Thursday, November 27, 2008
He wanted to say "hi" and to tell me that there will be two retirements in his department, which means there will be two jobs open on next year's market (keep your eyes open!). He said that he would be the head of the committee and that he wanted to get me into one spot and someone else who had gone to graduate school with us in the other.
Sweet, right? Don't we all want friends in high places who think that they can get us jobs?
Delusional is more like it.
He started by saying, "I want to package you as a feminist historian and a public historian." Leaving aside the whole "I want to package you" language -- I think that would be a post unto itself in all of its paternalism -- I am neither a historian of feminism nor a public historian. Yes, I am a feminist. Yes, I write about women, some of whom became involved in the women's movement. Yes, I have worked in public history. Feminism, however, is not the focus of my research, and I am not educated as a public historian.
I tried to point this out, of course; but this person perpetually conflates women's history and my personal feminism with being an historian of feminism. He also kept insisting that an MLS counts as a public history degree. People graduating from very good public history doctoral programs would beg to differ!
What I do (or am trying to) work on is nineteenth century abolition and women. The department in question already has two nineteenth century historians, not counting the one retireing, and one of these historians works on abolition. Therefore, as this person admitted, the department does not want another 19th century historian. This was the reason that this person wanted to "package" me in other ways. This person, then, is proposing that I hide my actual strengths and emphasize not just my weaknesses but areas in which I am not at all qualified,
Then, there would be the problem of the actual research record. He seems to think that my book (which is on neither feminism nor public history) is some magic key that will open all doors. Maybe when it first came out (although, it didn't even open doors then), but certainly not now. I haven't actually published anything substantial and academic for -- jeez! -- five years. My work at the big research project may never see light of day thanks to shitty management, and I futzed around on the road not taken (and realized that not taking it was actually a good idea in the first place) for a few too many years, so I don't exactly have a strong record of research and publication at this point.
This all means that, when that job ad goes public, about a thousand PhDs will apply, all of whom will hold degrees in the proper fields and will have stronger evidence of consistent research and publication. By all rights, my application would be one of those for which search committees are grateful because they can say, "well, this is a definite 'no.' One less in the stack!"
Two, three years ago, regardless of my qualifications, I would have jumped at this chance; but two, three years ago, I was off discovering the dead end on that road not travelled and was willing to take a stab at anything that paid more than $15.00/hour. Right now, I am really damn lucky. So, right now, my silent response to this person is: "What the fuck are you thinking?!?"
Again, shouldn't we all want to have friends in high places who think that they can do this for us? Except that he proposes to essentially rig a job search, force his unqualified candidate down the department's throat, and then have that candidate enter into what will necessarily be a hostile workplace due to the shady ethics surrounding her appointment. This hostile workplace, too, is one that he has not described as being normally friendly under better circumstances. Why would someone want to pursue employment conditions like that if they are already comfortably employed elsewhere?
Yet, it gets better. While the job would have a substantial cut in course load (2/3, which is mighty tempting to someone teaching a 5/5), it would also include a cut in both rank and pay. When I say cut in pay, I'm talking about something like an $8000 pay cut in pay. Sure, the region is less expensive, but it is also painfully less interesting to a big city girl like myself.
I want to ask him: why would I leave a job that pays shockingly well, where I am at an associate rank, have great colleagues, a chair and dean who have both so far shown themselves to be in my corner in disputes, where I live in a major and exciting city with top notch museums and archives and theaters, that is a train-ride away from other, similar cities, and has great weather, all to take a job where the search has been rigged, that will require massive diplomacy not to be hated on sight, that will expect me to offer classes and do research in a subject for which I am not qualified, that has a significant pay cut and reduction in rank, in a non-union shop during a depression, that is located in a small town in the dead center of a HUGE red state that I have actually fled? Why would I do that? The reduction in course load just ain't worth it!
I don't know if this is a case of "we should all have these problems" or "with friends like these, who needs enemies?" Both, I guess! I do know that you have to wonder what the hell is going through some people's minds, even when they are trying to help you. In any case, I told this person "thank you for thinking of me, I'll keep it under consideration." I didn't get bitchy because, as deluded as his plan is, he probably did mean it in good spirit.
Meanwhile, in my astonishment at the dimensions of just how bad an idea this is of his, I am reminded of the good fortune that I have right now -- something necessary to do at this, the opening of the Depression Season. I'm also reminded of the reasons that I let this person out of my life. I wasn't crazy or overly emotional, I was just at my wits' end. That made me feel better, too, about deciding not to visit that ex-boyfriend for Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The reporter is as much at fault here as the ignoramuses that he interviews, characterizing the protesters as a "mob" and completely dismissing the indigenous people's frustration at the trivialization of their culture and the glorification of a myth that, in reality, lead to the genocide of whole nations of people.
