Listomania

children running from critical race theory

Today I learned that my town made The Daily Wire, Ben Shapiro’s reactionary online rag, because teachers signed a pledge the Zinn Education Project wrote to give educators an opportunity to express their opposition to laws attempting to stifle the teaching of anything to do with the country’s sordid history regarding race, under the guise of stifling only the teaching of critical race theory, which the people writing these bills don’t understand or care to understand, because it’s not the point.

This summer, The Daily Wire did humanity the service of breaking down the signers of this pledge by state and by town so that its readers could look up their town and, if they were lucky, storm their school board meetings armed, like Johnny Iselin with his 57 card-carrying communists, with Names. They proudly published this list–taken from the carefully hidden Zinn website–as if it were an exposé.

57 Varieties

The truth is that legislators and attorneys general in states like mine (blessed with the estimable AG Eric Schmitt, who never met a frivolous, career-boosting lawsuit he didn’t like, whether it was about curriculum, public health measures, or insurrection) and helper-hacks like Shapiro know what they’re doing. They are using fear to run things and to run for things. They know what their base is afraid of, and they’re afraid too. They are afraid that there are more of us than them, and more all the time–more people who believe that the truth will set us free, or at least will set the children who are taught it free, more people who understand that it’s not weakness but strength to admit the truth of the past, more people who recognize that things need to change, and, most frightening to these people, more and more people of color. And just like the men in power 150 years ago, a hundred years ago, even fifty years ago, they don’t want to lose that power. So they try to make their constituents afraid of their own children’s teachers.

I’m proud of those teachers. Put them on a list if you want to, Daily Wire. I’m on that list too, even though I teach in a university, not a high school, because I wanted to express my opposition to these efforts to bully our teachers out of teaching the truth. I’m not the target of the people who scream at school board meetings, but I damn well stand with them, and you should too.

The Last Refuge

The other day I received an email from my employer inviting me to attend a ceremony described as being held “in recognition of the 20th anniversary of Patriot Day.” This is not the first email of this kind I’ve received from the university, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed this curious wording. The twentieth anniversary of Patriot Day?

I’ve never liked the use of the term Patriot Day for the anniversary for the 2001 attacks. I’ve never been comfortable with 9/11 as the term to use to refer to the day itself: I think making it easier to refer to that day, giving it a short, catchy brand name, makes it easier to instrumentalize it, to use it whip up nationalist fervor. It stands in the way of understanding the events of the day, their causes, and the way they were used as an excuse to institute improper policies and start wars. And I’ve never been comfortable remembering the day simply. It was a bad day for me as a New Yorker and as a person–my sister lost her husband in the north tower, I spent the day trying to get back downtown from the Bronx and then going around to local hospitals looking for and not finding my brother-in-law–and along with those memories of that bad day and the days after, I have the memories of everything people have done in its name since then. (I wrote something for the local paper about this on the anniversary in 2011.)

Calling the anniversary of that day Patriot Day proudly reprises the Bush administration’s approach to the events of that day, and it’s why I’ve never liked it. Referring to the day itself as Patriot Day in this announcement just strikes me as perverse. It was a day. People got out of bed, had breakfast, got coffee, got on planes, went to work, died for reasons and for no reason. My brother-in-law was patriotic; that’s not why he died. He died because he went to work. He didn’t die so neocons could get their wars and oil profiteers could get their profits. He didn’t die for Halliburton or for Blackwater or for the other people who make money off of war. Two decades later, these two wars prosecuted in patriotism’s name are finally over. As we watch the evacuation unfold and the blame be misassigned, as we hear the lies about who and what we care about and why we were there, maybe for once we can stop pretending.

History Is What the GOP Doesn’t Want You to Teach

(As Fred Jameson once said.)

So I’ve been teaching it and talking about teaching it. Gave a long talk at The Story Center of Kansas City’s Mid-Continent Public Library Tuesday night (on Facebook Live, recorded here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=461105401624401&ref=watch_permalink) on Missouri writers, which is hard to do without talking about the state’s special history of race, capitalism, and empire.

If a funny bit sticks out of the side of your state, might be a story

I also wrote a short thing for Modernism/modernity‘s blog In These Times (https://modernismmodernity.org/forums/posts/cohen-2016-project) in which I use Walter Johnson, Walter Williams, and no other Walters to talk about why it’s important to be able to teach these kinds of things, especially in These Times.

