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Author: Delaney Demaret

Demaret Blog Post for 11/30

Dear White People was a phenomenal movie on race relations at a predominantly white institution. It was deeply relevant to us given Richmond’s widespread problem of social and educational segregation, so the discomfort it invokes is really important in terms of our own reflection on our experience moving forwards. What I found most interesting about the movie was the ability of the plot to explore so many different identity struggles among the characters. Every character is wildly different, yet still trying to navigate the same oppressive framework. This is where the issue of intersectionality becomes cinematically inevitable; each student has a part of their identity that holds them to a societal standard that limits their movements in the campus life structure. 

Lionel, for example, faces an extremely oppressed identity as a gay Black man- it is clear that when the housing is structured so categorically, he is left without a single place to fit in. While almost no character fits in perfectly with their surroundings, Lionel deals with a level of harassment and excommunication that is hard to watch. He confronted the truth that his marginalization was hard to avoid in the setting, but it was still extremely lonely for him. He was not just gay nor Black, there are a million things that made up his identity and yet his choices of living situations left him stuck between multiple bad options. 

I believe the debate over housing in the film was partly a commentary (there are a ton of discussions to be had on just one plot point) on the implications of intersectionality and identity. The houses were so categorized that almost no one fit in perfectly, and while a sense of community was clearly found, there was never a house that didn’t cause a certain level of marginalization. Garmin may have had the most glaringly violent exclusionary identity, but even Armstrong-Parker struggled with perfect inclusivity. All this is to say that the framework of the university was not built for inclusivity, even worse, the last scene proved it was maintaining oppression-for-profit as the status-quo. I would recommend Dear White People to anyone looking for discussion on race relations at a PWI, because there are so many nuances and views in the film to unpack and discuss. 

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Demaret Blog Post 11/15

Zinn’s chapter on “The Unreported Resistance” presents an American societal conflict that is uniquely dire in a time of heightened risk of violent division. Post-Cold War foreign policy is held by the grips of capitalism and nuclear armament, and while public support for increased military spending may have been present, it was contested in disproportionately large amounts. Student and university movements were large and widespread against budget allocations towards nuclear armament and corporate defense spending, especially when multiple presidential administrations moved to cut spending on social welfare programs at the same time. Foreign policy decisions, specifically those made in the Global South, were fought against for their destructive and hypocritical policies. From South Africa to El Salvador, the support given by the United States did anything but protect democracy. Even though Post-Cold War American protest movements are relatively overlooked compared to those of the 60s and 70s, they were forcible and often created real change from the grassroots upwards: consider the congressional popularity overthrowing Reagan’s veto of South African economic sanctions.

This is what I believe to be the essence of Zinn’s work: to tell a history of resistance that subverts the popular narrative, opening a conversation on the underlying problems that impede American progress. The issue of true societal popularity is worth noting here. Zinn uses some pretty shocking statistics when describing the amount of discontent versus non involvement with the American people. One could argue that while only 29% of eligible adults voted for Reagan’s re-election, thousands of protest movements reminiscent of the counterculture marked an era of constant dissent from a nation gripped by the momentum of late-stage capitalism. Public opinion surveys regularly found that the majority of Americans did not look favorably upon the current paradigm of military spending (Zinn 611,612). When he explains the “permanent adversarial culture”, he points to a potential crack in the present system, one that will require hefty reform to overcome if any progress forwards is to be made. 

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Demaret Blog Post 11/9

The issue of criminal justice reform is one of the most pressing of our time. Recently, media representation of falsely accused have brought the issue of the faults of the system into the public sphere. Just Mercy tells a very personal narrative of Walter McMillian, but the abuses of corrupt power featured in his case are tells of a massive systemic problem. The criminal justice system is rotted from the inside out, starting with its foundations in white supremacy. In the past summer alone, public awareness of the evils at work in our criminal justice system has inspired an educational movement that we have to take advantage of and inspire real change. We can use the personal stories of Walter McMillian, the Central Park Five, and many others as rallying points for the movement. There is so much work to be done to rebuild- and it begins with acknowledging the failures and supporting the groups working to resolve them.

