FREE MINDS AND FREE PEOPLE  [HUNTER GRAY/HUNTER BEAR  [MAY 1  2007] -- WITH "DEFEAT RACISM, DON'T CENSOR IT" BY HUNTER GRAY -- UPDATED

 

COMMENT BY HUNTER BEAR: 4/30/07
 
This is not an effort to "re-start" anything -- but it is my effort to put some things into perspective.
 
When I hit the sack last night, it was at the end of a week that had seen a rich and extraordinarily fine discussion on our always free-wheeling RedBadBear list -- a give-and-take which encompassed many of the genuinely substantive challenges faced individually and collectively by Humanity.  The other discussion on the Imus situation, some mention of the Duke injustice, racism in general -- which flared less prolifically and more sporadically on the low post Bear Without Borders list -- wasn't for me, at least, especially reassuring.  Very good people -- one and all -- "said their piece" [and sometimes very well] but the sum effect, at the end of the proverbial day, seemed ill-defined and diffuse. The mountains seemed lost in the clouds.  In the midst of that, a very old friend indeed on the Bear list wrote an off-list letter to which I responded, also off-list:
 
"Thanks much indeed for your cordially thoughtful letter.  I'm one of those who, as you know, can run in a herd by myself -- and have no inhibitions about saying, however politely [sometimes], what I think. . .
 
But, again, I am just generally wary of personalized and sanctimonious crusades.  Relativism in civil rights and civil liberties is, at least I see it, something that, whatever the initial justification, can lead to a far greater and more dangerous ill or ills.  And I guess I'm just naturally against too many fences."
 
And also, before I turned in, I dropped a note to my oldest son, John [Salter], a member of the Bear list, one of the discussants, and I said, in part:
 
"David [McReynolds], a few years older than I, has been in the "Movement" since the very early 50s.
I came in not long thereafter.  And that may be one reason, given all that we've seen, that we are not inclined to play fast, loose and glibly with anyone's civil rights and civil liberties. You have always been in that corner for sure."
 
I should add that every single member of my [our] family has held that position consistently.  And I am very proud that we have, each of us from his/her respective Hatch and Cradle Days all the way through to the present.  And we will always be on the front lines of bona fide struggle on behalf of civil rights and civil liberties [and much more.]
 
Some years ago, a "hate speech ban" was proposed [piously] at the University of North Dakota. The principal administrative proponents were, I should add, officials of dubious -- frankly self-serving -- motivations.  There was some quite justifiable concern among a number of thoughtful faculty about both "hatchet jobs" and a chilling effect on everyone's academic freedom.
 
I wrote a letter -- subsequently much reprinted.  It's on the two page spread in our large website which discusses my stormy career at the University of North Dakota -- from which I eventually retired in 1994 as a full professor, former departmental chair of Indian Studies, former chair of the Honors program, and a member of the graduate faculty.  [ http://www.hunterbear.org/UND.htm ]
 
And here it is:
I wrote the following letter  [under my original name of John R Salter, Jr]  and published it in The Dakota Student [University of North Dakota] on April 30, 1991.  I was not surprised that it angered a number of administrators as well as some faculty. The UND student response -- across all sorts of racial/ethnic/cultural lines -- was extremely positive. My letter was subsequently published in the May / June 1991 issue of the excellent socialist journal, Against the Current, under the title, "Defeat Racism, Don't Censor It."

I stand, of course, by every word I said, then and right to the present
moment.



SPEECH BAN WON'T END RACISM  -- John R Salter, Jr  [Hunter Gray]  DAKOTA STUDENT  4/30/91

I'm completely against any efforts to ban racist or sexist speech, or any
other speech, on college and university campuses -- or anywhere else.

I speak as both activist and academic and as one who has been involved in
social justice pursuits and teaching since the mid-1950s.

