To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)-the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress-is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they-the Founding Fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of Congress, the famous Justices of the Supreme Court-represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such a thing as “the United States,” subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a “national interest” represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.
… My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been, The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.
- Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
(emphasis my own)
Malcolm X, Chicago, 1961. by Eve Arnold.
I recently finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley). Oh my god. If you read any biographical book, read this one.
It used to be a really widespread required reading, but isn’t so much anymore, and I’m now really disappointed that I never had to read it at a single point during my studies, even though my history classes focused on the second half of 20th century American politics and culture. Wtf.
Lamestream history kind of views Malcolm X as a demagogue and leader of a racist, fabricated religion, and as a proponent of violence as a means towards civil rights. One of the beauties of this book though, is how it gives you a clear insight into what the Nation of Islam was all about, and what historical forces existed that made it such an appealing and natural choice for some people.
This book is amazing for its sheer power alone - the power of his life story, the power of the injustice, the power of emotion as a cultural force, and the power of knowledge to enlighten and motivate humans. He was such a charismatic person, and you can really feel his personality and emotion coming through the pages.
What impressed me most about Malcolm X was his willingness to learn and to grow. He went through so many changes in philosophy throughout his life, and always remained open to learning new things. His dedication to self-education was his greatest asset, along with his humility and ability to connect with others. Don’t worry, you don’t have to agree with any of his beliefs to appreciate his story.
I was discussing the book with my dad, and he made the point that what he had to say scared a lot of people, and people didn’t really understand what he had to say, either. And so you had media dealing with him in really frustrating ways, like this awesome clueless and condescending interviewer. (Seriously, does anybody not want to yell at him to shut up? Let the man with the voice of butter speak.) But you don’t have to think white people are a genetically modified devil race to appreciate him or this book.
It’s definitely in my top 10 history books now, if not pushing its way into all-time.
At its core, feminism is the belief in equality. It seeks to eliminate the social, cultural and legal barriers between men and women. Its goal is to create a truly egalitarian society. Beyond that, the waters grow murkier. Feminist factions disagree sometimes on what constitutes equality — whether it’s sexual freedom, career advancement or something else. Some people who label themselves feminists perceive that battle for equality as over and done with; others still view society as rife with patriarchal restrictions. Recently, a debate has stirred over whether feminism has become outdated as term and should even be used at all.
So is feminism today a potent force for change? Or is it the “f-word,” spit out like a bitter seed? By examining its unifying philosophies and causes, as well as the schisms within the movement, we can properly evaluate and answer those questions.
A nice Intro to Feminism 101. Besides the fact that they keep capitalizing bell hooks’ name, solid basics.
Some (Chaotic) Thoughts On Race
A few things have happened recently that reminded me that America is not post-racial, still fairly clueless about how to discuss race, that many people are in some strange little bubbles, and that we really need to change the dialogue focus / understanding of racism.
Most recently, one of my best friends, Kenny, wrote this Facebook note that got picked up by the Boston Globe for OpEd, in which he discusses a recent encounter of his running through Harvard Yard to catch a bus, and some strangers called out at him, “Bro, you running from the cops or something?” and “What’d you steal this time?” Kenny is black, and naturally when he confronted these people about how their comments were offensive, they refused to see how, and told him to lighten up because it was a joke. Kenny’s always had a knack for writing/speeching, so it’s a good quick read, and you should read it.
When I first read it on Facebook, it immediately reminded me of this video by J Smooth on how to approach talking about race in the 21st century, which is extremely well done.
I mention these things early on because I really think you should check them out, and I’m afraid things are about to get long-winded/disorganized and I want to make sure you see them first.
Basically, these things sent me on a long thought spiral that brought me back to something that put me on a similar thought spiral a few weeks earlier.
It was first this NYT article: “DNA Gives New Insights Into Michelle Obama’s Roots,” adapted from a book soon to be released by Rachel L. Swarns on the ancestry of Michelle Obama. It essentially outlines Michelle Obama’s family history back to when her ancestors were slaves and reveals that she has some white ancestors and tries to get in touch with her modern day white relatives. I came away from reading it feeling… odd. Odd would be the best word. It took me a while to pinpoint what some of those things were that made me unhappy.
When Americans travel abroad, they are often surprised at how well other countries do the things we used to think America does best. In fact, one reason so many American businesses still lead the world is because they benchmark the competition and emulate best practices. But suggest to an American politician that we should try to learn from other countries, and he will look at you like you are from Mars. It is somehow unpatriotic even to raise such comparisons.
Imagine if a politician were to say, “France has a better health care system than we do.” I can almost guarantee that politician would suffer electoral defeat — even though the statement, in most objective respects, is true. The U.S. is, for too many, the only country that matters; experiences anywhere else are irrelevant. Remember, we have many members of Congress who boast they have no passport.
At a time when many trend lines in the U.S. point to relative decline in this regard, one actually brings hope: More and more young Americans go abroad for some of their education.
