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TygrBright

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Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 18,147

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I sometimes think Black anger is our only hope...

(Apropos this thread about the whole "angry Black women" thing: https://www.democraticunderground.com/1287389564#post31)

I'm super white. Nobody would ever mistake me for anything but white. I've benefited by white privilege my whole life.

With the best will in the world to be Not-racist, the closest I have come to progress has often been when some Black person who would probably get described as "angry" because they are not trying to "not be angry" tells me about their own experience and relates it to the mistakes I'm making.

I'm a slow learner but I do keep trying.

And what I want, more than anything (and think I probably won't see in my lifetime) is an end to white privilege and a complete cultural embrace of "no time for this shit" about racism- systemic and every other kind.

We will NEVER be able to realize the American Dream I was brought up to cherish until we can do that.

And white people like me, even the ones who try, ain't gonna be much help unless/until we get a certain amount of righteous anger laid on us, and we set aside our denials and self-justifications and learn from it.

And that's a huge burden to lay on Black people, I know. It shouldn't have to be that way. It's not Black peoples' responsibility or task or whatever to "fix" the fucked-upness that is White America.

But it ain't gonna happen without Black anger, any way I see it.

So rage on, please.

I want the world my grandson lives in to be so much better than the mess I saw at the Army-Navy game and practically every damn where else I look.

respectfully,
Bright

My Annual Holiday Visit to Louisa May Alcott

Maybe not quite annual. There have been years when I have not had the time or inclination to pick up "Little Women" (the text version, yanno) during the year-end holiday season.

But most years I do.

LM Alcott gets written off a lot, for various reasons, including "she's a children's writer", "she does chick lit", "so outdated, the nineteenth century", "keeps dropping into sermon mode", and one of my favorites, "so boring, no real plot line, no action, nothing really happens."

With respect to some of her work, yeah, some of these are justified. And there is at least one "dropping into sermon mode" in "Little Women" that I regularly skim over. But other than that, Little Women is one hundred percent justified in its status as a Masterpiece of American Literature.

And this year, I have a whole new appreciation for that, because this year it dawned upon me how out-and-out SUBVERSIVE this book really is.

I can hear some of you chuckling. "Subversive, Bright? Ferrealz? Goody-goody girls being noble and sweetly submissive in mid-19th Century America? Subversive HOW?"

I absolve LM Alcott of any conscious attempt to write something economically, and/or politically subversive. She wasn't that kind of writer. As much as any 19th-century novelist, she was interested primarily in telling stories, and, as much as any 19th-century novelist, she perceived some form of philosophical or moral underpinnings as essential to the structure of a novel.

She was certainly a liberal, in many respects, especially for her era- she wrote of women with a three-dimensionality of character, capability and leadership potential that was more than a little anomalous. She chose the more liberal Protestant Christian approach to the Golden Rule and moral values. But she was no red-hot radical in the political sense.

Except in respect to how the values she cherished and wrote of so eloquently were at odds with the larger social culture of her day.

To understand that, it helps to start with the nature of the American culture and economy in 1866-67 when the two volumes of the novel were being written. No, wait-- go back a bit further, for context:

In the Colonial era, America's economy was based on mercantilism, defined and heavily-controlled by the British Government, which regarded the function of the Colonies as a revenue generator for the Crown. In the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution, a backlash against heavy-handed control from a central government shaped America's economic structure loosely, somewhat chaotically, and above all, designed to take advantage of the rise of venture capitalism.

By the time of the Civil War, America was already on the way to becoming an economic Darwinist free-for-all. In the aftermath of the Civil War, when Alcott was writing, between the Reconstructionist carpetbagging gold rush, the rise of industrialization in the North, and the post-war backlash against the kind of unifying self-sacrifice necessary for such a massive shared endeavor, America was well on the high road to the Gilded Age. And Alcott had to be well aware of that.

The Marches, while certainly well-integrated into the upper-middle-class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant New England social milieu, are regarded by what we would call "mainstream society" as "odd."

In the depiction of how deeply focused the characters' identities, values, and priorities are upon a close-knit bond with family, neighbors, and friends, Alcott does more than contrast their motivations with those of the neighbors who regard "marrying well (monetarily)" as an appropriate value.

To my modern eyes, the level of support and comfort provided by those interpersonal relationships borders on the unfathomable. The sacrifices routinely made for one another's well-being, the attention to not just meeting each others' needs, but supplying the positive reinforcement, the attentions and delights that promote self-worth, integrity, and the healthy kind of centered and balanced ego, are more than an obligation. They create a mutuality in personal growth, sense of self-worth, and connectedness that grounds and strengthens each character.

What really matters?

In Alcott's eloquent depiction, what really matters is humanity. Connectedness. Being willing to love and be loved, and accepting the costs as well as the benefits thereof. Indeed, rejoicing in those costs for their payment is the means of becoming more whole, more well, more possessed of personal integrity and value for self and others.

I regularly water the pages around Beth's passing... have never been able to complete a reading of Little Women without doing so. But this year, this passage opened floodgates:

"...love is the only thing we can carry with us when we go."

Now, some of that effect this year might be due to personal circumstances I'm not going to relate here. And yes, the inherent 19th-Century view of womanhood and Christianity lend an approval and depiction of the kind of passive, submissive do-tread-on-me womanhood that is both the product of, and the enabler of, the misogyny that poisons our society.

But lift the interpersonal dynamics of the Marches, their friends, their extended families and community, out of that cloying cultural context, and you can see the radically subversive nature of Alcott's vision:

It isn't about who dies with the most toys. It's about who dies with the most love.

Imaging a society, a culture, built on THAT premise.

Now THAT is radically subversive in today's world.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the latest Hollywood iteration of the Marches will bring this holiday season. But I don't think any film adaptation will ever reach me on a level that this year's text reading has.

thoughtfully,
Bright
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