Happy Friday and Happy Independence Day Eve:
Here’s some stuff you might like.
Football and Father Luke
Good intentions, when acted upon rashly, often lead to bad outcomes. Those who intend to purge racism from America’s institutions should not drive from view or from acceptable public discourse instances in our history in which racism was beaten back, just because those instances necessarily require the depiction of racists who lost.
Last week, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University announced that they would no longer call sports competitions between the two schools the “civil war” because, as since-retired OSU President Ed Ray said, the name “represents a connection to a war fought to perpetuate slavery.”
This got under my skin, not so much because the game is being renamed, but because the rationale presented for the renaming ignores the fact that the Civil War actually hastened, likely considerably, the end of slavery in the U.S. I was so worked up about it that I wrote an op-ed and tried to get The Oregonian and other publications to run it, but struck out. Thankfully, the Internet age allows me to self-publish (a helpful Internet age euphemism for “I wrote something I thought was good but no one else did”) the piece.
I called it “The Civil War Ended Slavery” and you can read it here.
If you’ve spent any time in Bend, you know that McMenamins Old St. Francis is a mainstay restaurant, bar and hotel downtown, right across the street from City Hall. It’s named after the former occupant of the buildings and land: St. Francis Catholic School, which was founded by a priest named Father Luke, who also founded the big St. Francis church downtown and St. Charles hospital, which used to be across the street from the church.
The church and the hospital came first, but for the local Ku Klux Klan, viciously opposed to Catholics as well as anyone else who was not white and protestant, apparently the school was a bridge too far. According to McMenamins, Klan members committed vandalism on the property, and burned crosses on top of Pilot Butte, which, wow, is quite an image to contemplate.
In a ploy to end the Klan’s obstruction, Father Luke attended a Klan meeting at the Liberty Theater in downtown Bend (again, the image) and somehow convinced them not only not to kill him on sight but also to tone down their agitation against the school. Within a couple years, the Klan ceased to be a major force in town.
Fast forward to now, and someone has painted a picture of Father Luke giving the Klan the what-for. The painting, as one might expect, does include white-hooded Klan members listening to Father Luke. The painting hung in the Father Luke Room of the McMenamins iteration of St. Francis until recently.
Turns out, some people had complained about the painting, because it included depictions of the Klan, and McMenamins decided to take it down, even though the restaurant had displayed a plaque that provided the anti-Klan context for the painting.
I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t know the Father Luke/Klan story before I read about the painting being taken down. I’ve been in the Father Luke room many times and never noticed the painting (the restaurant did take it down for certain events). But it is a compelling story, and particularly compelling in our present moment.
Here’s the thing that ties together, in my mind at least, the Civil War and Father Luke stories: it is counterproductive for those who legitimately want to combat racism to minimize or conceal history or art that depicts people fighting racist institutions and winning. We need more, not fewer, of those stories.
This week, Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered Oregonians to wear masks when in indoor public spaces, including most businesses. Seems like there’s some confusion about the rules, so here’s the state’s guidance. This part about kids between two and 12 being urged but not required to wear a mask made me laugh: “Because children [of that age] can have challenges wearing a mask, face shield or face covering properly (e.g. excessively touching the face covering, not changing the face covering when visibly soiled, risk of strangulation or suffocation, etc.)” adults should supervise them.
As the father of two boys in the lower end of that age range, I can tell you that “challenges” is inadequate to describe their instant and utter obsession with a mask once placed on their faces. In my experience, “challenges” is shorthand for: touching that is not so much excessive as incessant, licking the interior, complaining about the wet, licked, interior, pulling, manipulating and talking endlessly about the mask, fighting over masks, and generally exhausting (and I mean exhausting) all avenues of the most exacting verbal and physical inquiry and exploration of the mask available to the human mind.
Anyway, there’s already been a bit of a problem with the face requirement, not involving five-year-olds but instead involving four uniformed Oregon State Police officers who refused to wear a mask in a Corvallis coffee shop. One of them also allegedly expressed a profane opinion of the Governor, his boss, the likes of which, within the confines of this college town coffee shop, is usually reserved for politicians well to the right of the Governor and usually only during Poetry Slam Night.
Not surprisingly, once this all became public, Governor Brown was not amused. One of the troopers was placed on administrative leave, and the Governor issued a statement scolding the troopers and, observing, “Let me be crystal clear: no one is above the law.”
Except when they are. It was just about a month ago that Brown offered explicit support to protesters who were gathering in very large numbers in Portland and elsewhere throughout Oregon in direct violation of her orders preventing large outdoor gatherings. The Governor apparently believed those people were above the law.
I think wearing masks is a good idea, and wear them myself when I’m in public places, and I also agree with the aim of protesters who want to stop police brutality. However, the Governor’s embrace of the unlawful protests sure makes it a lot harder to convince Oregonians that, this time, she’s serious about enforcing the rules. Add to that the state’s continued insistence that there’s no connection between the protests, which began in Portland on May 28, and the increase in cases we’ve seen that began shortly thereafter, and Oregonians may be excused in doubting the Governor is applying her authority in an even-handed way.
Let’s get this Independence Day right, shall we? In my lifetime, there’s not been a more important 4th of July, and not only or even primarily because it does seem we are at a critical juncture in combating the Coronavirus. The principles of the founding of America are under attack internally in a way they have not been for a very long time. Those who believe the founding was ill-begotten and America’s values of equality and liberty are fraudulent are feeling emboldened.
I won’t revisit at length the argument in my not solely self-published Thomas Jefferson piece, but Independence Day is a good time to remember that what we have here is unique. That the very critique of police actions with regard to African Americans as contrary to their rights and equal protection of the law is made in the political and legal context made possible by America’s existence. That defending America’s founding principles is supportive of, not contrary to, our ongoing efforts to make a more perfect union. That, as Lincoln wrote to a faltering Congress on December 1, 1862, in the darkest days of the Civil War, urging the freeing of slaves,
“We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”
Today, 158 years later, America remains, with its imperfect applications of its own values, its discord, its pandemic and its self-questioning, the last best hope of earth. We must constantly rekindle that hope or it will fade from the world, and darken the plight of all humankind.
Happy Independence Day.
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