Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A "Langston Hughes" Happy New Year

The departure of an "old" year and the arrival of 2015 leads me back to a Langston Hughes poem often referred to as "Emancipation"...

Long View: Negro

Sighted through the telescope of dreams
Looms larger,
So much larger,
So it seems,
Than truth can be.
But turn the telescope around,
Look through the larger end-
And wonder why
What was so large
Becomes so small

What do we truly see when we look backward...when we look forward?

What captures our attention...

the spectacular (murder, riots, war, etc.)...

the mundane (everyday poverty, everyday struggles, everyday racism, etc.)...

conventional wisdom, sensationalism, the illusion of equality...truth?

With every step toward progress, liberty looms larger, so much larger or so it seems...

The Declaration of Independence, The Civil War, The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, WWI, WWII, Brown v. Board of Education, The Civil Rights Era, a "post-racial" America, an increasingly democratic world.

But, it seems what was so large seems to become small again...

A defining of slavery, Black Codes, Jim Crow, American Eugenics, The Southern Manifesto,  the resegregation of America, racial profiling, excessive "military-style" police brutality, increasing fear and paranoia of immigrants, those who are "different", rampant hacking/ spying/ killing of innocent people/ hunger/ hatred.

I hope that in 2015 we can see Liberty sighted through the telescope of dreams...

Let's resolve to take at least two steps forward for every one step back and kill a lot of jellyfish.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Minnesota's Trail of Tears

Over 150 years ago, Governor Alexander Ramsey called for the extermination (303 men) and complete removal of the Dakota from Minnesota. Ironically, his September 9, 1862 declaration was brought on by his own government's failure to honor previous treaties which stole millions of acres from the Dakota and purposefully kept food and money from their starving families...now forced to go hunting "off the reservation" it led to violent conflicts with European homesteaders and thousands of Dakota to be placed "under arrest".


Trail of Tears: In November of 1862, over 1,700 Dakota (mostly women, children, and elders) were forcibly marched 150 miles from Morton, Minnesota to a recently built internment camp just outside of Ft. Snelling. They suffered (and several hundred died of starvation, disease, hypothermia, etc.) in this "camp" during the winter of 1862-63.

Extermination: On December 6, 1862, Abraham "The Great Executioner" Lincoln approved the largest mass execution (38 men) in United States history at Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862.

In exchange for the list being reduced from 303 down to 38, President Lincoln promised to help kill or remove every Dakota from the state.

Trail of Tears II: In April/ May of 1863, those at Ft. Snelling (about 1,300) were sent down the Mississippi River to St. Louis and up the Missouri River to the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. The "pardoned" men at Mankato were placed on riverboats and transported to Davenport, Iowa where they spent 3 years in jail...before being sent off to Crow Creek.

Ft. Snelling Concentration Camp

Today, historians still struggle with how to get at the truth, how to remember and tell, falsely appeasing "proud Minnesota" traditions...

Was it a conflict...massacre...uprising...war...murder...genocide?

Should we pardon...seek forgiveness...reparations...reconciliation?

Maybe the best thing we can do is acknowledge the truth of our past...accept the open wounds that still exist...and begin healing.

Alexander Ramsey's modern-day counterpart Gov. Mark Dayton may have said it the best for all of us:

"I am appalled by Governor Ramsey's words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them. The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now...we need to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sitting Bull's White Horse

In 1830, Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey delivered a lengthy speech in opposition (and prophetic prelude) to United States "Indian Policy"...an excerpt:

"...if we abandon these aboriginal proprietors (Native Americans) of our soil, these early allies and adopted children of our forefathers, how shall we justify it to our country...How shall we justify this trespass to ourselves...Let us beware how, by oppressive encroachments upon the sacred privileges of our Indian neighbors, we minister to the agonies of future remorse."

Native American elders have often said that "the civilized way of life" ended at the execution of 38 Dakota leaders in Mankato, Minnesota during December of 1862...while most in the government saw this as the beginning of the assault on the "uncivilized Dakota savages" that would end with the murder of Sitting Bull and the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. 

Is this how we justified genocide to ourselves...by "scientifically" categorizing people as uncivilized?

Maybe we could learn something from the "story and symbolism of Sitting Bull's White Horse"?


As told by George Eagle Elk in 1969:
"When the white horse heard the shooting (the "police" killing Sitting Bull) it began dancing and prancing, sitting on its haunches and raising up its front legs, jumping around, bowing, curtsying, doing all the tricks it had been taught. In this way it honored its dead master in the only way it knew. All who saw it said that the horse was possessed because it was unhurt even though it danced through a hail of bullets. The white horse kept dancing for awhile after the fight was over and the bloody scene was silent..."
Maybe we could be The White Horse and honor Native American culture through a redemption of past "lessons of history", reconciliation, seeking the truth, dancing, and understanding the symbolism of the white horse!
White Horse as a Message Carrier- "no abuse of power will ever lead to true wisdom, power is only awarded to those willing to carry balanced responsibility."
White Horse as Power and Freedom- "power and freedom can only be useful (to the horse and the rider) to accomplish great things when mutual respect and responsibility is shown to each other."



Saturday, December 13, 2014


As a teacher, one of the most frustrating things to witness is students not giving their best (lack of motivation, abysmal attendance, constant texting, distractions/ sleeping, side conversations, poor effort on homework, lack of preparation on tests, "refusing" to think critically, etc.) in school. 

But, what concerns me the most is not learning from these mistakes...


 I could tell you hundreds of stories from the past 30 years of teaching about students who failed/ made mistakes/ gave a mediocre effort, were overwhelmed with adversity, quit, etc. and made a conscious decision to fight/ change/ never give up/ make a difference in this world.

