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White History Month
October 10, 2012 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Why America needs a White History Month
posted by Artw (123 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nice idea, but it would be immediately co-opted by the racists and celebrated in the precise way all right-thinking people would wish to avoid.
posted by elizardbits at 10:51 AM on October 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


April is Confederate History Month; I say we just co-opt that.
posted by Zed at 10:53 AM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why America needs a White History Month

So more people can learn about the subtle, yet persistent, awesomeness that is MikeMc?
posted by MikeMc at 10:55 AM on October 10, 2012


This piece seems pretty uninformed as to the way modern history is conducted.
posted by HumanComplex at 10:55 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


And a reading, writing and arithmatic month while they're at it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:56 AM on October 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


This piece seems pretty uninformed as to the way modern history is conducted.

What do you mean by this? And how recent is "modern"?
posted by peep at 10:59 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


White History Month? How come there isn't a WHITE White History Month?
posted by Greg Nog at 11:01 AM on October 10, 2012 [29 favorites]


This piece seems pretty uninformed as to the way modern history is conducted.

The way history is done in the academic setting has virtually nothing to do with how the American public understands history, in my experience/opinion.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:02 AM on October 10, 2012 [18 favorites]


White History Month? How come there isn't a WHITE White History Month?

Today, class, we will be learning about Edgar Winter...
posted by phunniemee at 11:03 AM on October 10, 2012 [20 favorites]


But this is the United States, and we enjoy our pageantry. Let us observe White History Month and use it to rescue white America from itself.

There will be a contest for best "Invisible Backpack"-themed parade float.
posted by griphus at 11:03 AM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The way history is done in the academic setting has virtually nothing to do with how the American public understands history, in my experience/opinion.

Primarily in the firm of implausible jingoistic nonsense, as far as I can make out.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every month is White History Month.
posted by Talez at 11:07 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hell, even Black History Month is kind of lame. America doesn't really do mirrors well, yet.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:08 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every month is white history month.
posted by Talez at 11:07 AM on October 10 [+] [!]


As if that wasn't in the article right up top. Did you read it??
posted by basicchannel at 11:12 AM on October 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Primarily in the firm of implausible jingoistic nonsense, as far as I can make out.

Of course, David Cameron just described the UK as a country that "has held off invaders for over 1000 years", so being from an ex-empire doesn't completly immunize you against saying stupid shit.
posted by Artw at 11:13 AM on October 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


Nice idea, but it would be immediately co-opted by the racists and celebrated in the precise way all right-thinking people would wish to avoid.

On the other hand that would do a lot to emphasize the terrible and cruel privilege whiteness exercises in the US.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:14 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There will be a contest for best "Invisible Backpack"-themed parade float.

it'll just be floats full of people getting really defensive over very generalized statements not specifically directed at them
posted by elizardbits at 11:15 AM on October 10, 2012 [24 favorites]


Nice idea but I agree with the above, no matter what the intent, it would be corrupted immediately. If history has taught us anything, it's that we're (USA) really bad at history. Pick a holiday or observance at random and see how accurately we commemorate it. Within a decade white history month would see us celebrating by wearing nothing but green, getting drunk on cider, eating tacos, and throwing eggs at squirrels while saying 9/11, never forget.
posted by hypersloth at 11:15 AM on October 10, 2012 [19 favorites]


And a car show.
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's every afternoon, buddy.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:16 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


"has held off invaders for over 1000 years"

Do you think it's that he can't actually do math or that he's just not heard of the Norman Conquest?
posted by elizardbits at 11:16 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


What we need is history in public schools that isn't filtered through the lens of the Texas State Board of Education.
posted by lordrunningclam at 11:20 AM on October 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Fox News would be all over this idea like War on Christmas. You thought the Tea Party was co-opted in record time?
posted by eyeballkid at 11:20 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kind of a troll article. Not a lot of meat to it, it's all over the map, and it offhandedly rejects its own premise. It should bait the "but I'M not racist!" keyboard commandoes into giving us an afternoon's entertainment, and the resulting MeTa will undoubtedly provide day after day of amusement.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:20 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you think it's that he can't actually do math or that he's just not heard of the Norman Conquest?
In all fairness, that was only just under 1,000 years ago.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:21 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The article doesn't really talk about how the proposed "White History" month would be specifically Caucasian. In fact, the author simply seems to be lamenting that we need to be more conscious of all American history, rather than specific bits and pieces.

An "American History Month" would necessarily need to extensively discuss the role that immigration played in shaping the current American society. We wouldn't need to restrict that conversation to one particular race.
posted by schmod at 11:21 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nice idea, but it would be immediately co-opted by the racists and celebrated in the precise way all right-thinking people would wish to avoid.

Do it now, before whites became a minority in the US and start having legitimate complaints about being discriminated against. Currently, white racists are the minority. That wouldn't be the case when whites actually become a minority.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:22 AM on October 10, 2012


Every month is white history month

I won't spoil the whole article for you, but the subtitle is "Viewing the past through the lens of privilege obscures who got hurt in the process. White America needs saving from its myopia"

OK, I'll spoil it a bit. It quotes James Baldwin, who said
White Americans really do not not know their history, and that's one of the reasons they're in trouble. And when I suggest White History Week, I'm not making a parody of Black History Week, but I'm suggesting that the truth about this country is buried in the myths that white people have about themselves. These myths have to be excavated and only can be excavated by white people.
The author of the article, Mychal Denzel Smith, and Baldwin, are saying that there is not one monolithic, always-triumphant White People.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


April is Confederate History Month; I say we just co-opt that.

Oh, you mean "Treason in Defense of Slavery Month."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


This was a poor and unnecessarily racially charged way to say we need to rethink how we teach history to school aged children. That, I agree with. We need to move past the popular mythologies and rote learning of dates, connect our national history to the culture, economics, politics, and attitudes of the time, cross-cultural analysis, all that good stuff. But calling it white history month is counterproductive to doing just that.
posted by peacrow at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


In all fairness, that was only just under 1,000 years ago.

