12 November 2016

Now What?

Since the election, I've been trying to figure out where to put my energy to have the most impact on disrupting Trump's presidential program.

The bloggers at Savage Minds have pulled together a great list of suggestions and resources. Several Slate writers likewise came up with a good list of suggestions for action. Neither list includes gay and trans rights, and I've asked both groups if they might consider adding additional resources.

Yesterday, my family and my son's best friend's family went for a hike in Bear Mountain State Park. Both boys were born in New York City; three of the four parents, like so many New Yorkers, were born outside of the US. By the end of the day, up and down over Ramapo Mountain, the Timp, and West Mountain, I'd realized what I need to do moving forward is keep doing what I've been doing.

And to keep trying to do it better, with sharper analysis of how the Middle Ages shaped the modern, and how understanding the past can help us to understand where we are today.

I teach courses on environment and the humanities. I teach linguistics and history of the English language, and I include work on the relationship between social power and judgments about language. I teach medieval literature, and I look at how medieval cultural formulations about others continue to inform political discourse today.

On Monday, I spoke about the marginal monstrous semi-human figures drawn near the Nile River in Africa on the Hereford Mappa Mundi, a world map drawn in England in 1300, and argued that contemporary discourse about Mexicans, Muslims, and immigrants is in a direct line with medieval formulations of others. I pointed out that some humans treat other humans, and animals and landscapes, as "resources" in seeking profit and power, and that too ties medieval social structures with modern ones. I tried to ignore the Trump sticker one student had stuck to his laptop computer.

The difficulty I had on Wednesday morning, operating in a state of shock and grief with very little sleep, was that I had to go on teaching all of my students. What I said to them on that day, in between tears, is that our classroom must remain a space for civil discourse on difficult subjects and for respect for all.

Meanwhile, I've decided to return to blogging, with more regularity and more discipline. In the past year, I've averaged a post a month; I aim to return to posting once a week. I ask my students to blog and to think about how to write about academic subjects for a more general audience, but I haven't done enough of that myself lately.