The other day, my white professor opened class with this proclamation – "I resent that this administration is, for the first time, forcing us to think about politics on a daily basis. We didn't have to before, and that was the beauty of democracy!" My white classmates nodded in approval. Against my better judgement, I kept my mouth shut.
For what will likely be my last blog of the year, it seems appropriate that my complaints will come full circle. I began the fall semester with a newfound militancy, lamenting everything from white project leadership to white liberal reactions to current events. In some sense, these issues were one in the same. White project leaders-cum-saviors have redoubled their efforts to (unintentionally?) co-opt politically-driven, civically-engaged public history from POC, citing "the importance of our work in these dark times" or something to that effect. In their "columbusing" of activist history, they don't recognize that POC continually reconcile politics and social inequalities in our day-to-day lives, and that we're forced to critically engage that reality through our work. After all, the personal is political.
"Columbusing." Know Your Meme. Accessed December 5, 2017. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/columbusing.
"'The Result of Immigration from China,' Yankee Notions, March 1858 - Eurasian, Emma Teng." Google Books. Accessed December 2, 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=Z1uzIlau 4YC&pg=PA34&source=gbs_selected_pages &cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false.
When presenting our class exhibit proposals to the Division of Disease Control folks on Wednesday, there was some preliminary awkwardness. More specifically, one individual took great issue with our discussion of city government corruption and its exacerbation of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. This person's first reaction was to question the validity of our claims. When we assured them it was true, they insinuated history as a field was too subjective and that historians played too many guessing games. This comment, of course, exemplified the stereotype of scientists who deride the liberal arts for not being fact-based. When this person requested our sources to back up our claims, our professor was incredibly accommodating, suggesting a secondary source we read for class. I found it ironic that this individual was satisfied with just that article. If they really had doubts, wouldn't they have preferred to peruse our primary sources? How could we even claim these primary sources (mostly newspaper articles) were true? "Fake news," after all, isn't unique to the twenty-first century. As I mentioned before, this is why oral histories shouldn't be held under any more or less scrutiny than text-based evidence. But I digress.
My reaction to this dispute was two-fold. First, I was off-put by the audacity of an outsider questioning all of our hard work – our research, interpretation and general "expertise." Never have we demanded to see "proof" of their research into the spread of infectious diseases like the flu, doubt their insistence that the flu vaccination is important, or demanded they support their ideas about herd immunity. Contrarily, I wonder if we are too trusting of authority – our own and others' – such that we're offended when our positions and perspectives are cross-examined, and such that we avoid doing the same to others. Certainly, this person could have been a bit more civil, but I think our brief exchange touched on our previous discussions of historical fact and fiction.