I’m Not Going to Stop Talking About The Civil War Until I See Another One

One of the greatest things my college education gave me was an obsession with the American Civil War. Prior to taking college-level American history (and specifically, classes focused on detangling the myths of American history at large), my knowledge and understanding of the war that shaped the country was laughable. I knew the North fought the South sort of about slavery (at the time I wasn’t sure if slavery was the real cause) and won, freeing enslaved people and solidifying the unity of all the states. Now I’m basically to the point where I’d say Civil War history should be prioritized over most other subjects within US history education. And I’ve decided that I’m not going to stop talking about the Civil War until I see another one.

The war itself was a mess. Not speaking to strategy or specific battles, but overall it was a messy ordeal. Historians talk about the war as being all-encompassing because of the massive number of casualties. Entire male populations from some areas were essentially wiped out in the war effort—on both sides. To this day, it remains the deadliest war in our history and yet, almost immediately after the fact, people started to forget why this happened.

You would think if a country paid such a hefty price for something that it would then do everything in its power to prevent such a thing from happening again. America did not.

A Miseducation

From what I can tell, there are a few key factors people seem to misunderstand when it comes to the Civil War. They can mostly be chalked up to the education people are getting about the war, which from my point of view is at best irregular across the country, and at worst, false.

The Cause

First, the war was about slavery. The Civil War was about slavery. Period. Not state’s rights. Not economic reasons. Just American slavery.

Yes, up until the war the legality of slavery was a state’s right to decide. However, as new states were being admitted into the union without the right to allow slavery, those that would become Confederate states began to secede. Why do people think the war was about anything else? I think that’s broadly the fault of education. I remember learning in middle school that the war was moreso about the economic differences between the regions, with slavery as a factor, but not really coming to the conclusion that slavery was the cause until high school and college.

And that was in New Jersey. In some places in the South, I’ve heard from peers that their textbooks referred to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression” which is plainly false as the Confederacy ultimately fired the first shots. Regardless of what you’ve been taught, this debate prevails, and it undermines the rest of what is important about the war. It makes it difficult to actually grapple with the lessons we desperately needed to take away from the war.

The Characterization

The war was simultaneously divisive and unifying.

This is a bit of a personal thesis I’ve come to through my studies. Obviously, the war was the division of the so-called United States. And the end of the war, as many scholars acknowledge, marked the true beginning of the United States. You may have heard the adage that before the war, people referred to the states in the plural form—“The United States are…”—where after the war it was referred to in the singular—“The United States is…”

My view would say that this change was less a before and after, and more a brackish throughout. While the war drew a clear line between us and them, it also brought us all together in a gruesome fashion. Because of the sheer deadliness of the war, it’s understandable that an immense hunger for peace and reconciliation followed. 

Without even thinking about the aftermath of war in today’s terms of PTSD and such, you can imagine how hollow it must have felt to live in this nation and see so much of the population wiped out in bloody battles in your own backyard. We still have buildings scarred with bullet holes from the war. Imagine living up the street from where there’s thousands of men buried in shallow graves. 

Yet, this grief period should not have overshadowed the fact that we needed to make critical repairs to a broken system. Generally speaking, it’s a little weird to think we crafted this beautiful Constitution and after half the country threw it in the trash, we thought they’d take it out and respect it again with a couple of amendments. While we were unified in our grief we remained divided by our ideologies. Yes many slaveowners were no longer practicing slavery, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t wishing they could. 

Surely the tension between these overwhelming feelings of unity and division was not easily navigated. So in response, the Union focused more or less on the unity, which was a critical mistake.

The Reckoning

The value of the Union victory was more or less lost as early as the Reconstruction era.

If I had fought in the war as a Union soldier, I would have marched through the South for years afterward chastising them for their atrocities. True, probably not a better alternative, but the Union effort for Reconstruction was a joke. The technicalities were by no means had easy answers—especially when Lincoln gets taken out of the equation—but the answers the Union came up with were tragic.

Broadly speaking, the Confederacy got off easy. Yes, the crime of slavery was totally American—not limited to the South, and not the fault of one person or region. And as people of the time felt, the Civil War was a punishment that the entire nation received for that crime. But it wasn’t enough because it failed to address the crime of dehumanization which was the real crime of slavery. 

The practice of slavery itself, I think is one we have not collectively been able to understand. We think about it in a kind of practical sense, understanding it was a commonly accepted practice globally since the beginning of time that we eventually ended.

But we fail to recognize what it means to keep another human as property for any purpose. We fail to recognize that the institution of slavery relies on the idea that some humans are not equal. And because in ending slavery we only did that—end slavery—we failed to teach basic humanity when it was most critical. A person can go from slaveowner to not slaveowner overnight. A person will not go from thinking an entire race is inferior, or even just different overnight—especially when they are not told to do so.

