black actress and singer, interestingly enough, plays the character who needs to have the feds (represented by Arnold) rewrite her past, as part of the witness protection program. Of course, this program is designed to protect only certain kinds of witnesses, who say only things useful for the government’s point of view. Other witnesses may be erased in a different way: erased from history.

Parts that Vanessa Williams might have played in 1996? Other scripts she was offered?

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