Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Respectability


This last round of reading softened me up on W.E.B. DuBois a bit.

One thing I have found is that though I am getting over it, I was once very easily swayed by the opinions that I read if they at least sounded logical. So if other writers were frustrated with DuBois, I picked that up, and so when I was reading more recently about his efforts against Marcus Garvey, my response was more like "It figures" than to reflect more on that.

Reading about Ida B Wells, it was clear that this sort of thing went on all the time. This should not have been a surprise. I have seen the same thing happen with dog rescue groups. It doesn't matter that everyone cares about the dogs; this person disagrees on how to do it, or whom to work with, and bitter feuds develop, turning people with at least some common goals into bitter enemies who sabotage each other.

I could be mad at DuBois some more for the sake of Wells, and if it comes to a fight, I will always choose her. One thing that helped though was there was more to be mad at with Booker T. Washington.

It may not be fair to vilify Washington either, but the part that I keep getting stuck on is that he thought that respectability would be the was to stop lynching. He knew that most lynchings weren't really about the black men raping white women - he admitted that. He should also have been able to see that the industrial-based education he focused on would not bring that much respect if Southern white leaders were so willing to see it happen. He still promoted the idea that acting nice would solve the problems. Achieve respectability.

Respectability was what drew the lynching! Financial success was attacked. The Memphis Lynching that politicized Wells so much had nothing to do with rape; it was an effort to remove financial competition. Yes, when the arguments would come up, people would talk about protecting women, but that's not why they did it.

I am more aware of this because of seeing similar calls for respectability on the internet. Respectability is not a solution. Clothing or language use may be cited as a reason to dismiss what someone says, but they would find another reason, because the real problem is the ideas.

I'm not saying that presentation never matters. In the 60s marchers dressed well and were polite and non-violent because they were fighting a stereotype, and those images were carried by television and they affected people. You may also have noticed that they didn't end racism or oppression.

I guess there are two points I want to make here. One is to not believe that if you just ask nicely enough and are patient enough, it will all work out. There is no precedent of that being true. The marches were important for image, but they were done in conjunction with economic pressure like boycotts, and court cases, and nothing came easily despite everyone being very clean and polite.

The related point, and this is convenient since asking nicely does not work, is that niceness is not owed. There is no obligation to make sure that the person who is profiting from your oppression does not have to feel uncomfortable about it.

This is something John Howard Griffin wrote about his experiences with Black Like Me:

“Our townspeople wanted to ‘keep things peaceful’ at all costs. They said I had ‘stirred things up’. This is laudable and tragic. I, too, say let us be peaceful; but the only way to do this is first to assure justice. By keeping ‘peaceful’ in this instance, we end up consenting to the destruction of all peace—for so long as we condone injustice by a small but powerful group, we condone the destruction of all social stability, all real peace, all trust in man’s good intentions toward his fellow man."
You can't keep the peace if you don't have it in the first place. When people are telling you how to act, it's important to understand what goals are really being served.

Related posts:

Monday, July 21, 2014

No television pilots here


I think I have some more things to say about my Black History Month reading for the year, if I can come up with the right order and words.

One of the books I read was Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves by Art T. Burton.

I had added it to my reading list as soon as I found out that the book existed. It sounded interesting, but also I had this idea that maybe there could be a television series in there. Reeves sounded heroic and fascinating. It could fill a need for providing some diversity and undoing some of the historical whitewashing of the past. Also, there has been some success with shows set in the West - "Deadwood", "Hell on Wheels" - it just seemed like there could be some potential there. Once I was reading the book I felt differently.

It's not that Reeves was not heroic or fascinating. He was pretty cool, and while the book was pretty dry as it brought out every bit of source material imaginable, there was still some cool information. There was also a lot that was depressing.

The article about the book had mentioned a large family, but not how much his travel for the job would have kept him away from them. It didn't mention him being away when his first wife died, or some of his children getting in trouble with the law. It didn't mention the frequent slander that newspapers printed. He got praise too, and had loyal friends, including Belle Star, but there were some downsides. The article didn't mention that he found the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling demoralizing, though that shouldn't have been surprising at all if I had been thinking about dates.

Also, things ended up sounding somewhat less interesting in the book. While the commitment to accuracy was honorable, it made for a more boring tale, because often there are records of the people arrested during a certain run, but not how the cases resolved, or often that they were acquitted. The result is that often it feels like even being a remarkably successful lawman didn't do much good, and that can be totally valid, but there are already plenty of shows like that.

I'd had similar thoughts about Chang Apana, a Hawaiian detective who was closely associated with the Charlie Chan character, so I read Yunte Huang's Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History as well.