It’s because of this missing understanding that Reconstruction ultimately failed. Reconstruction focused on moving forward and rectifying the physical losses—cities, populations, economies—when it desperately needed to focus on the moral losses that allowed the war to happen—equality, compassion, humanity. Because of this oversight, the South was able to rebuild itself in its own image maintaining racial subjugation.

From this period we get a lot of the memory we have about the Civil War painted in the beautifully tragic colors. It’s the reason we have all those now-contested Confederate monuments—the South was peddling stories about sacrifice and bravery to paint the war as this great honorable fight not about anything but Americanness. A number of the ways we celebrate American patriotism today comes from the Civil War period as Southerners fought to commemorate the war not as a time when they lost, but a time when we all won.

Seeing the war as a collective movement not only undermines the whole slavery problem but also falsely characterizes the South as graceful losers. Not to say they fought tooth and nail to the end—they didn’t. Confederate soldiers were literally deserting the war long before Appomattox, and obviously, the war ended with Lee’s surrender. But beyond that, viewing the war as this disagreement that ended in agreement is false. The South, defeated, went home and started planning for how to find other ways to keep their (white) power. And the North patted themselves on the back for winning and just went home. 

A Reeducation

To unlearn these narratives, you have to understand the truth that invalidates them. Of course, that means more than just getting the facts straight—you also need to understand why the facts matter.

Defining Inequality

The mischaracterization of the cause of the war undermines the entire history of race relations in the United States. It is fair to see the Civil War as a turning point and thus to see history in two parts: pre-war and post-war. But if you take out the slavery cause you throw those parts into disarray because it leaves you asking what did the war change?

As mentioned, we collectively still struggle to understand exactly what the practice of slavery meant. I think it’s one of those things that gets taught to you almost every year (probably in February) you are in school to the point that it has lost its meaning. Maybe I’m projecting too much of my own experience, but my feelings about slavery until college were very basic—it was a bad thing that happened. What I now urge others to understand is that it was a bad system that existed and still has huge ramifications today.

It’s a common debate now as lawmakers discuss reparations to bring up the fact that slavery existed not too long ago. And while, yes that it meaningful, that fact pales in comparison to the fact that we’re still using the same ideas to create new systems that are more or less other forms of slavery. 

The entire basis of slavery rests on the idea that there is a human on the planet who is unequal to any other human. And while we said in our Declaration of Independence—that foundation for the nation—that all men are equal, we still collectively refuse to believe it. And because of that, we failed to establish comprehensive civil rights immediately after the Civil War, and thus had to do it all over again a hundred years later. 

Hindsight

When I think about the unity that was supposed to come following the Civil War, I often compare it to the Black Lives Matter movement. Almost immediately after organizers and protesters started shouting “Black Lives Matter,” people came out of the woodworks to assert that in fact, “All Lives Matter.” This did not and still does not go over well, as many of you know.

Reconstruction worked similarly in that if we pretend that the Union was in fact fighting to end slavery, they were the ones saying “Black Lives Matter.” The Confederacy started the war with “Black lives matter to my plantation,” and ended with “All Lives Matter” in the sense that they wanted everyone to forget about that little slip-up of slavery, and recognize the fact that we’re all here now and we should just move on. 

They, along with the current “all lives matter” troupe would be correct if they themselves took that view from the beginning. Black Lives Matter needed to be said in 2015 and henceforth because black Americans understood that their lives were not being seen as something that mattered in the eyes of police and many other institutions. Had the colonizers, the slave owners, and everyone who continues to uphold institutions founded on inequality said all lives matter BEFORE they were putting people in cages, chains, and whipping posts, then yes it would still be fine to say all lives matter in 2019.

The fact of the matter is, some person at some point in history decided that another person was not the same as them. Thus all of civilization has been able to get away with that idea and use at their discretion. Racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious intolerance—every form of discrimination is based on the idea that there are two humans on the planet that are somehow unequal, and thus one of them is deserving of less.

The Civil War was an opportunity to see this problem and its effects and actually do something about it. We failed.

Shoulda Coulda Woulda

Do I think the Union could have eradicated racism in America in the aftermath of the Civil War? Not necessarily. There will always be bad apples. There will always be outliers. But it’s the cycle of “progress” that we keep repeating that makes me wish they at least gave it a shot.

I feel very helpless at working towards national moral agreement now because we’re too big. We may have been too big then, but especially now: how would you go about trying to teach every person in this country that everybody is equal? How do you unteach generations of ingrained ideology when it’s so widespread? I don’t know.

But I do know that we had a much better shot in 1865 than we do in 2019. There were around 3 generations where we could have at least tried to prevent the passing on of this disease that is inequality, but the North decided to go the amicable route and let the South continue to undermine black Americans. 

We are here in Trump’s America at this time of tangible tension because we failed to nip the Confederacy in the bud. By failing to set up actual protections for formerly enslaved citizens and black citizens broadly, the South was able to continue subjugating black Americans through bureaucratic institutions which at best looked like sharecropping and at worst looked like lynch laws. 

