Introduction and Review by Ryan Tibbens
(Order information available at the bottom of the review.)
Simply put, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one of the most important books written in American history. Widely regarded as the best American slave narrative, it was written by Frederick Douglass at the age of 27, just a few years after gaining his freedom. Like most slave narratives, it includes testimonials and introductions by prominent white abolitionists to lend ethos to the author, but upon reading, modern audiences can scarcely imagine that Douglass needed a boost in credibility. His narrative structure is sound, imagery is vivid, diction is impeccable. His appeals to human decency and justice are cries we can't unhear. An early review in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper proclaimed, “It will leave a mark upon this age which the busy finger of time will deepen at every touch. It will generate a public sentiment in this nation, in the presence of which our pro-slavery laws and constitutions shall be like chaff in the presence of fire. It contains the spark which will kindle up the smouldering [sic] embers of freedom in a million souls, and light up our whole continent with the flames of liberty."
Frequently cited as an inspiration by civil rights champions and politicians, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass also functions well in modern English and social studies classrooms. Its historical significance and status as a trusted primary source are impressive, but Douglass's style and advanced, sometimes intimidating, vocabulary provide students opportunities to study rhetoric, syntax, diction, style, and more. Douglass's writings have been cited on the Advanced Placement English Language & Composition exam no fewer than three times and offer an opportunity to become more comfortable with older non-fiction, which is traditionally the most challenging multiple choice reading passage on that exam.
For use in my AP English Language & Composition classes, students focus on (and annotate) the author's rhetoric and style, and they give special attention to content related to education and personal freedom. Douglass's exquisite writing makes the first task easy; his candor eases the second as well. In Chapter VI, Douglass writes that his master once said if he was taught to read, "'there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.' These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both."
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is fully deserving of a 5/5 rating. And weighing in at less than 100 pages, even the busiest student can make time to read and annotate it well in just a couple weeks.
For book order purposes, I recommend the Dover Thrift edition because it is accurate, complete, and cheap. The print and margins are somewhat small, so annotations can sometimes be tricky for students who write too much or have large handwriting, but the monetary trade-off usually makes it worthwhile. The other $5-7 versions available on Amazon.com are of varying quality, many having printing errors, binding problems, small margins, or missing prefaces/introductions. Therefore, I personally recommend the cheaper Dover Thrift (which I use) or the Penguin Classic edition, which includes other Douglass writings and speeches. The full text is widely available online, free of charge, but few students have ever submitted quality annotations in an Ebook or from a .pdf. Proceed with caution. Still, it is an option. The book is also available at most major book stores. If you have questions about obtaining a copy, let us know.
ReadThinkWriteSpeak and the ClassCast Podcast are Amazon affiliates. As such, they receive a small portion of any purchases made after clicking links on this page. All proceeds are reinvested into this website, the podcast, or classroom/school supplies for the author/s and students.
By Chloe Abbott
Once again, it's June, and we have plunged into Pride Month. For a solid 30 days, we can expect parades, rainbow-colored everything, and a general feeling that "wow, things have gotten so much better." To many, this month will be a refreshing celebration of what it means to be gay and trans. While the Stonewall Riots of 1969 may be the origin of Pride as a protest, Pride is now a triumphant march, waving the rainbow flag as a trophy, not a war flag.
I go to D.C. Capital Pride every year, which takes place in Dupont Circle, a historically gay community that was once ravaged by crime and the AIDS epidemic with very little police or public health intervention to assist. Now, every year at Pride, not only do police guard the parade itself, but they march at the head of the parade, throwing beads and dancing just like the rest of the revelers. That alone looks like progress. The people who once would not protect the community now participate in as well as protect that community. To a non-LGBT person, this is the ultimate triumph for LGBT people: “Look, a whole month in your honor! Pride is a huge event in so many places for so many people! Gay marriage is legal as well, meaning so many couples can legally tie the knot! This is what progress looks like.”