Like many of the commentors to the Womanist Musings post, I'm also disturbed by this idea that "its JUST kids." How does racism, sexism, and homophobia get perpetuated? By teaching it to children under the guise of "fun" and "celebration" and "cute" and whatever other adjective minimizes the malignancy.
So, I will also repost an image that I myself created as greeting cards for this holiday. Yes, I'm aware that I used stereotypical images in this card. I could give you some drawn out explanation, but mostly it is because I'm a shitty artist and all of my human figures look like cartoons.
The holidays really do suck, don't they?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The Traditional Holiday Margarita:
1) Frozen Margarita mix (quality does not matter. Frozen limeade works in a pinch)
2) Tequila (the higher the shelf in the liquor store, the better. Trust me, you DO NOT want to skimp on the tequila. To paraphrase a friend, use of low quality tequila leaves you feeling so badly that you won't believe that a person could be in such pain and still be alive.)
3) Ice (from the refrigerator.)
4) Salt, if you like that sort of thing.
2) Glasses (or twisty straw)
Put mix in blender. Pour tequila in blender. The mix can says use 1/2 of the can's worth of tequila, depending on your relatives, you can use up to 2. I've been told that in-laws require at least a full can. Add ice. Blend. Pour into glass. Drink.
Some people like salt on the edge of their glass. You can do that if you like that. Some people insist on a lime wedge. Go there, too, if you must; but, really, that takes time and effort and the kids are screaming, and your mom and grandmother are fighting for the prime spot on the cross, and your brothers are starting up the annual ass-whooping, and your dad is running through his oeuvre of fart jokes. Time is of the essence here.
If you are running low too soon, you can use more tequila to stretch the recipe. You can also dispense with the glasses and just drink straight out of the blender; or you can replace the ice, mix, blender and glass with a twisty straw.
If that doesn't help, I know someone who has a great brownie recipe; but chocolate is really more of a Christmas treat. He also might know someone who knows someone who can get some ingredients that could start the new tradition of family rave.
Lagniappe: This recipe makes this song sound good:
I teach five classes each semester -- that's fifteen credits. Plus, I have a few other "service" types of responsibilities that count as "credits" that add up to a total of nineteen credits. So, I've had a lot of work; yet very little of it has been satisfying.
Two of my classes are online. They are classes that I've taught in a classroom, so I don't have to learn any new information. That's less work overall, but that also means that the work to do is very administrative and mundane. I create assignments, write up documents for the week's work, and grade the work. This is not what gets me jazzed about teaching. This is the part of teaching that all teachers dread and complain about, and it is the whole class. Plus, if students tend not to read the syllabus in general, you can imagine all of the information that they miss if they have weekly versions of the syllabus to follow! Fortunately, for the most part, they all settled into the rhythm of the work by the third week, but I still get e-mails saying "I can't find the quiz" or "I don't see the assignment" when the quizzes and assignments are all right where they have been for the past twelve weeks.
Now I'm bitching.
The other classes are the traditional classroom -- face-to-face -- classes. They are all the same course, and I've taught the course before, so the preparation time has decrease dramatically from last year. Both last fall and last spring I had four different preparations. Over the year, of ten courses, nine were ones that I either had never taught before or that I had to build from the ground up when I discovered that I had lost my class notes. Plus, having access to reliable technological support for the first time in my career, I could make Power Points for all of my lectures (not text based, mind you, just outlines and lots and lots of images), which I did. That was lots and lots of work. This semester has not required that monumental effort.
Yet, in teaching the same courses in class and in having constant virtual paperwork to prepare for the online classes, I haven't really had the time to learn anything new or to create anything new. This has taken some of the fun out of teaching and has made me feel (and be) less and less of an historian.
I like being an academic because the heart of academic work is the constant learning and creating that comes from reading, research, teaching, and writing. Of all of these, all that I've been able to do this semester has been the teaching.
My teaching tends to be lecture intensive. Yes, I know this is considered the worst method of education; but it is the method at which I am best. I tell a damn good story. I am a pretty damn good performer. My students return to the class because I "make the subject interesting."
Also, I'm getting a bit skeptical about educational theories. I hate feeling "anti-intellectual" about any field of expertise, but in this case, I do. Through all of these Teaching and Learning courses that they require us to take here, I am told "expertise in a subject is the hallmark of a great educator" on Monday, and "the best teachers teach what they don't know" on Friday. By the following Wednesday, I end up saying, "Whatever." I lecture well, I engage the students, I give them room to discuss if they feel the need. This is a strength, not a weakness; and I'm sick of apologizing for it.
This is all to say that lecturing has been one activity that has not frustrated me this semester. Going along with the lecturing has been my acting class (for which I seem to have exhibited a real gift for comedy, and the more physical the comedy, the better I am). I love this and want to write another post about it because there is so much to discuss about it. Suffice to say here that the class has allowed me to learn more about the literature and art of Shakespeare -- and he truly was and is a genius -- through the performance of scenes in his plays -- which is really the best way to learn Shakespeare. This has been profound.