What Do I Want

I don’t want to see another literal civil war. Practically speaking, they managed to kill and wound over a million Americans with the time-intensive and shoddy weapons they had back then, it would just be total and instant obliteration with today’s cache.

In reality, though the last few years have felt eerily war-like. The phrase “in today’s political climate” instantly triggers feelings of tension, divisiveness, and disagreement for many along with feelings of fear, helplessness, and anger all similar to those of the Civil War era. If we just referenced certain events of the past few years differently you could almost imagine them sequenced in a future textbook: The Battle of Ferguson, The March on Charlottesville, The Charleston and El Paso Massacres, to name a few. We may not all be wearing matching uniforms, but there are conflicts happening all around us trying to prove a point.

My point is the arguments have all been made. Every moment that we spend still debating the significance of the Civil War is another moment that proves we have not learned from it at all. We assert broadly that history repeats itself but we ignore the caveat that this only happens if we fail to learn from it. The first step is getting on the same page about what that history actually is and what it means.

If You Always Do What You Always Did…

My mom will be pleased to read that some of the things she has said to—or in some cases drilled into—me have stuck with me into adulthood. This she has said both to me and to her own mother on countless occasions: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” 

A quick google search found that quote attributed to author Tony Robbins, along with Albert Einstein and Henry Ford. I’m not sure where my mom first heard it (and no, I didn’t bother to ask), but it clearly stuck with her as she passed it on to me. I would be inclined to believe it came from an innovator like Einstein or Ford because it expresses the idea that if you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep seeing the same result. 

Sure there are more details involved, but you can imagine Henry Ford standing in the factory saying, “Ah murderation (or some other old-timey exclamation)! If we keep building one car at a time, we’ll just keep making one car at a time and it will take lifetimes to see all of America driving automobiles!” or something to that effect. And thus, the assembly line was born. 

My mom has so far not heeded this advice when I’ve come to her in shambles because I haven’t been able to revolutionize an industry. But she does present it when I come to her and say, “I have x problem and it’s not getting fixed because y.” The y is usually some person with routine patterns that need to change or some job that needs to change or some habit I’ve created that I need to change. In essence, she cuts right to the point. No nonsense, no frills. If you can change it, you have to—if you want the result to be different.

Why in the world could I possibly be writing this when we’ve just had two mass shootings in 24 hours? I can’t possibly put two and two together.

But it’s bigger than that. I know we are not the same country we were when Columbine happened. Or Virginia Tech. Or Sandy Hook. Things have changed, albeit on a microscopic level, but things have changed and I won’t pretend people aren’t doing anything to change the routine of gun-related tragedies. But we have to understand that on a macro scale, the effort to end gun violence has remained mostly the same. You don’t need to be a policy expert to see that. Why? Because we’re getting the same result. Either we’re not changing the right things or maybe we just aren’t changing anything.

Take it outside of gun violence, and I keep begging the question: why are we as a country doing the same thing year after year, election after election and expecting different results?

When I was in my last semester of college, I had a painting professor give us a prompt to think about and eventually paint about. He gave us with no context this quote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I didn’t google it at the time—I’m not sure if we were explicitly prohibited or if I was just lazy—but I now know where it comes from and that alone will give a lot of folks all the context they need. But the class discussion illuminated for me the meaning that whoever is in charge is not going to be taken down by the same means that they were put in power. The actual reference is a book by civil rights activist, Audre Lorde.

If defeating Trumpism™—or however you choose to define the chaos everyone is seeing in this country—is the goal, then the strategy we tried to use to beat it in 2016 is obviously not going to work. Yet here we are trying it again. Maybe if we just vote harder this time…

I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic about the future and the work that some leaders are doing to combat hatred as well as the other issues like climate change, healthcare, and immigration. But I find it truly mind-blowing that we have really just gotten so comfortable with the idea that the America where people aren’t in constant anger if not fear and sadness will reappear (or, for many many people, appear for the very first time) if we just keep doing the same routines. 

I will put it in writing: I would love to see a revolution in this country. As a historian, yes I think it was something of a remarkable bureaucratic feat to create this nation at the time of its foundation. To be able to fight against the strongest military in the world and with no legal right and a noose on the line to say “We want this freedom and we’re not going to stop until we get it,” is really bold. 

There is no difference between what the founders did 243 years ago and what a group of determined individuals who band together, go against the grain, and refuse to quit can do today. We take the American Revolution for granted because we think that should have been the only one. 

Yes, that common phrase people say Jefferson said about every generation needing a revolution, is mostly fake. But he did say, “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” He’s actually talking about Shay’s Rebellion—a relatively small uprising over, go figure, taxes—which turned out to be a major catalyst for the writing of a small document known today as the Constitution.

I’m going to try not to go down a historical rabbit hole here, but this example kind of nuances the thesis of “always doing what you always did.” The rebellion mirrored the Revolution in that these farmers felt they were being taxed unfairly, and they took physical action to get a say. The major change here was that they were farmers and not wealthy men leading the charge, and they were thus swiftly defeated. So to that end, it proves the point that doing the same thing won’t work. But they did see a changed result in that their protest made the people in charge realize the Articles of Confederation weren’t going to work.

