Bridgerton It Was Not

He was 12 years old, a student at a local public school.

But it was not just any public school. It was a Houston, Texas, public school. It was located in an area known as the murder center of Houston.

At 12 years of age, he and his classmates had already been told, repeatedly, that they were nobodies and would always be nobodies. That message was hammered home by teachers both black and white.

The school had never had a classrom visitor before.

Now it had a visitor, who arrived with a large tribal African mask.

A woman who let the children try on the mask while telling them about the proud heritage they came from. A woman who spoke of spirituality, beautiful ancestors, powerful works of art, a lineage that they embodied.

They did not know that this woman had studied, collected, and written a program on African Tribal Art for Rice University. The curriculum was taught to docents, who were then to spread the beauty of this heritage to schools throughout the city.

Unfortunately all of the docents signed up to visit the all-white private schools. No one wanted to go to murder central.

I went to murder central. I went multiple times, to multiple classes, always bearing a mask of pride

Years before it occurred to me to find out why galleries and museums did not show African tribal art. It was considered a primitive craft, not worthy of elite collectors. In fact I came to understand that it represented a strong spiritual belief system, with artworks that were startling, powerful, intensely meaningful and beautifully crafted.

My own collection was modest, certainly when compared to that of Dominique de Menil. It was she who had enlisted me to write the program. At the same time, she was trying to convince the Museum of Modern Art in New York City to accept her extensive collection. Eventually she succeeded, although for many years it was still treated by the curators as "primitive" and inappropriate for a fine arts museum. (1)

The 12-year-old was gifted. His magic fingers produced fine drawings well beyond his years.

Houston was holding a city-wide art competition for students. At my prodding, the 12-year-old prodigy submtted his drawings.

He won a prize. But he was never invited to the award ceremony.

Incensed, I badgered city hall, until they finally agreed to send him an award certificate. Of course by then he had missed the ceremony.

I don't know his name, and I am sure he does not know mine. But the love that I received from him and the other students has filled my heart with joy to this day.

Shonda Rhimes has filled our screens with an imaginary royal regime based on diversity, particularly fleshed out in season 3 of "Bridgerton" on Netflix. Her barbed wit and incisive language illuminate truths that many would prefer to ignore. (2)

I wish I had commanded those verbal thrusts when talking to the powers-that-be at Houston City Hall. In truth I don't think it would have made any difference.

But those children made an indelible mark on me and on my own artwork. That was my personal prize, one that I cherish to this day.

c. Corinne Whitaker 2023

(1) For more on Dominique de Menil, read the description of "Alien Incoming" (scroll down). More articles about her are available online.

(2)The Smithsonian writes of the "Real History Behind Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story". (thanks to GS for this). Variety also offers its review of the new series.

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