I’m not launching into a tirade about how conditions around the country are inconsistent for gay people (but they are, as the Bible Belt alone still sports a distinctly homophobic and transphobic attitude, not to mention the homophobia around the country in other religious groups and amongst many minority communities). This isn’t much of a talking point, as any non-LGBT person who sees progress also knows that, of course, there are still going to be people struggling. That’s why we still have not just Pride, but charities and homeless shelters specifically for young gay and trans people. Saying plenty of gay people still have it difficult isn’t a shock, I would hope. Even more so, I would hope it is no shock to say that trans people are still at square one in terms of public acceptance. I think many people’s real reactions are of confusion: What is the LGBT community? How long is the acronym, and how many terms are there? What does it mean to be trans? What pronouns do I need to remember, or is it even worth my time? Is it against my religion or not? What is it that these people do? Even a truly good supporter of the gay and trans community likely has confusion and questions that they are too afraid to ask for fear of being labeled homophobic/transphobic. This is an unacceptable state for our allies to live in, and if our allies are confused, then just imagine how moderates feel.
The overwhelming response when someone says or tweets a homophobic/transphobic idea is to tell this person to apologize and “educate themselves.” This key point, of “educating themselves,” is a problem for me. People who tweet homophobic ideas probably feel like they have educated themselves and are staring down at a weird, unexplainable social phenomenon with no logic to its motives. I think that people who “educate themselves” without knowing the proper resources or communities will find the worst sources possible and not understand the difference. It’s entirely idealistic to expect that someone who does not know better should have the tools in their back pocket to know better, but just doesn’t use them. Sure, plenty of people may revel in their own ignorance, purely enjoying trolling people, but more often than not, the moderate audience who does not understand LGBT politics does not understand LGBT politics. Telling anyone to “educate themselves” does nothing to actually guarantee that they will learn anything. All it guarantees is a defensive response and a shutdown to actual information out of frustration and further perceived victimhood: “I can’t say anything these days without a mob coming after me.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “It’s not a mob! It’s expecting accountability!” I argue that the other side does not know what your definition of accountability is. There is an information gap between LGBT people who want the general public to know their terminology, know what acceptable behavior is, and know how to have a respectful conversation about it, and the general public who doesn’t understand the terminology or what acceptable behavior is, and therefore cannot have a respectful conversation about it without some background.
The tricky thing is, background is hard to find from the sources we want. Looking up LGBT topics on YouTube, Reddit, Twitter, or Tumblr gets you a lot of misinformation from both sides of the discussion. If you simply look up the word “transgender” on YouTube, you get some decent looking videos, but more common are videos of “DESTROYING trans arguments” and odd debates of “Are there more than two genders? Trying to find middle ground.” There are no definitive answers to be found with search results like these. Someone who wants to educate themselves will only be more confused when your results range from Stephen Colbert interviewing the man who lifted the transgender ban in the military to Ben Shapiro “destroying transgenderism and pro-abortion arguments.” There is nothing to steer a confused person in the right direction, and the most dangerous videos often have the catchiest titles. Even worse is that YouTube’s algorithm will keep recommending similar kinds of videos with increasingly radical opinions. By asking someone to educate themselves without giving them any foundational information, you are sending them off to chase a rabbit hole and, if they don’t know any better, plunge deep into it.
So maybe Tumblr is a better bet? After all, a lot of young gay people found their community on Tumblr. Tumblr led the way for the first generation of young gay and trans people to feel more comfortable open and out in a society changing its mind. Emboldened youth spread the gospel of tolerance and gay rights to me and many others in the early days of popular social media, and it has become a site known for liberal politics and lots of LGBT users. The problem is that Tumblr has been horribly wrong about a lot of LGBT issues. Not because anyone was stupid, but because the leaders of this new generation of gay kids were actual children: children who did not understand the vast history behind gay and trans people, rather just understood their own experiences.
