Resonances are deep and weird here in the household, chief. The 5th grader has been knee-deep in her virtual classroom studies with post-Civil War Jim Crow / 1960s Civil rights stuff since lockdown started a few months back and real-world events are catching up. She’s had big questions and we’ve had big discussions. We’ve tied it into some of our recent media watches, books…
And I gotta tell you, if anything comes out of this lockdown it’s going to be these conversations I am granted to have with her. I don’t think if she was covering this material in the classroom and we were having our usual “How was school today? What did you learn?” “I dunno” dinnertime discussions we would have the opportunity at this deep dive into knowledge.
As she’s asked about segregation we discussed our “I Love Lucy” marathon back over the holidays. “When was that on originally?” I asked her. “The 50’s I think?” “Yes. What didn’t you see on it?” “Black people?” “Correct.”
We watched “Hidden Figures” a few weeks back too. She was like “I don’t understand…what does colored mean and why does she have to walk three buildings away to go to the bathroom?”
“What do you think segregation really meant on a day-to-day basis kid?”
To see her grow angry at that understanding of injustice was a thing, I tell you.
She asked about the KKK, because that was in one of her school lessons the last week. “They’re not still around anymore, right?” she asked. “No, they’re still around, and many groups like them, and many don’t bother with the hoods anymore.”
She asked why if white people are white and black people are black why Asians were called yellow because they’re not actually ‘yellow’. “Besides I’m half-Japanese and I’m not yellow” & “Were Asians treated like blacks?” were her follow-up inquires.
Which got us into a long discussion of Asian immigration into the US, the waves of it, the circumstances, events, etc., the Chinese who came to the US for the railroads, the immigration laws against the Chinese and other discriminatory things, the later wave of Japanese immigration into the Pacific Northwest, the Japanese internment camps during WW2, the US relationship to the nationalist Chinese during the WW2, China and Taiwan, the Korean war, the later waves of Koreans and more Chinese and southeast Asians to the US…how that interacted with the mainstream culture and other minorities…also sent us back to the late 19th century to discuss the idea of social Darwinism and why Asians got labelled ‘yellow’ in the first place, a discussion of the Japanese imperial project in the 30’s and 40’s, how the Japanese treated the Chinese & the Koreans, a watch of the decorated Japanese-American army unit fighting the Nazis in WW2 in a YouTube documentary. I reminded her of the Bruce Lee biopic “Dragon” we watched half a year ago, said “remember when Bruce Lee wrote that idea for a TV show but then they had a white man star in it as the Chinese main character?”
I am trying to lay it all out and not impose too much judgement on things, give her lots of context without just flat out saying “This is good and this is bad” but help her understand the roots of this, understand how poverty, race & class overlay, how it is represented in media in different eras, what are the stories that get told and where, how the United States has a particular history and experience of racism, although by no means an exclusive hold on it, lay out the tension societies have between justice and order…
We just watched “Back To The Future” which led to a long discussion of Chuck Berry, American music, the segregation of it, the aspirations of it. How American black music was accepted in the UK and then brought back here with the British Invasion acts. Just resonances everywhere. Shit is getting shook loose right now. And my ten-year-old is here in the middle and I see her mind making judgments, asking questions, and asking “what the actual fuck” although in her own age-appropriate lexicon.
Just last week in the middle of the discussion of the whole Civil Rights movement and Japanese internment camps and Asians in the US I mentioned how when I was a kid I loved the old Star Trek original series reruns and how that show (which has it’s own biases and problems which I am more aware of these days) featured a prominent Asian in the cast and how it was the first interracial kiss on television. So she insisted on watching it, so we did. And in passing, I had mentioned “Oh there’s an episode where the crew meets two aliens that hate each other because one is black on one side and the other alien is black on the other side” and she was bugging me to watch it. And so yesterday afternoon we set down to watch it.
As it was unfolding on my screen late afternoon and she’s commenting on it, my Twitter feed starts filling up with scenes of riots breaking out in Minneapolis and LA, I look up at the screen as two aliens are arguing over what’s left of their burning planet as my ten-year-old is making some insightful commentary on an unsubtle fifty-year-old middle brow science fiction critique of racial hatred.
Not a few hours earlier I had the SpaceX launch up on the TV screen for us to watch and the resonances with the 1960’s NASA launches, our recent watch of “Hidden Figures” the subsequent deep dive into race relations in the ’60s, my own personal mythological narrative thing of actually being born in 1968, that landmark earthshattering year race and politics and the space age and media and the Left and the Right fought in America’s streets…it’s all getting a bit too motherfucking real.
Having to explain that the current president of the United States' father was redlining his property empire in Queens during the Civil Rights era and most likely a friend, if not an actually member, of the KKK. How Woody Guthrie wrote a song about good old Fred Trump. She’s asking “How did Trump become president? I don’t understand?”
I am pulling books off the bookshelf and opening up internet browser tabs like a mad professor, going deep into shit way beyond her 5th-grade curriculum and she is asking the good questions. The very best motherfucking questions. The ones that leave you sitting there with no easy answers as a parent, as an American, as someone who actually gives a damn.
And having to show her that history isn’t just fucking history and it’s a story and it runs on and on…heavy things… that there are no such thing as good guys and bad guys and history is constantly being rewritten and being made in real-time.
And all of this in the middle of a plague and a lockdown (and yeah we’ve had deep dives into the 1918 Spanish flu), my god.
Finally, I recall when we watched Casablanca one night together in November and its themes of justice and rebellion and how the larger arc of history interacts with the smaller scale events of people’s lives.
It’s just a real strange place to be right now.