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Author: Sara Moushegian

Zinn “Or Does It Explode”

In this chapter of Zinn, he discusses the Civil Rights movement, and how the narrative of this historical time has also been altered to portray the U.S. government as playing a much larger role in making progress towards equality among all citizens. Zinn highlights that our government did pass laws targeted at solving social injustices, such as voting equality and employment equality, but they were poorly implemented. It seems that the American government thinks simply making a law is enough when the people enforcing it (white Americans) are the ones that will make the real social change.

 

In this chapter, I also noticed the difference between non-violent and violent protests. It seemed that the non-violent protests were clearly favored by the government leaders because it caused less unrest within society, but it did not seem to be “enough to deal with the entrenched problems of poverty in the black ghetto”. When analyzing protests and rebellions, American leaders tend to criticize the violent protests, when in reality, the nature of the protest should not be the focus. Instead, all focus should be on the fact that a protest is needed in the first place. Critiquing whether violence with protests is effective or warranted, distracts society from the main institutional problems causing the riots, which is exactly was the corrupt institutions want.

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10/14 Post

The Yellow Wallpaper was honestly a disturbing tale for me because it shed more light on the toxic gender dynamic during the nineteenth- century. It is obvious through this narration that John, the husband, is assuming he has superior wisdom and maturity over Gilman. He constantly is diagnosing all of her issues, as if he truly knows what is going on with her. He is a physician, but it is clear he has ill intentions by stating she is just experiencing “temporary nervousness”. It’s keeping her ignorant and implementing his power over her. Gilman thinks he is helping her, but he is really just patronizing her.

One line that bothered me was “if a physician of high-standing position, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression- a slight hysterical tendency- what is one to do?”. This line illustrates that Gilman did not even attempt to question her husband’s credibility; she did not take it upon herself to dive deeper into what might be wrong with her. Women at this time had very limited individuality, and just went along with what the husband wanted. Gilman is kept in a state of ignorance, and throughout the narrative, she remains in a childish state where she can not stand up for herself.

 

I think in today’s society, we have made significant strides in empowering women and bringing women into the workforce (especially in male-dominated industries) and out of the domestic space. This toxic power dynamic between husband and wife is not nearly as prevalent today, and I am very grateful for that.

 

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War is The Health of The State – 9/7

Zinn’s chapter “War Is The Health Of The State” was especially interesting to me. This chapter discusses America’s involvement in World War I, and how the government controlled the media and speech of citizens to paint a certain patriotic picture of the war.

Entering World War I was publicized as an act in response to the sinking of the Lusitania, which supposedly had been carrying innocent American citizens. This was a lie. The Lusitania was actually heavily armed. The Lusitania’s “manifests were falsified to hide this fact”. This truth was shocking to me because I remember being forced to memorize in my history class that the killing of innocent cargo on the Lusitania was the reason America entered World War I. The actual reason was much less driven by morals and instead by the greediness for new foreign markets that America could attain through the war.

Citizens were cleary opposed to the war, but through the Espionage Act, they were forcefully silenced. The nation was left to only be represented by “military bands, flag-waving, the mass buying of war bonds” and support for the draft. In my history class, we briefly touched on the Espionage Act and given the example of Charles Schneck, but that was the only example of anti-war efforts we were given. It made it seem that the majority of American citizens were not adamantly against being a part of the war.

A common theme in how we are taught history that I am noticing is we like to portray the nation as always being on the same page and constantly preach ideals about unity. Not only that, but history tries to illustrate that the side of controversial events that has the most support, is the side rooting for the United States government. This could be why American history does not portray the anti-war side of WWI as the majority -when it in fact was-  since it would undermine the perception that the majority of America is on the government’s side.

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Zinn Reading 9/30

In Zinn’s chapter The Empire and The People, he is discussing America during the time of imperialism and expansion. In the beginning of this chapter, Zinn highlights a point he has made before about how America tends to start wars with foreign powers to relieve “rebellious energy that went into strikes and protest movements” within our own nation. Our nation’s history tends to portray these wars as a sense of unity among the nation but fails to show the social injustices that were ignored in doing so. There is no concrete evidence that leaders start these wars during social turmoil purposefully, but there is a definite trend. Although this is my second time noticing this argument, I still am incredibly bothered by it. It truly seems that the wealthy elite is so focused on maintaining peace within the nation and keeping their power, that they avoid social injustices that are causing unrest within society, thus keeping the institutions that are so flawed. This argument was also made about Abraham Lincoln, in that he was more focused on keeping the union, rather than attacking the racial injustices within society and using his power to fix them.

