Tuesday, July 14, 2020

We Wear the Mask

We Wear the Mask

By Paul Laurence Dunbar


We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!


"We Wear the Mask" was written by African American poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1895. Like much of Dunbar's work, "We Wear the Mask" is a reaction to the experience of being black in America in the late 19th century, following the Civil War—a period when life seemed to have improved for black Americans yet in reality was still marked by intense racism and hardship. Dunbar compares surviving the pain of oppression to wearing a mask that hides the suffering of its wearer while presenting a more joyful face to the world. 


The poem itself does not specifically mention race; its message is applicable to any circumstance in which marginalized people are forced to present a brave face in order to survive in an unsympathetic, prejudiced society. The poem begins with the speaker stating that “We,” a reference to all of humankind, put on masks. We wear them and others use them to ignore the problems that exist in modern society. They have a deep impact on our understanding of ourselves and others. Hearts are changed through tearing and mouths contain endless expressions. 


"We Wear the Mask" talks about hiding behind masks to disguise our true selves, much like the LGBTQ community and the closet. Today, it feels like it could have a different meaning. Wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 tells us a lot about others. Those who don’t wear them are not only putting themselves at risk but also those around them. By not wearing a mask, they are committing a selfish act. By wearing a mask, we not only protect ourselves, but we show we have compassion for those around us. While politicians and their supporters fight over the topic of wearing masks, a growing number of scientific studies support the idea that masks are a critical tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus.


Wearing a mask doesn’t take the place of other important COVID-19 prevention protocols, such as social distancing and handwashing. You can go out in public areas without a mask only if there is no one nearby. Otherwise, regardless if it’s close quarters or spaced out, you should wear a mask with others around. This is precaution and courtesy to yourself and those nearby you. Medical experts tell us that during the first wave of the pandemic, those countries that implemented masking early were more successful than others at reducing the spread of the virus. Wearing a mask doesn’t mean that you are weak or afraid or a coward. Not wearing it however tells those around you how selfish of a person you are. It’s a way to protect the vulnerable around you. It’s our duty to keep each other healthy. So, please wear your masks. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Pic of the Day

Homophobic Language: Part II

When I wrote last Friday’s post on homophobic language I said, “The words gay (used in a demeaning fashion), fag, sissy, fairy, queer, faggot can do psychological damage to a young person especially when used in a degrading way.” Roderick, a reader of this blog, and always such a sweet darling, asked, “Joe, interesting that you don't even mention the term "queer." Is it or is it not homophobic?” I pointed out that I had mentioned it; however, it was a brief comment. So, I thought perhaps I should do another post on derogatory gay euphemisms. They have been used in movies, by politicians, religious leaders, and everyday people. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Below are some terms I feel are important to address.

The first term is gay when used in a demeaning fashion. It is interesting how that word came to mean homosexual. It appears to have its origins around the 12th century in England derived from the Old French word ‘gai’, which in turn was probably derived from a Germanic word though that isn’t completely known. The word’s original meaning meant something “joyful”, “carefree”, “full of mirth”, or “bright and showy.” However, around the early part of the 17th century, the word began to be associated with immorality. Fast-forward to the 19th century, and the word referred to a woman who was a prostitute or a gay man who slept with a lot of women (ironically enough) often prostitutes.

However, in the 1920s and 1930s, the word’s meaning began to change. In its sexual definition, a gay man no longer meant a man who had sex with a lot of women, but now referred to men who had sex with other men. By 1955, the word officially acquired the added definition of homosexual male. The 1938 movie, Bringing Up Baby, was the first film to use the word gay to mean homosexual. In one scene, Cary Grant ends up having to wear a lady’s feathery robe. When another character asks why he is wearing that he responds with an ad-libbed line, “Because I just went gay.” At the time, mainstream audiences didn’t get the reference, so the line was popularly thought to have meant, “I just decided to be carefree.” Whether Grant meant gay as in homosexual or gay as in carefree is up for debate, but rumors about Grant’s sexuality have always been around especially when it pertained to his relationship with Randolph Scott.

