🎧 Seeing White, part 7: Chenjerai’s Challenge | Scene on Radio (episode 37)

Seeing White, episode 37: Chenjerai’s Challenge by John Biewen with special guest Chenjerai Kumanyika (Scene on Radio)
“How attached are you to the idea of being white?” Chenjerai Kumanyika puts that question to host John Biewen, as they revisit an unfinished conversation from a previous episode. Part 7 of our series, Seeing White.

There are some great questions here that are well worth revisiting in light of the remainder of the series.

Some of this discussion reminds me of a lazy, 20-something comedian I heard recently. He hadn’t accomplished anything useful in his life and felt like (and probably was in the eyes of many) a “complete failure.” He said he felt like an even worse failure because in the game of life, playing the straight white male, he was also failing while using the game’s lowest difficulty setting. I wish I could give the original attribution, but I don’t remember the comedian and upon searching I see that the general concept of the joke goes back much further than the source–so it may seem he was an even bigger failure in that he was also lifting the material from somewhere else. What else should we expect in a society of such privilege?

Composite image: Chenjerai Kumanyika, left; photo by Danusia Trevino. And John Biewen, photo by Ewa Pohl.

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🎧 Seeing White, episode 36: That’s Not Us, So We’re Clean | Scene on Radio

Seeing White, episode 36: That's Not Us, So We're Clean by John Biewen with special guest Chenjerai Kumanyika (Scene On Radio)
When it comes to America’s racial sins, past and present, a lot of us see people in one region of the country as guiltier than the rest. Host John Biewen spoke with some white Southern friends about that tendency. Part Six of our ongoing series, Seeing White. With recurring guest, Chenjerai Kumanyika.

Having lived in many parts of the country growing up (Dahlonega, GA; Burlington, CT; Calhoun, GA; Baltimore, MD; Charlotte, NC; etc.), I can attest that the generalities described here do dovetail with many of my experiences. The cultures with respect to racism are very different depending on town, region, state, and histories.

A lynching on Clarkson Street, New York City, during the Draft Riots of 1863. Credit: Greenwich Village Society of Historical Preservation.

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🎧 Seeing White, episode 35 Little War on the Prairie | Scene on Radio

Seeing White, episode 35 Little War on the Prairie by John Biewen (Scene on Radio)
Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen heard next to nothing about the town’s most important historical event. In 1862, Mankato was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history – the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors – following one of the major wars between Plains Indians and settlers. In this documentary, originally produced for This American Life, John goes back to Minnesota to explore what happened, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it afterwards.

These episodes and the brutal history they contain and suggest have been pretty gut-wrenching so far. This by far delves more deeply into the history and as a result is much more hear-rending than the others. It really makes me sick what our “nationalistic” tendencies have wrought thus far, and by all intents continues to continue to do.

If you haven’t been listening to this excellent series, I hope you’ll stop what you’re doing right now and listen to them all. I highly recommend it as required listening for everyone–even if you think you know what the message is.

Though this particular episode wasn’t specifically created for this series, it fits in incredibly well. I almost wish that some of the others in the series delved this deeply into some of the history as this one does. It really brings the problem into high relief and puts a more human face on the problems we may not see around us by looking back at a particular incident.

The Minnesota State Seal, 1858

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🎧 Seeing White, episodes 31-34 | Scene on Radio

Seeing White by John Biewen with special guest Chenjerai Kumanyika (Scene on Radio)
Events of the past few years have turned a challenging spotlight on White people, and Whiteness, in the United States. A podcast series from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University explores what it means to be White.

Part 1: Turning the Lens

February 15, 2017

Part 2: How Race Was Made

March 1, 2017

Part 3: Made in America

March 16, 2017

Part 4: On Crazy We Built a Nation

March 30, 2017


Notes

Part 1:
Seemingly almost too short, but lays some good groundwork (in retrospect) for what is to come.

Part 2:
Here’s where the story begins to heat up and lay some groundwork.

Part 3:
I’d never thought about the subtle changes in early American law that institutionalized the idea of slavery, race, and racism, which is very well laid out in the third installment, though I suspect is just a short sketch of a more horrifying past. In particular: laws that indicated that slaves who became Christian didn’t need to be freed, laws which indicated that the slave status of children was derived from the mother (and not the father), and laws which prevented white women from marrying African Americans.