 

As the chapter goes on, Zinn discusses the motives for the Spanish-Cuban-American war. America was thirsty for new foreign markets to elevate their economic prosperity. America even abandoned the Teller Amendment that valued Cuban independence and freedom (as a nation built on these values should) and opposed American imperialism. In the end, the interests of America’s corporate business world deemed victorious, as “bankers, brokers, businessmen, editors, clergymen, and others” wanted the Cuban question ‘solved’ “. So, the Teller Amendment was ignored. America intervened in Cuban to ensure its capitalist interests. Again, we see the powerful elite having all the power in how America goes about our wars. They believed if the American military controlled Cuba, Cuba would become a new market for business. These motives portray America as a nation that will go to any means to benefit just themselves. This might have made us a powerful country, but are these wars ethical?

This issue of going to any means to remain a powerful country sort of coincides with the current pandemic. We refused to shut down the nation for long enough to diminish the spread of the virus, just to focus on our economy and maintaining our power against other nations. I am thankful our economy did not go completely down under, but now we are still stuck with a dangerous virus for longer!

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Welcome to Your Authentic Experience – 9/23

Reading the short story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, felt like something out of a Black Mirror episode. Not many assigned readings I have had in the past have actually captivated me like this one did, while also touching on a very relevant and serious topic in today’s society.

The plot of this story is told in a second person POV, which is an incredible tactic to make the reader internalize every emotion the main character is experiencing with the author constantly saying “you” while describe what the character is going through. The main character is Jesse Turnblatt, but goes by Jesse Trueblood instead to sound more “native” for the virtual reality company he works for. This company provides a virtual reality experience of live as a Native to rich white people. Jesse is an indigenios Native American but is forced to learn a type of fake realness the white people want that coincides with the Native live that Hollywood movies illustrate.

Jesse ultimately losing his job as he lets his guard down and describes his true life of a Native to a white man who claims he is Cherokee, but in reality only has one Cherokee relative, portrays the concept that America tends to only romanticize the Native culture that fits in their media-based stereotype, not any true culture told from actual Natives.

It is painful to read how Jesse accepts this appropriation of his culture, just so he can keep his job and support himself financially. Jesse experiences cognitive dissonance because he knows this isn’t the real him. The corporate world in America can truly make people lose their self-dignitity and self-identity simply for one to maintain their jobs.

This story also reminds me of the recent social movement to start banning offensive mascots from sports-teams and schools that appropriate Native American cultures, as well as other non-dominant cultures in America. It angers me to think about how Native American’s must have felt seeing sports teams like the Washington Redskins, and school mascots that resemble Native Americans (a recent example is Winchester High School in Massachussets replacing their Sachem mascot) appropriate their culture with no respect. There is a fine line between appreciating another culture and appropriating it, and I hope America learns the difference (and if you don’t know the difference then just don’t do it!!)

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1776 and Hamilton

Our past reading in PHOS ignited my curiosity as to how the American Revolution truly played out for the colonies. We learned from Zinn that the majority of the population did not even feel inclined to rebel against the British; most of the colonial men joined up in arms to reap economic benefits after the war. Watching 1776 and Hamilton has now elevated my curiosity more since each one depicts the Revolution in different manners.

One key difference between 1776 and Hamilton is how America’s elite is represented. Hamilton does a refreshing job in showing the diversity of America with the inclusion of minorities such as women and blacks whose roles in America’s history are often silenced by those in power. In the Broadway production, Hamilton is even played by Lin-Manuel, who comes from Latino descent, which elevates the production’s multiculturalism even more. This musical displays how America’s society should have been represented in history from the start, but instead we have just been focused on rich old white guys.

How Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of Hamilton and his impact in the Revolution is also very different than any way history has been told. Miranda utilized modern hip-hop and rap to tell the stories, which resonated with the younger demographic of society and provided a more entertaining way to learn our nation’s history. I don’t think this has been done before in such an effective way. Not only did Miranda use modern storytelling forms, but he is also telling a story that has not been focused on in most curriculums, at least in my opinion. Until I watched Hamilton, I had never heard the full story of Hamilton’s involvement of the Revolution in my history classes. This is a shame since Hamilton was extremely educated and played a big role in the decisions the Founding Fathers made.

On the other hand, 1776 had a more traditional take on the history of the American Revolution. It involved the conversations of mainly wealthy white men. No women played key roles in the musical, unlike Hamilton with the Schuyler sisters and the daughters of Philip Schuyler, the Revolutionary War general. Although, 1776 was also unique in how the production told history with the presence of silly banter between the delegates of the states. I have never heard of any member of the colonial elite being humorous, so this was definitely something new to see.

