My recent post (which followed up this post) drew a comment that defended Tony Hoagland's poem, "The Change," and this is the response I found myself writing in the small hours of this morning. I hope you can dig it. I know that you can. To wit.
After a 130 thousand years of all human beings living in the south of Africa, some few were pressured by food shortage to head north into Europe. Far from the equatorial sun, the palest of them survived best because only their skin let in enough ultraviolet to make Vitamin D. After a long time of not much, they found that their land held the largest deposits of iron on the planet. This iron made them very powerful. It made for plows, swords, armor, and later, guns. That happened in the past 10 thousand years.
Only a few hundred years ago, the pale ones “discovered” the continent they had left ages ago. In Europe they were used to fighting each other for land, metal, money, and workers, and here they found these goods undefended by swords, guns, or horsemen. The people they found had very different markers of culture, such that each seemed uncultured to the other. The pale ones wanted to steal the land, metal, money, and workers and not much was stopping them beyond morality. They got past the morality by using their own pale skin as a marker for quality, which they backed up by lamenting the absence of salad forks on the African continent, and then they stole everything they wanted. They treated the human beings there as animals. The palies did not have the gall to drag the humans back to Europe and treat them like animals right in the towns where they had preached equality to the rich and powerful. They only did it in places without a history of preaching equality because they had no history other than the extermination of the people who had lived their until recently. There, or rather, here, in America, they set up an institution that now disgusts anyone who learns of it. Its cruelties were unthinkable.
It was only abolished about 150 years ago. The only thing that we have lost in losing the idea of pale skin as a marker for superiority is a childish delusion not worthy of humanity. Physically, biologically, there is no such thing as race. Scott and Bob differ as much in their DNA as do Bob and Darnell. A hundred years ago, in New York, Italian and Irish immigrants fought each other on street corners and disowned Vincenzo for falling in love with Meghan. Cartoonists drew the Irish as if their race was as far removed from white America as an albino baboon, all large-browed, stub-nosed, and stupid. But economics changed and populations changed and the fact that these two groups were both largely Catholic and immigrated in the same era soon made them allies and eventually no racial difference was seen between these two “peoples.” When race difference disappears it disappears so completely that we forget that it was ever there, and therefore we also forget that race difference disappears.
To watch a tennis match between a man from Elizabethan England and a man from today’s Chicago would likely make a woman from Old England groan with despair. Her man would be short and riddled with disease, wearing stiff woven clothes that don’t breath, and hard little shoes. So goes the glory of the world, she might say, but what would she be lamenting? It might comfort her to know that the hunk from North Central studied the Magna Carta in pre-law and played Ariel in a regional staging of The Tempest.
For a white American man to watch a tennis match between a pale European woman and an dark American woman and bemoan the strength of the American is sad. What loss could he be lamenting other than that for a short time people like him wore an unearned badge of superiority that had been used to viciously oppress everybody else, to steal from them, beat them, rape them, and sell their children away from them, naked in the town square?
That is weak and bad, wrong-headed and childish. Group identities change all the time and something good gets handed down anyway. When the ancient Hebrews came back from the Babylonian Captivity they forced conversion on the peoples living around ancient Judea. Nobody worried about mixing up the blood. The markers of value change. If you want what is good about your history to somehow persist all you have to do is not make it repugnant to the next generation. In some way it will survive.
If you miss the age where your particular type of face used to get special treatment, you probably have something missing in your life and should seek counseling. We shall not lament the loss of the swastika, Catholics shoving Protestants into Iron Maidens, or the Early Modern European custom of allowing aristocratic men to rape women of the lower classes. Those things are disgusting.
You can write about missing them, but if a Jew or a Protestant or a woman stands up and says that piece you wrote made me feel awful, and when I talked to you about it you didn’t seem to care, and then a brouhaha breaks out about it, with lots of people rushing to defend that they appreciate this person bringing their inner struggle to the public forum, you can damn well expect this human being to stand up and say that it is time to learn some history and rethink some values. Protestant children should not have to hear about how you miss being able to keep them out of your party. Missing white culture or white power (or whatever is being lamented in Hoagland's poem) is missing hate and narcissism and winning when you don’t deserve it. Because that’s the only thing that has been lost. We still have everything else, plus a tan. And if your New England grandchildren are brown, don't worry, there is Vitamin D in the milk. Drink your milk. Have also maybe a cookie, you look thin. We shall get through this together. We overcome when we see hate and narcissism for what they are, which is fear and isolation and useless competition. We overcome when we turn away from that and start enjoying one another. Some of us have already overcome. We shall give you a cookie when you join us.
So there you go. I wish we could hug it out, I'm exceedingly squeezable. Anyway, bleaders, I love you. Don't kill yourselves. Don't text and drive, but do keep writing to me with compliments and solidarity. You are the wind...and so on.
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