I’d sadly never heard the history of the case of John Punch or any of the other examples in episode 3.

Having been born in South Carolina and then living in Georgia on a mountain at which John C. Calhoun apparently pointed at and uttered the phrase, “Thar’s gold in them thar’ hills.” I’m all too entrenched in his version of history. I’m also viewing this from a larger big history perspective and see a few other things going on as well, but sadly I’m woefully undereducated in these areas. I’m going to have to get some new reading materials.

Part 4:
There’s a lot of history concerning Thomas Jefferson and even Ralph Waldo Emerson which I’m going to have to go back and brush up on as there are large pieces missing from my general education. The discussion certainly reframes the way one could see America and it’s history from a vastly different perspective that just isn’t discussed enough.

I’ll have to go back and relisten to this for some great quotes as well as one from T. Veblen.

Overall:

There are at least two more episodes in the series that I can’t wait to listen to before I surely circle back around and listen to them all a second time. This series is truly great. I’m subscribing to their prior episodes and can’t wait to see what they come up with in the future. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Jeremy Cherfas who suggested it to me indirectly via his feed.

Resources I’m bookmarking for later reading:

Seeing White
Meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1619. Library of Congress.
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📺 Divided States of America, Part 2 | Frontline

Divided States of America, Part 2 (FRONTLINE | PBS, aired January 18, 2017)
FRONTLINE investigates the partisanship of the Obama era, and the polarized America that Donald Trump inherits as president.

The second part of this wasn’t as fraught as the first half, but both are simply scintillating and well worth watching.

📺 Divided States of America, Part 1 | Frontline

Divided States of America, Part 1 (FRONTLINE | PBS, aired January 17, 2017)
FRONTLINE investigates the partisanship of the Obama era, and the polarized America that Donald Trump inherits as president.

Ahead of Donald Trump's inauguration, "Divided States of America" looks back at events during President Barack Obama's years in office that revealed deep divisions in our country. The documentary offers an in-depth view of the partisan gridlock in Washington, the rise of populist anger on both sides of the aisle, and the racial tensions that erupted throughout the country.

What a stunning overview of the last eight years of partisan politics. In particular I had forgotten about a lot of the rancor and racism stemming from the far right when Obama took office. This two part documentary does a terrific job of reminding us where we’ve all been and puts a lot of our current situation into perspective. The first part here was particularly brutal in its coverage. It seems almost too balanced to the point that the subtext of the documentary is that politicians need to find a better way to get along to do more good for their constituents.

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🔖 American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson

American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (Simon & Schuster, March 29, 2016)
From the groundbreaking author team behind the bestselling Winner-Take-All Politics, a timely and topical work that examines what’s good for American business and what’s good for Americans—and why those interests are misaligned.<br><br> In Winner-Take-All Politics, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson explained how political elites have enabled and propelled plutocracy. Now in American Amnesia, they trace the economic and political history of the United States over the last century and show how a viable mixed economy has long been the dominant engine of America’s prosperity.<br><br> Like every other prospering democracy, the United States developed a mixed economy that channeled the spirit of capitalism into strong growth and healthy social development. In this bargain, government and business were as much partners as rivals. Public investments in education, science, transportation, and technology laid the foundation for broadly based prosperity. Programs of economic security and progressive taxation provided a floor of protection and business focused on the pursuit of profit—and government addressed needs business could not.<br><br> The mixed economy was the most important social innovation of the twentieth century. It spread a previously unimaginable level of broad prosperity. It enabled steep increases in education, health, longevity, and economic security. And yet, extraordinarily, it is anathema to many current economic and political elites. And as the advocates of anti-government free market fundamentalist have gained power, they are hell-bent on scrapping the instrument of nearly a century of unprecedented economic and social progress. In American Amnesia, Hacker and Pierson explain how—and why they must be stopped.

Earlier tonight I watched a segment on The PBS NewsHour about infrastructure in America that featured this book which came out earlier this year.

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Two Types of Hipsters

César A. Hidalgo (1979- ), Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT and the director of the Macro Connections group at The MIT Media Lab
in Cesar Hidalgo on economic complexity: Why information grows | Economist.com on June 15, 2015

 

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