From this example, we understand that a revolution in the traditional sense that Americans understand it probably won’t work. But we need to understand that the revolutions that work focus on the technical definition of a revolution: a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it. 

There is no revolution so long as we’re using the same systems that built whatever it is that needs to be changed. There will be no real revolution until we change the entire way we think about how our government works.

Noise

I have this weird form of claustrophobia where it only affects my well being in super specific conditions. The fear that makes my heart race and breath irregular appears whenever either the use of my feet or my ears is compromised. The feet is just one of those comfort things I think is somewhat normal. I can’t sleep with my feet under the covers or in socks, and footie pajamas give me angina. I just like to know when the boogeyman reaches out from under the bed I’ll be able to kick back and maybe poke his eyes out with my toes.

The hearing issue is different, though. It is affected in even more specific situations, but also in the metaphoric sense. For example, I can be driving by myself and blasting music with no problem. But if I’m in a car with other people and music is blasting and someone tries to have a conversation, it feels like the walls are closing in. Or if I’m in a group and we’re trying to decide something and everyone is shouting ideas in a competition to see who can be the loudest, a part of my soul starts screaming. I just have this real sense of panic whenever there’s too much noise I can’t control.

I bet you thought this was going to be a political rant. Surprise, it’s not, and you’re welcome. I know we’re all tired of hearing about it. I am going to speak to that, though. I am excruciatingly tired of it. All I wanted was for the election to be over so we could carry on our everyday lives, but something unprecedented has happened, and everything has changed and no one really knows where to go. Or so it feels. It feels this way, at least to me, because there’s so much noise. It’s not even two-sided anymore. Everyone wants everyone to do something differently and we’re all just screaming at each other trying to be the loudest. We can’t even claim we’re the most correct because who knows what correct even looks like. I just want it all to be quiet again.

And even that, I’m told is wrong. I know it’s wrong in the sense that we should not continue to be complacent with the systematic issues like racism and sexism, but I can’t help but wish we could be complacent because at least it was the devil we knew. It’s funny because we know that with Hillary the world was not going to get better overnight. It may not have even improved much in four years. We know under Obama things got better but surely a black president did not do much for racism, and a woman president would likely do the same amount to fix sexism. But at least we knew they were trying. Trump isn’t even officially president yet and it seems someone picked up America and started shaking it like a snow globe. I want the snow to settle so we can see what’s going to happen. I know he’s the bad guy. I loathe that man, but it’s so loud in this country right now that I don’t even know what’s going to happen.

 

The 2016 Oscars

I will preface this post by reminding everyone I am a feminist. I am a mixed black and white woman who believes in equality. I would agree, The Academy Awards this year was unnecessarily white washed.

I watched the Oscars at an event in New York City called Every Single Word: The Oscars at the Bowery Ballroom. The event was a live commentary featuring: Franchesca Ramsey (MTV’s Decoded; Creator of “S*** White Girls Say to Black Girls”), Danielle Henderson (creator of Feminist Ryan Gosling), Sean Rameswaram (WNYC Host), Crissle West (co-host of The Read; Drunk History), Naomi Ekperigin (writer for Broad City & Difficult People), and Bowen Yang (Broad City). The event will be hosted by Dylan Marron (Welcome to Night Vale; creator of Every Single Word). It was awful.

While I have not read or seen most of the work of these writers or comedians, I understand they are all pretty accomplished and well known in their fields. What I saw of them last night makes me not want to read or see any of their other work, frankly. I understand the need for dialogue and debate about the racism at The Oscars and the systematic issues at play—this event was not that. It was unproductive heckling.

I can’t remember the last time I was in a room full of so much hate. The host opened the show with a lot of sarcasm about what we were about to watch, and an explanation why we were all here to watch it. He asked all the straight white men in the room to identify themselves so everyone could laugh at them. He handed out tally cards for people to count the times certain inevitable things happened such as “the word ‘diversity’ is mentioned.” He even handed out confetti poppers to be exploded every time the camera shows “white guilt.” I understand the point, sort of, to uplift people of color in this space, because we have been put down in the world’s arena. I did not feel uplifted. I felt uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because my “white side” was feeling the “white guilt,” but I think it’s more because the whole event was overkill.

I went to this hoping for a respectful conversation about the real issues reflected in the Oscar nominations. What I got was a room full of hatred towards anyone not of color, or maybe in the LGTBQ community. I don’t think that was the point, but that is what I felt.

The panel hated Chris Rock’s monologue, exclaiming he “sold out” and felt he made a mockery of the situation. I felt he did a good job as a black comedian hosting essentially an all-white party. Someone just said to me earlier in the week “We make jokes about the things we feel most uncomfortable about. It’s how we cope.” That’s how I felt about Chris Rock’s jokes, but apparently was wrong.

