Celebrating the “Dreaded” Black History Month.

In the middle of the Obama years, I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” question.  Tomorrow, February 1, two administrations later, I’m sure I’ll see some of the same.  I will be disgusted because many will come from folks, I want to respect but find that I can’t.  We can agree to disagree but not on racism.

Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? 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. 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.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly Anglo-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.

During the course of a year, Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Gentleman’s Agreement, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist.  I almost forgot Korea and Vietnam. That makes five and six.

Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, 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? Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from an Anglo point of view.

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 negatively by Anglo America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.  The Washington Football Team cured all those ills this past season. (said with sarcasm)

I rarely taught Black history 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. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS.

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 one aspect 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.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artists, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, businesspeople, soldiers, etc.  It should be an opportunity for us all to learn. 

As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books that my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction with a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic but I was a teen boy, it didn’t take much!

As a young adult, I was looking for more of Yerby’s books not realizing he had died and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia…which meant, because of the “one-drop law”, he was black. Who knew and should it matter? No it shouldn’t. Just like celebrating Black History Month should not matter if you are white, green or multi-colored. It should be a positive educational experience for all.  Postscript on Yerby.  He fled his native Georgia, first for France and then Spain, where he lived for the rest of his life.  I’ll let you research why he fled.

Three of my last four years before 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, all year long.

In a paragraph I wrote about a former student turned preacher I said, “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, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life-ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae 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 realize that I am a social liberal swimming in a red sea of white conservatism and make no excuses. I believe that the rights that someone else is given don’t take my rights away from me including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and 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.

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

Like A Bowl of Gumbo….

 

I was triggered but I was proud of myself.  I said my peace and disengaged.  I recognized that anything I might say would make no difference.  I think most arguments these days are best left…unargued.  There was an upside, my “triggering” sent me down a pig trail to Alice’s rabbit hole.  I found the Mad Hatter, but he wasn’t drinking tea, he was offering me a bowl of gumbo and an Abita instead.

The tiff was over a “Fun Fact” I had posted about Black History Month.  I share “Daily Doses” of witticisms or “Fun Facts” about the world we live in.  Anything to cut the greasy derision abounding today.  Since we celebrate Black History Month in February, I decided to avail myself of the subject although I am sure there will be fun facts about Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras thrown in for good measure.

A comment made about my “Fun Fact” ruffled my feathers.  I felt the response was inappropriate and told the responder so.  He didn’t take it well…or maybe I didn’t take it well.  I opted to say my peace and disengage.  Instead, I punched up a playlist that included Jimmy Buffett’s “I Will Play for Gumbo.”  One of the choruses goes….

“A piece of French bread

With which to wipe my bowl,

Good for the body.

Good for the soul.

It’s a little like religion

And a lot like sex.

You should never know

When you’re gonna get it next.

At midnight in the quarter or noon in Thibodeaux

I will play for gumbo

Yes, I will play for gumbo.”

 

It’s a fun song and it had me seat dancing in my recliner, forgetting about my triggered self.  I might have had a Pavlovian response to boot.  The ditty made me think about diversity…also a good subject for Black History Month.  I know of no other bowls of goodness that are more diverse in ingredients, origin…and full of tasty joy.  If I had to come up with the last meal it would probably include gumbo with a side of shrimp and grits.

The word gumbo derives from West Africa, ki ngombo or quingombo, from the Niger-Congo language spoken by many of the West African slaves who survived the Middle Passage and were forced to settle and perform back-breaking labor.  The words mean okra, a plant the slaves brought with them.

Gumbo can be served without okra but why would one want it without okra?  It was also Africans who introduced serving okra with rice, and rice is generally served with gumbo.

Sometime later, it was the Louisiana French, some who came by way of Canada, who probably shortened the African words to gumbo.

The Choctaw, who gave the dish filé, ground sassafras leaves, called the tasty dish, kombo.

The dish is most closely associated with Nawlins, Loo-see-Anna but can be found in bowls across the United States.

Like gumbo, New Orleans is about as diverse as one place can be.  The Spanish conquistadores wrestled the area from the Natives in the middle 1760s while fighting off the French before secretly giving it to Napoleon’s France in 1800.  The area was heavily explored and settled by both the French and Spanish lending to the diversity.  Napoleon, feeling a money pinch from his many wars, sold New Orleans and a bunch more to the United States in 1803.  All the while, African slaves and Native Americans added to the diversity whether they wanted to or not.