In the frustration of this semester, in the mundane nature of most of my daily tasks, there has been a calm. Calm in my life is dangerous. I start to think about things that I normally try to avoid because they disturb me.
Of these things that I try to avoid are my limitations as a historian. I accept that I am limited, but recently, I haven't confronted those limitations by putting in the extra effort that I've always had to exert to overcome my intellectual weaknesses. I fall back on the lack of research and publication requirements of my job for an excuse. I tell myself that I've been too busy with the parts of my job for which I get paid; but going to the Big Berks, the Little Berks, and the conference in Michigan all forced me to realize how rusty and avoidant I've become. My job may not require that I research and write, but I do.
Normally, I've adopted the tactic of "done and flawed is better than perfect and incomplete." This semester, with the lack of creativity in my daily life, I realize that I'm not even getting to the "done" part -- heck, I'm not even getting to "start." That is not good. The discomfort of being imperfect, flawed, and criticized is not nearly as bad as the self-loathing that comes from not even trying in the first place.
I'm in a bit of a sophomore slump this semester, compounded by an overall lack of energy that I chalk up to some PTSD and survivor's remorse from some bad experiences and dodged bullets of the past couple of years. After all, I went from one frying pan into another frying pan into another for five to seven years. Then, had I not gotten this job, the death of my boss at my last job would have left me unemployed or cataloging books (which I hate and at which I also suck) in the middle of nowhere when a depression hit. I look at my unemployed friends and read about all of these graduating PhDs hitting a job market that shrinks as they write their job letters and I am so very grateful for my position here, yet feeling very guilty that my good luck is just that: luck.
In any case, I write this post to identify and describe my slump so that I can fix the frustration. Here is one problem: lack of creativity in my daily tasks. Here it the other problem: lack of research and writing. Here is the solution: make the damn time for research and writing, and hence, creativity. I'm hoping that the creativity gives me the sort of energy -- like the high after acting class or writing a blog post -- that builds on itself at least until the end of some particular project.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Several times this semester, students have brought to me myths about history. "You know where the word 'picnic' comes from don't you?" they will ask; or "When are you going to talk about the Willie Lynch letter?" Sometimes, the question will be followed by a lengthy and impassioned explanation that "picnic" came from the days when white people sat around eating lunches outside and would "pick a n-----" to hang for entertainment, or a detailed explanation of how this master made a long speech about how to control the slaves by dividing and conquering.
The damn quilt story has shown up once or twice too, including during a tour of a museum where one of my classes is doing a service learning project. The museum actually has a quilt, made and donated by a local club, depicting the "map of the Underground Railroad in code," just as described in that damn book. The guide, who was also going to be teaching our students how to do research in their library and archive, went into great detail about how the slaves used these sorts of quilts to escape on the Underground Railroad. "Some people disagree with this," she admitted, then handed out a sheet -- the only handout in the whole museum -- that explained each symbol.
I usually have no trouble busting myths in my class. Some of my lectures actually use myth-busting as a hook. After all, the First Thanksgiving -- especially at this time of year -- provides ripe ground both for learning the realities of contact and for talking about how and why history gets simplified into happy little lies. My American students love the technique, and my foreign students like learning a little more about American popular culture as they also learn about history.*
Pilgrims, Betsy Ross, and the historical oeuvre from Disney and Mel Gibson are all easy myths to engage in class both for their inaccuracies and because they are white history. My students are generally prepared with healthy doses of skepticism in this regard. So shattering myths of white people plays well with them, and I present no threat to them as a white person doing the shattering.
"Picnicking," Willie Lynch, and the damn quilts are all black history myths. A white person shattering -- or merely questioning those myths -- doesn't play so well, and partly because of that skepticism.
Take for instance my most recent encounter with picnic. Now, when I first heard this story about two years ago, my reaction was "nawww, that can't be true." White people have committed some cruel and unusual punishments on the black body, but the connection between lynching and the word picnic just didn't seem to be one of them. Sure enough, the OED dated the word back to 1748. The original word meant "a fashionable social event at which each guest contributed a share of the food ."
When my student recently brought this up, I said, "actually, I looked that up in the dictionary..." The student interrupted me and said, "it IS true. I talked to people who lived back in that time and they told me that they remembered it." How does a white teacher constructively respond to that without seeming like they are trying to absolve white people of race crimes, and without seeming like they are calling the elderly acquaintances of the student liars.
The same with the Willie Lynch speech. I had actually never heard of it until last year, when a student told me about it. So, I looked it up. There is no documentation of this speech, just like there is no documentation of that use of picnic. Both started as one of those forwarded e-mails that people send on and on and on without actually questioning the contents. Yet, both and the quilts story, keep getting repeated as truth.