One organization worth supporting (or even just following their cases) is the Innocence Project. They pursue cases of the wrongfully accused, often getting freedom for people that have been serving lifetime sentences- when their only crime was being Black in a system that further brutalizes the oppressed. The Innocence Project website often has profiles of their clients- I highly recommend looking into some of the ridiculous injustices people still face to this day.

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Delaney Demaret Blog Post for 11/2

Oliver Stone’s Platoon has been praised for its brutal, yet honest depiction of wartime horrors during American deployment in Vietnam. The use of harsh violence does not seek to blindly heroicize soldiers, but to depict a sort of reality that gives a greater insight into life for soldiers during the war. While it is a war movie, it’s fair to say that it is a sort of protest in itself. It rejects the go-to heroic narrative of most war movies, instead opting for a more raw view of a less-than-united front. Taylor’s entrance into and exit from serving are both symbolic of issues that plagued soldiers, inexperience and painful emotional trauma.

Platoon begs an analysis of media that seeks signs of protest in unexpected places. The American counterculture ranged from larger and explicit movements like protests to smaller, day to day implicit protests and declarations of anti-establishment. The movie falls somewhere within this scale, with the ability to reach a wide range of audiences- after all, counterculture movies like “Hair” (my Mom’s personal favorite) do not necessarily attract viewership that hasn’t already bought into the movement and all its oddities. The existence of Platoon as a movie about war, written by a veteran, appeals to the idea that those who experienced the trauma firsthand are often the most raw and powerful creators of subversion and protest in the media. 

I hold that sometimes, the best forms of protest to historically analyze are those that subvert establishment powers by implicit means, surprising viewers like Platoon does. Do you all have any favorite movies or other media that accomplishes this feat?

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Demaret Blog Post 10/26

 

I’d like to situate Langston Hughes’ poems into the context of the Harlem Renaissance, specifically the rise of artistic works that reflected the generational trauma of Black Americans. The Great Migration, recently described by many scholars as a refugee phenomenon, led to massive demographic shifts and population surges in northern cities. In New York City, the Harlem neighborhood found itself at the center of a major creative movement dominated by Black authors, artists, and more. Langston Hughes was a powerful literary model for the Harlem Renaissance, shaping the concept of universality of Black trauma in literary works at a time where many American poets were writing intrinsically focused works (Poets.org).

Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again” portrays a unique sense of generational trauma that is often manifested in many Harlem Renaissance works. He directly connects the positions of where him and other Black Americans stood to the anguish of their ancestors. The lines “And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!” (Hughes 1936) communicated a sense that whatever American dream was being promoted to the public did not apply to the oppressed. To Hughes, the America he lived in never escaped the wrath of white supremacy, let alone one that moved passed the haunting framework of slavery. 

Basic historiography tends to divide eras among progress. It is often oversimplified that slavery started, then slavery ended. Segregation started, then segregation ended. While advanced historiography recognizes the continuity of patterns across times and geographical scales, the general American public often fails to recognize the extent that institutions of white supremacy damage generations of progress for the oppressed. The collected works of Langston Hughes communicate this generational trauma not only as it affects him, but how it hurts his fellow community members as well. The American racial framework was not scrapped with the abolition of slavery- it merely adjusted and continued to oppress. Where historians can draw a direct connection of power structures from chattel slavery to Jim Crow to today, entire generations of Black families experience the trauma of ancestry that faced brutal institutions of white supremacy. Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance creators should be looked towards as leaders for those who create true societal power out of art and literature.

 

“Langston Hughes.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, poets.org/poet/langston-hughes. 

“Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, poets.org/poem/let-america-be-america-again. 

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Delaney Demaret Blog Post 10/19

This week’s readings on WWII open an important dialogue on the true utility and necessity of such large scale wars, as well as failings in global interventions on peace. It is extremely difficult to see past the level of destruction the world experienced when even the motives of American involvement were more convoluted than the public recognizes. Moreover, the concept of a “just war” is often extremely oversimplified and ignores any motivations for war that don’t fit a specific moral narrative. There is absolutely no doubt that American opposition to German fascism and the Holocaust was necessary and moral. However, American foreign policy failed to prioritize the oncoming genocide until it worked in America’s best interest. If this were not true, concessions to Hitler would not have been made for as long as they were and an entire ship of Jewish refugees would not have been turned away from America’s shores. In fact, Roosevelt first turned the matter of handling the Holocaust over to a state department that was riddled with anti-semitism (Zinn 415). To claim a higher American moral standard than what was actually practiced is a to fail to plan for present and future policy that could combat genocide.

