The shock and awe phase

I started this on FaceBook this morning, after spitting out my coffee when I saw itch McConnell’s letter to the Department of Education about teaching “revisionist history” based on the 1619 Project. He is an evil little troll.

I just saw Nikole Hannah-Jones (creator of the 1619 Project) on CNN talking about this. She correctly reframed this issue as one of free speech – McConnell and the GOP purists want to reinforce the mythology that Pilgrims and Native Americans had a loving, reciprocal coexistence and slavery had a “good” side.

Their narrative is that America is is the greatest nation of all time, and we shouldn’t make our white people “feel bad” about the country, or themselves. So, cancel that revisionist history that makes non-white people victims of well-meaning and visionary European colonial culture – look at the good it did!

Let’s forget that generations of African-Americans and Native Americans were made to feel VERY badly about themselves, their contributions, their culture, their heritage, their aesthetics. Generations. And that continues – we are the villains of everything, we are the criminals, we are everything that’s wrong in the country. White people used recreational cocaine, which only served to usher them into tragic addictions…Black people use crack which makes them superhuman predators and desperate criminals who will kill everyone and everything for the next fix But have one white child come home from school with a furrowed brow, and let’s cancel truth and history entirely.

Once again, the stunning hypocrisy of that evil little troll Mitch McConnell and his GOP minions defies words. Cancel culture is bad, unless it’s him doing it. Revisionist history is bad, unless it’s white people doing it. Truth is good, unless it disagrees with their narrative.
This is some serious bullshit, and the pile is high and stinky, and the it’s getting higher. My only solace in the midst of this nonsense is the realization that revisionists are scared to death at this point, and holding onto status quo with everything they’ve got. They are very desperate. Very. And they are likely to do ANYTHING to hang onto life as they have known it – cheat, lie, steal, even kill.

You have to know that when more than half of the GOP is willing to profess allegiance to a disgraced former President, and believe lies about the legitimacy of the 2020 election that replaced him, they are desperate. Desperate to hang on to the power they believe they have, desperate to perpetuate lies that have been eating away at our souls like cancer for all these years. Desperate to legitimize themselves, when deep down they know they are entirely illegitimate and entirely culpable for what has brought us to the brink of our own destruction.

This country will continue. It’s just a question of how, and who, we will be. Arguments like these are painful, and daunting, but they are the best chance we have of figuring that out. Until we come to some acceptance about who we are, warts and genocide and everything, we’re going to be living in fear and buying bigger and bigger guns to protect what we’ve stolen, what we’ve lied about, what we’ve cheated to acquire. We need to come clean. It will make us feel so much better, and we’ll be much more attractive.

Perhaps that is our work, to clean off the layers of muck and mire accumulated over the past 400+ years in this country. To get clean, we need to start with acknowledging that some of what we’ve done in the past is incorrect. Wrong. Not defensible. And more importantly, not repeatable.

Chattel slavery was not correct, not morally defensible, not defensible. Redeemable, but incorrect. That is the nature of growth – we do wrong things, we learn, we make amends, we don’t repeat the wrong action. Little kids know this. Doing otherwise doesn’t make us clever, doesn’t justify our later success, it makes us hypocritical.

Rationalizing a wrong action on the basis that it was necessary to ensure present success is simply bullshit. Pointing out that gains have been made in spite of wrong action, and possibly because of wrong action, can be done honestly and without aggrandizing the delinquency. Ignoring the dishonor fails to redeem the incongruity. Ignoring the dishonor fails to bring us any closer to integrity. Ignoring the dishonor increases the likelihood that it will be repeated.

Dishonor in this country is repeated over and over and over again, on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis. We are enemy combatants in the land of the free and the home of the brave, which simply means that we are at war. Constantly at war. Many people feared a second civil war might befall us in this current state of unrest, but I say it is already here. We are at each other’s throats, with disparate interpretations of everything from science to critical race theory, even when most of us don’t know what any of that means.

With the dumbing down of education over the past few decades, we have deteriorated into a nation filled with many whose opinions are derived from their heroes rather than their own informed discourse. We don’t seem to want information – that’s way too much trouble, and the source of the information could be biased, so…it’s much safer to believe someone we trust. Or think we can trust.

Over the not so long ago, I have seen many of my heroes go down in flames. O.J. Simpson, Bill Cosby, Miss Cleo. (OK, Miss Cleo wasn’t really a hero of mine, but she was an entertainer who was making a lot of money). The list of disgraced people of color seems a lot longer and a lot less forgiving than white folks who screw up. Even former President Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after Watergate, could probably have been re-elected several years later, because people “forgave” him. Hell, Roger Stone still has a tattoo of Nixon on his back (how weird is THAT?). So not only do we have some Puritanical sense of crime and punishment that is subject to bias, our forgiveness and redemption is also tainted with bias.

These days, our bias is unapologetic. Don’t bother people with civility, or they will accuse you of censorship and cancel culture and political correctness. Political correctness was only supposed to have people consider the old Rumi adage – if it kind, is it true, is it necessary – before speaking in a contentious fashion. But that has now been twisted into a political statement that somehow ends in cancel culture.

