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Author: Annie Waters

Annie Waters Blog Post 11/30

The way I see it, Dear White People centers its focus primarily on two pervasive themes of modern American racial injustice: the first being the juxtaposition of white Americans’ romanticization of black culture and vilification of black people, and the second being the simultaneous demands of racial assimilation and authenticity that a predominantly white America forces onto its black communities.

The movie weaves instances of fetishization of black culture into the plot throughout its entire development. Kurt comes to the Armstrong dining hall for chicken and waffles, Sophia incorporates AAVE into her conversations with Troy and sexualizes his black identity, and the Bugle editors play with Lionel’s hair like he’s a pet. Meanwhile, these same characters reject the characteristics of black communities that don’t benefit them as white people. For instance, immediately after Kurt praises Armstrong’s black soul food, he complains about the supposed disadvantages that affirmative action places on white students. This theme becomes far more extreme at the Pastiche Halloween party, a parody of Sam’s Dear White People radio show. Among white students dressed in literal blackface and proudly saying the N-word while singing along to rap music, Coco tells Sam that white people love black people’s lips, tans, and curves and that they just wanted to be like them for a night. In reference to black beauty culture, Coco’s not wrong. The white characters in the movie, by clearly problematic methods, tend to embrace a lot of material aspects of black identity. Where she’s wrong lies within white students’ attitudes toward racial issues on campus. While the white students at the party may be celebrating the “fun” aspects of black culture, we can’t forget that the party’s theme was proposed as a parody of Sam’s discussion of the inappropriate racial behaviors of white students at Winchester. While white students love material black culture, they completely reject the notion of a cultural shift to dismantle the university’s pervasive whiteness.

Meanwhile, the movie introduces a complicated narrative of the pressure that white society places on black individuals to racially assimilate. Sam explains this through her differentiation between 100%, Oofta, and Nose Job identities. She explains that to act as 100% is to behave unapologetically black without fear for the response from white society, ooftas adjust their blackness to best cater to their audience at a given time, and nose jobs soften their blackness completely to compensate for white society’s negative assumptions about them. We see all three of these expressions of black identity in different characters. Sam is primarily unapologetic and is seen by some as “blacker than thou,” Troy is depicted as appealing to Pastiche’s vision of his blackness and the university donors’ expectations of assimilation into white culture, and Lionel is seen as “only technically black.” No matter how the black characters in the film express their black identities, they’re somehow criticized for it. These varying standards of racial identity reveal the pervasiveness of the walls within which white society has continuously tried to confine black identity.

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Annie Waters 11/16

In Chapter 22 of PHUS, “The Unreported Resistance,” Zinn expands on the continuous theme of a United States history driven by collective social action rather than simply by governmental, political, and military action. Specifically, this chapter details the “permanent adversarial culture” that arose in the decades following the Vietnam War. Throughout the presidencies of Carter, Reagan, and Bush, a largely unrecognized movement of resistance spurred the nation into social action bringing awareness to abandoned issues such as deteriorating social services, the AIDS crisis, racial injustice, and the plights of Indigenous communities native to North America.

Each of these social movements, largely intertwined with the latter portion of the Cold War and the duration of the Gulf War, brought attention to the government’s abandonment of domestic issues in favor of a focus on militarism. I found it very jarring that much military action throughout this time was initiated without proper public support; Reagan increased military spending at the expense of the domestic budget despite public cries for a Nuclear Freeze, and the federal government later took action in the Gulf War without overwhelming public approval. Despite the United States’ long history of honoring the military, the late 20th century was characterized by public questioning of the government’s prioritization of national defense. Military opposition from social justice advocates, such as Chicano communities denouncing the imperialism of American militarism, began to reveal the sociopolitical divide that had emerged in many US military conflicts, prioritizing the political and economic interests of the government and the elite class over the needs of disadvantaged communities within US borders.

