Bird Grace

 

The vast darkness appeared in the eastern sky in early afternoon. The weather people had been forecasting for days the hurricane Isaias, and we watched for its outer bands of rain; in fact, we even eagerly wished for the much-needed rain. So this week when the darkness arrived, my wife and I gathered on the screened porch to watch its arrival. We were not disappointed, and the rain brought relief to the heat and humidity and dry plants. We listened to the rain hitting leaves and watched the worst of the storm move south around us.

When calm returned to our area, I continued to sit on the porch to watch our small, back  garden. All matter of animals came out after the rain, and I enjoyed the presence of cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, Carolina wrens, brown thrashers, and more. The cooled air gave comfort to the watching of all the activity. One of the dogwood trees in the garden has several dead branches that we keep because they provide food for the smaller birds like the chickadees. It was on one of those branches that I noticed a small nodule, and I wondered what it could be. I kept examining it and soon realized that it was a small, resting bird. Because it was such a minuscule shape against the still dusty sky, I could not identify it, but I did notice a sharp beak and body not larger than my thumb. I concluded it to be a young brown-headed nuthatch. I watched. It rested.

Out time together lasted for several minutes, and I enjoyed the odd experience of seeing a bird so still. Birds in our garden, like in all places, are always on the move, but at a few times I had seen them resting. I have watched doves lay on the ground with wings spread, their  way of cooling off. Brown thrashers have rested on the fence rail with their beaks open to gain some relief from the heat. I had seen birds resting on a limb or fence rail between splashes of flight. But seldom had I seen a bird at rest this long. Right there, the young nuthatch resting on the dead limb of our dogwood tree, until the well-rested hummingbird zoomed away.

I had been wrong about the bird’s identity, but that was okay because the storm moved on, the lower temperature it brought to our garden gave welcome relief, and I had received a small gift. That was enough I realized as I went into the house for supper.

 

 

 

 

What is “Indian Country”

“Indian Country.” Said twice in a press conference on July 28, 2020 by the President of the United States. He used the phrase to explain that for the first time aid was going to Indigenous Peoples of America to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Twice.

What did he mean? To whom did he reference? Here in North Carolina we have the Lumbees, the Cherokees, and more Indigenous  Americans. Did he mean that all of these citizens would receive aid to fight this pandemic?

Or was he envisioning another “Indian Country” like that of Teddy Roosevelt where the buffalo was stalked by hunters clad only in loin-clothes, riding on magnificent mounts. I wager that he was not seeing the hovels without running water or electricity, but only his vision of “Indian Country.”

An Educational Opportunity

 

 

During the weekend when Representative John Lewis was being honored in his home state of Alabama, a thirty-year-old state representative who represents a district northwest of Montgomery chose to honor another native of Alabama.

According to his Facebook post, Will Dismukes gave the opening invocation for the annual celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s birthday. His post showed him standing behind the lectern surrounded by several Confederate flags at a location named Fort Dixie. He writes on his post, “Always a great time and some sure enough good eating.”

Dismukes and all the other celebrators at Fort Dixie, someone’s private property near Selma, are free to observe the birthday of a Confederate officer, a slave owner, and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Kian. They are free to hang all the Confederate flags they want and to continue this annual event with  all the “good eating” present at such occasions.

It does not surprise me that some areas of America still celebrate such men as Forrest. What shocks me is that a politician so young as Dismukes would attend, participate, and share his role on Facebook, then he expresses surprise that some readers react negatively to his post. A graduate of Faulkner University and the pastor of his Baptist church, Dismukes  saw nothing wrong in honoring Forrest but not Lewis.

Senator Tom Cotton has spent a year trying to stop the use of the 1619 curriculum in public schools. He views the curriculum as biased concerning racism is America. Senator Cotton firmly believes that America is not a racist country and that slavery was “a necessary evil” that helped build our country.