It's not like it's a FAMOUS date or anything...

Once you get outside of England it's much trickier as well...
posted by Artw at 11:23 AM on October 10, 2012


Do you think it's that he can't actually do math or that he's just not heard of the Norman Conquest?

In all fairness, that was only just under 1,000 years ago.



Are we not counting The Glorious Revolution as an invasion anymore?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:28 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or The Bishops' Wars for that matter?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:30 AM on October 10, 2012


In all fairness, that was only just under 1,000 years ago.

Yes. So he can't do maths, then?
posted by elizardbits at 11:35 AM on October 10, 2012


This piece seems pretty uninformed as to the way modern history is conducted.

History as most people learn it has about as much resemblance to reality as Romulus and Remus suckling at the teats of a she-wolf.

Are we not counting The Glorious Revolution as an invasion anymore?

That has never been counted as an invasion by the English whose talent for PR was apparent even back then. "An invasion by a foreign monarch would be embarrassing, let's rebrand this as a Revolution. Not just any Revolution - A Glorious Revolution!"
posted by atrazine at 11:36 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


There was a bloke named Omar
and he wore a ruby hat.
He lived on loaves of bread and thou,
but who cares about that?
I can't tell you when he was born
The only date that sticks,
is Will-I-Am the Conqueror
And that's 1066
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:37 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


While I recognize (in large part thanks to Metafilter) that straight white males often have a certain amount of inherent privilege that minorities do not, and I feel that this is something that needs to be corrected, it seems a little extreme to have a month specifically dedicated to shaming us for it.

Furthermore, the whole of human existence is littered with conflict and brutality, not just white society. It's just that for a variety of geographic and socioeconomic reasons, Europe developed in a way that made them become much better at it than anybody else. Guns, Germs, and Steel (which I highly recommend) documents many instances of tribes of non-white civilizations inflicting countless cruelties and genocides on each other and then being exterminated in their own turn when Europeans came along. I'd like to think humanity has evolved beyond these primitive urges somewhat, but trying to make white people feel bad about the past seems somewhat like a barracuda trying to shame a shark for eating more fish.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:38 AM on October 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


When I was a kid, my history teacher would dedicate the Friday classes from March until May to reading and testing us for comprehension on stories from this book, which is basically an account of various discriminated groups and different points in time. It was an early primer on the mutability of the concept of race, for one thing, and a concept of how assimilation can change how groups are not only thought of in the present, but remembered.

What I'm saying is that my fifth grade history class was so much more awesome than yours, and it took me a really long time to understand how odd that experience was.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:38 AM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I celebrated Columbus Day by reading Howard Zinn to my World History class. I think the author is a wee bit uninformed about how progressive some high school history has gotten.
posted by nestor_makhno at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone here told me it is impossible to not exercise my privilege, so naturally I am worried all the time now.

I already made the standing offer to any non-white people that if they need someone to hail a cab or talk to the cops for them to hit me up on Yahoo! instant messenger. The problem with that plan is that while we may be pulling one over on the man, I am perpetuating my privilege by using it, even on behalf of people with less privilege.

In fact, using my privilege on behalf of people that I may feel have less is the very definition of patriarchy.

The situation is so bad, that the act of complaining about all this privilege I have seems entirely ridiculous. It is almost like comlaining that I have so much money I can't fit it all in my pockets so I had to buy a gym bag.

I'd be interested in a back to europe movement but I don't know if it would be cool to just apologize slink off at this point.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


So basically it's Howard Zinn for all.
posted by notyou at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


William the Conqueror is a lot more fun when you call him Guillaume le Conquérant with a big rolled r.
posted by winna at 11:42 AM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


The problem with the White History Month suggested in this article is that American whites are actually many different kinds of white. I'm white and I'm Jewish. Others are white and Italian. Others still may be descendants of Mayflower passengers. Really the only thing we have in common is that we don't get discriminated against because of skin color.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:43 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


We read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States in my AP US History Class in High School, pretty much in place of the textbook, and we all did well on the exam. I got a five (out of five).

Judging from Facebook, most of the kids in that class are now lifelong progressives.
posted by sweetkid at 11:43 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


aka billy the bastard
posted by elizardbits at 11:44 AM on October 10, 2012


Also, I distinctly remember that my seventh grade history teacher started off the year by recommending us 'Lies my Teacher Told Me' and leading a debate on slave reparations. So maybe inner city magnet schools only have a passable math department but are secretly leading the world in progressive social studies.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:44 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


but trying to make white people feel bad about the past seems somewhat like a barracuda trying to shame a shark for eating more fish.

Man, sharks are touchy.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:45 AM on October 10, 2012


Do you think it's that he can't actually do math or that he's just not heard of the Norman Conquest?

It means he pretty much has no idea at all of the history of Britain. It's been one invasion after another basically forever. Granted, there hasn't been a successful invasion since the 17th Century, but still.

* * *

As to White History Month, the author's right. There really is a lack of knowledge about why most of the white people who find themselves outside of Europe came to be here in the first place, and it's probably that lack of knowledge that's responsible for a lot of the lack of empathy towards other groups. I would suggest, however, that instead of "White History Month," the exact same thing could be called "Refugee History Month" or something.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:46 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't it be neat if we just ignored that nugget altogether?
posted by Burhanistan at 11:47 AM on October 10, 2012


I think intolerance history month would have the same effect. Bigotry history month?
posted by dinty_moore at 11:49 AM on October 10, 2012


Seconding Lies My Teacher Told Me. A real eye-opener, even for an informed adult.
posted by DU at 11:51 AM on October 10, 2012


And to those people explaining how progressive their high school is: cool story, bro.

Not everyone's is like that, by a long shot. And even if every single school taught like that, there's a significant chunk of the populace that isn't in high school anymore and use a little education.
posted by DU at 11:54 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am all for this, actually.