With both of these musicals, the same historical events are being discussed but in very different ways. Different people and issues are focused on in each one. There are so many perspectives of historical events that are told now and so many different ways in which they are told. So, my question is, how can we discover all these perspectives that have been silenced for so long? How do we know what voices to look for? There is so much information out there, how does one know what questions to ask and where to look for them to get the full story of an event.

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Colonial Elite Maintains Power – 9/9

In Zinn’s “Persons of Mean and Vile Condition” chapter, he argues that one of the main priorities of the colonial elites’ was to divide the persecuted people of North America, specifically between racial lines, so they could maintain their power in society and prevent rebellions. This division was created through laws such as forbidding interracial marriages and preventing blacks from traveling into Indian territory.  It still baffles me that the colonial legislature could create such racially motivated laws during this time period. I am thankful that no laws exist with such explicit racism within them today, but I cannot say our government is completely free of these underlying racist motives that divide society. 

In Zinn’s “Tyranny is Tyranny” chapter, he brings in a new idea of how the colonial elite managed to hold such immense power over all other classes. In order to truly assert power, the elite had to gain the working-class’ loyalty. This weapon of power became the “rhetoric of freedom” that Zinn deems “the most effective system of national control devised in modern times”. According to Zinn, the elite managed to focus the anger of the working-class towards the British instead of at the rich to keep the power dynamic undisturbed. The Declaration of Independence was a tool for this,  with the phrase “all men are created equal” blurring out any distinctions between the rich and poor. 

Reading these chapters honestly makes me question the intentions of any ruling body now. I have never been taught the hidden flaws within the American Revolution until coming to Richmond. A class I took freshmen year, Slavery and Freedom, highlighted that the Revolution was quite hypocritical in that Americans were vouching for freedom while still possessing slaves. Now I hear the argument that the Revolution was an attempt for colonial elites to maintain their power by pinning the anger from the working-class against the British. I am sure there are many critiques of the American Revolution and other glorified moments of American history, and I am glad I am finally learning about them. Despite scholars formulating arguments of the true intentions of America’s leaders, how will we ever truly know their motivations if it is all in the past and there is no historical document that clearly states it?

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A Color Line Still Present Today – 9/2

In the “Drawing the Color Line” section of A People’s History of the United States, Zinn describes the inhumane actions of early white Americans as the institution of slavery became instilled into society. Through my years of schooling, I have been taught how horribly we treated black people during the slave trade (and how America still fails to treat members of the black community as equal), but it still makes me sick to my stomach hearing how these innocent African Americans were taken from their homeland and tortured just for the white man’s economic gain and insecure need for power. 

The commodification of African people during this time is portrayed through the description of how enslaved people were packed onto slave ships and sold into slavery. They were viewed as something to be traded for money and a resource for economic prosperity; they were not viewed as humans. In one of my previous history classes, I learned the slave ships could not leave the African coast until their ships were at absolute capacity, similar to how cargo ships pack goods tightly onto the ships. This illustrates that American’s dehumanized these enslaved people so they could be seen as a good to be traded, allowing all regard for their human needs to dissipate. 

Zinn also brings up the point that racism was not a natural idea, but that there was “a complex web of historical threads to ensnare blacks for slavery”. One aspect of this “web” that angered me was the fact that there were laws put in place to disable the collaboration of white and black people. The white Americans in power knew what they were doing was morally wrong and that rebellions would occur, therefore they had to do everything they could to prevent it. With these laws, the divide between whites and blacks worsened. Thankfully, laws like those do not exist anymore, but systematic racism still does. It is our job as a society to disassemble the racist institutions early America has created. 

 

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Leadership as a Broad Concept

In Bernard Bass’s Meaning of Leadership, he touches on the idea that there is no concise and rigid definition of “leadership”. Professor Bezio mentioned this same issue on the first day of class, and I am curious to see how we start to broadly define it throughout the course.  “The meaning of leadership may depend on the kind of institution in which it is found”, this quote from the article hones into the idea that leadership looks different in every situation, every institution, and every person. There is no way to have one simple definition.

Bass’s Concepts of Leadership illustrated that the leadership qualities that society values has changed overtime, and will continue to. In my Leadership and the Social Sciences class we discussed that there are many cognitive, interpersonal, and personality traits that all prove to be important to have as a leader. These include integrity, self-confidence, wisdom, expertise, authoritarianism, passion, and many more. The historical views of leadership discussed in this article from time periods as far back as B.C. times seem to emphasize power and authority as the most necessary traits to have to become a successful leader. 

In today’s society I believe we value more than just law and order and power within our leaders. As followers, we want to relate to our leaders on a more personal level and follow them because they are passionate, not simply because they seem to be powerful and mighty. 

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