I have to admit that I really don’t quite know what “cancel culture” actually means. If it means that I get to reframe historical events with additional facts and context, I guess that’s fair. If it means that I negate your contribution, I would say that’s definitely not fair. If I point out that idyllic stories about smiling Pilgrims and happy Native Americans sharing a roasted fowl and fresh vegetables in colonial America wasn’t exactly a true image, I don’t understand how that means that I am cancelling this nation’s genesis. I am just putting a more truthful frame on the scene, but do not extract the grit and the timerity and the accompishment of the first colonists. Their politics just sucked is all.

Before my mother died, and our relationship was softening and maturing, I learned there are no absolutes when dealing with humans. Nobody I’ve encountered is absolutely benevolent and good, and nobody I’ve encountered is absolutely malicious and evil. Good and evil seem to be opposite ends of a continuum, and people fall somewhere on that oversimplified binary.

So, cancel culture presumes that moving the relative position of some historical event on that good-evil binary eradicates the event, renders it insignificant, mitigates its relevance. I reject that vehemently – if we are revisiting and reframing our history, it only means that we acknowledge its significance. If we choose to restate in less than idyllic terms, that would seem to be the most authentic form of honor. Continuing to whitewash our history, literally, to present a falsely idyllic picture is the greatest dishonor. Acknowledging our foibles, and learning from them, validates us all. This is how we all finally come to believe we all have a place in the history of this country. All of us.

People are yakking about whether the GOP will soon be history, whether the Democrats will lose control of Congress at the midterms, whether Rudy Giuliani has anything to worry about following the raid on his apartment and office. I say all of these issues, and more, are just distractions from the work that really needs to be done. We need to be about the business of figuring out who the hell we are, and where we’re trying to go. We don’t agree on any of that, and it’s getting to a critical point.

When Southern states chose to secede from the Union to begin the Civil War, most historians and political scientists agree that was an issue of the economy, and not racism. The South was enjoying a long run of agrarian abundance, and they didn’t want that to end. That reign of prosperity, of course, was largely the result of obtaining free labor from enslaved people. That’s just a fact.

Equating the South with the promulgation of slavery. and a fight to maintain that institution, is not really that simple. There was slavery in the North East. and throughout the original colonies. As new states were added, there was debate about whether they would define themselves as “free” states or “slave” states. New York utilized the work of enslaved people to build the incredible gateway to the world that we know today. There is no doubt about that, and no effort to distance the city or the state from that historical truth.

What I noticed about New York when I visited there, is the number of memorials to the places where enslaved people were bought and sold, places the Middle Passage ended, and places where the Underground Railroad wove its way from below the Mason-Dixon line. I don’t quite understand how and why abolitionist society took root in New England, because the institution of slavery had also taken root on the same ground. There is literally no way to cancel either side of that equation and wind up with anything less than the sum of it all.

Ever since the World Health Organization declared that white people would be in a numeric minority on the planet by 2025, I feel that I’ve seen an upswing in racism, white supremacy, and nostalgia here in the United States. That’s going on in other nations as well, although I can’t vouch for the virility of those sentiments. I was somewhat taken by the amount of specifically pro-Trump protestors in European nations during the George Floyd protest, however. That’s still a bit startling. But, I digress.

I would imagine that when a person gets a medical diagnosis of terminal disease, with a prognosis of a shortened life span, they naturally begin the grieving process. Anger, denial, bargaining…wrestling…fighting…and finally, acceptance. Peace. Not agreement, but calm out of the storm, like the eye of a hurricane. Some people I’ve observed seem to expand, grow into that acceptance that life is, at the very least, going to be unlike anything they’ve ever known.

Perhaps the dominant culture here in America is merely attempting to cycle through stages of grieving. Life as we have know it is changing, and for some people, change is a fearful proposition. When there is change, brought about by an external force, we feel the least amount of control, the least amount of certainty, the least amount of security. We are angry, enraged, because we are terrified. We feel that we are dying, that we will cease to be in any form. The unknown is bearing down on us, and we have no solutions, we can’t relieve the discomfort no matter what we do. Nothing seems to be working, and we keep trying to make the old things work again.

I suppose I should deal with my own feelings of grief concerning this next leg of our shared journey as a nation, a collection of dissimilar appetites and customs and beliefs and loyalties. I grieve the ease and comfort of childhood, when nearly all of my decisions were made for me, when I had little responsibility for any outcome. But, as I remember those times more honestly, I was frequently resentful and surging against what I felt were chains that bound me to someone else’s expectations and experiences. Once again, there are no absolutes – you have to seek balance on some level, or relinquish the breadth and the exhilaration of the complete experience. We have to ebb and flow along the spectrum of control and abandon, life and death, joy and grief, good and evil. Without one pole, the other becomes meaningless and simply an unanchored point amongst millions of others. We cannot gain a sense of orientation, sense of purpose, or focus from that.

So, I suppose we are seeking our level. The earthquakes have rung the planet like a bell, and the tidal waves are rushing back toward shore as a tsunami, ready to wash away our pitiful efforts at permanence. We can, and will, build again. Hopefully, we’ll build again with much improvement, if not in permanency but in our expectation of fallibility impermanence. If we play our cards right, we’ll have a bit more humility about what it means to be human, and what it means to be imperfect, and what it means to really live.

Works for everybody – a win-win that doesn’t cost a thing.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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