November 4, 2007

"I would say, 'Go, Obama, you're black enough for me.'"

I was traipsing about San Francisco yesterday, and, snapping dozens of pictures, I made my way over to Fillmore Street for a little window shopping. I saw this...

... 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.

"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.
I note that Hillary Clinton doesn't wear a hat — although she did at least once and got mocked for it.

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?

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."

She's responding to this, from Willis Shalita:
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.


TitusUK said...

Stop kicking yourself and go back and buy it today.

TitusUK said...

By the way it's early out there.

Did you get your beauty sleep?

Ann Althouse said...

"Did you get your beauty sleep?"

I slept until I woke up. What else can I do?

What, are you in the UK now, or am I reading the word break in the wrong place?

AllenS said...

"Stop kicking yourself and go back and buy it today."

Today is Sunday. I'd be willing to bet, that the shop isn't open.

rhhardin said...

Bella Abzug was empowered.

Also described as like living in Grand Central Station. Or perhaps an airport. It involved departing, in any case.

RebeccaH said...

I have always envied women who can wear a hat and carry off the look. Myself, I look ridiculous in them. If you look good in them, you should wear them whenever possible.

Unknown said...

You might like to visit Mattie Coleman's Town Boutique if you are in Muncie, Indiana. It's only a few blocks from the convention center, and has not only hats, but matching clothes.

Richard Fagin said...

Hahahahha, "civil rights activist Stokeley Carmichael." Is that anything like "Catholic radio show host Father Coughlin"? Why on earth did the author include Carmichael in that otherwise august list of accopmplished African Americans?

Oh, wait. She forgot Eldridge Cleaver and Malcom X.

LB-Philadelphia PA said...

I have a size 7-5/8 head. The hat people tell me the "mad hatter" form is the only one that can be stretched to accommodate my head, and some of those didn't work either.

But I got a really great stylin' red fedora from Linux when they were promoting Red Hat.

I've been told there's a custom hat maker here in Philadelphia who can do hats for big-headed women. But I haven't checked it out yet.

paul a'barge said...

Find a hat you like that almost fits? Don't be disappointed.

Take that hat to a decent hatter, especially a seller of high end cowboy hats and have it sized for your head.

My guess is that we've all become so "off the shelf" that we don't even know the fundamental options that historically were available to us in the clothing trades.

JackDRipper said...

Wow, what a fathead. I mean what a big head for a woman. I wear an XXL hat and the selection is real small. Even large hats/caps fit on my head like a yarmulke but I'm not Jewish so it doesn't work.

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.

This writer got his facts wrong. None of the people he mentioned other than Obama is the child of an African immigrant. And only Obama on the list is the child of a White parent.

Unknown said...

Ruth Garland-Dewson is certainly one of the most interesting and engaging characters I've ever encountered. I've been in her shop twice, and bought a hat both times. But I remember the long bantering conversations I had with Ms. Garland-Dewson much more than either of the hats. What a golden character she is!

Unknown said...

"What, are you in the UK now, or am I reading the word break in the wrong place?"

Now THAT'S funny!

Hamlet Au said...

The time and place to see Mrs. Garland-Dewson's hats in full bloom are outside San Francisco churches on Sunday-- the city maintains a strong tradition of African-American church attendance. You want a study in contrasts, visit the SF Mission district around 11am on Sunday: you'll see hundreds of black ladies coming and going to service in their big hat finery-- while white kids stumble around still hungover for last night, looking for coffee. For that matter, religious faith is extremely strong in SF's Latino community, and much of its Asian-American community. The idea that San Francisco is a haven of secular left-liberals is totally mis-tated-- for the most part, that's only true of its wealthy white mandarin class. (Or well-educated whites from comfortable backgrounds who play pretend bohemian/starving artists there.)

Pastafarian said...

