Creative Writing: Awake in the middle of the night

Awake in the middle of the night

Awake in the middle of the night

This mysterious cloud glowing down

Wishing there was something to be done

So much sickness and no one cares

Bullies, monies, and selfies trap us all

(You communist.)

Such egotism

Such ignorance

Such sadness

It boils down to hopes and fears

We’re capable of little else

(Why are humans so egotistical?)

Power traps power and confines like magnets

(Ironically..legal…after all)

This great, everyday struggle with the Devil!

(Nothing else matters when eternal life is at State. Right!)

Rhetoric so perfect

Rhetoric so concise

(Not to mention semantical politics)

Rhetoric that tricks them all

Human expressions? reflections?

(Not like there’s time anyway!)

Who needs them?

So easy to trick

The game is perfect

Extreme leisure, depression to the core

Manipulation matters most

Illusions guide our way

Warped generation-old ‘universal’ myths

(What’s the purpose of a single apostrophe anyway??)

Re-re-re-rewritten histories to fool anew

Critical thinking is forbidden, you, you devil worshiper

“Run, Forrest, Run”

They say.

But for what.

“What does it mean to live if you have no choices?”

Oh the questions.

(Please stop.)

You know they won’t handle it.

 

Poetry of the mind.

That’s it.

 

Night_Sky_by_EPICHTEKILL

The Myth of the “Small Town”

Individuals and societies tend to construct narratives where small towns are superior to cities. This rhetoric is not new. While definitions in the United States confine “[small] towns” to population centers with less than ten thousand people, the functional, everyday definition is not so clear-cut. Images associated with small towns often conger up notions of communities with people who live free of the problems found in larger areas – free of crime, drugs, “strangers.”

Growing up, I had the idea that cities were dangerous, scary places, where you could never know anybody. This idea was (and is) reinforced by the news and perpetuated by the culture of fear. Despite the “ever present danger,” I have never seen, nor experienced any of these big-city horrors. I have been going to doctor’s appointments in Houston my entire life, and for the past seven plus years, I have been driving to Houston several times a week for school and work.

During this time, I have learned that a “small town” is possible in large cities. For example, I have lunch and supper at Panera several times every week up in Houston. I see familiar faces each time, the same as when I eat at a restaurant in a small town. Additionally, the degree to which I know my colleagues, students, and other friends in Houston is the same as it would be anywhere, really. In addition, cities offer so many more opportunities for cultural and political engagement than small towns.

There is an important element of Whiteness in the “small town” construct held so dear (this is by no means to say this also does not exist in the city – because it does). Historically, small towns (or suburbia) were legally and financially limited to individuals racialized as White due to deeply ingrained feelings of superiority and prejudice directed toward non-White individuals. De facto practices keep things much the same. We know from research that White people as an institutionalized group associate and use their Whiteness to experience feelings of familiarity and comfort. Familiarity and comfort that takes money. Money that has historically only been available to White people. Simply put, when we celebrate the “small town,” we are celebrating communities built on perpetuating discrimination.

With the “McDonaldization” (a term first fully articulated in George Ritzer’s 1993 book of the same name – one of those powerful prophesying books that is ultimately ahead of its time – on the same level of Brave New World) and “Walmartization” of society, every town becomes an “Anytown, USA.” Towns of every shape and size lose many of the unique business and architecture. Towns and cities are now wall-to-wall with restaurants, hotels, clothing stores, and car dealerships that could be anywhere, in any city, on virtually any street corner. No longer can a picture easily reveal information about the geopolitical location represented.

Despite popular opinion, statistics show again and again that gang activity is worse in small towns, that children in small towns are more likely to experiment with drugs, become pregnant sooner than hoped, or get into legal trouble. Statistics also show that just by virtue of living in a large city a person is automatically more accepting and willing to embrace and celebrate diversity. Additionally, large cities are much more likely to have diverse and successful small businesses because there is a population base to support them.

So, in sum, historical memory and contemporary memory conceives the “small town” to be a safe, comfortable place free of the crime and anonymity and chain stores of the city, but it is actually the city that holds truer to this ideal. Small towns, in ways, become the place with the highest degree of anonymity because with the implicitly-required conformity no one really knows anyone and freedoms of expression are frowned upon. The “small town” narrative remains true, however, for those who believe in it and for many of those who live or long to live in a small town because it provides reassurance and stability to deeply-held world views. 

