As we have read about the bloody conflicts that occurred in the United States and Ireland in the 1960s, a common theme that has presented itself every week has been the right side of history. As the professor mentioned, it wouldn’t be right to say that there are winners or losers in these types of situations, especially in the case of the civil rights movement seeing as it is arguably still going on today. Yet, there is no doubt that when we learn about history, we are given biased teachings based on who we presently believe was right or more justified morally in their actions. I have been drawing many connections to what we have been reading in class to what is occurring presently in the United States. Between the Black Lives Movement, election, pandemic, and more, tensions are at an all-time high as many are fighting for change in the country. During the height of the election, many of us were in a frenzy. Personally, I was making posts daily telling people to vote, sharing information on policies that people should be aware of, participating in phone banks, and more. On social media sites such as Twitter, content regarding the election ranged from serious to joking. One post I saw consistently on my feed, though, was the discussion of being on the right side of history. This reminded me of a blog post that I read earlier this semester about who will be remembered and how. It has given me a very “meta” perspective as things are slowly unfolding in current events today. Could there be a class such as this one in 50 years that solely focuses on the events and conflicts of 2020? What literature will the students be given? Perhaps instead of memoirs, they will be provided with different Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook posts that were being made at the time. Perhaps they will also be experiencing years similar to 1968 and 2020 as they are taking the course. As an aside, movements such as this one are reflective of the growth in a country. If everything were peaceful for long periods that would indicate that the country is at a cultural standstill. Since things naturally evolve, social movements are healthy and important parts of democracy. So, hopefully, during the future class, movements are happening that students can compare to previous years. As they notice trends of who is on the right side of history, I hope that they fight to be on it as well. Perhaps, this would make conflicts less bloody and allow change to happen more easily with less resistance.
This past summer, I read the novel Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (note: this blog post will contain a spoiler about this novel). This book inspired several conversations that I had with my friends who borrowed the book about fact, fiction, and memory. The book is about students at a highly competitive performing arts high school and their experiences at the time. The reader is taken by surprise when on the 131st page, the story ends and a new perspective is given from a woman at a book signing. We find out that the first hundred so pages were from a book written by her classmate and was about their high school experience. We are challenged as the truths that we read in the first third of the novel are challenged by a new perspective. With the element of sexual assault coming in to play in the story, it causes readers to think a lot about what and who we can trust. Our discussion in class about Voices of the Chicago Eight, A Generation on Trial reminded me of some of the conversations I had over the summer. As we discussed if we could trust Tom Hayden’s memory and compared it to the other literature, my perspective shifted. I used to focus on if it was true or not and the importance that had, instead of paying attention to why the author chose that to be their truth. There were moments in the courtroom that were not included in the play. Some of the moments may have been dramatized, and more. The question for myself has now changed to why was the story shared that way? What was the goal? The trials in real life consisted of a lot of theatrical protesting, and this has been confirmed by transcripts, and we see the same thing in the play. Yet, why skip all the “boring” stuff. For the purpose of storytelling or something more? Personally, I trusted the play because I took it as the author’s truth and since he was there and experiencing it, his perspective is valid. The highlighting of the theatrical moments may have been to bring back the theme of reclaiming power, owning their rights, and that the fight never ends. The actions of the defendants were symbolic and they reflected their sentiment of not feeling like they belonged in the United States due to the treatment of the system and them trying to assert their rights. I am curious to see what other people in the class believe, do you think it is more important to focus on fact/fiction or the stylistic purpose of sharing the experiences in the ways the author did? If your answer is the latter, what is your take on the message the author is trying to send, do you think he was effective?
The main theme that we have discussed and seen in class is divide and conflict, whether it be the divide between groups of people or the divide within oneself and their own beliefs and actions. Both the novel and film versions of The Informer provide great illustrations of such conflict, whether it be between the groups or within the individuals themselves. In his letters, MLK also spoke of the divide and conflicts not only between white people and African Americans but also within the revolutionary group. In its entirety, 1968 is a year comprised of different divides becoming increasingly more contentious and eventually explosive.
There have been many blog posts about history repeating itself and questions and theories as to why this is true. One I’d like to propose is that we, as a species, feel the need to categorize and group this, usually to help us understand things better. It was thus inevitable that we would begin to do this with ourselves. In a class I took last semester called ‘Race and Racism’, we learned and spoke about race being a social construct and being (incorrectly) used to explain differences in physical appearances within the human species and then (once again, incorrectly) projected to ‘inherent’ qualities and differences between the man-made groupings. The way of dividing has resulted in animosity festering between the said groups. The main reason I thought of this was because of a quote I read in War on an Irish Town which stated: “A Unionist minister would reply…if the situation was reversed Catholics would do the same thing to Protestants,” (McCann 52). I wonder if Eamonn agrees with this sentiment? Perhaps the man would’ve been correct, everything around us seems to be a power struggle, especially between the groups that have been created in our society: gay, straight, white, Black, Asian, man, woman, nonbinary, etc. Then again, it also seems like a convenient excuse to continue subjugating others without feeling as guilty.