Most people’s impression of Tumblr politics is that a bunch of people believe there are hundreds of genders and orientations, and that anything can be oppression if you play victim enough. This has unfortunately been pasted onto liberal politics as a whole, with “Did you just assume my gender?” as a strawman liberal argument to be mocked. I can’t completely lie and say this reputation of Tumblr alone wasn’t at one point relevant, but it is a fallacious argument because, again, it was the logic of children who very quickly realized that most trans people do not get offend that quickly or that aggressively. The rapid adding of letters to the acronym LGBT was a result of young gay people trying to combine both the concept of inclusion in liberal ideology and the concept of fulfilling a role that being a young person instills in you. “Bisexual doesn’t fit me, because I’m an individual with specific tastes!” When you’re pubescent and desperate to find your role, you create your own to feel special. This is not the pattern of adult LGBT people and never has been. Adult LGBT people have always understood that they are individuals, even under whatever labels fit their orientation or gender. I remember having a lot of conflict over who I was as a gay person because of how I felt forced into specific representations of gayness and gender. I grew out of this conflict as I grew out of young teenhood, much like anyone else with any other identity confusion in late-middle and early-high school. The fact that non-LGBT people’s general understanding of gay culture is that of puberty and middle school is deeply troubling to me.
There is no blame to be assigned because you cannot hold middle schoolers accountable for disrupting the messages of a long-oppressed minority or for seeming juvenile. In fact, if anything, blame should be put on anyone who pointed to this era of young teenagers and proclaimed this was the new wave of dumb liberal ideas to watch out for. But maybe they didn’t know the difference because, when online, anonymity makes it difficult to tell who’s an adult and who is a child. Instead, we must address the consequences head on. LGBT people are not here to get rid of gender. That would be dumb, and very few people believe in this, just like any other extreme ideology. They are not here to get rid of straight people, either, or masculinity, or femininity, or privacy in bathrooms. If your impression of a gay or trans person is someone who aggressively hates straight people and demands special privileges, ask yourself, “Does this sound like adult behavior, or like a middle schooler who just learned what a protest is?” If it sounds like a middle schooler, then you should second guess your assumption, because it likely is the work of a middle schooler, and they’ll likely improve their outlooks. There are people who haven’t, but they become, and remain, the strawmen for a movement that largely does not share their views.
So. What can we say this pride month to help the general public better understand gay and trans people? The answer is to actually respond to people. When someone says something objectively wrong, or ignorant, or makes a mistake, be direct, polite, and speak without condescension. Accept that you are not going to change people’s minds with one Twitter thread; just plant the seed so that they know where to begin if they so choose to pursue real answers. We need to get comfortable with engaging people who hold troubling opinions or say troubling things. Public perception of gay and trans people needs to become more mature to combat a juvenile understanding of what we want. We don’t just want our Pride festivals and RuPaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye, and we certainly do not want to talk about Caitlyn Jenner (unless you want to hear why we do not care for her). We want gay people to be able to adopt children and not be seen as a fashionable entertainment commodity, trans people to be understood and safe from assault. Remember that the majority of America is moderate and interested enough to ask questions, but maybe not enough to seek good answers. Instead of demanding them to seek answers (“Educate yourself!”), maybe we should offer up our knowledge and experience and history as the insight that they don’t know, but that they really, really need.
"Achieve an Informed and Common Sense Opinion on the United States' Dealings in the Middle East: An Anthology" -- Compiled by Ryan Tibbens
On this Flag Day, we should all consider what our flag stands for, not just here in the United States, but around the world too. We should better understand how actions taken under that flag and paid for by American citizens affect peace, prosperity, and geopolitics around the world. This 'article' is more of an anthology, a compilation of reliable sources and literary connections, designed to inform discussions of American involvement in the Middle East.
Before you ever suggest raising taxes for public services or cutting social safety nets to save money, you should better understand how our federal government effectively gives away our prosperity, often to countries that support our enemies. You should also try to understand why these decisions make sense to those who wield power in our government and major industries.
Let's start with a trailer for a GREAT documentary. (Go watch the whole movie -- it is currently available on Amazon Prime.)
Why We Fight, a fantastic documentary (2006) by Eugene Jarecki, addresses the threat of the military-industrial-congressional complex using strong research, purposeful rhetoric, and an impressive set of interviews with ranking government and private sector leaders. Jarecki's discussion (argument?) builds on a foundation created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his Farewell Address.
