History Hiccups and Hiccups and Hiccups

Yesterday I read a post by a child. It was passionate and flaming. Said all the right things. Made sweeping generalizations. Had great prose. It pissed me off so much I thought about it all day. Millennial people, I don’t have anything against you, I mostly like you, but I know you too well.

The last class I taught was a literature class. One of my students — not a Millennial — was a 30 something Black woman who wanted to learn more about Black literature and the Harlem Renaissance. I was really happy to teach that as it has always been a strong interest of mine. She was also interested in the Civil Rights movement that happened before her time. The other older student (28) was interested too. The rest were just knocking of a requirement.

The class was mostly kids — 17 — 19, coming in at that level from Advanced Placement in high school. Yeah, really. And never have I seen a more arrogant and ignorant batch of people in my LIFE. This was a JUNIOR level class, not a remedial class, not a high school level class, not even a freshman class. It was a 300 level class.

These students didn’t really know what Martin Luther King had done. They knew only that he was a great man. They knew nothing about the Selma Riots or why there was a school named after Rosa Parks in their neighborhood. When I — aghast! — showed news footage of the riots that happened all too often back then, one Hispanic student said “This is boring” and another said, “This is depressing. We should be doing positive things.” That student was Black. She never returned to class.

One thing that surprised them was that white people were marching, white people were being clubbed, hauled off in paddy wagons, jailed and tried with blacks. They really thought that whites and blacks hated each other until, well, I dunno. I have friends who were there — white people — and I wished so much they had not lived so far away and I could have invited them to talk to the class.

When I taught Langston Hughe’s, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” most of the young students in my class did not know what Langston Hughes referred to when he wrote about the Congo. They did not know where it was or that it was a river. The Iraqi girl did not know the Euphrates ran through her country… 😦

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


Hate is inexplicable and as blind as, I would say, love. I also do not think one needs to be “taught” to hate. I would posit that hatred and ignorance are partners. Ignorant people with poor critical thinking skills are easily persuaded by propaganda and inflammatory arguments based on “mine is better” thinking.

I believe that the nexus of the problem is ignorance and stupidity, two elements that are being nurtured by the current regime. I’m sorry but I cannot call it government. These people are not governing.

When I watched the footage (pixelage?) of the events in Charlottesville, I saw something I’d seen before and was sorry to see again. But I did not feel surprised.

I taught during the Politically Correct Time when PC was a THING you absolutely did, and I had mixed feelings about it. I read Dinesh D’Souza’s first book and felt sympathy for his argument that suppressing the work of philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle just because they were white slave owners (yes, that happened) doesn’t make sense. I was able to separate the men from their ideas and to understand that they lived in a world different from mine. Couldn’t everyone do that? Especially when their ideas had informed thousands of years of religious and political thought? D’Souza’s argument was that immigrants like him, wanting to know and understand America’s greatness and the values of the West, need this to understand. Of course, a guy can just go to the library… 🙂

I kind of admired D’Souza back then. Now, I don’t. D’Souza figured out from his initial best-selling book where his bread was buttered and is now a (corrupt) spokesman for the Far Right, saying that conservatism is “conserving the principles of the American Revolution.” I’d put him in a box with Anne Coulter and Sarah Palin and their ilk.

Many white, male writers fell out of the pantheon of literature during those years, not because their writing was suddenly no good, but because they were white and male. Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost replaced by “writers of color” and writers with vaginas — also fine writers, some of them, but primarily “of color” or vagina-clad. I resisted the “replacement.” I thought it could have been an “addition.” My philosophy of “diversity” was to enlarge the world, not edit it differently.

Many extremely well qualified white, male, English instructors I knew did not get hired because they were white. My working life was spent in academia, but the experiences I was having were part of the wider world. Affirmative action was probably necessary, but on an individual level it was hardly fair. A LOT of resentment built up over what was regarded as a quota system. It was never openly admitted to be a quota system, but minorities did have preference in hiring until a certain percentage of non-white employees were hired. Good or bad? Right or wrong? Definitely NOT ideal. Some argued (I argue) that a job should go to the best qualified applicant according to an objective standard, right? But it has never worked that way in real life Affirmative Action or not.

