A Short Video on American Meritocracy and Black History Month

Being that it is Black History Month, I am sure that some of you have heard people say, “Where is White History Month? If everyone is equal, then why do black people get an entire month dedicated to their history?” If you haven’t heard a white person ask those questions before (snarky they may be), I assure you that those people are out there, and I have encountered many of them. So, I am posting this short and easy to understand video, The Definitive Response to Jerks Asking, ‘But What About White History Month?,’ because it addresses these questions while providing solid commentary on some of the topics we discussed in last night’s class. I, being in the fields of History and Sociology, have conducted a fair amount of research on the history of race and meritocracy in the United States, and, I must say, this video is worth watching. I actually plan to show it to my students the next time I lecture on race/ethnicity and the struggle for equality. Also, the links that are mentioned at the end are worth checking out too.

Backward Revision in the History Classroom: Yet Another Attempt

The other day, as I was procrastinating from my more important responsibilities on the internet, I was alerted to a January, 2013, study conducted by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) titled Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History? For those of you who do not know what the NAS is, its mission statement describes it as “an independent membership association of academics and others working to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities.” But if you want to truly understand the flavor of this organization, check out a list of their issues and ideals here (thank goodness they are tackling such pressing intellectual issues as “partying and hook-up culture”) and board member Irving Kristol’s attack on the “anti-capitalist aspirations” of the Left on college campuses, political correctness, and multiculturalism here.

So, basically the NAS leans pretty far to the right, needless to say. However, its regular reports and the university faculty and politicians that comprise the organization do have a significant voice, especially outside of Academe (for instance, notable NAS board members include Republican super-stars like Mr. Kristol, mentioned above, former ambassador and Reagan advisor Jeane Kirkpatrick, education activist Chester Finn, and founder Stephen Balch, who received the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush in 2007). So, due to the resonance of this organization in the media and in the world of politics (I’m not even completely sure if the two can be separated anymore), I did take the Recasting History study seriously, and offer my response.

In the study of history course listings, syllabi, and reading lists at the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, the NAS concluded that “traditional” fields of historical analysis—military, diplomatic, and economic—are being overshadowed, and thus drowned out, by race, class, and gender based study. But are these categories of analysis so rigid that one covers up the other? Absolutely they are not; race, gender, and class are important categories of analysis in all historical fields, not just their own. In fact, diplomatic and military histories are enriched by adding race to the analysis. It is nearly impossible to conceive of an American history course on the Old South, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, or the mid-twentieth century without a combination of racial and political sources; the categories can simply not be separated. As for economic and military histories, the stakes are equally as high: how could one truly understand employment and consumption patterns without considering how gender and race affect them? And how could the history of the little-known First Battle of Saltville (an interesting Confederate victory known for the strategic importance of the town’s saltworks, number of fatalities, and complex troop movements) be complete without considering the racial motivations behind the massacre of numerous wounded black soldiers following the retreat of Federal troops? The answers to those questions are that we couldn’t understand those histories, nor would they be complete without race, gender, and class in the equation. At best, the exclusion of these modes of analysis would create what I call history-buff history (i.e. troop movements, names of key actors, and obscure facts about a location or time that holds little significance without context), and, at worst, would result in out-right white-washing of the historical record.

The only thing in the study that the NAS and I agree upon is the continued importance of history education in the modern university, but this call to move back to a form of historical inquiry that predates the 1960s is horribly misguided and antithetical to the goals of the profession. Additionally, with Texas lawmakers attempting to revise American history textbooks to “untarnish” the image of America, the increased willingness of Republican lawmakers to gut the humanities and social science departments at state universities to save money, and the president-to-president laden history and civic classes in primary schools to meet the No Child Left Behind agenda, this call to drastically revise history curriculums by cutting back race, gender, and class based analyses couldn’t come at a worse time. If anything, too many students arrive at college with inadequate knowledge of history and social studies because of shortsighted student measurement systems that promote memorizing a certain set of criteria and in turn hampering the student’s ability to problem solve and correctly analyze historical scenarios, power structures, and larger social and cultural contexts. And this is precisely why race, gender, class, and, I would argue sexuality, must not be removed, or even cut-back, in the classroom: because that’s exactly what they foster, problem solving. If the NAS is truly concerned about the teaching of history in college classrooms, then they should set politics aside (which I believe their study is more concerned with) and welcome all types of historical inquiry that seek to fill the gaps of the outdated, and unrealistic, paradigms that they are championing.