It was pretty similar. There are more successfully resolved cases. He took down an opium den full of forty people with a crack of his bullwhip. Yes, the reputation he already had helped, but it's still pretty impressive.

And as impressive as he was, and respected, his chief of police still decided to try and get everyone of color to take early retirement, and despite Chang Apana's determination to fight it, illness ended up making retirement necessary. Also, the reason they wanted to force people out is that some white people were convicted of manslaughter for what was really the murder of a brown person, and even though higher ups voided the sentence after an hour in jail, you can't have things like that happening.

Basically, nothing felt the way I thought it would. There were amazing people with adventures, and they did defy stereotypes, but it wasn't this exultant thing, maybe because the stereotypes remained so deeply rooted.

It may simply be that I got into a darker frame of mind, and so nothing seemed promising anymore. That being said, I never really thought I would be the person developing those materials, so maybe there is someone out there who can do it right, and they will know when they read it. Maybe I will draw some short comics. Right now I am still in a learning phase, and I feel like something interesting is going to develop in my own life soon, but I do not yet know what that is going to be.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Band Review: XO Stereo


I was a little reluctant to do XO Stereo now, because I can only find on song by them. However, it's a pretty good song, and is for sale, so maybe that is reason enough:

https://itunes.apple.com/sg/album/show-tell-single/id695223667

Based in Los Angeles, XO Stereo is a rock band with members from The Hollowed (Cooper Campbell, vocals), From First to Last (Jon Weisberg, bass), and LoveHateHero (Justin Whitesel, guitar and keyboards).

Having listened a little to the other bands, I feel like XO Stereo is a little more sophisticated. That may be that everyone is more experienced, or just the way that this collaboration comes out, but it could also be that basing an opinion on only one song is highly speculative.

It at least seems fair to say that they should do more.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Band Review: Dan Woko


Dan is a singer/songwriter from Stoke-on-Trent and was formerly the frontman for Translucid.

Generally when musicians follow me on Twitter and I add them to the review list they are actively looking for gigs or selling music of have something to promote. I am not sure that is the case here.

There are primarily two listening options. Youtube has a few videos, all live performances but some in venues and some done at home. With Soundcloud there is a more random mix, including fragments of songs that were being worked on and can be found in other files in their completed form.

As a lot of it is only Dan and a guitar, there is kind of a busker feel to it. He does that well, being natural in front of the camera, and performing well, but it doesn't have a really unified feel, especially on the Soundcloud side. If they are being used for marketing it is probably not effective, but it seems like they are more for just sharing, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The key track to hear is probably "One of These Days", and you can watch a video of Dan performing it, or listen to both a finished and unfinished track at Soundcloud.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Library memories, Eugene


I think I got my Eugene City Library card fairly early in my college career, but I mainly remember using it during my senior year as I tried to find everything written on the Buffalo Soldiers ever.

Most of what I remember finding there was related to African American studies. There was a book of humor that was well-written but fairly uncomfortable, some James Baldwin, and one book with lots of material from former slaves, like letters, interviews, and speeches. At one time I thought it might be one of John W. Blassingame's collections, but now I think it might be from Herbert Gutman. (My favorite things about Goodreads is easily being able to track what I have read and when.)

Anyway, I was flipping through it and found some letters from former slaves. One was familiar because it was in the manual from Professor Taylor.

Dr. Quintard Taylor Jr was the professor who led my seminar, African Americans in the American West, but before that I had taken two terms of The African American Experience from him. I only took two terms because I had been working during fall term, but I was very grateful when he loaned me the fall term manual. 


The class textbook was John Hope Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom, but Dr. Taylor had also assembled a collection of supplemental materials. The familiar letter was from the Winter term class, HIST 252. It was the one from Laura Spicer's first husband, asking for some hair from the children, and pleading with her to marry again. Slavery had separated them, and he had a new wife and children by the time they were free.


That letter had moved me, but in this book it was right next to another one that made me smile. A former master had apparently written to his former slaves asking them to return as employees, and while it was clear the actual answer was "Hell No!", what Jourdan answered drove it home in a much better way.


Laura's letter was tragic, but Jourdan's was triumphant, and it felt good to me that there could be triumphs.

I really wanted Professor Taylor to see it, so I checked the book out, and he took down the information, and I got the impression he was going to add it to his booklet for future terms.

I then returned the book and continued my studies, because that's what you do, but I always remembered that letter and wanted to read it again. I would occasionally do internet searches, generally searching on "Grundy has a head for a preacher" because it was the sentence I could remember most exactly.

I never found it by searching, but one day there was a headline about a letter that I knew had to be it, and it was. And people didn't believe it.