Larry the Cable guy has been shilling for an over the counter Heartburn pill and in the opening of the commercial, he goes "You know what I love most about this country? Trick question! I love everything about this country! " and then I'll spend the rest of the commercial going over American atrocities in my head (Hiroshima, trail of tears, Manifest Destiny, Abu ghraib) while mentally asking Larry The Cable guy if he really loves everything about this country.
posted by hellojed at 11:56 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


it seems a little extreme to have a month specifically dedicated to shaming us for it.

I don't get this leap. Why would discussing and understanding the historical facts of white domination be the equivalent of "shaming us?" (Who's "us?") If it's all truly in the past, then acknowledging and examining a real history that often gets swept under the carpet or shined up and romanticized should be a laudable and comfortable activity for all of us, since we no longer participate in it, and roundly condemn it. If that's the case, shame doesn't have to enter into it.

But if in the examination we find - as I suspect we would - that the ongoing support and maintenance of those myths has impacts on contemporary society that are negative for nonwhites and continue to privilege whites, and that we are personally implicated in participating in and upholding these myths, then yes, I think that would be reason for feelings of shame. Wouldn't it?

Or not? And if not, why not?

If you really think that the injustices of the past are not being reinterpreted as hero stories in the present, then there's nothing to fear from this conversation. But if you suspect, as I do, that the way we accept, unthinkingly, and promulgate these myths carries its own sort of shame, then I think you already accept the premise that this sort of day might be needed to correct the record and pave the way for changed behavior.

It's just that for a variety of geographic and socioeconomic reasons, Europe developed in a way that made them become much better at it than anybody else.

I read that book as well, and the idea that they were "better at it" is not the lesson I drew. Instead, it was the idea that they developed in ways that gave them an often-unexpected advantage in conflict, and exploited that, steered by values that were developed in isolation of the understanding of the equality of man, to subjugate others.
posted by Miko at 12:05 PM on October 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


(Hiroshima, trail of tears, Manifest Destiny, Abu ghraib)

And yet, if you put 10 Americans in a room, would all ten really agree with all four of those as atrocities? What about the ones that are missing? I would have said our record in Central America well ahead of Hiroshima, for example (I know that you probably weren't ranking them in order).

But it's good to talk about this stuff. Everyone, every where should have an answer to the question: "What's the worst thing my country has ever done?"
posted by BeeDo at 12:06 PM on October 10, 2012


Well, the purpose of going on about how awesome my middle school aged history courses were was to point out that there's material for this is already out there that's age appropriate. This isn't something we need to create, this is something that we need to try and enforce.

And the purpose of this isn't to shame white people into feeling bad. It's not white guilt month. It's in order to recognize that this is a part of our history that we repeat all the damn time. New people come in, they look or act weird, we brand them as unamerican and become suspicious of them. We try to protect the privileged people's interests by shunting most of the damage onto everyone else.

Knowing that this happens means that kids are more likely to recognize the patterns in the future, and maybe question or stop it.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:06 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read the title and was pre-incensed by the title but actually thought it was a good way to frame the ideas that he's trying to talk about and more to the point, want to read more of James Baldwin's speech. Anyone found a transcript? (YouTube blocked at work)
posted by jessamyn at 12:08 PM on October 10, 2012


And how recent is "modern"?
posted by peep at 10:59 AM on October 10 [1 favorite +] [!]


Somewhere in between early-modern and future.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:10 PM on October 10, 2012


Listen, I don't need you people trying to convince me that I'm not descended from the kings and queens of Europe, famous genius composers, and crazy smart scientists. When the boss is chewing me out and gas is up ten cents a gallon (because of the price-gouging Arabs, naturally) and my job might get shipped overseas (because of the job-gobbling Chinese/Mexicans, naturally), my royal blood is all that gets me through the day. It's my reassurance that no matter what happens, I am morally, intellectually, and spiritually superior to a pretty sizable chunk of the planet, not to mention more attractive and probably taller. Don't remind me that my grandparents were basically janitors or farmers for the last ten thousand years. So, like, come on.
posted by deathpanels at 12:10 PM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


The problem with the White History Month suggested in this article is that American whites are actually many different kinds of white. I'm white and I'm Jewish.

Oh, no, he's got you covered -
"White immigrants of the 18th and 19th century, particularly those of eastern European descent, experienced discrimination, but gradually gained acceptance as they embraced American racism and the white Anglos needed more among their ranks to ensure they retained power."
This is baloney, as immigrants were soaking in race prejudice before they even stepped off the boat. One way in which Thomas Dorr was undermined by his Charterite enemies after he forced them to adopt his reforms, literally at gunpoint, was to extend suffrage to any free man, regardless of race, something his Irish immigrant allies were violently opposed to, but his other sympathizers enthusiastic about. So even tho his rebellion failed, his allies on all sides turned against him, he still wound up getting largely what he wanted - universal suffrage (for men who could pay the poll tax, at least.)

The Guardian's got a lot more heat than light going on in that piece. Race/click-baiting.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:11 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Of course, David Cameron just described the UK as a country that "has held off invaders for over 1000 years", so being from an ex-empire doesn't completly immunize you against saying stupid shit.

The stupid shit isn't that he's a few years off on the Norman Conquest, it's that there was no "UK" (union of England, Wales, Scotland, and (Northern) Ireland) for many of those 1000 years, and the fact that there is one now involved an awful lot of invasion of the last three countries.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:12 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


How much does the Guardian pay for stuff like this?
posted by IndigoJones at 12:13 PM on October 10, 2012


(YouTube blocked at work)
posted by jessamyn


That gave me quite a laugh before I remembered that you have another job besides mod.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:14 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem with the White History Month suggested in this article is that American whites are actually many different kinds of white. I'm white and I'm Jewish. Others are white and Italian. Others still may be descendants of Mayflower passengers. Really the only thing we have in common is that we don't get discriminated against because of skin color.