How does a white teacher confront these myths without becoming, in the eyes of her very suspicious students, one of "them," one of the white myth makers? The answer probably lies somewhere in the ways that I cover the rigors of historical evidence and research. Even then, I encounter this deep skepticism of documentation, a skepticism that I helped to foster when discussing the problems of researching African American history in documents.
Some of these students now meet the fact of limited documentation with theories about destruction or suppression of documents. While that is not entirely untrue, they haven't quite made it to the level of what I call "researching around the holes" -- of finding other ways of getting at the realities of African American life in the absence of direct documentation of African American lives. Instead, they jump to "it could have been" as a reasonable historical argument in the face of an absence of evidence.
They didn't learn that technique in my class, but they have learned it from a million different popular sources, many in respected places such as museums, and my refutation of that argument as legitimate for history again places me into the "them" category.
Again, I haven't fully figured out how to confront this, particularly from the confines of a white body and therefore part of the system that has put these students on the defensive. I am trying to work my way around these confines to connect with them somewhere firmly in their experience. I think the solution includes more and more primary documentation in my lectures, and more and more examples of the ways that historians have constructed historical arguments about African American history. I have to validate their suspicions while also giving them the materials to use that suspicion to find documented answers rather than myths that "could be true."
A myth buster must be fearless in deconstructing cherished stories, but a teacher must reach her students by first not alienating them.
*Seriously, I fielded about a dozen questions about the origins of Santa Claus and his red suit last Thursday, which I mixed in with answers about the history of Christmas celebrations, which I then connected to abolition. We didn't finish the lecture material for the day, but we all enjoyed the hell out of the class.
Not "cleaning," but "cleaning out." I opened unpacked boxes. Threw out old files. Weeded the wardrobe.
My apartment looks no different. Sure, a little more space opened up in the closets; but I still haven't hung any pictures, and I still have to take all of this excess stuff down to the dumpster, the recycling bins, and the resale shop. Now that I'm writing, I'm also thinking that I should go through a few more boxes, throw a few more things out, send a few more items to the resale shop.
Some of my energy could be excused by procrastination. Those online classes, sadly, do not grade themselves -- and there is a lot of grading with online classes. Nor do proposals for women's history classes, proposals for honors sections of African American history, applications for summer workshops, or programs for black history month write themselves.
I don't think that I was avoiding anything. I think that I was looking for something. I think that I was trying to clean out my brain, but since you can't really do that without some major surgery, I cleaned out my apartment.
My brother wrote to me for the first time since last March. I had invoked my new "no asshole rule" and cut him out of my life then. I've heard from my dad that the brother in question has been rather annoyed by my decision. I honestly didn't think that he cared. We haven't been close since the 1970s -- 1974, to be exact, when my other brother was born. Also, he told me that he doesn't care if people don't like him for being an asshole, and he expects them to "get over it." I've spent a lifetime "getting over it." I'm done.
"Am I still fired?" he wrote to me on Friday. I almost wrote back, "that depends on whether you are still committed to being an asshole." I almost wrote back, "do you even care?" I didn't. I didn't even spend time analyzing it for all of its self-centered implications. I ignored it until I just wrote about it, now.
This was followed by an e-mail from my mother telling me that this brother will definitely join the family for Christmas. For the past five years, this brother, his wife and their marital problems have created a significant amount of drama each holiday season, and a lot of that drama replicates drama that my mom created with my dad's family back when I was a kid. You would think that I could deal with this better as I get older, but find myself less and less able to deal. I either bite my tongue or pop off some smart ass remark.
Thank god for the babies. Playing "Monster" with a three year old is far more fun than playing with the monster adults. Playing Monster with the adults involves too much anger and guilt and self-loathing, which fills me with dread from October to December and anger and guilt from December to March. Half of the year ends up devoted to the fallout of the Dysfunctional Family Christmas. Something is clearly wrong.
So, I clean out my apartment.
Just after Christmas, my parents are going to New Orleans to begin the process of cleaning out my grandmother's house and putting it up for sale. My grandmother is a pack rat, so she has so many things. My parents, having various injuries and disabilities that are directly related to morbid obesity, want me to help out.
My grandmother is not dead yet, but she is working her way there. I maintain that the reason she is still alive is that neither God nor the Devil will take her. I picture them rolling dice, or playing rock/paper/scissors and saying "2 out of 3. O.k. 3 out of 5. O.k., then 5 out of 7" unto eternity. She is just that mean; but she is a post for another time, when I have the strength.
I feel as if selling her house and all of her possessions, without her having any real input on the matter, is disrespectful. Although I am not sure if I actually still love her, she is a fiercely independent adult who has been severely compromised by age. My mother, her daughter, uses every opportunity to show her hatred toward my grandmother. While I understand my mother's behavior, hatred in action is chilling to watch. My father treats my grandmother as he treats most women: like a large precocious child who must be protected from reality.