In light of Zinn’s criticism of the government for evading its domestic responsibilities through military conflict, I’d like to draw a parallel to social justice activists’ ongoing calls for police reform/abolition. As activists of the late twentieth century called for defunding of the military in favor of social services, the activists of today are calling for a movement to defund the police to reallocate funds to ensure proper education and health services that would play a more proactive role in reducing crime. Much like the federal government has drawn its focus to foreign conflicts in abandonment of domestic social concerns, it’s also had a recent history of maintaining the norm of strict (and often violent) reactionary responses to crime at the expense of assisting communities in reform to ensure maintainable civil peace. As we reflect on the governments’ past prioritization failures, we need to remain critical of its current priorities in order to pursue meaningful social reform.

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Annie Waters 11/8

Christopher Coyne and Abigail Hall’s analysis of the War on Drugs offers a criticism of the political movement and outlines the process by which it developed into a threat to black communities. As this study observes, the War on Drugs offered great monetary incentives for police departments to “get tough on crime” through federal funding of police militarization to combat drug crime as well as corrupt policies such as Civil Asset Forfeiture. The analysis then illustrates the disproportionate criminalization of black communities under the War on Drugs as a result, forcing black people into lower-class statuses by denying black drug offenders the right to vote, receive academic financial aid, and acquire employment. The analysis quotes an interview of Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman where he admits to the implementation of the War on Drugs as a means of harming black Americans. Though some may doubt the validity of this testimony, I think it’s important to note that the War on Drugs was prompted at a time when drug crime wasn’t on the rise and public opinion polls revealed that it wasn’t a primary concern of the American people, as revealed in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, suggesting motives beside genuine drug crime response.

Destin Daniel Crettin’s Just Mercy explores the work of Equal Justice Initiative attorney Bryan Stevenson to document the personal harms that the American legal system inflicts on black men and lower-class communities in part because of the War on Drugs. My main takeaway from this film was that the law is by no means objective, serving as ammunition for both oppressors and liberators in the legal arena. The legal racial profiling that became commonplace because of the War on Drugs led to the wrongful conviction of Johnnie D McMillan, secured solely by the false testimony of a white felon with an incentive to lie to evade the death penalty. Afterward, when Stevenson petitions for a retrial and presents overwhelming evidence of McMillan’s innocence, the district judge denies him on the premise of the DA’s argument that Meyers was falsely motivated when he admitted to lying in his original testimony. The judge’s decision is illustrative of a justice system that has been designed to allow harm to black communities through subjective interpretation of legal evidence.

I think that Just Mercy‘s portrayal of the Monroeville community is very indicative of a societal acceptance of the criminalization of black people in the United States. Stevenson and his colleagues at the EJI receive stark opposition to their work to offer legal counsel to Death Row convicts, suggesting an acceptance of capital punishment for conviction of violent crimes, regardless of any evidence suggesting innocence. Meanwhile, Monroeville’s District Attorney defends his obligation to protect the community by keeping McMillan on Death Row despite evidence of his innocence, maintaining a criminalizing perspective on poor black men.

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Annie Waters 10/26/20

Langston Hughes’s “Theme for English B” highlights the great complexity of racial identities in a country that enforces racial hierarchies. As he mimics his thought process in writing an English paper that the professor has requested to “come out of [him],” he questions the individuality of his own identity and whether anything he produces can truly originate from only him. He expresses that he is not just himself, but also a voice for his community as he says ” … But I guess I’m what/I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.” Through Hughes’s connections to Harlem, his writing is inherently influenced by Harlem, and thus his words, in essence, are Harlem, characterizing them by the experiences of this overexploited black community. Hughes goes further to describe the social interconnection between races in America, challenging society’s hierarchal view on race. He expresses he and his professor influence one another. Thus, Hughes’s works are influenced by the expertise of a white man and are therefore partially “white” while his professor is influenced by the scholarship of a black student and therefore has an identity partially molded by the positions of black individuals in society. Hughes asserts that though black and white individuals may want to hold completely separate identities, their social connections make this impossible. This rejects the idea that white people have any sense in viewing themselves as above black people or in ignoring the fight for black liberation on the grounds that they have directly benefited from the work of black people and for the sake of unity owe to them a fight for equality.

