So I saw this, appropriate for our first
Independence Day Juneteenth national celebration:
This reminds me of an old colleague in my ministry days. I was vp of an ecumenical association here in our state. He was an Episcopal priest of a very liberal bent. It was during the months after the 9/11 attacks. We had several impromptu meetings, meeting with state officials, medical experts, first responders and the like. On this particular day, the priest in question gave a talk to the assembly. During it, he made a claim that, even in those days, seemed to me to be shocking. He said the problem was that Americans needed to admit to the sins of our country's past. Until we were honest about our history, expect this sort of thing to happen more.
Exactly why that would be, I wasn't sure. But I was taken by the idea that Americans didn't admit to anything bad about their history. All my life I had heard about slavery, racism, segregation, our treatment of American Indians, and the fact that women couldn't vote when the country began. From my earliest memories in school, those and others were pointed out time and again.
Likewise, our popular culture, movies, television, textbooks, and even music increasingly emphasized the negative of America, its past and its institutions. A great deal of general flippancy if not outright disrespect for, and condemnation of, America's heritage was already on the move. On the other hand, when I was in first grade, I was introduced to the hero Christopher Columbus, and learned about the courage of the pilgrims, and was taught about our awesome Founding Fathers, the heroes of the Civil War, our greatest American presidents, and the heroism of America as it fought around the world to free people from tyranny and dictatorships.
So it was a mix of both good and bad, and we learned, just like admitting your parents aren't perfect, or your spouse has faults the way you do, it doesn't mean you can't see the greatness in it just as you see what's great in those you love who are nevertheless flawed. Perhaps it shouldn't be 'my mother drunk or sober.' But it doesn't have to be 'my mother, drunken bitch, let her die' either.
By the time I was in college and seminary, however, the growing criticism and condemnation of America was emerging as the only acceptable narrative. Increasingly any mention of America's past glory or accomplishments was met with 'Yes, but have you considered its myriad sins, its racism, bigotry, genocide, slavery, persecution, imperialism, and on and on?'
In the 1990s, our first 'family vacation' was taking our oldest - then a toddler - to Colonial Williamsburg. It was wonderful. One of the best vacations I've ever had. Yes, they pointed out the bad. But it was mixed with heavy doses of the good, and the neutral. The historical actors stayed in their parts, acting the roles out, even when we asked for directions to the bathroom. The tours were always in full costume and everything kept to 'the period' (though sometimes, if we pressed for details about their careers or schooling, they would break after a time). All in all, it made you proud of America.
Fifteen years later, we went back. This time we had all four boys. We had gone back a second time, but that was shortly after 9/11 and things were a bit crazy. We planned on trying to relive the olden days with all four boys. What we encountered, however, shocked us. First, about half of the actors seemed like they just didn't care. The younger ones kept whatever earrings and body piecing they had front and center whether appropriate for the time or not. Many stood around on their smart pones when nothing was going on, discussing the game or this or that latest concert. We went on tours, and while some were still fine, others? One of the tours, originally a lantern-light tour by a colonial lass, was this time given with a flashlight by someone in jeans and a jacket.
And the content of the tours of buildings? My second oldest quipped after one of the houses we toured that he just didn't know how they had time to fight a revolution, what we abusing women, killing Indians and beating their slaves all the time. That was almost all anything was about. Diversity was all the rage, so whether or not a particular historical figure would have been white or black, or even a man, didn't matter. They let anyone be whatever. I wouldn't have been shocked to find the governor of Virginia come out as a black woman. No care for accuracy, no particular investment in the details.
Maybe we went in an off year. I'd like to think so. I fear not however. I fear it's what happens when people work at a place that remembers a vile nation of evil and racism and nothing more. Which is why it's enough to say that this constant drumbeat of 'America isn't honest about its racist past' is like hearing people say McCarthy didn't spend enough time focused on communism.
Does that mean we know every case of racial sin in the 200 plus year life of this third most populated nation in history? No. Likewise, I'm sure I don't know all the good America has done over the years either. I'm fine with imagining there were cases of great bravery, love, courage and sacrifice by my fellow countrymen that I will never know. Likewise, I'm sure there will be case of its sins just the same.