Black History Month (if not done carefully) suffers from this same problem. It's like, wait, we're not gonna talk about rural black culture in the 20th century? We're not gonna talk about people who have come up from Haiti or Cuba or Trinidad or Brazil? We're not gonna talk about the Black Seminole? We're not gonna talk about the whole Black Muslim thing and all its cultural importance? We're not gonna talk about black royalists during the Revolutionary War, some of whom FWIW ended up in a reasonably cushy situation when the whole thing was finished? We're not gonna talk about immigration from Somalia and Ethiopia?

I'm not saying everyone handles Black History Month this badly. But the default does tend to be this monolithic narrative, where it's like "Every single black-skinned family in the world was brought to North America as plantation slaves, joined the Baptist church, farmed in Northern Mississippi until 1915, moved to a big city to work in a factory, got attacked with firehoses in 196?, and got really into hip-hop sometime around 1980." I've seen people genuinely startled that say Cuban-American or Somali-American culture isn't just mainstream big-city black American culture with the English-speaking bits rubbed off.

On the other hand, I'd rather people know the default monolithic narrative than have them be ignorant even of that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:14 PM on October 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


This might have been more relevant a few days ago ... you know, Indigenous Peoples Day?

Compare: Chris Columbus and Khal Drogo.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:17 PM on October 10, 2012


I think that everyone, everyone, could stand to know more about history, and that it really does provide context to the world as we know it. Necessary context.

However. This article is really kind of empty and pointless. "White History" is obviously intended as an attention grab (gasp!) but it's a really artificial way of framing this, and quickly falls apart.

If your cause is history and education, and not dogma and ideology, then framing your piece as "white history month" isn't a great place to start.

More op-ed link grab trash.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:19 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get this leap. Why would discussing and understanding the historical facts of white domination be the equivalent of "shaming us?"

Miko, look at excerpts like "Whiteness has its privileges, and among them is that your view of history is through that of the default, the conqueror, the triumphant. And when you can see history through that lens, you don't have to be burdened with understanding the consequences of your triumph from the perspective of those who were stepped on during the conquest." That is pretty much a roundabout and indirect way of suggesting that the "White History Month" being proposed will force white people to review history through the perspective of the minorities whom they "stepped on", to use the author's words. Obviously the author can't directly suggest something as racist as "White Shaming Month", so it makes logical sense to couch it in platitudes such as this.

If it's all truly in the past, then acknowledging and examining a real history that often gets swept under the carpet or shined up and romanticized should be a laudable and comfortable activity for all of us, since we no longer participate in it, and roundly condemn it.

Oh certainly. In fact, I fully support that... as long as you support doing the same for Black History Month. For example, Black history month could delve in the topic of slavery prior to European involvement, such as the slave-trading kingdoms of the Ashanti (whose capital, Kumasi, is in today's Ghana), the kings of Bonny (in what is now the Nigerian delta), and the kings of Dahomey (known today as Benin). In 1726, for example, it is said that the king of Dahomey agreed to supply slaves if Europeans established plantations in his kingdom.

That makes perfect sense, right? After all, "acknowledging and examining a real history that often gets swept under the carpet" such as this "should be a laudable and comfortable activity for all of us"... weren't those your exact words? And if there's no shame involved, then shouldn't we examine unpleasant pieces of history equally for minorities and non-minorities alike?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:21 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obviously the author can't directly suggest something as racist as "White Shaming Month", so it makes logical sense to couch it in platitudes such as this.

Actually, quite the opposite. A study of race in American history would show most "white" Americans that their ancestors were as beaten and downtrodden as everyone else.

It's contentious framing, so it's understandable that you'd miss that distinction; the article title is a pretty obvious troll.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:27 PM on October 10, 2012


It is pretty clearly not truly in the past.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:31 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems to me, and it seems as though this has been reiterated multiple times, but instead of a 'white history month' we just need better history classes in general. Full Stop.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:33 PM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Didn't Martin Mull already cover most of this stuff?
posted by ShutterBun at 12:35 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obviously the author can't directly suggest something as racist as "White Shaming Month", so it makes logical sense to couch it in platitudes such as this.

It sounds like your objection is that if you assume that the author is lying and has a sinister secret motive then the whole thing looks pretty bad.

Which, you know, I agree with. If you make that assumption. But why would you make it? Why assume that he's lying?

If the actual overt proposal he made seems sound, and your only objection has to do with some dog-whistle secret meaning which you're reading into it — well, at the very least, I think you need to show us that there actually is a community of readers who are listening out for that dog-whistle.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:38 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, the idea of a "white" cultural identity is so weird. Like, I just don't connect with 19th century racialisms at all, and the idea of thinking that "white" connotes a coherent culture like "African American" or "black" does is just baffling.

I was thinking about this a bit when recently some Stormfront yobbos invaded a friend's blog (he wrote about how the Republicans in Michigan are now embracing a white supremacist after he won the primary), and how they had this image of, like, this monolithic block of white experience that was somehow both a source of pride and in need of defense. It's just, like, a brainbending inversion of reading Said's Orientalism.
posted by klangklangston at 12:43 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


> Do you think it's that he can't actually do math or that he's just not heard of the Norman Conquest?

He has comic book history where the Normans were English people reconquering and the last time there was a real invasion was when the Saxons took out King Arthur.
posted by bukvich at 12:43 PM on October 10, 2012


Sounds like a job for A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, which is a great book.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:52 PM on October 10, 2012


In 8th grade, I took a yearlong class called "Struggles." Struggles I dealt with historical persecutions of Jewish people, up to and including the Holocaust. Struggles II dealt with the legacy of slavery, from the trans-Atlantic trade through the Civil Rights movement. I believe that class existed only because of the demographic processes in my city: what had previously been a predominantly Jewish community was in the process of becoming a middle-class black suburb.

