Whenever he caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror, he certainly looked African American. And growing up in San Leandro during the ’70s, he was certainly treated like an African American. Not a day went by when young Brian Copeland wasn’t forcibly reminded of his “differentness” by the residents of a city that was then 99 percent Caucasian.
He’ll never forget being racially profiled by cops. He’ll never forget the lady who drove past his family’s Chevy Malibu and shouted, “Go back to Oakland!” And he’ll never forget the simple fact that no barbers in town would consent to cut his hair. As his forthright grandmother took the young Copeland from barbershop to barbershop, one proprietor “pointed to a sign on the wall that read, no naturals, no relaxers. Why didn’t the signs just say, no blacks or Art Garfunkels allowed? … I could feel the stares of the other patrons boring into me, each set of eyes a pair of hot, miniature drills cutting me, searing me,” Copeland recalls in his memoir, Not a Genuine Black Man: My Life as an Outsider. Despite the pleas of his desperately, frustratingly, fruitlessly assimilation-minded mother — who insisted on patronizing San Leandro businesses no matter how she was treated there — Copeland’s grandmother drove him to a barbershop in Oakland, where a fellow patron told him that white people weren’t “worth a shit. They are your enemy … a bunch of bigoted, good-for-nothing motherfuckers.” For good measure, the man called Benjamin Franklin a “racist bastard.” Torn between such declarations from some of his elders and the glaring fact that his mother wished that she and her children weren’t African American at all, Copeland fell into a deep depression. He also became a famous comic, a KGO radio host, and a playwright — the creator of a long-running one-man show on which his book is based.
Along with fellow East Bay author Gail Tsukiyama (The Samurai’s Garden, Women of the Silk), he is one of the headliners at the Walnut Creek LibraryFest: A Day of Discovery on September 14. All afternoon, Civic Park (1375 Civic Dr., Walnut Creek) will bustle with programs, activities, and exhibits that spotlight the forthcoming new downtown library as a cultural and educational hub. The festival includes readings, book-signings, games, demonstrations, Shakespearean sword fights, puppet shows, face-painting, workshops (on mystery-writing, graphic-novel-writing, wearable art, arts and crafts, landscaping, travel, and genealogy), local food vendors, free prize giveaways, and music by such groups as the Barnivok Russian ensemble, Celtic harpist Patrick Ball, and the Diablo Light Opera Stars. Set to open in 2010, Walnut Creek’s new downtown library will house the usual library amenities as well as special areas such as a children’s garden, a career resource center, and a conference center. 1 p.m. WCLibrary.org