It did make a lot of white men angry and resentful; it left others feeling impotent and victimized. I am sure those from the poorer, the more traditionally black-hating states were angriest when a black person was hired and they were not. It was probably more difficult for them to “see the bigger picture.” There was a lot of discussion about “reverse racism” and I could understand the argument, but I also saw that we do not live in a perfect world and mitigating long-standing inequality is a monumental task fraught with ethical conundrums. White people really did feel that things were being taken from them, their livelihood, their neighborhoods, their jobs, their futures. The “Women’s Movement” was happening at the same time. I know it looked like a giant conspiracy against white men.

I believe it should have been done better, perhaps more slowly, but for those who had been disenfranchised for generations it really couldn’t be fixed quickly enough. The riots and demonstrations were evidence for that. Langston Hughe’s poem, “Harlem,” wasn’t just great poetry, it was prescient:

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?


My point here is that this entire situation is as old as time. How many pure Neanderthals have YOU met? It’s very complex and very subtle and based somewhat on the difficulty of sharing limited resources. Complexity and subtlety have no currency or power against hate nor are they within the range of stupid. People who hate others for no other reason than that they are black, brown, yellow OR white are stupid — probably also ignorant, lacking curiosity and wonder. They will NEVER go away. Those people are part and parcel of humanity and nothing — not even a generation of PC teaching — is going to awaken them.

I really like the Bible, and I’m going to mention a story now. Here’s God, up on a mountain, burning away, and Moses is there and they’re chatting. “Go give them my laws,” says God. “They’re simple, clear, easy to follow, nothing subtle or complex because, you know, people.”

Moses says, “God, Dude, I can’t do that without a citation. You have to give me a name so they’ll believe me.”

God’s thinking, “That’s weird. They should be able to see how good these laws are on their merits alone! Are they THAT stupid, my people, that they can’t see that?”

“OK, Moses, if you’re sure. Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you.”

‘I Am‘? Seriously?”

(I imagine God growling from the bush)

“Awright. I’ll try.”

And Moses tried. So here comes a list of laws that anyone can follow even if they’re stupid. God wanted his people to fear him so they could have a good life in spite of their stupidity and blind passions. They would really work if…

But much more than was God, Moses was onto the essential nature of human beings. We seek ways to justify our baser instincts, debating, questioning, interpreting, arguing things that are absolutely simple and clear. Killing people is wrong. Hating people is death to the soul. Taking what doesn’t belong to you deprives others of their rightful possessions and their happiness. ON and on and on and on. So simple, but we can’t seem to do it even when it FEELS better to do the right thing, to be kind, not to kill, not to steal, not to lie… 😦

For more on the word of the day, prickle, I direct you to T. S. Eliot. “The Hollow Men.”



18 thoughts on “History Hiccups and Hiccups and Hiccups

  1. The Hollow Men. Yup. Good one. Done that. The problem is, the people at the root of this are NOT thinkers. They are not complex. Their problems are literally black and white (or brown and play pink or some other color combination), but there’s nothing in there with which to reason. You can’t argue with a blank wall.

    God or gods or the gods or whatever we choose to call them put together some solid, basic, usable laws. Not terribly complicated, mostly. But too much for your average human and certainly too much for those who would be his masters. I woke up with a headache. I still have the same headache. I’m pretty sure I had it yesterday, too.

    • I think it would be amazing if people were to say, “Evil exists, some people are stupid, ignorance is a huge problem we can solve let’s get on it.” 😦

  2. Hating is death to the soul! Absolutely perfect and so true. I’m astounded and disheartened at the ignorance of our youth. The uncaring, uninvolvement (is that a word) that permeates our youth. Gone the days of standing tall for something that mattered matters. Those of us that witnessed some of much of the above, whether personally or on tv, can’t won’t forget the trials and tribulations, pain, mental and physical brought about by man’s inhumanity to man. Too often people hide their head in the sand, unwilling or unable to make a change. I live in hope! Hope that the younger generations ( 40 on down) will wake up and recognize the world and what it’s become.

      • I would too. That and the millenial reaction including the lack of curiosity. Either they feel the world owes them a payck without working for it, or they could care less. Either way its disheartening.

      • Your luckier than I. My grandkids the 15 year old is incredibly aware of world events and issues. The 16 year old, knows but is more concerned with daily life. Although she’d seen 5 motorcycle accidents outside her school and it’s wakened her up on that side of things.