The teacher, Mr. Barker, was a near-obsessive devotee of primary sources, and we were not taught from any type of standardized text. Instead we would look at old accounts of the Pale of Settlement, or look at the ads for slave auctions. Our major culminating field trip was to the local Holocaust memorial museum, where we met a concentration camp survivor, who spoke with our class and patiently answered our questions. In addition to learning some concrete lessons about the moral arc of history, and the sacrifices made to further push it along, many of my classmates from that year have gone on to work in public and social service positions (e.g., teachers, social workers, organizers). On reflection, that last sentence may be why these types of classes are opposed by many right-wing types.

I remember being told by my father that reparations and affirmative action were unfair to white folk like us, whose families had only entered the States after 1900. While I heard a certain fairness in that line of argument, a little searching through my family tree revealed generations of slave owners from 6 of the 8 great-grandparents lines. No one wants their family saga to start with villains, but despite this, there is a pop-culture fondness for tearing down our heroes. It's enough to make one wish there were graphic novel volumes of "A People's History" packaged as a gritty reboot of American history, with dramatic and violent comic-style art.
posted by palindromic at 12:57 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Klang -- the thing is, "black" doesn't denote a coherent culture either. To pick a really simple opposition: even among Americans who are descended from slaves, big-city northern black culture and rural southern black culture are very, very different.

I guess you could argue that there's at least a shared black American experience — a common way that people who present as black are treated, growing up surrounded by a certain kind of racism etc etc., shaping their lives in a certain way yadda yadda. That would maybe be a counterpart to the "shared white experience" that those Stormfront nuts are assuming.

But even then I'm skeptical. When I look at the places I live, my intuition is that growing up around Michigan racism, growing up around Western PA racism and growing up around Texas racism have really gotta be three very different experiences.

Of course, the Stormfront nuts are still wrong to be assuming a shared white experience. I'm with you 100% on that part.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:59 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's enough to make one wish there were graphic novel volumes of "A People's History" packaged as a gritty reboot of American history, with dramatic and violent comic-style art.

That's sort of what Vertigo's Uncle Sam book was.
posted by griphus at 1:02 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


wolfdreams01: my class on the legacy of slavery in the 8th grade did in fact cover the actions of slave-trading tribes in Africa. In fact, every single class I've taken that directly dealt with slavery discusses the role of African slave-trading tribes. I took an overview class on African cultures in undergrad, and they also managed a fairly extensive discussion about the slave-trading Africa tribes.

Now, if you're talking about making African slave-trade a major piece of Black History month in America, well, those goal may not mix so well. By and large, Black History month is about Black Americans. Black Americans have been here for a few hundred years now, so I think they are owed a part in their own story. So, in the same way that high school American history classes don't necessarily focus on the multiple schisms, reformations, land wars, and dynastic scuffles in Europe that led to waves of migration to the States over time, neither should Black History month be beholden to its Old World origin story.
posted by palindromic at 1:09 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Klang -- the thing is, "black" doesn't denote a coherent culture either. To pick a really simple opposition: even among Americans who are descended from slaves, big-city northern black culture and rural southern black culture are very, very different. "

Eh… That's actually kind of out on a limb there. There's much more of a shared African American culture, and "black" culture isn't necessarily congruent with that — "black," at least as I understand it, is tied much more to the Black Nationalism and '70s Afrocentric movements. But with things like dialect and holidays and heroes, it's much more coherent than "white" culture; a similar example (though obviously not identical) would be how there's an Irish American culture that still exists (much more than a German American culture, which was really washed out by the world wars).
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on October 10, 2012


And for obvious reasons, I'm trying to avoid making sweeping pronouncements about Black Culture writ large, and mostly trying to stay within the boundaries of the couple of college classes I took on it.
posted by klangklangston at 1:17 PM on October 10, 2012


Within my memory Irish and Italian Americas fought turf wars over neighborhoods in New York. Even more recently, Puerto Ricans fought Italians as well as Dominican immigrants. I like to tease one of my bar friends by mentioning how awesome Hatians are. He goes into fits of rage over how Hatians think they are better than him. Conversely, a Hatian immigrant I dated refused to even speak to many of by bar buddies because she thought they were low class.

We are kind more like a stew pot than a melting pot I guess.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:23 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe there should be a Personal History Month.

Seriously, a time for every kid in school (and of course the parents) to consider where their family was 25, 50, 75, 100, 200, 400, 1000 years ago. What were they doing? How powerful were they? Which generations were winners? People, many people, especially white people, but not only, don't think of themselves as belonging to a race. What, beyond accent, language, and skin colour, do I have in common with other Scots-Irish people? Not much. But I can certainly imagine how my ancestors, my family, made a living, whether that was dying of starvation in Ireland and travelling to Canada to escape it, or killing dissidents in India for food and board.

Personalise it, the good and the bad ... it stops us from simplifying it.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:23 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What were they doing? How powerful were they? Which generations were winners?

Coincidentally, this will be "depress the living hell out of everyone" month for nearly everyone involved.

"On the run from Cossacks. On the run from Communists. On the run from Nazis. On the run from Communists again..."
posted by griphus at 1:26 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


But with things like dialect and holidays and heroes, it's much more coherent than "white" culture; a similar example (though obviously not identical) would be how there's an Irish American culture that still exists (much more than a German American culture, which was really washed out by the world wars).

I'll give you that — as far as I can tell it seems reasonable to say that northern and southern African American culture are about as similar as Boston Irish culture and West Virginia Irish culture.

I'm still tempted to focus on the differences rather than the similarities, but that's probably just me being perverse and quibbly.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:33 PM on October 10, 2012


It's enough to make one wish there were graphic novel volumes of "A People's History" packaged as a gritty reboot of American history, with dramatic and violent comic-style art.

A People's History of American Empire
posted by Zed at 1:38 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


wolfdreams01: my class on the legacy of slavery in the 8th grade did in fact cover the actions of slave-trading tribes in Africa

Yeah, I think the African slave trade is pretty commonly covered. It's certainly something I've always been aware of. Of course, if you go into it, you also have to acknowledge that it only became an external trade because there was an economic market created by those interested in empire-building in the New World; otherwise, coastal African traders would have no one to sell to, and the systems of slavery internal to Africa would have continued to be internal.

