The White Supremacist History of Tear Gas


One hundred years ago, a racist US General, Amos Fries, transformed tear gas from a wartime chemical into use against protestors. He loved war gases and saw them as the ultimate in US technology.  He advocated the use of tear gas against any form of civil disorder.  As head of US Chemical Warfare Services, he pedaled his favorite gas to private security firms, police departments, and the National Guard.  According to him, tear gas in the hands of the “White man can quell any uprising.”  He went on to talk about how White men are set apart from the Negro, Gurkha, and the Moroccan. In his effects were letters from the women of the Ku Klux Klan praising his efforts.

Today the tear gas he loved is used all over the world by tyrannical governments to control their people.

Reflections on Independence Day


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When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually.  On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun.  Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message.  Still do.

Now I live where it is hot and dry.  The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country.  I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.

For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day.  Why?

Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred.  Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.

Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited.  It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago.  People need to learn from the history most do not even know:

-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal.  What did he do to deserve this?  He tried to save his Native people.  Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.

-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks.  They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.

-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading.  He refused to believe any African  could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this.  Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”

-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.

The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country.  It continues to poison progress and hope.  It never seems to end.  I am tired of it.  Enough is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading


IMG_3957Last year I joined Now Read This, the online bookclub sponsored by PBS and The New York Times.  Why did I join?  To expand my exposure to books I might not otherwise read, to learn, to explore, to interact with others reading the same books.

I rarely read fantasy or science fiction.  This summer has become an exception.  The June choice, The Fifth Season by Jemisin, won the Hugo in 2016.  The other two books in the trilogy won in 2017 and 2018.  I wanted to know what happened to the characters so I read them all.  The spine says Fantasy.  I think they are more science fiction.  Even people who claimed they did not like either fantasy or science fiction became like me and read them all.  This series tells a futuristic tale extremely applicable to events, both social and political, in the world today, how prejudice kills both overtly and covertly,  how fear of those who are different affect everyone, what it costs to live in a world where certain attitudes exist.

It took me two days to finish the July title even with chores, touchup house painting, all the things teachers attempt to do during summer break.  Although I had previously read at least three books by Luis Alberto Urrea, I had not read this one, The House of Broken Angels about a family who lives back and forth across the border–San Diego and Tijuana.  It is a tragic-comedy about the endurance, hopes, dreams, cooking, living of several generations.  His non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, is a must read for those who want to understand what occurs along the US-Mexico borderlands.

In the midst of all this, I went back and reread Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.  Wow, no wonder it caused a stir when it was published in the 1960s: a whole country where everyone switches back and forth between male and female and those who cannot do this are considered perverts.  Additionally, the main character is described as having very dark brown skin and those who do not behave exactly as they should or politically protest are sent off to a stark camp where they work in excessive cold and eventually die.

Then I read an article about Toni Morrison and authors who do not write for people based on a certain audience, e.g. black, white.  They write about what they know, what they feel, for a different purpose. One book listed was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a fantasy, all of which takes place in what we now think of as Nigeria. It has not one single white character in it.  I kept thinking, wow.  I read a lot of literature from Africa, Middle East, and Latin America.  Most of the time, for better or worse, characters from other cultures show up, usually European and usually for the worse.  Not in this one.  If you go to a book store looking for it, look in Young Adult.  Jemisin’s can be found in Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy.  When I mentioned to someone I could not tell why some are categorized one way and some another, I was told there is less graphic sex in YA.  Really?  I cannot tell the difference.

Next on my list?  I annually act as a judge in a literary contest.  Three novels arrived in yesterday’s mail.  Guess I need to get busy.

 

Plains Indian Artifacts–Beaded Moccasins


Last evening I attended a new exhibit at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.  The exhibit featured moccasins, paintings, and various artifacts made by different Great Plains tribes, including a headdress worn by Quanah Parker.  The exhibit also contains many old photographs.  A number of Comanches were present including a lady over 100 years old.

After I left the exhibit, I kept thinking about it and wondered how current Comanches might feel when they come to something like this which in many ways honors them but also displays a past that will never return.  While contemplating, I wrote this poem about what I saw.

Beaded moccasins,

moons of work.

Ceremonial beauty,

now encased in glass, labelled, dated by someone’s guess,

for strangers who believe in a strange god,

desecrate the land,

waste invaluable water,

kill bears for sport.

Weep

Wait

 

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Palo Duro Canyon, Comanche Country, where they made their last stand and were forced to go to a reservation in Oklahoma after federal troops killed over a thousand of their horses.

 

 

 

Quote for the day


Sadly, this quote seems appropriate given the events in Virginia.  I had hoped we were beyond this but apparently not.

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.  Lyndon Johnson, 1970.

Make America Great Again?