I'm gonna vote for Obama because he's black. And for no other reason. Qualifications? No matter. He's black. Policies? Doesn't matter he's black. Could you just imagine if there was a woman on the ticket?! My gosh, we could all show everybody how progressive we are with just one vote. All you'd need is an Asian guy in a wheelchair that plays keyboards, and you'd have the "ABC Afterschool special" of political campaigns.

Never mind that I haven't heard where either one of them stand on one single issue. Not one.

I don't know what Obama believes at all. And I actually live in Illinois.

jiminy jilliker said...

Dewson is a lunatic. I've dealt with her only once, so that's probably not fair-I'll say she was a lunatic the one time I ran across her. She screamed at me because the company I worked for gave her the standard service we offered and that she had paid for. But she was tight with Willie Brown, so apparently she deserved something better for her buck. And when I say "screamed," I mean SCREAMED. She was nuts.
I can't argue with her on supporting Obama, though.

Meade said...

No one is black enough for me.

Fat Man said...

Did you ever notice that Obama uses a different accent when he talks to black audiences, than the one he uses when speaks on television or to a white audience?

Beth said...

JackD--the term "African immigrants" is incorrect, but all the people on that list have parents from other than the African-American slave genealogy; their parents come from the Caribbean, West Indies, and South America.

John said...

Fat Man: About the accents, I don't see anything wrong with that. When I go back to Chicago and sit around drinking and talking with my friends, I start to sound like those guys on the Saturday Night Live skit ... Da Bears, Da Cubs, etc. Most of the time, when I'm not in Chicago, I can make the "th" sound, and include the "g" in words that end in "ing".

Not sayin I'm votin for Obama, I'm just sayin.

Robert Holmgren said...

Go ahead Ann, test your readers loyalty. Post your hat size and see if it shows up in your room.

Jack Okie said...

Beth, how do you suppose those black people got to the Caribbean, West Indies and South America?

Paul Brinkley said...

John Z.: My dad used to do that too. When around the farm, he'd use this redneck Texas twang; when at work as a physicist, it was all soft Midwestern intellectual. I suspect I might do the same thing.

Palladian said...

"Did you ever notice that Obama uses a different accent when he talks to black audiences, than the one he uses when speaks on television or to a white audience?"

Funny, so does Hillary. If Bush spoke to black audiences, I am sure he would too!

(Yes, I know he has. I kid.)

Trooper York said...

Virgil Tibbs: They call me MISTER Tibbs
Gillespie: Whatcha hit him with?
Tibbs: Hit whom?
Gillespie: "Whom"? Are you a northern boy? What's a northern boy doing down here?
Virgil Tibbs: I strive to speak the same way, regardless of my location.
Gillespie:Boy, you should be in politics. They could use a nice clean cut nigra like you up north. But there no call for it here.
Virgil Tibbs: I can't do that, they reserve all the political spots for their wives. They don't do anything except get married and then the get elected.
Gillespie: Don't you be talking about Gov. Wallace like that. Lurleen is a very talented lady.
Virgil Tibbs: Yes I believe her talent was baton twirling.
Gillespie: Well that's better than making billing records disappear.
Look on the bright side; you could always be the secretary of commerce.
Virgil Tibbs: They call me MISTER
Tibbs. Not stupid.
(In the Heat of the Night, 1967)

Ann Althouse said...

"Take that hat to a decent hatter...."

I've never noticed any hatters anywhere. Hatters? Where are they?

JackDRipper said..."Wow, what a fathead. I mean what a big head for a woman."

I need it to hold my brain.

Fen said...

I wish hats for men would come back in style. Like in The Sting

MadisonMan said...

I also have a fat head. So does my mother, so I know where I got it. When I was fitted for my high school graduation, the guy said he'd never seen such a big head. My kids have big heads too.

The hat store on State Street has nothing for me.

Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, I won't go in The Sacred Feather because they were rude to me long ago about my need for an extra large hat. Haven't gone in there since the 80s. And I love hats and that's our Madison hat store.

Meade said...

Imagine someone saying, "Go, Obama, you're white enough for me." Or for that matter, "you're articulate and clean enough for me."