Racist History


I never really understood why we have the group-specific History Months.  Like it’s all history right?  Why the need to occasionally single out this group or that group?

A couple of weeks ago in one of my anthropology classes some guy from the department asked us to do a survey so they could figure out if we were learning the right things, and gave each of us a question.  I don’t recall the exact wording of mine, but I was supposed to define the concepts of sex vs. gender and write about a recent change in gender roles.  I picked a quick & easy topic: women entering the workforce during World War 2 & the long-standing changes that stemmed from that.  Easy.  I could write about that in my sleep.

In that moment, I realized that I have no idea what that experience looked like in any other racial community.  Like I’ve never seen a non-white Rosie the Riveter (not one of the original ones anyway).  Not once in my life have I come across a photo of a bunch of women building bombs and not every single one of them was white.  I’m sure they’re out there but I’ve never seen them.  It never even occurred to me to look for them, which says a lot about how I’ve been educated.  Chalk it up to media racism in the 1940s, ethnocentrism, whatever, it doesn’t matter, I’ve taken a zillion history classes and nobody’s ever brought it up.  We don’t talk about black people between slavery & civil rights.  Not much is ever said about Hispanics outside of colonialism and whatever happened in Texas.  Asians get passing mentions with the railroads & internment camps, maybe somebody mentions a Chinese laundry, but that’s about it.

I still don’t care much for the special History Months, but I think that’s because it’s not really an inclusive concept, plus they recycle the same history over and over.  Make all of history class inclusive.  Bring in more perspectives on a wider slice of of life.  Please!

Your Language Shapes Your Concept of Space

I wanted to share something interesting I found out today in an essay called You Are What You Speak by linguist Guy Deutscher that I read for my anthropology class.  He has some very interesting things to say about language and how it shapes the way we think about gender, time, and our feelings about inanimate objects, but the thing that caught my attention was in the concept of spatial relationships.  It never really occurred to me that there could be a different orientation system than the one we use, but it turns out that there is.  When we think of small-scale directions, we orient ourselves in terms of right, left, forward, & backward.  This is called egocentric – our directional axis is based around our bodies and rotates with us; we are literally the center of everything.  Some cultures use a geographic orientation system – their languages refer to EVERYTHING in terms of cardinal directions, and actually contain no concept of left or right.  ‘Walk three blocks east, turn north, then it will be the first house to the west,’ isn’t really that crazy.  It gets crazy when someone says ‘I left my keys on the north end of the dresser on the west side of the room,’ or ‘Scooch a little to the south,’ or ‘There’s a bee to the east of your head.’  THAT’S WHAT THEY DO.  Not only do they talk this way, they REMEMBER things this way.  Deutscher writes about a native speaker of such a language telling a story about his boat being capsized in the midst of some sharks and swimming back to shore:

“Apart from the dramatic content, the remarkable thing about the story was that it was remembered throughout in cardinal directions: the speaker jumped into the water on the western side of the boat, his companion to the east of the boat, they saw a giant shark swimming north and so on.”

People whose native languages are geographic-based have INSANE senses of direction.  Put them inside, outside, in a cave, spin them around, they can still tell which way is which.  They just KNOW, because their languages force them to know, at all times.  Just the way that we know left from right (most of us, I still struggle with this one….).

Epic Information Fail

I’ve gotten a few things from the bazillion colleges that I asked for more information from, and I’m genuinely surprised at how little actual information they’ve sent.  I guess I don’t really know what I expected, maybe something about their application processes & deadlines, what they look for in applicants, more details about their anthropology programs since they all asked what I was interested in.  What I got was a little pile of pamphlets & swag that basically tells me nothing.  The University of Michigan even said they wanted to look up my ACT scores, you know what they sent?  An over sized postcard with a bumper sticker and an appeal to put it on something and post a photo to Instagram with #goblue.  How is that supposed to help me choose them over some other school?  When I asked for more information it was because I wanted more information, not a booklet of all the companies that have hired their graduates, a breakdown of their football statistics, or what the social scene is like in their city.  This is about whether you fit into my future plans, not how cool you think you are.

Somewhat Less Confusion

I called the admissions office of the school I’m planning on applying to, and she said that as long as I have the FAFSA in it should be fine for the spring semester. Hopefully she’s right, I’d hate to lose out on a bunch of aid money.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to finish the application so right now there’s nothing for me to do but wait and keep looking for other sources of funds. I’m taking a little break from it right now.  I’m actually developing a huge callus on my elbow from leaning on my desk staring at my computer. I call it my college search injury.
I’m also considering whether or not I should get a job over the winter. My summer earnings will last quite a while, but besides just that I’m looking into companies that offer employee tuition benefits. Costco is at the top of my list right now, it’s supposed to be a great place to work plus I’m actually qualified for it. The problem though is that I’ll have field schools to attend and those last a month or two. I don’t know if I’d be able to get that off of work or not. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do a field school the first year anyway, so there’s no point in worrying about it now. It’s all just going to have to wait until I get a better idea of my financial situation, but I hate waiting, it makes me twitchy.

Utter Confusion

My current plan is to start school in the winter semester.  That will allow me to fulfill the contract on my summer job and give me plenty of time to move to a new city, get settled in, get all the t’s crossed & i’s dotted, generally make sure all the pieces are in place before I start classes.  I was going to apply today, but they won’t let me yet.  The only choices on the application are summer or fall.  That wouldn’t matter, I could wait to apply, except that they want my FAFSA by March 1st.  So I did the FAFSA, but they can’t add it to an application that I can’t put in.  So now what?  Should I put fall on my application and change it to winter if I get in?  What if I have to pay a deposit before I can change it?  The deposit doesn’t change to a new semester.  I have no idea when the winter applications will be available.  I emailed the school but they haven’t gotten back to me yet and even when they do I have no idea if the information will be useful.  Half the time when I email an entity like that I get back a cut-and-paste answer with things I already know.

The Scholarship Search

Searching for scholarships makes me feel old. They’re all for high school students, nobody wants to give money to someone my age. I’ve discovered a handful of random scholarships that allow adult entrants, and believe me I’ve entered them all, but I still feel like the opportunities are significantly narrowed for those of us in the non-traditional age group.  I have all of the “why didn’t I do this before???” thoughts of course, but there’s nothing I can do about that, I just have to move forward with what I have right now.

I’m also starting to realize that the search really is a skill you have to develop. What started off as a totally overwhelming endeavor has slowly become more manageable as I’ve learned to spot patterns and narrow the search by interests, memberships, or other traits. The ones I’ve found that need some sort of essay want to know why I want their money and have all gotten modifications of my first blog post so that wasn’t hard. For me it’s really just a matter of working on it when I have positive energy to focus, and giving it up for the day once I start to feel like it’s an impossible task. Easier said than done, I really do need to retrain my thought processes and remember that it’s OK to take a break from it.