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How One Story Will Fit On Top Of One Another

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

Meditation on Dachau doesn’t start and end with Nazis, holocaust and war. Things pop up like America’s problems with race. Then, other things work their way in like how people steal glances at or avoid me in this small town’s grocery store in 2000-freaking-9, Cliff’s amazing writing on being a black man in America, a successful rapper’s upcoming prison sentence, on and on.You’ve got to keep tugging on that thread to see where it got knotted up.

Why do we build monuments and memorials to crap when crap happens all the time? This crap will lead to some other crap, and crap scales rather nicely. It’s a continuum of crap, going all the way back to when Lucy noticed the difference between herself and the Australopithecine next door.

Which is not to say we don’t or ought not to learn from the lessons of history, own our actions and try to be better people. It is to acknowledge fully that no event occurs in contextual isolation and we are foolish to think otherwise. Behavior is much more easily learned than modified, we react more than we act and social progress is not linear and often folds back on itself like time in Quantum Leap.  Don’t tell me you haven’t had one or two of those moments when you’re stuck in 1952 and Ziggy can’t get you out of the bathroom of a Tangipahoa Parish JP’s house.

We may never arrive, but we sure haven’t yet, so stop patting yourself on the back because you’re sixty-four years past Dachau and Oh My God How Could People Have Done That?  They could, we can, we do all the time and that is scarier than any costume or hangover you will see this weekend.

All of this recalls a wonderful face-slapper of an essay by D. Winston Brown called Both Sides Of A Gun Barrel.  He knows this tune.  Please read the whole thing, it won’t take more than ten minutes.  Here are some excerpts:

“But this is not about guns. This is not a celebration of violence, nor is it a refutation of guns or violence. It is not that simple. Black boys, guns, anger. No matter the economic class of the boys, no matter the education, no matter the professional position, we seldom lose that head-nod to another brother or that anger, caged and carried in spines, which skirts just below the skin, racing or prodding alongside blood. But this is not about anger either – at least not in the simple sense. There is no simple answer to how a gun in my car became a primal summons.

“… You never know exactly how one story will fit on top of another, how the brain will create its own truth to satisfy your deepest needs. Things may happen discretely, days apart, months apart, cities and decades and neighborhoods apart, but history collapses, then memory, and nothing ever remains discrete. Isolation is the lie we tell ourselves to comfort ourselves, but connections stretch the prisms we see through to allow more in, and more always changes things. Long before my father carried his gun as a weapon, history had constructed my prism, as it had for so many other young black boys. It was an unspoken history, so I didn’t truly comprehend why I instinctively bristled at the word nigger or why the white guard at the jewelry store followed my father, my brother, and me while we shopped for a Christmas gift for my mother, or what it meant when some white child, some innocent classmate at my 98 percent white private school, said he couldn’t come spend the night because his grandfather told him that he ‘didn’t need to be going to no nigger’s house in a nigger neighborhood.’ He said black, but I heard nigger even then, and I hit him. It’s that anger – history’s long and subtle voice – that, when it is misunderstood, becomes a simmering hostility.

“… These days, when I look at boys dressed in identical brand-name clothes; boys who speak perfect English in public spaces; or boys with their baseball caps tilted to the side, their jeans slung low, their teeth encased in platinum and diamonds, their heads covered in perfect cornrows or their biceps adorned with R.I.P. tattoos, I know all they want in life is to be men – and I know they are doubtful or scared they may not be given the chance. The truth about those dragons that lie in wait for them fuels a naked and aggressive and urgent ambition to compete in America’s marketplace. This need manifests as an electric vitality that permeates American culture, giving it life and allowing its consumers to come close to the void – to play in the darkness – without risk. Meanwhile, the black boys who huddle like alchemists, creating and recreating opportunity where it doesn’t exist, allow our real (and historical) anger to propel us at a furious pace toward dreams we refuse to defer. And though it is not possible, we do want to put down that anger gifted to us by a generation and a country that have yet to fulfill their obligation to show us how to prosper and evolve while dealing with and standing in the darker legacy of our manhood. Until this happens, as many ingredients shall fuel us – a deep and buried anger being one of them – as have contributed to the complex and tragic creation of these United States.”

When students write the papers assigned, they face a number of problems. First of all, they forget about structure of the paper; not pay attention to the fact that every type of paper has its own rules to be followed. Sometimes it is also very difficult to find relevant information. Probably every student has faced situation when article to be used to write the paper costs more than to buy a good paper.

6 comments… add one
  • Matt Ball October 30, 2009, 8:05 PM

    Nice post. I grew up in SW Ohio with a best friend that was Filippino. Never thought a thing about his darker skin, but he was confronted by it at times, with me only as witness. They were selling their house and a couple came by to view it but stayed in the car when they saw them. His Mom started crying.

    Also can’t forget the large black male in my 98% white high school who showed me his gun while the teacher lectured in social studies class. Freaked me out, but now can see the need. Same school had a clique that flew the Rebel flag in the back window of their pickup trucks.

  • liprap October 31, 2009, 9:24 AM

    Judy Chicago created the Holocaust Project over nearly a decade: a series of works that eventually delved into the role power has in oppression and hate not just in the Shoah, but also in our responses thus far to the well being of our environment and the proliferation of pollution, the fact that the US space program was kicked into gear by rockets designed by a Nazi scientist who actually did have knowledge and contact with the underground slave camps in Dora in which camp victims constructed the V-2 rockets, testing of products on animals, the oppression and subjugation of indigenous peoples all over the world, and the terrible legacy of slavery in this country. It was the first thing I ever saw that put the Shoah in an even greater context of this terrible cycle we seem destined to be stuck in:


    One wants to believe that we are in a supposed “enlightened” age. On the one hand, there is more information out there available to a greater number of people than ever before. On the other hand, that same information is subject to greater interpretation and misuse than has ever existed at any other time in history – the truth seems to be even more malleable by an even greater number of small minds with no qualms about using their power in the service of what THEY think is right…

    …and here I am preaching to the choir.

    It is all connected…but I hate to think of how many damn memorials will be required for people to start educating themselves, over and over again, l’dor vador (from generation to generation).

  • Cold Spaghetti November 1, 2009, 6:19 PM

    I really enjoyed this post and the link. And you’re right to point out how we build monuments to past injustices, examining and dissecting them, while losing the perspective of seeing those same atrocities in our current day. (And future.)

  • Maitri November 2, 2009, 10:05 AM

    Liprap: The art is beautiful in its sadness. Thanks for showing it to me and helping me understand its larger vision. So much good has come from bad and vice versa. Like I said in my post on Salzburg, torturing and expelling Protestants on the one hand and creating great art and technology on the other … wow. I guess the true renaissance will come when we make that kind of progress at the expense of very few and little.

  • rickngentilly November 9, 2009, 12:25 AM

    i must be missing the point.

    you threw me an ali hook when you put lil wayne in the equation.

    what am i missing at that point .

    hope yall are well and soon to return to new orleans.

  • Maitri November 9, 2009, 9:29 AM

    Rick: Lil Wayne brought his sentence on himself, but it’s sad that such a successful man had to come down like this. It refers to the notion of manhood in large parts of the world, this nation, black-male America, which is a combination of bad, personal decisions and how the environment you were raised in shapes and haunts you for the rest of your life. Holocausts, whether personal or global, don’t start and end, they’re always here.

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