Sunday, August 13, 2017

An old classic reappears on the UVA curriculum

University of Virginia
     Of course it had to start at the University of Virginia.
     Well, no, it didn't have to be the University of Virginia. It just worked out that way.
     Truth is, the white supremacists could have had their march anywhere. There are enough of 'em.
      But UVA somehow fits. Not just for the Robert E. Lee statue.  Though being supported by Nazis—whoops, white nationalists, whoops, the alt-right—kind of takes the wind out of the sails of the disingenuous, we're-just-decent-Southern-folk-celebrating-our-historical-heritage argument, doesn't it?

     You lost; get over it.
     It isn't as if this is racism's first appearance at the University of Virginia and environs.
     Talk about celebrating heritage. 
     We have to keep that in mind. Trump might be wolf-whistling and permission granting, calling ollie-olllie-oxen-free for haters and goose steppers to come out from under their rocks, blinking into the light.
     But they were always there. He didn't invent them. 

     Just the opposite: they invented him. Or at least helped. Let's not blow them out of proportion, particularly since they like to seem bigger than they are. I never heard from a hater in his mother's basement who didn't speak of "we." An army of one. 
     And to pretend this is some awful new development is the kind of self-flattery that looks so unappealing on the right. Our nation is not so much changing into something new as reverting to something old. Something we thought we had escaped but obviously haven't.
     An awful old development.
     Granted, beyond the usual baker's dozen of pimply teens and bowl cut storm troopers. There were a lot of angry white guys with torches Friday night—tiki torches to be sure, the mom's-basement touch that always detracts from the Albert Speer perfection these guys are always lunging at and missing.  
     It would almost be funny except, of course, it's not.
     Particularly after Saturday, with violence spreading around Charlottesville, and a protester plus two state troopers killed—one of the counter-protesters, of course—and the president apportioning blame on both sides.
     The guy who mows people down in a car, the people mown down, potato, po-tah-to, plenty of blame all around. The police quelling the disturbance counterbalancing the haters who sparked it.
     At least Trump renounced his alt-right suppor... oh wait. No, he didn't do that. It's a big tent, Trumpism.
     Back in the good old days, hatred was more subdued, more genteel. When I heard the marchers were at UVA, I couldn't help but recall that racism was so strong there, the school has its own classic poem immortalizing it.
    "University" by Karl Shapiro begins:

"To hurt the Negro and avoid the Jew
Is the curriculum...."
     Shapiro had lived in Chicago for a decade as a child, dabbled in poetry, got accepted into UVA—he had a recommendation letter written by William Carlos Williams. 
    He only lasted a year there before dropping out. But not before the school, founded by Jefferson, had left its scars on him, living in a world where his fellow classmates, he later said, saw "Jews as a cut above Negroes but not much."
     Shapiro returned the favor, plunging a knife deep into his school and twisting, though pausing to limn the lovely campus:

     "Where boxwood and magnolia brood
      And columns with imperious stance."

     Then he touches on the human pettiness belying its physical beauty, a place where "equals shake hands, unequals blankly pass." The poem was published in Poetry in October, 1940. Who could have guessed those would be the good old days? Now those so ignorant they imagine themselves superior run their unequals down and kill them.
     Why aren't I as worked up about this development as others seem to be? Maybe because, as awful as the doings in Virginia without question are, they seem a distraction. The threat to our nation posed by whack-job haters is still dwarfed by the threat posed by our whack-job president. And there is comfort to remember that we defeated a far stronger, far more pervasive, far more organized alt-right, whoops, white supremacists, whoops, Nazis before. And we will do so again. If I could tap one of these idiots on the shoulder and tell them one thing, I would say, "Hey Reichmarshal! You know, the whole 'blood and soil' thing didn't work out so well for the Germans. Just a word to the wise, er, I mean, to the stupid."


  1. "At least Trump renounced his alt-right suppor... oh wait. No, he didn't do that."

    And, unsurprisingly, they noticed:

    Soledad O'Brien: “In case you’re wondering if President Trump inspires neo-nazis – this is from their publication The Daily Stormer:”

  2. A fine poem. Full of lines that capture what one thinks of deep south attitudes and social tactics: "humor the snob and lure the lout."

    About the conglomerate of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, etc., having known people who worked -- and died - in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, I'm not inclined do be totally dismissive of the real damage such people can do when they set their minds to it.


  3. If I had a dime for every time Trump screeched about Obama's "refusal" to say the words "Islamic terrorism," I could buy a steak dinner.

    Now comes this, and what do we get from Trump? Mealymouthed mush about violence from "both sides."

    Trump had no problem implying that Obama was sympathetic to terrorists motivated by twisted religious beliefs. He and his followers had better not complain when others infer that they're sympathetic to terrorists motivated by twisted political and racial beliefs.

  4. I honestly don't know if Trump has enough convictions beyond those off his own ego to be a full-on white supremacist. But I could be wrong.

  5. Making America great again? The pessimist could see the racists bringing back that part of our past. "Boy, it's great to have klansmen in the street, like in the old days." The optimist could see a chance to defeat these dimwitted motherfuckers one more time. We shall overcome.

  6. a deplorable act without question at a rally that as Americans we should not support .BUT Charlottesville by all indications is a progressive leaning town. and as many southern cities and towns is acting to remove monuments to the confederacy. the university did not sponsor this event and there is little indication its students were involved. people traveled to this location to protest the removal of the statue of Lee. locals and others were countering that protest .the suspect driving the car used to run counter protesters down was from Ohio. university officials and city official denounced the violent acts and the motivations of the torch bearing protesters. the south is changing Neil and in many places for the better. this rally drew very few supporting white supremacy. its a fringe movement. I feel your painting UVA with a pretty broad brush as well as the people of the south.

    1. I think the point flew by you FME. It isn't that the people at UVA are responsible for this demonstration. It's that it's not the signal departure people seem to think it is. They're shocked, shocked, shocked to see this happening. I'm pointing out that, if you know you're history, not so shocking. It's 2017. The frickin' statue is still there. Maybe not so progressive after all.

    2. no I think I got your point . its just that I dont think its on the mark. I'm not obtuse. who's shocked? and where did you indicate someone was? and digging up a poem from the 1940s and describing it as "the schools own classic poem" as though its 80 years ago. its not . and this liberal urban northerner taring the south as a monolith is in my opinion counter productive. I was in Atlanta with my teen age son last month and he says to me : "wow these good old boys down here mix with black people like it aint a thing. you hardly see that in Chicago". we racist around here neil ? or the way you see it is that just in the south ?

    3. What's really interesting about the statue, and whether or not it should be removed, is the symbolism. Nothing that's going on today has anything to do with Robert E Lee. His image has become symbolic of racial hatred and white nationalist rage. I believe the General would be saddened and appalled by the ignorance of his idolaters. As a symbol of hate, the statue should be removed, and the haters have only themselves to blame.

  7. Of course now that the alt-right marchers are being identified and called out, or fired from jobs, they're whining about the left stomping on their "first amendment" rights and how only white people are persecuted for their beliefs. Let's see how many are really serious about playing as Nazis when they realize it comes with real life consequences.

  8. Fun fact, the most racist state I've been was Pennsylvania, but I guess there aren't poems about that.

    Approaching this as a Southern or Flyover problem ignores the reality to our peril, as demonstrated by the near total control by the GOP at the local and state level.


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