Queer is a word particularly traumatic for me. I don't like hearing it, and I don't use it. Some people classify queer as a sexuality different from gay especially in the term genderqueer another word for non-binary. Merriam-Webster defines "queer" as a "sometimes disparaging & offensive" term for same-sex attraction. Some LGBTQ+ activists began to reclaim the word as a deliberately provocative and politically radical alternative to the more assimilationist branches of the LGBTQ+ community. Even with that usage, I still find it offensive because of personal experiences. As I said in Friday’s post, "When the gay community normalizes these words, they don’t know the traumatic affect it can have on someone younger." When it comes to the word queer, I find it homophobic, and it causes a great deal of discomfort. However, others in the LGBTQ+ community don't see it that way as long as it’s within the LGBTQ+ community or in academic usage such as queer studies. I guess it is up to which side of the fence you fall.

My daddy always told me not to be a sissy. I hate the word. I think we all know this, but it deserves repeating: sissy (derived from sister), also sissy baby, sissy boy, sissy man, sissy pants, etc., is a pejorative term for a boy or man who is not traditionally masculine and shows possible signs of fragility. Sissy implies a lack of courage, strength, athleticism, coordination, testosterone, male libido, and stoic calm all of which have traditionally been associated with masculinity and considered important to the male role in Western society. A man might also be considered a sissy for being interested in traditionally feminine hobbies or employment (e.g., fashion), displaying effeminate behavior (e.g., using hair products, displaying limp wrists), being unathletic, being homosexual. By the 1930s, the most damning insult was to be called a sissy; the word was widely used by American football coaches and sports writers to disparage rival teams, and to encourage ferocious player behavior. Good students were taunted as sissies, and clothing styles associated with higher social classes were demeaned as sissified.

Fairy denotes not only homosexuality but effeminacy. It has been used when speaking of gay men for over 100 years. One example of its use was from the Roaring Twenties. On a Friday night in February 1926, a crowd of some 1,500 packed the Renaissance Casino in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood for the 58th Masquerade and Civil ball of Hamilton Lodge. The New York Age reported nearly half of those attending appeared to be “men of the class generally known as ‘fairies,’ and many Bohemians from the Greenwich Village section who [....] in their gorgeous evening gowns, wigs, and powdered faces were hard to distinguish from many of the women.” For the most part, fairy has been stripped of its power by the Radical Faerie movement and new-era queers. On a side note, Faerie Camp Destiny, the Radical Faerie sanctuary in New England, began in the town where I currently live though it has since moved. (It is now in southern Vermont.) Radical Faeries have always been a special group in the gay hippie sanctuary of Vermont.

While growing up, I heard other phrases from my mother. She would describe gay men as having “sugar in their shorts,” that they were “light in the loafers,” or the ever-popular “queer as a $3 bill.” Because of my mother’s derisive use of these phrases, I particularly hate them. Though I don’t remember my mother using it, “limp-wristed” was another common phrase. Holding your hand up and flipping your wrist down so it looks limp has been a code I’ve known for most of my life to mean gay. Southerners have always enjoyed using colorful language to disparage people. Sodomite was well-known in the South during the 19th century. Though it is the place where LGBTQ+ people have the least rights and respect, a Williams Institute study looking at LGBTQ+ demographics across the United States found that the South had the largest LGBTQ+ population of all other regions in America. With an LGBTQ+ population of 3,868,000, the South surpassed every other region in its makeup of the 11,343,000 Americans—roughly 4.5 percent – that “identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.” Eventually, the South will have to wake up and start treating their own people better.