This act of cleaning out my grandmother's house, of selling or throwing away her possessions before she has died and yet without her inclusion in the process, depresses me. Yet, packing, disposing, selling items that belonged to our relatives always happens at the end of a life. We would be doing this one day or another, and I will have to do it for my parents, too. This is a natural part of the process of grieving.
Yet, I can't escape this question: is this all that any individual's life amounts to: the stuff that we have accumulated? Stuff that, to others, becomes salvage or trash. Stuff that only has meaning because of the person who owned it, and stuff that is, by connection to that person, also connected to violently contradicting emotions. To dispose of my grandmother's possessions feels like disposing of her. To keep them in my own possession means a constant reminder of those violent emotions connected to her.
So, I clean out my own apartment.
Next week is Thanksgiving, too. I'm going up to visit an ex-boyfriend in New England. While I'm up there, I'm going to That Place to do a book signing for my Tourist Book. These are two minefields for me as well.
The ex-boyfriend likes to brag -- no, not "brag" so much as exact a declaration from me -- that he is the "best boyfriend that I have ever had." That's probably true; but the bar is pretty low there given that my exes include the Homicidal Drunk, the Pathological Liar, the Attorney, the Hot Dumb Dude, the Fascist, and the Yankee Asshole, collectively known as the Chain of Fools. (Yeah, I could only understand love as demonstrations of disrespect if not outright hatred. Hence, I am essentially a hermit and celibate.)
I like this particular ex much better as a friend than as a boyfriend, if for no other reason that he will (begrudgingly) grant me ownership over my own body as a friend. As a boyfriend, he always had a difficult time understanding that access to my body was a privilege that could be revoked at MY will, and that the revocation of that privilege very often came as a direct result of his own bad behavior. At least now he accepts that he doesn't have the right to expect access to my body. He expects it, but he knows that he is in the wrong in expecting it and so doesn't make as big deal out of not receiving it. Sort of.
He's basically kind when he focuses on something other than himself, and helped me out in some very difficult times. We have had some good moments together; but ultimately he is a narcissist, and this becomes very difficult to endure. When we talk, a whole hour will pass in which I have said nothing but the obligatory "uh-huh" while he has filled me in on all of the mundane details of his life. He does not ask how I am doing, and when I tell him, he either rushes me to the end of my story, interrupts me to go on an hour long tangent about his own life, or finishes my own story for me, whether or not his version is accurate. He also has a nasty habit of telling me what my own experience of my own life is.
I feel like only part of a person around him, that only half of me is allowed into any interaction, and that half must have the proper script to be acknowledged and to avoid conflict. Pointing all of this out to him has proven fruitless.
He doesn't read this blog either.
I haven't called him in a while, and feel more like I should call him rather than that I want to call him. I wonder what good this relationship is now doing for me or my life, or if it is a souvenir of another period of my life when it did serve a useful function. I wonder if this is a healthy attitude to have about people in my life.
So, I clean out my apartment.
I also may regret offering to do this book signing. The signing seemed like a good idea partly to boost sales and partly to boost my ego. This Tourist Book made me more money in its first month than my Academic Book has made in five and a half years. That, of course, was the purpose. The Tourist Book is a product, a Happy Meal of publishing in which the prize was the book itself. The Academic Book is an intellectual contribution (although some would dispute that in my case). An Academic Book should earn you respect and a job. A Tourist Book earns you a royalty check.
The book signing will help on that royalty check front; but I also sort of want to go and bask in the glory of sitting in a commercial bookstore with a book that I wrote. It's a kind of childish fantasy that I can indulge, even if no one buys the book while I'm there. It's also a kind of ugly immature fantasy that my book signing is a sort of "fuck you" to some of the people who underestimated me while I was there, who saw me as a sort of symbol, as serving a function of making them feel like big fishes in a little pond but that had nothing to do with me myself. Does that make sense?
Anyway, that last nasty reason puts me face to face with the reality of just how horrible that part of my life really was. I feel a bit like a person who has been mugged must feel when they return to the scene of the crime. That, I had not anticipated until this week when I started to feel slightly shaky when thinking about going up there.
In fact, if any motion can be connected with any of the travels that I have to do in the next month an a half, "shaky" would be that motion.
So, I cleaned out my apartment.
I sit here now, feeling my energy bleed out of me with these words, feeling no motivation to do anything, including wallow in my own crapulence. I'm feeling torn and paralyzed. I'm feeling dread of something that I can't identify except to call it a fear of regret, and a fear that I will choose wrong in choosing my regrets, and a fear that I will always feel like this.
I sit here knowing that these fears, these powerful conflicting emotions, these frustrations, fill me with self-loathing. They bleed me of my energy.
I'm sick of it. Hating myself has taken too much of my life in the same way that traffic takes too much of your life. Just wasted time doing nothing and going nowhere fast, and unable to do anything else.
I clean out my apartment because, in some silly, magical thinking way, I am trying to find that thing that represents all of these conflicts, all of these dreads, all of these drains on my energy. I want to find it and throw it out.
