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Author: Sophia Peltzer

Blog Post 11/30

Dear White People describes many incredibly nuanced and complex black characters, which in terms of looking at race and race relations in America, is something I think the mainstream media often misses. So often, the debate is framed to make all black people seem the same, with the same interests, feelings, and general point of view on life and society. This is something that is explored really well, in my opinion, in this movie. I think its representation of all types of black characters and the unique struggles of each individual highlight the stereotyping and homogeniety we so often see depicted in our society, and seeing these different perspectives allow viewers, especially white people, to understand the complexity and nuance in issues with race and racism. Speaking as a white person, I make significant attempts to educate myself on these types of issues, but I will never truly know what it is like to live a day as a black person in America. I really appreciate media that are produced by and depict genuine black points of views, not what white people think the black point of view is or should be. It is easy for someone with limited exposure to racial diversity to assume that, since their black friends are not super involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, most black people are similarly not very passionate about it. On the flip side, another person lacking in access to racial diversity may assume that because they have friends who are very passionate about and active in the Black Lives Matter movement, all black people are equally passionate and active. The lack of black representation in media and black voices in positions of power such as politicians makes it hard for white people, who may have limited exposure to racial diversity depending on where they live, to see that black people are just as different, complex, and individual as any white person is. I think that it is easy for white people, in general, to be able to recognize that just because two people are white, does not mean they have the same hobbies, the same political interests, the same taste in music, or any other number of similarities. This is even seen at national levels; for example, during his campaign, Joe Biden, the decidely less racist presidential candidate, declared that if any black voter did not vote for him, “they ain’t black.” However, the lack of representation and lack of black voices makes it more difficult for the same thing to be seen of people of different races, which is why I believe movies like this are so important to see. If we are attempting to make a space inclusive, I think this is an extremely important part of the discussion that needs to be improved on in the media and otherwise, and I think Dear White People is a great example of where we can start.

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Blog Post for 11/16

While I was reading Zinn’s “The Unreported Resistance,” I learned quite a bit about the late twentieth century and saw many connections between government issues and activism back then as well as in present-day America. One of the main points that stuck out to me while I was reading was the idea that many of the injustices that the public protested so passionately against during the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties are injustices that are still seen and fought against today. It made sad and a bit discouraged to see how, despite advances in certain areas, we are still faced with the same inequalities and still fighting the same battles that we were half a century ago. Some examples of these commonalities include the mass incarceration rate of poor people, specifically poor Black people, in response to widespread poverty. Both then and now, welfare was seen as a dirty word that people and politicians wanted to avoid. However, as pointed out by Zinn, people in general wanted to help and give more resources to the poor, with one poll showing 64% of people saying they supported guaranteeing food and shelter for needy people (612). The rights of the poor and oppressed have been overlooked since the foundation of this country, rather favoring policies that help the rich stay rich at the expense of the poor, and protect wealthy corporations that exploit the poor in the name of capitalism. Another example of common issues seen both today and throughout the period Zinn discusses is the fight for equal protection and reparations for Native Americans. Widespread opposition to the celebration of Columbus Day was first seen in 1992, a movement that is still continuing, with some but not widespread success. The wealthy, corporation-focused capatalist government of America was too concerned with the economic successes of the rich and the illusion of the “American Dream” to recognize and attempt to ammend the pain, suffering, and death they caused to get there, and it appears that this is still a fight that must be taken on by the people today.

 

Another part of Zinn’s chapter that specifically stood out to me were the quotes about the imperalism and international interference of America and our troops, despite the fact that our government is unable to solve the problems domestically it claims to solve, and ultimately creates, in other countries abroad. The quote on page 625 by historian Marilyn Young demonstrates the superiority complex of the United States in thinking that we have the authority to invade whoever we want and take whatever resources we want, while not even having the power to solve our own domestic issues of poverty, race relations, health care, infrastructure, drug addiction, mass incarceration, and more. As usual, Zinn’s chapter helped shed light on an issue I was already relatively aware of. His chapter provided me with information to drive home the point that America was not made and is not meant for all types of people, and that we will continue to see these same issues for decades and centuries to come if we do not shift the priorities of the government from the top ten percent to the general public it is actually meant to serve.