  3. I was never comfortable with ‘affirmative action’. It seemed plain stupid to reject the best candidate, and also worked against women/non-whites who would be seen as ‘second-best’ even if it weren’t true. And who can blame all those best candidates for being pissed off about it?
    Ignorance seems to me the biggest threat to humanity in the modern world. Could go on about it at length, but will spare you.

    • What we’re seeing now is these old guys (and their sons) who feel they lost out on a livelihood during the 80s and 90s are angry. So while they struggle to make a living, are forced out of their towns and jobs, lose out to women and minorities, the youngsters of the time are getting PC indoctrination. Trump tapped into the impotent rage of these millions of people. I’m surprised that people are surprised at the anger, frankly. And they DO regard it as a “liberal conspiracy.”

      I was up for a job. There were two openings. One went to my PhD from Notre Dame colleague who was a superb teacher and desperate — and white. It was his 20th interview since getting his doctorate. I lost out to a Hispanic woman whose cell phone rang during the interview. I was told it was because my teaching demo was weak. A month later the same dean who told me that asked if I could help this new teacher with her classroom management (thereby undermining the lame and dishonest reason I’d been given).

      There was a consolation prize, however. I was given the chance to take students to Paris the following summer. BUT of course it was 2001 and there was that thing with the World Trade Center and after that our school didn’t want to “risk the lives” of the students on a trip abroad.

      NOTHING comes from nothing. I wish so much people would remember that and look back and see where these (admittedly horrible stupid) men got hurt. I abhor them, but I do remember those years very well.

    • And they had to “make up” for hiring the white guy by hiring the Hispanic woman (who had only taught 1 year to my 20, who had never taught at that school and did not know the population). In many real senses, I was more Hispanic than she — she didn’t speak Spanish, had never been to Mexico or South America, had never lived in a border town let alone a Mexican neighborhood. There’s more to “race” than skin color and a last name.

      • But it’s like killing the messenger, isn’t it – being angry with the minorities who go the jobs instead of the self-righteous idealists who thought up the scheme but didn’t have the commonsense to recognise the ramifications.
        Education is the answer to almost everything in my opinion – not in the least humble on this subject. And from what I can see from the outside, it looks as if the American education system has lost its way. Unless you can afford to pay big money for the elite end, which is probably the best in the world – except that it fosters elitism.

      • Well, there were many violent demonstrations that led to changes in our government and I think fear entered into the decision to do things as they were done — plus how do you rectify an injustice that old and that big? I don’t know. Even at the time I thought, “Whoa, this is a bitch.”

        I think there is good education in this country in the public schools with dedicated teachers. Also some of the home school programs are great. Private schools may or may not be great. And I have no problem fostering elitism as long as it is not based on money. Grrrrrr…..

  4. I wasn’t surprised to hear that even white people were oppressed alongside the blacks in the past historical events. Although I didn’t even read or hear that history. Because History really does hiccup and hiccup and hiccup. In fact same history may repeat in several places at the same time. I can relate the recent popular stories of the ISIS with this scenario. How? ISIS claims themselves as muslims and it is the Muslims all over the world who faced the highest rate of tortures and killings by ISIS; moreover, Muslims got disgraceful reputation as a bonus! Same with the story of white people!
    Why? I think, it’s because most of humans tend to not look into the core theory of any event or situation or fact, they only look at the face. They see one or more white man going nuts and start to yell – ‘All Whites are nuts’! They see one or more black man taking drugs and they become intellectual enough to say- ‘oh, you’re black,must be a drug dealer then!’ They award themselves with PHD degree on ‘Islam’ by studying not the Quran but the Muslim extremists and proudly calls every muslim a terrorist! In the process we get so blinded we don’t even realize when we become the very person we hate!!
    If we look at the core ideas then we would blame the ‘evil actions’ or ‘evil ideas’ which can be manifested through any human regardless of their gender, birthplace, religion, color, and whatever other classifications we can imagine of. In doing so we can help ourselves to not nurture those evil ideas within our own mind. I believe, we still have hopes 🙂

    • I’m so glad you follow my blog. You’re right about Islam. Many people who hate it don’t even know a Muslim let alone what the Quran says. It’s easier for people to stereotype and then hate than it is to take the time to really SEE or even to think, “I don’t think I know the whole story here so I’ll shut up.”

      I have hope, too. ❤

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