Last weekend, I took a trip to Montgomery to visit the SPLC’s Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks Museum and Library. While at the Civil Rights Memorial, I came across an image that made me think about a lot of the recent posts I have been writing. Specifically, it made me think about my last post that seeks to explain why the past is not the past, it remains with us. The photograph, taken in 1992 by Todd Robertson at a KKK rally in Georgia, shows a young boy, dressed in a miniature Klan robe, pointing at his reflection in a police riot shield. The African American officer holds the shield with two hands and looks down at the young boy.
My own people owned people, but they don’t own that
They say racism’s dead, man our President is black
Two terms in the White House, that don’t mean jack
If we still believe our present ain’t affected by our past–Andy Mineo “Uncomfortable”
One question I hear over and over again when I speak or write about the history of racism, subjugation, and oppression in the United States goes something like this: “Why can’t we just move on? The past is the past, so why keep bringing it up?” Embedded within this question lie the reasons we must keep reminding people of the past and how that past continues to imbue our current existence with racist thought. Ideas do not just disappear into thin air as time moves forward; they linger, mainly through imitation and learned experiences.
This semester, I finally taught Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible.” As we talked about the story in class, I pointed the class towards the opening paragraph, and as I did, I began to ponder the first few lines and how they work to set up and foreshadow the action in the story. This, of course, is nothing unusual, but the way that Erdrich deploys the first paragraph creates a sort of cyclic movement that joins the opening with the conclusion, thus making the story somewhat of a continuous loop. Today, I want to focus on the opening paragraph and parse it out, discussing the ways it works to begin, and continue, the loop that the story constructs.