Now that we’ve gotten used to the notion of a mixed-race president, can we accept the idea that our city is named for a mixed-race queen? I ask that question with President Obama preparing to speak uptown and Ken Aptekar’s painting “Charlotte’s Charlotte” hanging a few blocks away, on the fourth floor of the Mint Museum of Art.
Aptekar deconstructed Allan Ramsay’s 1772 coronation portrait at the Randolph Road Mint and based his six panels on interviews with local residents and the queen’s genealogy. Says a wall text: “She was of “North African, Portuguese and German descent.”
I'd already heard about that from Mario Valdes, a researcher who works for "PBS Frontline." He sent me Queen Charlotte's genealogical chart with appropriate annotations; though nobody has portraits of all the members, I don't doubt that various ethnic strains met in her. (He's sort of a specialist in this field: He also told me about St. Moritz, the soldier/protector of the Holy Roman Empire -- and a third-century African who, he says, inspired the 3-D video game "Spear of Destiny.")
He encouraged me to seek our Aptekar's work. The paintings themselves are interesting, because they focus on details from Ramsay's original. (That painting is the same size as the six smaller panels put together.) Words affixed to the panels range from “Queen of the Enemy” – based on her marriage to George III, against whom we rebelled – to “Black White Other,” an indication that she represents (as so many of us do) a complex heritage. My favorite panel reads “Oh Yeah She Is,” a smiling rebuke to would-be deniers of the queen’s race(s).
And no doubt, someone will need to deny her link, many generations before, to a family of Moorish blood (as in “Othello”). But should we?
Scientists tell us we’re all descended from a woman in the Rift Valley of East Africa. So 400,000 generations ago, we all had a black ancestor. Classifying us – even Obama or the queen – as any one thing seems pointless, except in terms of meeting a quota.
The sixth of Aptekar’s panels depicts the queen as a pink-skinned European, a woman who might once have been called a “mulatto” because of some African blood, and a character of ambiguous shades. The text reads “Yours Mine Ours,” Aptekar’s way of saying she belongs to all of us.