My ~favorite~ part of the evening may have been when Vice President, Joe Biden, came out and the panelists talked about how sexy he is and how they would or would not sleep with him as he spoke about sexual assault. Yet every commercial break the host showed clips of past acceptance speeches where men were sexist because they said the women were sexy. Joe Biden was one of many figures who made the panelists ask each “would you or would you not do?”

If we take out the fact that I was very hungry and physically uncomfortable in my plastic folding chair for four hours, we still have the same result. The event was a screaming match between these panelists and a screen, and it had little positive effect in my opinion. My colleagues seemed to enjoy it, and I’m glad they did, but I did not. I think screaming about how much you hate white people is not going to get us any further towards equality. You cannot beat hate with hate.

xoxo,

Kam

Talking ‘Bout My Generation

In my post about The University of Missouri, I mentioned that I agree to some extent that my generation is overly sensitive or “too coddled,” as many are saying. I wrote then, and stand by my word, that this does not apply to what happened at Mizzou and what continues to happen with racial injustice across campuses and cities around the country. However, I do want to share my thoughts on when it does apply and why I think this is happening.

I guess my first point is the fine line between raging against a longstanding system and being too sensitive. The reason I don’t think Mizzou had to do with sensitivity is because racism has and continues to be a system on which our country operates. That is a fact. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. When students say, “Hey I’m not going to be a pawn in this system anymore,” they are choosing to stop complying with the mechanics of this system and trying to make a change. When a student says, “This is offensive I don’t want to hear it,” they are being too sensitive. I mean this especially in the case of education. Like if a student says, “I’m not reading Huckleberry Finn because it uses the N-word,” I would say that’s being overly sensitive. That is inhibiting their own education because certain things were more acceptable in that time period. Do you see the difference?

People now are just looking for someone to blame. A lot of fingers are pointing at me and my generation for just being too sensitive and overly coddled. This is funny because last I checked we didn’t raise ourselves. Not to say that parents are to blame either. But we have to look at the timeline of my generation.

We are the participation trophy generation. Since I started t-ball at age 5, I was showed that if I showed up, I would get a trophy. Our coaches (who were often our parents) told us that everyone was good enough no matter how much better or worse you did than the other kids. There was still a prize at the end of the season.

We are the “No Child Left Behind” generation. I had my first standardized test in 3rd grade. As a ten-year-old, I was responsible for determining the funding my school received. Maybe it wasn’t that extreme, but I’m pretty sure I’m not far off. From then on, I was a test score before I was a student.

We are the selfie generation. Yes. Social media has doomed us all. Myspace came out when I was 7. Facebook the year after. So by the time I was old enough to join, I could already have 100 people be my “friend” and pay attention to whatever I wanted to say. In a way, social media is a lot like a participation trophy. Anyone can join, and at least one other person will likely give you a thumbs up just for typing the words, “I farted.”

It’s no wonder we’re soo messed up. We are the first generation that has hardly lived in a time where we couldn’t send a message to millions of people in an instant. We have become dependent on that ability to gain attention without working towards acclamation.

This is not to say my generation is a generation of underachievers. I think we will end up being a generation of amazing overachievers, but we’re not quite there yet. We need to figure out how to use all this power for good. I think we’re starting to do that, every time we post something and say, “Why is no one talking about this?” Every time we use our smartphones to help our parents and grand parents, we’re using that power for good. Every time we post meaningful things online we’re using that power for good.

I think the misuse of that power is a big source of that oversensitivity. If we’re not being praised for insignificant action, we play the victim because it’s an easy way to gain that attention back. I think it’s stupid. I think it’s childish. And too often, it’s not just annoying to other people, it’s inhibiting our own growth. We use these catchphrases we learn online like “politically correct” and “triggering” to describe situations that have nothing to do with such adjectives, and suddenly we’re putting ourselves in a corner because the world is “too offensive.”

Look, friends, it’s easy for me to say it because I have always been tough-skinned (I’m the youngest of 4, I had to be), but grow up. If you feel attacked, don’t cry about it, do something about it. If you feel opposed, form an argument. If you feel like someone doesn’t understand you, try to understand them. We have all our priorities messed up, and this idealistic society we think we’re creating is not going to work. There’s always going to be a hater, but crying in the corner isn’t going to get rid of them.

xoxo,

Kam

 

The Race Thing

To answer the big question of “what am I?” I am mixed black and white. My father was black and my mother is white, and I am a beautiful caramel macchiato.

This has never really been a problem for me. When I was in first grade a girl asked me if I was adopted when she saw my mom, but that’s been pretty much the extent of my raced-based interactions. I struggle with my hair. People ask “What am I?” and sometimes men approach me with a reluctant, “Hola?” thinking I am Latina.

The quick answer and identity I used for college applications was and always has been black. Partially because I’ve always just kind of felt black, and partially because whatever I am, I am simply not white. However, I realized something this week. I am very white.