Always quote your colleagues, even if they’re just quoting someone else

You don’t have to watch the long talk or read the short thing, of course, but if you want to pick one, pick the short thing, and share it with people if you think it’s worth the clicking. I think it’s an important subject and hope you do too. Use hashtags. Like #CriticalRaceTheory, #1619Project, my newly invented and surely not catching on #2016Project. If there’s anything we can do to keep these bills legislative stunts only rather than watching them become laws, we should do it.

It’s #SidelinePoetry All the Way Down

And we haven’t hit bottom yet. (But there’s still time! One more weekend left in the season.) These new poems are from league play two Sundays ago (the first) and from a tournament this past weekend (the rest), all in the glorious, glorious state of Kansas. *

One critic to whom I am related noted a certain pessimism creeping into the poems a few weeks ago, to which I can only reply with this from late Saturday:

not bottom yet

… so there’s that. It’s not you, world, it’s me, or the length of the season, of the semester, and/or of the legislative session. And I don’t edit these things, they just pop out on Twitter, so the mood they got written in is the mood that shows up in them. I will also note a personal tendency in these most recent poems, which I think is more pronounced than in past ones, or maybe I’m just hiding it less, and certainly no one cares either way. I’ve got grading to do and something to write for someone about the aforementioned shit show in Jeff City, so here are the poems, which are supposed to be just for fun anyway, yes?

It’s just another story.**


*https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/feb/02/trump-kansas-city-missouri-super-bowl-tweet

**that was for the Clash fans. For all of you, a video:

Oh God Not More #SidelinePoetry

They did this over and over again

Once upon a time, long before you were born, soccer was played on fields (made of grass) that popped up here and there–next to schools, in public parks, maybe in a field surrounded by trees. (I know!) Now the fields are made of crumb-rubber infilled synthetic turf–“blades” of grass-shaped polypropylene or polyethylene attached to a backing material, upon which is poured two to three pounds of ground-up tires per square foot. And you often find these fields in soccer complexes, some of which sell naming rights (Scheels All Sports paid the small sum of $625K for the rights at Overland Park Soccer Complex), all of which prominently feature multiple fields divided by vinyl-coated chain link fences, sometimes elaborate concessions operations, and dedicated spots for medal-awarding and picture-taking, because ultimately if there are no losers, the soccer will have just been for helping players develop and possibly for fun. (I know!) Should you find yourself in one of these complexes, puzzling over what to do with the five hours between the last game and the finals (your prayers that your child’s team will miss the finals so you don’t have to drive two hours home in the dark having failed because you are godless), try to find a park where you can sit on the grass in the sun, near a dam and some trees, and watch ducks do what can only be described as playing.

More #SidelinePoetry

Should you find yourself lost somewhere southwest of Kansas City, seek direction at Garmin Olathe Soccer Complex, just east of Raven Crest and Eagle Crest and Woodland Manor, though good luck finding any ravens, eagles, or woodlands, and across the road from Corporate Ridge, where you will see no ridges but lots of corporate at Garmin International Product Support. Delight at the profanity hurled toward poorly paid referees from the spittle-flecked lips of the middle-aged and their apple-cheeked spawn. Look deep inside yourself and wonder where the impulse to walk the sidelines handing out copies of the Laws of the Game of association football comes from. Find nothing. Write bad poetry. See you next weekend.

#AmNotWriting

This year has been a wash for my research. I’m not here to complain. It just has. I’ve been teaching new courses online, I’ve been advising grad students online, I’ve participated in conference panels online, I’ve been giving public lectures on Missouri literature and history online, I’ve been watching in horror as my computer slow-motion crashes during a public lecture online (do not recommend), I’ve been editing my book series (online), I’ve been reading submissions for journal editors (also online, everything’s online). I’ve been working. I just haven’t been writing my book. There are piles of notes and piles of books to be read and interviews and research to be done when we’re allowed to go back on the road, but for now I am halfway-up-the-rims-in-mud stuck on the writing.

Maybe banana nut. That’s a good muffin.

I mention this neither for sympathy (thanks but there’s a few more serious things going on in the world that need your attention) nor for advice (please god no) but because while there are reasons for me to be stuck–semi-good reasons (hard to write a book on the history of university presses while higher ed implodes or more accurately is starved and dismantled and while it sometimes seems to me not so crucial for all of the current scholarship to see life between boards, I know, who put me in charge) and quite not-good reasons (I’ve always been like this)–there is a good reason for me to write this book. I was reminded of that this spring break morning by a post, “How to (Build Solidarity with University Presses So They Exist to) Publish Your Book: A Roundtable,” published today on the H-Net Book Channel’s Feeding the Elephant: A Forum for Scholarly Communications.