Before ‘'gay'’ became common and accepted parlance, the world had many other unofficial names for men who liked men. Some names were self-created by the gay community, and others were thrust, often cruelly, upon gay, bi, and queer men. Following are a few terms used in the past some of which are thankfully becoming obsolete while others are being reclaimed by the gay community. Mary is a mostly innocuous term from the middle 20th century used among gay and bi men. It was first mentioned in the early 1900s and has been reclaimed by the gay community. An example is Hamburger Mary's Bar & Grille, a gay-themed and LGBT-friendly burger restaurant chain started in San Francisco in 1972. The eateries are often in gay neighborhoods and are intended to represent stereotypical gay culture through humorously named menu items, flamboyant décor with many of their locations hosting drag shows on weekends.

Nancy boy is based on a vaudeville term. The ‘nance,’ was a gay burlesque character from the 1930s who created laughs as he pranced about the stage creating campy scenes and sketches of gay life. The ‘nance’ character put on an outrageous show and was popular with audiences. In the late 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, fearful of how the lurid burlesque shows would make his city look in the upcoming World’s Fair of 1939, cracked down on burlesque houses. Part of LaGuardia’s anger was aimed at the ‘nance’ whom critics said created audiences of lusty gay men having sex in the dark balconies of the burlesque emporiums. It was an outrage, the Mayor said, and police began swooping down on burlesque shows closing many and forcing others to drop the ‘nance’ act or greatly curb it. The term has always been used to mock gay men and today is still used in a derogatory fashion.

Flowers have a long association with the LGBTQ community. The American “Pansy Craze” of almost 100 years ago cemented the use of that flower’s name as a slang term for gay men. During the Pansy Craze of 1930–1933, drag queens, known as "pansy performers", experienced a surge in underground popularity especially in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Oscar Wilde earlier turned the green carnation into a symbol for gay men in England by wearing one in his lapel. Violets were associated with Sappho herself, and the calamus with Walt Whitman. A pre-Stonewall gay bar at the corner of Christopher Street and Gay Street was called The Flower Pot. While we don’t know whether “lavender” refers to the color or the herb, either way, the word seems to have been used in connection with gay men since the 1920s. It’s now used interchangeably with “rainbow” to mean “LGBTQ+” at events like Lavender Graduations, and the annual Lavender Law Conference of the LGBT Bar Association.

While we are on the subject of plants, a “fruit” is another euphemism for a gay man. I don’t think “fruit” has been reclaimed. It still gets under my skin. It’s a word used to laugh at us. When I first came out in graduate school, one of my professors walked up to me at a bar gathering of the History Department and drunkenly said, “Congratulations, I hear you are a fruit.” I was horrified. It was an inappropriate thing to say to a student. He was a very rude man from Canada, a historian of Latin America. Canadians don’t tend to be so rude at least I’ve never found them to be. However, it’s what I’d expect from a Latin America historian. Sorry if you are one, hopefully this doesn’t pertain to you, but I have always found them not to be the nicest of people. When it comes to historians, we all have our own quirks associated with our disciplines; medievalist are always a strange bunch of people, military historians tend to be rivet counters (obsessing on minutiae of their particular interest, especially military and technology history), oral historians tend to be the most liberal and social justice-minded. I could go on, but I will likely offend someone if I haven’t already. Besides, I’m off topic.

I know this list is only the tip of the iceberg. I stayed with American euphemisms and derogatory terms. I did not delve into words and phrases for the rest of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, non-binary, etc., have derogatory terms directed at them. I also didn’t discuss the more subtle and not so subtle terms used in politics for gay-baiting such as fussy, hysterical, San Francisco, wine drinker, lifestyle, etc. Then there is the rest of the world who have their own terms; the list goes on and on and on. While terms are being reclaimed by some in the LGBTQ+ community, I cannot stress this enough: many of them will continue to be hurtful to other members of the community. Childhood and family trauma live with a person their entire lives. It is forever. When you grow up hearing words and phrases used derogatorily and directed at yourself, it is almost impossible to reclaim them and use them for your own empowerment.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Pic of the Day

10 Years

I can't believe the journey started 10 years ago today when I started my blog, The Closet Professor. During these 10 years, I’ve published 4,437 posts, and had nearly 4 million views and 19,000 comments. 


