Friday, January 15, 2010

my history with history

during my 10 minute break at work yesterday I found myself, my boss and one work study student, at the mercy of other work study student's 9 minute and 58 second rant. the freshman was waxing unpoetically about just how boring the classes/professors/TAs she is subjected to are. one class was a particular thorn in her side due to the vapid, dusty movie clips she was forced to watch and in theory learn from. she went on to describe a selection from a movie with already forgotten title, a documentary about the (unfortunate) use of blackface in early US theatrical history. specifically about how African Americans in had to unironically wear blackface in order to perform, the disadvantaged masquerading as the privaledged mocking the disadvantaged. I cannot imagine a more humiliating charade.
'. . .i don't see what the big deal is,' she argued, 'I mean, that's what enabled them to have a start in theater. . .'
I instantly shed the glazed look I had donned earlier in response to her non stop rudimentarily verbose discourse; she now had my full attention. glancing over at boss, who, being the highest in command/oldest person in attendance, I expected to take some kind of action in the form of intelligent counterpoint, was sitting still on the stairs, looking a little more tense and uneasy than a minute ago, but still still nonetheless. meanwhile, spirited youth was still going on and on. this is the point were I should say something. I do not.

I've been wanting to read 'Lies My Teacher Told Me' for a very long time. I finally have it in my possession and in the past 7 days since acquiring it I have yet to do more than skim the Contents and scan the photos. I have yet to even read the full back cover. this is not the first history book I've done this to. and it is not for lack of want. I am a good student, I love school, I love to read and learn. one exception being History. it bores me to tears. the presentation of it, that's what gets me. that's what I tell myself because the information in and of itself is interesting and important to me but the long paragraphs of sentences with names and dates that feel so out of context without pictures of faces and images places have some neurological effect that sends me into a narcoleptic stupor. maybe it's because I am a very visual person. but even the historical graphic novels I've tried out fail to really reach me. it's like if you were to ask me, prone to taking joy from my OCD tendencies, to sort a bucket of sand by color and shape. I could do it, and once I started I would finish and might even get into it from time to time, but man, what a chore.

meanwhile, in my brain, I've been sorting out exactly what I would have said to aforementioned unlearned student (well, I guess that's what a student is, someone who is learning what they don't already know (or think they know, in this case)) or will say if I am blessed with the opportunity to work along side or above her (er, dare I mention that I almost accidentally dropped a large bolt on her head from like 30 feet up? this was before her conservative commentary.) again.
'ok, let's say that that was black folk's foot in the door, but think about it in a different way. yes, they had their 'big break,' but at what cost? I am a freelance theatre tech, you are a work study student. I got called for this job- didn't even have to ask, and I get paid a decent wage. they know me, respect me and trust I am capable. You are a relative stranger, had to sign up for this class, are having to pay to take it, and have to be monitored throughout your shift. ok, seems fair enough in the grand scheme of having to work up the job ladder. but what if, upon graduation into full on freelancer, you still had to apply for the job, still had to pay to be there, and still were not trusted to complete tasks on your own just because you are who you are. yes, you have to jump thu hoops, but you are still working in theater, are you not?
to put in in nontheatrical terms, let's say you apply to work in a lab (this student is a biochem/theater double major). but science, being all methodical and analytical and all, is for men. so in order to work there, you had to dress like and live your working hours as a man. and you were required to not only laugh at sexist jokes, but make them on a regular basis as well. sound like a good time? eventually, time passes and larger factors would influence local ideas and women would eventually, somewhat begrudgingly, be allowed to work in labs in all their unmasked estrogenic glory. so what do they have to complain about?'

more importantly, where was that comeback 24 hours ago? sigh. I could go on, but me thinks I be preaching to the choir. what will it take for me to get to the point where I can respond to such comments in a timely fashion ie in the moment, with grace, aplomb, intelligence, compassion? when I figure it out, I'll let you know. . .

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