In “Will V-Day be Me-Day Too?” Hughes illustrates the exploitation of black men in combat. He develops this theme into the question as to whether the US is as concerned with its domestic issues (i.e. the oppression of black citizens) as it is with its foreign issues and international dominance. He writes “When we see Victory’s glow,/Will you still let old Jim Crow/Hold me back?”. In this, he questions whether the narrator’s contributions to the country’s military success will allow him to be deemed deserving of equality in his civilian life. He questions whether the United States’ concern for national defense will be paralleled by a national concern for the defense of the rights of black citizens. As someone contributing to the prosperity of the country, the black soldier narrating should undeniably be able to benefit from a national victory, but his references to Jim Crow reveal that the country is apathetic toward the idea of extending its success to the national black population.

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Annie Waters 10/19/20

In “A People’s War?” Howard Zinn maintains PHUS’s theme of denouncing American imperialism, bringing its focus now onto American involvement in WWII. This was an extremely thought-provoking chapter for me, especially in consideration of Zinn’s discussion of Pearl Harbor. In my US History education, I had never learned about the causes of Pearl Harbor; I was always under the impression that it was a sudden, immoral attack from the Japanese that randomly killed American civilians. However, as Zinn notes, the federal government had been warned of provoking war with Japan after imposing sanctions on Japanese trade in response to Japan’s imposition on Chinese land that might have threatened America’s open-door economic policy in China. This is very indicative of America’s imperialist interests at the time preceding the war’s onset in the United States, and America’s economic drive escalated at the time that Hawaii, its door into the arena of Pacific trade, had been attacked.

I think it’s also very important to note the hypocrisy underlying the notion by which the United States claimed that their involvement in the War was motivated by a moral opposition to the ongoing genocide of Jewish people in Germany. First of all, Eugenics had gained popularity in the US decades before the onset of WWII, revealing that American History didn’t strictly reject the eugenic ideology behind Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Secondly, though the US likely recognized the Holocaust as immoral, it didn’t take much interest in participating in War because of the Holocaust alone. As Zinn notes, FDR deferred action pertaining to the Holocaust to the State Department, where “anti-Semitism and a cold bureaucracy became obstacles to action” (Zinn 415). Not only did the Imperialist threat of Pearl Harbor more effectively provoke the United States to participate in war than did the genocide of Jewish people, but during WWII, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, allowing the army to begin its establishment of Japanese internment camps, revealing a lack of inherent US opposition to concentration camps. At a time when the federal government directly condoned the internment of Japanese people, it was a rather bold move of the United States to claim wartime involvement on the basis of opposition to the concentration of Jewish people. Considering this, I think it’s extremely important to analyze all underlying factors (imperialism included) in studying the United States’ involvement in WWII in order to properly recognize the unethical aspects of US history so that future American policies can be driven by an understanding of the historical wrongs of which this country must avoid repetition.

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Annie Waters Blog Post for 10/12

Trevor Noah’s video about the coronavirus pandemic and introduced some really daunting parallels between government response to the Spanish Flu and Covid-19. One similarity that I found very interesting was Wilson’s and Trump’s respective downplaying of the severity of the given pandemic. What I don’t quite understand about this is that while Wilson had a pretty firm political motivation for this (i.e. maintaining support for WW1,) Donald Trump’s passive response to the coronavirus pandemic has seemed to have more abstract motives, expressing primarily that he didn’t want to cause a panic. Clips from historical documentaries that Trevor Noah included in his video described somewhat similar reasoning from President Wilson, and this leads me to the question as to what genuine harm comes from panic in response to a genuinely grave global situation. Why do certain government officials express more fear toward the idea of panic than toward its cause, especially when as justifiable as in the case of a pandemic? Perhaps the idea is that fear threatens national morale, but is this worth upholding at the expense of human lives?

I was also interested in Trevor’s precautionary reference to instances of U.S. public reopenings as Spanish Flu cases became less prevalent. If certain cities held public events and caused a second wave when cases were almost down to zero, how can we be sure when it’s safe to fully reopen? I think the lesson to be learned here is that the transition until pre-corona life should be as gradual and methodical as possible, so it’s important to emphasize that with every milestone of successful pandemic response, we should still be careful. On another note, I was surprised to learn that certain cities issued fines for citizens who went into public areas without wearing masks. I think that this could be a really effective incentive to follow mask mandates, but I don’t believe this would be enforced in many U.S. communities today. If it could be, how might citizens respond?

