Washington DC: Life in a Monument (Discussion Boards)

1. Native Americans in 19th Century Washington, DC.

There’s a very limited amount of times that I’ve come across or interacted with any academic or social material about Native Americans that I can remember. Yet, I’ve lived near DC my entire life. It’s why I found Mr. Genetin’s choice of focus for his research project the most interesting. Since his finished book will bridge to a larger project concerning digital media, his pursuit to flesh out the connection between written history and empirical evidence, attracts my attention. I took an African American history class last semester and, as one can imagine, my monolithic and incomprehensive knowledge gradually expanded. My professor for the class chose to teach African American history from a black woman’s perspective. She explained how overlooked and undervalued black woman’s role played in history books. Similarly, I notice the importance of understanding how Native Americans felt through their own experiences and lived anecdotes. In other words, I think his findings can pass the mic over to a long overdue untold story.

Additionally, recognizing that Native American actively sought out to remain on their land, speaks volume to what I’ve learned. For instance, Mr. Genetin highlights how Native American intently showed interest in portraits for themselves. Generally speaking, portraits set out to encapsulate one’s character. The viewer feels a sense of respect, admiration, or a mixture of the two, toward the person who’s been drawn. And so, the evident want for portraits showcases the hints of dignity and pride Native Americans held. Yet, questionably, “popular” history fails to underscore these small but important details.

2. DC History Between 1877–1974.

While watching the documentary, Duke Ellington reminded me a lot of Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute and a black elite. To contextualize a bit, critics of Washington’s “self-help” mentality, included W.E.B DuBois, Civil rights activist. Unlike Washington’s motive for economic independence, DuBois supported a political agenda with activism as its main leverage and powerhouse. In regard to Ellington, I notice the similarities between Washington and Ellington. As noted in the documentary, Ellington carried himself in such respect that others admired him. Like Washington’s institute, Ellington received a technical education and also grew up middle class. Highlighting how Ellington and Washington share similar upbringings, lead to their independent ways of thinking. For instance, the Tuskegee institute ultimately nurtured black students into professions they could pursue. The community in which Ellington grew up in, U street, and it’s equally supportive teachers, also cultivated the talents and potential of their students. Considering how U street served as a hub for black Washingtonians to thrive and flourish, it reemphasizes the loss the community faced after the race riots that took place shortly after. It’s interesting to recognize that black Washingtonians succeed in spaces that provided them opportunities.

It’s strange to compare the success of the new riches in the late 1800s to that of black Washingtonians in the 1920s. The new riches viewed DC as essentially a home away from away, and found ways to optimize on their wealth as opposed to helping the community. Whereas, black Washingtonians in U Street tried finding ways to optimize on dignity and respect. Still, both realities reveal DC as a place for possibility.

3. Marion Barry’s Washington (1974–1999).

I have a rather perplexing stream of thoughts. At several points of watching Marion Barry’s experience as mayor, I noticed some similarities to Booker T Washington and W. E. B DuBois own controversial views. Evidently, I’ve referenced Washington and DuBois on previous discussion posts. However, this time around, I note that arguably, Marion Barry is a byproduct of both Washington’s ideology of economic independence and DuBois’ notion of reform and change on a political level. The documentary outlines that in Barry’s earlier years, he essentially “pulled himself by his bootstraps” despite his rough upbringings. Booker T. Washington emphasizes this common theme, most notably in his exposition speech for the Atlanta compromise. In efforts to possibly act as a mediator of sorts between white Americans and black Americans, Washington states “it is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top. Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities”, referring to black working class Americans. Yet, as we watch, Barry shifts from a self-motivated and ambitious student seeking a chemistry PhD to an empowered individual seeking to support the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps, Barry experiences a psychological metamorphosis — in that he begins to believe in the political system and builds the desire to make change on a political level, as DuBois once did. I highly recommend further researching The Talented Tenth, as I briefly summarize. In the Talented Tenth, DuBois generally refutes Washington’s sentiment, writing “work alone will not do it unless inspired by the right ideals and guided by intelligence. Education must not simply teach work — it must teach Life” (The Talented Tenth). And so, big picture, Marion Barry’s thinking shifts from an independent thinker and anomaly, if you will, to a politically active radical Washingtonian. I’m aware this limited analysis doesn’t particularly draw to any of the readings from this weekend, nonetheless, I think it’s some food for thought.

