David Bruce: Don’t Fear the Reaper — Prejudice, Problem-Solving

Prejudice

• African-American jazz great Duke Ellington once received a letter from a man who suggested that he go back to Africa and take his jungle music with him. Mr. Ellington wrote back and said that he was afraid he would not be accepted in Africa because his blood and the blood of other African-Americans had become so mingled with the blood of the letter writer and other white Americans. He did say, however, that he would consider going to Europe, where he and his people were accepted.

• African-American dancer/choreographer Katherine Dunham once performed in an auditorium where the white people were seated in the better seats behind the orchestra pit and the black people, including some of her friends, were seated in the balcony. After the performance, which was wildly applauded, she told the audience, “This is goodbye. I shall not appear here again until people like me can sit with people like you.”

• People with mental retardation are sometimes victims of prejudice. Louise Fish, who lives in Minnesota, became mentally retarded as a result of having meningitis as a baby. At school, other students sometimes hit her or pulled her hair, but she wouldn’t cry until she got home. Some people, including her brother Matt, stood up for her. When people made fun of Leslie, Matt would explain why she was different.

Problem-Solving

• Anna Russell was a famous singer of parodies of opera arias. During one of her early tours, she reached a low point during a lumbermen’s stag night at a hotel in Chicago. The featured performers of the evening were strippers, so when Ms. Russell appeared, the lumbermen began to yell, “Take it off!” However, being a comedian, Ms. Russell responded, “I shall not take it off. I shall put it on!” Then she went from table to table, grabbing tablecloths and wrapping them around her body, and strewing broken glass behind her. She managed to leave the scene with her honor intact, but because of the bill for breakage, she made no money that night.

• Bruce Lee was a master of the martial arts, but he became a master in spite of his physical limitations. One of his legs was almost one inch shorter than the other, so he developed a stance with the left foot leading. He discovered that his physical limitation gave him an advantage in certain kinds of kicks because a greater impetus came from his uneven stance. In addition, he wore contact lens because he was nearsighted and unable to see an opponent until the opponent was close. In fact, Mr. Lee began to study the martial art of wing-chun because it was ideal for up-close fighting.

• What is a polite way to stop talking to someone on the telephone? Mike Desert remembers talking to Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. After they had talked for a while, Kathleen said, “I need to run because my bath water is running.” A week later, Mike’s girlfriend of the time talked to Kathleen on the telephone, and after they had talked for a while, Kathleen made the same excuse! Mike is OK with that. Now, when he needs a polite way to stop talking to someone on the telephone, he says, “I need to run because my bath water is running.”

• Giuseppe de Stefano was a talented opera singer, but sometimes erratic when it came to showing up to perform. Once, his wife called Sir Rudolf Bing, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, to say that her husband was very ill and could not sing that evening. Sir Rudolf replied that since her husband was so ill, he ought not to stay at home, and so he would send an ambulance to pick him up and take him to the hospital. Mr. Stefano made a remarkable recovery and showed up to sing.

• At Ted Shawn’s Jacob’s Pillow, a dance retreat, was an outhouse, the inside of which was papered with covers from The New Yorker. This resulted in several visitors new to Jacob’s Pillow staying too long in the outhouse. One woman spent too much time there, so a male dancer — in great necessity — started to urinate on the side of the outhouse. The woman flew out of the outhouse, ran straight ahead, and looked neither left nor right.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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