While reading various newspaper accounts of Senator Cotton’s battle against the 1619 curriculum and of Dismukes’ celebration of a racist traitor to America, I kept wondering how did these men manage to graduate college and law school without gaining knowledge of slavery and its horrific effect on America? As an educator who required students to read and discuss and write about books by Richard Wright, Earnest Gaines, Alice Walker, and Gloria Naylor, to name a few, I am saddened that these men, elected leaders, have such a limited understanding of that “peculiar institution.” I wonder what they understand about the Jim Crow era and how Dr. King, Jr. used non-violence for change.

Dismukes is only thirty. I had believed that we had done a better job of educating our young people. Yet, he chooses to honor a bigot, not a hero. He chooses to go to a place named Fort Dixie, which is  ironically near Selma, where Mr. Lewis helped change our country. Does his choice to travel to Fort Dixie and not Troy, Alabama demonstrate his failure to learn our history or does it speak to our failure to educate him?

Senator Cotton writes falsehoods and pushes misinformation about the practice of human chattel. I wonder what he has read about slavery. Has he considered reading Tocqueville’s examination of slavery. If his blind loyalty to Southern heritage prevents him from reading an account by a non-American, I highly recommend Hodding Carter’s Southern Legacy, which examines the South, but does not glorify it.

My take of all this  is that we have a long way to go in educating our citizens concerning slavery, the Traitor’s War, Jim Crow, and more. But because of the influence of COVID-19 on our educational system, we have the opportunity to change our educational systems. The pandemic has given us a chance. Let’s take advantage of it by teaching the true history of our country.

Lost or Taken Away

 

Think of the word lost or the phrase taken away. Both the word and the phrase imply and even suggest that whatever has been lost or taken away belonged to the  speaker. The thing lost or  taken away is spoken of as a possession, so the removal of it is an unjust act, making the speaker a victim.

I hear and read this sentiment often today. Athletes and viewers of them are the ones to  most often use the word or phrase. For  instance, a high school football player in a town near me can be heard saying,  “We’ve lost our senior year. It’s been taken away from us.” Last spring graduating seniors and even adults would lament how those seniors had lost their graduation, prom, and beach week.

The language used is full of pity seeking and like all pity, it is a wrongful, self-serving emotion. None of these young people and their supporting adults had ownership of a sport season. Just because they played baseball or lacrosse does not give them ownership. They, like the graduates, coaches, parents, and more are participants, not owners. A season  cannot be owned. A season is just that, a time on the calendar, and it is not even capitalized to give it importance because it will come, then fade into the next one. The glory of cross-country fades into wrestling which folds into track and field. One after the other. They cannot be owned anymore than air. But the language of some of our put-out children, helicopter parents, coaches, and teachers attempts to gain support by presenting themselves as victims of an unjust deed meant to harm them.

The pandemic which has caused such distribution across the world is much more consequential than a “lost” sports season. Yet, some colleges and  high schools in North Carolina are conducting workouts for football as if all the death and misery and danger is not present in a high rate of our population. The NBA has invented a “bubble” so it can make money while viewers watch grown men throw and shoot a ball. The NFL will somehow have a season, and baseball is happening. All of this way of seeing justified satisfaction for our lives seeps down to colleges and high schools. We have a right, we seem to be saying, even in the middle of  this COVID-19 pandemic.

To be an athlete in or viewer of any sport is to be a participant. Being a participant requires that you owe the sport, it does not owe you anything. You choose to be in it. So, stop whining about losing something that was never yours or of something that you  did not own being taken away. The pandemic happened to you, and it happened to the  world.

Put on your big person pants and do something to help.

 

 

Sunrise Semester

 

 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are struggling to arrive at a comprehensive plan on how to educate students, from P-K thru college/university. The most thought of plan, distance learning or MOOC, works only when all students have reliable access to the Internet, and for many students in public education, poor or non-existent internet is a fact of life.  However, we may not  need to “reinvent the wheel.”

