Black History…American History….

“Black history is indeed American history, but it is also world history.”
― Angela Y. Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle

In the early days of the Obama years, I first got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” question as soon as Black History Month began, and I discussed what I might be teaching.  We are in the second year of the second administration since and the same people are making the same asinine statements or asking the same asinine questions. 

I will be disgusted because many asinine statements will come from former students, teaching peers, and friends I want to respect but find that I can’t.  We can agree to disagree but not on racism, covert or overt. White is the default, a preselected option. When it is not, we can move on from Black History Month.

I question the motives of folk who comment negatively about Black History Month and wonder if the ghost of George Wallace or Strom Thurmond haunts them. I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?”

An answer to the last question, in a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T have Black History Month. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others that you can take the time to look up. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months that don’t begin with F.” I agree with my student and believe any child should be made to feel included.

Examples of it not being a perfect world include protest, verbal and physical, over CRT, kneeling football players, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and The 1619 Project, a book I am presently reading. Parents are outraged over naked mice in Maus and language that they themselves use when yelling down school board members. Examples of an imperfect world date to when “We hold these to be self-evident, all men are created equal” was written. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both an ideal and a lie and evidence of an imperfect world when they were first penned.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught, a deeply red, conservative state. A state that almost required D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as required viewing, along with Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” and Walter Raleigh’s “Ivanhoe” as required reading. I find little has changed in the time since I retired as it relates to most non-European-American history.

During a year, Asian-Americans are mentioned a few times.  Transcontinental Railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Gentleman’s Agreement, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist, Korea and Vietnam.

Hispanic contributions, a bit more. Spanish colonization, the Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Wait, we fixed that one, didn’t we? Since I’ve retired, I’m sure illegal immigration is a topic. Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a white European point of view and not a celebration at all.

Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed as a glorious massacre, brave men falling to war painted heathens. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.  The Washington Football Team, formally Redskins and now Commanders, cured all those ills. (Said with sarcasm)

I rarely taught Black history exclusively during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking that I taught EVERYONE’S HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on a Black History Month. It wasn’t until late in my career that I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy.

Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to certain peculiar aspects of African American lives and American history. A decidedly important aspect but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes, there was nothing about other contributions.

Why didn’t I teach other aspects of Black culture and history? Because I hadn’t been taught Black culture and history. During my college days, Black culture and history were after thoughts…not even after thoughts. I grew up in a segregated society that had just begun to transition as I entered college. I did run across an African Studies course as I finished my specialist’s degree thirty years later, but I did not enroll.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. It should focus on the less obvious, not just slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights.

Musicians, artists, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, businesspeople, soldiers, etc. should be spotlighted. It should be an opportunity for us all to learn. As I have learned, Black History is American History and a rich, patriotic history at that.

Three years before my second retirement were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity, really teaching everyone’s history and culture, all year long. I would like to think my best efforts as a teacher came during those three years.

A paragraph I wrote in one of my many musings sums up my feelings, “Today I look toward diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? Or music, or art, or etc….. My life without Latin, Soul, Asian, and Cajun foods would not be life-ending, but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican, or German beer, a Mojito, or some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. We should play some Blues, Reggae, Blue Grass, or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I am a social liberal swimming in a red sea of conservatism and make no excuses for my beliefs. I don’t believe books should be banned or that CRT is being forced down our children’s throats by liberal teachers who hate America.

I believe that the rights that someone else is given do not take my rights away from me including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in and by doing so believe I am not only a better American but a better human.

I know my quote by Angela Y. Davis will rankle some folk. Yes, she is a Communist and yes, she was arrested for the crime of murder…and acquitted by an all-white jury I might add. She is also a lesbian and a liberal university professor. Many will discount anything I said because I used her quote. In this case it is about the message not the messenger. Black history is world history.

Don Miller’s Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0mzivK_bmnTjG4D9RL1KGMQ4TurZ8y7hrFca8ExoRa_XmkEUStmSylMCc

Thoughts and Prayers….

PESSIMISM WARNING! I hate to pee in your Cheerios, but nothing will change. Another mass shooting, another school shooting.  It is just who we are. We are a toxic brew of violent nature, toxic masculinity, with a gun and target rich environment.

We are first in mass shootings, first in gun deaths, nearly half in suicides, and domestic abuse. More than any county of the “civilized” world, not at war. But nothing will change. We make it about anything other than intelligent gun control or an in-depth study of our violent culture and how we perpetuate it.

