I am many things but a “history buff” is not one of them. – Hidden Power of Words Series, #14

This particular blog has been on my “to write” list for months.

Historians frequently get labeled as “history buffs.” It happens to me at least several times a month. But, any Academic Historian or any individual who takes the study of the past seriously, will wholeheartedly reject being called a “history buff.” Being a historian is serious business. 

A “history buff” is an expert on dates, names, facts and everything in between. He/she has the kind of knowledge that can result in buckets of cash on reality television shows such as Jeopardy! 

wikiHow’s “How to Be a History Buff” suggests the following 9 steps to being a true student of the past: 

  1. Pick a topic you care about. 
  2. Find some books at a library for said topic.  
  3. Watch television shows about for said topic. 
  4. Consult primary sources, “if possible.” 
  5. Visit museums and talk to people while visiting.
  6. Write down important information. 
  7. “Keep a pen and pencil in case you need to make some sketches” 
  8. Review regularly. 
  9. Repeat process. 

Historybuff.com has references pages such as this one about Texas that provide a list of governors, population numbers, and other factoids (all of which are also on Wikipedia).

Historians, professionally-trained and otherwise, go about the process of learning about the past in a more detailed and more complicated way. While “facts” account for the groundwork, historians care much more about ideas, concepts, change over time, and diverse opinions, interpretations, and complications. People transform from a “history buff” to a “historian” when they take the “data” and make something of it, whether through teaching, writing, and/or further researching. Becoming a historian is a much more complicated process than nine googleable steps. Becoming a historian requires time and devotion. And there many, many books devoted to the subject of becoming a historian. 

For me personally, I do not really try to “memorize” various statistics I give while teaching, for instance. They aren’t that important. I tell students that there is no need to memorize all such information but that it is important to hear and write down to have a better grasp of the ideas.

In summary, historians care about ideas or theories and how these are used, not the “raw” data of constructing History because even the “raw” data is not really raw at all.  

Please check out other articles in the Hidden Power of Words Series!


An important Twitter response:


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The Most Racist Question (EVER?) on the Texas STAAR Test

Regular readers will remember my very long and question-by-question critique of the 2013 Social Studies STAAR Test. You can find the full version here and a summarized version here. I have been re-reading and re-visiting my thoughts about this test, as well as looking at the 2014 version because I was invited to give a guest talk/lead a discussion about these issues, which will take place tomorrow evening. (Many thanks to those who invited me!)

While preparing, this image (titled The County Election) and the question with it really stuck out from the 2014 STAAR Test:   


 This painting of a Missouri scene was completed in 1852. Such scenes would look dramatically different after the —
A. ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment
B. Second Great Awakening
C. emergence of Manifest Destiny
D. expansion of the factory system into the South

Can you guess what the “correct” answer is?

It is “A” – the Amendment that, in writing, gave Black Men the right to vote.

Several thoughts cross my mind:

How would having Black Men voting make this image “dramatically different”? Perhaps the test writers were thinking about what would be “dramatically different” to people in the 1850s and 1860s and their mores, but the question does not say anything that would really allow this to apply. Or if they do intend to only suggest there would be (some) Black Men voting, describing it as “dramatically different” could pose complications, especially when we consider the once-again increasing significance of racialized rhetorics in the Obama Era. “Different” alone also makes it problematic, with its connotations of bad.  

Another thought I have is that there was/is a strong stereotype, especially created/perpetuated in Birth of a Nation, that Black Men during Reconstruction were uncontrollable and dangerous once they were not enslaved (neo-enslavment is a separate discussion) and had the right to vote.

Another, historically speaking Black Men did not have the vote for that long and even during Reconstruction (before the full development and codification of the Culture of Segregation) Black Men were never free from voter intimidation.

The question, even as a multiple choice question, could but does not make these complications clear. Consequently, it suggests that White people were peaceful and orderly and the Fifteenth Amendment changed this.   

The STAAR Test, as overlooked as it might be in a cultural context, is just as much a cultural artifact as films or song lyrics. The questions, construction of the questions, the answer choices all speak a great deal to society’s hopes and fears, especially hopes and fears of those with power. The rhetoric of who is and who is not included is important, as is the Test’s frequent use of broad statements such as “citizens” or “colonists” when it really means “[White] citizens” or “[White] colonists.” Such wording, such rhetoric suggest to young, impressionable students that things were better than they were and better than was even possible, and makes our job as History professors so, so much harder. Unlearning is harder than learning, psychologically and physiologically.