Is Blogging Increasing Democracy? Is This A Good Thing?

Blogging is something that I am not unfamiliar with: I follow blogs, have favorite and least favorite blogs, and understand how blogs have recently changed the academic experience for both professors and students. But until today, I had never blogged. So, in preparation, I scoured the back of my mind in order to distill a topic that somehow seemed “worthy” of posting to a public forum. And that led me to an interesting realization: I do not have anxiety about putting my words, and by extension myself, out there for all to read and see. I do not fear being deemed unworthy. Actually, I discovered that most of my anxiety over blogging comes from putting my words, which may or may not be valuable, into obscurity. Blogging could be a waste of time and energy that could be spent elsewhere.

It seems to me that blogging, as is the case with many facets of the continuing Digital Revolution, has led to increased democratization of ideas and content. That is, everyone can have a blog, they can blog about anything, and their words are thus open for public consumption. In fact, there seems to be little that can’t be found or put on the internet; all that can be imagined can be released to a public forum and then extracted (perhaps a fee may be required for some things, but still, this is only a minor restriction—if one wants to consume it, they will consume it). So, my next thought was that this is undoubtedly positive: Hurray digitization—a voice has finally been given to the masses! But then another side of this democratization (a term that I still am not entirely sure defines what I am talking about here) began to reveal itself. If more and more people are regularly publishing blogs, about a seemingly limitless litany of topics, then will my blog (my words) be seen? How could someone possibly find my blog amid the chaos seeking the same recognition that I am? Recognition of one’s ideas is the point, right? And who is to say that those that are recognized merit being recognized? (At this point–I wish I had a footnote for this—do note that I am not using the term “recognized” as meaning famous. I am also referring to someone that has garnered at least a small, but significant following of friends and peers, and that does produce discourse that resonates with even a small fraction of a population. A class blog could count because it is still accessible to the larger population of the internet. But I digressed, so back to the topic at hand). I am absolutely sure that somewhere, someone has a blog full of insightful ruminations that is rarely seen and continues to go unrecognized. Perhaps, for whatever reason, that may be that person’s intention—or he/she wants to keep their audience small and inclusive—but I am sure that there are plenty of people who desire to be heard, and that may have something valuable to contribute to public discourse, but continue to be drowned out by the endless chatter and sensationalist headlines of the internet. I do not believe that this person is to blame for their un-recognition either. They may merely want to remain pure to their topics; to not deceive with blatantly false, but intriguing titles; or have not received a certain amount of circumstantial luck that led to being “discovered” by a fan-base. This, then, is the side of blogging that causes me the most angst. If I am going to blog—and yes, there is a side of me that sees value in blogging and desires to enter the fray—then I do want to be heard. I do not want to exist in a void of obscurity. And, perhaps, even if just one or two people read my blog, and it speaks to them in some way, or provokes a thought, then that will be enough to encourage me to continue blogging. But as more and more people begin to blog, and the internet continues to link us to an incomprehensible pile of information, we expect the most valuable and the most talented bloggers, intellectuals, and social commentators to rise above the nonsense, the incorrect, and the not-valuable. But this may not be the case in an age where everyone has an equal claim to a realm of discourse that requires little, if any, credentials. The internet (dare I say blogosphere; actually, I think I hate that word for some reason) may be getting too democratic and far too loud.