Although few argue with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, few look long and hard at the history and life then.  Unless you owned land, were male, were white, nothing for you.  Most of the founding fathers still held, tacitly or openly, to the old English class system.  Many owned slaves even when they claimed to dislike it.  Throughout United States history,  a small group of high status, white men have controlled the country.

More recently during WWII, we imprisoned Japanese Americans but not Germans.  The Japanese were often seen as ruthless, barbaric while the Aryan German remained quite close to the idealized, white, patriotic American ideal.

Today when people read about white men murdering large numbers of people, the news and the comments indicate that most think these people are abnormal, not like the rest of us.  This is a country fascinated with hate.  For many in the last couple of years this has taken the form of hatred of outsiders, refugees, dark people.  This has brought a new wave of tough on crime mentality.  People who think differently, more welcoming, more critical, are seen as subversive, anti-patriotic.  Much of the public sees certain groups, e.g. black men, as criminals, wicked, violent, groups to be feared.  Any research contrary to these prevalent views tends to be hidden, pushed away, unreported.  One example is a report by Homeland Security in 2009 which warned law enforcement agencies about the dangers of right-wing conservatism.  Certain conservative groups demanded the withdrawal of this report and succeeded.

Certain Christian groups push for a return to Christian values not realizing perhaps the origin of some of these values.  The word, evil, provides an excellent example.  This word goes back to Saint Augustine who defined it as a refusal to act morally, a refusal to do good.  While Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazism have been associated with evil, interestingly fascism has not. Franco in Spain escaped the evil label probably because the Vatican, the US government, and US businesses supported him.  The word evil is rarely used to describe state sanctioned violence as in the US support of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile.  It appears we pick and choose the evil label to suit certain purposes.  Powerful groups are rarely labeled evil and therefore do not become targets of general hatred.

Fear relates to hate.  People hate what they fear.  Some media play on these fears to incite hate to suit their own goals and philosophies.  Certain talk radio hosts use their rants to further their goals in this manner.  They want people who do not think like they do to incite fear which leads to hate. These media can easily inflame the public fears about crime, refugees, drug usage.  They also rely on the often hidden preexisting prejudices that many deny they have, e.g. racism, fear of outsiders, fear of differences.

The ultimate end of these prejudices is war.  The often popular belief remains:  justice and goodness can be attained via violence, force.  We are good and everyone against us is evil and therefore to be hated.  The war vocabulary remains part of common everyday language:  War on Women, Drug War, War on Poverty.  Our language remains full of these types of communications.  It expresses a common worldview. Problems can be solved by force.  This continues in spite of enormous evidence that it does not work.  The War on Drugs never attained success, our economic and social problems remain.  Even efforts at containment frequently fail, e.g. the current opioid epidemic.  Many schools currently hire police officers and sometimes students are arrested for relatively minor infractions.  Often those arrested are students with certain types of disabilities or from certain minority groups.  Our prison population has increased by 500% over the last thirty years with the increased imprisonment of women double that of men, mainly due to drug related crimes.  Obviously, these “wars” are failing. Because of the “cult” of individuality and freedom, people in the US often see these failures as the result of individuals acting irresponsibly rather than societal failures.  Although these factors do not force an individual to behave in certain ways, they do affect a person’s psychological makeup, opportunities for betterment, and mental and physical health.

We have become a society possessed with fear and hatred caused by a profound mistrust of others.  Contrary to what many wish to believe this nation has a long history of obsession with perceived enemies and evil.  Some see threats everywhere, liberals hate conservatives and vice versa, some fear and hate those with different sexual orientations, the list seems endless.  Many see the solution as one form of war or another either through violence, incarceration, or laws.

Mass rallies on both sides further incite this sort of mass mentality.  History remains full of disastrous consequences of such behavior.  The Nazis came to power this way and killed millions of Jews via such strategies.  The genocide in Rwanda is another example. We see the perpetrators of such as monsters, but common, ordinary men and women made the Holocaust possible.  Good, decent people engage in horrible crimes.  The Ku Klux Klan continues with membership of otherwise ordinary, upstanding citizens. Doctors in Nazi Germany rationalized their help with exterminations and experimentations as part of German nationalism to save their country.

In the US racism is not the sole purview of white bigots.  Just recently someone commented to me about being colorblind.  Such is a form of denial.  When people see another person, they notice how they look, eyes, height, etc.  Most white people in the US today never choose to recall, if alive then, and acknowledge, if not,  the millions of black people (mostly men) lynched, most of whom were raped, tortured and castrated before they were killed.  When someone commits these types of atrocities today, we often refer to him as a monster.  We conveniently forget the long history of atrocities against all people of color in this country, atrocities deemed perfectly normal at the time.

As noted in the examples above, much of the violence and hatred and injustice currently seen in this country has a long history.  We have not been able to even come close to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Instead of talking about Making American Great Again, we need to change the conversation into a future vision of making the US like the vision detailed in this document, a place where justice and the hope of equality can be attained by all, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion.