I don't object at all to facts being known and aired; it's nothing to be afraid of.

The history of Black History Month is that it grew from a movement that sought to counter total silence on black history and to create a space for discussing the specific role in American history of American blacks. I can't deny that its impulses were often celebratory.

I suppose that's the central question here: when we begin with an approach to history that seeks to do something like "honor," "memorialize," or "celebrate," we are not going to get a full and accurate history. We are going to get a project: a project with a particular cultural aim. In the case of Black History Month or Women's History Month, which respond to an entrenched history-teaching system that still does not do an adequate job of considering American history from more than one perspective, that project makes sense. If we were better at teaching history without introducing projects or agendas in its interpretation at all, we wouldn't need any kind of special history month. But we're not good at that, yet, and the article points out that standard "default history" suffers from the same blind spots and romanticization and emphasis on heroics that other history projects do, and that if we dug a little deeper, we would find that what we are typically putting forward is really similar: a "white history" that seeks to pick and choose only the glorious stories, and covers up an actual, complete history beneath.
posted by Miko at 1:46 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'd like to think humanity has evolved beyond these primitive urges somewhat, but trying to make white people feel bad about the past seems somewhat like a barracuda trying to shame a shark for eating more fish.

Coming from New Zealand, where the indigenes are fucking stone-cold hardcore, this line rings very true indeed.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:49 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favorite dumb argument is "hey, aren't the descendants of slaves lucky because they ended up outside of Africa, which is a really fucked up place." - cos, y'know, fucked up because of who?
posted by Artw at 1:53 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


And the purpose of this isn't to shame white people into feeling bad. It's not white guilt month. It's in order to recognize that this is a part of our history that we repeat all the damn time. New people come in, they look or act weird, we brand them as unamerican and become suspicious of them. We try to protect the privileged people's interests by shunting most of the damage onto everyone else.

I'm not sure if you (or several others here) know what either shame or guilt mean. If a group of people has done/are doing something wrong, they are guilty. If the point is they are white, the emphasis is on their being white and guilty. If they're to be made to feel bad about their guilt, to whatever end, they're to feel ashamed.
posted by michaelh at 2:04 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the case of Black History Month or Women's History Month, which respond to an entrenched history-teaching system that still does not do an adequate job of considering American history from more than one perspective, that project makes sense. If we were better at teaching history without introducing projects or agendas in its interpretation at all, we wouldn't need any kind of special history month.
Well, but it's not like we just screwed up and forgot to teach kids about history. It's not like the lack of history knowledge is evenly spread around. There isn't a lot of widespread complete ignorance of the moon landing, for example, or that time that the U.S. beat the crap out of Hitler. We're good at remembering historical events where we came out looking pretty good, even heroic and inspiring.

On the other hand, when it comes to mass murdering Indians, or putting Japanese Americans in what amounted to jail for years, or structuring an entire economy around forcing people stolen from Africa to grow cotton? Yeah, we kind of prefer to gloss over that. It makes us feel icky.

It's sort of like how, when you think about yourself you subconsciously call to mind times when you were at your best. Acing a big exam, or scoring a prestigious job, or completing a triathalon. You don't like to remember the time you got a little too drunk at a party and puked in the hallway. And there are thousands other embarrassing things you've done that you don't remember because they are inconvenient and painful things to recall. In fact, you basically suppress the memory of your various Hallway Pukings so you can keep believing in the possibility of being a triatholon-running genius.

Our national culture is no different. So I think we have to make a conscious effort to remember our Hallway Pukings. Does that mean that we need to have a Hallway Puking Day where we all take the day off to collectively remember everything about America that makes us sad? Maybe not. But it's one way of going about fighting off cultural amnesia.
posted by deathpanels at 2:13 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're good at remembering historical events where we came out looking pretty good, even heroic and inspiring.

That is exactly my point.
posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on October 10, 2012


Does that mean that we need to have a Hallway Puking Day where we all take the day off to collectively remember everything about America that makes us sad?

Also: it's interesting to note that a lot of religions have this kind of thing - the humility-inducer - built in. Our national religion of America worship, however, usually does not.
posted by Miko at 2:21 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Magna Carta month
posted by clavdivs at 2:39 PM on October 10, 2012


Historiography Month would be an obvious option, I guess. And demonstrating to children that their personal perspective is easily manipulated would be a whole lot of fun.
posted by mr. digits at 2:44 PM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


How about simply a Historical Atrocities Month? Slave Trade, Holocaust, Armenian Genocide, Indian Wars, Holodomor, Great Leap Forward, Colonization of Africa, Katyn, Mongolian Conquest, Conquistadors and the Aztecs (two in one!), Trail of Tears, Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Ethnic Cleansing, Rwanda and Darfur. Feel free to add more as needed.
posted by Hactar at 2:48 PM on October 10, 2012


On the other hand that would do a lot to emphasize the terrible and cruel privilege whiteness exercises in the US.

There's a difference between emphasis and empowerment.
posted by clarknova at 2:48 PM on October 10, 2012


Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Ethnic Cleansing, Rwanda and Darfur. Feel free to add more as needed.


more what?
posted by clavdivs at 2:58 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Armenian Genocide

See this is the thing. Until we can get people in positions of power to agree that there was a genocide (and I am not one of those people that needs convincing) we're not going to be able to even agree on what goes into Historical Atrocities Month. I went to a progressive liberal arts college which was definitely on the "let's pretty much talk about historical atrocities all the time" side of the spectrum, but even then, I didn't take it personally. The stuff is true. Different people have different opinions about how much priority to give to different events when you have a limited amount of space in a textbook and a bunch of state educational standards to meet.

