Friday, April 17, 2009

History class failed me

By the time, I finished reading Project South’s History & Popular Education: Critically Remembering Our Past, I wasn’t very proud to be an American citizen. I was shocked at some things I read; honestly, I had no idea that America had committed some of the atrocities against other countries and nations that were listed there, and I thought, “If these are true, then why haven’t I heard of them before?”

I took AP U.S. and AP European History in high school, so why are many of these events news to me? How could the exact details of my college textbooks be absent from the pages? My ignorance was perhaps what scared me the most, I didn’t know what to make of all these authentic news, and I’m still thinking about how to translate my thoughts into action.

One of the first events that struck me was the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which essentially divided the lower class of people into two groups – White and Black. This act was so strategic for those who were in power that they were able to conquer both groups by making one-half of the lower class think that they were better than the other half. It’s not as if the ‘divide-and-conquer’ method of oppression isn’t used anymore – it is most definitely still practiced and has done incredible harm to America and numerous other countries in terms of social injustice. The Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877 also caught my attention because it played a crucial part in the Jim Crow laws and Black codes of that era, which also added to the division of poor white and black people.

I was surprised to read that the Berlin Conference of 1884 was responsible for dividing of Africa into the war zones that it is today. I have several friends who are refugees that have fled Africa because of all the bloodshed and war - due to rival tribes being forced to coexist together. The fact that these lines of division still exist today and are still the cause of African conflict really is surprising, the extent of European colonization never ceases to amaze me. The British and Dutch control of South Africa, which led to legal discrimination and eventually the apartheid, is astonishing and the implications that in 1994, people were being racially discriminated against legally is so hard to believe – a thought that I realize is quite privileged.

Another interesting revelation was the fact that William Randolph Hearst, THE newspaper standard for journalists, actually had a part in the 1898 Spanish American War by contributing false sensational information as news to the American public. In the School of Journalism here at the University of Minnesota, I have never heard anything negative about Hearst. In fact, there are many awards, scholarships, grants, internship opportunities and libraries named after him. Even though I vaguely knew about topics such as yellow journalism and Citizen Kane, (the lead character of which that is loosely based off Hearst), I still don’t ever hear about his involvement with helping push America into a war.

One specific part of American history that actually isn’t too long ago, was the internment of Japanese-Americans during 1942. The very idea that the Department of Justice forced people of Japanese descent to be secluded is ironic – how can a department that is dedicated to justice commit such grave acts of human rights violation?

I finally learned how the term, “Third World” was formed when I read that in 1955, activists from countries trying to separate themselves from the Soviet and the US/European philosophy became the third way, or the Third World. Now, the term Third World means (in general terms) uneducated, uncivilized, not as sophisticated as “us,” them over there, Africa, India, nations where the people are brown-skinned, Mexico, and so many other negative connotations. Even in our class this specific term of thrown around so much, I get really frustrated with the nonchalant use of this term when really, many of these so-called “Third World countries” are actually not less sophisticated than we are because without them, America wouldn’t be half the country it is today. I also finally made the connection between the terms “Global South” and “Third World,” I hadn’t really been introduced to that term before, and upon further research I found W.E.B. Dubois’ famous quote, “As the South goes…so goes the Nation,” and it all clicked for me.

I also found it interesting that in 1976, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations can give unlimited amounts to political campaigns. I know that campaign finance is an issue that many liberals are trying to change, and so I thought that the Supreme Court was reaching in their justification that private contributions equaled free speech. Campaign financing by large private corporations is unethical to some activists, and the fact that the government has been so lenient on corporations by allowing them to have power and rights, as a human individual is still true today.

I know I disapprove of (almost) everything President George W. Bush touches, but Project South really hit on a few sins and statistics that I hadn’t known before. For instance, 50.5% (Today’s Globazation, pg. 49) of the US budget is reserved for the military? No wonder we are in a recession and America has been in debt since 1994! What is wrong with the men who lead our country, and why do they continue to make the same mistakes that ultimately harm everyone? With 35.9 million Americans living in poverty (pg. 49) it is a mystery to me why the government will not make some much-needed change instead of scapegoating welfare and poor people for their stupid mistakes. I also was angry when I read that while 1 in 6 American children live in poverty, that the top 1% of Americans received a tax break averaging $78, 480 (pg. 49). Bush even pledged $15 billion to the AIDS pandemic and didn’t follow throw on it, I guess he decided to use that money to fuel his war. No wonder Americans are so apathetic, a majority of our votes didn’t even count in the 2004 presidential elections, and the fact that Bush won with only 30.8% of citizens voting for him (pg. 50), is ludicrous, especially considering that he stayed president even after the truth came out.

It’s so hard to not be depressed about our current political, economic and social climate, and it could be easy to be apathetic and shirk any kind of privilege I have to do something about the way things are – but I cannot do that. If I do, then I will just be relinquishing my power to those who will not think twice about speaking for me, but definitely not on my behalf. I know I’m not alone in my activism efforts and I realize that by fighting for a more socially just world I am acting out of some degree of self-interest (which I am okay with), because if my world is better, then your world is better, which means that our world is better...yes?

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