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Author: Charley Blount

Charley Blount Blog Post (11/30)

Dear White People offers a bleak, and largely dramatized, image of reality in a country divided on the issue of race. While the issues revolving race, segregation, and cultural appropriation in elite college institutions are very real, this movie ignores any nuance and subtlety surrounding the issues, thus delegitimizing the problems are fueling the arguments of skeptics who believe that racism is dead. Certain parts of this movie create necessary discussion that needs to be central to any conversations involving progress in America. 

For example, when she is leaving her film studies class, Sam references the commodification of black people in culture, specifically hip-hop and film. She argues that black people are incentivized to perpetuate stereotypes that are counterproductive to the advancement of black people in order to profit from a largely white fanbase. While these adverse incentives are notable and problematic, scenes like this one are overshadowed by examples of overt racism that are not nearly as prevalent as this movie would make them seem. In this sense, the perverse incentives that this movie criticizes are exactly what the producers are feeding in to. Dear White People exaggerates culturally controversial issues in order to drive box office ratings. Their attempts to condemn racism and racial inequities are overshadowed by an overt attempt to grow their profits.

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Charley Blount Blog Post (11/16)

Since World War II, American leaders have been obsessed with asserting their dominance over the rest of the world. Busy with their self-proclaimed title of the “world police,” these politicians have neglected domestic issues such as poverty and discrimination in favor of unnecessary and unsuccessful foreign interventionism. In his textbook chapter, “The Unreported Resistance,” historian Howard Zinn discusses the growing opposition to these misguided policy priorities, and the adverse effects of domestic neglect. Prompted by a global shift towards neoliberalism, President Reagan adopted a trickle-down economy position resulting in the reduction and elimination of social services. This ideology frustrated many Americans, and “Reagan’s cuts in social services were felt on the local side as vital needs could not be taken care of” (Zinn 12369). He justified this decision by arguing that the people did not want higher taxes, which was “certainly true as a general proposition… but when they were asked if they would be willing to pay higher taxes for specific purposes like health and education, they said yes” (Zinn 12438). Reagan’s indifference towards the will of the American people frustrated many Americans, especially when paired with his international policy decisions.

The American people were still recovering from the highly problematic and avoidable Vietnam War when President Reagan considered a Nicaraguan invasion in the early 1980s. Fearful that politicians were repeating the same mistakes from two decades earlier, “over 60,000 Americans signed pledges to take action of some sort, including civil disobedience, if Reagan moved to invade Nicaragua” (Zinn 12369). American politicians did not learn their lesson, though. A few years later, the Bush administration was considering a war against Iraq. When this news reached the American people, “thousands of people in Los Angeles marched along the same route they had taken twenty years before, when they were protesting the Vietnam War” (Zinn 12522). Despite these protests, the Bush administration carried on with the Gulf War. The next decade, Bush’s son instigated the Second Gulf War. It is clear that, as of now, the United States government does not plan on breaking their pattern of foreign interventionism, even if it is against the will of the American people. This fixation with foreign invasions contributes to the ongoing wealth disparities that persist in the United States.

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Charley Blount Blog Post (11/9)

In the last half-century, the United States prison population has grown immensely. Much of this growth can be attributed to tough drug laws that were passed in the 1970s and 1980s. These laws, championed by Republicans and Democrats alike, were in response to the rise in recreational drug use as well as drug addictions. Politicians identified this problem but imposed drug laws that were enforced discriminatorily, treating the issue of drugs as a criminal problem for African-Americans and a medical one for white people. The “War on Drugs” resulted in drug policies that included mandatory minimum sentencing and harsh penalties for “schedule 1” and “schedule 2” drugs. In recent years, many of these drug laws have been repealed, creating a dilemma for inmates arrested under previous laws.

President Nixon declared the “War on Drugs” in 1971, citing the rampant use of drugs in urban areas. While drug use was, in fact, growing, Nixon’s motivations were less pure. John Ehrlichman, a Nixon aide said, “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities” (qtd. In Coyne, Hall). Nixon and the Republicans were not alone in their mission to combat drug use, though. In 1973, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a Democrat, implemented his own reforms, known as the “Rockefeller drug laws,” which implemented mandatory minimum sentencing and served as a model for future drug policies across the country. 