I fear, too, that, if this thing were an actual item, I would end up like I will with my grandmother's possessions: unable to throw it out because of their connection to people that I do or did care about deeply, and yet unable to keep them because they are too ugly.
I stopped cleaning out because I figured out why I'm cleaning. Now what? How does a person radically change their own reality? Radically change it and believe it?
Monday, November 17, 2008
The National Organization for Women gathered signatures for a petition asking our new President-elect to endorse gay marriage:
(I signed, and got this sticker to prove it:)
(While we're at it, a view of my rainbow necklace, a product of grading procrastination about five years ago:)
OMG!!!!111!!One!Eleven!! Will NOBODY think of the CHILDREN!!!111!!!!!Eleventy-one!!!:
Or the pets?!?! Because no civil rights event would be complete without the police: This being D.C., the police were almost all black, which I thought added an interesting historical dimension to this demonstration. They didn't appear at all hostile, just mostly bored, just another day on the job. The demonstrators that I was around all thanked them for their help in managing traffic during the march.
Speaking of which:Then the skies opened up.That's the view from what I call my "Big Gay Umbrella" (VUBOQ calls it my Pride Umbrella. I got it at a bigass Wal-Mart in southern Illinois).
The weather service had issued tornado warnings all morning. I'm sure some fundamentalists interpreted this as a sign from god. I figured there was some stereotypical gay joke in there about tornadoes and rainbows and the Wizard of Oz, but I decided that wasn't really my joke to make and didn't go there.
Instead, given that I was meeting Fyodor and Elle (parents of the infamous cop-biter, Doobie) at the National Portrait Gallery after the march, and that the rain was coming at me sideways, and that the wind was about to pick me up by the Big Gay Umbrella and carry ME over the rainbow, I begged the forgiveness of MLK and Bayard Rustin and all of the other marchers for equal rights both past and present, then ran for cover. This is my view of the march from my perch in front of the Smithsonian Castle. As you can see, not everyone was wimpy as me:
Then, I headed toward the National Portrait Gallery. As I cut across the National Sculpture Garden, I found myself face-to-face with the National Archives. That's where the Constitution lives, for those who don't know. Scaffolding covered the lower half of the building, as you can see:
"Are the preserving or dismantling?" I wondered.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
I call this annoyance the Yankee White Man syndrome (although it also affects white women). This syndrome involves a distinct, New England, provincial, moral superiority in regard to racial issues, and all things connected to racial issues. "The South" becomes the scapegoat for all racism, thereby absolving the northeast of all culpability in racial conflict. I you are a white southerner, you are automatically classified as "racist," which is only part of a duality: racist or not racist, with no area of examination in between.
Not that the south hasn't more than earned that role of scapegoat for racism! Lord knows many down there (here?) work their butts off to prove the stereotype. I am more than willing to own that. What irritates me is that these same people doing the scapegoating will be completely blind to racial issues in their own region and constantly congratulate themselves on their moral superiority in that area. They flat out refuse to see racial conflict as a national issue of either the past or the present.
I first confronted this from my boss between 2001 and 2004. He fancied himself a Yalie (he wasn't) and a citizen of Connecticut (we were in Indiana). He liked to lecture me on my accent, which he described as "heavy" and which he insisted made people think I was a racist. I responded to this by turning up the volume on my accent and playing the Dixie Chicks (a trio of Texas women) in the office.
Then I moved to New England. Sometimes the "colorblindness" astounded me. No one was racist, of course, but I heard a lot of code words like "just happens to be black," or "urban elements," or "THAT part of town" or "THOSE people," or "I don't care if a person is black, white, yellow or purple with pink polka dots -- I just see people." (Purple with pink polka dots? That's always the giveaway).
To those comments are added the judgements passed on black faculty -- coded as "that southern way," which translated into "lazy" -- that were much harsher than those passed on white faculty demonstrating these same allegedly "southern" characteristics. Then, of course the patronizing tone taken on when directly addressing African Americans elsewhere: "Those poooooor people, they just can't help themselves."
We won't even get into the comments made when I revealed that I actually knew dark skinned men personally, despite the large number of interracial couples that I encountered. "Good God!" I thought. "Are their sheets hanging in their closet?"
I was also kind of shocked at the judgements passed on other groups of non-Anglos. For instance, Native Americans were referred to in similar terms as "THOSE people" and -- I shit you not -- as "savages." I heard also "dirty Portuguese." "The Portuguese are all disgusting," that particular source told me. "Portuguese?" I thought. "Aren't they white?" I thought I had just walked into a Chris Rock joke.
At the same time, whenever I offered some insight into race from my admittedly limited white southern view point, I was dismissed simply because I was southern. How could someone white from the south (especially one with a Ph.D. in southern history and three years of intensive study of Frederick Douglass) possibly know anything about racial interaction? After all, we are all "backwards-ass, inbred, narrow-minded muthafuckas," as my brother would say.
