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A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Microagression

The latest fad among the bien pensants on campus is the notion of "microagression." It is never too clear of what this offense consists but, like Potter Stewart's obscenity, "you know it when you see it." Of course, "seeing it" is always after-the-fact, which means those accused seldom know they are doing it until the after accusation is itself leveled. This induces a level of terror in the intended targets. At least the old heresy hunters, Chesterton once pointed out, went to great pains beforehand to spell out exactly what the heresies consisted of.

The targets of opportunity in this case, at least those mentioned in the linked article, are liberal professors, so we are evidently in the phase of the Revolution when the Revolution begins to eat itself and Robespierre goes to the guillotine. Perhaps it is because liberal professors are so accustomed to apologize at the drop of a hat that it is easier to terrorize them.

Take the first example. Education professor Val Rust, who was into multiculturalism before the word existed. In a class on dissertation-preparation, he committed such microagressions as correcting someone's capitalization, helping them simplify complex rambling sentences, and other thought-crimes against scholars of color.
Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments. 
The idea that format and grammar do (or ought to) reflect "political commitments" is bizarre, and indicates that "political correctness" is not as innocuous as many suppose. Under the neue Rassenwissenschaft, Asian students are considered to be "white" for purposes of attack. This is likely because they do well in scholastics, which students in Newark public schools a couple decades ago denounced as "acting white" in their attacks on Caribbean blacks.

Generals Fight the Previous War

The thing that is striking about these attacks on liberal professors is the utter triviality of the accusations. The Chicago Manual of Style is racist? Really? Oh, wait: it makes the scholar of color feel "unsafe." One is tempted to say "Man up," save for the obvious problematics of that phrase. Scholars of gender will feel unsafe. This has spilled out from the hothouse of academe into such places as SF conventions, where those who trained their craft in academe have begun setting up "safe spaces" for selected protected groups. Back in the 60s we used to call that "segregation" or "apartheid."  And yes, some observed that it was sometimes voluntary and that people did like to hang out with their fellows; but that attitude was denounced back in the day. Now it is cutting-edge progressivism. Go figure.

So what's going on? Perhaps it is no more than nostalgia: modern students longing for the good old days when their parents and grandparents manned the barricades in 1968 and fought racism. One major difference between flinching from "microaggression" and those days was that when people cried "Racist!" in the 60s, they were often dealing with the true quill. The didn't just "feel unsafe," they often were unsafe.
Protestors being prevented by National Guard troops from
attacking black demonstrators, Milwaukee 1966.
For example: the Incomparable Marge once walked across a bridge; viz., the 16th St. Viaduct in Milwaukee in 1967. This was described as "the longest bridge in the world," since it connected "Africa to Poland." People on the South Side were disinclined to sell their houses to persons of color. (BTW, that locution would have been denounced as racist back then. Now of course it is de rigueur.)  In the course of this, she had to walk between two crowds of screaming whites, spitting, shouting invectives of the most vile sort, raining special ire upon the priests and nuns in the march. (Being Polish-Americans, they doubtlessly felt betrayed by seeing Catholic clergy on the "other side.") The Marge saw one Jesuit priest pulled out of the march and pummeled by the crowd before the Guardsmen could rescue him.

Feeling unsafe in the progressive cocoons of academe and SF cons? Friends, these folks don't know what "feeling unsafe" means. Ask Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney.

But they want to think they are cut from the same cloth, that they too are "out there." They don't understand the difference between winning the war and mopping up.

So, in honor of microagression, TOF presents an excerpt from The Shipwrecks of Time, describing a protest at the home of Judge Cannon. The Milwaukee Youth Council had targeted him, believing that, as a devout Catholic with a solid record of progressivism, he could be persuaded to publicly resign from the segregated social club "The Eagles."

The excerpt follows. Frank and Carole are fictional characters, but everything else -- including many of the quotes -- comes straight out of newspaper accounts of the event. The reader should be aware of two things: Frank had earlier heard the expression "Nobody back in the World knows shit" from a Vietnam vet expressing scorn for both an anti-war protest and the pro-war counter-protesters. Second: a week or so before these events a bomb had been set off in the headquarters of the NAACP in Milwaukee. Oh, and the black power advocate, Fr. Groppi, was white. The parish where he was assistant was about half-black, half-white.


