Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hippies and Eagles

"There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud." Carl Sandburg
This morning, All Art Friday over at Maureen's place, Writing Without Paper, includes a video Witness: The Art of Jerry Pinkney. Jerry Pinkney is a highly acclaimed visual story-teller/artist whose first book was published in 1964 and who currently has an exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum. An African American, Pinkney tells the story of how his high school art teacher, thinking he was protecting his African American from attempting to fly too high and getting harmed, didn't hand out scholarship applications to his non-white students. Pinkney wasn't deterred. He acquired the applications and gave them to his fellow African Americans and... the rest is history.

He could have chosen to be a hippopotamus.

He chose instead to be the eagle. To take limited thinking and expand it into a life of possibilities, and success, in the arts, by spreading his wings and flying free of prejudice and racial discrimination.

Yesterday, while researching an article I'm writing on the history of the shelter where I work -- we are celebrating our 50th Anniversary this year -- I came across a paper titled: They smell bad, have diseases, and are lazy’:

Now, I'm not going to give you the rest of the title, yet, because I don't want to ruin the punchline. I surveyed co-workers, a volunteer and a client at the shelter to ask them, "Who do you think this report is about?"

Everyone agreed. Homeless people.

Nope. I replied. Published in 2009, the report is about undercover work by RCMP officers in the sixties investigating..... HIPPIES!

Not hippopotamus. Hippies -- those flower-child bearing, marijuana smoking, drop-out, anarchists that threatened the stability of our society not to mention our social mores way back when I was.... a flower child era wannabe.

The sub-title of the report is: RCMP Officers Reporting on Hippies in the Late Sixties The Canadian Historical Review - Volume 90, Number 2, June 2009, pp. 215-245 - University of Toronto Press.

Pinch me if I'm wrong, but aren't those very same flower children generation the leaders of today?

Aren't they the one's who didn't wallow in the mud, but rather, broke the rules, pushed against the boundaries that helped break the bounds of the very discrimination that Jerry Pinkney talks about in his video.

Okay. Colour me purple, but the title of this report really got me -- as do its contents, but that's for another post.

Like Jerry Pinkney's teacher who wanted to protect his African American students from dreaming too big, society once thought they needed to protect themselves from those who 'smell bad, have diseases and are lazy.'

I love history! Love our ability to come around again to where we began. Once African Americans were deemed 'unfit' for contact with white society. Once hippies were deemed 'unfit' for society.

Today, homeless individuals are branded with many of the same words, same limiting beliefs, same constrictive directives that would limit their movement on our streets.

Here's to the Jerry Pinkney's of the world who do not believe society's limiting beliefs need to limit their flight.

Here's to those who spread their wings and soar free!

And for those who just want the pure sensual enjoyment of wallowing in the mud, here's Flanders and Swann singing one of my favourite tunes! (and yes! That is an eagle you see soaring in the beginning of the video. How sweet is that!)


Maureen said...

The Pinkney video is excellent. How lovely that it inspired you to write this post.

I guess Canada had its version of J. Edgar Hoover.

The shelter residents' response to the title is noteworthy, as it seems to show they've inculcated a common cultural response to those experiencing homelessness. It rather saddens me.

Thanks for the smile the video produced. Hippos are strange and fascinating. I'll never forget seeing them on safari in South Africa.

Anonymous said...


not all our hippies quit being hippies or have led the country - some, still wearing their purple bell-bottomed cords are living on Salt Spring Island, have 3 part time jobs each, make bad pottery and have a 'patch' out back ...

Happy Friday,


bsain said...

"here's to all those who spread their wings..."

Yep -- love that!
Thank you for sharing this part of you.

Brandi said...

This was just what I needed to read today - thank you for sharing!!

Have a glorious weekend!

Ruth said...

"Keep your feet muddy" Nanao Sakaki said.

How wonderful, the linking of hippies and the homeless. I'll head over to Maureen's to listen to Jerry Pinkney.

Thank you. I hope you're feeling better and have a good weekend.

trisha said...

beautiful post, your study says how we typecast people, and how they often prove us wrong.

liked it very much louise.