Sunrise Semester, a collaborative effort between CBS and NYU, began in 1957. Each morning at 6:30 am a course was offered by an NYU professor. Two courses were offered on alternating days (M-W-F and T-T-S), and Dr. Floyd Zulli, Jr. taught the first course: Comparative Literature 10: from Stendhal to Hemingway. Courses in philosophy, math, science, and more were offered, and until the program ended in 1982 it proved a huge success. According to NYU’s website, 177 students paid $25 per credit hour in the first year to take the first course by television and over 120,000 just watched the lectures for no credit.  NYU estimated that the series was seen by nearly two million viewers at its height. In 1962 Mrs. Cora Gay Carr earned her Bachelor of Science of Arts degree from NYU. She had earned 54 of the 128 credits necessary for her degree through Sunrise Semester.

As we debate how we can manage education during the pandemic, distant learning seems to be a viable alternative. But, as  mentioned earlier, Internet access is an issue, especially for the P-K thru 12th grade students. Computers may be absent from homes, especially the homes of the  less wealthy. But all homes and dormitories have televisions. They are everywhere, so could we not explore television as a substitute for the Internet in order to educate our students?

CBS and NYU managed to work together to bring education into the homes of ordinary citizens. The essayist Phillip Lopate writes how his parents, “lowly textile clerks with no more than high school diplomas”, set their alarm early to hear Dr. Zulli’s course on Stendhal in their Brooklyn ghetto, not for credit, but “for old-fashioned enlightenment.” Surely, with all our television channels and resources, we can find a way to use some of that resource for education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School Days

 

Any school has what I call, “the culture of the hallways.” This is the behavior of students with each other in places and times that an authority figure is not present. All schools have such places: bathrooms, gyms, cafeterias and more. In such “student controlled” areas, a student may present differently than when in the presence of an adult. It is  here that rude, mean, ugly, prejudiced, and spiteful behavior happens. All schools have a culture of the hallways.

As an administrator, teacher, and coach in independent and Catholic schools for forty years, I read with interest the articles concerning the recent “Black at (name the school) posts on Instagram. Not having an Instagram account prohibits me from reading various accounts, but I honestly do not want to read any anonymous report of racism or any ism in such schools. One article about a graduate’s experience in an independent school in Annapolis, MD was helpful because in “outing” the head of school, (who I know) the student’s name was published. That student owned his/her story.

I honor a present student or employees’ anonymity in offering a personal experience that is racist, classicist, or unjust in several other ways. That person cannot be assured that retribution will not happen because retribution is a sad reality of all schools. The power structure of schools places the student or employee below a school board member, a  principal, a coach, and students are last and at the mercy of any mean-spirited person. For these Instagram posts, I recommend anonymity.

My career in education covered the years 1968-2008. I began teaching during the last efforts to thwart the Brown vs. Board Supreme Court Decision to integrate public schools and ended it working to help make independent schools more reflective of society, to create student bodies and faculties that were not all white and wealthy.  With the  help of programs such as NCBI and students, teachers, and administrators, I experienced the joy of being a part in creating a more diverse, welcoming, and safe environment in independent schools in and around Washington, DC. Many workshops, discussions, assemblies with speakers such as Peggy McIntosh and Lorene Cary, and “town meetings” were held to help those school communities confront the challenges of race, gender, class, sexuality, and more, but some of the current issues present today did not exist in these years. While the work I shared with others in each school was demanding and difficult and even frightening at times, it was rewarding. We knew that not all persons in our communities would be changed, but we knew we would make some change for the better.

Because of my experience, in which I made mistakes, I am bothered by graduates and past employees not identifying themselves. For me, I want to know the circumstances surrounding any mis-spoken words and to whom I may have said them. For instance, one Instagram post I read reported the name of a teacher I knew and had even  hired. The unnamed poster told how his friend had chosen not to dress in a costume for Halloween during the 7th grade, but just wore sweatpants and a hoodie. He says that the named teacher asked his friend, “Are you  dressed up as Trevor Martin?” Wow. Hard stuff, but the poster was a long past student who renamed anonymous. The teacher, as far as I know, is retired. However, I think that she, or any teacher “outed” would be appreciative of some more details surrounding their offensive words.