We don’t want to spend money on education to lift up people, we would rather spend it on prisons or shift school money to private schools. We would rather erect a wall than take a serious look at our own culture and its motivations and the dangers from within.

It must be about mental illness, and it is, even though we’ve made it easier for the mentally ill to possess guns. We put the killer under a microscope, scrutinize and debate race, or religion or immigration. If we can’t hang the murderer on one of those excuses, we make it about politics or gun free zones or sanctuary cities or Mars ascending into Venus…when it should be about our culture…the culture of the gun. We offer our thoughts and prayers.

I consider myself a spiritual man, if not, a religious one, but our thoughts and prayers are wearing thin especially when it involves the same kind of kids and schools, I taught and coached in for forty-four years. The thinness is because I believe nothing will change. It is too much a part of our culture. We are a violent group, some with Bibles in one hand, rifles in the other. “Thou Shalt not Kill” should have an addendum. Thou Shalt not Kill unless it abridges my right to purchase and use an AR-15 or any other gun.

I probably shouldn’t be focused on the AR-15…although there is a good reason. From Aurora to Stoneman Douglas High and beyond, it seems to be the weapon of choice, whether due to popularity or ease of use, I don’t know. I don’t know what was used in our latest murder de jour, but I know we’ve weaponized ourselves with all sorts of arms. I have two handguns and a shotgun myself…and a rock, car, butter knife and a fork.

There seems to be something about our manhood that goes hand in hand with a handgun or rifle…and the violent tendencies we hold dear. Do they make a perfume “Ode de Gunpowder?” I’ll write about women just as soon as there is a female mass shooter. Why are our males more violent than females? They are not, women just like to inflict pain over a longer period…. Sorry.

Our country was forged on violence…from the very beginning and we glorify it. From an “Eye for an Eye,” to the cult of the warrior in the many wars we have fought, to the dubious history of the Western gunfighter. Our video games, television programs, and movies glorify violence, and they have an effect. It is still about the Alpha male with the gun in one hand and the adoring, scantily clad female secured with the other. At least we’ve added movies with scantily clad, female superheroes. Hum…sex, and gunpowder….

So, as pessimistic as it sounds, I don’t think we will ever change. I believe we will continue to lead in categories we say we don’t want to lead in and continue to offer our thoughts and prayers instead of taking a meaningful look at our culture and what our culture breeds. Because we won’t take a meaningful look, I expect the violence to increase…but I’m not sending any more thoughts and prayers.

Steak Chips….

 

I never know what will trigger a memory.  They just occur…a benefit from age?  Great, I’m glad there is one benefit from age…wisdom certainly isn’t.

Recently it was an unlikely trigger…Dr. Oz of daytime tv fame.  I walked in to find him prancing from my tv screen discussing how to make hamburgers moist despite overcooking…as in cooking to well done.  Well done and then some…something my grandmother would have done to hamburger or steak.  The young man being interviewed was using a “panade.”  Being as country as a fresh cow patty I looked the word up. Suddenly I was back in a small kitchen watching her making her most special, well done, yet moist hamburgers.

My grandmother grew up in a time when meat was slaughtered and processed on the farm…in not the most sterile conditions.  There was a disease, trichinosis, caused by a roundworm that could be transferred from undercooked meat to humans.  This led me to believe that all steaks were…well…cracker like…dry and tending to make snapping sounds when cut…like a potato chip.

Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.  We weren’t eating premium cuts of meat either.  We were the ones who made “eating high on the hog” or in this case, cow, possible.  Generally, we ate variations of round steak, cubed and then turned into a cracker, may be covered in a milk gravy or covered in a beading and then turned into a cracker before being covered in a milk gravy.  Yes, she overcooked them and taught my mother to overcook them as well.

I didn’t know any better until I went off to college.  I didn’t know steak came anyway other than chip like…and cubed.  A young lady I was dating suggested that I might want to try my filet mignon cooked less than well done.  During those days if a young lady I was dating had suggested I might try a dead cow’s hoof raw, I probably would have eaten it with a smile on my face.  The things you might do for love I guess…or lust.  Despite thinking it was just heated past raw, I found it to be moist, tender, quite tasty and not the least bit cracker-like.  I also didn’t pronounce it correctly either, “fill-it-mig-non.”

As bad as Nannie’s steaks were, her hamburgers were heavenly…despite having every bit of pink cooked right out of them.  They were moist because she added her own version of a “panade.”  A French word, it is a paste made from stale bread and milk or a word that means, “A state or experience of misery or poverty.”  I know my grandmother and grandfather experienced poverty, even before the Great Depression.  Just not sure about the misery but I doubt it.  Gee, the things you learn if you just pay attention.