Read more. [Image: jbachman01/Flickr]
I was just thinking on the train yesterday how embarrassing America’s rail system is and how embarrassing we are at frankly a lot of other things, and wondering how the world lets us get away with invading other people’s countries and bossing them around when we are clearly not number one anymore, and thinking about how nothing will ever change because too many Americans can’t help but see Europeans as moral-less commies.
This article contemplates these things well.
Coke Country represent.
First Lady Abigail Powers Fillmore began teaching at a country school house in Cayuga County, NY when she was 16 years old. In the winter of 1818 a self taught teenager named Millard Fillmore enrolled her class. They were engaged a year later, although the wedding was delayed until 1826. For three years of their courtship, they were 150 miles apart as Millard trained to be a lawyer. As Millard explained, she was “eight years my sweetheart, twenty seven years my wife.”
Abigail taught for two years after their wedding, making her the first First Lady to hold a job after marriage. She retired from teaching after the birth of her first child Millard Powers Fillmore.
Abigail was a proponent of libraries and founded the first public library in Sempronius, New York. As First Lady, she worked to create a permanent library in the White House. Prior to the Fillmore administration, US presidents had brought their own books to the White House, retrieving them once they left office. Through her husband, Abigail obtained a special appropriation from Congress to create a small library on the second floor of the White House which still exists today.
Greatest Generation’s History Challenge #20
What was the best thing about the 1920s?
The 19th amendment to the US Constitution giving women the right to vote in 1920. Duh. That, and finger waves (which definitely would be my answer for #22, the fashion trend in history I missed out on).
According to Professor Wikipedia, the amendment achieved the necessary 36 state legislatures to ratify the bill in August of 1920, officially making it a federal/national law, but Maryland didn’t ratify it until 1941, Virginia in 1952, Alabama in 1953, Florida and South Carolina in 1969, Georgia in 1970, Louisiana in 1971, and finally Mississippi in 1984 (64 yrs after it was enacted nationally).
Pumpkin patches are a common sight along the roads of Pennsylvania’s Amish country in fall. // Photograph by Joelle Morris, My Shot
To enjoy artisanal cheeses year-round, follow U.S. 7, within the “Vermont Cheese Trail,” north from Bennington, through to Middlebury (with seven cheesemakers in the vicinity), then to Burlington. Aside from the famously aged Vermont cheddar, choices now include feta, goat cheese, and ewe’s milk cheese. Planning: The Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival is held every July.www.vtcheese.com
Blueberries, Rhode Island
As you journey along R.I. 77 from historic Tiverton Four Corners to Sakonnet Point, watch as the landscape changes from stone-fenced pastures and woodlands to vineyards. After a wine tasting at Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, enjoy the cooling breezes at Sakonnet Point, then return to Tiverton for blueberry ice cream at Gray’s Ice Cream Shop. Planning: Visit in August when the produce at Rhode Island roadside stalls runs from blueberries to sweet corn.www.gonewport.com
Pumpkins and Chocolate, Pennsylvania
From Philadelphia, head west on U.S. 30 through Amish farm country to Lancaster, where the Landis Valley Museum hosts “Harvest Days with the Pumpkin Patch” in October. The same weekend (this year on October 9), a “Chocolate Walk” in nearby Lititz invites you to visit over 20 chocolate-tasting sites. Take the slow lane on an Amish buggy ride in Bird-in-Hand or Ronks, down roads lined with amber autumn color. Planning: For all things chocolate, and a theme park, spa, and zoo visit Hershey, 25 miles northwest of Lititz.www.padutchcountry.com
Start a tour of the Peach State at Macon and head south to the town of Byron. In June’s warmth, peaches are at their peak, weighing down the farm stalls and starring at the Fort Valley Georgia Peach Festival. This is a chance to see—and taste—the world’s largest (11 feet wide) peach cobbler. It’s so big that its sweet biscuit topping has to be stirred with canoe paddles. Planning: Ga. 49 south of Byron is known as Peach Parkway. www.gapeachfestival.com
Throughout Michigan, May is the time for cherry blossoms. In mid-July, just as the cherries ripen and are ready for picking, Traverse City hosts the National Cherry Festival, first held in 1926. Here cherries are used in everything from vodka to cheesecake. Take Rte. 22 outlining the Leelanau Peninsula—stopping to sample cherry wine en route—through orchards and vineyards to Glen Arbor, where cherry-themed goodies can be found at the Cherry Republic Shop.Planning: You will need to buy tickets in advance for many events during the popular National Cherry Festival. www.absolutemichigan.com
Add to this list my dreams of wine touring in California, the Cranberry Highway, Apple Picking in New York, and my already fave of strawberry/blueberry/blackberry picking in Louisiana. Represent.
I’m not sure why all of a sudden this is called hipster racism instead of just… modern racism. It’s not an article about hipsters being racist, but actually just a really good piece on why jokes aren’t “just jokes”.