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CSotD: White is the New White

If Bob Gorrell hated the NYTimes special section on the impact of slavery on America’s history, he’d hate my alternative even more.

I think it should have been a series, not a doorstop.

We can dismiss as paranoia or snowflakery his assertion that it’s part of an attack on Trump, though it’s nice to think that the president is like a cankering tooth such that, if it were pulled, the pain would cease.

But covering race, as he notes, is “an unending series” and the central theme of the special section is correct, that slavery and the racism that ensued is deeply woven into our society.

At least, I gather that’s the central theme of the special section. I haven’t actually read it.

For which I don’t apologize.

First of all, it’s behind a paywall, and, when the NYTimes fired its cartoonists, I cancelled my subscription.

But I found a PDF at the Pulitzer Center.

So I downloaded a copy and it’s 98 pages long and the pages that aren’t ads or large-type introductory things are packed with dense prose.

I got about a third of the way through it before my eyes glazed over.

Some of it is like this:

But way too much of it is like this:

Granted, there’s a fair amount of preaching to the choir in all this, but even the members of the choir have personal lives and other demands on their time.

I’m interested. I’m motivated.

And I’ll probably come back to it, but I’d be a lot more likely to read digestible weekly installments than this marathon lecture.

Come on. Which would be the smarter choice: Releasing “When They See Us” in four parts, or as a single, five-hour movie?

I think Ava Duverney made the right decision and I wish the folks behind “1619” had done the same.

 

When I used to lecture high school students on political cartooning, I started out with Thomas Nast and Boss Tweed, and I pointed out that Nast didn’t discover Tweed’s corruption.

There had been many big, important articles written about it, but the problem is, people don’t read big, important articles.

They intend to. They want to.

And so they put them on a pile of other big, important articles that they’re going to read.

Later. Some time.

Hence the impact of political cartoons.

Hence the famous Tweed complaint that his people don’t read, but that anybody can look at a picture.

Get the picture?

I’ve still got copies of the Pentagon Papers and the Church Report, and I haven’t read either of them. I skimmed the Mueller Report, but I didn’t sit down and absorb every word.

The problem in this case is that the impact and importance of the piece is the details.

If you know that we lied our way into Vietnam, you don’t have to read the Pentagon Papers, and if you know the basics of COINTELPRO, you don’t need to read the Church Report, and we’ve heard enough analysis of the Mueller Report that a quick scan is adequate.

But “Racism is bad” and “Slavery sucked” don’t work as a substitute for a full reading of this report, because it’s the details, not the overview, that can lift it above the general commentary we’ve heard before.

We needed to hear the “why” and not just the “what.”

And, dammit, it’s in there.

We needed the tree planted by the water, but, instead, they gave us the tree falling in the forest.

 

Elsewhere in the Race Issue

Liz Warren spoke before the Frank LaMere Native American presidential forum, where she was warmly welcomed and received a standing ovation, an occasion marked here by Michael Ramirez with insults to both Warren and her audience.

While our race-baiting president gets laughs by calling her “Pocahontas,” pairing her with Sitting Bull is a different level of insult, not to her but to the native community.

Pocahontas is a tragic figure on several levels. Bringing her up is yet another affront to the real woman behind the racist myth and all the misunderstood, exploited natives like her.

But Sitting Bull was a religious leader. His name means “The (Sacred) Bull is Among Us” and that bull bison is a particularly revered image.

Though, as a young man, he led war parties, by the time of the Little Bighorn, he was retired from combat and was a counselor, like Bishop Tutu or the Dalai Lama.

And his death at the hands of Indian police was both a tragedy for his people and, in a wider sense, a symbol of the destruction and fragmentation of their society.

If Warren’s foes want to oppose her with personal insults instead of attacking her policies, that’s part of the game, and I can’t argue, at the start of the blog, against long, tendentious articles and then argue at the end against easily understood pictures.

But you don’t use a deeply respected, beloved holyman to set up a cheap, vulgar insult. It shows contempt for both parties.

Funny thing about all this is I kind of doubt the Indian vote is a major factor anyway, not because of their numbers so much as because of their indifference.

In 1996, the Mohawk community of Akwesasne took over the K-4 school on the rez, demanding changes in the curriculum and a more representative staff.

I drove up with some things I thought might help fill in through the shutdown and went over them with their curriculum specialist.

When we got to the piece about the upcoming Clinton/Dole election, I paused, our eyes met and she just chuckled and set it aside.

Which reminded me of an earlier visit up there, when I was looking for a historical roadside marker.

I found the place it should be and got out to talk to a fellow coming out of the house.

He thought a moment and said, “Yeah, there was one, but they took it out when they widened the road and I guess they didn’t put it back.”

Pause.

“It was a real pain to mow around.”

 

Community Comments

#1 Sean Martin
August/21/2019
@ 7:20 am

Whoever did the art direction on 1619 really needs to be fired or demoted to junior AD until he or she learns how to make typography work. Those hideous copy blocks aside, the opening spread, done in some retro 70s font, is almost unreadable.

#2 Peter Kurilecz
August/21/2019
@ 12:35 pm

“If Warren’s foes want to oppose her with personal insults instead of attacking her policies”

you seem to forget that Warren rode to her success by claiming she was an Indian. She does the insults such as Fauxcohontas and Lieawatha. and even after she took a DNA that proved she had not a lick of Indian DNA in her she still claimed it.
now she is slowly scrubbing various sites of her claim to be Indian. She definitely needs to be held up to ridicule

#3 Mike Peterson
August/21/2019
@ 1:33 pm

Can’t let blatant misinformation go unchallenged.

1. She got no particular benefit from claiming native heritage. She had already been hired and checked it off as a kind of favor to the institution so they could claim a more diverse faculty. It was an uncool move, but she’s acknowledged that. Whoever told you she benefited from it is either ignorant or a deliberate liar, but they’re wrong.

2. The DNA test did reveal a very small bit of native blood. DNA tests aren’t as accurate as their proponents claim, but neither are they totally off. When someone has been told all their lives that they have some particular ethnicity in their background, and the DNA confirms it, it’s up to the challenger to prove that it’s only a coincidence.

Let me be clear: All I’m saying is that you have been misinformed. It’s not a reflection on your honesty, but you should double check information. There are people out there who want you to believe things that just ain’t so.

#4 Ignatz
August/22/2019
@ 5:46 am

I think Gorrell’s specific target wasn’t 1619, but the Times changing a headline about Trump’s speech. It originally said:“Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism,” but after complaints that it was ridiculously favorable, they changed it to “Assailing Hate but Not Guns.”

I think they change it to make it more objective, but it upset Gorrell, obviously.

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