Gumbo varies according to the Cajun style or Creole style…or your style.  All make use of a dark roux (French, although darker than most French styles), some use okra (African) to thicken, others use filé powder, (Choctaw).  Still, others use both.  Seafood or chicken, both or none, can be combined with Andouille sausage (French but with a heavy German influence).  Gumbo’s first cousins, Jambalaya and red beans and rice, are probably Spanish introductions and akin to the Spanish rice dish, paella, so I must believe there are Spanish influences in gumbo too.

What I like about gumbo, besides its taste, is its diversity.  It is made with diverse ingredients that vary, of course, depending on who’s making it.  It can be made with table scraps, shrimp, sausage, chicken or alligator, I guess.

Gumbo in a wide mouth bowl crosses lines of class, rich or poor.  It crosses race and ethnicity and probably religion too.  Louisiana cooks call the combination of celery, bell pepper and onion the “Holy Trinity” after all.  As tasty as it is, I’m sure there might be a bit of West African Voodoo involved.  Gumbo is truly a melding of ingredients, tastes, and people.

Gumbo is both labor and love intensive.  You just can’t put it all together and then walk away.  There is much stirring before you can cut the temperature down to low and let those flavors get to know each other.  People should cut the temperature down and get to know each other too.

Sometimes I wonder if it is the sweat off the chief’s brow that adds to the spice as much as that “Loo-see-Anna” hot sauce…Its gotta be love that makes it so tasty.

“Maybe it’s the sausage or those pretty pink shrimp

Or that popcorn rice that makes me blow up like a blimp.

Maybe it’s that voodoo from Marie Leveaux,

But I will play for gumbo

Yeah, I will play for gumbo

The sauce boss does his cookin’ on the stage,

Stirrin’ and a singing for his nightly wage.

Sweating and frettin’ from his head to his toe,

Playin’ and swayin’ with the gumbo

Prayin’ and buffetin’ with the gumbo.”

 

Lyrics courtesy of AZlyrics.com, Jimmy Buffett, I Will Play For Gumbo, written and performed by Jimmy Buffett.  From the 1999 album Beach House on the Moon.  Video courtesy of YouTube

Featured Image of New Orleans Creole Gumbo from Big Oven https://www.bigoven.com/recipe/new-orleans-creole-gumbo/170608

My favorite Gumbo Recipe from Emeril Lagasse, Gumbo Ya-Ya https://parade.com/27003/emerillagasse/gumbo-ya-ya/

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

“Thank You For Accepting People as They Are”

 

There was an envelope in my mailbox.  Addressed to my wife I turned it over and saw “Thank you for accepting people as they are.”  Maybe some of you have received this envelope after having contributed to the Special Olympics.  I didn’t directly contribute but my wife has always made sure we contributed and during our teaching years were actively involved…as in she involved me during her days as an elementary physical education instructor and while cosponsoring the high school’s service-learning program.  I am thankful for that.

She has always been the poster child for accepting people at face value.  Accepting people at what they were.  Offering love and discipline but no criticisms as to what they were or where they came from.

I remember visiting her while she taught on occasion.  Smiling, snotty-nosed children of different genders and races rushed gleefully into her class, expecting to receive and returning hugs, refusing to be denied.  Sneezes, mucus, mud be damned.  Terms of endearment flowed from Miss PE, “Sugar or Honey Lamb, Snookems, Babydoll,” etc.  I saw love and acceptance.

Don’t be fooled.  She could get after them pretty good when they failed to get to or remain on their spots, but she distanced the person from the offense.  She accepted people as they were.  I wondered as I looked at the envelope…and fell down Alice’s rabbit hole.

When I saw the phrase on the back of the envelope, I asked myself, “What if we accepted people as they are?”  Gay, different races, transgender, poor, different religions, forget where they came from and accept who they are as opposed to what they are.

We are quick to criticize people who look differently, speak differently, have different religious beliefs than us.  People who don’t love the way we love or eat the same foods that we eat.  We seem to get upset because we must press one for English.  How many seconds of our life does it really cost us?

We create divides by pontificating loudly and listening little, passing judgment on one before delivering our sentences to all.  Our loud language and sharply delivered words can only be interpreted one way by those they are directed toward.

We are quick to label people with all sorts of names, explain that they are bad or different because they are a product of a lax home environment and because we have thrown god from the halls of education.   We don’t like their pink hair, their tattoo or their nose piercing and we look no deeper.  We don’t make the effort to listen to what they might want to tell us…what we might actually learn.

