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.”