I hosted an episode on whether grades measure intelligence a few months ago. Therefore, now watching Michelle Rhee breakdown the importance of standardized tests as a factual testament, I’m amused — truthfully. Also, a little startled at how rational Rhee sounds, outlining such a system. It also reminded me of how American University themselves is test optional in their application process. While I don’t have the statistics and evidence to prove standardized tests don’t assess intelligence as much as a holistic evaluation does, due to ongoing factors like differing type of learners for instance, over the years, more and more colleges are allowing students to apply without sending their test scores. Even more so, professor Collins’ principal, inappropriate but normalized comment on “letting the black student population down” in regard to his poor test scores, unveils how blurred the lines of race and student’s scores unfortunately correlate with one another. Furthermore, it’s uncomfortable looking below the surface and recognizing how Rhee’s and, frankly, Fenty’s ideal world-class city involves the exclusion of black Washingtonians and the ongoing pedestal of white Washingtonians. In other words, like Hopkinson underscores in her assessment of go-go music in DC, executing the optimal world-class DC, requires a simplification that “black meant decline, white meant progress.” (12). Enter, color-blind policies.

4. Urban Renewal & Gentrification

I went to Giant today. This may sound insignificant, but it reminded me a lot of this past week’s video on black food geographies. As I stepped out of my car, I noticed DC plates attached to the silver Honda parked in front of me. Now, seeing DC plates in *******, Maryland isn’t a new sighting. However, after listening to Ashanté outlining how Deanwood residents, search grocery stores outside of ward 8, I pictured a Deanwood resident. And to think 150,000 residents are expected to rely on one supermarket, ingrained Ashanté’s lecture even further. And so, it’s also likely that a Deanwood resident who carves out time to access adequate food that suffices their needs, drove to Giant. Most notably, it reminded me of Mr. Harris. Ashanté explains how Mr. Harris, unemployed, and car-less deals with the string of decision-making that goes behind grocery shopping. In his own words, grocery shopping “was part of the day’s work.”

Additionally, a common theme keeps reoccurring in these past few weeks. Particularly, the parallels between Ashanté’s lecture and Uzodinma Iweala’s experience revisiting DC. I really enjoyed reading his stories and ultimately sense of loss in walking through his own neighborhoods. But, his insight on how gentrification’s slowly morphing into something arguably intangible, lead me to examine Mayor Fenty’s ideal “world city” and french architect Pierre L’Enfant desire to design buildings for the masses. Here’s a semi provoking yet very inconclusive stream of thoughts. Up to this point, especially after taking a deeper dive into gentrification this week, it seems like comparing DC’s destructive “drive” for renewal fails to account for established DC residents. Its quite ironic how DC’s the place people think about when reflecting and learning about history, yet DC itself seems to ignore its own past. Instead, with suburbanization, urban renewal, congress’s power dynamics, Howard’s campus from mecca to dog park, the contained popularity of go go music, the unfair amenities new residents receive fought for by original residents, the “unlucky” and strategic barriers in the educational system, DC sets its eyes on the sky. To some extent, perhaps blind ambition and greedy egos are undercurrents to some of these issues. DC’s ironic transformation where success and white are interchangeable as ghetto and black are apparently dependent of one another, the city unapologetically chases the seductive dream of a world-class city. All the while, residents like Uzodinma Iweala notice that “more and more sections of DC are beginning to look the way city has always thought it looked.” Therefore, comparing an ambitious teenager, who yearns to write the next Spike Lee movie, or the next big pop song, to DC’s hunger for a golden city, may seem like a pretty valid one. Perhaps, even a sensible one.

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