We make no effort to understand their thinking or consider what they might have woke up to or went to bed to.  We don’t seem to care they might have gone to bed hungry and went out into the world the next morning the same way.  Again, we pontificate loudly that it is not our responsibility.

We dismiss many kids as kooks, fruitcakes, freaks, goofballs, wingnuts, mentally ill and the one that knifes me the most…retards.  Honestly, I don’t like the label “special”, but we must have a label of some type.  After all, we are the normal ones with our normal convictions and conventions.  We must have a way to delineate the differences between us and them to make ourselves feel more important, more worthy.

I hurt for our teens.  Teens at best are troubled and all we’ve done is add to their troubles.  Dealing with those raging hormones is bad enough…and now we call them crazy because…well because.  We tell them they’ll never amount to much.  They are lazy and the worst generation ever.  They are the most disrespectful…but I notice it is always the other person’s child.

If you tell a kid enough times that he is a duck, at some time or another he will begin to waddle.  We get what we expect.  If you expect nothing you won’t be disappointed.  I notice we point our fingers but offer little cure…especially if it costs money.

We bully, we attempt to push their little round bodies into little square holes. As they attempt to find themselves, we attempt to make them into the image of ourselves.

I taught forever plus a day and found that the most interesting students, who became the most interesting adults, were the kooks and fruitcakes.  The ones who thought outside of the box, colored outside of the lines and looked at the world sideways and created something beautiful.  They were the leaders who refused to follow tired old lines.  They were the ones who hated to hear “We’ve done it this way for….”

There was a time when we put a premium on free thinkers.  Now it seems we don’t want free thinkers.  They might be left thinkers and that just wouldn’t be right.

We want our mini-mes to toe the party line, drinking deeply from the propaganda Kool-Aid.  It seems we want everyone lined up in rows like dominos, standing at attention, all boringly the same…and like a row of dominos when one tips over, they all tip over.

What if we just accepted people as they are.  Nurtured instead of ridiculed.  What is wrong with nurturing?  You can be nurturing and not be soft.  Put their little seeds in the ground not caring what the seed might be.  Add water and fertilizer, weed the bed occasionally and see what they turn into.   Provide a fertile bed for plants instead of chopping them off at the roots like weeds.

What if we accept people as they are?

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

 

True Believers?

True Believer?

true believer. noun. One who is deeply, sometimes fanatically devoted to a cause, organization, or person

  1. (ecclesiastical) A strict follower of a religious doctrine.
  2. (idiomatic) One who sticks to one’s dogma or beliefs irrespective of the facts

I wish I was a “true believer,” all smug and sure of my beliefs on politics and religion.  I’m not.  As I interact with those who are, I find myself questioning my own beliefs and other people’s motives.  They say I only need to read the Bible to find the answers.  According to Biblegateway.com, there are over two hundred different translations of the Christian Bible in over sixty languages…”Which translation is the true word?”

There has been a positive outcome to my self-imposed abasement, my metaphorical self-flagellation.  I’ve found I am continually trying to answer the question, “What do I really believe” and continue to question my God as I make my quest.  I also wonder if “questing” is a sin.  According to some of these same “true believers”…maybe.

I grew up in the Methodist Church.  A very structured, high liturgical Methodist Church in a then-rural area with very “give me that old time religion” religious values.  In a previous writing, I might have referred to the church of my youth as a very “tight-assed” church.  “Tight-assed” as in very conventional, very orthodox…just like me at the time.

I have become less so as I have grown older but still consider myself a ‘way too’ conventional person who’s a want-to-be flower child.  Know any flower children hiding in an inhibited and repressed body?  I just can’t seem to dance like no one is watching. No matter how much I wish to be the aging 60’s hippy, I’m still…just…too…tight-assed.  Maybe if they legalize that there “marijahoochie….”  My Mother is rolling in her grave.

I left my tight-assed little rural church in 1968 and went on to attend a tight-assed Lutheran school of higher learning and received a liberal arts degree in history and education.  Again, a very conventional ‘I went to Vespers and Chapel kind of education’, and even considered becoming a man of the cloth until Greek and Latin got in the way.

For some reason, some “true believers” have been deemed my education “totally useless” even a “waste of time”.  With my recently vilified “Liberal Arts” diploma, my equally liberal advanced degrees in secondary education, I taught and coached for forty-five years, warping the minds of our youth.