 

The “small town” is perpetuated in any number of cultural artifacts. See this video for one example. 

 

Today's "Small Town"

Today’s “Small Town”

Course Evaluations

Course Evaluations. 

College professors sometimes respond with frustration to these two words. Students have the opportunity to complete an evaluation in all or almost all of their courses each semester. Results from these evaluations do carry significance, especially in institutions with a first devotion to teaching.

Results from these are, of course, not without problems. Occasionally, a professor will get a group of students that is just set on writing negative comments. (The potential for this seems greatest in dual credit classes.) Likewise, sometimes students use evaluations to “get revenge” after they earned a lower grade, for example. There are some professors too who get very positive evaluations only because they give everyone an “A.”

Nonetheless, such evaluations, especially written comments, have positive and useful purposes. First and foremost, they allow students to have a voice in how their educational experience is going. They allow professors and administrators to see who is an effective teacher. They give an insight as to what happens in the classroom on an everyday basis. And, they allow good teachers the opportunity to see ways to possibly change and reassurance that they are effective teachers.

In my classes, I like to do a midterm evaluation. This way there is an opportunity to see if anything needs to be or can be adjusted before the end of the semester. Click here to see the questions and results from the midterm evaluation for my United States History Since 1877 course this semester. There were 48 students enrolled, 5 dropped, and 34 took the evaluation.

Student comments on evaluations are, for sure, interesting. In places they show how a few students do not necessarily understand the full purpose of learning and ways to effectively do this, such as the student of mine who suggested to eliminate the writing assignments and reduce the weight of the quizzes. In other places, a few of the comments make me wonder what class they were attending! Such as the student who said we should have talked about the Harlem Renaissance (which we spent a good 20-25 minutes on) and the Holocaust (over an hour on this topic) or the student who said the PowerPoint Presentations were least interesting (there haven’t been any PowerPoint Presentations). Group work is always an odd ball one – they either love it or hate it.

Overall, however, they show how devoted the students are to learning and how much they are paying attention. They took time to write careful and thoughtful comments. Based on the surprisingly kind and generous feedback on the midterm evaluation, I plan to keep doing things basically the same. 

So, my dear readers, what do you think about course evaluations? Would love to hear perspectives from all the voices in academia. 

slide_03 

“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”: The United States, U.S. Christianity, and Cinema

Beginning with the era of the Civil Rights Revolution in the 1950s and 1960s, the Modern Republican Party founded itself in part in opposition to this increase in the nation’s diversity and civil rights, and also in part as an Extremist/Fundamentalist Party committed to an odd version of White U.S. Christianity.

This process has continued to happen with new intensity in the past half-decade during which time the nation has seen more demographic diversity, more minority groups have their human and civil rights codified, and the successes of the nation’s first Black president. Additionally, there is especially sharp contemporary controversial surrounding evolution.

Film mirrors the society in which it is made—not necessarily all of it but important and vocal voices. People watch movies to have their beliefs reinforced, to see, hear, and feel their hopes and fears manifested in “larger than life” ways. One indication of this is the unusual number of films currently being screened that directly speak to the current “crisis” in US Christianity. This “crisis” from the Church’s point-of-view includes decreasing church attendance because most people have to work on Sundays and a growing number of people do not subscribe to the ideologies of a religion; the growing frustration with the inability of the Church to allow and encourage critical thinking (a recent Republican Party platform specifically lists critical thinking as an evil); and the resistance of the Church (parts of it anyway) to embrace equality for all people.

The theater near where I live is showing three such films at this time. The historical dramas, not surprisingly, feature White cast members when such is completely ahistorical for the times portrayed. Additionally, based on the trailer, the film God’s Not Dead paints the Academy and professors in a sharply negative light. Of course, like within and without colleges and universities, there are people of all religious belief systems or no religious belief system, but this film focuses on a professor who is not simply an atheist but a militant, mean, and cruel person - this representation will only serve to dehumanize and demonize non-Christians regardless of other factors. Colleges have all sorts of systems to protect students should something like this actually happen. God’s Not Dead, again based on the trailer, is also another narrative focusing on White people. Regarding these films, we must also remember, that film serves to use one or two characters in specific situations to represent all such characters/people and situations. The film Noah, likewise, is no accident – speaking directly to the current “debates” around evolution that wish to ignore evidence.