No, I wasn’t trying to prove my dance moves. I wasn’t complaining about the food being too spicy. I was actually in a classroom. My writing professor assigned a reading to us about “Black English,” and one teacher’s passion for teaching the cultural dialect as a written language. I could not have felt whiter.

The goal of the piece was to highlight the issues with “Standard English,” and to speak to the injustice done to the black community by not accepting their syntax as “proper.” This did not sit well with me. I was raised to not say “ain’t,” not use double negatives, and to enunciate each word carefully. I’ve spent years drilling the rules of English grammar into my skull, and here this professor seemed to be undoing all my hard work.

I don’t want to address the question of prejudice here. I want to speak more about my own experience and identity that was brought to light from this lesson.

I found myself hating this piece because I was angry that someone was saying my precious rules for grammar were systematically oppressive. Then I was confused because in feeling this anger, was I coming from a place of internalized racism? This begged a larger question, and one I have kind of held in the back of my head since coming to college: am I black enough? There are things I know and things I am not sure about. I know that I stand against racism. I am not sure I am a victim of it.

I know, especially compared to too many other people of color, I have never experienced outright personal racism. But have I internalized it based on the fact that I can’t get down with “Black English?” I know some people would tell me yes. I only hate Black English because the white man has told me to hate Black English. But I think I actually, as a writer, as a rule follower, enjoy conforming to the rules of standard English. Yes, these rules came from a bunch of white men, but so did the Constitution and I do love my freedom of Speech.

I don’t know where my endgame here is. I guess, if you are someone who wants to speak and write in “Black English” I can’t and won’t try to stop you, but I’m not going to use it myself. And I don’t think that makes me any less black. I think it means I was raised differently or come from a different culture. I will respect that it does not make you less educated or less refined, as the piece pointed out, students who tried to switch from Standard English to Black English had trouble conforming to its rules. And even if it was “easy” it would not be invalid.

I guess my point is, don’t make me choose. I cannot choose which race I want to be every day. I don’t think any part of me is strictly based in one-half of my chromosomes. I just don’t want to feel like I’m betraying either one of my races in saying this, so I’m not going to. I’m mixed, and that’s not important because at the end of the day I’m Kamaron no matter what.

xoxo,

Kam

In Retrospect…

I recently started binge-watching an iconic American tv show from the late 90’s, and I noticed something. First, there are no characters of color. Every once in a while one will pop up in some exoticized fashion, but will never stay for more than an episode. Second, there is only one recurring homosexual character, and he is so minor, he doesn’t even have a plotline. Finally, in one episode a group of transgender women are verbally harassed and called “trannies” and made a spectacle of. And I keep thinking, “How did they get away with this?”

Then I thought about the history class I’m taking this semester. We had a discussion about Christopher Columbus and the horrible genocide he committed and all the atrocities he brought to this land in the name of discovery. My class got into a bit of a heated discussion about whether or not Columbus knew what he was doing was wrong. Slavery was acceptable and normal in those days. And racism wasn’t even a term it was just the brown natives who weren’t really “people.” But we read an account of someone who saw what Columbus was doing and said it was horrific. So arguably, Columbus was capable of seeing his actions as what they were- horrible.

I compare the two events because I want to talk about hindsight. We look back at the past and say “Wow slavery was awful,” and “Man Columbus was a terrible man.” While both of these statements are true, very few people would have agreed with us in 1492. And now watching this 90’s TV show I think, “So whitewashed,” “Ugh so transphobic,” when in reality the creators likely didn’t know any better. The race thing, I mean, they did know better, but it wasn’t as big of a talked-about issue back then. Of course, that doesn’t make it okay, but to my knowledge Viola Davis wasn’t a household name back then.

Either way, my point is: change takes time. I have seen posts on tumblr and places about how terrible 90’s television was because it was homophobic and all white cast. And while I’ll agree it sucks Danny Tanner never made it out of the closet, it was a different time. We should have known better, but we didn’t. We do now. It’s getting better in some areas- TV casting at least a little bit.

Today’s society is changing every minute. It feels like every second there’s a new gender identity I have to recognize or a new social justice issue I have to be sensitive to. I’m not complaining, I just want the victims to know that I’m trying. I can’t speak for everyone because I know there are and always will be people who aren’t willing to change. But for those of us that are trying, give us a break, and help us to learn. I’m gonna make mistakes, I already have. But correct me, and help me learn from it and I’ll know better next time. Acceptance is a learning process, not a permanent engraving on the brain. For those of you not willing to change, try it out. You might like what you find.

xoxo,

Kam

Problematic or Not

I did it. Today someone on my instagram feed “did a thing,” and I had to say something about it. This young woman with whom I attended middle school several years ago has recently been posting photos of herself modeling in various places and doing various things. They’re all beautiful, and she is a lovely girl from what I remember. Today, however, she posted a new photo of herself in an American Indian-style tribal headdress.