With the significant advances in medical technology over the past century, it’s fascinating to see the direct parallels in the United States’ response to these two pandemics. Considering the pressure of the Sedition Act on early 20th century Americans in remaining passive about the Spanish Flu and the continual sentiment among certain Americans that mask mandates are an infringement upon civil liberties, how significant of a role has the extreme promotion of patriotism and its associated ideals played in the United States’ difficulties in responding to this pandemic?

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In Chapters V and IX of Jacob A. Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, the reader is given insight into the anti-immigration sentiments of late-19th Century America. This is first demonstrated by impressions of Italian immigrants offered in Chapter V. The author describes poor conditions for Italian immigrants in both residential and vocational pursuits, settling for unfair contracts with tenants and low-paying jobs where they’re unable to receive the entirety of their earned wages. This is reminiscent of earlier depictions of colonial indentured servitude; in both cases, the U.S. was advertised as a country of grand opportunity but turned out to welcome new populations in states of oppression. Riis goes on to attribute Italians’ agreements to adverse conditions to a certain ignorance inherent to their ethnicity, explaining that they are unable to learn English as successfully as other immigrants and that they are therefore of inferior intelligence. This perpetuates the notion of American linguistic imperialism and the sentiment that cultures speaking other languages are inferior to those that speak English. Riis later describes Italians as being driven by political impulse rather than civility, characterizing them as less socially advanced than the desirable English-American standard.

Chapter IX focuses on negative sentiments toward Chinese immigrants. Similarly to the devaluation of Italians because of their inability to speak English, Riis insults Chinese immigrants for being unwilling to convert to Christianity, thus exercising a sense of superiority in another aspect of English-American culture, religion. He goes on to denounce the reserved appearances of Chinese neighborhoods as dreary and lacking of spectacle-like scenery, asserting an orientalist notion that Eastern cultures exist to please people of European origin as viewers and can be viewed as inferior when they fail to do so. Riis marvels at Chinese men’s tendency of cleanliness and subsequent prominence within the domestic sphere, relating it to what he perceives as weak submissiveness to women in other areas of life, establishing a sense of English-American cultural superiority through gender roles. He further portrays Chinese men as sexual predators, suggesting that young girls are “wrecked” by Chinese communities while visiting their “dens.” Finally, Riis illustrates Chinese immigrants’ reserved nature as suspicious due to their “menacing” contributions to society and asserts that the Chinese population can’t safely be left alone. Overall, Riis summarizes the Chinese population as undesirable to society because of its lack of “useful purpose,” asserting the imperialist notion that immigrants are only worthy of human value if they are able to offer vocational value.

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Annie Waters Blog Post 9/28

In the video “The American Civil War Oversimplified,” we’re given a broad overview of the beginnings of the Civil War. This video spends quite a bit of time focusing on the motivations behind conflicts between the Union and Confederacy, and I was very intrigued by the simultaneous contrast and cohesion between these motives. States’ rights, regional economic needs, and moral belief in abolition are all given credit for causing the War according to different accounts, but these motives are very often tightly entwined.

It’s interesting to me that the issue of emancipation was not explicitly addressed by the Union until foreign powers began to show interest in allying with the Confederacy in order to regain their cotton imports. Despite continuous lobbying from prominent abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas, the Union had been very hesitant to state that the Civil War was motivated by a moral desire for emancipation. This leaves me to wonder what the true intentions of Union leaders were throughout the war. It’s understandable from a strategic standpoint that the North might refrain from explicitly condoning abolition for the sake of more cooperative diplomacy with the South, but it leaves some suspicion as to how this came to be seen as a moral war when it wasn’t from the start. Afterall, many Northern abolitionists hoped to abolish slavery mostly to gain an economic advantage for the industrial regions that didn’t rely on slave labor like agriculture, not necessarily for moral reasons. The video describes Abraham Lincoln as understanding the immorality of slavery, but he wasn’t known to be a full believer in racial equality, having expressed even after emancipation that though black people may be free, they were still lesser than whites. I’m not quite sure that someone lacking a true ideology of racial equality could be expected to be extremely morally passionate about abolition. Granted, the topic of slavery may have been brought up relatively late in the game because of the high risks it would have presented earlier, but its lack of constancy suggests a certain contingency in the narrative of Civil War motives, one that seems awfully responsive to economic discord.