These policies are counterproductive to drug abuse, having “contributed to an increase in drug overdoses and fostered and sustained the creation of powerful drug cartels” (Coyne, Hall). Instead of lowering the usage of harmful drugs, the drug prohibition movement led to the use of more potent drugs, creating more serious addiction and medical problems. The government also loses the ability to regulate the industry, or collect taxes on the potential revenue. People with drug problems are less willing to report their health concerns out of fear of incarceration. According to Coyne and Hall, “it is time to consider the broader decriminalization or legalization of drugs, from marijuana to harder substances, and to focus on a more treatment-based approach” (Coyne, Hall). It is clear that state governments are moving this direction, as most states have legalized marijuana in some form, and Oregon recently decriminalized small amounts of heroin and cocaine.

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Charley Blount Blog Post (11/2)

The 1960s and 1970s were a period of rebellion and change in the United States. In high school, I spent the most time learning about the Civil Rights Movement. This chronology was relatively simplistic: Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks protested, and then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed, and the Brown v. Board of Education decision was made. The truth is, the Civil Rights injustices carried into the 1970s and onward. Notably, mass incarceration and mistreatment of prisoners became a fundamental political issue in the early 1970s. These injustices became widely recognized following the Attica Prison Rebellion of 1971, which resulted in the deaths of ten hostages and twenty-nine inmates. Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of the prisoners that led them to riot, Governor Rockefeller instituted harsher penalties for violating prison rules. Rockefeller’s response to riots over injustice and racism in New York remained consistent when, two years later, he signed the “Rockefeller Drug Laws,” which served as the model for “War on Drugs” legislation that would be used to incarcerate millions of people, mostly African American men, in the coming decades. The War on Drugs and the War on Poverty were the results of politicians exploiting soft issues to criminalize poverty and drug use rather than fighting to fix the broken institutions that perpetuate the problems. The disparities in enforcement are evident when comparing two different types of theft:

In 1969, there were 502 convictions for tax fraud. Such cases, called “white-collar crimes,” usually involve people with a good deal of money. Of those convicted, 20 percent ended up in jail. The fraud averaged $190,000 per case; their sentences averaged seven months. That same year, for burglary and auto theft (crimes of the poor) 60 percent ended up in prison. The auto thefts averaged $992; the sentences averaged eighteen months. The burglaries averaged $321; the sentences averaged thirty-three months. (10557)

While Zinn’s chapter ends in the 1970s, the problems he raises with the criminal justice system still persist today. Look to the opioid crisis to see politicians ignoring serious health concerns rooted in drug use. With the war on crime, broken window policing, stop-and-frisk policies, and marijuana laws continue to run rampant in cities across the country contributing to a prison system that includes more drug abusers than rehabilitation facilities and incarcerates one in three black men at some points in their lives.

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Charley Blount Blog Post 10/26

Throughout history, our country has been advertised as a beacon of liberty and freedom. In reality, those ideals are nothing more than dreams for Many Americans. Langston Hughes uses his poems to discuss the racial and economic inequities that persist in America, despite the encouraging rhetoric that is promulgated by white, wealthy America. In his poem, “Let America Be America Again, Hughes acknowledges disparities in American prosperity, saying, “I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak” (Hughes). Hughes first identifies the large swaths of the population that face oppression every day, then criticizes the capitalist structure of our American economy that stimulates class divisions that often fall along racial lines. In a much more individual sense, Langston is describing “the man who never got ahead” because of financial restrictions or racial discrimination.

Hughes’ criticism of the status quo is only part of “Let America Be America Again.” In the latter half of the poem, Hughes challenges the United States to live up to the lofty ideals that the founders set for the nation. Hughes says, “O, let America be America again—The land that never has been yet—And yet must be—the land where every man is free” (Hughes). Hughes argued that the United States could not continue to hide behind the guise of universal opportunity and equality. According to Hughes, in order to achieve this vision, the United States must rebuild itself rather than attempting to work within the constraints of a broken system manufactured to perpetuate discrimination and economic inequities.