Michael Bublé, Enrique Iglesias, and the Culture of Rape

Greater and much needed attention has recently been given to the Culture of Rape that is so prevalent in the United States. While the exact statistics vary depending on the source, approximately 16-25% of all Women face rape or attempted rape and 2-3% of all Men face rape or attempted rape at some point.  

I suspect many rapes and attempted rapes go unreported and in the case of relationships, unnoticed (a husband has been “unable” to “rape” his wife, not too long ago, for instance, and still some Men and Women do not realize they always maintain the power to say “NO”). At the University of Houston, for example, getting an email about another person having been raped is not a rare occurrence. (Rapes are very common on college and university campuses.) I remember one day this semester being particularly disturbed and shocked when someone in one of the on-campus living facilities was raped while we were having class on Saturday across the campus.

Michael Bublé’s Everything and Enrique Iglesias’s I Like It are just two examples of very popular songs, music that is regularly played on family radio that essentially celebrates the Culture of Rape and the male gaze. I regularly listen to music while I write, and I don’t necessarily listen to the specific lyrics–these are songs that occasionally came up in my music library until I listened closely to the lyrics and deleted them (can I get a refund?!). If they are in your music library, I ask that you delete them. We also need to contract radio stations and demand that these songs and similar ones no longer be played.  

Everything‘s most problematic lines are: “And I can’t believe, uh that I’m your man, / And I get to kiss you baby just because I can.” This is the perfect embodiment of what bell hooks calls the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy. The Man in this song has no conception that his “lover” (presumably a Woman, but the song includes no genderized pronouns or references beyond “I’m your man”) still has an independent existence. This Man condones the Culture of Rape by having the mindset “I get to kiss you” and then further justifying that to himself “because I can.” 

Lyrics that specifically speak to the Culture of Rape also manifest with, “Baby don’t pretend that you don’t know it’s true. / ’cause you can see it when I look at you.” Again, this takes away his “baby’s” power, autonomy, and ability to freely say, “NO.”

Other lyrics in the song leave me a bit baffled. I can’t decided if they are potentially problematic or equally problematic in terms of objectifying people. Think about this part of Everything: “You’re a falling star, you’re the get away car. / You’re the line in the sand when I go too far. / You’re the swimming pool, on an August day.” The comparisons to a car, sand, and pool are what make me a bit uncomfortable; although, I cannot exactly put my finger on it. 

And I do not even know where to begin when it comes to critiquing the creepy and strange music video for Everything.

I Like It also speaks to the Culture of Rape, the IWSCP, and further, supports lying. The most problematic (and there are a lot of them in this song) lyrics are: “Girl please excuse me if I’m coming too strong / But tonight is the night we can really let it go / My girlfriend is out of town and I’m all alone / Your boyfriend’s on vacation and he doesn’t have to know” and “Girl please excuse me if I’m misbehaving, oh / I’m trying keep my hands off but you’re begging me for more / Round round round give a low low low / Let the time time pass ’cause we’re never getting old.”

Additionally, the Man in the song says, “I like it” 23 times. 

This song provides the Woman no voice, no say, and no name. “Girl” (occurs 2 times) and “baby” (occurs 16 times) are demeaning names for Women, especially in the context of the song.

The Man in this song has no sense of loyalty or respect for his girlfriend or other Women, has no self control, and thinks he is desirable and that all Women will lunge at the chance to have a sexual encounter with him and that his desire alone is enough to have his desires fulfilled.

The Woman in I Like It–who we need to specifically remember does not exist, she is a fictional character created by the Male Gaze–is given no personality, no traits, no abilities, no life beyond her “use” as a sexual object.   

As with Everything the music video of I like It is problematic, very problematic. It dehumanizes en masse, shows Men who have no respect for Women at all, and is potentially too heteronormative.

Both songs and music videos become even more problematic and even more down right scary when we consider the Men as historical stand-ins, as representations of Men and appropriate masculinity. Is this the legacy we really want to leave?  

Rape, again something that is a very serious problem, is not new. In the second US survey, we read and discuss Kay Potter’s excellent yet unusually and sarcastically-titled essay “Rape Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” from 1971. The problems have changed so little, it could have been written yesterday. Be sure to also check out this excellent article from Everyday Feminism: “25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture.”

We need to do everything we can to dismantle the Culture of Rape. Please share additional examples that we might be all too blind to.  