She didn’t use bread as I remember, she used oatmeal or crushed up crackers.  Nannie also added sautéed onions and used a spice list I’ve never been able to recreate.  I’ve tried, repeatedly with different variations, and have only created my own version of a fried meatloaf…not bad, but not the same at all.  Boo, hoo, hoo.

My grandmother was a good cook, but it usually involved chicken, fried or in a pot pie.  Maybe wildlife like cooter soup or squirrel dumplings and for clarification, in those days a cooter was a turtle.  I know today’s word usage might cast some shade on that dish, but turtle soup was quite tasty…much tastier than her steak chips.

Thank you, Dr. Oz.  You have reinvigorated my efforts and brought back memories of the sound of beef patties landing in a greased, hot cast iron pan, moist and tasty hamburgers on white bread, a small kitchen and the woman who toiled there.  Ummmm, ummmm…wait, you mean I’ll probably use ground turkey instead of beef?  Roasted not fried?  No lard?  Oh well, thanks for the memories anyway.

Don Miller’s writer’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

NATE

We served over a hundred and fifty souls, the homeless and poor along with the people who ran the soup kitchen every week and their families. There were smiles, laughs, and expressions of true thankfulness. I believe the smiles made it all worthwhile. As the line trickled to a stop we joined the diners, “breaking bread” and sharing their stories and their experiences.
Aja was unusually quiet. We sat across the table from a thin black man named Nate. A Vietnam War veteran, Nate never got his life together despite the war being over for nearly forty-five years. He had been an eighteen-year-old tunnel rat and by his own admission, “hadn’t amounted to much.” After returning home, Nate had worked at low paying jobs to support his alcoholism until he “had just worn out.” Despite being surrounded by friends this Thanksgiving morning, his glances were furtive, as if someone or life might be sneaking up on him.
“Holy John,” the Methodist minister, disclosed to me Nate lived on family land in a fifty-year-old Airstream resting on flat tires and cement blocks. A cast iron stove “liberated” from someone’s trash heap and vented through a window, both warmed the old travel trailer and provided enough heat to prepare whatever food Nate had available. Like many troubled vets, he sometimes forgot to eat or chose instead to drink his way through the day.
Nate augmented his monthly social security checks with odd jobs done for understanding church members or by selling, for scrap, the aluminum cans he collected walking the country roads around the Airstream. Local folks dropped off bags of aluminum cans under a hand-painted sign whose down-pointing arrow instructed them to “drop cans here.” With no running water or indoor plumbing, he filled recycled milk jugs from a neighbor’s outdoor spigot and took his weekly shower and washed his clothes in the facilities provided in the church’s fellowship hall. Despite his plight, he seemed almost happy with his existence and was more open than many Vietnam veterans I had met.
A gaunt, mahogany face peered out from under an old Detroit Tigers’ baseball cap. Wisps of wiry, gray hair peeked out from under it. He had an ancient face, made older by his predicament. It was cut by deep crevasses that became deeper when he smiled. Nate seemed anything but sad with his self-imposed hardships. In a soft voice, he said, “I do okay. I don’t need much and since I’m drawin’ my social I live like a king.” Pausing to look back somewhere in the past he quoted, “I try to keep my heart open to dreams. As long as there’s a dream I have a life.” With our present military involvements, I wondered how many more of these damaged souls we would produce.
Nate paused, his rheumy eyes gazing intently at Aja before asking, “Little girl…somethin’ is troublin’ you?” Before she could answer he went on, “You young and beautiful. Out here on a Thanksgiving mornin’, you got to have a good heart. People gonna tell you this is the best time of your life. It ain’t. Wonder mo young folk don’t commit suicide hearing that shit. Life always gonna be hard but gets better if you let it. I didn’t and now my time be growin’ short. Nothin’ I can do about it, but you can if you wants to. ‘scuse my language but you need to take life by the balls and twist ‘em if you need to.”
Aja smiled her heart melting smile and said, “Thank you, Nate. I’ll try to remember to twist them just for you.”

This is a fictional composite of many former Vietnam Vets I have known…too many that I have known.  It is also written for Steve, my brother, and Hawk, my friend, who saw a need and acted on it.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer who, in addition to maintaining a blog, has self-published six books.   His most recent release is the romantic adventure OLIVIA.  Don’s author’s page may be accessed at  http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501.

Thank you for stopping by.

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