American Indians have traditionally recognized the right of everyone to be
heard -- no matter how unpopular or  even noxious the verbiage.  Whatever
its many limitations, my native state of Arizona has never deteriorated --
despite the presence of the copper bosses and the farming magnates, among
others -- into the sort of closed society once exemplified by Mississippi.
In part, at least, this has been because of the libertarian traditions of a
far-ranging frontier where "things open out instead of in" and where free
speech has generally, however grudgingly, been respected or at least
tolerated.

I've never known any effort anywhere to ban speech that   really "worked."
I've known few such efforts that, sooner or later, weren't turned against
the advocates of constructive social change.  Hell, look at human history.

Frankly, some of the most sanctimonious proponents of suppression of racist
and sexist speech in university settings have been, in my observation,
administrators whose real commitment to, say, affirmative action has been
Zero -- and who frequently have worked against anything of a tangible nature
that would increase the numbers and morale of women and minorities in
meaningful positions.  Other, more well meaning official folk, worry about
"negative speech," expressing their concerns in the context and style of a
prattling timidity that brings out the worst in everyone.

Here at the University of North Dakota, in a state and region where Native
Americans are the most substantial minority, our Department of American
Indian Studies offers several sections of a course called Introduction to
Indian Studies -- which fulfills a state teacher certification necessity and
also meets certain humanities and social science requirements.  About 350
students per year pass through these courses [I teach 200 or so personally];
the majority are Anglo, with a good number of American Indians and other
minorities represented.  In this classroom setting, academic dimensions are
heavily laced with confronting all kinds of people hang-ups and we deal with
these in a non-guilt-trip, "say what you please" hang-loose sort of
atmosphere.

This works -- and often these students go on to take other courses of ours,
such as Contemporary Indian Issues or Federal Indian Law and Policy or
Plains Indians.  Common interests, common concerns, and common allies
surface.


And in many other sectors, in and out of the university setting, we
challenge all kinds of anti-people words and deeds and patterns.  We've done
it openly and candidly -- and without tearing people down.  Our efforts are
interracial and intercultural.

We've seen things improve enlightenment-wise with the students, considerably so,  and with many townspeople.  But we still have a long, long way to go in getting minorities and women hired in solid and influential university positions.  Academics -- including academic liberals -- are  certainly often harder to deal with than an essentially nice Anglo kid who has some
hang-ups.

The kid is usually honest enough to face up and change, given a firm push or
two or three -- done in a friendly fashion.

We just have to keep fighting, all of us together, step by step.  But let's
not waste time on dangerous gimmicks like gag laws and regulations.  The
real prize lies "over the mountains yonder" and we can catch it -- if we
don't allow ourselves to be de-railed and diverted into the canyons.

[Editor's note:  Salter is chairman of the Indian Studies Department.]

COMMENT:

FROM DALE JACOBSON:
 
John, I agree with David McReynolds-- and with you-- on this issue, for
what its worth. Thanks for your thoughts. Dale [Jacobson]
 
AND HUNTER RESPONDS:
 
Means a good deal, Dale, and many thanks. I should add that Dale is someone who is well aware -- experientially --
of the institutional and regional context in which I wrote my letter of 16 years ago to the Dakota Student. Best, H
 

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

FROM STEVE MCNICHOLS:
 
Amen.
 
[Attorney] Steven F. McNichols
Law Center
268 Bush Street, #3602
San Francisco, CA 94104-3503
 
_____________________________________________
 
 
FROM MICHAEL MARINO:
 
Hunter:

  I have a newsletter due today; I have not looked at
what I have in my file of stuff for it, but if I need
something more, to have the page count and such come
out correct, may I use this? The reprint from The
Dakota Student, I mean, of course -- the opening lines
make sense to me, but most of the potential readers of
the newsletter won't know what a RedBadBear is (their
loss).
 
[ Very glad to say Yes.  -- H.]