Next, let's take a look at geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East, with extra attention paid to the two biggest players -- Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Vox has several well-researched introductory videos on YouTube that create solid foundations for further study or (the beginnings of) informed discourse. They have also compiled a few maps (some animated) to further clarify the historical and cultural complexities of Middle Eastern politics, for example:
Perhaps the most urgent item in this brief compilation is the video of Senator Rand Paul speaking before the Senate on June 13, 2019 (yesterday) about the government's plans to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. With a determination and repetition that are both rhetorically effective and somewhat annoying by the end, Paul points out the complete lack of common sense in our approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy and arms sales. Our president and legislators seem to believe that the best path to peace in the Middle East is sending in more armaments, weapons that often end up in our enemies' hands to be used against our own young soldiers. Using the context from the previous two videos, think carefully about Senator Rand Paul's words.
Remember, we are talking about millions, billions, sometimes trillions of dollars -- and that is a lot more money than most of us can even imagine. As President Eisenhower pointed out, we could build scores of schools, hospitals, and highways with that money; we could uplift the American people. President George Washington gave similar warnings in his farewell address -- that a standing army will lead to wars and that foreign entanglements will ruin our republic. We continue to ignore good advice from two strong presidents, two of our nation's great military leaders, instead wasting tax-payers' dollars on misguided military interventions and arms sales.
How can we make sense of all this nonsense? George Orwell explained these processes clearly in his book within a book, "THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM by Emmanuel Goldstein," contained in Part 2, Chapter 9 of 1984. In this section of the book, Winston, the protagonist and active opposition to the Party and Big Brother, finally gets to read from "the book." In this block of text, Orwell demonstrates his social and political clairvoyance by describing the world in which we live today.
In this writer's opinion, this is the most important source in this anthology; unfortunately, it also requires the most reading. However, if you've made it this far, it is my sincere hope that you will finish the job and read a few extra pages -- your outlook on American politics and "defense" spending will never be the same. The link above contains the full text (as well as the entire novel); you can also read here on Read.Think.Write.Speak. by clicking on the "Read More" link just below the Amazon ads.
The next time a politician claims that "we can't afford" domestic programs or that "we need to raise taxes to fund public services" or that "cutting defense spending endangers all Americans as well as democracy around the world" or any such nonsense, remember what George Orwell, Rand Paul, George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, and objective history have to say about those lies.
By Ryan Tibbens
Not a single word of the following article is intended to be critical of nor offensive to veterans, past or present, living or dead. This article is for civilian citizens who, particularly recently, have engaged in debates about war memorials, about Confederate allegiances, and about respecting our troops. I will play Devil's Advocate several times; I do not agree with every word I've written, but I strongly believe in asking the question.
It's the unofficial first day of summer, the first big barbecue of the year, when pools open and lawn furniture shakes off cobwebs. The only things more common than swarms of motorcycles are American flags and semi-heartfelt social media posts about remembering our fallen troops.
Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, has been celebrated, officially and otherwise, on the last Monday of May (or May 30th) since around 1868, originally commemorating those who died in the Civil War. Decoration Day was a common southern Appalachian tradition that spread across the United States after our nation's darkest years. Many Americans already observed some form of remembrance ceremony for soldiers killed in the Revolutionary War, but the Civil War truly consolidated the holiday and cemented its place in American culture. And it is worth noting that many of the biggest and most serious early celebrations took place in southern states.
Have you ever argued against statues of Confederate soldiers? I have (though usually just for the fun of participating in the debate). Given the history and purpose of the holiday, I am left with a question -- if you oppose memorials for Confederate soldiers, do you also oppose Memorial Day overall? Do you at least oppose the inclusion of men killed in the Mexican-American War or World War I or Vietnam or other wars of US aggression? What is the difference?
In my conversations on the subject, friends and students cite a few common reasons to remove Confederate statues: they represent racism and slavery, they represent unprovoked violence, they represent a losing effort, and they represent treason. In their own way, each of these reasons is fair and functional. However, if a person truly opposes celebrations based on those factors, then many wars -- and many, many soldiers -- should be excluded from Memorial Day.
Unless you are a pure statist whose political feelings are dominated by blind patriotism, you can surely identify problems with at least some US military conflicts. The Gulf of Tonkin. The USS Maine. The Wounded Knee Massacre. The Bush family's business dealings with the Bin Ladens around the time of 9/11. The Sedition Act of 1918. War crimes and pardons. Weapons of mass destruction. We could do this for a while, but you get the point. Problems exist; mistakes were made. And if you acknowledge that mistakes have been made, repeatedly, then surely you will see that many other American soldiers are guilty of sins similar to those of the Confederates. Let's look at each of the reasons.
Racism and slavery. The United States of America is a country with a long history of racism and support for slavery. The Revolutionary War yielded a racist, slave-tolerating nation. The War of 1812 did the same. The Mexican-American War attacked Hispanic Mexicans as "others" while attempting to align with and spare many White Mexicans; it also yielded new slave-holding states and territories. The Civil War was fought over slavery, but slavery was still legal in several northern states, and the Emancipation Proclamation only freed southern slaves. The Spanish-American War was supported by often-racist propaganda. The Indian wars and battles were racist to their cores. Racism has continued its influence in American geopolitics all the way through WWII in the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. If a soldier is unworthy of honor because some part of the cause is racist, then few soldiers remain to memorialize. And what of slavery? In the South just prior to the Civil War, less than 1/3 of the white population owned slaves, and of all who did, most families owned just one slave (no less terrible, though perhaps not the image most people have thanks to Roots and 12 Years a Slave and others). Most of the wealthiest and most powerful slave owners avoided battle through military surrogates and direct legislation. Furthermore, nearly 1/3 of the Confederate army was conscripted -- drafted -- and forced to fight. Slavery was terrible, and its modern repercussions are still awful, but if 1/3 of Confederate soldiers were conscripted and 2/3 owned no slaves, then is that the best reason to avoid memorializing the dead?
Unprovoked Violence. See the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, WWI, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War. See many, many other smaller fights along the way as well (and nearly all of US military involvement in Central and South America). If you only celebrate and remember soldiers who died in direct defense of the country, your holiday will be a short one.
Losing Effort. For the pure fun of arguing, this is my favorite reason people use when protesting Confederate statues. I'm not sure I've ever encountered a Confederate-supporter who also supports 'participation trophies.' When these statues are referred to as participation trophies, reactions range from quiet scorn to full rage. Then again, the South lost, so aren't Confederate monuments really just tributes and reminders about losing? That sounds like a participation trophy. Still, as much fun as this argument is, it is flawed. How many people who oppose Confederate memorials on the grounds of 'participation trophies' would make the same argument for removing the Vietnam War Memorial or Korean War Memorial? Not many (hopefully none)...
Treason. This may be the most logical reason to oppose Confederate memorials: they commemorate people who fought against the United States of America. Since the Union won, why should it tolerate celebration of those who fought against it? I don't hear much criticism of the Crazy Horse Memorial or other memorials to American Indian leaders. But that might not be entirely fair either. Is Edward Snowden and hero or traitor? Was John Brown a civil rights champion or anti-American terrorist? Was Muhammad Ali's refusal before the draft board an act of American freedom and independence or willful defiance and treason? (False dichotomies abound.) Many edgy young Americans who oppose Confederate statues claim that those men are heroes. They might also regularly speak out against the President of the United States, the legislature, the Department of Defense, and more. That kind of anti-American speech has actually been prosecutable in the past (Sedition Act of 1918 and others). Is it more important to stand with your government or with your personal obligations? If you said "personal obligations," then consider that treason is never far away. Plus, as historians so often point out, prior to the Civil War, people referred to the United States as "they" rather than "it," meaning that most citizens really saw our nation as a collection of semi-independent states, similar to the modern European Union. As such, most citizens felt a stronger allegiance to their states than their federal government, so most confederate soldiers didn't even consider their behavior truly treasonous. To be clear -- they committed treason. But so did Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Snowden and Brown, and a few dozen more Americans who at least might be heroes despite their questionable loyalties.