Zinn’s chapter and the article both present a stepping stone to a larger conversation on international policy on peacekeeping and where those organizations can strive to be better in and out of wartime. Zinn notes that the United Nations was formed in the midst of WWII, at the whims of major imperialist powers (415). The UN today handles a large portion of peacekeeping operations worldwide, but to understand the shortfalls and areas where it might strive for more sustainable peace, we can look towards the historical creation of the greater organization. The fundamental dissonance of an organization created by inherently violent imperial powers with the stated goal of maintaining peace is evident- it is only natural that peacekeeping operations are often found to have capitalistic or exploitative motives behind them. That is not to say that peacekeeping operations like the UN bare unjust or cannot operate at a higher function of morality- they absolutely can, it just requires a certain amount of public consciousness and accountability of historical shortcomings. Zinn’s chapter on WWII presents an opportunity for awareness- dissecting the past failures of foreign policy has a unique ability to reform future actions by governing powers and the people alike.

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Delaney Demaret Post for 10/12

One thing that struck me as a particularly concerning similarity between the outbreak of COVID-19 and the Spanish Flu is the way that misinformation spreads faster than science can keep up with. It seems that by nature, science and responsible scientific discoveries lag behind the demand for information in a pandemic-type crisis. Similar to a sort of power vacuum, a vacuum to fill public discourse with information leaves open a huge possibility for dangerous disinformation. 

Misinformation can and did come from non-scientific sources, but in both the Spanish Flu and COVID During the Spanish flu, incidents of scientific leaders disseminating rushed information caused massive problems that may have led to avoidable deaths. During the Spanish Flu pandemic, many doctors over-prescribed aspirin, which led to spikes of poisonings across the world. Many people ran with the idea of aspirin treatments, taking lethal doses in response to a panic brought on by the pandemic. In the beginning of COVID-19, the World Health Organization had a more conservative approach to the general public wearing masks, advising that there did not yet exist sufficient evidence to support the benefits. That position quickly changed, but the debate of masks has already progressed to the point where it was no longer a societal given. The public responded as societal movements typically do, riddled with panic and division that the scientific community then had to grapple with and change their stances on with greater public health in mind. 

It is natural for scientific processes to be consolidated into shorter timelines in crises like pandemics. Spikes in death rates demand a faster response, this is not surprising nor is it an illegitimate response. However, I think that we as members of society have a duty to exert a certain amount of patience (and caution) with scientific organizations, so as not to pressure leaders into rushed announcements. While some misinformation absolutely has malintentions, other incidents can be caused by the lag between what guidance the general public needs to hear and what scientists are ready to disseminate to larger portions of society.

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Delaney Demaret Blog Post for 10/5

While the two chapters in How the Other Half Lives feature extremely problematic viewpoints on immigration and a dangerous amount of generalization of communities, a reader can use it in conjunction with other sources to draw conclusions on the political and economic climate of the time. For example, the chapter on Chinatown complains about the lack of typical family structure among Chinese immigrants in the city, yet in Dr. Bezio’s podcast, she notes that the government essentially banned Chinese women from immigrating with the Page Act of 1875. Here, a conclusion may be drawn on the active involvement of governmental authorities in harming immigrant communities. American policies on immigration face constant evolution, but I think it would be hard to find a time where preserving the togetherness of an immigrant family has been the ultimate priority. One piece of consistency in American immigration policy has been the idea of capitalist expansion and the exploitation of immigrant labor. 

In the chapter on the Italian-American immigrant community, a similar conclusion can be drawn in the way of government (this time local) involvement. The padrones and contractors worked with the city to effectively create a labor market that stifled the ability for Italian workers to participate in the aspects of a laissez-faire economy that could benefit them. They were pushed by contract policies that the city and ladrones worked together to make, into sections of the market that eliminated their access to worker resistance and wage competition. This effectively institutionalized immigrant poverty. Even worse, exploitation facilitated through the language barrier continued through generations of Italian-American families, creating a cycle of inopportunity. 