Check out the trailers below (Email subscribers will need to visit the webpage, I think, to see the trailers.)

Son of God

Noah

God’s Not Dead

In the next few weeks, another film is coming out.

Heaven Is For Real

Additionally, the always-controversial Kirk Cameron has recently had three such films that focus on Biblical stories and mores.

Responses to these different films will be interesting for sure. What influence (if any) will these films have on viewers?

Representations matter. Rhetoric matters.

world-religions

A Close Encounter with Racism, 2014 edition

Tonight while having dinner at a local restaurant, I noticed a middle-aged Black man walk in.

They didn’t have a host or hostess, so it was presumably (as different people seated those who came in) everyone’s responsibility to watch the door. After several minutes, no one had come to help him, so he walked around a bit, and finally someone noticed him.

He said he was there to pick up his call-in order. After a few minutes, the manager came over and said they didn’t have an order by that name and was he sure he called the right place. The manager went on for at least five minutes suggesting he must have called the wrong place because they did not have an order by that name. She had one of the other waitresses call a restaurant down the road (people supposedly get the two confused) to see if they had an order with his name – they didn’t.

They asked the man again, “Are you sure you called us?” Clearly upset, he said, “yes” – checking his phone again to see what number he had called.

I missed exactly what happened the next few seconds, but he walked out the door and left.

Why didn’t they just say, “Sorry, we misplaced your order. What would you like? It will be ready in 5-10 minutes.”?? Probably because they “misplaced” the order on purpose! 

And, it must be noted, they were not busy – at all. There were less than 15 customers in the restaurant. Additionally, while this was happening, another (White) customer, came in to get her to-go order and left, without any delays or problems.

This is potentially the most blatant act of racism I have directly seen in some time. I have eaten at this particular restaurant occasionally, and prior to today, there were two things I saw and heard bits and pieces of that raised concerns about the possibility of racism being involved. On reflecting further, I can only remember there being two Black employees at this restaurant in the decade or so that I have eaten there.

Sigh.

Polics_dog_Birmingham_civil_rights_movement

48 enslaved individuals work for me. How many work for you?

One of the biggest misconceptions we have here in the United States is that the practice of enslaving (Black) individuals ended with the Civil War. (In fact, it continued until the WWII era in the form of convict leasing, also known as neo-slavery) Additionally, people often don’t realize that the United States was far from the only nation that enslaved individuals racialized as black and that this practice specifically began in what became the United States in 1619. By looking at world history, we can see that enslavement has been a mainstay across societies, times, and places. Although, to be sure, the practice of race-based, chattel enslavement by forcefully moving individuals collectively called “Black” to countries in the New World and forcing them to endure violence and extremely harsh conditions from the 1420s until 1888 was a distinct period in Atlantic World history. 

Recently, there has been more media and academic attention (see the website, Historians Against Slavery) given to the practice of contemporary enslavement. There is a website called Slavery Footprint that ask a variety of questions about where you live and what kind of things are in your home to determine how many enslaved individuals work for you. The website also provides other resources related to advocacy.

The survey indicated that 48 enslaved individuals work for me.

How many work for you? I urge you to take the survey, too. Be patient. The website is a bit slow and cranky. 

Slavery Footprint’s survey, while an approximation, is important at reminding us how we still pretty much live in a “slave society” (not a “society with slaves”) because the practice of enslavement is and has been thoroughly interwoven into the economic, legal, and social fabric of the United States (and the World). Students studying the 1800s, especially, frequently aren’t taught and don’t realize that the institution of slavery was present everywhere, in the North and the South, throughout the United States (see: Case Study: History, Myth, and Public Schools).

As I wrote in, Boycotts and Protestors, Companies, and (Sad) Realities of the World given the nature of business practices today, it is extremely difficult to avoid or stand up to these big companies and to have clothes, electronics, and food made by individuals compensated fairly. 

At the very, very least, recognize that by virtue of reading this blog, you are among the richest 0.01% of people who have ever lived on this planet.

slavery-per-capita-map-wo-arrows

Please click the map for more information.

slavery today copy

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,080 other followers

%d bloggers like this: