Facebook Peeves

Prime peeve, but this is not confined to FaceBook alone, is posting pictures with no captions, no identification of who is in the photo (besides the person posting it), or where or on what occasion it was taken, or when.   I understand that people may be reluctant to “tag”  people in photographs.  But this is fast becoming something you cannot prevent anyway, what with face recognition being built into FaceBook and other social media.

An example of this annoying and frustrating practice was the recent post of a photo, without any caption, of a friend, together with H______ (an easily recognizable and world famous person) and two other unidentified persons.   H______ was holding some sort of trophy or award.   And that was it.  The context, from previous postings was a national conference.   Several “likes” and comments were posted but no one asked about the details.   It’s this whole notion that a “picture” is all that is necessary.  History, context, dates, names, are left out for some reason. People post videos on YouTube all the time, clips of singers, performers, actors, and don’t bother to identify who or where or when.   On the radio, how often do I listen to a set only to have the announcer run down the list and read off the date of the CD reissue, and never think to mention the date of the original recording which I know was thirty or forty years prior.   History!  Context!  The song has meaning when you understand when it was written and recorded, what was happening at the time!

But I digress.  Another FB peeve is posting something other than a recent portrait sized photograph of yourself as your profile photo.   Several annoying things that people post instead of a photograph of their current selves: a high school or childhood photo; a photo of their child, or their dog, or their cat, or some political symbol.   Really folks, I would like to see you as YOU are, Thank You!

And another perhaps lesser peeve, but a genuine peeve nonetheless is the posting of memes.   The memes themselves are often good, pungent, pithy, hitting the nail on the head observations of some sort or another, BUT… often you cannot comment directly on your friend’s post but only on the original, which may already have hundreds or even thousands of comments.   This defeats the whole purpose of posting anything since you cannot make a comment which will be seen by your friend who posted the observation in the first place.   Indeed, I do not even understand why anyone adds their comment to an anonymous list of hundreds or thousands of comments.   There is no conversation here, no actual communication between even two persons, never mind the hundreds or thousands involved.   You are literally a voice crying in the wilderness.  Or spitting in the ocean.

white privilege

Couple of thoughts on white privilege. Yes I have benefited… greatly… undeniably… but… for years I lamented the fact that I never went to a fine old prep school.   Mother and I traveled to Maine and visited Hebron Academy around 1959 when I was 13.   I remember that some student was playing Ravel’s “Bolero” at top volume out their dorm window while we were there.   I was “blown away”, although that idiom would not become part of my vocabulary for another six years or so.

When I returned to public school the next fall as an 8th grader, mother bullied the school administrators into allowing me to take algebra, a 9th grade level class, so that I would be prepared to enter Hebron the following year.  But sometime over that year, the decision was made to go with the public school and forego the Hebron experience for me.   For years, even after I had (finally) graduated from the University of Vermont, eight years after I had entered Boston University in 1964 as a freshman, I dwelt on the notion that I had missed the headstart I might have gotten had I spent four years at a high powered prep school like Hebron instead of in a mediocre public school system.   I will never know what I might have become.   I can guess though that I might have been even more “white privileged” than I am.

I recently watched the rise and fall of Mitt Romney’s candidacy and noted, as I have before, the peculiar shortcomings of the all-white privileged education that he received.   The self-righteous entitlement that was born in his family but enlarged and developed in the privileged setting in which he received his education.   Mother did bring us kids up with a socially elite point of view, a sense of particular self worth and social elevation which we posessed simply because we “were Wyckoffs”, and for no other reason.   But her superiority was very democratic.   It cut across all class, racial and other lines.   She simply held the belief that most people were idiots.   I fully believe that to this day.  What I have learned in the years since is that I myself am fully included under that heading.

You know, people reach a point in their lives in which, one day, they catch themselves and exclaim aloud, “Oh my God, I’ve become my mother [or father]!”   This is usually while mother or father are still with us.   You catch yourself saying something to your child, or doing some boringly adult thing like carrying an umbrella, and you realize in horror that you have become the very person you had spent so many years rebelling against and defying.   But fast forward just a few years, even a decade.  They are gone, and you suddenly find that the most powerful reminder of mother and father is now yourself, perhaps your own voice railing at the news, or your habit of stirring your coffee a certain way, a song perhaps that is really of their era but which reminds you so  powerfully of them because you remember it from when you were toddling around the house way back when.

