Monday, February 26, 2024

Don't be afraid, it's just history

Untitled (Toni Morrison) by Robert McCurdy (National Portrait Gallery)

     If the three Canadians who discovered insulin in 1921 were themselves diabetic and trying to save their own lives, would that make their accomplishment less significant?
     I'd say no. Their breakthrough still benefits uncounted millions.
     Similarly, I do not discount the American Revolution because the colonists were thinking mostly of their own interests.
     They still forged a new type of freedom. For themselves. At first.
But that freedom began to spread — rather like a virus escaping a lab — and kept infecting others.
    That is the American story in a nutshell: One group secures rights for itself, then those rights are claimed by a more disadvantaged group.
     While soaked with blood and outrage, it is still an inspiring story. That's why I'm so puzzled that Florida and Texas pretend that telling the core American narrative somehow hurts their children.
     Which is more inspiring? That wealthy planter and slave owner Thomas Jefferson paused from gardening at Monticello to write the Declaration of Independence? Or that his grandchildren, descendants of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman Jefferson made his concubine, would some day gain their rights as free citizens — in theory — under that very same document?
     I'll take the second story. It displays the promise of America. You can't feel bad hearing it, unless you're rooting for slavery.
     The past helps us understand the present. If you are agog at the Alabama court casting embryos as children — albeit very well-behaved children — it might help to remember that while Black Americans won the right to vote in 1865, American women would not receive the same right for another 55 years, until 1920. American wives and mothers and sisters lagged two generations behind those once considered sub-human chattel.

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  1. "The bigotry of low expectations"

    I am sitting at the San Antonio airport on my way back to Chicago. I spent the weekend with two men I have known 40 years one an African American 55 the other a Vietnamese "boat person" 75 that escaped imprisonment by the communists.
    I am 65 and taught them both woodworking and hired them to work for the company where I was foreman.

    They are or were very successful .
    More than me.
    They both mentioned how grateful they are to have been given an opportunity they couldn't find elsewhere.
    I'm a regular white guy. Still scrubbing off my bigotry and prejudice.

    Hire minorities , share your knowledge with them. Introduce them to your circle so they too can be a part of the American success story.
    If you give a man a fish ...

    1. And recognize and appreciate the knowledge they share with you.


    2. In Trevor Noah's book, Born a Crime, he says, yes, it helps if you teach a man to fish, but he also needs the pole. You taught them to fish, and helped with the tools. Good on you.

  2. The laws restricting the knowledge of history in the Deep South are the stuff of totalitarianism. Absurd, despicable, dangerous beyond measure. SNL had a bit this weekend about the ruling in Alabama. "Embryos were ruled to be humans in Alabama. Also, black embryos can be tried as adults".

    1. Very funny and cuts pretty close to the bone: everything is possible if God is a factor.

  3. Completely agree that the real history is more inspiring than the 'feel good" myths. And instructive; disenfranchised groups can use tactics from earlier struggles.

  4. "We all have these spots on our characters, and the thing to do when you find one is to scrub vigorously."

    And that's entirely the point. We have a choice. We can go through life thinking what we learned in childhood is the one and only truth, or we can evolve, admit our errors, and move on.
    I follow an author, Lyz Lenz, who has a new book called "This American Ex-Wife." She points out all sorts of things I've misunderstood for years.
    Like Toni Morrison, she offers us uncomfortable truths we can learn from or ignore.
    It's our choice.

  5. I have read some TM but not her first-just put on my list. I don't always get it, likely as I am white. But in reading her words, steam almost rises off the paper. Hearing her read her work-I'm in. A year or so ago her story, "Recitatif" was pub. as a stand alone with a good intro by Zadie Smith. A piece written about 2 children, their lives, their friendship written without any overt reference to their races. The reader is left to decide based somewhat by racial stereotypes, race bias etc. Very interesting.
    And speaking about racial terrrorism and hate in the South....check it out in the North via Tim Egans book, "A Fever in the Heartland-The KKK's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman who Stopped Them. Who knew that just about 100 years ago thru the efforts of a few world class wankers the K was in political, judicial and religious charge of much of the North and nearly took over the Presidency and killed Democracy. Talk about required reading! I hope it's at least considered for a Pulitzer this year.


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