Caption: 683,000 forcible rapes occur every year, which equals 56,916 per month, 1,870 per day, 78 per hour, and 1.3 per minute.


A Personal Experience Being Objectified: It’s All About The Hat!

While at Dillard’s for a few minutes this evening (the Devil made me do it – I generally prefer not to do shopping in brick and mortar stores – it’s too overwhelming for me), I had what is thankfully an extremely rare experience for me but one that Women, according to various studies and examples, experience almost every day: I was objectified. New understandings of problems and oppressions follow after having had to encounter it head-on. 

I was not planning to do any shopping and not planning to buy anything, but alas. The store was not busy at all. I have been meaning to buy another pair or two of dress pants, so I don’t have to go to the dry cleaner as frequently. I got what I wanted and was looking around at different shirts to see if anything else caught my eye.

While looking around at what was on sale, two Women in their 20s or 30s passed me, and I clearly became objects of their gaze. They walked passed me, and I walked in another direction, still looking around for any good deals. Several minutes later, when I had forgotten all about it (usually I have a really good short- and long-term memory, but remember being in stores is overwhelming for me), I heard and then saw out of the corner of my eye (remember teachers have eyes all around their head!) this unusual giggling and then “sshhh!” as one of the two Women said, “I’ve always wanted a boyfriend who wears a hat like that” and then the giggling, “be quiet,” “walk away,” and “sshhhs” continued as they walked away several seconds later. This is all happening while I am in my own world shopping and thinking about things such as the IWSCP! (Okay, I am not that crazy.)

There was no one else around, and I was still a focus of their gaze. Because I have had a headache and have had a patch on, I have been wearing my beanie, which I admit is really cool. Such “flirtatious” moves, whether from/to a Man or Woman, serve to make people into objects. There was the implied assumption that such comments are everyday, natural, and normal and would prompt a positive, welcome response. Further, the annoying and incorrect assumption that everyone is heterosexual. And worst of all, that a hat, a silly but really cool hat, makes someone worthy of anything. 

The entire encounter was entirely weird and full of assumptions. In this one experience that lasted several seconds, I was in the position of being turned into an object by strangers- where my personality, interests, reason for wearing the hat, and all of my other “individual differences,” as they are called in psychology, did not matter. Surface, quick impressions made up the sum of my existence and provided a bit of entertainment.

This minor encounter (and for sure not nearly as bad as our cultural epidemic of objectifying people) was not painful per se because I knew what was happening, but I could easily see how it could be very painful if it happened everyday. I also see more directly, in ways I had not, how and why Women get so annoyed when, most frequently, Men objectify them. Any form of objectification is all about reinforcing, consciously and unconsciously, the IWSCP.

What happened to, “Hey, nice hat.” To which I would have responded, “Thanks!” and went on about my business. 


“Stop Disagreeing With Me!”: A Conversation on the Nature of Learning

I love conversation, especially passionate, informed conversation. Conversations are a place where two or more people exchange and develop ideas, whether these are spoken, written, or delivered some other way. Of course, people are going to have different takes on the same information, but in the ideal, these differences blend naturally and easily in conversation.

This said, for some time now and especially lately I have heard people saying, “I agree” and “I disagree” all the time. I do it too. But such statements pose problems. When I grade essays that only say, “I agree” or “I disagree,” I write in the margin, “Why?” or “Example?” Such explanations allow conversation to happen and allow all parties to further grapple with issues. This also works as an important scaffolding technique, whereby both parties have “more knowledge” than they would have had independently per se – both say/write things that cue further ideas/memories in others. 

Additionally, I am regularly asked if I agree or disagree with so-and-so. Unless it has to do with things in my research and teaching interests, my answer is usually, “I don’t know.” I answer such because I will not talk about something or give an opinion about something if I really do not know or understand about it. People, including readers here :), frequently disagree with my analysis of culture or they disagree that something is an example of the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy without really knowing what the IWSCP is. “Disagreements” and conversations are what academia is all about, yes, but if you “disagree” with something, you should know exactly what you are disagreeing with and have specific knowledge to back you up. One semi-negative aspect of the Internet is that “everyone” is “an expert” in History, biology, neurosurgery, botany, etc. 

So despite the hopefully eye-catching title here, I deliberately provoke and encourage conversation. But instead of agreeing or disagreeing, let’s talk about why and always ask lots of questions. If we don’t have specific knowledge about something, instead of agreeing or disagreeing, let’s say “I don’t know,” try to understand the point-of-view at hand, and/or add some to our to-read list. While I am all about dismantling notions of “experts” as “the authority,” there is a time and place to recognize that some people have more knowledge. For instance, if my doctor says I need such-and-such surgery, I have it. I do not have the knowledge to agree or disagree. 

