Thursday, March 10, 2011

My two cents

Greta is having a hard time with J. away. As a consequence, she kept me up a good part of the night, whining to get up, to get out, to come in, to get back down in/on her bed, to be rearranged in a more comfy position — none of which she can do without help. I LOVE my dog, but I had to keep telling myself that each time she woke me up …

And I was having trouble sleeping, anyway. I was thinking about the Rankine / Hoagland debate, kind of retroactively, yes. It was reminding me of something, and I finally placed it. To those who are unfamiliar with the subject, please just google those names and perhaps the word "race." I just did and got 140,000 results. I'm too lazy to link to any. 

The thing was, all of a sudden, I remembered a conversation with my father-in-law. I'd been married to his son for decades. We were out doing the tourist thing in Boston, the four of us, and we stopped somewhere for coffee. That was when my father-in-law took it into his head to tell me that his mother had hated Jews, considered them greedy, money-grubbing, and filthy, wouldn't  do business in a Jew-owned store, and wouldn't let a Jew in her house. I'd known my husband's family for more than a decade before we were married; the fact that I'm from a Jewish family is very old news, and I didn't know where this came from. Eventually I realized that my father-in-law was congratulating himself for being open minded enough to drink coffee with me. He didn't seem to care that what he was telling me (though I never knew the woman and she was no longer alive) was hurtful, that these words once put in the air would stay there, contaminating everything. He just wanted to pat himself on the back for being a good liberal. It wasn't even about me (or Jews).

I think that TH's poem "The Change" is at best self serving and, at worst, racist, though it is a poem that passes one of my tests for art, which is that it makes you see/think/perceive differently from before coming across it. Its assumption is that for the poet or persona to have his epiphany (to win it is no longer enough to be white?) it is worth exhuming attitudes that were better (because untrue, ugly, and hurtful) buried, attitudes that are so baroque as to seem to arise not in the 21st century but from the thought patterns of a slave-owning society. (To think that some of us already thought this "change" had long since come!)

So now those descriptions will hang there, affecting, infecting: the racists among us feeling supported because they're not the only ones to think those ugly thoughts, and, what? should African American women feel apologetic because one of them, in this poem, had the gall to win?

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