I have some recommendations for any person who chooses to post on Black at (name the school), which is helpful for such schools. Tell your story or get your friend to tell his/hers and name the name(s) of the offending person. Provide as much detail surrounding the event as possible. In this way, you will help the named teacher/coach/administrator recall the event, and this  may help them to better understand. That is their duty,  but when you  name the name, name yours as well. In that way, your story will have more credibility. Being direct with each other in a civil way is the best avenue to changing people and their institutions.  Anonymous remarks may cause folks to become defensive, and that attitude was not helpful before or now. Own your story and help change happen.

Peaches

 

The cardboard box is marked “Southern Peaches” and made to hold ten ripening peaches.  Now empty of  its delicious fruit, it sits on the floor below a side table holding whichever of our five cats gets in it to sleep, a purpose for which it was not intended, but our cats do not know that, nor did any of them savor the sweetness of its contents.

I waited. Each morning I surveyed the ten in the bowl where Mary Ann my wife had placed them. My patience weakened as the peaches turned redder and softer. After a few days my wait ended, and I removed one from its resting place. I washed it and carried it to the round oak breakfast table in a paper towel. Setting it on the table, style down, I removed the peduncle and using my thumbs opened it to reveal a seed coat surrounded by pink mesocarp overflowing with sweet juice. The seed and its coat came out easily, and I  took my first summer’s taste of a South Carolina  peach. Only a peach, with its juice flowing between my fingers and onto the paper towel, it stirred memory.

We lived poor but for our mother. The little, green house where our mother reared my five siblings and me had an outhouse at the end of its long, sloping yard. It was a bare house. Mother’s wage hemming washcloths in the local cotton mill was not enough for many things, but she persevered, and we learned in her shadow.

By the time I began to eat the second half of that sweet peach, I was hearing mother’s voice over sixty years ago as she would almost sing to her six, young children, “Just wait, the South Carolina peaches will be here soon. We’ll get some.” She then would explain how she had arranged for a coworker in the mill to bring us a bushel basket of fresh peaches.  Then for days on end she would tell us to be patient, that soon the peaches would  arrive. And they did, almost like the manna from heaven. Finishing the second half of the peach, I sorrowfully wiped the juice from my hands and threw the seed away. Washing my hands, I thought of my mother’s struggle in rearing us six. No car. Living away from town. Low wages. A divorced woman during the 1950’s in a southern town. Religious. Aware.

Finished, I sat quietly and tried to image, once again,  my mother’s life. But that, as I had discovered numerous times before, was not possible. Her struggles and accomplishments were above me, but some things, like the soon-to-arrive peaches, I finally came to understand in my adult years, or least I thought I had. You  see, our mother knew the bareness of our life, but she gave us hope every chance she could. And she taught us to anticipate the good from life. South Carolina peaches were one way that she had to give us something special, and she did. Somehow.

Truth or Myth in History

Cult of Glory, The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers

Doug J. Swanson

Viking, 410 pages, 2020

Penguinrandomhouse.com

$28.00

 

 

America still struggles with slavery and its legacy. We furiously argue the presence of statues on public grounds that celebrate slavery’s defenders. Even statues of slave owing Founding Fathers are under attack, as well as other monuments that glorify past leaders who do not fit today’s cultural or political standards. For example, when the removal of the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park is mentioned, the cry of re-writing history or destroying heritage rears its voice. However, is the removal from public lands of such statues a re-writing of history or instead a re-examination of the integrity involved when such a tribute is placed on public land? Is it possible that, by removing such statues, we are not re-writing history but being more honest about the person receiving such homage?

Washington National Airport, through the work of certain members of Congress, was renamed in 1998 to honor Ronald Reagan who mass fired 11,000 workers in order to break an air traffic controllers’ strike. How ironic that a man who fired so many workers was honored by his name being added to Washington National Airport. Although airport workers, citizen groups, and others objected (as did I), the honoring of Reagan was accomplished. For me, I imagine that I would have felt the same betrayal to values had I been present at the unveiling of a southern traitor’s statue to glorify the lost cause.  Our obsession with naming to honor is a strange and sometimes dishonest business.