To me, this is more impressive than a letter grade...learning about history, math, science, etc...finishing first in a race...

I hear people say, "things are so much better than they used to be" and "we've come a long way."

Are we (as a country) truly learning from our (here are a few) mistakes?

Slavery...Manifest Destiny...Social Darwinism...ISMS...Native "Policy"/ Genocide...Sand Creek...Wounded Knee...Racial Categories...Jim Crow...Mexican "Repatriation"...Race Riots...The Red Scare...McCarthyism...Mohammad Mossadegh...Vietnam...Agent Orange...Watergate...Rodney King...Weapons of Mass Destruction...Benghazi...Racial Profiling...Police Brutality...Excessive Force...Droning the Innocent...Resegregation of schools...

Or are our principles just truths we seek when they agree with our selfish emotions?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All Skulls Created Equal?

"Nations and races, like individuals have each an especial destiny: some are born to rule, and others to be ruled. And such has ever been the history of mankind. No two distinctly marked races can dwell together on equal terms."
                                                                                        -Josiah Nott

In 1854, Dr. Josiah Nott compiled and published a 738 page best-selling book entitled Types of Mankind. It cited a massive amount of "scientific research"/data, quoted "findings", and displayed elaborate illustrations collected by the greatest scientists of the era.
Near the bottom of the title page was an ominous and prophetic quote by Lord Byron...

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling, like dew, upon a thought produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.”

The most influential scientist published in this book was Harvard professor-Dr. Samuel George Morton. He was well-known for "owning" the world's largest collection of skulls (600+ over several decades) which he analyzed, measured, compared, and ranked to help prove his belief that African-Americans, Native Americans, Chinese, etc. were each a different biological species (races) and inferior to Caucasians.
These "Racist Head Games" were used to predict brain size and the "progress/ potential of each race" in intellectual capabilities, morality, behavior, job capabilities, and capacity for future achievement.
Morton's "Cranial" Conclusion:
 "The Negroes have little invention, but strong powers of imitation, so that they readily acquire mechanic arts. They have a great talent for music, and all their external senses are remarkably acute."

Another Harvard professor, Swiss-born Louis Agassiz (a world-renowned biologist/ geologist) was deeply influenced and swayed (he had previously believed that man came from a single species) by Morton's "cranial data" and quickly became an "authority" on race.

Agassiz quotes:

"As much as I try to feel pity at the sight of this degraded and degenerate race, as much as their fate fills me with compassion in thinking of them as really men, it is impossible for me to repress the feeling that they are not the same blood as us..."

"The brain of the Negro is that of an imperfect seven month's infant in the womb of a White...they are incapable of living on a footing of social equality with the whites, in one and the same community, without becoming an element of social disorder...the government must put every possible obstacle to the crossing of the races, and the increase of half-breeds."

These "scientific findings" were used far beyond (even in 2014!) the abolition of slavery to rationalize and justify Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, Jim Crow Segregation, The Negro Problem, Native American Genocide, Chinese Exclusion, Mexican "Repatriation", Japanese Internment, Quotas, Real Estate Redlining, racial profiling, police brutality/ excessive force, the "drug wars"/ Jim Crow Incarceration, resegregated Public Schools, the "Black/Latino" Achievement Gap, U.S. Census racial categories, whitewashed History books, our friends/ neighbors...I could go on!  

I think Lord Byron was right about the power of "a small drop of ink"...it just depends upon which drop we choose to believe.





Thursday, December 4, 2014

Abraham Lincoln:Corporate Puppet

19th Century Corporate Monopolies
In November of 1864, POTUS Abraham Lincoln warned...
“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country….corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
His warning was prophetic and also very myopic. Did he forget that he was one of the best friends and loyal lawyer/ political puppet of the big corporations (Railroad, Steel, Coal, and Oil)?
Amnesia seems to be a common theme in American politics! 
Historical evidence...Corporate Puppet Lincoln:
Tries his first railroad case in Illinois...saving the Illinois Central RR future millions.
Fought to limit monetary compensation to land owners who lost land to the RR "right of way".
Won a case that argued that farmers/ ranchers (and not the RR) were responsible for building fences to keep their animals off of the tracks.
Limited RR liability for killing livestock hit by the trains.
Helped the RR companies get tax-exempt status...saving them millions in taxes.
Signed The Railway Act into law...guaranteed money and land incentives for every mile of track that was built.
Supported state subsidies for the RR industry.
In his own words...
“A railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction.”
The bottom line...POTUS Lincoln was not unlike previous Presidents (controlled by tobacco, sugar, cotton, slavery, northern factories, shipping industry, etc.) in that he owed his election to corporations and corporate support.

Since 1776...Change we can believe in? 
But, how about 2014?
In America, 10% of the people (many of them heads of large corporations) control 75.4% of the nation's wealth.  This would include Warren Buffet (arguably the richest man in the world...$73.5B) who owns major stock in the railroad industry.
President Obama awards Warren Buffett the "Medal of Freedom"

Would you be shocked to know that Warren Buffett contributed $1B (yes that's billion) to help reelect President Obama in 2012?

Would you also be shocked to learn that President Obama’s opposition to the Keystone Pipeline (for environmental reasons...of which there are serious concerns) richly rewards his friend - Warren Buffett?

Buffett's Burlington Northern Railroad transports nearly a million barrels of oil (at $10-$15/ barrel) per day out of North Dakota to refineries around the country...the Keystone Pipeline could transport the same amount of oil for about $5/barrel.

Oligarchy...An American Tradition since 1776.