How my life is different from back then! In July 2010, I had just finished my first-year teaching at a private school in Alabama. I was miserable working in a job that paid little, and with bills that continued to mount. Now, 10 years later, I'm living in Vermont, have a great job as a Museum Curator, hold the academic rank of Assistant Professor, and make a salary more than double what I was making then; plus, I have insurance and retirement. Ten years ago, I couldn’t imagine any of this especially living in Vermont of all places. The only thing I might have thought would happen by 2020 was I would be an Assistant Professor. I had also hoped to have my PhD., but unfortunately, that was not to be. To make a long story short, I had a terrible dissertation advisor, and it went downhill from there.


During these 10 years, I’ve posted almost daily and sometimes with more than one post. The only times I didn’t post were when depression overtook me because of the deaths of loved ones. The best thing about this blog is I’ve made wonderful friends. When times have been the toughest, y'all have been here, and helped me get through so much. If it weren’t for my friends, and I consider all of you who read this a friend, I wouldn't have kept this blog going all this time. Thank you for these amazing years, and let's hope for at least another ten!

Footprints in the Sand

Footprints in the Sand


One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You'd walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me."

He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you."

While this poem is not scripture, “Footprints in the Sand” does offer hope for the reader who recognizes God’s promises between the lines. However, there is scripture related to “Footprints in the Sand.” The poem seems to draw much of its inspiration from Psalms.


Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” In Psalm 77:19, it says, “Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.” Psalm 119:133 begs God to “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” In the New Testament, such as 1 Peter 2:21, the Christian is exhorted to follow in Jesus’ footsteps: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” 


The promise of God carrying us in times of need can easily apply it to the challenges of daily life. In the 4th stanza, God says, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you.” This is what the Lord has promised in Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has fulfilled His promise to be with us all the time and keeps that promise by not only being omnipresent, but by helping Christians in the form of the Holy Spirit.


This reality should give us real, solid hope. After all, if God is unchanging, and He has told us He will never leave nor forsake us: 

  1. We never have to be afraid. “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” asks Paul in Romans 8:31. What enemy is bigger, more frightening, or more powerful than God? Can there be any time in our lives so low that He is not there, sheltering us in the shadow of His Almighty protection? (Psalm 91) 
  2. We are never alone. Jesus prepared us for adversity and division. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Mathew 10:34) Christ provides the defense and companionship of His Spirit “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) 
  3. We are not strong—God is. “My grace is sufficient,” is what God said to the Apostle Paul. Paul decided to “boast in my infirmities” because, in them “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) God really is carrying us even if life seems unbearably difficult. He is carrying us particularly when life is at its toughest. 
  4. We can give this hope to others. Many people find consolation in the poem “Footprints,” but their consolation is shaky if it is based on a powerless view of God who is just an energy in the universe, not Lord and not personal Savior. Christians can use this poem as a way to discuss the power of God. In Ephesians 1:19, Paul tells us “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.”

It’s not healthy to spend too much time concentrating on our needs, but we can derive hope from understanding that God is closer than we imagine. If you take anything from “Footprints in the Sand,” perhaps it will be that reminder. We are weak, and God does carry us, because He is both omnipotent and omnipresent.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Pic of the Day

Homophobic Language: Intentional and Unintentional

Homophobic language is a widely used and offensive pejorative in our culture. Common forms of homophobic language are “that’s so gay,” “you’re so gay,” or any use of the word “gay” to mean something is bad, uncool, or annoying. It is becoming less common for you to hear the word "gay" thrown around as a derogatory term, but kids especially still use it. Young people are increasingly using the expression “no homo,” after they’ve said something that might cause others to perceive them as gay. Other everyday expressions have a homophobic history or carry antigay connotations you might not realize. I want to discuss five common words and sayings with roots in homophobia.


