I’ve been having this fascinating (at least to me) conversation with Carl Dyke about a trend I noticed in the “Influential Authors” meme that would make the likes of William Chace proud. Or would it? Since after all, what the similarities are showing us is also that many of us can and do teach multiculturalism and/or intersectionality while still being quite well versed in the “great books” which actually contradicts the Chace vs UC controversy of way back when. I digress . . .
In that conversation, Carl said the following in response to my noting Baldwin was also showing up with much regularity:
As a game, the meme invites us to choose up sides, which is perhaps Baldwin’s chief iconic appeal. He’s like a uniform, instantly identifying, friend or foe. So we read these lists, see some fraction of ourselves reflected back, and have that ‘Yay, team!’ reaction.
If Baldwin is credentialing, and as I admit at Dead Voles (Carl’s blog) I think it is in exactly the way he describes, then what does it mean for the revolutionary message(s) of Baldwin’s text? Have they been co-opted as mere intellectual cred with no substance underneath or are there more radicals among us than we think? . . .
I return to Carl’s quote not just b/c of these questions which typified our discussion there (at least in my head) but b/c it explains this nagging sense of disallusionment or possibly loss I have been feeling lately. It started with things I cannot pinpoint and with players perhaps not implicated in the concrete example that made that quote light up in my head this morning . . . The lights came on b/c 2 days ago John Hope Franklin died. Moments later, my email was flooded by black academics (of all genders) lamenting his loss and telling stories of having been inspired by the most fleeting encounters with him or reading his books. As morning broke on the first full day after his passing, universities and national newspapers alike wrote 1-3 page obituaries mourning his loss and celebrating his immense contribution. I looked at all the historians’ blogs that I read expecting to see the types of stories that, having now grown to include artists, high school teachers, and activists, threatened to max my uni allotted email bandwith. Instead, there was silence or pithy posts about other things. This morning, as I saw the loss of this great scholar compared to the decision of UMN to go digital (and yes one could argue that digitizing books is akin to losing the voices of many great scholars), Carl Dyke’s words came back to me. As I surfed across the historian specific internet highway, I was waiting for the “Yay team!” moment. I expected it. I needed it. And 2 days later, with the exception of the post just mentioned, it still has not come.
Though it will likely get me “in trouble,” I can’t help but say it reminds me of the stories Franklin told about the contradictions of being a black scholar that I mention in the post about his passing. Lately, I have been in a truly pissy place and I think it does boil down to all of the small moments in which I expected that “team spirit” and instead found myself on the wrong end of the alleyway . . .
Excuse me while I go crank the Annie Lennox and David Bowie duet again b/c I’m starting to believe that I’m runnin’ out of ways “to give love one more chance”