As a boy during the 1950’s in North Carolina, I longed to grow up and fight  a just cause like John Wayne, Gene Autry, Clint Eastwood, and other heroes. Each week I watched on television as the Lone Ranger and Tonto served justice. No other role could match that of being a fighter saving settlers from Comanches, rustlers, and vicious outlaws. I grew believing that the Texas Rangers were everything America stood for.  I believed the myth, just as others have embraced the myth of “heritage not hate.”

But I was not alone in believing the Texas Ranger myth. In 1961 the famed Texas Ranger statue that bears the inscription, “One Riot-One Ranger”, was unveiled at Dallas’ Love Field. Sergeant E.J. “Jay” Banks served as the model of  the statue honoring the Texas Rangers. The inscription was from a comment made to assure a local official that only one ranger was needed to quell a riot. Banks’ reputation and myth grew out of a riot at Rusk State Hospital in April of 1955 when some eighty inmates seized control of their unit housing the criminally insane. Described as “crazed negroes” by a reporter, the group captured three workers and was led by a muscular Ben Riley. The unit was one of filth, strong antipsychotic drug use for controlling inmates, electronic shock treatments, and some frontal lobotomies. One investigator wrote that the men “would just sit like cigar-store Indians.” The riot drew attention and Banks walked in to negotiate with Riley who was convinced that he  would be given a fair hearing and to surrender. He did. But Riley’s fair hearing was constant solitary confinement, strong antipsychotic drugs, and regular electronic shocks. Banks emerged wrapped in a mythical robe that he would wear later in other riots.

When the NAACP tried to integrate Mansfield High School, Governor Shivers sent in Ranger Banks, who was instructed to arrest any black student who tried to enter Mansfield High School. Banks positioned himself outside the school where a effigy hung from over the main entrance. Banks and his co-Ranger, Captain Crowder did not remove the effigy, nor did they arrest any white protestors. However, Banks did notice a man distributing “pro-integration literature.” Banks saw the flyers as “inflammatory literature” and after seizing all of it, literally booted the man from the area. When the Reverend  D.W. Clark spoke to the white mob and its members began shouting at Clark, Banks saw Clark as “inciting the anger of the crowd when he attempted to preach to them, criticizing their actions.” Instead of dealing with the angry mob, Banks took Clark by the arm and suggested that he go home, leaving the disturbance to the experts. A Ranger. A well published news photograph of Banks during the Mansfield High School failed integration shows him leaning against a tree, foot propped against it, Stetson pushed back on his head, and the effigy hanging above the school’s entrance in the background. Banks did even more to protect the white mobs when in September 1956 two black students arrived to integrate Texarkana Junior College. When the angry, white mob physically attacked her male counterpart, Jessalyn Gray pleaded to Banks, the ranking law enforcement officer on duty,  for protection. Not only did he refuse to protect her, he threatened to arrest her if she tired to enroll. The Rangers, according to Banks, were there to maintain order, and her integrating the college would cause civil unrest.

The history of  the Texas Rangers is one of violence, often against innocent Mexicans, settlers, or anyone who a Ranger saw as not a true Texan. There is no shortage of vengeful acts by Rangers, sometimes against peaceful persons, such as the massacre at Porvenir in 1918. Any Mexican who roused suspicion was in grave danger because as Ranger C.B. Hudspeth said, “You have to kill these Mexicans when you find them, or they will kill you.” Hudspeth County, Texas honors such a Ranger by its name. Swanson’s finely researched and documented book shows how we can get caught up with emotion that overrides our senses.

Naming is a fine way to honor any person. It is  done worldwide. However, it seems to me that America has named too much to honor too little. We have holidays, streets, parks, towns, and more named to honor. Okay, fine. But let us be certain that the person being so honored, while not perfect, fills most of the space that defines extraordinary, heroic, or heads above all of us. Let’s be certain that we honor out of fact not myth.