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Sophie Peltzer 11/2 Blog Post

TW: sexual assault

In the movie Platoon, we witnessed the battle experiences of an infantry platoon during the Vietnam War. The movie draws on specific themes of the Vietnam War, such as the vast violence and loss of life, the harrowing conditions and resulting PTSD faced by many of the soldiers, and the fact that many soldiers questioned the morality of the war they were fighting in, and why they were even at war in the first place. I personally found watching the movie to be difficult. I have learned a lot about the Vietnam War in this class as well as previous classes I have taken at Richmond, but watching such scenes of violence and shooting make me very uncomfortable. Obviously, my discomfort does not compare to the absolute horrors the soldiers themselves had to face, both in Vietnam and the lasting effects from when they returned home.

Two scenes that particularly stuck out to me, and that I thought summarized the main messages about Vietnam that the movie was trying to get across, were the scenes in the village and the final scene in the helicopter. The scene in the village showed how so many Vietnamese civilians were killed during the Vietnam war, whether it was due to VietCong suspicions or simply because some soldiers were ruthless and angry. The unnecessary violence, death, and aggression calls on questions of morality during the war, and of whether the number of lives being lost was truly necessary. Specifically the shooting of the Vietnamese woman, the chief’s wife, and the gang rape of another Vietnamese woman show the true violence and horror faced by civilians, and American soldiers also had to bear witness to their fellow soldiers committing such atrocities. The final helicopter scene also showcases the vast loss of life in the disturbing footage of the mass grave with countless corpses of American soldiers, and the PTSD that the war brought for many soldiers who had to bear witness to the atrocities committed. Additionally, the voice over mentions how the war will always stay with the main character, and that although it was supposed to be a war against the NVA, it ended up being a war against each other. I think these two final statements sum up the war well, and the movie as a whole does a good job showing the realities of the Vietnam War.

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Blog Post for 10/26

I had heard the name Langston Hughes before listening to the podcast and reading the reading assigned, but I never knew the true significance of his work and his voice in the Civil Rights movement until learning a bit more about him. Although it is sad, many of his poems that we read for class still ring true and hold similar senitments for the America we live in today, in the twenty-first century. One particular example of this that stood out to me was his poem Let America Be America Again. Over the events of the recent months in light of police brutality and the strengthening of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have read many resources that question the validity of “the American Dream”, the idea that anyone can come to America and rise up from poverty to great wealth due because we are a land of freedom, equality, and opportunity. By learning more about the experiences, both past and present, of Americans with less privilege than myself, it is clear that opportunities are not always equally distributed to all members of society. Generational poverty, heavy police presences leading to mass incarceration, and lack of proper educational and community programs, disproportionally centered in non-white areas, create systems that make it harder for some than for others to get the most basic of opportunities such as a job or an education. Systemic racism makes living while being a BIPOC inherently more difficult than living while white, due to racism embedded in police and justice systems meant to protect and serve our communities. This greatly calls into question the idea of the American Dream for every person, when millions of people are disadvantaged just because of their status at birth. Hughes’s poem Let America be America Again calls upon this in a direct way, stating that the America promoted in the American Dream and the idealized version of the country never truly existed for people who are BIPOC, LGBTQ+, etc. It also is similar to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” tagline, which implies that there was an America before when people had more rights and life was better, despite the fact that this America never existed for those who are systemically disadvantaged. Although saddening, Hughes’s works give great insight and inspiration to the voices of the Civil Rights movement, and to the issues we are still working to overcome today.

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Blog Post for 10/19

As goes for most of the things I read, watch, or listen to for this class, I find it alarming how easy it is for the US to twist narratives to make us seem like the heros of every situation, when in reality we are very often extremely hypocritical and in the wrong. For another class I’m currently taking about cultural pluralism and nationalism, we learned that one of the most effective ways to indoctrinate nationalism into the minds of the people of a given nation is through public education, setting the standards of what our kids grow up learning about the country we live in. It makes sense that we, as a general population, tend to have such strong sense of patriotism in 0ur domestic and foreign affairs, seemingly, from what I’ve heard from people who live in or have traveled to another country, more so than what is typical. The way we learn history in the United States paints us as the best country in the world, effectively making the geneal population believe this to be true, whether or not it is.

Another thing I found particularly interesting from Zinn’s chapter “A People’s War?” was the idea that the United States would go out to protect right-leaning governments. I guess when thinking in the context of the general red scare and fear of liberal radicals it makes sense that we would support those who lean farther right, but it was a little eye-opening to see it phrased so boldly. I never considered the United States as a country or our government to sway towards any ideology or political affiliation outside of whichever party had control of the branches at the time, but when you take a step back, it makes sense that we would be considered right-leaning. Perhaps it’s just the extra division these days that causes the connotation, but I feel a little uneasy living in a country that openly is defined and will openly financially support right-wing dictators and military states all for the sake of avoiding the widely-feared left.

