Tuesday, February 19, 2019

To Clean or Not

I assumed cleaning the trains would be the right move: years of nicotine, cat litter dust, and of course remnants of the driveway gravel we'd fill the hopper cars with. Then I found a whole chapter in a train book about how to dirty up the cars to make them more authentic. So I guess this is permission to do a bad job cleaning?

Monday, February 18, 2019

A Think Piece

For the most part, I gave up my habit of jotting down apparently wise or humorous things people say. One tidbit I held onto for a long time I wrote on an official Valentine Museum notepad. I captured museum director Frank Jewell's observation "race, class, gender: difficult stuff." That was the gist, anyway, and at 22 or so, I found it to be a profound observation that I knew should guide my look at life as well as my work in history. 

Raised in Chesterfield County by parents from the north, I did not think of myself as southern. When reflecting on my sense of identity now, I often recall the brief fad some of the alpha kids (boys?) in 4th grade pursued of asking all the kids questions to classify themselves: teams we rooted for; religion; north or south. I said "north" -- because I wanted to be different? Because I was born in Philadelphia, even though I don't remember those first nine months of living there? In high school, I had first a black teacher for world history who urged us into discussion of racial stereotyping, then a white one for US history who used terms like "War of Northern Aggression," and positioned states' rights as a leading cause of the Civil War. My chemistry teacher also taught driver's ed; he told us girls could neither do science nor drive. This was the early 1980s. And so I went to college in New England with a lot of private-school-educated women and felt very different. To emphasize that otherness, I'd layer on fake Southern -- by shouting to people being loud in the dorm hallway too late at night "y'all hush." I also bought a Confederate flag, because I thought it was merely a southern symbol, or a silly symbol of the losing side. It took taking  an actual southern history class at Mount Holyoke -- was it a whole class on the Civil Rights Movement? -- to learn about its use as a symbol of hate and hastily throw it in the trash. I don't think it was up long, but my stomach sours thinking about it. The focus of my history degree eventually became "gender and race in the modern south."

In the 90s, after those few years of work at the museum, I followed my love to Mississippi so he could get a master's degree in Southern Studies. As Virginians, we seemed Northern to most people. With public lectures and casual conversations with his classmates, we immersed ourselves in discussions of race and class. When the theme of a costume party was "come as your favorite dead Southerner," I made an "Indian" dress from cheap fake suede and went as Pocahontas. I wore it later in the 90s to portray the woman my camp is named for. I would never do it now; I feel embarrassed. I do hear myself rationalizing, "well, they were real people -- and it's not like I wore any kind of makeup." Rationalizing away privilege? Other experiences of living in Oxford in the 1990s included taking part in demonstrations against the playing of "Dixie" by the school band, seeing burly black young male athletes wearing ballcaps with that little Rebel logo on them, and watching white students sit on the grassy knoll outside the baseball diamond so they could wave the giant Rebel flags that weren't allowed in the park. I had to drive all the way to Jackson with other members of the NOW chapter for clinic defense and Roe day observances. 

By this point you are not surprised that this self-evaluation comes about thanks to contemporary leaders of Virginia's government. It's what makes me believe that people who build careers helping ALL others could have started in a different place. 

Additional reading:
"Yes Politicians Wore Blackface," Washington Post
Early Post item on the governor