This current person had been jumping on that already raw, scapegoated nerve in some sort of perverse game to undermine me as a historian (and perhaps also as a moral being) while trying to curry my personal affection (men can be such assholes). He finally got to the frayed end of that nerve when he said that southerners were lazy and devoid of any culture or innovation. He, if you will note, either implied "white southerners" or did not realize that half of the black people around whom he made this statement also identify as southerners.
That last nerve produced a gut reaction that, in turn, has produced this upcoming little diatribe. Please understand that this comes from frustration over several years of trying to remove myself from a stereotype that has been forced upon me by people with whom I do actually agree on some points. Who can argue that the white south is regressive and racists? It is the section that brought us George W. Bush and the Contract with America.
At the same time, these Yankee White Men are people who think Joe Lieberman is a liberal, and who really need to learn a little more history and examine their own culpability in the problems of race in this nation.
At the risk of showing my racist white ass, or of having the wrong element interpret my racist white ass as a good thing, here is my rant (all examples both below and above are from actual conversations that I have had with Yankee White Men):
Thank you, O great Yankee White Man. Because of you, I finally see the light. New England is the center of the universe. At the very least it is, has been, and always will be the very apex of American intellectualism, artistic creativity, economic innovation, and morality.
You are so correct, Yankee White Man. New England bears no responsibility for slavery. The region had no investment in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, made no profit off of slave-produced resources, and never had slavery within its borders. In fact, I had never realized that all New Englanders were radical abolitionists, from the first Pilgrim settlers, to John Adams, to John Quincy Adams. Thus, they are totally absolved of what we in the least of the regions in the country call “the burden of southern history.” Thank you for setting me straight Yankee White Man.
I cannot believe that I never realized that New Englanders were never racist: not to slaves, not to fugitives, not to free blacks, not to Irish, not to Italians, not to Portuguese, not to Native Americans. New Englanders were always open-minded and accepting of different skin colors and cultures.
O.k., maybe one or two instances might call this assessment into question. There was as that incident involving the Pequot; but, I now see that the mission of the Pequot War clearly wasn’t genocide because some Native Americans survived. Besides, those who died were all savages and, by removing them from the land, the great harbingers of a more moral New England could settle their land and bring forth on this continent a great people.
Racism in the abolitionist movement? You have shown me that is impossible. Their abolitionism proved that they were for racial equality, and because they were for racial equality, they were abolitionists. There were no other motives. Sure, they wanted to marginalize the black speakers, but those speakers just did not understand the importance of the movement and that those in charge of the movement knew what was best for the movement. You couldn’t go off and try to speak about differences in tactics or strategies. You couldn’t go about raising your own money to run your own newspapers. That would have fractured the movement and then where would all of the black people have been?
I know, explaining that bit about segregation and the riots in the 1960s and 1970s is difficult. Still, I get it. Those poor Irish, after a century of struggle, were being forced out of jobs to make room for less qualified people….who just happened to be black. After a so long pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, as all of your immigrant ancestors did, they just felt entitled to the rights of Americans.
Then, the busing. I get that too: who wants their kids to be shipped miles and hours away to an inferior school, all so some students (who just happen to be black) at that school (that just happens to be in an under privileged neighborhood) have to endure the same journey to attend your children’s school. If the parents of those students (who just happen to be black) want their kids to go to your children’s school, well why don’t they just move to your neighborhood?
That brouhaha over the interstate was silly, too. Like you say, you have to join progress or get out of the way. “Those people” (who just happen to be black) in “those neighborhoods” (that just happen to be poor) would do neither. Similarly, gentrification, particularly when the process involves historic preservation, has nothing to do with keeping out the “urban element.” You just want the people who are best able to take care of those places to live in those places. Besides, they have ancestors from that area. “Those people” (who just happen to be black) couldn’t. Because New England didn’t have slavery.
By the same token, after my entire life in the south, I never would have realized how wrong I was in my assessment of some of the very few positive features of southern history and culture.
How, for instance, could I have thought that African Americans, and all that their ancestors brought to the region, were southern? Those Cajuns, too, how could they be southern? Or the Hispanics in southeast Texas? What about the Irish and Italian immigrants who gave New Orleans its distinct accent? Or the Vietnamese and Indians who became part of Houston’s sweaty gumbo? Those gay people in the Montrose area, in my Women’s Group, next to me on the float in the Pride parade? The ones who challenged the anti-sodomy laws? Not a southern person in the mix.
