I recently read The True American, Anand Giridharadas’s account of the 9/11-motivated shootings of gas station workers in Texas. Rais Bhuiyan was the last of the three men shot by Mark Stroman - the others were Indian and Pakistani - and the only one who lived. Rais was a Bangladeshi man who had lived in New York City and who had recently relocated to Dallas; Mark was a native Texan with the signs of white supremacy tattooed on his body. I read this passage soon after the shootings at the AME church in Charleston and the parallels with that shooter’s flag-adorned jacket jumped out at me:
And a few days later I read this series of tweets from Jamelle Bouie, a writer for Slate:
And I thought about what I was up to last summer, reading The Grapes of Wrath and watching Family Ties, among other things, and I remembered the dance episode where Alex has two dates, one of whom is the wonderful Daphne Zuniga. The theme of their high school dance? "Gone with the Wind." I went back to the episode, vaguely remembering it; in it, Alex describes how they're going to transform the gym into a "magnificent Civil War plantation." But it was worse than that; check out what decorates one wall:
This is the Confederate nostalgia that Bouie wrote of, not as extreme as a direct paean to Robert E. Lee, but in its presentation as innocuous, arguably all the more insidious.
Speaking of Michael J. Fox vehicles, I also recently read a great piece about the Mad Men finale (spoiler alert!) that discussed one of the real creators of the Coke ad, an African American advertising executive named Roquel "Billy" Davis. Tim Carmody argues that Mad Men erased Davis, much like Back to the Future erases Chuck Berry by suggesting that Marty McFly inspired “Johnny B. Goode”:
In Back to the Future, this little bit of songwriting-musical-chairs-as-temporal paradox is a joke. It’s a clever contemporary pop-culture reference for the audience, who (one assumes) knows how it all really turned out. But it’s a joke with a nasty center, parked at the end of a movie that, for all its charms, kind of plays like an unapologetic nostalgia-fest for the 1950s. You know — the old, oppressive, fully-segregated bad times that even in Season One, Mad Men is trying to escape.
Is it possible to be nostalgic without erasing vital stories, events, people? Not for the United States, it seems.
Bryan Stevenson knows this, and that’s why he’s working to revive those stories, events, and people through erecting memorials at the sites of violence against African Americans. I heard him on the radio show Here and Now last week and found him completely convincing, though I was a bit frustrated by how consistently the interviewer, Robin Young, embodied the naysayer’s point of view. I know that good interviews require the raising of potential objections, but here I longed for more kudos, more admiration.
Rais Bhuiyan also started an organization, World Without Hate, which works to increase understanding between cultures.