Again, I have hardly, if at all, spoken to this girl since around 2010, and we weren’t best friends back then, just to set the scene for you. And I am not the girl who comments on Kylie Jenner’s instagram when she wear cornrows or blasts Iggy Azealea for her racist actions. So did I step out of line? Perhaps. But I tried to do so as respectfully as possible to point out the flaws of this photo. Here is what went down:

Me: “I’m rarely the one to cry cultural appropriation especially to a culture that’s isn’t my own but this is completely disrespectful. You are stunning in this photo and the others but I would recommend you and your photographer do some research especially if you are trying to be a professional. This is becoming more and more of shameful action. I don’t mean to be rude or point my finger at you but it’s really not the best representation of yourself and your art.” I also posted a link to an MTV article about appropriation especially in the form of wearing headdresses.

Girl: “I already read the article. i am fully aware of this being politically incorrect. although to appreciate another culture is nothing shameful. people dress in costume every Halloween like this in face paint as well making it a joke. white girls wear their hair in cornrows. I appreciate you trying but why don’t you rag on all the girls wearing kimonos from lawrence”

Me: “This issue isn’t wearing something from another culture. If you read the article you’ll know the problem with this specifically is a sacred tradition. It’s your gram, you can post what you want. I am just saying if I was trying to be seen as professional this would not be my chosen route.”

Girl: “‘The headdress is reserved for our revered elders who, through their selflessness and leadership, have earned the right to wear one.’ i read it Kam. thank you. i have people very close in my life that are Native American and haven’t said anything. Professional… there’s a whole page of well known models wearing this head piece. I go to college to be a social worker i live my whole life to help others. i’m wearing a head piece that is beautiful. leave me alone.”

I was then told by her other followers that I am “just jealous” and to “leave with my negative energy if her page isn’t up to my standards,” where she did defend that I was just sharing my opinion and we can agree to disagree, so thanks for that.

Now I’m speaking on my own site, so let me continue with my opinion and negative energy.

First of all, like I said to this girl, I was not trying to attack her personally or call her a racist or anything. I think I chose my words carefully, and I appreciate the way she defended herself. I took the approach as to letting this be a teaching moment. I don’t know if she is trying to be a professional model, I don’t know if her photographer is a professional or trying to be one. What I do know is that this post was not “politically incorrect,” it was just downright offensive. The article explained that the use of the headdress is traditionally sacred, which is why it’s not okay for commoners to put one on to take an edgy photo. Kimonos, are not sacred cultural symbol, so for girls from Lawrence or wherever to wear something in the style or even called a “kimono” is okay. Should we all take a history lesson when donning trends from other cultures? Sure. But is there a difference between sharing trends and appropriating culture? Absolutely.

Again, I am rarely the one commenting on things like kimonos and cornrows, because things like that seem more of a gray area to me, and I am still learning. When it comes to headdresses, it’s just a fact. Victoria’s Secret couldn’t get away with it. Pharrell couldn’t get away with it. Will this girl get away with it? Maybe. It’s her personal instagram account and I seemed to be the only person who cared, but hopefully she’ll think about her actions because I said something.

I have posted before about my annoyance with the apparent influx of “cultural appropriation arguments.” My first week of college I wanted to yank my eyeballs out because it was such a “big deal,” but I think some aspects are important. I say some not to say some cultures being targeted are less important, but rather to say that in becoming more aware of this, we are walking a fine line.

The issue is being afraid of cultural appropriation rather than being aware of it. If something you want to wear or do might be considered appropriation, you should absolutely research it. But the keyword there is research, not just avoiding it altogether. If we walk around on eggshells saying things like “I shouldn’t use chopsticks that’s appropriation!” we breed xenophobia. I think chaotically-neutral on tumblr said it best when they said,

“Historically, separating cultures often leads to cultural incompetence, xenophobia, discrimination, stereotyping, and racism. Cultural appropriation is bad, but that doesn’t make cultural segregation good.”

I’m not always right. But I think discourse is important especially when it come to these issues. The girl on instagram said she lives her whole life to help others and I think that’s great. However, I think she made a mistake in posting this picture and I hope she and the people that applauded her can see that.

The world is constantly changing, and it’s hard to keep up with what is still okay to do and what is really looked down upon in society. We’re all gonna make mistakes, but I hope that we continue to accept when that happens and learn from them.

xoxo,

Kam

UPDATE: 9 hours later the picture is still up, and someone else has joined the argument. This person commented:

“Honestly i truly believe cultural appropriation is determined by who you are as a person and your morals and beliefs and i think the issue with so many people is that they are assuming that you are not advocating for the oppressed people you are so called “representing” but they wouldn’t know that. If they knew you theyd know you are going to school for social work aka working against social issues. Basically i always say never appreciate a negative opinion from someone who doesnt really know you.”

To which the poster replied:

“This was so well said. thank you. the whole issue with wearing a headpiece is that in their culture you have to earn the right to wear it, but i do not live in their society. i fully respect their traditions.”