11. The Big Front Yard of Judge Robert Cannon


Friday was a pleasant day, cloudless and in the low eighties, so Carole invited Frank to bring his lunch outdoors to the old wooden steps off the rear exit. A door behind the spiral staircase led to a small fenced-in grass yard and a garage in which the Prof and Mrs. Szczepanski parked their cars.
Frank accepted the invitation with a bit of wariness, but he figured what the hell and Sammy Jones, who was pushing a mower through the grass in back of the building, would do for a chaperone. He expected a sort of rapprochement.
But Carole, it seemed, had another purpose in mind.
“Would you like to go with me to the picket at Judge Cannon’s house this weekend?” 
Frank had anticipated a more romantic, or at least a more personal appeal; so he faltered in his reply. “Why me?” was all he asked. But Carole simply looked at him and finally he said, “Oh.” There had been growing trouble at the demonstrations all week. A couple of retards in KKK regalia had shown up one day. Who else in the office had street smarts?
Sammy’s mower made chicking sounds, almost like a sewing machine.
“I’m not much for demonstrating,” Frank told her. “I was much better at avoiding that sort of thing.”
“I didn’t mean to march. I mean just to watch. Maybe cheer them on.”
Frank’s eyebrows tilted. “Cheer them on? What I’ve seen in the papers, that could be risky. Besides, I don’t think they’re right, the demonstrators. I don’t mean about the Eagles. I mean about picketing the Judge at his home. He’s only one guy, and he’s not even in charge. What can he do about their membership policy?”
“He can resign, loudly and publicly. Judge Cannon isn’t ‘just one man.’  He’s a Circuit Judge, and a big man in the Eagles. What he says can make a difference. He’s a liberal on civil rights and a Catholic. One of his daughters is a nun who works with Afro-Americans in the core of Chicago. If anyone can be tipped, it would be him. He agrees that the Eagle’s membership policy is a problem. If he resigns over this issue…” 
Frank shook his head. “If he resigns, he can’t affect the policy. Wouldn’t it be better if he stayed in the Eagles and worked inside to convince them?” 
Carole sat straighter. “That’s just a way of doing nothing. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
“Look, Carole, if you push someone, they resist. That’s basic physics. Even if you push someone in a direction he was willing to go. It’s not the direction, it's the push. Besides, you saw what happened in Chicago last week. The whites threw bricks at the marchers and injured a nun. A nun! They denounced Archbishop Cody, overturned cars and burned them, threw rocks at the firemen who responded. They even tried to run some cops down with a car. The same thing can happen here. There’s been hundreds of hecklers at the march all this past week. You can’t take the risk of getting caught up in a riot.”
“The Youth Council wouldn’t…” 
“I’m not talking about the Youth Council. As far as I’ve seen they’ve played square and legal. No, it’s the white trash I’m worried about. What if the guys who bombed the NAACP are there?”  He took Carole by the arm. “Don’t go! You could get hurt.”
Carole disengaged his hand. “Does this mean you won’t go with me?” 