After teaching history for a decade and a half, I realize now that I have wrongly shown that progressive political movements came out of the south. Without your enlightenment, I would have continued to think that the Populist movement was entirely one of western farmers, and I would have continued to mistakenly believe that poor white and black people sometimes (even if only briefly) attempted to work together as a class through Farmers’ Alliances at the end of the 19th century and during the New Deal. I would have gone on thinking that the Civil Rights Movement was not a local southern movement, but was entirely guided by good Yankee White Men like yourself , working to elevate Martin Luther King, Jr. The challenges to anti-miscegenation laws, which will now provide the arguments for gay marriage, could not have come from so closed a society as the south. Molly Ivins, Linda Ellerbee, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Casey Hayden could never have come from the south. Even in this past election, those swaths of blue through the Black Belt, around southern cities, turning red Virginia and North Carolina into Obama blue, they could never have been the result of any southern influence, black or white.
I might have also thought that artistic movements did not emerge from the south. I will have to revise my lectures about jazz and the blues, correctly identifying their origins as coming from somewhere outside of Mississippi and Louisiana. Soul and Creole food, fried chicken and pecan pie might all southern foods, but really, they weren’t of any consequence until the northeast discovered them. Edgar Allen Poe, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Harper Lee, Truman Capote: their work is only limited in appeal, too preoccupied with the Gothic or race to be of lasting importance.
Most importantly, however, if it weren’t for you, dear Yankee White Man, 30 years in Louisiana and Texas would never have led me to figure out that the south was and is so terribly racist and small minded.
I never would have known that the Negros in the fields weren’t really happy. I never would have understood that trafficking in human property was a vile and vicious deed.
I never would have thought that segregation led to economic and political inequality. I never would have believed that the Klan was a terrorist organization. I never would have repudiated the Lost Cause romanticized interpretations of the Civil War and Reconstruction in which I was raised. I never would have realized that Jim Crow was a violation of the Constitution.
I never would have understood the importance of a black president, or even a black teacher, a black college, a black doctor, a black scholar, a black advisor, a black class, a black boss, a black date, a black friend. I never would have sought an understanding of race, oppression and privilege beyond white/black dichotomies.
I never would have been aware that stereotypes are not people and people are not stereotypes. I never would have chosen to educate myself about those stereotypes so that I could be more sensitive and aware of their use, by others and by myself. I never would have chosen not to utter racial epithets, even in quotations.
I never would have chosen to bluntly state and examine the meaning of the slaveholding and Klan participation of my ancestors, despite the aversion others might have to my admission. I never would have begun to study African American history in order to know that side of the story that no one wanted to tell me when I was a child. I never would have known the “burden of southern history,” or begun to deal with it by questioning the way that my white skin privileged me over others.
I never would have realized both the conscious and unconscious racism in which I was raised. I never would have known the grinding, constant, struggle – often to fail – of examining and eliminating my own racism – and doing it not for congratulations from anyone, but because the act of examination and elimination is the only moral choice in this world.
I never would have opened my eyes and my ears to other people’s experience --- not just black people, but other people who are not white, poor people, politically persecuted people, disabled people, people who are not me and have never lived a life remotely like mine. I never would have realized that this is an act of revolution against everything I was raised to be: the reason for so many dead bodies hanging from trees: the flower of white ladyhood.
No, none of this could have happened without you, Yankee White Man. None of this at all. After a lifetime of bearing witness to racism, I would never have seen this on my own. Only a Yankee White Man, in all of his moral and historical superiority, could have shown me the way. Thank you so very much.
As we say in the south, “mighty white of you," Yankee White Man.
Monday, November 03, 2008
Who is NOT worried about tomorrow? If I wrote dystopian science fiction novels, I could probably make a fortune off of the scenarios that I'm imagining.
Even if things go the way many of us hope (O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!), I've always expected that he will disappoint us because, as most progressives know, he is NOT a progressive. Yet, I think it is vitally important that he win because of the war, because of the Supreme Court, because of the absolute necessity of having a smart person in the White House. His victory won't be one for progressives, but it will be a step in the right (or would that be the left?) direction.
Meanwhile, this song keeps coming back to me. I loved this song when I first heard it at age 11 because 11 year olds can be very idealistic; but I was already a huge cynic and skeptic. I have since learned that John Lennon was, as well. Maybe the cynics and the skeptics are such because they have such high hopes and such high ideals, all of which they know will only exist in their imaginations.
Nonetheless, this song represents that illusive, almost abusive emotion on which Obama based his campaign. Hope.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
It begins with a bit that, to this day, leaves me rolling in pain with laughter. Snoopy lets loose an emotive howl, then immediately, guiltily catches himself. He leaves this scene to become the catalyst for the next, in which Lucy berates Linus with a lament that should serve all young girls as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of putting aside their own desires to be with a dude. Linus steadfastly and stubbornly maintains the blind faith of a true beleiver. Then, the scene that, because I'm a big sister myself, hits me as most true. Lucy rises from bed at an unholy hour to go retrieve her insane little brother from the pumpkin patch. What big sister has not had that resigned expression of disgust as she saves a younger sibling from the dangers of his crazy fancies?
Sure, Charles Schultz was supposed to have been a cold bastard, but he knew the true, complicated nature of humanity, even in small children.