This isn't about hallway puking scenarios. This is about the time you and your friend got into a fight that turned into a bit of A Thing only the only side of the story we've heard this whole time is yours (or theirs). There are more sides to most stories and we're all richer for knowing more of them.
posted by jessamyn at 3:02 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


We read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States in my AP US History Class in High School, pretty much in place of the textbook, and we all did well on the exam. I got a five (out of five).

Yeah, that's because Zinn was actually just compiling the best work by academic historians in the quarter-century before the book was published. It's not radical, really, as Pope Guilty was saying, but that the public narrative is anemic and toothless. Academic historians Know What's Up.
posted by liketitanic at 4:08 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Under a chair? In a tree? Inside the refrigerator shelf? Tucked behind a curtain?

White people's feelings! They're everywhere! Don't Hurt 'Em©
posted by threeants at 4:14 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


But with things like dialect and holidays and heroes, it's much more coherent than "white" culture

This is nonsense. The other black people in my own family don't even agree on holidays and heroes.

As to the original article, I agree 110%. I believe that there is a segment of the American white population who believe full bore in myths created (by and for them) whose purposes are to obfuscate reality and to engender a false sense of group pride. Whether or not this segment admits it or even realizes it, is another question entirely.

I also feel that, usually, a huge element of any sort of group privilege, is being taught to believe that your group, and the wonderful people in history that make up your group, are alone responsible for making the awesomeness that we are all now allowed to live in and why isn't everyone who isn't rich, white, male, straight, and cis-gendered, as grateful as they should be for this opportunity? I think it's generally a good idea to end that sort of fantasizing and to take the people who continue to perpetuate and believe these myths to task.

Unfortunately, another huge problem with myths created by dominant groups is that there is less of an audience for dissent and more consequences for pointing out the truth. And this imagined history becomes so important to group identity, that even when it is proven to be false and harmful it still lives on. I mean, I still have Columbus Day off for some reason?
posted by eunoia at 5:05 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arguing that people should learn X doesn't mean we need a specific "Month" about that particular thing.

Anyway, what he's really asking for is to teach the 'real' history of the U.S. I feel like my highschool did an "OK" job of teaching the negatives of US history, but it was obviously a long time ago.

Anyway, the real problem is that education in general sucks. If kids aren't learning math and science, you think they're going to get a good understanding of history?

I think History is actually important, but given all the educational problems in our country it's not going to be a priority.
posted by delmoi at 6:27 PM on October 10, 2012


We read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States in my AP US History Class in High School, pretty much in place of the textbook, and we all did well on the exam. I got a five (out of five).

Yeah, that's because Zinn was actually just compiling the best work by academic historians in the quarter-century before the book was published. It's not radical, really, as Pope Guilty was saying, but that the public narrative is anemic and toothless. Academic historians Know What's Up.


I didn't say it was radical, but it was very different from our textbook, and the whole tone of our class was very different than it would have been if we were taught to that book, or had a teacher who was only interested in teaching to the book so we all did well on the exam. Which really was her job, getting us to do well on the exam. She stretched further than that, and that's my point.
posted by sweetkid at 6:38 PM on October 10, 2012


Obviously the author can't directly suggest something as racist as "White Shaming Month", so it makes logical sense to couch it in platitudes such as this.

Being aware of, and facing up to, the truth of history from multiple perspectives rather than simply one is not shaming, it's...well, the truth.
posted by davejay at 7:32 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This is nonsense. The other black people in my own family don't even agree on holidays and heroes."

Well, no, it's really not. I realize that the knee-jerk contrarian position is to look to the differences while ignoring the similarities, but if you actually think it through, it's true. Kwanzaa and Juneteenth are not general American holidays — they're African American holidays. Folks like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes get short shrift compared to, say, Robert Frost and Jack Kerouac. There's even a wikipedia entry fer chrissakes. Tyler Perry does pretty close to zilch with everyone but African American audiences. The movie "Undercover Brother" makes absolutely no sense without a distinct African American culture.

I don't mean to whitesplain here, but there very much is an African American culture that is distinct from and more coherent than the general white experience in America. I know it's a broad claim, but I think it's pretty uncontroversial.
posted by klangklangston at 7:53 PM on October 10, 2012


The problem with the White History Month suggested in this article is that American whites are actually many different kinds of white. I'm white and I'm Jewish. Others are white and Italian. Others still may be descendants of Mayflower passengers. Really the only thing we have in common is that we don't get discriminated against because of skin color.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:43 PM on October 10


aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that's the point.
posted by liza at 8:28 PM on October 10, 2012


Well, no, it's really not. I realize that the knee-jerk contrarian position is to look to the differences while ignoring the similarities, but if you actually think it through, it's true.

I don't want to derail the thread further so this will be my last comment to you, but seriously, saying that you're not "whitesplaining" does not actually negate doing so.

I think maybe there is some confusion about what the word "culture" means. Black people are not a homogenous group, we do not all have the same religious beliefs, we do not all share the same values, we do not all behave similarly. Those are the sorts of qualities that make a up a shared culture instead of, say, a shared race or ethnicity. So I would say that yes, stating emphatically that black people in America are all part of one culture is pretty controversial. Regardless of what's on Wikipedia.
posted by eunoia at 9:34 PM on October 10, 2012


I don't mean to whitesplain here, but there very much is an African American culture that is distinct from and more coherent than the general white experience in America. I know it's a broad claim, but I think it's pretty uncontroversial.

Huh? So far you haven't offered any actual evidence for your claim. Has it occurred to you that one consequence of the white domination of media, popular history, and academia might be that white people are differentiated as individuals with distinct preferences, interests, and backgrounds, while black people are just Black People?
posted by threeants at 10:28 PM on October 10, 2012


WE CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!
posted by ShutterBun at 10:43 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Dark Side of Jefferson Is The Dark Side Of America:
This Henry Wiencek piece at Smithsonian on Thomas Jefferson’s dark side has half-perplexed me, yet the reactions show why it is so necessary. The piece essentially argues that Jefferson was a cold calculating slaveholder who did horrible things to black people in order to profit.