 

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Charley Blount Blog Post 10/19

Howard Zinn’s chapter, “A People’s War?” discusses United States interventionism in nations across the world following World War II. This movement, masked by anti-communist, anti-Soviet rhetoric, promoted American exceptionalism and resulted in the economic exploitation of nations attempting to recover from imperialism. The United States’ economic takeover of the global economy through exploitation was made possible by the establishment of international government organizations (IGOs) such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, which consolidated power in the hands of the Allied Powers, with the United States at the helm. This monopolization of global influence by the United States was discussed by former Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who said, “Leadership toward a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve very largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume this leadership and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure national self-interest” (Zinn 8495). This economic strength would be bolstered in the coming decades through US intervention into foreign governments with the use of covert, and not very covert, coups.

Beginning with the Truman administration, US interventionism was justified as a necessary method of communist prevention, balanced out by Soviet expansion, which “established a climate of fear… which would steeply escalate the military budget and stimulate the economy with war-related orders” (Zinn 8719). In the coming decades, the United States would, directly and indirectly, assist government rebellions across the world in an attempt to promote democracy. For example, the United States funneled weapons, money, and military advisors toward the pro-Democracy side of the Greek Civil War. That said, the “fight for Democracy” was not always the primary motive of the United States. In 1953, the CIA staged a coup d’etat that ousted democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and replaced him with the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This decision was made to allow the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (formerly Anglo-Persian, now BP) to maintain their oil monopoly. This pattern of US interventionism would persist into the twenty-first century (first and second Gulf Wars), legitimized by American Exceptionalism and the “world police” narrative. 

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Charley Blount Blog Post 10/12

Like many of the readings we have been assigned this year, History.com’s description of the Spanish Flu of 1918 left me frustrated. As Trevor Noah mentioned, it doesn’t make very much sense that 100 years later, the most prudent medical response to a global pandemic is to cover your face with a mask. This (should be) outdated response to a pandemic also resonates with the similarities of problems we face as a society. For example, the article notes that doctors overprescribed aspirin in dosages that were too high as a response to the Spanish Flu. This ineffective diagnosis draws parallels to ineffective medical responses to COVID-19, many of which were endorsed by President Trump. There was also the dilemma of the “anti-maskers” who protested the suggestion of wearing masks in order to prevent a pandemic. It is striking that, 100 years later, there is still a large segment of the United States population who believes that masks are an infringement of their civil liberties rather than a responsible response to a contagious virus.

In addition to medical concerns surrounding the Spanish Flu and COVID-19, there were economic concerns. While this frustration is justifiable, I become frustrated when people prioritize the economy over human lives. My frustration is exacerbating by the fact that the economy cannot recover without the stabilization of the health crisis. This disparity leads me to believe that economic concerns with viruses are manifestations of political narratives, not true economic influences. This inconsistency does not come as a surprise in the era of President Trump, but I wonder if there was a similar frustration with complaints regarding the economy during the Spanish Flu of 1918.

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Charley Blount Blog Post (10/5)

Jacob Riis’s book, How the Other Half Lives, paints a bleak picture of a New York City that is riddled with poverty and corruption, which contributed to a negligent tenement housing system in the 1880s. It is obvious that this book was written in the nineteenth century, as much of the language used to describe Italians and Chinatown in New York City is influenced by stereotypes and generalizations. For example, when describing people who live in Chinatown, Riis says, “It is doubtful if there is anything he does not turn to a paying account, from his religion down, or up, as one prefers” (Riis 17). Despite the cultural and racial stereotypes of the book, Riis’s critiques of the broken housing system in New York City were justified. More importantly, Riis discussed a problem that affected a large portion of the city, but was ignored by many New Yorkers. Before the great riot of 1863, “it was said that ‘one half of the world does not know how the other half lives’… The half that was on top cared little for the struggles, and less for the fate of those who were underneath” (11). This ignorance began to change in the advent of muckraking, when journalists began reporting on uncovered stories of corruption and negligence of the lower classes. 

Unfortunately, the problems that Riis discussed have not gone away, even though people began to talk about them. Riis argued that “the remedy that shall be an effective answer to the coming appeal for justice must proceed from the public conscience. Neither legislation nor charity can cover the ground. The greed of capital that wrought the evil must undo itself, as far as it can now be undone” (12). Riis identified capitalism as the problem that was central to New York’s housing crisis; he believed that anything short of changing this system was insufficient. One hundred years later, cities across the country continue to face housing crises such as eviction and poor public housing quality. Whether Riis’ proposed solution was correct is unknown, but his identification of the problem was certainly correct, and it still persists today.