Considering economic motives, I’d also like to make note of Zinn’s reference to class structure and its influence on the tensions regarding slavery. He reveals that lower-class whites were given slave monitoring positions to fabricate a divisiveness between the two demographics so they’d be unable to collectively mobilize against authority. Meanwhile, the middle class grew to more prominence in the age of industrialization. Had the middle class not emerged so significantly, and a stricter division been maintained between the lower and upper classes, how might motivations for the Civil war, as well as contribution to it, have turned out differently?

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Blog Post 9/21

Zinn’s exploration of “The Intimately Oppressed” is something that I’ve never really encountered in much depth when learning about history. The roles and experiences of women in American history have always been mentioned in my education, but only as an afterthought, whereas Zinn pays hommage to the collective American woman through his examination of her experience as chattel. He offers certain points of historical context that I had never been fully aware of; though it’s always been clear to me that the first European settlers in the colonies were men, it never occurred to me how women were later brought to the colonies. Like indentured servants, some women were shipped to the colonies in bulk, the cost of their travel becoming a debt they subsequently owed to their newfound male “masters,” which they paid in the form of housework, submission, and sexual exploitation.

In reflection of my lack of prior knowledge about this transportation of English women to the colonies, I’d like to speak on the issue of intersectionality for women of color. I was more surprised about the early commodification of white women than I’ve ever been on the topic of commodification of enslaved black women. While discussion of the commodification of black lives through slavery is often approached somewhat casually, made to be normalized through our education, I feel that history fears to reflect on the experiences of white women as plainly. This is not at all to say that the conditions faced by white women in the colonies were comparable to those of enslaved and free black women, that could not be any further from the truth. However, I feel like history’s nonchalant approach at discussing slavery and hesitant approach at discussing gender disparities is indicative of a gross normalization of the exploitation of black women in our history. When history is quicker and less apologetic in admitting its denial of humanity to black women than that of white women, I think that it reflects on America’s continual prioritization of the livelihood of white women over that of black women and other women of color. It seems to me almost as if the writers of our history are more ashamed to admit that white women were oppressed than they are to admit to the (far, far worse) oppression of black women. If the discussion of slavery is more commonplace and not as frequently given the same emotional weight as the idea of white gender inequality, what does that say about our country’s continual dehumanization of black women?

I do appreciate that Zinn explores the exploitation of enslaved black women in this chapter. He includes a quote from a formerly enslaved woman named Linda Brent who refers to her fifteenth year as “a sad epoch” in her life as a slave, the start of a season of sexual abuse and exploitation for her. These are the same words Dr. Daina Ramey Berry uses to describe the onset of puberty in her book The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, which discusses the commodification of enslaved black people through different periods of life. The sexual exploitation of women in bondage is morally unfathomable. At the onset of puberty, enslaved women were commonly sexually abused by their enslavers, forced to have sex with male slaves in the practice of “breeding,” and exploited for the purposes of objectification as well as medical research. In fact, the field of gynecology actually emerged from the practice of evaluating enslaved women’s reproductive health to determine their appraisal values in the domestic slave trade. Additionally, certain enslaved women up for auction were categorized as “fancies,” meaning that they were especially sexually attractive and bought with the primary purpose of being exploited for sex. These are horrors that white women in our history never faced and that seem to get less emphasis in the discussion of gender disparities as an aspect of our history’s normalized commodification of black women.