I remember when the movie Hidden Figures came out. Our local news station had a story about that film. After the story, the two anchors said they had never heard about the black women who worked in our space program. They added that was likely because - you guessed it - our country's racist past. Well, no. I never heard of them either. I had never heard of anyone by name at NASA, except the guys in the spacecraft since if something went wrong, they were the ones who died. It had nothing to do with race. But if you are convinced America is and always was nothing but racist, you'll begin seeing racism in anything and everything, whether it's there or not. The same with any nation, nationality or ethnic group.
For instance, I'm reminded of Michael Jackson's death and how the press made him the first black artist to break MTV's racist barriers. MTV objective and said the low number of black artists had nothing to do with racism. The network was only a year old when Billy Jean was released, and anyone was free to offer their videos to MTV for airtime. If they didn't, it wasn't MTV's fault. Again, a problem with only looking for the bad is that if all you want is the bad, then all you'll find is the bad.
In my whole life, nobody ever said we should only look at America's triumphs and ignore the bad. Nobody. Ever. My parents, when driving out west on a vacation in the late 70s, drove by some settlements inhabited by Native Americans. I remember my Dad - part Native American himself - looking at the poverty and squalor and saying it's a crime what 'we' (that is the US) did to them. And yet, nobody loved America - it's history, heritage, values and foundations - more than him. Just like I can see the flaws in my Dad and love him just the same.
Nonetheless, I'm seeing plenty of people act as if they want nothing but to focus on the sins of America, and condemnation of its history, heritage, values and foundations. When we see the Stars and Stripes, we ought to envision a watermarked Swastika on the flag, and seek out only the worst examples of our sinful past to defend the vision. To do anything else is increasingly seen as racist denial of America's true nature.
If people want that, I can't help but think they want that for reasons other than just wanting truth and honesty. After all, who spends all their time doing nothing but digging up the negative past about someone or something? People who do that with other people usually have reasons other than those people's redemption in mind. If we don't have ulterior motives, then there is no reason why we would do it with other human beings. Likewise, we shouldn't do it with nations filled with human beings either.
I visited Colonial Williamsburg over several days with relatives in March of 1974. We all had a great time. Just the two of us visited in 1997 and discovered there was a remarkable decline in decorum over those years - interpreters speaking to children in Romper Room voice, an interpreter playing the harpsichord with a modern thermal coffee mug perched on it (which she picked up as she went off on break). This sort of thing was not done in that earlier era. (The director of the Genesee Country Museum was a friend of ours and my mother did contract work for them, so we were more than familiar with how these agencies did their work in that era). When a solicitor called me for a contribution, he got an earful. He was embarrassed and gave me the name of someone to whom I should complain, but I never did make a formal complaint.ReplyDelete
It sounds like the place experienced severe deterioration over the succeeding 13 years (and I bet it's worse today). It's part of the secular decline in attention to the rubrics of life. And the younger generation is not only shot through with slatterns, they're ignorant above and beyond the norm among the rest of us.
1997 I believe is the year we went for the first time. Of course we had nothing to compare it to, but most of the actors were in their roles, and things still seemed overall trying to stay at least somewhat close to the period. As I said, if we pressed the actors on their actual careers or education, they would break from the part, but they would then go right back when it was needed.Delete
That was in sharp contrast to the almost complete lack of concern that - most - had when we went back the last time. There were still a few trying to do the heavy lifting. But many, especially the younger ones, had all the enthusiasm that kids have when they get their first jobs nowadays. We won't even discuss the almost complete focus on America's sins that made up the bulk of the tours and the lectures.