I wasn’t really aware that this was still breaking news.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:35 AM on October 11, 2012


"has held off invaders for over 1000 years"

Do you think it's that he can't actually do math or that he's just not heard of the Norman Conquest?
The English[1] ego is so fragile they had to rename the Dutch invasion and conquest as the Glorious Revolution.

[1] not a synonym for British in this case
posted by MartinWisse at 12:54 AM on October 11, 2012


"I think maybe there is some confusion about what the word "culture" means. Black people are not a homogenous group, we do not all have the same religious beliefs, we do not all share the same values, we do not all behave similarly. Those are the sorts of qualities that make a up a shared culture instead of, say, a shared race or ethnicity. So I would say that yes, stating emphatically that black people in America are all part of one culture is pretty controversial."

Yes, there is some confusion. You seem very confused about what I actually wrote, and what constitutes a culture. I did not say that black people are homogenous. And arguing against that has led you to some pretty specious assertions — like that cultures are homogenous.

Let's take race out of it: I assert that there is such a thing as cultures that group people; I assert that there is such a thing as American culture. Does this mean that all Americans have the same religious beliefs, share the same values and behave similarly? No, but it does mean that we can make general statements about American religious beliefs, American values and American modes of behavior. Are they true in the specific? Not necessarily, but it's accurate enough to say e.g. that promotion of democracy is an American value. (Since people seem to be having trouble with inverses today, that does not mean that non-Americans do not value democracy.) Likewise, while not everyone watches American football, American football is part of American culture.

In this context, an African American culture exists and arguing that this is controversial is silly.
posted by klangklangston at 1:06 AM on October 11, 2012


Let's just have more and better history rather than a bigger range of flavors.

'Norman Conquest' is actually that dreadful right-wing bloke who used to tell people to get on the 'economic cycle'. If you'd been to Eton, you'd know this.
posted by Segundus at 1:15 AM on October 11, 2012


How about simply a Historical Atrocities Month? Slave Trade, Holocaust, Armenian Genocide, Indian Wars, Holodomor, Great Leap Forward, Colonization of Africa, Katyn, Mongolian Conquest, Conquistadors and the Aztecs (two in one!), Trail of Tears, Cambodia, Yugoslavia and Ethnic Cleansing, Rwanda and Darfur.

That's standard rightwing counterargument #2 against teaching the truth about American history: everybody was bad all the time so our own sins don't matter.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:25 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Huh? So far you haven't offered any actual evidence for your claim. Has it occurred to you that one consequence of the white domination of media, popular history, and academia might be that white people are differentiated as individuals with distinct preferences, interests, and backgrounds, while black people are just Black People?"

Has it occurred to you that several hundred years of being a sub-altern culture might have resulted in a copious amount of reflective text about identity as African American? Do you need a specific bibliography, or can you take my word for it that people from Fredrick Douglass to James Baldwin to Gil Scot-Heron to Huey Newton to Ice Cube to Dave Chapelle to bell hooks … etc. have all discussed African American culture as African American culture?

Are we done asking obnoxious rhetorical questions now?

You touch on the flip side of what I'm saying in your comment: One of the pieces of normative privilege is being able to not have ethnicity read as a marker, i.e. being the default. If you think about it from that perspective, it absolutely follows that African American culture is distinct from — meaning it can be discussed as its own thing, rather than simply a part of the overall normative culture — and more coherent than any "white" culture.
posted by klangklangston at 1:28 AM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I certainly wouldn't disagree that there are likely common cultural touchstones that resonate with large swaths of black Americans. The statement I take issue with is this:

with things like dialect and holidays and heroes, it's much more coherent than "white" culture

I also think, in your reading of subalternity, you're conflating shared experience with culture.

I'm not offended on principle. I just don't see that the evidence is there.
posted by threeants at 2:30 AM on October 11, 2012


Can we just not do the racial history thing? Can we just see history as history - our history.

American History, Irish History, French History, World History.

As long as history is being told as accurately as possible, even if several perspectives are laid down, then I don't know why we need to split it up at all.

Maybe we could put all this effort instead to elect a panel of historians from several cultures and ethnicity to try to figure out what that history is, then just have a human history month, or something.

I don't know, I'm tired, but I just think segregation begets nothing good.
posted by Malice at 3:51 AM on October 11, 2012


It seems to me, and it seems as though this has been reiterated multiple times, but instead of a 'white history month' we just need better history classes in general. Full Stop.
posted by Blue_Villain at 8:33 PM on October 10


This. A thousand times, this.
posted by Decani at 4:19 AM on October 11, 2012


METAFILTER: don't mean to whitesplain here, but
posted by liza at 5:43 AM on October 11, 2012


Maybe we could put all this effort instead to elect a panel of historians from several cultures and ethnicity to try to figure out what that history is, then just have a human history month, or something.

We couldn't do that. The problem with this sort of approach is that we can never really know what happened in the past with pure objectivity. History is not a set of facts. It is a process of gathering evidence of things that have happened in the past, and organizing them into an interpretation or narrative. It's never done. We can never figure out "what history is." It's an ongoing process of dialogue and discussion, and as time passes, we become interested in different historical questions and uncover and use different and new sets of evidence. It won't ever be figured out completely.

What the "month" approach does is attempt to point out that there is a historical narrative which is dominant in education and in the public mind, and which has been developed according to a single perspective - that of the dominant culture, which remains white, male, religious, educated, and moneyed. The "months" attempt to contribute other narratives and to fill in the silences of the dominant narrative. Is that the best approach? I don't think it's as good an approach as actually understanding what the process of history is would be, and faithfully and consistently representing events about which there is a preponderance of evidence, but it's a better approach than sticking with the parochial perspective on American history that we still find, relentlessly, in textbooks and in the treasured American mythology.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on October 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I realize I'm late, but this reminds me of Cyanide and Happiness.
posted by plasquatch at 8:27 PM on October 11, 2012


America's Original Sin
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:01 PM on October 16, 2012


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