Friday, September 01, 2006

In Which I Revel in My Pretentiousness!

Hey great, Warner Todd Huston has taken me to task, and called me pretentious to boot! This is great – I get what, 30 hits a day, and he bothers with little old me – thanks Warner! WTH thinks my post criticizing his essay called "ABC -- Feteshizing 'Minority' History" was way off base, and ain’t shy to say why. Well, I guess the only thing to do is go through this point by point.

1. First, let’s get an important issue out of the way. My name is Theron Corse, and I teach at Tennessee State University – not exactly the ivory tower, but a decent job. Not hiding really – I’ve only been doing this for a few weeks and wanted to update my professional website before I linked to it – so there you go.

2. Now, let’s delve into the critique:

This blogger goes on and on with his assumptions ad nauseum, but never once contacted me to begin a dialog to see if his leftist, tripe would bear out.
“Ad naseum” implies a long, reptitive screed, but that’s in the eye of the beholder. And contact him – well, nobody reads this blog, but point taken. The next time I critique one of your essays, Warner, I’ll do you the courtesy of a notice, as you did for me.

2. About those assumptions – I made two main claims about WTH’s essay, one explicit, one implied. The first one was this:
What intrigues me though is the repeated claim that non-white history in the United States is a minor, superfluous topic (he even calls it “minutiae”), that merely distracts students from the important stories and adds little to our understanding of U.S. history.
That was based on certain quotes of his:
The United States of America was not founded by Blacks, Asians, or "Latinos", even though each added to the flavor of the stew. White, Anglo-Saxons where who won the battles to make the United States possible. [snip] For that matter, few Asians even lived outside California for many years in our early Republic. They just weren't a factor in our founding and growth, railroad-building aside. [snip] To waste time with all these "minority" views of history in our grade schools cheats our hildren out of learning the basics while they focus on the less important minutia. [snip] To people like Texeira, history should be about "diversity", not about presenting a program based on what is important and formative before presenting the minutia.
And there were others. Yes, WTH does say that there were non Anglo-Saxon’s in the stew, but he’s also very clear about that he considers these groups to be secondary, at best. Again, his word was “minutiae.”

The second claim I made, by implication, about WTH was that he held a certain narrow belief. I wrote:
The belief that only “Anglo-Saxons” made significant contributions to the history of this country is highly myopic.
Well, “only” perhaps was strong – he did allow that the Chinese helped build railroads, for example. But he was abundantly clear that Anglo-Saxons founded this country and “won the battles to make the United States possible.” WTH clearly disagrees, but I think that based on his essay, these two points stand.

3. I don’t think I claimed that WTH wanted non-Anglo-Saxon history eliminated, as he states in his rebuttal. I did say that he thought it “minor” and “superfluous,” based on this quote:
To waste time with all these "minority" views of history in our grade schools cheats our children out of learning the basics while they focus on the less important minutia.
I call ‘em like I see ‘em.

4. In his rebuttal, WTH demands to know why we need to know about the Chinese having a hard time and about “Latinos” on U.S. soil before 1776. Well, that’s simple. Spaniards, or Mexicans, or whatever you want to call them, founded Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Arizona, and Nevada, and were in Utah before the Mormons. And those railroads would not have been built as quickly without the Chinese, slowing down the settlement of the West. Nor would Pacific Coast culture be what it is today without their presence. This would be a different country without them. Our political history would be different without the backlash against them. What country would we be if these people had not been here? I have no idea. And WTH doesn’t answer these questions I raised:
How would the economy and culture of the South have developed without African slaves - would there have been a Civil War without slavery and the plantation economy? Would the cotton economy have developed at all without those slaves?
We would be a different country, certainly.

5. WTH pounces on my mention of the food of these different groups. Food very much shapes history. Just one exanple: the Europeans who came over learned to eat corn, and thus sought out land to plant it in, and organized their economy and settlement patterns around it. If they had stuck to wheat only, or had emphasized potatoes instead, we would have developed differently, as those plants have other requirements. And we would have developed more slowly, because wheat can not grow productively everywhere that corn can. No corn, fewer people. Food matters. (And no corn, no corn-based alcohols!)

6. Oh, and he suggests I’m an ivory-tower Marxist. Partly this is because I use the term “teeming masses,” which he says is a Communist term. Maybe, I don't know, but it’s also a common English phrase. Just try Googling it – 72,000 hits, not all of which are socialist. Ivory Tower? Hey, I went to a lot of trouble to get an Ivory Tower job! I could have made a lot more money doing something else. It’s not my fault if other people chose 9-5, two-weeks-of-vacation-per-year jobs! But seriously – I’m not a Marxist. Marx was a terrible historian. I am influenced by Antonio Gramsci’s ideas about hegemony, but that’s more about how elites rule through propaganda than about socialism. And Ivory Tower or not, I still have to pay my mortgage! And my research is on religion in Communist Cuba - and while my book won't be out till next fall, it's hardly pro-Castro.

So thanks for the link Warner. I disagree with your analysis, as you’ve probably noticed, but like they say in Hollywood, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. And trust me – a good teacher can cover “minority” history and the Gettysburg Address. Really, we can - I do it all the time.

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