Saturday, August 1, 2015

Expanding Consciousness About Narrow-Mindedness

First, check out this article over at the Boeskool. Go ahead. I'll wait.

A friend of mine shared that this morning, so it is kind of what has framed my thoughts today.

We must remember what it was like for us when our consciousness was growing–When (whether it was from ignorance or indifference or just plain old selfishness) we didn’t care as much as we should have. And we can congratulate–we can cheer on–those other people whose souls are learning to love…. Whose souls are growing…. Whose consciousnesses are expanding. That is something to celebrate.

I boarded an airplane chewing on that idea. I know I get incredibly frustrated when I see folks with a lack of compassion or just sheer meanness. It made me think about my own journey of where I am today and the types of conversations or books or simple ideas have influenced me. I did not arrive here naturally. How can I expand my own consciousness?

It was a good thing I was trying to be generous and compassionate, because then this popped up on my radar:

I chose not to embed this one. The text reads: "Ranger Jim had a pleasant chat with a group of visitors sharing their opinion on the debate surrounding the Confederate battle flag by simply driving around the park. This peaceful show of support for this controversial symbol stands in stark contrast to recent events at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (, reminding us that symbols acquire meanings based on their use and the motivations of the people who use them."

I'm sorry, whaaaa?

OK. I am trying to consider where this post is coming from. I am trying to be compassionate. I am trying to be understanding. Expand my consciousness! I am trying to find the positive. But there is not any. Well, except to maybe learn from it.

Social media is a tool. So why do we (we, for the sake of this post, can be historic sites, parks, museums, and the like) use it? If you are a National Park Service site, you have a social media plan in place. I know this because I wrote one for a park where I used to work; it was a requirement for each park to get approval. So, you have your mission statement or purpose written somewhere. Even if you can't find that bureaucratic hoop, seriously ask yourself: why?

Why was this written and shared? To gain "likes." To get approval from those who are already aware of the park. To pander to your white friends.

That's right. I'm calling it like I see it. This post was written from a privileged white worker at a privileged white park. They are privileged because they are white. They are privileged in that they don't know they are privileged. The most upsetting thing to me, however, is that the history of this flag is a racist history. White supremacists used this flag as a means to show power over people of color throughout the 20th century. That is the history. Maybe the "peaceful" protesters had "peaceful" intentions, but what does it say when a group of white people stand around with Confederate flags? Welcome? No, not it does not. In fact, this display does the opposite.

Once upon a time, parks actively did not welcome people of color. At Stones River National Military Park (now the National Battlefield), a deliberate decision was made when the park was founded in the late 1920s to not build bathrooms because that would require building two sets of bathrooms: one for whites and one for "coloreds." The managers did not want to deal with people who were not white, so they did not provide any amenities. To establish this park, the government removed an African American community, knew there was still a presence around the park of people with darker pigmented skin, and made management decisions that actively did not welcome folks who were not white. Do you know why that flag was waved about then? To show off these beliefs of white supremacy. It happened again in the middle of the twentieth century when the Civil Rights movement really took off; white supremacists waved that flag heartily.

Another example happened over at Platt National park in the 1920s. Look:

"The (Klan) Playground of the South West." What was once acceptable is not anymore. Should not be anymore.

These events were nearly a century ago and not limited to one geographic region! We understand that these things are wrong today. You would think we would have progressed since we look back and say "that was wrong," but evidently not. First, allowing this demonstration to happen at the park is not welcoming to all audiences (First Amendment, yadda yadda; I get it, but did these demonstrators go through the official channels and get their special use permit in accordance with NPS Management Policies 8.6.3? It is a valid question.). Second, to pretend that this activity is rooted in history that is anything but racist history is bad interpretation. But to take this and promote it on your social media outlets as a positive thing? All you are doing is refusing to build bathrooms. You are actively alienating audiences as a means to pander to another audience. For what? Likes? Shares? Retweets?


Maybe next time, before you press "publish" or "tweet" or "send," ask yourself why are you as an interpreter sharing? Better question, for whom?

For you?

*I wrote this on my own time and these are my own opinions.
**I know there are many different issues presented here, and I only offer one take of one issue.
*** This can also easily be analyzed in light of NPS Management Policies 8.2 and but who is counting?
****I have smart friends who help me expand my own consciousness. I bet some of you know who you are. Probably others have no clue. But I appreciate each and every one of you.

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