I think there is a reckoning to be had on what the sentiment of American Immigration policy is versus what the true priorities behind the structure are. The history of exploitation of immigrant communities in the labor markets is too strong to ignore and place behind the “melting pot” theory. Is there a time in the history of the United States where the paramount interest behind immigration structures was not to advance capitalistic expansion? 

 

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Demaret Blog Post for 9/27

One recurring theme that became blatantly obvious upon reading this chapter of Zinn, as well as the video on the Civil War, is that we should continue to be hyper critical about who we choose to glorify as historical leaders. This is not to say that Lincoln was not one of the most important leaders of our time- he was. However, to ignore his faults and many complexities is a disservice to the study of leadership. Zinn pointed out that Lincoln’s objectives were largely capitalistic, less morally bound to abolition. Moreover, recent scholars have also asserted that many of his moral decisions were guided by his abolitionist contemporaries. If we are to study effective leadership, one might argue that finding true moral leadership can’t necessarily be found when we only study such major figures like Lincoln. I think it would be a more effective practice in studying Lincoln to not only point out his shortcomings, but to fill in the gaps with other lesser-known leaders of the time. There were plenty of free Black abolitionists with grassroots methods of organizing, who I believe we could learn a lot from today. 

An abolitionist leader that I think deserves more critical historical analysis is James Weeks. As Zinn mentioned, some voting rights for free Black Americans required expensive land-ownership. James Weeks is credited with founding a sort of autonomous Black community in what is now downtown Brooklyn. His leadership often goes unnoticed, but the power he amassed by enabling free Black Americans to vote in a system that worked to suppress them is extremely commendable. Weeksville Heritage Sight still stands today, a historical testament to leadership that worked powerfully, in the shadows of men like Lincoln, to make effective grassroot strides towards freedom. We obviously can’t erase the importance of Lincoln, but where he fell short, other leaders were successful (and often less racist). 

On a slightly less specific/unrelated note, I’d like to know more about how we should attempt to sort out historical motives for leaders. Is it unfair or short sighted to say that all of Lincoln’s motives were purely capitalistic? In a world so dominated by capitalism, especially given that our historiography is rooted in it as well, where do we look to find the true motives of our leaders? 

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Delaney Demaret Blog Post for 9/21

I find that the most important thing to take away from Zinn’s chapter, as well as the poetry, is the tendency of women to lead regardless of their oppressed nature in society. In early American society, it is clear that despite history’s overlooking, women still posed as leaders in capacities that transcended the laws and institutions that barred them from being public officials. We know that leaders don’t need an official title to be an impactful member of society. Anne Hutchinson, for example, led many to a kind of spiritual reckoning that begged for a deeper analysis of Puritanism and its restrictiveness. Her presence in Massachusetts court directly challenged the nature of gender roles in the world she lived in, and her subsequent move to Rhode Island made a certain statement that undoubtedly caused a shift in Puritan thinking. Lucy Stone’s involvement in the anti-slavery movement and her writings on the matter had enough influence in academia that she needed not carry an official public title. The women discussed in Zinn’s chapter are a testament to the fluidity of leadership in the public sphere: it does not necessarily respond to title, and in the case of women in history, it more likely responds to societal influence.

There are, however, multiple caveats to which women led, and why. Literacy and class hierarchies seem to carry a weight that was relatively unavoidable, in a way that men didn’t always have to let their downfalls stop them from becoming influential. Literacy determined any woman’s accessibility to becoming a leader, and class standing dictated how far their leadership extended into society. It is no surprise that those women who came from affluent backgrounds had a relatively easier time reaching a larger scope of people. Female leadership has always existed, no doubt, but I think that it would be an effective exercise to closely examine how societal barriers (not including legal, that is self-explanatory) kept more women out of leadership positions than men. Moreover, the concept of intersectionality on a broader historical scale might point to more answers about how and why women led.

