Thursday, January 29, 2015

More Than Words

As we started a new semester on Tuesday, I shared an Aristotle quote with my students...

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."

His quote is a good reminder that "book/ head knowledge" is only a small piece of what a true education should be and that the events, people, concepts, etc. we study must be more than words on a piece of paper, white-washed heroes, or a copper statue called Liberty! 

I hope the words we study this semester lead to a development of critical questioning and a critical consciousness full of empathy, awareness, social responsibility, etc...and a willingness to analyze, critique, celebrate, etc. the past and present so we can positively create a future where "all men are created equal."

A former slave from Raleigh, North Carolina poignantly symbolizes the "heart knowledge" and "true education" that Aristotle calls us to:

"They say we don't know what the word 'constitution' means. But, if we don't know enough to know what the Constitution is, we know enough to know what justice is. I can see for myself down at my own courthouse where they've got a figure of a woman with a sword up there. I don't know what you call it: 'Justice'? Well, she's got a handkerchief over her eyes, and the sword is in one hand and a pair of scales in the other. When a white man and a Negro gets into the scales, don't I know the Negro is always mighty light. Don't we all see it? Ain't it so at your courthouse?"


Saturday, January 24, 2015

La Raza

Jose Vasconcelos

In 1925 (during the "Age of Eugenics"), Jose Vasconcelos published a short essay entitled "La Raza Cosmica"...The Cosmic Race.  He was one of the most influential Mexican- "American" educators/ revolutionaries of the twentieth century. Vasconcelos felt that European-American eugenics-based "racial superiority/ categories" were arrogant, materialistic, repressive, lacking in scientific truth or religious spirituality, etc. and must be refuted. 

He warned that American "culture" must not be imitated, idealized, or celebrated.

His 1925 theory (also deeply racist and stereotyped) catalogs each race/ racial category and their positive traits. He suggested that the "New Master Race" would rise out of Spain/ Portugal and the Latin American mestizo because they possessed the virtuous attributes necessary to usher in a "universal era of humanity".

Although very racist in tone, I love his "final solution" optimistic future that combines all the "races" of the world without regard to skin color, ethnicity, nationality, etc.

Best summarized in the final paragraph of his essay:

"So many races that have come and others that will come...In this manner, a sensitive and ample heart will be taking shape within us; a heart that embraces and contains everything and is moved with sympathy, but, full of vigor, imposes new laws upon the world...we shall arrive at the creation of a new race fashioned out of the treasures of all the previous ones: The final race, the Cosmic Race."

Viva La Raza...Viva The Human Race...

Soon or another 100 years?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Minnesota Nice?

Minnesota "Home" for the Feeble-minded

In 1925, Minnesota became the 17th state to pass Eugenics legislation into law. These laws were intended to "protect the gene pool" and allowed Minnesota to perform forced sterilizations/ marriage restrictions on those considered/ labeled "feeble-minded", "unfit", "sexual delinquents", "immoral", "inebriants", "crippled", "dirty", "strange looking", "mentally defective", etc.

Over 2,000 documented sterilizations took place in Minnesota (between 1925-1975)...those most often targeted for sterilization were poor, sexually active, disabled, mentally ill and quite often undesirable women/ immigrants/ rid society of negative genetic traits.

Dr. Charles F. Dight
The leader of the Minnesota Eugenics Movement was Charles Dight, a professor of medicine at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota...

He maintained that mental inferiority/ poor genetics could be easily spotted through two simple "analytical" tools...skull shape/ size and Jazz music. Dight argued that "great men" have larger foreheads/ frontal lobes, while "lower animals" have smaller foreheads...and that Jazz Music was the "devil's kind" of music. He stated that the mentally inferior enjoyed Jazz because it appealed to their "inborn animal nature."

Is it possible that Dr. Dight came up with these theories to distract people from his small forehead and his secret love of Jazz music?



Friday, January 9, 2015

America's Master Race

 Lately in class we have been investigating The Gilded (to be covered in a thin layer of gold) Age, an era that roughly took place between Civil War Reconstruction and WWI. This era was known for incredible industrial growth, prosperity, "good times", westward expansion, and worldwide expansion of American political, economic, and military power.
 As the term Gilded Age implies this period looked good on the surface (prosperity, expansion, power, etc.) but was covering a vast array of political corruption, social problems, and human tragedies (Boss Tweed, White House scandals, the rise of Jim Crow racism/ lynching, Native American Genocide, Nativism, Jingoism, monopolies/ mega-corporations, the "lives" of immigrants, inadequate housing, poor education, extreme poverty, gangs, crime, drug abuse, disease, pollution, etc.).