 

 

 

 

Note:  Recommended readings include “Considering Hate” by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski and “White Trash:  the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg.

 

 

 

Ethiopian Journey–The Castles of Gondar


When my friend told me we were going to visit the Castles of Gondar, I thought he was kidding.  It sounded too much like a movie title, plus castles in Ethiopia?  Seriously.  Then I looked it up and sure enough, there are a lot of them, built by a series of kings, fathers and sons, and a queen.  Some remain in reasonably good repair at least on the outside.  Others crumble in the rain and humidity.  All are in a sort of compound arranged together.

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This castle is near the entrance and in rather good condition.  Restoration work is most complete here so it is safe to walk to the second floor.

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The view from a second floor window.  Because of the altitude and moisture–contrary to popular opinion, a large portion of Ethiopia is mountainous and green–especially during the rainy season, upkeep is not easy.

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The same castle, looking out the door onto the balcony which can be seen in the first photo.  The floors have been restored.

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Looking in the opposite direction from the first castle, several castles and the ruins of others show the layout of the compound.  Our hotel was near the top of the mountain in the distance. Many locals roamed around when we were here.  It is popular to take wedding, anniversary, etc. photos here.

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This photo shows the first castle–in the background–from another side.

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The style of some of the castles, like this one, is more intricate than others.

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This building housed the royal lions.  Tradition for keeping lions goes back several centuries.  The last Ethiopia emperor, Hailie Selassie, was often referred to as the Lion of Judah, the latter referring to the Ethiopia tradition of believing that they are descendants of Solomon and Sheba.  Ethiopian lions are a different sub-species than other African lions, smaller with darker, sometimes black, manes and tails.

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These castles provide a perfect venue for photography.  You can see my friends sitting on the stone wall.

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The royal stables obviously housed many horses.

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The royal dining hall currently receiving restoration work.

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The path to the exit.

The news the last couple of weeks from Gondar has not been pleasant.  Many people have been protesting the government which they view as tyrannical and favoring one ethnic group over the others.  More than ten protesters were killed during the first protest.  Just this past week thousands came out in another peaceful protest.

Gondar (sometimes spelled Gonder) is a business, commercial, and education center.  It is a main route for commerce between Ethiopia and Sudan.  For more detailed information about Gondar, the castles, and the surrounding area, see my blog posts from Aug-Sept. 2014.

 

 

Naked and Unafraid: Mahasveta Devi (1926-2016)


A powerful story of the power of woman and in this case of “right”.

03devi-obit-master768 Photo credit: The New York Times

Mahasveta Devi died last month at the age of 90 in Kolkata, India. A widely acclaimed Bengali writer, she identified as an activist first, clearly evident in her meticulously researched “fiction.” Most of her stories champion the cause of those living on the margins of society, particularly the Adivasis or original inhabitants of India; poor, unemployed and itinerant, they traditionally subsisted off the land, and continue to struggle against exploitative upper caste landowners.

I cannot claim to be an expert on Devi or her activism, but there is a story I read a few years ago, which never fails to haunt me, whether because of the rawness with which she describes the harsh reality faced by tribal people or because of what can be seen as the violent but ultimate triumph of its female protagonist, I cannot tell. Perhaps because of both, or because…

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Toxic Masculinity: “Masculinity Must Be Killed” by Carol P. Christ


Very thought provoking. I definitely will look for the pamphlet by Abdullah Ocalan.

Carol Molivos by Andrea Sarris 2A few days ago I watched the movie An Unfinished Life starring Morgan Freeman, Robert Redford, and Jennifer Lopez. Though it was recommended as a sensitive psychological drama, and though on the surface level it criticizes (male) violence against women and animals, on a deeper level, it confirms the association of masculinity with violence, suggesting that violence is the way men resolve their problems with each other.

At the beginning of the film, Robert Redford, who lives on a ranch in Montana, picks up his rifle with the intention of shooting a bear who mauled his friend Morgan Freeman. This act of violence is stopped by local authorities who arrive to capture the bear. However, the bear is not removed to a more remote area, but rather is given to a local make-shift zoo where it is kept in a small cage. At the end of the movie, Redford frees…

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Human Trafficking


Slaves today outnumber all the past,

more than thirty million.

Eleven year old girls,

locked in motel rooms, never see light,

told you’re a whore, worthless, until

they believe it.

Respectable hotels, brothels in disguise.

Senegalese boys chained in hovels, fake

madrassas, sent to beg on streets.

Texas parents of three daughters, forcing them

into prostitution for drugs. Everyone knows;

no one can catch them.

Famous men running sex slave rings, immune

from prosecution.

Young women who think all men watch

pornography; it’s normal.

Innocence promised, endlessly betrayed.

People as commodities.