I may have mentioned in earlier BLASTs that my brother and I “grew up with dogs.”
Our father loved dogs (our mother, less so) and, from the time we were little, there was always at least one dog in the family (not necessarily “in the house,” as I’ll explain). The photo on the left shows me, maybe around age 3, with the first dog I remember, “Rusty.” There actually was an earlier dog, when I was born, named “Slipper,” but I have no recollection of her. My father always got female dogs --- he thought they tended to “stay home” more. His belief was that male dogs “took off” whenever they got the scent of a female in heat. However, Dad never got our dogs spayed --- resulting in two of them having litters of puppies. Rusty was the first and there’s a sad story attached to that.
Rusty got pregnant when I was in kindergarten at the South Bay School in Babylon, Long Island, New York. I remember being very excited when the puppies were born. Coming home after school, I rushed down into the basement to see the new pups, only to find pulpy, bloody carcasses strewn about the place! Rusty was cowering in a corner, snarling and emitting a guttural growl, baring her teeth. Our Mom, right behind me (my brother would have been about age 2 and couldn’t navigate the stairs), shrieked, grabbed me, and trundled back upstairs, sending me before her. I don’t remember much after that, except that Rusty was gone, the basement was cleaned up and we soon had a beautiful German Shepard named “Tara” (which means “Tower of Strength”--- and was also the name of Scarlett O’Hara’s mansion in Gone with the Wind). Tara didn’t last long because she reached up on the kitchen counter and ate a roast my mother had left out for dinner. After that we moved to Bay Shore (with a short layover in Bethpage as construction on our new home was completed) and acquired a new string of dogs. The first I remember was a mutt named “Gypsy,” like Rusty, she had a litter. Unlike Rusty, she didn’t kill her pups and we actually kept two --- the ones pictured on the right. And here’s where the story takes a bizarre turn. Those two puppies were named “Amos” and “Andy.” And that’s a story unto itself.
Most Baby Boomers probably recall the Amos’n’Andy television program that aired throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s --- and was finally taken off the air because of NAACP protests (they described the show as "a gross libel of the Negro and distortion of the truth" – wiki). In fact, the show had originated on radio in the late 1920’s with the dialogue of the main characters (as well as 168 others!) being voiced by two white men ---Freeman Gosden and Charles Correl. The Black characters followed stereotypes that had originated in the Minstrel shows of the 19th century. Basically, the show was about:
Naïve but honest Amos was hard-working, and, after his marriage to Ruby Taylor in 1935, also a dedicated family man. Andy was a gullible dreamer with overinflated self-confidence who tended to let Amos do most of the work. Their Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge leader, George "Kingfish" Stevens, would often lure them into get-rich-quick schemes or trick them into some kind of trouble. Algonquin J. Calhoun, was a somewhat crooked lawyer added to the series in 1949, six years after its conversion to a half-hour situation comedy. Also in the cast were William Lewis Taylor, Ruby's well-spoken, college-educated father and Willie "Lightning" Jefferson, a slow-moving Stepin Fetchit–type character. The Kingfish's catchphrase, "Holy mackerel!", entered the American lexicon. (wiki)
I remember watching Amos’n’Andy as a kid (early elementary age) but not at all once the 1960’s emerged. Our parents, on the other hand, had grown up with the radio program and did not see it at all as racist. Maybe that’s hard to believe, using our 2020 lens, but let me explain.
My parents were extremely apolitical people --- Mom being more liberal than Dad, a World War II veteran. They also grew up in a world that took segregation, especially the red-lined New York style segregation, as a kind of “natural way of the world.” We were raised to treat everyone equally and never heard the N-word” . . . therefore, they just thought it was funny to name these two puppies Amos and Andy, after one of their favorite programs. Before scoffing at the notion that this wasn’t, somehow, racist, let me relate a story. By the time I was in college I was already a member of the NAACP and had become a very active anti-war demonstrator, etc. Our Dad often called me “Crusader Rabbit” (after a cartoon show we watched as kids --- TV was very big in the Johnson household --- if you look closely at the Amos’n’Andy photo you’ll notice TWO television sets in the background!). Our parents were not particularly reflective people and this became most obvious to me when I had a conversation about movies with our Dad sometime during my sophomore year --- and it explains how their naming the puppies Amos and Andy was a pretty naïve action.
Our Dad and I were talking about “race relations” (it was probably 1968) and I was trying to explain how embedded racism was in the good ol’ U.S.A. As we discussed the topic we somehow got on to the subject of movies --- and, in what I now see as a “teachable moment” --- I latched on to two of what I knew were my Dad’s favorite movies: Tarzan and Gunga Din --- two very, very popular movies from the 1930s. I asked Dad if he found it at all strange that Tarzan, a White guy, was the “King of the Jungle” in Africa. And did he find it at all odd that the villains were very often the “Native Africans” --- Black people? I could see, as we were sitting there, that this was clearly the first time those thoughts had ever crossed his mind. In continuing, I brought up Gunga Din. If you are not familiar with the film (starring Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Sam Jaffe as “Din”), it is based on a Rudyard Kipling poem (Kipling, of course, also wrote “The White Man’s Burden” and was the poet laureate of White Imperialism). In it, the stars are British officers putting down a revolt in India, let by a cult, The Thugees (where our word “thug” comes from btw). Again, I asked Dad if he had ever thought about the fact that the “heroes” of the movie were imperialists who had taken over a country (India) and were imposing their laws and will on the Native inhabitants. Again, I could see that Dad had never even considered this. He thought it was a rollicking action adventure movie and just loved Cary Grant’s performance, in particular.
The point here is simple: White people in America have grown up (to this day!) believing there is a “certain order” to the world (with Whites on Top) that just “is” --- and shouldn’t be questioned. If one is taught to think critically and reflectively you can see through that false construct. But the U.S. of A. has institutional racism embedded in its bones. It’s been there since 1619 when the first slaves were brought to Virginia. Consider a world that was built to favor Whites at every turn, built to exclude non-White people (Blacks, of course, but Latinx, Native Americans, Asians, et al)whenever and wherever it could. That’s the world our parents --- neither reflective nor critically thinking --- grew up in. Even though Canarsie, where they grew up, had the admirable “Holmes family” (“good Blacks,” in my parent’s vernacular) they didn’t live in the Italian dominated neighborhood my parents grew up in. Even though our Father worked with “colored guys,” he certainly didn’t go out and have a beer with them! While my brother and I didn’t grow up in a household that was blatantly racist we did grow up with parents who simply accepted that the world was organized around White Supremacist principles --- and we were simply working-class people who couldn’t “rock the boat.” As a result, we had puppies named Amos and Andy --- something my brother and I didn’t really think (cringe) about until several years later --- long after those puppies were gone and we had lived through “Coby”( the beagle who lived outside ) and then “Coffee.”
That’s not to excuse the naming of those puppies. It’s simply an explanation. All that said, here’s today’s installment of Fluffy and Flossy. Tomorrow, all things working out, the BLAST will simply direct you to a Facebook page where a video of an original Blues song will be performed. In the meantime:
Stay home, stay safe, wash your hands.