I’m trying to let it go and walk away, but I am getting angrier. I would post more comments on the picture, but clearly no one is paying attention. Basically, this person is saying you’re only appropriating a culture if you actually hate and intend to disrespect the culture and its people. She is correct and saying I don’t really know the girl who posted the picture. I don’t know her morals or her actions. But, I never said she was a bad person for posting this. I did say I think her actions were disrespectful and it is cultural appropriation.

Once again, it’s not about whether or not she hates Native Americans. I don’t think that’s what she is saying in the photo. The fact is she took a symbol- the headdress- which is sacred in Native American culture, and used it in a casual way. This is appropriation because it is taking something that is earned and highly regarded in a culture and dismissing it as a fashion accessory. She made it worse when she defended herself by saying she earned it because she’s a good person.

Also, does this other commenter know what a social worker is? Not to say they don’t do good work, but “working against social issues” isn’t exactly the job description. I suppose that’s a really general description, but their job is not to be out fighting racism, they help families and in some cases people with disorders and other issues. Again, not bad work, very good work indeed, just not what this person thinks they do.

Also, does the poster realize the hypocrisy in her statement, “I do not live in their society. I fully respect their traditions.” YOU ARE DOING THE OPPOSITE. She is saying “I’m not black so I can say the n-word because I ‘respect’ them.” Her friend is saying, “I can be racist because I’m a good person.”

I am appalled.

I am also counting my blessings because I am so grateful for my education.

Finally,

Kam

Boycott Taylor Swift

Here we go.

If any of you know me personally, you know that I am not a fan of Taylor Swift. For me, it started with the music. I am not a fan of country music, so I wasn’t really into her at first. Then she got into a more pop sound so I kind of liked her okay. Who didn’t jam out to “You Belong With Me” in 7th grade? Then something changed for me. I don’t know what, if I just got tired of her music and then full on didn’t like her or if something actually happened. I don’t remember. Either way by the time she was working on her plot to destroy America, I was over her.

Let me tell you about my issues with her now. First of all, I’ve always kind of seen her as a sellout. She’s from Pennsylvania, which can be a little hick-y in some parts, but not so much Reading, her hometown. So when she decides to go into country music, I personally see that as kind of fake. Like you’re singing with a twang, but you’re from the Northeast… Alright. THEN she sold out of country music into her transitional period. Where she was still winning country music awards but her music was basically pop. Again, I couldn’t care less about country music and who gets awards, but it’s kind of sketchy that she couldn’t pick a side and it seems to me she was trying to capitalize on the music industry. And now, she’s moved from being a pop princess to trying to rebrand herself as not only a pop singer, but a New Yorker city-loving girl. Again, she’s from Pennsylvania. Who is the real Taylor Swift?

No matter where she’s pretending to be from, she’s just a money hungry selfish businesswoman. I get it. We’re all trying to make a living here. But most artists in the industry are in it for the music, and I question Taylor’s motivation. She pretends to be this All-American sweetheart with a group of perfect little minions, but she’s evil.

What other artist sues their own fans for creating their own memorabilia? I can’t think of anyone. She does this. I’m all for artists making money off of their work. I think it is hard to make it big in that business. But she has made it big. She’s worth $200 million. Yet she sues her own fans for creating paraphernalia with her face on it, and has even sued the man who allegedly taught her how to play guitar. These are everyday people with probably everyday jobs, and she will not allow them to make a cent off of her. You can’t even play her music on Spotify EVEN if you pay for it.

But it’s not all about the money. If Taylor Swift is such a good and sweet girl, what is she doing for this world? She throws money at some charities here and there, so that’s nice, but easy. Her most public cause I think most people would argue is her feminism. This is problematic.

Taylor Swift is only a feminist when it is beneficial to her moneymaking schemes. A majority of her hits come from break-ups. That’s like her MO. And she eventually took a lot of heat from that. She was teased about dating a lot of men, being a crazy person, etc. And that was all funny until she started bringing up the point that men like John Mayer, whom she dated, are notorious womanizers and serial daters, yet get none of the attention like she does. As soon as she said it, everyone was like “Yay super feminist Taylor Swift!” but that was it.

NOW she has started all this beef with Nicki Minaj (BIG mistake), and not only made a statement about her stance on racism, but also contradicted her whole mantra. While unnecessarily defending herself, Taylor made a comment about “women putting down other women.” This is not the first time she has taken this stance. Back in 2013, about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler poking fun at her, Taylor said,

“You know, Katie Couric is one of my favorite people, because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved, that said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.'”

YET, in the tweet, Taylor Swift was defending her music video for her song, “Bad Blood.” “Bad Blood” is a song that Taylor admittedly wrote about another female artist. She wrote a song about how much she was hurt by this other artist, and created a whole music video where she gets her girl gang together to destroy this other FEMALE artist. Idea for her next song: “Foot in Mouth Syndrome.”

Leaving out the whole part about Nicki Minaj talking about racism, and Taylor Swift thinking it’s about her… Taylor Swift is a monster.