Looking back on the readings for the final essay, it was very interesting to see how MLK’s ideas changed with the culture of America, especially because I feel like it contrasts with how he is taught most of the time. When I think about what I was told about King, I remember how he fought for desegregation voting rights, up until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed. Rarely was I ever told about the work he did between that and his death, and I was almost never told about his thoughts on Vietnam and poverty in America. I feel like the reason he is taught this way is because his later work comes off as anti-American at times, and we feel like we need a hero who loves America, because everyone deserves to do well here. I think that telling the first part of the story is important so that we can understand his ideas and important lessons, but ending it there makes it seem like he stopped working because his job was finished. I think that it is important to show how he never stopped working on behalf of his people, and we should not stop today.
On Saturday, Donald Glover, under his Childish Gambino alter-ego, released a music video for a single of his latest album titled “This is America.” The Video opens with Glover shooting a person in the back to the head, before turning to the camera and dancing with a big, goofy smile on his face, while his song plays in the background. The rest of the music video follows the same theme, of a shirtless Childish Gambino dancing happily for the camera while acts of violence and atrocity occur behind him. This video has created controversy over it’s graphic images and violent narrative, but the message that is given is an important one. On your first watch through, it’s difficult to notice all of the problems that are happening behind Glover, and that is because he is who we want to see. We focus on the happy, fun dancer, which makes us forget about all of the problems happening around us. At one point, there’s even a group of kids who ignore all of the chaos happening around them to stay on their phones, showing how society can be oblivious to many of the problems that are happening to other people. Glover is aware he and many other popular rappers are victims of these kinds of oppression, even before they became rappers, but the public doesn’t want to see them talk about that, they only want the fun rappers to dance to. In the same vein, Gambino dancing in the music video distracts the viewer from all of the atrocities that are happening behind him. The set he used is reminiscent of American cities twenty to thirty years ago, symbolising the idea that nothing has changed in that time. At the end of the music video, Glover is running in the dark from a mob, because now that the stopped singing, they are going after him to now. Overall, this video is a good representation with many of the problems regarding race in America, and how we as a society chose to ignore many problems that others face and focus on the good and happy to distract us. More importantly, it shows how people only want Gambino and other artists to be making fun and happy music, not drawing attention to all these problems. After Kanye West’s recent remarks, it was refreshing to see Gambino be aware of his fame, and not willing to risk it in order to make a statement.
Going over the primary sources, I found myself caught between choosing a side between Hughes’ and Schuyler’s arguments in terms of how to represent black art. On my initial read, I thought they both made good points. While it is important to establish an identity in culture, does doing so imply that there is a difference between races? And if so, does that mean that one is inherently inferior? But especially today, I do know how important it is for a race to establish an identity in mainstream culture, and how important it is for them to cling to that. I think that that is why I eventually sided with Langston Hughes over Schyler. While the idea that a black artist should just be considered just an artist, I think that it is more important for a race to find their own identity among themselves. The Harlem renaissance allowed black Americans to stake a claim in their own world and gave the community something to rally behind. Saying that they are the same as any other artist takes that away from them, and does more harm for the community than good.
I found Du Bois’s article “African Roots of War” to be very interesting because it makes you think about the domino effect that sometimes occurs in history that gets skimmed over easily. The idea that the scramble for Africa and the rush to harvest the continent’s natural resources was one of the leading causes for the spread of colonialism is an idea that I never really thought about. When I was taught WWI in high school, we mostly focused on the problems between the European superpowers, but never really how these problems were grown. The scramble for Africa was taught, but not in the same context. We were taught how it was bad for the Africans at the time, but not on a larger scale. I think that this idea probably gets glossed over a lot because we still don’t think of African history as relevant to the rest of the world, and we still see it as just an area to grab resources from. The idea that the source of a major conflict can be traced back to an event at the beginning of the century is fascinating to me because it creates the sense that much of history is connected in some way, and that every world event can have a lasting impact on the future.
When I was growing up in Rochester, New York, I attended a private school that most would consider to be fairly liberal. The school had a rather diverse student body, and was always proud of the efforts that they made to ensure that every student felt included in the community that they had created. When I think back to how we were first taught of the Civil War, my first memory is of hearing about it in a primary school classroom. We learned about the Civil War in a very basic concept, being told that the slave-owning south wanted to separate from the union, who wanted to end slavery. Abraham leads the heroic north against the evil south, and ultimately got killed by supervillain John Wilkes-Booth. For most of my adolescence, the south was portrayed as the villain during this time period. I believe it was around sixth or seventh grade when the idea that the Civil War was originally about states rights and representation in Congress rather than slavery alone, and that Lincoln was not fully against slavery during his presidency. From then on most students seemed to be mature enough to understand that history isn’t as black and white as we make it seem, but prior to that I can remember me and my classmates all seeing the south as the evilest and immoral group in history, while the north was the morally correct heroes.
It makes sense this is how we were taught, younger kids aren’t always able to understand the intricacies that go into war, so it’s easier to give them a background in something simple before introducing them to more complicated subjects. Growing up in New York probably also helped change our perspectives, as we essentially adopted the union as a sort of a “home team.” In the end, making the union the heroes likely did a lot of help in shaping an accepting community, because of how it made us all realize how important equality, freedom, and fair treatment of all people was. It’s because of this upbringing that I’m always confused when I hear about other regions teaching the Civil War from the opposite perspective. The big story I remember hearing fairly recently was the change happening to AP US History, where slavery was to be downplayed and the curriculum was to be made more pro-American While I understand that it’s hard to accept that your family from that region was on the wrong side of history, it still seems counterintuitive to try and insert your own narrative into history. By trying to mask our mistakes it obviously makes it difficult to move beyond them. So to me, it’s more important to try and improve on what the previous generation failed on, instead to trying to make their failures seem like a success.