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Blog Post for 10/12

Although our generation always hopes and claims that we will be the generation to learn from history’s mistakes and make better decisions in the future when we are in positions of power, the readings and video for today make it pretty clear that we have not quite lived up to this expectation. I knew that there was some relative similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Spanish flu, but I had no idea the extent to which those similarities went until preparing for Monday’s class. Firstly, I didn’t know that mask mandates were implemented over 100 years ago, and based on the outcry it has caused in America today, I never would have expected that this was something we had done before. I find it intriguing and also alarming how similar the situations have been in regards to protesting the use of masks – it’s such a small price to pay for saving so many lives, and that should be especially obvious today given the prevelance of media and news coverage that keeps people updated at all times and the information available to us with the tap of a button. I wasn’t aware of Woodrow Wilson’s attempted coverup and downplaying of the coverup, very similarly to Trump’s. Although we are not technically in wartime as serious as WWI right now, I would consider Trump’s terror campaign to attempt reelection and the awful tactics he has used to garner support as well as the divisive and hostile political climate he has created as a type of wartime. He uses the pandemic as a political ploy to “keep people calm” so that he can get reelected, just as Wilson tried to downplay the pandemic to keep people patriotic in the face of the war. I never knew this about Woodrow Wilson and I have never seen this information anywhere despite doing extensive research on Woodrow Wilson for multiple college papers, and I find it alarming how easily this was hid in history. It makes me worry that in the future, Trump will be portrayed in the history books as much better than he actually is and many of his selfish motives and desires will be covered up. I want future generations to learn an accurate representation of history, unlike what many of us have learned up until this point. I hope that Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic will not be swept under the rug, and that everyone will hear how the President of the United States cared more about his public image and getting reelected than keeping 215,000+ Americans from losing their lives.

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Blog Post for 9/28

Zinn’s chapter “Slavery without Submission, Emancipation without Freedom” does a great job of highlighting one of the most common themes of the whole semester: how the history we are familiar with is not always the most thourough or even the most truthful history. As children in America, we often learn of Abraham Lincoln as the president to end racism and slavery in America, who acted as a progressive leader for racial equality and understood the moral wrong of slavery. This, however, as Zinn brings attention to, is an incomplete story. Lincoln contradicts himself multiple times throughout his election and presidency about his opinions on the institution of slavery, and whether or not he, as the president, even has the right to abolish slavery. Additionally, it was well known that up until the point of allowing black men in the North to fight for the Union army, Lincoln vehemently asserted that the purpose of the Civil War was not to end slavery, but for the “preservation of the Union.” Zinn also cites multiple instancs of Lincoln saying that he does not support equality of blacks and whites, and thinks that if the blacks were ever freed, they should be sent back to Africa. These quotes from Lincoln, and this perspective of the Civil War and fight to end slavery, paint a stark contrast between the narrative we are used to hearing growing up, likely because we want our history to be seen as the least harmful as it possibly can be. However, missing key details such as these gives us an incomplete story of our history, and hinder us from fully grasping the history and hardships faced by our fellow Americans. Although it can often be hard to read, I think Zinn’s chapters explaining the “other” perspectives of history are extremely important in understanding our country’s culture and current tensions, as well as shaping ourselves to become holisitc and effective leaders.

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Sophie Peltzer 9/21 Blog Post

I thought all of the readings tied in together to tell a very interesting story about the history of the oppression and rebellion of women in America. While I have always been aware of the low-level status women held in earlier societies, it was alarming to have my memory refreshed on the specifics of how unequal women were treated. One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that, although situations and conditions have definitely improved, a lot of the same general themes and categories of oppression are still very prevelant in today’s society. Women’s worth is often determined based on their marriage status and whether or not they have children, evidenced by the fact that most gynecologists refuse to perform tubal ligation on women in their twenties and thirties, claiming that they could change their minds and want children in the future, or marry someone who wants children. Additionally, the problem of women being paid less than men for doing the same job still remains at large today, not to mention that America is still one of the few developed countries that does not provide women paid maternity leave. Although women have made tremendous progress in the past few centuries, it is still painfully obvious to see that a lot of these old attitudes die hard.