There were so many comments doubting that any slave could really write that, and whether it was just doubting the level of education or that slavery was really that bad, it was all sickening.

Yes, slaves did not get the best educations, and Jourdan did in fact dictate the letter, not write it himself, but that doesn't mean that they can't have wit, or sarcasm. And for everyone thinking it was made up, I knew it wasn't. I had seen the letter and loved it years ago, and the book had been published and in a library long before I found it.

Actually, it is not impossible that I played a part. If Dr. Taylor did include the letter with his lesson material, well, he's had a lot of students so that would lead to more people seeing it. My classes with him were in 1992 and 1996, so there's been some time.

I guess that's my brag for the week, but there are two more points here. When I started thinking that it might have been Blassingame, it was after reading The Slave Community and starting to realize just how much raw data he amassed. You can find gems while doing this, but a lot of is routine and tedious. It's also necessary; the pattern that you notice in the records of three plantations may be an anomaly, but when you go through hundreds of records (or thousands) you get a clearer view.

There are amazing letters like Jourdan's, and heart-wrenching ones, and also boring ones, but over and over former slaves do communicate and testify and it is only the ignorance of the posters on the one article that allowed them to doubt the letter's veracity.

My other point, and I can't properly attribute this, is that I had read something a few months ago about how it is important for boys to read books with different types of protagonists. They learn empathy in this way, especially at certain ages, maybe around third grade.

I do not doubt finding protagonists of color is an issue, but I know that boys are actively discouraged from reading books where the girl is the main character. Girls can read about boys, but boys won't read about girls - they say the same thing about movies. Put it together and this gives us a world where boys don't even fully recognize girls as people and there is a system holding that in place. Consider more about what is out there for books and movies and images, and how representation goes, and it's chilling.

I mention it in this context because it goes back to the Libraries and Democracy post, and especially the linked article on opportunities for literacy based on the economic status of the neighborhood. In a library you have many different books and in a well-staffed one you have librarians helping guide children to appropriate books. You have story time. Exposure to other viewpoints is available. There is so much good that can be done. There is so much good that is desperately needed.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Library Memories, University of Oregon


Yes, yesterday's post was set at the University of Oregon, but focused on the Knight Library. Early in my college career, I thought people were going to the "night" library, which I imagined to be a place for evening study. It sounded reasonable enough, but I was mistaken.

As stated in the previous post, people seemed to use the Knight Library more for study space than for its contents, but there was not only the Knight Library. We also had a Math and Science library. I know, because I worked at both of them.

It was part of my financial aid package. Previously, with no financial aid package, the only campus jobs I had been able to get were all in the dining hall. I was grateful for those jobs, but the libraries were better. Both had great supervisory staff, and I still remember them fondly, but the libraries were easier, more interesting work.

The Math Library was in Fenton Hall, and mainly notable for how very quiet it was. I would find a few books to shelve on the average shift, and I might see someone there once in a month of shifts, but that was it. If I was ever going to be murdered during college, that would have been a good place to do it, but the odds of someone thinking of looking for a victim there seemed low, because that would involve knowing where it was.

The Science Library, in Onyx Bridge Hall, was bigger, newer, and livelier. Those materials were being used all the time. I know because there were always things to shelve, and one of the things that we would do when other things were caught up was check shelves to see if things were in order, and they never were.

There were some books, but I would guess 90 percent of the materials were scientific journals. There were fairly traditional things like The Lancet or The Journal of the American Medical Association, but there were also fun things like The Journal of Irreproducible Results and The Worm Runner's Digest. If those last two don't sound familiar, I had not heard of them before either, but just reading a letter correcting faulty reasoning in a previous issue's article on conjoined twins in gummy bears, well, academic journals don't need to be stuffy.

There was never a lot of time to get caught up in anything, but there were always ideas there. It was during this time that I got into Smithsonian and Psychology Today magazines. It wasn't just the library -- that was helped by a Smithsonian found on a train, and a Psychology Today cover in the campus bookstore that looked interesting. However, it was at the Science Library that I saw the Smithsonian with the cover of Vermeer's Girl with a pearl earring, and one of my coworkers told me no matter who saw the painting they thought they girl looked familiar but could not place her. Now we all just think she looks like Scarlett Johannson.

(It was an excellent article too. The description of View of Delft, and how Proust referenced it in Remembrance of Things Past, was the first thing to make me really start noticing portrayal of light in painting.)

Still, there were three things that came to me in about a week's time that probably made the biggest impression. Two were books that came through, one on a cart and one at the desk.