The term “bugger” is not a term used in the United States very often though it was used in Colonial times and in the early years of the Republic. It is, however, quite common in Britain frequently used as an exclamation as in, “Oh, bugger! while "buggery" is synonymous with the act of sodomy. The modern English word "bugger" is derived from the French term bougre, which evolved from the Latin bulgarus or "Bulgarian." The Catholic Church used the word to describe members of a religious sect known as the Bogomils who originated in medieval Bulgaria in the 10th Century and spread throughout Western Europe by the 15th Century. The Church used it as a term of offence against a group they considered heretical. The first use of the word "buggery" appears in Middle English in 1330 where it was associated with "abominable heresy" though the sexual sense of "bugger" is not recorded until 1555. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology quotes a similar form, "bowgard" (and "bouguer") but claims the Bulgarians were heretics "as belonging to the Greek Church, sp. Albigensian." Webster's Third New International Dictionary gives the only meaning of the word "bugger" as a sodomite, "from the adherence of the Bulgarians to the Eastern Church considered heretical." When someone is called a lazy little bugger, they probably don't mean to accuse them of being a Bulgarian sodomite!


The term "nervous Nellie" borrows from "nelly" and "nancy," archaic derogatory descriptors for gay men. The words imply gay men lack masculinity because of their sexual orientation. The phrase was popularized in the 1920s when it was used to refer to Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, a notoriously timid politician according to "Hatchet Jobs and Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang." Needless to say, it is as offensive to link homosexuality with timidity as it is offensive to criticize a meek politician as "gay" or "girlish." These days, this term probably isn’t the best way to refer to an antsy or jittery friend. Typically, 'nancy,' 'nelly,' and others including ‘fag,’ ‘sissy,’ 'fairy' are used to perpetuate homophobia These slurs usually target people with male-sexed bodies who do not act sufficiently masculine. They are inherently sexist and frame femininity as an insult meant to emasculate men.


"On the down low" is a specific term rooted in the Black community. The phrase first referred to Black men who had secret homosexual relationships; it was later adopted by Black men who weren't closeted, but who rejected white gay culture. Men first started claiming the label in the mid-1990s. Back then, the culture was completely under the radar, and DL men lived ostensibly heterosexual lives (complete with wives and girlfriends) while engaging in secret sexual relationships with men. The phrase remains rooted in paranoia about homosexuality, and the belief these men were spreading HIV/AIDS to heterosexual girlfriends and wives.


If you've recently been around male elementary school students, you've probably heard a lot about what "sucks." And what does suck? A penis, of course! Expressing your distaste for something in terms of a blowjob equates it with a sexually submissive woman or man forced into a homosexual act. The notion that oral sex is inherently shameful also reflects a generally skewed view of sexuality in which sex acts entail one party being belittled by the other. Using sexual submission as an insult is essentially the same thing as calling something gay; it implies that fellatio is gross, degrading, and punishing particularly when it is performed by a man.


It is common knowledge that “faggot and fag” are offensive, but it's worth revisiting why especially if you're tempted to use tamer-seeming phrases like "fag hag." The English words "faggot" and "fagot" come from Old French and first referred to bundles of sticks used as firewood. In the Middle Ages, men were burned alive at the stake for engaging in homosexual intercourse as well as other acts of heresy. By the time the Inquisition finished its work in the 17th Century, several million heretics and homosexuals had been burned at the stake. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) revealed the words' first uses referring to "a bundle of sticks, twigs, or small branches of trees bound together [.....] for use as fuel" and "with special reference to the practice of burning heretics alive, esp. in [the] phrase, fire and faggot; to fry a faggot, to be burnt alive; also, to bear, carry a faggot as those did who renounced heresy." According to the OED, in the early 20th Century, the term was adopted in the United States as a derogatory way to refer to homosexual and effeminate men. Curiously, the word "faggot" was not commonly adopted in the British Isles in the same sense; indeed, a "fag" in the United Kingdom is usually a slang term for a cigarette or used in the phrase "fagged out," meaning exhausted.