This elephant eats books

The post puts in print (thanks to MSU Press’s Catherine Cocks) the opening remarks of a roundtable I put together with SUNY Press’s Rebecca Colesworthy for MLA this past January, and it displays the dedication of the members of the roundtable to finding ways to continue to publish scholarly work in this increasingly difficult climate. One point that was made–that university presses need other people on campus to forge alliances with to ensure that they are properly appreciated and funded–reminded me of one big, good reason for me to write this book: to tell the story of university presses in order to show people who don’t work at university presses the importance of university presses not only to professors’ careers but to the entire enterprise of scholarship and to the societies that reap the benefits of that scholarship. So this is a thank you to the editors and publishers and forum-keepers for the kick in the pants.

#SidelinePoetry

Emanuel_Leutze_-_Westward_the_Course_of_Empire_Takes_Its_Way_-_Capitol
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” (1861, United States Capitol)

As Tennyson never wrote, in spring a middle-aged man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of soccer poetry. Some new ones from yesterday (old ones are here: Sideline Poetry | The New Yorker):

(My in-house editor points out that those fields are actually in Kansas, which I knew, but my fingers forgot it when typing on my phone in the High Wind.) And here are a couple more from last week, on a theme. It helps for one of them if you know French, which I don’t:

Driving Home

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Punisher

Driving down the main street downtown the other day, the first warm and sunny day after a long run of very cold and very gray ones, I pulled up to a light behind a pickup truck and saw a smaller version of this sticker in the same spot on its rear windshield. And the light changed and I swore like a goddamn sailor, hung on his bumper like an idiot for a block, and then came back to whatever of my senses I still have left and took an early left turn to go home.

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Campaigner

So it’s clear I wasn’t in the mood to see something like this this week. (And if you aren’t familiar, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you: this should do it.) By this week, the failure of the efforts of the GOP to overturn the results of the presidential election through their mobilization of an armed and intentionally lied-to mob–cheered on by the immensely dishonest and irresponsible junior senator from my state–was feeling less and less encouraging. The Senate didn’t convict, the lies continue, and state houses seem emboldened, pushing the worse, most blatantly racist kind of vote-suppressing legislation (along with a raft of other awful legislation on everything from guns to school vouchers to reproductive care).

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Realtor

For many people, including me, one of the more difficult things to deal with about what happened January 6 and what’s been happening since is how much it drives home the hard fact that it’s not just Trump & Co. As we watched participants in the attack on the Capitol be identified and arrested, we saw that many of them didn’t seem to be fringe extremists, long-bearded survivalists with massive personal armories and militia t shirts. They were retired policemen. They worked regular jobs. They filmed themselves storming up the steps of the Capitol selling their services in real estate. Some of them were state legislators who were totally cool with being seen attacking their own nation’s capitol. One from my state missed his own swearing-in so he could be there.

It’s tempting to blame this all on the decades of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh (who’s gone, but whose giant malevolent head still sits in my state capitol) and other people telling them that it’s okay to say the racist part out loud now, and to say that the toxic Steves, Miller and Bannon (apologies to any Steves I might be forgetting) are just capitalizing on their work. But one very obvious but sometimes forgotten thing the demoralizing aftermath of January 6 should remind us of is that it goes way farther back than Limbaugh leaving sports radio and Murdoch wanting to trash yet another country’s public square.

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Limbaugh, bust

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From Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson

I gave a talk the other night through my local library on the subject of viewing the history of Missouri through the work of its writers and in relation to the history of the country. I’m teaching a course on it now, so I’m thinking more than I would ever have imagined I would about these histories, and it is some fucked-up, sobering shit. It’s not anything whose broad outlines you don’t already know, but talking for almost an hour about novels and poems that tell stories about the things people have had to put up with because other people want what they’ve got, or don’t want to let them get anything, or are afraid they’re going to take what they already have, or just want their labor for nothing, and feel morally and even divinely sanctioned to act accordingly–it really drives it home.

It’s been like this here since the people who weren’t from here came here. The state legislators trying to keep this history from being taught in the schools don’t want to hear it and don’t want anybody else to say it, and of course it makes complete sense: it’s only a historical hop, skip, and jump from the first slavers to Limbaugh, to the guy who brought the confederate flag into the Capitol not very many weeks ago, to the guy who decided he would put that sticker on his truck. To the state rep who wants tax dollars to pay for some kids’ private schools so they don’t have to go to school with certain other peoples’ kids. To the US Senator who is happy to claw his way to the top on the backs of those other people and with a boost from the people who are happy to see them stepped on, somehow never noticing that his foot’s on their backs too.

I’ve got nothing good to say about all of this. I’m just constantly trying to keep myself from swearing about it.