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Blog Post: Ten Steps Forward, Nine Steps Back (9/28)

The advancement of any marginalized group relies on the willingness of the majority to support this mission. Historically, this relationship in America has been between African Americans and white moderates. That said, this relationship is plagued by the reluctance of white moderates to affect change, creating a stagnant system that activists were forced to operate in. Phillis Wheatley, for example, was forced to hide much of her pro-abolition rhetoric behind the guise of religion in order to be published. When calls for abolition were growing in the 1850s, it became clear that the federal government “would end slavery only under conditions controlled by whites, and only when required by the political and economic needs of the business elite of the North” (Zinn 3926). This expectation was warranted given the short-lived Reconstruction Era, which was soon replaced with voter disenfranchisement, Black Codes, and vagrancy laws, replacing slavery with a new racial caste system.

This relationship continues to abate attempts at civil rights improvements. In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he criticizes the performative improvements made by white moderates: “Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue” (King). Even today, white moderates hide behind social media posts about justice and police brutality, refusing to take actionable steps in order to address the systemic racism that has plagued our nation since slavery.

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Charley Blog Post – 9/21

Howard Zinn’s chapter, “The Ultimately Oppressed,” paints a sad picture of gender inequality in the 18th and 19th centuries. The treatment of women as lesser is rooted in the societal norms that our country was founded on. According to Zinn, “societies based on private property and competition, in which monogamous families became practical units for work and socialization, found it especially useful to establish this special status of women, something akin to a house slave in the matter of intimacy and oppression, and yet requiring, because of that intimacy, and long-term connection with children, a special patronization, which on occasion, especially in the face of a show of strength, could slip over into treatment as an equal” (Zinn 2245).

This arbitrary status of women in society was fluid at times. Notably, women held very different responsibilities during war time. During the American Revolution, women expanded their role in the economy, garnering influence in traditionally male-dominated sectors of life. For example, women held positions in newspapers, tanneries, taverns, and other skilled, middle-class industries that had previously been restricted to males. As a result, women received more education. Between 1780 and 1840, literacy among women doubled (2536). This educational growth led to a growing number of female teachers in primary schools. 

It also fueled female involvement in various political movements, including the antislavery and temperance movements. That said, the women who are mostly highly regarded for their involvement in political action came from privilege. This disparity was felt throughout the feminist movement; much of the progression that women received was disproportionately granted to the upper classes and there was very little trickle-down effect.

Significant progress was made in the struggle for gender equality, but this problem still persists today, in many respects. Women make up 4% of Fortune 500 company CEOs and hold 20% of elected positions, despite accounting for the majority of university students. Even female dominated industries such as the medical field and education are disproportionately male in leadership roles. Sadly, these disparities do not seem to be going away anytime soon.

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Charley Blog Post – 9/14

The American Revolution is celebrated as a pursuit of liberty and happiness, but its true motivations are less pure. At its core, the American Revolution was an attempt by the colonial elite to maximize profits by eliminating British involvement in the colonial economy. This attempt proved successful as class disparities were reinforced and expanded over the next 250 years. 

Class disparities were not invented during the American Revolution, but the war certainly did not alleviate them. That said, the Continental Congress marketed the war as an opportunity to diminish wealth differences. The colonial elites emphasized marginal improvements for the lower middle class: “It seemed that the majority of white colonists, who had a bit of land, or no property at all, were still better off than the slaves or indentured servants or Indians, and could be wooed into the coalition of the Revolution” (Zinn 1785). This section of America was vitally important to the independence effort; failure was inevitable if the war was a battle of colonial elites against the British military. The support of this section of the colonies allowed for the continuous oppression of the lower class, made up of slaves, indigenous peoples, and very poor whites.

In some ways, the war offered an opportunity to pursue economic and social growth for a section of the middle class. In certain instances, “the military became a place of promise for the poor, who might rise in rank, acquire some money, [and] change their social status” (1751). This mobility was limited, though, and the war allowed the elites to remain complacent in addressing economic disparities. According to Zinn, “ruling elites seem to have learned through the generations — consciously or not — that war makes them more secure against internal trouble” (1768). The concern with war served as a partial distraction from concerns with class and wealth.