If it is possible to hate the sin but not the sinner, then perhaps we can hate the war but not the soldier. If we can agree that enlisted infantrymen are often used as instruments of war, then we should be able to separate degrees of guilt -- the sledge hammer is less guilty of destruction than the man swinging it. In that light, remembering and memorializing Confederate soldiers is not just acceptable, it is right. Celebrating Confederate leadership might be a different story. However, if we believe that all individual humans have the capacity to understand their circumstances, question their governments, and make their own decisions about participation in a fight, then we might be able to remove those monuments ------ but we'd need to remove a lot more than just the Confederates'.
Cognitive dissonance runs deep on Memorial Day because many Americans want to honor our troops, honor those who have sacrificed for us, but we also try not to examine their sacrifices too closely, lest we realize that their sacrifices weren't fully for "us" or that our morals conflict with the causes of some wars. Any person who can condemn Confederate memorials while defending the Vietnam War Memorial is either drowning in cognitive dissonance or knows a much more detailed, more nuanced history than I've learned.
Personally, I have no problems with Confederate monuments on battlegrounds, in museums, and at significant historical sites. Their scattering about southern capital buildings and random parks might be different, and surely the commemoration of Confederate leadership deserves more scrutiny than the simple statues that memorialize everyday Americans, the poor infantrymen that fought for their homes in the same way modern soldiers do today. If we want to have a serious and productive conversation about remembering our fallen soldiers OR about Confederate memorials, we need to more clearly identify the problems and then apply those criteria to all memorials; otherwise, cognitive dissonance wins the day.
The Confederate flag, on the other hand, well, there's no way to defend that anywhere but a battlefield, and if you find someone who does, that person doesn't understand historical context or is racist or both.
Food for thought...
By Ryan Tibbens
One week ago, I attended professional development about a new Women's Studies class. The speaker began with an ice breaker in which attendees listed the books that changed their lives, that affected them most in early adulthood. I understood what would follow: she would point out how many of the books listed, particularly the "classics," were written by white men and then heap praise upon a few of the female-authored texts offered up. It unfolded that way, including some lively discussion and quality suggestions. As the only male in the room, I thought long and hard about what purely feminist text I could list. I had none. I thought about any book authored by a female that I truly loved. I had none. Well, My Antonia crossed my mind, but it wasn't a life-changing read. In the end, I told the truth and listed four works, all by men, and the first wasn't even a book: it was "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan. I've since been working on some readings and lessons to better address feminism in my classes, but that's for another post.
I first listened to "Blowin' in the Wind" on my Discman, the CD lent to me by a good friend while on a field trip to Wallops Island Marine Science Consortium (now operating under a new name with significantly cushier facilities than the former military barracks we occupied) during my sophomore year of high school. It changed my life. That field trip was, culturally and socially, an evolutionary experience; much of my life since then, at least ideologically, has been more punctuated equilibrium. I had never considered that music could sound bad and still be good. I had never considered the power of rhetorical questions. I had never listened to a song on repeat because I wanted to contemplate the lyrics, rather than the music. I had never considered justice in abstract and metaphysical terms. If it wasn't for that encounter with "Blowin' in the Wind," I might have never found and loved Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, the great American transcendentalists, or a thousand others. Though it isn't by a female writer or about feminism, if it wasn't for the song's influence, I likely wouldn't be attending workshops on Women's Studies.
So, I submit for your review an 'internet-based, updated, annotated' version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." Significant allusions and social concerns are linked to clarifying information. Use this combination of lyrics and linked supplemental materials for personal enjoyment or personal enlightenment, public school or public discourse. READ (all the links). Think. Write (a comment below). Speak (your mind far and wide... and share a link to this annotation with friends).
(Disclaimer: Some links reference specific examples/events that occurred after the writing of this song or that depend on research that was beyond Dylan's access when writing this song. There is no way to prove the author's exact intent with each line. While all links logically and purposefully connect to Dylan's broader concerns and feelings, do not misinterpret the hyperlinks as indications of Dylan's exact intentions; rather, they serve as cultural connections, historical context, extensions, and general knowledge that can inform modern discussions of Dylan's rhetoric and discussions of civil rights.)