As the Liberal Arts teach, however, the ultimate answer to anything is “it depends” or “it’s more complicated than that.” The more we know, the less we know. 


Immigration: Rhetorics and Realities

This evening I received a Facebook notification where I had been tagged in a post about a political cartoon related to immigration. Of course, I have opinions about anything related to racialization, history, culture, and such. As I was mentally preparing my response, it occurred to me that except for sharing this podcast I made for my students, I have not done a full article about immigration specifically. (This article, “The Nature of History, History as Entity vs. Example, and Texas History,” uses similar ideas as discussed below.) Time to change that.  

En masse migration (or movement) of humans, plants, and animals is a never-ending, natural process. Only in the past century or two have countries world-wide sought to relegate and control this moment as modern Nation States and geopolitical areas reached a kind of maturity. Nonetheless, geopolitical borders are just that – political borders. Humans, plants, and animals have no understanding on a deep, biological, evolutionarily level that when you cross “this” line you are on “my property” or when you cross “this” line you are in a different nation, with a different set of mores.

Borderlands, or the “overlapping” areas between two counties, are frequently places of conflict and give and take.

Many people in the United States get entirely too excited (read: upset) when it comes to immigrants. They forget they too are immigrants, unless they are Indians (who were already here) or colorized as Black (since they were kidnapped). “Immigrant” implies a kind of freewill. They forget that immigrants greatly benefit our economy. They do jobs others will not do. They also do pay taxes when they buy anything, even if they do not pay income tax in all cases. And in cases where they do not pay income tax, they are likely making far less than a minimum wage (not to mention a living wage.) And let us not forgot about all of the corporations that do not pay income tax! And please do not cite arguments that “they come here for medical care” – the United States does not have that great of a medical system compared to other counties. And it is the human thing to do to help if someone needs it and we can help. Money does not matter.

As far as immigration today, all the rhetoric surrounding “illegals” is generally racist/colorist. People are people. People cannot be “illegal.” People are not “aliens.” We are far from being an overcrowded nation. If people want to come here, there should be easy ways, as there were. And believe it or not, there are people always leaving the United States for good. And the United States is not the only place immigrants travel to. 

The President’s recent efforts to improve the immigrant situation are understandable, considering the political environment he is forced to work with – a political environment that has specifically said its number one goal is to prevent everything and anything he does from happening. In reality, he should not have called the undocumented immigrants criminals. That does not do anyone any good and perpetuates the idea that immigrants pose real physical and psychological danger to the United States. 

So, finally, getting to why I started this post. According to this articleIndianapolis Star published this political cartoon:

cartoon1 And then because of accusations of racism, took it down, and published this cartoon:


And then took it down, too. 

Reportedly, people said the mustache was racist. The mustache is not actually what bothers me. Political cartoons tend to regularly have people drawn with unnatural eyes, noses, mouths, and faces in general; however, compare the faces of the “family” and of the “immigrants.” The “immigrants” have far fewer expressions and detail. Compare the female on the left in the window to the White people at the table, for example. 

It is clearly anti-immigrant by implying that people colorized as White/people who are “proper” citizens of the United States will have to (and reluctantly will) take care of immigrants. 

Additionally, it suggests that people in the United States are selfish and unwilling to help a neighbor. While the collective response of far too many people does ring very selfish, when it comes to immigrants or helping anyone in need, most people (those I know at least) are more than willing to take in a few extra people on Thanksgiving. Additionally, there are many people who care in other circumstances.

The political cartoon promotes the perception that immigrants are law breakers, people who desire to take and demand things. It promotes fear. It promotes a sense of territory and “the-personal-is-the-political”-geopolitical-boundaries. And they are coming in the window, not the door. In addition to “breaking in,” this could also connote a new “Culture of Segregation,” where immigrants are not allowed to come in the front door.  

The political cartoon also promotes distrust of the President, misuses his words and actions, and perpetuates the idea that “floods” of immigrants are waiting to enter the United States. Altogether, it reinforces fear that the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy is about to be dismantled. While most do not specifically articulate their hopes and fears in terms of the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy, that is what bell hooks and others would say it comes down to. We can’t specifically see it, but it is everywhere.   

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