Despite efforts to market the American Revolution as a potential stepping stool for large swaths of America, many of the middle class citizens saw through this ploy. For example, “the southern lower classes resisted being mobilized for the revolution. They saw themselves under the rule of a political elite, win or lose against the British” (1834). In hindsight, these concerns proved to be justified. 

While the American Revolution is taught as a heroic effort to escape imperialism and establish a government that promotes equality and the pursuit of happiness, this approach only tells part of the story. The revolution, and the constitution that followed, was born out of an attempt by the colonial elites to monopolize political and economic control of America. This goal, camouflaged by utilizing cultural and racial divisions, proved successful. Although the American Revolution and Constitution established the most successful government and society in the world, the founding fathers were not motivated by a sense of selflessness and concern for equality, as is often portrayed.

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Charley Blount Blog Post (9/7)

The opening chapters of Michael Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene, shed a light on the underrepresentation of non-white culture in American society. For 400 years, white people have held a monopoly on American culture, making it difficult to discover and enjoy cultures that do not meet the cookie-cutter standards of “traditional American culture.” Specifically, Twitty discusses the origins of culture in food, identifying the slave plantations as the bedrock of southern food. 

These origin stories are often neglected due to a lack of historical evidence as well as a reluctance by some in the African-American community to revisit a history of  southern culture plagued by slavery Jim Crow. This attitude is changing, though, as the “modern South is … beginning to engage the relationship between the racial divide, class divisions, and cultural fissures that have tainted the journey to contemporary Southern cuisine” (Twitty 6). Twitty embodies a newfound willingness to pursue the roots of southern food. In his book, he describes his childhood memories of trying new foods and learning how to cook traditional African-American meals that included foods such as okra and field peas.

One story in particular struck me because it closely resembles my experiences with southern food. When Twitty took a trip to the South with his dad, they stopped at a restaurant and Twitty said, “So they give you all you want to drink, and lots of chicken and stuff, but there’s flies everywhere and it’s really hot all the time?” (Twitty 52). His description of a southern restaurant is very close to the experiences I’ve had in similar situations.

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Blog Post 8/30

Having grown up in Mississippi, I am no stranger to a revisionist portrayal of our nation’s history. Following the Reconstruction era, white southerners rewrote the history of the Civil War and indoctrinated generations of white students with the false narrative of an unjustified federal government takeover of the South. This ploy proved successful, contributing to the rise of the KKK and the glorification of the Confederate battle flag and Confederate monuments. The parallels are striking between the white South’s revisionist history of the Civil War and Howard Zinn’s first chapter of “A People’s History of the United States,” titled “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress.” 

Zinn’s depiction of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas offers an insight into the bleak reality of this chapter of American history. One story that stuck out to me was Columbus’ treatment of the Arawaks. In his journey to find gold, Columbus came across the Arawak people, whom he treated as commodities that could fill the void of gold. Zinn described the genocide of the Arawak people: “In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead” (Zinn 348). The Arawaks who were not murdered outright were worked to death: “By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawkas or their descendants left on the island” (Zinn 348).

Samuel Eliot Morison, a Harvard historian and author of Christopher Columbus, Mariner (1954), buried the numerous accounts of enslavement and murder such as this one under a glorification of Columbus’ journey and discovery of America. Morison’s book is not the exception, though. Prior to Howard Zinn’s textbook, stories like these were often neglected. This neglect did not occur because of a lack of evidence suggesting a different narrative, though. 

Bartolomé de las Casas, a priest who became a “vehement critic of Spanish cruelty” wrote many reports of the conquistador’s mistreatment of the Indian people (Zinn 348). Las Casas described the “Endless testimonies … [that] prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives … But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then … The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians” (Zinn 364-382).

Howard Zinn’s PHUS paints a picture of entitlement and superiority, and an indifference to human life. While this picture is frightening and largely untold, it is indicative of what the future of America would hold: oppression of many, enforced by the leadership of a few, endorsed by a white, male populace resistant to change.

 

*Citation numbers reference Kindle location for E-Book, not physical page number

 

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