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Annie Waters Blog Post for 9/14

In my earliest days of learning about the American Revolution, I found myself filled with awe for the heroism of the Patriots, the wisdom of the founding fathers, and the moral soundness of our nation’s foundational documents. Something about the history of the United States felt so honorable to me, and ever the little patriot, I thought of the leaders in our history as inherently idealistic. “A Kind of Revolution” outlines exactly the sentiments that have drastically shifted my sentiments toward our history’s leaders. I learned in my early education that the Revolution was fought for the establishment of a just democracy. The American colonies were subject to parliamentary taxation without representation, and in recognition of this injustice, the morally upright Patriots rebelled in the name of equality. As it turns out, this isn’t the full story.

At this point in society, we’ve come to accept that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and men of the likes probably weren’t the best of guys according to today’s standards. But we excuse them on the notion that they were great leaders to whom we’re indebted for our freedom. “A Kind of Revolution” raises the question as to whether we really do, and moreover whether that was really what the Revolution was fought for. It seems self-evident, in consideration of the class revolts that were put down by colonial governments during the Revolution as well as unequal pay between low-ranking Patriot soldiers and the elite officers, that this war was not really fought for the equality it advertised. Otherwise, why would the lower class have to be coerced into fighting for such a cause through legislation and financial incentive? In recognition of the systemic divide between classes in Revolution-era America, it’s pretty clear that any liberty the founding fathers might have been fighting for was not that of the have-nots. This is further questionable when considering the governmental actions taken in response to forceful political participation from the lower class. The Riot Act, The Sedition Act, and bars against poor citizens voting and holding office all demonstrate a governmental desire to suppress the voice of the “mob,” the majority of the American polity who held little wealth. As I learned, the American colonies rebelled against Britain to counteract the injustice of taxation without representation, but as the Constitution and other foundational documents were founded by a systemically designed elite network of men, our country was in turn founded on legislation without representation.

If we’re to give our early government the benefit of the doubt, maybe high concentration of power within the elite minority is an issue that’s inevitable in a society where power requires expertise, which requires education, which requires resources, which requires wealth. However, this chapter makes it clear that this issue was addressed in movements of the time. The bigger problem lies within the suppression of these movements. Shays’ Rebellion, The Whiskey Rebellion, and revolts of that sort were fought to address the lack of power offered to the lower class, and the government responded to each with combative force, only appealing to the lower class with performative reform that achieved little and mostly sought to maintain the peace (a euphemism for elite power). We can see further in the developmental period of our history that government officials were not only unconcerned with the needs of the poor, but sought specifically not to address them by establishing a strong central government that would maintain economic power for the elite and establishing laws that would punish citizens for speaking out against the government through action such as libel. In fairness, no government can be expected to act without bias, and a government dominated by the rich will act with bias favoring the desires of the rich. All of this considered, I think it’s important to question the motives of our history’s leaders as well as those of our current leaders. How much of social achievement can actually be attributed to these leaders, and how much was fabricated through myth or strong rhetoric?

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Annie Waters 9/7 Blog Post

What most resonated with me about the reading “No More Whistling Walk for Me” was the continual themes of defiance toward erasure of black ancestry and the narrator’s reclaiming of individual power as a black American. Throughout the chapter, Twitty places great emphasis on the troublesome nature of reflecting on his heritage; he reflects on the enhanced ambiguity of black identity in the south in reference to the increasingly heterogeneous makeup of Southern demographics and culture as well as the overload of daunting histories behind confederate battlegrounds and burial grounds for enslaved people. This made me think of how multifaceted it must be for black Americans to take efforts to reclaim pride in their histories and personal positioning in society. I find our University history to be extremely relevant in this conversation, especially considering the recent projects done to inform the campus community of the history of the land we study on, having been once used for plantations and acting as a burial ground for enslaved people. It’s extremely important for the campus community at large to be mindful of the impact that this has on our University culture as well as the influence it has over the experiences of black students on campus. I find it devastating to know that our campus was built with disregard to the lives of black people laying to rest on our grounds after having struggled under slavery and fought for their humanity. Knowing this, the campus community has a great responsibility to foster a culture supporting black students in fighting for liberation from oppression and marginalization. In Chapter 1, Twitty discusses singing traditional African American songs while cooking and the joy it brings him while reflecting on their painful history, being sung by slaves by obligation to prove they weren’t eating while working, etc. In parallel to this, it is my hope that UR can reflect on its history in such a way that empowers its black students, that on a community level, we can be sensitive to the racial issues of our past and present in such a way that makes black students feel liberated in pursuing education and success here with an understanding of how this land’s shameful past has transformed our community into what it is today. This does, of course, demand the cooperation of white students and those who enjoy other societal privileges, which presents a great hurdle in the progression of our community.