But, in my opinion one of the most shocking "movements" (and virtually unknown) of this era was in the "scientific field" of American Eugenics. Their goal was to create, expand, and preserve a superior race of people (tall, strong, intelligent, talented...blond, blue-eyed, "Nordic" people) and eliminate the possibility of the unfit, the defective, the criminal element, and undeserving immigrants from contaminating American bloodlines.

In the early 1900's, a scientific laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor (N.Y.), the American Eugenics Record Office, and other Eugenics related organizations began collecting data on millions of Americans in order to identify the negative traits in their bloodlines in order to "remove the reproductive capabilities" of the unfit...the defective...the illiterate...the weak...the inferior...and create an American Master Race.

This research was supported (hundreds of millions) by some of the wealthiest families/ corporations in America (Andrew Carnegie, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Harriman Foundation, Alexander Graham Bell, The Kellogg Family, etc.). It was also supported by the U.S. Government (laws, legal action), leading academic universities (mostly Ivy League), and by several religious/ charity organizations.

The action plan (adopted by 27 states) was to "improve" America 10% at a time (millions of people were identified) through the use of publically operated gas chambers, forced sterilizations/ castrations, incarceration, restrictive marriage laws, restrictive immigration policy, deportations, euthanasia, biological weapons like tuberculosis, abortion, etc.

Ultimately (without Due Process), over 60,000 were sterilized, thousands incarcerated/ institutionalized, thousands restricted entry/ deported, thousands not allowed to marry, and many eliminated through "lethal selection". "Positively", thousands of families were identified as superior/ "Fitter Families" and encouraged to have more babies!

In the 1920's, American Eugenicists developed relationships and shared our race science with German eugenicists...Hitler praised the Americans and used the "science" of American Eugenics to develop his own Master Race...

"I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny (children) would be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock...

There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception (of immigration policy) are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States."

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is like no education at all."



Thursday, January 1, 2015

January 1, 1865

Memphis Freedmen Camp near Fort Pickering

 In 1862, Memphis became a federally occupied city and thousands of African-Americans fled to the city seeking "refuge and safety" of The Union Army at Camp Shiloh, Camp Dixie, and Fort Pickering. Prior to Union control of the city Memphis had 3,000 African-American (slave) inhabitants, this number swelled to nearly 20,000 "contraband" by 1865. These settlements quickly developed nearby farm land and opened schools, churches, barber shops, saloons, etc.

But, life was far from perfect.

The Freedman were constantly threatened by local whites/ Union troops and were forced to abide by impromptu "Black Codes"...especially "laws" requiring proof of employment/ vagrancy imprisonment.

Although the transition to freedom was very difficult, there was still reason to celebrate.

Emancipation Day was celebrated annually in Memphis with speeches, a parade, food, etc. to commemorate the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

 Here is a Memphis Bulletin excerpt chronicling the Emancipation Day Parade of January 1, 1865: 

Men who are so fearful of the bugaboo of negro social equality and amalgamation-so apprehensive of the blacks surpassing the whites in intellectual and industrial pursuits that they fear to deal justice to the negro, and cannot see that the true interest of Tennessee lies in wiping out the effete institution of slavery...(these men saw) their parade of school children, and their display of benevolent organizations, as well as their speeches, prayers and singing.

The (white) man who looked. . . to ascertain. . . (witnessed) their law abiding character, their loyalty to the Union, their wish to educate their children, their profound gratitude to God, saw more than laughable or absurd incidents. He saw a race rising from ignorant, imbruted chattelism to manhood. He saw them. . . not thirsting for revenge. . . not dreaming of lying in idleness, but with prayers. . . hymns. . .cheers for Lincoln, expressions of intense regard for Union soldiers, and. . .exhorting each other to manful lives and honest labor.

January 1, 1865 (150 years ago today) should be an inspiration for us to:

Allocate justice to all people.

Celebrate our accomplishments.

Be thankful that we live in a country where people earnestly seek freedom.

Exhort each other to dream of living honorable lives.