I taught in schools that are being denigrated by some of my political and Christian right (far right?) friends as “hotbeds” of liberalism.  According to them, instead of teaching the three R’s we quote Marx and Lenin, create project-based lesson plans on the ‘Joys of Communism’ and begin every school day with a silent prayer to the Vodun Goddess Mahu.

I might have exaggerated a bit, but one exfriend deemed I had no worthwhile, “real” life experiences and did not understand “day to day” struggles of “real” men.  “As weak as preacher’s piss,” he said.  I’m guessing his educational experiences weren’t very positive.  Another brought by vocabulary in to question, “Simply showing off” because I used the term cognitive dissonance.   Well, bless your heart.

Reality is: teachers do none of the above, they do have the day to day struggles and I’ve known few weak ones.  Teachers are forced to teach to a test they’ve never seen or been allowed to ask questions about and administered at the end of the year.  They have little time to devote to politics or religion, liberal or conservative.  Also, I talk like I talk.

Teachers do pray, silently just after cursing under their breath, every time there is a full moon. Teachers pray to Jehovah, Yahweh, “Sweet Baby Jesus wrapped in fleece” or the patron saint of educators, Saint John-Baptiste de la Salle.  Some pray to Allah, some may pray to Lakshmi, some may pray to any diety willing to take “little Johnny” from their classroom.

They pray to anyone listening for survival and until “true believers” walk in their shoes, they should be quiet and sit down.  Too strong?  Sorry…now be quiet and sit down.

I don’t like combining politics and religion…or teaching for that matter.  Tying “a” religion to politics is destructive to both, destructive to children who don’t believe as you do…and is against the Constitution, something “true believers” seem to forget unless it is the Second Amendment.

The recent political battle between Progressives and Populists has pulled the middle toward opposite poles and taken religion with it…or maybe religion began the tug of war.  It bears pointing out, neither side is being productive doing it.

Despite my heresy…or blasphemy, I talk to God daily, multiple times.  As I ponder what I am typing now, I continue to ask to be “refreshed” and shown the true light.  I get no answer and take his or her silence to mean, “You’re on the right track, Bubba.”

Most of my conversations with Him revolve around my beliefs.  I continue to search for the path and question why so many “true believers” seem to express so much hatred toward their fellow humans.  Their expressions seem to be so contrary to the Good News I’ve read in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.

Let’s be clear.  I’m not speaking of all “true believers”.  Just those who believe theirs is the only way, those who are so sure of themselves religiously or politically, those who believe there is only black and white.  Those whose beliefs are hurtful to those who have no sin other than to be different.  Those who cross the boundary between deeply believing to extreme fanaticism.

My problem, if it truly is a problem, is that I view life in shades of gray.  There is no black or white…and no one hundred percent certainty.  There is no ‘ALL’ or ‘EVERY’.  There is only uncertainty.

An Indian philosopher, Bara Dada, in a quote restructured and attributed falsely to Gandhi, said, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.”  I don’t believe this is true of all, but I believe the number of “not like Christ” Christians are growing to the point that I self-identify as a “Christ Follower” and not with a specific religion…I know, I still attend a Baptist Church but since the pandemic, it is easier not to.

Please don’t take my rant as being “holier than thou.”  I’m not.  Refer to the paragraph beginning “My problem….”  I just don’t understand why we are arguing our beliefs as if they were playing a rival football game…or a war.  “My god is better than yours?”  I should also point out, I have atheist friends and friends who practice non-Christian beliefs.  They seem to be more “Christ-like” and embracing than my many of my “Christian” friends.

I have just now realized my concerns are not about beliefs…it is about actions.  Your actions tell me all I need to know.  I believe words carry the same weight as actions.  My actions and words have weight.

It doesn’t matter what you call your God or god.  Be it Elohim, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, or Joe, do you rationalize your hate with your religion?  How do you rationalize it?  Maybe I’m not the one who needs to self-evaluate…but I will continue to do so.

For more gentle rantings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is the Church of Uncertain sign near Uncertain, Texas 

Thought Provoking Piece from Ryan McMaken

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute, Patrick Buchanan is an informative and interesting writer. On foreign policy, especially, he’s long been one of the most reasonable voices among high-level American pundits. When it comes to cultural matters, however, Buchanan has long held to a peculiar and empirically questionable version of American history in […]

via The US Is Not “One Nation” – And It Never Was — peoples trust toronto