The younger employees may be slatterns, but they're slatterns who work for a supervisor. The more salient question is why their supervisor allows this. You have the same question when you hear so-and-so's been fired or an invitation has been withdrawn because of complaints from employees. So many people in bureaucracies are making a decision to be jerked around by their subordinates, and it's baffling.Delete
Same with schools. Somewhere along the lines, we handed schools over to the students to make the rules, and teachers to cower before them. The results , as they say, speak for themselves.Delete
I'm fine talking about the sins of America, as long as we talk about the sins of other places as well. Maybe studying history from an objective standpoint has just made me cynical, but it seems the human race as a whole, (dispite the majority of people in any race having good intentions) hasn't done much worth praising. I'm kinda agnostic (please pray for me), and I can only hope that if there is a God (I assume there is, but my human brain has trouble understanding him), that he's got a plan to fix us all, cause I sure as heck don't have a clueReplyDelete
I've never known a time when we didn't talk about the sins of the past. Unfortunately, it was multicultural education that made talking about the sins of anywhere else verboten. I read an article some years ago that pointed out something interesting. It said while the differences between communists and Nazis were often overplayed, there were differences. Nazis, embracing a fascist ideal, tended to mythologize their history, and blame this or that group for why they were ruling from on high as their superiority should warrant. That's why, for him, Japan deserved to be lumped in with fascist ideology. Communists, on the other hand, tend to trash and hash their own culture or national heritage. All communist takeovers begin with eradicating as much of their own heritage until they hit a wall, or have to stop - as Stalin did when Germany invaded. What the Left has done, the article said, was combine those. They mythologize - everywhere else in the world, while they brutally judge, condemn and seek to eliminate anything and everything to do with the West's or America's heritage, traditions, values or beliefs. Since then, I've seen nothing to suggest the fellow who wrote that was wrong.Delete
Do I wish more people knew about the Tulsa riots? Sure. I also wish more people knew about the role of Black Merchants and Warriors in the Atlantic slave trade.ReplyDelete
That would be too complex, and one thing the modern Left hates is complexity or nuance. As one of my sons said, if they can't put it on a Tweet or a bumper sticker, it's too complicated and they move on.Delete
One thing to bear in mind is the Colonial Williamsburg is neither more nor less than a tourist attraction. It is not a fountain of untainted wisdom and truth. I strongly suspect that they will create or exaggerate ghost stories after seeing the interest in "paranormal investigator" shows, and they likely exaggerated the role of the Freemasons after the movie National Treasure. It's not inspiring, but you understand they're just out to make a buck. It's not THAT depressing.ReplyDelete
What IS depressing is the comparison between this behavior, and the motivation behind it, with the attempt to make Catholicism in general and the Mass in particular "relevant" to the stereotypical view of some group (e.g., young adults). The Church, unlike Colonial Williamsburg, IS supposed to be an untainted fountain of wisdom and truth, and She is supposed to be more concerned with the good of souls than with maximizing the visits from "tourists" and making a buck.
I strongly suspect that they will create or exaggerate ghost stories after seeing the interest in "paranormal investigator" shows, and they likely exaggerated the role of the Freemasons after the movie National Treasure. It's not inspiring, but you understand they're just out to make a buck. It's not THAT depressing.Delete
They used to be as meticulous as they could manage about fidelity. I remember asking the print shop interpreter about a handsome display of bookbinding techniques I'd seen in 1974. "Terrible mistake" he tells me. He explained that the demonstration he'd seen had been of techniques which were only practiced at the very end of the colonial period, and only in Philadelphia. Had to be discontinued. The boxwood that had formed the maze in 1974 had also been pulled out and replaced by something which provided more versimilitude (but was less pleasing to look at).
One thing to bear in mind is the Colonial Williamsburg is neither more nor less than a tourist attraction.Delete
No, it was always more than that.
You're right about attempts to make the Church 'relevant' to the latest, hippest. And I'm sure a place like that, educational though it is, might take some cues from the latest fads of the day. With that said, it always had its 'core' educational settings that were constants, no matter what was going on. And while it was a tourist spot, its particular goal was education and celebration and preservation of America's early, colonial past. To that end Colonial Williamsburg was known as a first rate historical reenactment of the highest standards, which is why we went there the first time. The problem we discovered wasn't that now it had special programs dedicated to cell phones in colonial times. The problem was that the core of the educational programs shifted focus to almost exclusively the negative of America's past. The subsequent lack of concern over details or facts or other historical tidbits seemed to be the result of the general lack of concern about America's pasts, or America, that had developed there in the years between our first and last visit.Delete
@Art Deco -- I was basing my comments on what I have seen, for example, in state parks in Florida. I assumed the same trend to be followed all across the country.Delete
I think the people with real skills -- blacksmiths, bookbinders, etc. -- are probably more serious about the history than your average tour guide.