So what of my previous blog post speaking of the role of love in a revolution? MLK and Maya Angelou both seemed to agree that the key ingredient to any successful revolution is love, more specifically agape according to MLK. Yet, as we see the cracks in our society and the different sides of different movements, there seems to be more of a love to hate than anything else. Do we naturally divide and do these divides inevitably create the conflicts we have been discussing in class and witnessing today? Where is the love?
Maya Angelou, a famous American poet, once wrote, “See, I don’t personally trust any revolution where love is not allowed.” I wonder why she feels this way, does she think that love within a revolution makes us fight harder or believe more in what waits on the other side of the fight? Her motivations behind the statement aside, one thing I am sure of is that Martin Luther King would agree with her, as he said: “at the center of our movement stood the philosophy of love,” (Page 41) and with love on our sides “the aftermath… is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community…the end is redemption,” (Page 40).
This past week I’ve been incredibly interested in the theme of love and religion in MLK’s speeches and letters. Whether it be when he delves into agape, one of the Greek words for love that “biblical theologians would say is the love of God working in the minds of men,” (page 40) or his use of parables to highlight the need and justness of the movement, his words have managed to stick with me greatly. When he wrote about loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that person does, I asked myself if that kind of love is visible today. Last week I read a blog post about self-serving people and the opinion that many people that join these movements are self-serving. Yet, MLK sees it from another perspective, he sees the motivations of individuals joining the movements to be agape for fellow man. In his use of the parable of the Good Samaritan, he framed the two sides as follows: “‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ [and] ‘If I do not stop to help this man what will happen to him?’” (Page 258). He emphasizes the capacity of the Good Samaritan to “project the ‘I’ into ‘thou,’ and to be concerned about his brother,” (Page 257). Are the widespread movement happening today and the emotions flowing through it so different from the one in 68’ that we now have the perception of self-serving intentions when people outside of the minoritized race join ranks, or perhaps was MLK deluded in his thinking all along? While there may be a lot of love within the communities of people protesting and those fighting back, is there any across the line? And additionally, what would MLK say about our movement today, would he be proud?
If the movement today, or for lack of better words, the movement of 68’ has turned into now, lacks the foundation of love that MLK argues is needed to ultimately change humanity and make for the society that we all long for, would he have trust in it, and should we?
My earliest memories take place in airports; in these recollections, I blink sleep out of my eyes as the hypnotic conveyor belt spins round and round. It is hard to remember where I was in those jet-lagged moments. Possibly America (where I went to school), or maybe Italy and Greece (where I spent summers with my grandparents). There was a personal odyssey uncovered through balancing these three identities, cultures, and languages. Unfortunately, along with it came a source of self-doubt and shame (both are a result of the lack of my ability to communicate and the absence of any patriotic roots), something I struggled to shed throughout my childhood.
I have never spent a full year in one continent, nor a full day in one language. Summers were spent in countries and immersed in cultures completely separate from my life at school– in American school, I was placed in a course that deemed English as my Second Language. While I eventually learned English, one subject that I am both literally and figuratively foreign to is US History. At home, my history lessons strictly revolved around Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. My restricted, public school education didn’t have much to offer either.
In fact, part of the reason I took this course was due to the large gaps in my knowledge regarding US History. Specifically, in relation to the year 1968, before I read the course description, I had no idea that this year carried the significance it does. As I was reading ‘1968’, I found myself routinely stopping after each paragraph to look up the different terms, events, and ideas I hadn’t heard of before. It became particularly tasking yet rewarding to connect them back to the ones mentioned previously in the text. Even though this demonstrates how heavily intimidating the source material is to me, I feel inspired by the wealth of knowledge I am going to gain by the end of this semester.
I’ve always thought that the past is an important aspect of understanding the present. Furthermore, due to today’s political climate, my ignorance of past US events (and worldwide) has never been more apparent. When reading about the years leading up to 1968 and the events that were unfolding during it as well, I caught myself repeatedly drawing parallels to the experiences currently taking place in the United States today. Whether it be the protests for Black Lives Matter connecting to the Black Power movement; the strong disapproval of authority figures; the radical political views on both the right and left; the transnational exchange of ideas (as can be seen from Black Lives Matter protests happening abroad); or more, it would be an understatement to claim that history is beginning to repeat itself.
In conjunction with this idea, it is said that insanity can be deemed as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. How can we learn from the past so that we do not make the same mistakes? We are living in a time that people feel comfortable, if not encouraged, to demand change. Shouldn’t we look back to the past to find the best answers to achieve that desired change? In this class, by learning more US History, not only do I hope to find the answers to these said questions, but I also wish to chip away at the residual shame that has accumulated from my childhood.