Views of the Pandemic

 

“This is America. Ain’t no stupid virus gonna’ shut us down.”

Our local TV station ran a story about an owner of an open market in Lincolnton, NC who was cited for violations of Governor Cooper’s recent mandate requiring the wearing of masks. Part of the story was a brief interview of a woman standing in the parking lot of the market as she spoke the above quoted words to the reporter.

This pandemic has elicited many reactions from citizens around the world. Fear, anger, denial, distrust of leaders regarding the pandemic, and other opinions have been expressed by actions or words. One man selling vegetables in an open market of  Mexico City responded to a reporter’s question about his precautions concerning COVID-19, “Fear is better than hunger.”

As George Orwell wrote, our  words reveal our thinking, and both of  these quotations tell us how each speaker see her and his situation. The vendor in Mexico City states a sad truth for him-he must fear the virus in order to feed his family. He does not make that choice but is forced by his economic circumstances to work selling vegetables in an open-air market. He can only hope that he does not contact the COVID-19. His fear of suffering a possible death from suffocation is less than his fear of his family not eating. A choice? Yes, but one no person should be forced to make, but one that many people across the  globe must make, even in America.

The woman in Lincolnton offers a view full of arrogance based on ignorance-ignorance concerning COVID-19, her country, and what it means to be an American. She, like too many Americas, has made the virus a a political issue. She has done what Jon Meachum feared many would do, she has made the virus a  red/blue issue. She sees it as a political ruse that “her” government can easily conquer. Hers is a statement of denial of the virus’ danger, its sweeping presence, and how America needs to combat it. Her statement shows that she has little, if any, understanding of American history. If she knew of George Washington’s mandates made to keep smallpox from infecting his soldiers during the Revolutionary War, she would not stand in a public place without  wearing a  mask as mandated by Governor Cooper. If she  knew this and more of American history, she would be helping combat this deadly virus by following mandates aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19  and not showing a willful ignorance of our history like Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell demonstrated when he wrote,  “As your Sheriff, it is not only my duty to enforce the laws enacted by our legislature, but to also protect the constitutional rights of all citizens. I firmly believe that the order mandating face coverings is not only unconstitutional but unenforceable. In closing, to be perfectly clear, we have no intention of enforcing this order.” Campbell, too, has made the virus  a red/blue issue by thinking mandates made in the interest of public safety are a Constitutional issue. Sheriff, mandates are made for your safety and that of others, and to say the mask mandate is unenforceable is like saying, since not all speeders can be ticketed, why bother with any enforcement of speeding.

The Mexican vendor does not, sadly, have a choice. He must earn a living and support his family. He has no network to rely on, so his fear of the virus is less than the ache of hunger. He and his family may “dodge” the virus, but hunger is a certainty for them unless he sells vegetables.

The Lincolnton woman is correct one way, this is America and we have our wealth, history, Constitution, and leaders. We have riches, resources, means. Yes,  unlike the Mexican vendor we do  not have to learn to live with the virus as the White House will soon tell us to do. We know how to help control COVID-19, but to do so we must become purple and see the battle as an opportunity to defeat a deadly enemy. Our mis-guided interpretations of America and her Constitution will not help us win this battle, but our combined wills will.

 

 

Hearing and Learning

In April of 1963 as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. languished in the Birmingham jail, eight local clergymen published a letter in local newspapers in which they denounced Dr. King as “an outside agitator”, and they ended their appeal with these words: “We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.” Their advertisement prompted Dr. King to pen his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” in which he explained why waiting for racial justice any longer was not an option.

 

In 2006 and ’07, Joe Bageant, a resident of Winchester, wrote Deer Hunting with Jesus. Several  years ago when a good friend loaned me his copy, he said, “If you want to understand many people of the Shenandoah Valley, read this book.” I did, and I have just finished my second reading of this fine examination of class in America.