Of course, it didn’t. When Sunday came, Carole and Frank hopped a bus and rode to the Zoo and spent the afternoon watching the animals watch the humans. It was a new kind of zoo, one without cages. The animals were displayed in their natural habitats, with predators and prey separated by cleverly-hidden and presumably impassable moats. Where necessary, glass barriers were used to separate the visiting humans from the other animals. Carole delighted especially in the elephants and giraffes, and in the colorful macaws in the South American exhibit, but Frank liked the monkeys best. It’s like looking at a mirror of the human condition, he said. But considering how nasty the chimps could be to one another – they would throw feces to show their displeasure – Carole took little comfort in that mirror.
... [passage regarding other stuff omitted] ...
At seven-thirty, the police had already set up saw-horses and ropes on Wisconsin Avenue at 76th and 80th to cordon the neighborhood. A crowd was congregating along both sides of the Avenue, chattering as if gathering for a parade. Local residents stood on their porches with folded arms and looking deeply apprehensive. This would be the tenth evening of demonstrations. The police were not letting anyone onto the 7800 block.
There was a checkpoint at 77th Street and Frank and Carole presented themselves there. Frank still thought Carole was being reckless but he could not have let her come alone. He slipped his left arm through her elbow, shoved his right hand in his jacket pocket and closed it around a roll of nickels he had gotten earlier. They got in line behind a large group of white teenagers.
The cop was telling the kids that he could not let them in as a group unless they had an “organization leader” over twenty-one. There was some debate among them until one stepped forward and showed identification. The cop asked the name of the organization, and the oldest announced, “Boys from Tosa.” The cop looked skeptical but wrote it down and let them in.
The first four said they were from Milwaukee, the next two were from Cudahy, then three from Brookfield. When Frank and Carole reached the barricade, Frank said, “We’re not with them.”
The cop grunted. “If even four of those delinquents is from Tosa, I’ll eat my hat.”
Frank showed his office identification. “We’re from the Institute for Historical Research. We’re here to make observations of the events for the historical record.” That sounded better than my girl friend here has a morbid curiosity. The cop was not enthusiastic about history and asked them where they were from.
“Milwaukee,” said Frank.
“Why do you want to know?” Carole said.
“Look, girl,” the cop answered, “I was supposed to have this weekend off. Instead I have to babysit some jigs with a bee in their bonnet and a herd of trash come to scream at them. ‘Tosa is a peaceful town, and not one of you coming out here to hassle those poor saps is from ‘Tosa. You know what I’m saying? So mind your manners while you’re in my town.”
Carole started to say something, but Frank steered her toward the crowd. “He’s not interested in a consciousness-raising right now,” he told her when they were out of earshot. “He wants to be at home scarfing a beer, and resents everyone who’s keeping him from it. The cops want peace and quiet. If your Youth Council wasn’t here, this would be just another lazy August weekend.”
“There are some things more important than peace and quiet.”
Frank sighed. He could not disagree with her; but an objective may be right and just and the means for achieving it imprudent.
Spectators were beginning to pack the 7700 block, and Frank supposed they were lining Wisconsin Avenue all the way to the Milwaukee border. He hesitated in place. Malcolm Hartcourt had stepped into just such a political demonstration in the 1920s. He looked around himself, but of course saw nothing.
Homes in Wauwatosa had broad, well-kept yards. The brick one at the corner of 78th was the Judge’s. Some of the homeowners still stood on their porches, watching with silent disapproval. “Go back where you came from,” some said. “Why’d you come to ‘Tosa?”  But most of the homes were now silent, shades drawn or shutters closed up tight. There was no sign of life at the Cannon house.
A mob of people, residents or not, crowded the curbs, pressed against the police line. Some stood by quietly, others were shouting to one another. The stale smell of beer was everywhere. One fellow had set up a food wagon and was selling hot dogs and soda.
Frank pointed to the man with the food wagon. “At least one guy here knows what he’s doing.”
Carole turned cold on him and stepped away. “Speak for yourself.”
Frank caught up with her. “Hey. It was just a joke.”
“Some things aren’t funny.”
The self-proclaimed Boys from Tosa were marching in a circle chanting, “Two-four-six-eight-we don’t want to integrate” to the general approval of the gathering crowd. Frank shook his head. Everyone protested in doggerel. They carried hastily-made, hand- drawn signs that no one could read at a distance. They flew an American flag at the front and a Confederate flag at the rear. Some spectators seemed to think the Boys were a joke or part of the show. A man standing beside Frank confided that he had brought his entire family up from South Milwaukee just to be here. He said, “This is the only way to keep the Negroes back. We all got to turn up at these things and give our support.”
Frank had decided to play it straight and had his pocket note-book out. He asked the man if he could quote him, but the guy wouldn’t give his name. “I don’t talk to reporters,” he said. When Frank explained he was a historian, not a reporter, the man relented and repeated his words. But he would still not give his name.
“I guess he was flattered at going down in history,” Frank said to Carole afterward. “But not flattered enough to be immortalized.”
“Isn’t this more in Nelson’s line? Modern history?” 
Frank looked around the red-faced, jostling crowd. He shook his head. “More in Wilma’s line. Dark Ages. Barbarian invasions.”