But I drift away from “white privilege”, though perhaps not as far as you might suppose.   I missed the “white privilege” of a tony prep school education.   But I did receive the “white privilege” from my grandfather’s will in 1951, who left to my mother, his only and youngest daughter, the equivalent of nearly $1,000,000 in today’s money.   My grandfather was a son of Irish immigrants who refused to quit high school to go to work because, as Mother told me, he didn’t want to end up like his father, in the poorhouse.   I was told he said that to his father’s face when ordered by him to quit high school and go to work in the shoe factory.  He finished high school, worked his way through Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, and at the age of 37, newly married and with a child on the way, acquired a drugstore of his own.   Mother says she and her older brothers used to play on the living room carpet with bags of gold coins from the store.   He died when I was five years old.   Mother had spent the inheritance by the time I graduated from high school.  Today I think it was money well spent.

“White privilege” is real, but the details are always more complicated than the facile generalization.   I would not change any of my own “white privileged” history.   And the “white privilege” was certainly no guarantor of success, or even of any particular outcome.   I think it is a mistake to think so.

It has been a sad weekend….

It has been a sad weekend for many of us, at least since late Saturday evening when the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case was made public.   We were in bed listening to the Red Sox game in the dark.   (They would eventually lose to Oakland with an 11th inning walkoff).  Just before turning the game off and going to sleep Maya switched the station and we heard the verdict.   It was a little after 11:00pm.   Around 1:00am I gave up trying to sleep, got up and went out to the livingroom.   I started reading all the Facebook posts and comments of my friends.   Unfortunate that the only option to show agreement and support for someone’s post is to “like” it.   There was not much to like about this news.

As I am wont to do, I looked to history to cast some perspective on the events.  One friend referred to an oft-quoted remark, that a black man “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”   Turns out the the remark is from the 1857 Dred Scott decision and was part of the majority opinion written by then Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (pronounced “tawny”).   It also turns out that the decision was not as simple as popular opinion has it.  I won’t go into the decision itself here, but two things I would remark: One, that the above statement, which is usually simply attributed to Taney as his personal opinion and the simple summary of the court’s decision, was actually his summary of what was the history of the nation’s actions and rulings from its beginnings up to that point.  Two, that Taney, unlike Thomas Jefferson and others, manumitted his own slaves.   A third interesting fact which turned up in my searchings was that Dred Scott himself was freed by the son of his original owner just three months after the ruling.

All of which only goes to show that things are often not entirely what they seem.

The next morning at my church the service, which included the joy of a baptism, was changed at the last minute to include a tribute to Trayvon and prayers for his family and all, but especially young black men, who are affected by the unjust outcome.  The minister and several young men wore hoodies as they read a responsive litany which asked a number of questions including, “How do we seek truth when justice is denied?” and “How do we deal with anger?” and answered them with the words of Elie Wiesel, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others.   A can of iced tea and a package of Skittles were placed on the altar and remained there for the rest of the service.   The little baby waiting to be baptized was passed back and forth between family members in the pews, all the while in fascination watching our music director play the piano and keyboard and listening to the  choir and soloists.   Later, after being baptized, the pastor carried him up and down the aisles and around for several minutes to greet every church member and visitor while an impromptu “Take Me To The Waters” was sung by the choir and congregation.

But the rest of Sunday and today the events and the decision and the reactions to it continued to play in my mind.   Here are several things I have remarked since then.   I thought of another trial fifty years ago, the trial in Mississippi of Byron De La Beckwith, accused of the murder of Medgar Evers.   And my first thought was a version of “well nothing has changed in fifty years”.  I was 17 at the time Evers was murdered, and I remember the events and the subsequent trials and their outcome.   The arc of justice in that instance turned out to be quite long. De La Beckwith was tried again forty years later after the 1964 proceedings ended in mistrials.  He died in prison seven years later.   One reading of the first two trials was that the jury (all white in each trial) was unable to convict him.   Another reading is that they were unable to aquit him.   Glass half full, or half empty?   I don’t know, but at least someone on both juries thought he was guilty of something.   One thing certainly different today is that the governor of the state of Florida did not get involved.   In De La Beckwith’s second trial, Mississippi governor Ross Barnett interrupted the trial in the courtroom while Myrlie Evers sat on the witness stand and shook De La Beckwith’s hand.

Another difference is that yesterday and this morning the only headlines in the papers and on the news were of demonstrations and discussions, not of riots and deaths, though to be sure there were instances reported of vandalism in Oakland and a police officer surrounded by an angry crowd in Los Angeles.   The very facts of the case, the death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin and the fact that his killer was acquitted may serve as an example and a motivation to a generation of black, and white, youth and young adults who do not remember the events of the fifties and sixties, and for whom Martin Luther King, Jr. is little more than a portrait and a set of familiar quotes recited every year in January.   The recent Supreme Court decision invalidating part of the Civil Rights Act – a law which was brought to vote in 1964 and passed in great part because of Evers’ death and the injustice in Mississippi – and the efforts to suppress the vote in recent elections may also provide a basis for moving this generation to act anew in addressing racial injustice.

I certainly hope so anyway.