Some in the gay community have reclaimed these terms, but that doesn't make them fair game for everyone else. In fact, I don’t even like hearing them being uttered by gay people. When people use offensive language in their own community and claim it is only offensive when other people use the terms, that, in itself, is offensive. The words gay (used in a demeaning fashion), fag, sissy, fairy, queer, faggot can do psychological damage to a young person especially when used in a degrading way. These terms emphasize there is something wrong with being homosexual. It was one of the reasons it took me so long to acknowledge my own sexuality. Everything associated with homosexuality was deemed “bad,” an “abomination.” When the gay community normalizes these words, they don’t know the traumatic affect it can have on someone younger. I cringe whenever I hear these words. I don’t care who speaks them. I will never hear the word “queer” without hearing it in my mother’s voice filled with disgust. Other disparaging, homophobic slurs also bring back the torture many of us received from bullies while growing up. 


 In conclusion: the next time you start to use these words, take the time to think how they might affect those around you.


While we are on the topic of how words affect LGBTQ people, see the second half of this post where I have a few things to say about the language too often used concerning HIV and STI.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Pic of the Day

“Master” (De)bates

On Monday, CNN did a story on everyday words and phrases which have racist overtones. The story noted they are so entrenched in everyday use that Americans don't think twice about saying them. Some of these terms, however, are rooted in the nation's history of chattel slavery while others evoke racist notions about Black people.  But with that said, IMO, CNN is only partially correct. Following are words and phrases CNN used as examples: 


Peanut gallery

Grandfathered in


Lynch mob


Sold down the river

Master bedrooms/bathrooms

The Masters Tournament


Peanut gallerygrandfathered incakewalklynch mobuppity, and sold down the river have clear racist origins. The term “peanut gallery” dates back to the vaudeville era of the late 19th century and referred to the section of the theater where Black people typically sat; now the phrase usually refers to the cheapest seats in a theater and informally describes critics or hecklers. “Grandfathered in” comes from a law passed by Southern states during Reconstruction. The law stated anyone who was able to vote before 1867 was exempt from the literacy tests, property requirements, and poll taxes needed for voting. Enslaved people were not freed until 1865 when the 13th Amendment passed. They weren't granted the right to vote until the 15th Amendment passed in 1870. Effectively, it prevented former slaves from voting. “Cakewalk” comes from slave owners holding contests in which enslaved people competed for a cake. The cakewalk originated as a dance performed by slaves and was intended to be a mockery of the way white people danced though plantation owners often interpreted slaves' movements as unskillful attempts to be like them. Thus, the term “cakewalk” became associated with an easy victory, or something that's easily accomplished.


The term “lynch mob” has such blatant connotations I shouldn’t have to explain it. It refers to the lynching of Black people for the smallest of offenses. “Uppity” is another term used as an epithet by white people in the Jim Crow era to describe Black people they believed weren't showing them enough deference. This word has always been in common use with racists. No one who uses the word when describing Black people, can legitimately claim they did not know of the word’s racist origins especially those who leveled the claim against the Obamas. And finally, the phrase “sold down the river” is just what it sounds like. Slave traders traveled along the Mississippi River selling enslaved people to plantation owners further south.


Therefore, I have no problem with these everyday words and phrases being said to have racist connotations; they absolutely do. However, I do have a problem when someone tries to associate all uses of the word “master” with chattel slavery. The reporter pointed out that master bedrooms/bathrooms and the Masters Tournament (golf) evoke slave masters from the South. The phrase "master bedroom" first appeared in the 1926 Sears catalog and referred to a large second floor bedroom with a private bathroom. Some realtors insist that “master” in master bedroom is related to the assumed superior status of the man of the house, be it race- or sex-based. But if this were the case, the room would be called the master’s bedroom not the master bedroom. Likewise, the term Masters Tournament, which was intended as a reference to golfers with great skills, is now being called racist by some sports writers simply because it takes place at a Southern golf course. Not all uses of the word master have connotations of chattel slavery. I have a master’s degree in History which signifies I have mastered the discipline of History; if a golfer plays in the Masters Tournament, he has mastered the game of golf. 


