Monday, November 12, 2012

Death of the American White Male

© Carmen Ferreiro

After Tuesday’s election results, listening to the press roundup provoked a certain déjà vu taking me back to my years in academia.  The world of news like the world of ideas, seemed to be clamoring the same battle cry I’d heard back in my college days—the elimination of all things white male.

Diversity is a great thing, I am certain I can be classified into several of these groups depending on pollsters and any other number of psychological data gathers; but to elevate diversity must we obliterate homogeny or a dominant group.

Majoring in Literature, my interest early on swayed to 19th Century American Literature—the American Renaissance.  But there was a war brewing in the Literary Arts; a war against the established American Canon, not the shooting kind, but the literary collection of recommended school and college reading, known to most as “the classics”. 

The emergence of new schools of thought, from gender to culture theorists, every movement wanted inclusion, some even radically calling for the complete dismantling of what they considered a predominant white male canon.

These new theorists called for the eradication of the works of the “dead white males”.  Literary Conferences and Academic Periodicals where blooming with works deconstructing and reinterpreting the works and life of the “dead white males”.  Most seem to want to lay the authors on a Freudian couch and characterized them as chauvinist, queer, racist or an infinite amount of other precepts that of course the “dead white males” could not defend or disqualify.

Valuing different theories, whether I completely accept them or not, I enrolled in classes where the professors where ardent supporters of these new emerging schools of thought.  I remembered the dismay of my Women’s Studies professor; how could I, a minority female, be focusing my research on the works of the “dead white males” and male dominated modern and semiotics theory.  She could not understand how I could value an art form or rhetoric that did not represent who I was.  My reply to her “I value Aristotle and I am not Greek, I feel indebted to Copernicus and I am not Prussian”; my point being that knowledge need not be aligned to one’s own culture experience but is part of a larger historical conversation.

As part of my coursework I read it all, from the fiery Calvinist writers of early American Literature to the newly added female slave narratives, and understood their rightful place in the American Literary Canon. What I did not consider necessary was the campaign being waged by those hell-bent on obliterating the great white male writers. 

All cultural groups want (deservedly) to be a part of the American Experience, but is it really necessary to completely root out the dominant group that has played a key role in the shaping of our American cultural history.

Certainly in politics, as in literature, we can agree to accept that all stories deserve to be told, even though we often do not agree on which to uphold or revere. 

From my point-of-view, the “dead white males” created works that I value highly and consider them to be great art.  The other works included for the sake of diversity or equality had their merits, but were certainly not books I would re-read or consider beyond the biographical/historical lives of those who wrote them. I preferred to ponder the universal themes presented by the white whale, rather than question the gender wherewithal it did or did not possess. 

We do after all have the choice to read or enjoy that which pleases us, without controlling or eliminating the possibility for others. For me the “white males” were very much alive not dead. Regardless of their cultural identity, they wrote about issues and themes on the human condition that did touch upon my own personal experiences.

So in today's political reality why do so many feel that we must tear down and obliterate a white male candidate because the new discourse claims they do not represent us. If there is a perception that they dominate the political landscape of America, does that necessarily mean that they cannot relate to diversity in America.

I do not think so, public service is a series of hit or miss opportunities with one’s constituents.  The polarizing viewpoints in America are inevitably what fills the headlines of our news media, especially during national elections.  But a candidate’s personal history does not automatically disqualify them from representing the contrasting histories of their electorate.

Like the biographies of the “dead white males”, the life of political a candidate is often targeted when they are being judged as to whether they can adequately or effectively serve us.  But does this with any measure of certainty clearly define whether they can do a good job or not, any more so than can a story be discard because it’s writer lacks the unconventional upbringing or history that progressive reformers now demand.

It is important to uphold those who feel they have been marginalized, but does it have to result in the elimination of good ideas or the accomplishments of the historically dominant group before.  

The white males have contributed much to world of ideas, history and civilization in general, calling for their extinction will not necessarily improve our state of affairs.  Instead we may be unfairly demonizing a group that despite exterior appearances, has done much for American society and art.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Check out my first article for Global Voices. I am a contributing author for their Cuba Regional Coverage, and my story is featured on their main news page:

I am glad to be able to work with the Global Voices team and grateful for the opportunity to get news about the realities in Cuba at the forefront of world news coverage.

Comments and suggestions welcome,

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Apollo 11:"The Eagle has landed."

I was 5 years old when the USA became the first nation in the world to land on the moon. What Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins did for the American space program, has yet to be duplicated by any nation. The US moon landing unified the world for those few minutes that mankind was represented by these adventurous, courageous and knowledgeable men.

As a child after watching the moon landing, I went outside and swung on my backyard swing. I thought if I could swing high enough I could propel myself to the moon. When night fell, I got my telescope and peered throw it, foolishly thinking I could see the astronauts on the moon surface. Of course I could not, but instead of being discouraged, it ignited in me a passion for learning about the cosmos and believing in the infinite possibilities of the human spirit.

Having been a child in the age of the space race, instilled in me a sense of wonder and adventure that I have to this very day. It made me hopeful for tomorrow, not only for myself but for all the children of the world. All of a sudden we were able to do what we had only read about in books. The yearnings of the early scientific dreamers alas came to be. I felt all could be possible if we dreamed and strived to achieve it.

Watching this footage again after 40 years causes me to still view this event with awe, wonder and faith in humanity. We must continue to explore and revive the world’s collective consciousness with events such as these that move and inspire us.