The first was Robert Bakker's The Dinosaur Heresies. Based on the eye-catching headline I read the first part, that all of our ideas of the duck-billed dinosaurs (hadrosaurs) were predicated on a damaged jawbone found for the first specimen, and finding correct specimens did not change that. If Bakker overreached on deciding that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, the ideas on shallow seas patterns of extinction still seemed brilliant to me.

Then on a book cart I found The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals: From the Lost Ark to the New Zoo and Beyond by Karl Shuker, focusing on animals discovered since 1901. I hadn't realized how new some species were. Obviously they existed, but we didn't know about them.

The third book was shown to me, which is why I don't remember the title. An older gentleman showed me a passage that referred to finding archaeological evidence of maize in India before Columbus visited the Americas, where it was commonly believed to have been discovered. After finding this article, I'm pretty sure the man was Carl L. Johannessen:


Anyway, the way these worked together, coming so close together, was that I concluded that science must be a constant process of learning that you were wrong. Because of that, scientists should be remarkably humble people, though I'm not sure investigation would bear that out.

Bakker may have gotten some things wrong, but he changed the way people were thinking so they could figure it out. Jared Diamond did an amazing job with Guns, Germs and Steel, and he inspired many people with it. The word is that he got some things wrong too, which is not terribly surprising considering how many different disciplines he touched on, but the reason people can point to mistakes is because he took a risk and got them thinking.

Actually, I think one of the people Diamond inspired was Charles Mann, who wrote 1491, and if you think that trying to correct entrenched wrong ideas is easy, especially in anthropology, you need to read his book. You are wading into a pit of vipers, but it's valuable, and inspirational.

All of those things inspire me. There are so many incidents where I remember the time and place of discovering a book so clearly, because it was an important moment and the library made it happen. Libraries bring many books together, and they bring the humans together with the books. Together there is the sharing of knowledge, but it is not static. It can kindle other ideas, lead to new quests for knowledge, and even change us as people.

That's what I will try and drive home tomorrow.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Library memories, Balzac


Discussing libraries with a friend, one thing she mentioned was that she never really used her University's library. People went there to study, but did not really use the collection there.

While that probably changes based on your major, this was largely true of the Knight Library at University of Oregon too, but I personally had three exceptions.

One happened during that horrible summer where I tried staying in town despite not being enrolled in classes. Just needing to get away I went to the library and got lost in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I didn't end up finishing the book until years later, but that memory stayed with me. It was kind of an oasis in a really bad time.

Another exception was for my seminar. Every history major had to complete a seminar class. There were weekly reading assignments that would be discussed in class, plus a twenty page research paper. The reading assignments were often articles from various historical journals, and each class member trying to track them down individually would have been impractical, so Professor Taylor had a shelf set up with what we needed, and that worked. Even if you ran into one of your fellow students, there were usually four or five articles, so it was workable. That term I was in the library every week.

If the first use was essentially pleasure, and the second was totally coursework, the third one was somewhere in between. I took a French Literature class on Balzac and Stendhal. My memory says I bought the required books of course, but I just did not understand one of them, Balzac's Une Affaire Ténébreuse, but part of me wonders if I tried saving money by not purchasing the books and just checking them out. What I know for sure is that I tried reading it in Spanish. (They did not have it in English.)

Technically my French is probably better than my Spanish, but I was kind of desperate. Eventually I realized that was how the book was supposed to be. There is a plot, and subterfuge, and the whole affair is murky, which is basically what the title tells you is going to happen.

I struggled with that one. One thing that had really stuck out to me though is that there were two female characters who seemed remarkably similar to Louise de Rénal and Mathilde de la Môle (from Stendhal's Le Rouge et le Noir), in both physical description and personality type, and then in their respective fates.

I went on about this in the final comparison essay, trying to reach five pages, even though the professor said it did not really need to be five pages after requesting a five page paper. That made about an extra page of rambling that she felt was pointless.

Reading that I though but there was a point, because really it was like both authors were showing a previous and a current model of French womanhood, and while both would suffer greatly only the newer one was strong enough to survive it, and if you have that coming from two different authors, that would seem to reflect something, which would have made a lot of sense to try and articulate in the essay, but the idea had still been forming there. I knew there was a connection, I was still getting it.

Anyway, if discovering Un Asunto Tenebroso was not particularly helpful, there was quite a bit of other Balzac there, in various languages, and his range was surprising. I did not read everything available, and I don't know that I really like Balzac enough to try and read all of La Comédie Humaine. After reading through The Girl with the Golden Eyes, I at least get why they sneer "Balzac" that way in The Music Man.  

(It's not every day that you go to murder your lover only to find her already murdered by her other lover whom you instantly recognize as your half sister.)