The American lexicon is filled with derogatory terms used in everyday language. Some of them are more offensive than “master.” Do not get me started on homophobic words in everyday speech. That will be a topic for tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Pic of the Day

An Attack on Americans’ Intelligence

The other day, I read an article written by two American gay writers. The article’s title was, “Are Americans the stupidest people in the world?” I’ve actually read these writers’ work before: one is an LGBT young adult novelist and the other was an editor of a former gay news and entertainment website. These two men are a longtime gay couple who decided in 2017 to sell their house in Seattle and travel the world as “digital nomads.” They’ve been moving to a new country every few months and supporting themselves by working remotely.


The opinion piece they wrote has some valid points. I agree that the U.S. response to the pandemic has not lived up to what most of the rest of the world is doing, because many Republican leaders in this country have failed to take the crisis seriously. Also, the supporters of those so-called leaders have acted according to what they see as an example. The public’s health and safety have been made into political issues.  


However, what I take exception to is when they try to lump all Americans and all politicians into the same category. At one point, they write, “The brutal truth is that a lot of Americans have grown selfish, lazy, and entitled. We want everything now, and we don’t want to pay the real cost of things. And we don’t seem to give a damn about people who don’t look and act exactly like us.” These two men left the United States when Trump was elected. Fine, great, go…but, not all of us can do that; being a traveling nomad is expensive. And by leaving, they are running away from the problem and doing nothing but complaining from a distance. The U.S. isn't perfect, and it never has been, but when someone decides to run from a problem then disparage those trying to make things better, you become part of the problem, not part of the solution.


These guys ran away and say everything is so much better elsewhere. They act like other countries don’t have the same problems with police brutality and racism that the United States does. Bullshit! The United States has one unique character that most other countries don’t have: e pluribus unum. Out of many nationalities, we are one nation. Most countries are more monoethnic than the United States. And the countries these two men say they have been to and seen such a difference happen to be the most monoethnic countries in the world. 


I will admit many Americans since colonial times have believed in American exceptionalism. It’s the whole “City upon a Hill” mentality. The British novelist, Frances Trollope, visited the United States in 1830 and wrote, Domestic Manners of the Americans. The book created a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Trollope had a caustic view of Americans, and found America strongly lacking in manners and learning. She was appalled by America's egalitarian middle-class, and by the influence of evangelicalism emerging during the Second Great Awakening. In her book, Trollope said:

A single word indicative of doubt, that anything, or everything, in that country is not the very best in the world, produces an effect which must be seen and felt to be understood. If the citizens of the United States were indeed the devoted patriots they call themselves, they would surely not thus encrust themselves in the hard, dry, stubborn persuasion, that they are the first and best of the human race, that nothing is to be learnt, but what they are able to teach, and that nothing is worth having, which they do not possess.

There is a lot of truth in her writing, but her attitude was influenced by the European view that Americans had no history and were uncouth. There was a prejudice against Americans around the world, and that view went both ways as many Americans felt they were better than the rest of the world.


The trouble with Trollope’s attitude is that this has never been true of all Americans, just as it is not true that all Americans are stupid. It’s only a certain, and very vocal, part of the population who are just plain ignorant. The head ignoramus, sadly, is the President. He has led his followers into nativism, paranoia, anti-intellectualism, conspiracy-mongering, and of course, rank racism. But those same followers already had those issues before Donald Trump. He’s just fueling the fire. These same people are unwilling to sacrifice for the common good, to think of others before themselves, and to endure difficult times.


I don’t like the stay-at-home orders or wearing a facemask when I have to go out. I am not looking forward to going back to work and having to wear a facemask any time I leave my office. However, I know it is for the common good. I am willing to endure the discomfort if it will help slow the pandemic. It’s just something we have to do. So, for people like the two guys who wrote, “Are Americans the stupidest people in the world?” they don’t realize many of us are trying. We are doing our part. We are not selfish, lazy, and entitled.

You know what to do: