|Kayla beneath the sign of the rhinoceros|
|Seeing a reproduction of a period map of local buildings|
Still there were a few jarring things which she and I discussed, now that she is educated, mature, and all that. First, there was the issue of women both in Colonial era history and today. Needless to say, when the Virginians were discussing the "rights of man," they did indeed mean, "man." There is a good number of women among the re-enactors, but of course as in the period times, few of the main artisans are female. Fine, you'll say, that's reasonably historically accurate. But they go so far as to dress female musicians performing at the evening Palace concert in mens' garb and explicitly explain that this is because historically the instruments they choose to play were considered inappropriate for women. All right, still not so uncomfortable, just a bit odd to our eyes and sensibilities; it's not as though they refuse today to allow women to play in the ensemble just because they wouldn't have then.
Oh, but in addition, there's the joke. The little aside scripted in so many programs, and it is definitely scripted and not just the individual actors' choice. The little joke about how we must apologize for discussing these serious political and economic concerns when women are present, for such things are not for delicate ears. The little joke that gets a laugh.
Then there's the question of race and with it comes sadly and inevitably the issue of slavery. The archeologists confirmed multiple times during their presentation that all the tax and census records of the period show that the overall population of the region at the time before and during the Revolutionary War was split almost perfectly 50/50 between European and African Americans. Within "African Americans" they are including slaves, freed slaves, and free born individuals. To their credit, the foundation does seem to have hired a few African Americans among their re-enactors and artisans, for which I applaud them and which I don't remember ever seeing during past visits. And yet, while the entire staff at the Visitors' Center was white, the entire kitchen staff at the hotel was African American. And while I know there are periods in the calendar when the foundation tries to focus on slavery studies and portray the horrors of slavery in some ways that only makes it worse.
By this, I mean that you simply can't convey the true horrors of slavery in a family interactive venue. You can not re-create a slave auction. You can't allow re-enactors to be available to explain the true horrors of whippings, rape, having children sold off, beatings, and being treated like possessions. And worse yet, if instead you clean it up and have people answer or portray the realities of slavery as if the worst slaves had to deal with was simply not having general control over their own lives, or being taken from their original homes and forced to work whether they like it or not, you degrade and minimize the true depth of evil that was American slavery. You can't show it at its everyday worst, and by showing it as only moderately bad you erase the pervasive evil.
We love Colonial Williamsburg; its mission, its activities, its presentation. We appreciate that we have such a great venue so close to us that we can visit every few years. We particularly have always believed that a full understanding of American history from pre-Colonial days through at least the Civil War is critical to modern thought and under-emphasized in the schools, and so we've made a point in our household of teaching it as much as possible. But there are these deficits in modern American thinking and society which are still holdovers from the era.
On our way home, somehow the topic of Affirmative Action came up as Kayla and I talked. It turned out that while she was taught about the existence of government support for the program, she was never taught any context for why it was enacted much less why it is still in place today. No one had ever pointed out that even in our suburban, overwhelmingly middle-class schools, test scores, college attendance, school grades, and outcomes still show a bias for white students over African Americans and Hispanics. They never educated these kids about the dangers of ghettoization, the lack of educational support that comes with poverty or with poor education in previous generations. They never mentioned the schools in the southern parts of the US today where there are still racially divided proms. They simply pretend in the schools that there is no more bias; that every teacher in every American school is as receptive to every student as to every other when it comes to subjective grading, extra time, extra effort, accepting late work, and so on.
We can barely move forward when we don't even look at ourselves peripherally. I'd love some way to add this dialogue more openly, more publicly, and more regularly in the schools, in American homes, and yes, even at places like Colonial Williamsburg.