Bageant, who is deceased, returned to his native Winchester, Virginia in 1999 after a thirty-year absence. He moved to the North End where he had grown up, and he found it as it was in his youth–”the most hard-core of the town’s working-class neighborhoods, where you are more likely to find the $20,000-a-year laborer and the $14,000-a-year fast-food worker.”  He continues, “It didn’t take too many visits to the old neighborhood tavern or to the shabby church I attended as a child to discover that here in this neighborhood in the richest nation on earth folks are having a hard go of it. And it is getting harder.” With that, he began listening to what he referred to as “my people”, and they trusted him to tell their stories with empathy, not pity, and brutally honest as when he writes, “…my people are a little seedier than most;…” He quickly sees that the preferred avenues of escape for his people are alcohol, Jesus, or overeating.

Writing before “the crash” of 2008, Bageant sends a warning as he writes about American Serfs, Republicans by Default, The Deep-Fried, Double-Wide -Lifestyle, and more. He goes to the guts of the working class of the North End where two in five of residents have no high school diploma. He writes of his childhood friend who carries seven credit cards in order to “build up my credit” so that he can buy a double-wide trailer that will decrease in value before he parks it on a rented lot. He writes of “Dottie”, his favorite karaoke singer who lives in Romney, West Virginia. Disabled, Dot lives on her Social Security Disability Insurance, uses an oxygen tank and wheelchair, and is forceful in the way she deals with her doctors. She tells Bageant, “I learned that damned towel-head doctor of mine has only four years of college someplace in South America.” Bageant goes on to explain, “No doubt you [the reader] are wincing at the racist term towelhead.  But people do talk that way, and if we use it as an excuse not to listen, we rule out listening to half of America.”

For me, those words about Dot’s vocabulary are the message of Deer Hunting with Jesus, which is sub-titled, Dispatches from America’s Class Wars. He is telling us, long before Trump and his evil appeared, that there is an entire class of people who are poorly educated, poorly prepared with soft skills, have poor health, possess no or little health insurance, and have children which will continue the cycle of their lives.  Bageant pulls no punches in faulting political leaders locally and nationally,  mortgage companies, our health care system, and others for the condition of “my people.” But, most of all he blames their poor education for their plight. Having escaped the North End, he attended college, fought in Vietnam, traveled, and wrote before returning home. He knows the value of education and knows that a good one will give “his people” a door to walk through.

But Bageant could have been writing of the eight clergymen of Birmingham that I quoted above. We still have people like them who want to proceed slowly in any cause, especially in the area of racial equality . We still have subtle and overt racist.  We still have Dots. Right here among us we have extremes, and it seems to me that we must find a way to hear what is being said from those extremes.

Bageant sees the lack of  education as the biggest obstacle for “his people.” But, the clergymen from  1963, by their plea, show a lack of education concerning what Dr. King was trying to achieve. If they had had a better education concerning the plight of blacks in the Jim Crow South, they would not have written their pathetic letter. If they had had an education on this topic, they would have developed understanding and empathy. Yet they, like Dot, are voices that need to be heard because they tell us what we need to change. We cannot use their language as an excuse to not listen to them.

On the surface we are an educated society. We have degrees. Yet, too often we refuse to educate ourselves regarding topics or issues we find uncomfortable. I often think of Robert Kennedy who in May, 1963 asked James Baldwin to organize a meeting at his New York City apartment with black and white activists.  The meeting lasted about two hours as the invited guests attempted to explain to Kennedy the plight of blacks and other disenfranchised people. The meeting did not go well, but Kennedy had heard some things because he soon became a champion for all disenfranchised Americans. He got himself an education concerning racial inequalities in America, and he began working  for change. But he first had to sit in that meeting, hearing words that undoubtedly made him uncomfortable.

Like Kennedy, we must listen to each other—the plodders, activists, the uneducated, the educated-all must be heard. In doing so we will work to create a country of purple by blending our red and blue. If we refuse to, we will have a divided house and lose it all.