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Delaney Demaret Blog Post for 9/14

Zinn’s chapter of PHUS “A Kind of Revolution” puts the entire idea of American war-time unity into question. The idea of a united militia against the British is clearly a dramatization of military coordination, but even worse, it’s a narrative that eliminates the class struggles that always existed. By telling a history that does not see the flaws and disagreements in a society during wartime, I believe that historiography creates a cycle of glorification of war. In my experience, the most I’ve ever learned about domestic discontent during American wars was within the scope of Vietnam counter-culture. To see that the Revolutionary War, and probably every war after that, had an extreme amount of complexities in who was fighting and why, is to reconsider important divisions in our own society. Zinn notes that the militia was not only exclusionary, but those that did join often did so with the hopes of alleviating the pressure of their low socio-economic status (Zinn 80). Furthermore, the militia men who fought back against poor treatment were violently suppressed by wealthier soldiers (Zinn 85). Unity was clearly more of an idealistic notion than a reality of the time. The idea that class tensions were so divisive that they could not be put aside to fight a (not so) common enemy speaks volumes to the climate in which our country was founded. 

America exists in a militarized society, this is an unavoidable truth of our time. However, I do believe that if education focused more on the caveats and complexities of the domestic front during wartime, we might reconsider our current foreign policies and approaches to global militarization. This might be a large conclusion to draw from just this chapter about the Revolutionary War, however, this analysis of its faults on the home front can act as a micro-example of historiography’s faults in the re-telling of American wars. 

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Delaney Demaret Blog Post for 9/7

This week’s readings cover the idea of ancestral struggle (to track, to resonate with, etc) on a deeply personal level through Michael Twitty. His life follows a winding path of rejection, acceptance, and embrace of his African American identity. His personal triumph of becoming his own self-constructed identity (like his Grammy!) is representative of a larger societal movement towards re-learning the implications of one’s ancestry. The privilege of easily knowing about those who came before you makes the process of forming your own identity much less emotionally pain-staking. 

Moreover, it becomes clear that the privilege of knowing ones heritage in a context not weighed down by violence, slavery, and genocide has not just emotional consequences, but practical ones, too. For Twitty, his experience in the culinary field has long been marked by the search for a personal cooking identity. His career revolves around forming a deeper understanding of who came before him, and what was left out of his history, in order to broaden the palette of what he cooks. For a chef whose ancestry is not so violent and complex, the existing historical palette is a great privilege.

I found Twitty’s descriptions of plantation tourism culture to be most infuriating, it feels to be a disservice to the true history of those grounds. As explained in Dr. Bezio’s podcast, the white supremacist culture exists as a means of othering and exclusion. In terms of historiography, the history of those enslaved on plantations has been told through the lens of white supremacist culture. This was made painfully clear by Twitty’s anecdotes about his time working as a chef and academic in and around plantations. It was painful to read that the ancestry he had struggled with for a lifetime was reduced to consistent disrespect of his career and standing in the field as a historical cook.

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Delaney Demaret Blog Post for 8/30

Howard Zinn’s chapter on Columbus, the Indians, an Human Progress not only covered a new perspective on colonial genocide on Native Americans, it also laid a foundation for the need for new perspectives in the following chapters. The way it questions, then subsequently defends, its purpose for expanding the American narrative leaves a strong need to dissect the way we’ve learned our histories. Zinn notes that while emphasis in historical retelling is inevitable, we can still carefully analyze this “learned sense of moral proportion”. Somewhere down the road of American exceptionalism, self-committed atrocities got lost in the rest of our history, that which is told by the victors. Misconceptions of human progress should not dictate how and why we learn our stories. While we cannot go back in time, it is entirely possible to rewrite a broader history. 

What strikes me most about the dissonance between the flaws of the American education system and broader historical perspectives is the misconception that modern amends can’t be worked towards. Un-learning demands a constant thought process, but it is one that can and should be implemented at every level of education. Historical white supremacy, specifically that regarding the eras of colonization and globalization, is deeply embedded within the narratives we are taught to remember. Most importantly, relearning our history can’t exist within a bubble of higher education, it must expand far into American culture on the whole. 

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