 

Despite this, I enjoyed reading about ways women rebelled against the inferior status imposed on them and found strength and solidarity through different means. One story in particular that I found interesting was the “coffee party” – the spin-off of the Boston tea party in which women forced a man overpricing coffee to give up the keys to his store so they could take all the coffee for themselves. Additionally, the story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Seneca Falls Convention reminds us that women have always been strong, perserverant, and capable, and women now have more resources than ever before to continue to fight for equality. Although it is sometimes difficult to grapple with the blatant inequalities in our society, reading the stories of strong and determined women is a great reminder of the strength we possess and the goals we can achieve.

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Sophie Peltzer Blog Post for 9/14

While reading today’s chapter of A People’s History, I noticed a lot of common themes among things we have already talked about in class, and also of things that we still hear politicians and people talking about today. First of all, Zinn’s telling of the American Revolution reinforces how the white elites that wrote history wrote it in a way that isn’t entirely accurate, and was meant to serve a specific purpose. In the well-known story of the American Revolution, colonists of all types and all classes came together to support a heroic and worthy cause and gain independence for everyone and create a new America where everyone could be equal and free. However, as Zinn points out, this is far from the truth – many lower-class Americans were against the Revolution because the benefits didn’t directly apply to them, but rather to the upper class who would be solidifying their power through the Revolution. There was a lot of coercion and involuntary service to create the militias that fought in the Revolutionary War, and many internal class conflicts that made the Revolution far messier than is often taught in American history. The Revolution is likely taught the way we know it, as a uniting and inspirational story of American bravery, to strengthen American partiotism and create an unproblematic version of American history.

Another point from the reading that stuck out to me was how deep class conflict in America goes, and how the institutions upon this country were built were purposely created to keep the rich rich and the poor poor. As we have heard in discussions of systemic racism over the past few months, it is often impossible to reform the racist systems we already have in place because they are already performing exactly as they were built to. After reading Zinn’s chapter, it is easy to see that the same goes for systemic classism. The elites both in the 18th century and today have always found ways to keep the middle and lower classes just satisfied enough to avoid revolts and conflict, but oppressed enough so that they can retain wealth and power, and in turn, political and social influence.

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Sophie Peltzer Blog Post for 9/7

The readings and podcast this week gave me a whole new perspective into identity and culture about which I had never truly realized. It seems so obvious that food is such a huge part of our lives, and yet it is so easily forgotten in these discussions. Where and what we eat determines so much about our family traditions, our pasttimes, and our heritage, and easily shapes and influences much of our daily lives.

I found the connection between food and family history for descendants of enslaved people particularly interesting. We talked last week about how it is often impossible for many descendants of enslaved people to trace their heritage and origins due to the carelessness and lack of humanity of the settlers that stole people from their homelands. Although it is not the same and will not ever fully make up for this piece of their identity that will forever be lost, I enjoyed reading Twitty’s personal account about the history of food and cooking in his family and about how, even through the tragic and inhumane circumstances that brought them to the United States and forced them to do this type of cooking, it has become an intregral part of his identity and culture.

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Sophie Peltzer Blog Post for 8/31

While reading the chapter by Howard Zinn about the realities of Christopher Columbus and the “discovery” of America, I was obviously shocked and disgusted to learn how untrue everything I had been taught was. I was aware of the controversies regarding the celebration of Colombus Day and had a basic understanding of why we should not celebrate a colonizer who killed thousands of Native Americans out of greed, but I had no idea how truly bad the reality of the situation actually was. It made me feel such pain for the Native American/Indigenous community, and gave me new respect on perspective on the celebration of Columbus Day in America.

Thinking about this, I remembered a time in my own life where I have received backlash from speaking against the harms of celebrating Columbus Day. Over the summer I was discussing the (albiet limited) information I had on why society was slowly turning to see the wrongs of celebrating, and my family with whom I was discussing it with had an unexpectedly passionate response. They told me that I shouldn’t believe everything I see on the Internet, and that I needed to stop rewriting history to make everything an issue of injustice and make everything seem so negative and bad. I was shocked by my family’s unwillingness to accept a story of history that wasn’t taught in the mainstream, and it truly made me realize how deeply the issues went. I was reminded of this moment while reading the chapter, realizing the disgust I felt and understanding how hard it can be to change the narrative we have always been taught. Despite the challenging nature of reading something so tragic, I think it is more important now than ever that we start teaching history not to cater towards any particular audience or serve any particular lesson or meaning other than teaching the facts, because we can see now how painting hisory in different lights can cause people harm even hundreds of years later.

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