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!

Museums of St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is one of a handful of pretty little cities out on the peninsula between Tampa Bay & the Gulf of Mexico.  With beautiful beaches & palm-lined streets it’s been a tourist destination since the beginning of tourism.

The Museum of History is on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier, which juts out into Tampa Bay & is currently closed for construction.  It’s a small but interesting museum, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $9 for children, military, & students (this was the first place I got a discount with my student ID!).  Their permanent exhibits include an Egyptian mummy, general area history, aviation, a few signs about pirates, and for some reason two rooms filled with nothing but autographed baseballs.  When I went in April they had a shipwreck exhibit on that showed models & artifacts as well as the technology involved in finding the wrecks & retrieving small bits from them.

Just around the corner is the Museum of Fine Arts ($17/adults, $15/seniors/military, $10/children/students), which holds many works from some of history’s greatest artists in its permanent collection.  After viewing ancient pieces from all over the world, I found myself in the presence of three genuine Monets.  Unlike most art museums, they welcome photography in their permanent collections.

A Love Letter to the Florida State Fair

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I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my absurd love of fairs.  Maybe it’s my Midwest upbringing, but I LOVE FAIRS.  All kinds: local, county, state, whatever.  I love everything about them.  I love baby animals and prize-winning chickens and little kids showing pygmy goats.  I love gussied-up llamas and livestock judges waxing poetic about cows and fancy horses with braided manes.  I love midways and overpriced rides and smells of awful fried food and obnoxious barkers trying to get people to play their ridiculous games.  I love expo halls full of craft booths and tables covered with handouts about bugs.  I love handmade quilts with ribbons pinned on them and dioramas with model trains running around the edge and forestry exhibitions of endangered animals.  I love ugly but lovable elementary-school art projects and musicians demonstrating mountain dulcimers.  I love samples of local honey and displays of exotic fish and barns full of rabbits.

I just really, really, really love fairs, and the Florida State Fair is one of the best I’ve been to.  I saw the Budweiser Clydesdales, fed a butterfly, and watched a woman weave cloth with a wooded loom.  I tasted ice cream some guy made as part of a demonstration to get people to buy some contraption or other.  I found out that Florida has a special kind of horse called a Cracker that does a funny little trot and saw a kid get hauled over to a hay bale by a goat he was trying to show.  I watched people feed carrot sticks to giraffes.  I spent seven hours looking at wooden clocks and bonsai trees and recycled yard art.  It was great.

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….).

Destination: Little Rock

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Leaving the Fort Smith area I headed east on I-40, with a stop at Petit Jean State Park.  Miles of creek side trails and a big lake make Petit Jean a great spot for outdoor adventures.  One of the central features is Cedar Falls, which tumbles 90 feet into a gorge.  There’s a couple of vantage points above it that are easy to get to, but to see it from below requires a hike down into the canyon.  Another interesting spot is Rock House Cave, a petroglyph site.  Beautiful Civilian Conservation Corps construction on roads, trails, and picnic areas round out this gorgeous location.

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Right smack in the middle of Arkansas is its capital city: Little Rock. Once upon a time this was the place everyone was talking about as nine black teenagers struggled through the integration of all-white Little Rock Central High School. The school itself still operates so you can’t just go wandering around in it (although there are tours occasionally, see the NPS website for info) but the grounds are open and the National Park Service operates a very nice (and free) visitor’s center kitty corner to the school. I was there in the afternoon and watched for a bit as the students were heading out for the day. Black, white, sixty years after the National Guard was used to keep out the Little Rock Nine everybody mingled together and it didn’t seem to matter a bit what color anybody’s skin was.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Little Rock, Arkansas
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, Little Rock, Arkansas

The River Market District is a beautiful section of the city packed with restaurants, shops, and historic buildings.  I stopped for lunch at Ottenheimer Market Hall where stalls offer just about any kind of food you can imagine.  Pizza, ice cream, Asian, Middle Eastern, soul food, nobody could possibly go hungry in this place. While I was there I saw everybody from bankers to construction workers chowing down.  I was basically eating with the Village People.  Wandering along the street I came to the Old State House, where Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6th, 1861.  The free museum inside covers every aspect of Arkansas history you can think of.  There were big sections on governors, civil rights, the history of bicycles, movies with any sort of tie to Arkansas, there was even a whole room of dresses worn by governor’s wives.  When my feet started to hurt I hopped on a trolley; for $1 it meandered through the river district, over the Arkansas River into North Little Rock, and back again while the driver pointed out interesting things along the way.  North Little Rock holds T.R. Pugh Memorial Park which contains The Old Mill.  This was never actually a mill, it was created purely as a picturesque ruin, but it is pretty enough to have made it into the opening scenes of Gone with the Wind.

Continuing along I-40 there are three different archaeological parks to visit. These are mound sites, created hundreds of years ago by the ancestors of modern Native American tribes. Some of the mounds have fallen victim to farming over the years but several are still visible. Toltec & Parkin have trails going out to their mounds, but Hampson is just a small museum dedicated to a site that remains privately held and can’t be visited. The ranger at Toltec told me that they had excavated one mound for study and when they rebuilt it they had to bring in 18 dump trucks of dirt. Imagine doing that by hand, carrying the dirt in baskets.  Village Creek State Park also resides along this corridor and has some nice trails.

I really didn’t expect Arkansas to be so incredible, but I’m already scheming to go back.

Destination: Petrified Forest National Park

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Unfortunately for me this isn’t really a hiking sort of park.  There were a couple of short trails but it seemed like one of those places were you drive through, stopping at pull offs to see a few things.  A few minutes there, a couple of pictures here, on to the next.  I read in their guide later that “off the beaten path” hiking is apparently OK in some places, but I had seen so many signs telling me to stay on the paved paths that it just got confusing.  Anyway I never really know what to do in these kinds of places.  Like am I supposed to dive out of the car to examine every single one of the bazillion petrified logs that are laying all over the place?  They’re interesting, but they’re not THAT interesting.

There were some things that I DID find really interesting, like the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock and a handful of other pull offs.

The park is arranged as a 28 mile drive between the Painted Desert Visitor’s Center at the north end and the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south end.  I started at the south end, but either way is fine.

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I stayed about 20 miles away in Holbrook.  It’s one of those desert towns with a profusion of Route 66 memorabilia and goofy dinosaur statues.  (I loved it)

Route 66 was replace by I-40 long ago, but once upon a time it ran through where the park is now.  The pavement is gone, but the telephone poles remain, and there’s even a rusting Studebaker to mark the spot.

Prints of the black and white versions from this series are now available for purchase here.

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Gallery: V-Bar-V Heritage Site

V-Bar-V gets its name from the ranch that used to occupy the land.  Having been private land for so long, the petroglyphs here are remarkably well preserved.  The site is believed to be a solar calendar – the sun falls on certain drawings at certain times of the year, telling the people who made them when to plant & harvest crops, or when to expect rain.