Recently Jian Ghomeshi, on Q, interviewed Simone Kelly, the actress/singer daughter of jazz singer, Nina Simone. Apparently there is a possible movie about her mother. It’s been in the planning stages for five years. Right now, the woman who may be cast to be Nina is not right. Her skin is too light, she is too slender.
Nina Simone was very tall, very dark, had a broad nose, was not “pretty” in any traditional sense, and she had an amazing voice. I went to see her once. I think it was at the Village Gate. She was an imposing singer. When I was in art school, her record, Little Girl Blue, was on my turntable, sometimes singing well into the night. When I left that apartment, my neighbor, commented on my taste in music, mainly Nina and Miles Davis. He liked it, but not the hours I kept.
When Simone was talking about the hardships her mother experienced, being black before the Civil Rights movements, I was overwhelmed with memories of that time. We lived in Richmond, VA for four years. I remember not sitting in the back of the bus. We moved back to Bethesda, MD. When I was in the 11th grade and struggling to stay awake in history class, the discussion one day became centered on the new school integration laws. The conversation became heated. One big burly kid said he’d quit school before he’d sit in a classroom with “those people”. That woke me up.
When I went back to Richmond to visit my girlfriend from elementary school, she told me it was a good thing I moved away. We couldn’t have remained friends if I had stayed. Because I was Jewish. Imagine that.
I did experience prejudice many times in Bethesda but I didn’t understand it at the time. Once, when I was in the sixth grade, the teacher made shadow portraits of us, cutting a profile of each student out of black paper. For mine, she exaggerated the nose. I was deeply hurt. I didn’t know why she did it.
When I was in art school, one of my classmates was black. We were sitting in a coffee shop one day and he expressed his anger at the abundance of Jewish students in our class. He went on for quite a while saying how they think they are better than everyone else. I never told him I was Jewish.
I’m okay with all of it now. And I like to sit in the back of the bus.