A gray-haired man about fifty tapped Frank on the shoulder. “You want to know what people think? If my kid were out there…”  He pointed to the Boys from Tosa. “…I’d hit him over the head and drag him home.”
A nearby woman jumped in. “They’re stupid,” she said. “There’s no sense to it.”
Frank appreciated the man’s sentiments, but did not think beating your kid was much of an improvement. He noted that many of the local residents, while they might not like the Youth Council demonstrating in their neighborhood, disliked the unruly crowd even more. Well, the Milwaukee region was heavily German-American, and the Germanic obsession with civic order was well-known.
“I’m amazed,” said a Tosan who had come over from a few blocks east. “This is the sort of thing that happens in Alabama. I never thought I’d see it in Wisconsin. Look at this crowd. Most of them are kids, eighteen or nineteen or even younger. They’re carried away by their emotions. I bet half of them don’t even know why the pickets are coming here.”
Frank tested the man’s theory by asking the people he interviewed what the purpose of the Youth Council march was and discovered that most of them thought it was to integrate Wauwatosa, although a few thought it had something to do with who their sister was going to marry.
At nine o’clock the National Guard arrived.
Frank estimated nearly five hundred Guardsmen from the 2/128th Infantry, part of Wisconsin’s famed “Red Arrow” Division, whose battle honors included New Guinea, Leyte, and Luzon and the Croix de Guerre with Palm from World War One. They were the lineal descendants of the Iron Brigade, which had captured its share of Confederate banners in the past and Frank wondered if they would grab the one the “Boys from Tosa” were waving.
Captain Liebl of the 132nd Signal Battalion told him the Guard had been waiting for the word since eleven that morning. “Things got a little out of hand yesterday,” the captain told him. “Not enough cops for crowd control.”
The young Guardsmen lined up shoulder to shoulder facing the crowds at order arms. Their bayonets were slung on their waists behind their backs and their faces bore a mixture of nervousness and determination. Other Guardsmen stood in the streets in reserve – and they had fixed bayonets. Some of the tougher kids in the crowd began to taunt the Guardsmen, asking, “Why aren’t you in Vietnam?”
“Don’t you love it?” Capt. Liebl asked Frank. “They haven’t a clue. The Governor has no authority to send us outside Wisconsin. If the president wants to do that, he has to nationalize us first.”
Frank wrote in his notebook: Nobody back in the World knows shit.
He thanked the captain and guided Carole to the rear of the crowd, away from the commotion at the barricades. To the barricades! he thought, recalling the Romantic notion that les barricadiers were always the heroes.
But the young men in the rear were every bit as unruly. They ran up and down the sidewalk, searching for the approaching demonstrators – or perhaps just for the hot dog wagon. They cut across the residents’ lawns, tearing up the grass, trampling the flower beds. One resident, pushed to breaking, turned on her lawn sprinklers to drive them off – and was rewarded by a torrent of abuse from the crowd. They called her a lover of Negroes, though not in those terms.
Frank nearly doubled over in laughter. She was a suburban lawn-lover, and like most barbarian invaders, the impatient horde of proletarians had no respect for property and the bourgeoisie.
The woman stepped back when Carole and Frank approached her, but she did not turn off the sprinklers. “Go away,” she said. “You’re ruining my lawn.”
Frank gave her the line on historical research and she relaxed a little. “All those people surging on my grass. I was afraid to ask them to get off. And those are white boys. The Negro boys coming here this past week have behaved themselves.”
Frank thought that, being outnumbered ten to one, they had little choice. Then he wondered if part of Fr. Groppi’s intention had been precisely to expose this ugly underbelly of polite Milwaukee society. It was a startling thought and he made a note of it in his booklet.
Someone hollered, “Here they come!” and a great wall of hate went up. “Niggers go home!” he heard, and “Send ‘em back to the Congo!”  “Keep Tosa white!”  “We don’t want any cannibals here!”  “Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em! Kill ‘em!” 
Frank stuck his right hand in his jacket pocket and closed on the roll of nickels. He edged closer to Carole and placed a protective arm across her shoulders. She did not shake it off and he wondered if the statute of limitations had run out on whatever unspoken trespass he had committed.
“I read up on this Judge Cannon,” he told her. “He seems a strange target. Know what he did when he was the lawyer for the baseball players union, six, seven years ago? They were doing spring training down in Florida, and the restaurants down there wouldn’t serve the black players. So he told the governor that the Major Leagues would pull all their spring training out of Florida unless it stopped.” He gave her a squeeze. “And he got ‘em to stop.”
“Then it shouldn’t take much convincing for him to quit the Eagles.”
“And then there was this time the law forced him to evict a mother and her kids from their home. “So, you know what he did? He put the family up right there in his own judicial chambers, until they found housing for them.”
Carole was shrinking away from the hateful crowds pressing around her.
There was an eruption of white flashes and pops from news cameras, contrasting with the red of the cherry lights spinning atop the cop cars. Frank pressed through the crowd. “Can you see them?” Carole pleaded. “Can you see them?” 
There were about two hundred marchers coming up Wisconsin Avenue behind a big American flag. They were huddled together against the hostility surrounding them, bunched up on Fr. Groppi, and in consequence looking like a smaller group than they were. Groppi marched straight ahead, face pale and still, but his eyes kept darting side to side at the people lining the street. About a quarter of the marchers were white. One was a young man carrying a baby, papoose-style on his back.
