Telling Your Own Story

Carroll High School, Jimmy Carter's Iran Hostage Crisis, Definition of 'Palestinian'

One of the things that Critical Studies (that’s right, Critical Race Studies, Critical Gender Studies, and the like) has taught us is the importance, even the necessity, for individuals, groups, and peoples to be able to tell their own stories. And for the rest of us to accept them for just that – their stories. And then, in order to create a “more perfect union,” or “the beloved community” (MLK, Jr.), to weave the various stories together in a great and diverse tapestry of mutual respect.

This was not an understanding with which I was raised. Mine was still the generation of the “melting pot,” a grand experiment in homogenization where diversity was to be minimized and difference was, at best, tolerated, especially with regard to language, traditions, and culture. However, the truth of such an agenda, both consciously and unconsciously, was the marginalization, oppression, and erasure of languages, cultures, and traditions of non-white, non-male, and gender-diverse peoples in a desire for homogeneity. The “grand American experiment” became something out of Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. We see this racist and patriarchal agenda in the last desperate throes of those on the religious and political Right who want to return us to a more innocent time that never was but was camouflaged as such because their whiteness or maleness or other social and economic and religious status was privileged.

I’ve discussed this before, but political scientist, Benedict Anderson, in his seminal 1983 Imagined Communities, defines a nation as “socially-constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of a group.” A nation is an “imagined community,” the images/metaphors/symbols/narratives are the stories that people tell, rally around, that provide them an identity, promote certain values, and which create communities of meaning.

So the stories we tell about ourselves, the stories people tell about their own traditions and culture, the stories our kids learn about in textbooks and classrooms and libraries, the stories that a nation allows and privileges and celebrates – all these and more are critical, are necessary to a healthy and diverse America.

I have been thinking about how important this is given the assault on truth itself – think about that, the assault on truth itself by a former President of the United States and his tens of millions of minions, and the most-watched cable news channel consciously spewing out lies disguised as news; and more, given the assault by those same people on the political and religious Right on women’s bodies, on the rights of the trans community and other marginalized peoples, on educators and libraries, on people of color, and more.

Three recent stories come to mind:

1. Carroll High School in NE Allen County, Indiana, has recently decided to cancel the student play, Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood, that, according to a published summary, is “a gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing, hilarious new take” on the tale of Robin Hood. Chosen by Carroll High School students, it features a same-sex couple and a non-binary character. School officials cancelled it, they say, because of complaints voiced by some parents’ concerns over “LGBTQ+ elements of the play.” As of last week, a student-originated petition had garnered over 4200 signatures in support of the production of the play.

2. The New York Times, Saturday, March 18, reports that Ben Barnes has finally come clean (You can read the whole story here: (A Four-Decade Secret)

“History needs to know that this happened,” Mr. Barnes, who turns 85 next month, said in one of several interviews, his first with a news organization about the episode. “I think it’s so significant and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter put it on my mind more and more and more. I just feel like we’ve got to get it down some way.”

- Ben Barnes

Barnes describes how in 1980, he was tapped to accompany former Texas governor, John Connally, in a trip for presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, to scuttle President Carter’s attempt to negotiate a peace to the Iran hostage crisis before Election Day, and freeing the 52 Americans held captive.

The secret that Barnes has kept for 43 years is that he accompanied Connally from one Middle Eastern capital to another with a blunt message: “Don’t release the hostages before the election; you’ll get a better deal from a President Reagan.”

And the rest is history – a sad history that included America’s increasing absolutist support for Israeli apartheid.

3. From the March 20, Israeli periodical, Ha’aretz, Jonathan Lis reports that speaking at a memorial ceremony under a flag of the “Greater Land of Israel” (which includes both Palestine and Trans-Jordan), Israel’s Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich incredibly claimed, erasing an entire people, their history and their culture, that the Palestinian people are a fictitious nation invented less than a century ago and only to fight Zionism. He also said that his family had important roots in the land:

"There’s no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as a Palestinian people. … Do you  know who the Palestinians are? I am Palestinian. My late grandmother, who was born in Metula more than a century ago to a family of pioneers who established all the settlements in the north, is Palestinian. My late grandfather, who was 13th generation Jerusalemite, is the true Palestinian.”

- Bezalel Smotrich

This is the same Bezalel Smotrich who has recently called for wiping out the village of Huwara whose villagers had the temerity to create pockets of resistance and which was the victim on February 26 of an armed Israeli settler attack while Israeli soldiers protected them.

It is our responsibility to not only encourage the inclusion of the stories of marginalized individuals and peoples, but also to provide mechanisms and structures so that the telling of those very stories doesn’t depend upon individual good will but reflects the political, societal, cultural, and religious will of the nation.

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