On another note, I would like to reflect on Twitty’s commentary on the paradox of ancestry as a black American. He makes a point to say he is between the eighth and twelfth generation of his family born in “America,” rather than saying “the United States.” Here, he employs national nomenclature to emphasize the divisiveness of American culture through history. He figuratively relates the country’s historical desire to elevate white lives over those of black citizens by way of denying black Americans full accessibility to an understanding of their familial histories as ensured by early practices of slave trade. Twitty is unsure of which generation of his family he falls into because of America’s history, and as an act of reclaiming his familial identity, he refers to himself as an “American,” and not a citizen of the “United States” to emphasize the idea that he holds power in his individual identity despite our country’s historical attempts to take the power of identity away from black Americans.

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Annie Waters Blog Post 8/30

Upon finishing Chapter 1 of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, I am amazed at how ignorantly I was taught history of American colonization in my youth and adolescence. From my cheerful and sing-songy kindergarten Thanksgiving play to my fifth grade “explorer assignment” for which I documented an account of all of Jacques Cartier’s explorative accomplishments and presented a proud biography summarizing my findings, colonization was always romanticized in my elementary education. It was not until my eighth grade US History class that I began to recognize the inequity so tightly entwined with the history of colonization, though my experience may be comparable to Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morrison’s half-assed attempt at covering any liabilities in his brief and dismissive mentions of Columbus’s faults. This was the year that I learned from one of my most progressive history teachers, who told us basic information about the massacres and other horrors committed by conquerers, but in retrospect probably only treated this as part of the process, an unfortunate necessity in history’s progression.

If I’m being reasonable, I can’t really blame this teacher personally. After all, as Zinn notes on page 8, historian’s accounts of the past … “cannot be against selection, simplification, [or] emphasis.” In acknowledgement of this, it was really impossible for my early education to not be tarnished by ideologically motivated accounts of history that were written in favor of colonization and mass produced as allowed by the populations of wealth that supported the publication of such ideas.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder how the world might be different, and likely better, if Columbus had never enslaved and killed the Arawak people, if the Spaniards hadn’t overworked Indigenous tribes to the point of near extinction, if the English had never massacred the Pequot people, and if the Massachusetts Bay Colony had never pursued King Philip’s War. If America’s Indigenous tribes had been allowed to further develop and maintain their populations and communities without interference from colonizers, how might the land we live on look different today? Proponents of colonization often assume society would have developed into something much less advanced than it has, but is this really true? After all, Zinn describes the League of the Iriquois as a confederation of tribes that embraced equity in property through communal ownership, assigned equal governmental power to men and women, and enforced justice in a way that encouraged repentance rather than assigning permanent criminal status to certain individuals. In many ways, I’d consider these characteristics of society to be much more socially advanced than the parallels we see today, from extreme disparities between socioeconomic classes to continued lack of adequate female and BIPOC representation in government to the destructive nature of our criminal justice systems.

As I conclude these thoughts, the thing that most resonates with me from this reading is Zinn’s justification for his approach to history. asserting that it is deceitful to illustrate nations as communities with universal interests and that writing history with the goal of maintaining patriotic morale in this sentiment is wrong. He further elaborates that he doesn’t intend to approach the telling of history in order to avenge its victims and denounce their oppressors, as this would ultimately exhaust our moral energy to absorb further knowledge of history. With this in mind, how do we find the answer to telling history in such a way that appropriately recognizes the injustices of our past and subsequently encourages proper social reform without deterring young learners from the pursuit of this academic discipline?

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