... and was struggling against the glare and reflections to frame my shot — and also, idiotically, talking on my iPhone — when a woman — who I now understand to be Ruth Garland-Dewson — swept out of the store and flung herself between me and the picture of Barack Obama.
"Are you trying to take a picture of my man?" she said dramatically.
But she wasn't what I for a second thought she was: one of those shopkeepers who are touchy about having their place photographed. She wanted to come out and talk — about Barack Obama and other things as well. I got off my phone conversation and complimented her on the great shop and asked if she had extra large hats. I love women's hats, but since I need a men's extra-large size, I can never find a woman's hat — aside from something stretchy — that fits. She found me what might have been her largest hat, and it almost fit. You know, I should have bought it! It was ocher-colored with a dark purple spiral — a felt hat with a large brim. I think I would have bought it if she'd tried to talk me into it (as so many sales people have nudged me beyond my initial resistance — it's not very hard).
But she wanted to talk about Barack Obama. Do I like him? Yes! I think he's a good man, and that he would be able to do a lot of good. I added, "But I kind of like Giuliani." That was okay with her, it seemed — so long as I don't like Hillary.
So here's the shop, Mrs. Dewson's Hats:
And here's a San Francisco Chronicle blog post calling Ruth Dewson "a fixture in the African-American community," and quoting her saying "I'm not a Hillary fan."
Here's a Chronicle article about her and her store (and the musical "Crowns"):
She grew up in Paris, Texas, where people always wore hats to church. She grew up making her own hats because, like lots of people she grew up with, she didn't have any money.I note that Hillary Clinton doesn't wear a hat — although she did at least once and got mocked for it.
"You take a piece of fabric and put some binding inside and put it on your head, adorning it with different flowers, feathers, things like that," she said.
Her favorite hat was a little yellow bonnet with a big bow under the neck, worn with a yellow dress.
"Hats really empower you," she said.
Here's the website for the store Mrs. Dewson's Hats, with some nice pictures of Dewson. I'm kicking myself now, not only for failing to buy the ocher-and-purple hat, but also for not asking Dewson if I could take some pictures of her in her store. If only I'd been wearing a hat, I might have felt empowered enough to ask.
And here's her book about her hats:
ADDED: Here's her "black enough" letter printed in the Chronicle:
I agree wholeheartedly with the views displayed in this Open Forum ("Black American from Africa offers his view on Obama's 'blackness,' '' March 1). At this time in America, who or what determines our blackness?She's responding to this, from Willis Shalita:
Media portray blacks as low income and uneducated. Therefore, does success and education remove any trace of blackness? The truth of the matter is, most black Americans are of mixed ancestry. Maybe genealogy should be a required course in every school.
I would say, "Go, Obama, you're black enough for me."
The recent rumblings from some quarters of the black community that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is not black enough or that "he has not lived our experience" because his ancestors have no ties to slavery, are utter nonsense....
The black author an essayist, Debra J. Dickerson, said, "His father was African. His mother is a white woman. He grew up with white parents." And then she goes on to say; "But there's a lot of distance between black Africans and African Americans."...
If the credential for being black enough is growing up in the "hood" and experiencing the ugly side of our race-conscious society, Lord have mercy. Obama has lived the American experience, has worked hard for his community, has never denied his people and he is uniquely qualified to run for president.
Interesting enough, many great black Americans, such as Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, civil rights activists W.E.B. Du Bois and Stokely Carmichael, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, -- to mention but a few -- are, like Obama, descendants of African immigrants.
White America never questions those white immigrants who have paid their dues and made it to the top, such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, retired U.S. Gen. John Shalikashvili, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others of European descent. Leave it to black America to lay the land mines that will sabotage meritocracy.