This outraged the mob even more and they shouted, “Kill the white nigger-lovers!” The Red Arrow boys pushed them back onto the curbs and they turned the same epithet on the Guardsmen. So far, no one had thrown anything.
At 78th Street, the police removed the barricade and allowed the Youth Council marchers inside and directed them up onto the sidewalk across from the Judge’s house. There was still no sign of activity within the house. The police closed up the barricade and would not allow the counter-demonstrators to cross.
The Boys from Tosa did not like this and rushed the barricade, only to be forced back by the bayonets of the Guard. The police grabbed four of them and hauled them bodily into paddy wagons while the spectators booed and someone hollered, “You wouldn’t handle a nigger like that!” 
Frank shook his head. “What planet did he come down from?” 
Carole said, “Each child is always convinced he’s being punished more than his brother or sister.”
Chief Howard raised his bullhorn and addressed the counter-demonstrators. “Take it easy, fellows. You’re doing fine. Don’t spoil it now.”
Carole turned to Frank, “What does he mean they’re ‘doing fine?’  They’re…” 
Frank hushed her. “He means that the whites haven’t quite broken into open rioting. If they do…  There must be a couple thousand of them. The Guard hasn’t had to bayonet anyone. God, I hope they haven’t been issued live ammunition. I told you it was a fool idea to come here.”
After about fifteen to twenty minutes marching back and forth across the street from the judge’s house, the demonstrators stopped and held a prayer service. Frank was astonished when, as Fr. Groppi intoned the sign of the cross, some in the watching crowd reflexively repeated the gesture. He wondered how many onlookers might be like Carole and him, sympathetic to the marchers but afraid to speak up.
The Youth Council marshal spoke to the sergeant and the Guardsmen with the fixed bayonets formed a cordon around the marchers and proceeded east on Wisconsin. As they marched off, the surrounding whites pressed forward as if to attack the rear and the sheriff’s deputies joined the march and pushed the mob back. The Wauwatosa police formed a flying wedge in the front of the marchers and pressed the crowd back out of the way, clearing a path. The whites howled with outrage and milled about in the street in the wake of the Guard.
Someone lobbed a cherry bomb at the rear of the column, but it bounced and exploded among the crowd, injuring an elderly woman in the legs. A young man threw a rock and it hit the Youth Council marshal, in the head. He staggered and fell to one knee. Two of his friends lifted him up and helped carry him off.
Another youth standing beside Frank drew his arm back with another rock and Frank accidentally bumped into him, sending him off balance and causing the rock to roll off. Frank bent down and gave the guy a hand up. “Hey, sorry, man,” he said. “This crowd. Pushing and shoving, you know.” The would be rock-thrower stank of beer and when he was upright once more gave Frank a shove in the chest. “Watch what you’re doing, spazz.”
A friend of his wagged a thumb. “Better watch it with Butch, here. He’s pretty tough.”
Frank thought, Who names their kid “Butch” these days? Butch was twenty or twenty-one, a little rounded across his middle, a little unsteady on his feet. He was the sort of character who throws rocks when people’s backs are turned. Frank smiled his best smile and said, “Oh, I knew a guy back in Philly – Sweet Face, they called him – He kept guys like Butch here as house pets.”
Butch swung. But Frank’s remark had been calculated and he had gauged the fellow’s swing and balance before speaking. He fended off the punch with his left arm and pulled his right fist from his jacket pocket gripping the roll of nickels and punched his assailant in the solar plexus.
Butch doubled over and gasped for breath. “Stand back,” Frank told his friends, “he’s gonna ralph.”
Nobody is so good a friend as to risk the receiving end of projectile vomit, and a route quickly opened up through which Frank and Carole slipped away. Carole was trembling by the time they reached the barricade at 77th Street and found the bus stop.
“He tried to brain you with a rock!” Carole said. “You could’ve been hurt!” 
He hadn’t. The rock had been meant for the marchers, and Frank had carefully disarmed the punk first. But people are sometimes confused about what they have witnessed. There had been a rock, there had been a punch. Carole had mashed the two together. Butch’s friends were likely already re-imagining the incident. Poor Butch had drunk too much, stumbled into this guy, and threw up. That was easier to believe than that their leader had been sucker-punched.
Oh, but it had felt good to lay that bastard down. He had forgotten how good that felt. The vituperation and taunts that the mob had spat still rang in his ears. Without the Guard, that crowd would have killed the marchers. He was certain of that. They would have torn them to pieces.
“Carole,” he said as they waited for the bus, “do me a favor. The next time one of these things comes up…? Let me know.”

The next day, the newspapers announced that Judge Cannon had been in Columbus, Ohio, for a speaking engagement. In his house had been one teenaged boy and his maiden aunt.






6 comments:

  1. *big sigh* that was very good--lots of folks seem to be on a roll for about a week. This bears close reading well.

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  2. A gorgeous account of a hideous strength. Thanks TOF

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  3. That's going to be a heckuva book.

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  4. excellent, must add the book to my never ending list.

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  5. Every time I hear this expression, I think of white blood cells. And.... Oh dear... I think I just committed a microagression right there!

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