Blowin’ In The Wind
WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ ho many seas must a white | dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
Copyright © 1962 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1990 by Special Rider Music
by Ryan Tibbens
Over the last couple weeks, I've watched and listened to sports commentators, political analysts, comedians, athletes, politicians, keyboard warriors, and, well, it seems like almost everyone, argue about Colin Kaepernick and the recent national anthem protests. I've chimed in a few times, but mostly I've stayed out of it. In the last three days, I've been directly asked five times what I think. It's a little lengthy, but here's why you should be fine with the protests.
I think the protests are fine. I stand for the national anthem and for the Pledge of Allegiance. I'm not offended if others don't. It's a free country. If you love the freedom of expression, it means that you love it even when it is exercised in ways you don't agree with or by people you don't like. I believe there are certain things people usually shouldn't say, but I don't suggest we legislate the language, and I don't think there should be public outrage or persecution as long as the statements are nonviolent. Sometimes I hear things I don't like, and I just let them go. This protest hurts no one, so if you disagree, the smart move is to let it go.
I recently saw a friend, a fellow teacher, post about his disagreement with and disgust for the anthem protests. He claimed that he was upset about the form of the protest, his perceived disrespect to our flag and nation and soldiers and all that, but that he was fine with players' desires for greater racial equality. I asked him what he does when students don't stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I asked if their decision not to stand skewed his opinion of the students. He said he does nothing and that he is not biased against them. He said that his opinion of them is unaffected because he doesn't know their reasons. So, despite his claims, his disgust must be based, at least in part, on the protest's motives, not acts, because those same displays are tolerable from other people at other times. I suspect that most people who complain about the sitting or kneeling hold the same bias, at least subconsciously.
I've also noticed that many people complaining about the protests are hypocrites. Not everyone, but many people. Most of my friends who disagree with the protests are also those who claim to hate political correctness. They say people should toughen up and get over it; they say life isn't always fair. Political correctness is about adjusting your words and actions so as to avoid insulting or disrespecting other groups of people. But these same complainers say they feel insulted or that soldiers may feel disrespected or that veterans are hurt by these acts. If it's okay to offend some people sometimes, then it's okay to offend other people other times. You can't have it both ways. How about the fact that nearly all of my friends who support displays of the Confederate battle flag also strongly oppose Kaepernick's protest? They say they support the first amendment right to fly a flag and that they want to celebrate their heritage and that it was their ancestors' right to rebel and secede. They are defending a flag and a group of predominantly white people who took up arms against the United States of America in hopes of maintaining the institution of racial slavery. If the Confederacy's bloody resistance was just, then how is Kaepernick's quiet and peaceful protest unjust? If it is okay for someone to fly the Confederate flag, regardless of how it may make neighbors feel, then how is it so upsetting for a football player to choose to kneel during a song? These same hypocrites say they are sick of people complaining about Confederate flags, sick of people championing political correctness and limiting their freedoms. You can't have it both ways.
White people complain about race riots. White people complain about civil rights parades. White people complain about traffic stoppages. Now, a low-level celebrity (catapulted to greater fame by this "controversy") is the subject of white complaint because he quietly, respectfully, and purposefully chose not to stand during the national anthem. Many people may disagree with my assertion that this protest is respectful, but consider that these football players are not interrupting the anthem: they're not shouting, cussing, spitting, rolling around, fighting, running, trampling flags. Nothing. They're just not standing. In fact, they are kneeling: a gesture that, in nearly every other setting, is considered an act of reverence. And suddenly this is an outrage. I suspect if Tim Tebow had knelt to pray during the national anthem, many white, Christian Americans would have cheered. While our country has come a long way in terms of human and civil rights for all people, we still have a long way to go. Compare poverty, education, healthcare, employment, home ownership, incarceration, average pay, or nearly any other aspect of quality of life -- you will find disparities, often large gaps, between racial groups in the United States. You will also find them between the sexes, but that's a different protest I suppose. These men are not wrong about their cause; their complaint is reasonable and worth discussing. So if the protest isn't really intrusive or abusive, and if the cause is just, how can we be upset about it? It's fine to say you would do it differently, but I don't think it makes sense to accuse them of wrongdoing. White people used to complain about black people at their dining counters or in their bus seats or in their schools. Maybe we should quit complaining when other people want to talk about inequality.
Because no one else