_______________________________________________________

 

NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR  [TO REDBADBEAR DISCUSSION AND OTHERS]:

 
A Spring Storm hit the often too-languid Marxist list last night in the form of a scathing critique of the British Left -- and by implication  that of the United States. It was sparked by mine, Free Minds and Free People.  The author of the very long piece is a veteran radical.  Here is my response of late last night -- and it indicates, among other things, some of the ground she covered via her Storm:
 
_______________________________________________
 
That is, Ysabel Howard, an extraordinary statement/essay. To say, simply, that it is "provocative" is to merely say the Grand Canyon is "big."

A few thoughts:

I really know too little about Great Britain and you've certainly provided some fascinating insights. I, now 73, do know something about the Left in what's called the United States. But your "cross cultural" mirror illuminates some dimensions within and of our radical setting that have, frankly, troubled me -- and many others -- and point to questions to whose challenges I hope others on this List will respond: a frequent rigidity whose only "openness" is too often a quality open to insularity and, in due course, interncine warfare; a kind of ethnocentric sanctimoniousness; sometimes an insufferable, personal stuffiness; and a frequent absence of humor. These are not universally pervasive -- there are many exceptions for sure, often younger ones and, not infrequently, "elders." Scratch a bit and you can still find something in this diverse and pluralistic country of the old, free Greenwich Village qualities so well depicted vis- a-vis Emma Goldman and Jack Reed, the early Max Eastman, and Art Young in the fine '81 film Reds. But those minds and many others of that epoch -- liberated, free, and committed to positive, genuine systemic change , are not nearly as numerous now as then. The commitment to altruistic systemic change remains, but "our Left" here -- in both the personal and collective sense -- can be, as I say, insular in the whole and the parts. And often downright dull.

The '30s and the '60s-early '70s in the U.S. did feature many, many free spirits indeed in our general Left -- and in some comparable liberation movements of those times. Many were deeply involved over the long pull with grassroots people on a systematic organizing basis -- and this sort of involved commitment is not conducive to ideological rigidity! Much of this continues, to be sure, but not nearly as much real organizing as one would expect given the mounting myriad of challenges by omni-present corporate capitalism and its increasingly dangerous allies and ills.

Free thinking and effective social justice commitment frequently go together. Closed minds live in the province of Fear. The first is optimistic, the second is not.

A few years ago, a veteran radical editor joined me in bemoaning the absence of anything on the present Left scene reminiscent of the great old radical mag, The Masses. That featured a lively mix of radical perspectives, fascinating personal sketches, wonderful cartoons -- and genuinely creative fiction. There are presently some good efforts to move forward into that once again. [I could write a good deal about Left journalism and radical fiction. More on that another time.]

Since I have been a small child, Ysabel, I have often wandered in the literal Western wilderness: timberlands, desert terrain, canyons, high mountains. I know that most ice and snow eventually -- inevitably -- melt.

I fall out on the side of optimism [and I think one can be a Red of whatever kind and still have a hell of a lot of fun productively exploring worthwhile ideas -- and good food and drink as well.] I suspect you do, too, or you wouldn't take the time to pen the work you just have -- something akin to the forest fires I've known first-hand.

Take care, Ysabel. Good to meet you. If we ever should happen to meet face-to-face, I'll buy you a drink or two of the closest commercial thing to firewater I know in this country: Jose Cuervo tequila.

All best, Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]

___________________________________________________________________________

A rather sardonic comment from Cornet Joyce:

By the standards of old Greenwich Village, there's hardly a Left
anywhere. Tony Blair wanted to be the English George Bush but, hell,
Segolene Royal wants to be the French Tony Blair. The Social Forum
Movement seems to have devolved into a predictable travelling carnival
and is asking itselves "what happens now?" And the immigration issue
overwhelms every other issue in Europe- an issue in which the "left"
weakly waves the no longer credible pie-in-the-sky of a future utopia
in the clear and present Cause of lower wages and benefits. -CJ

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS AND THE CALL OF THE FARAWAY HILLS  [HUNTER BEAR  MAY 11  2007]

 

[LETTER TO A FRIEND]

 

I much appreciate your fine, reflective thoughts, C.  Our respective trails, individualistic and unique, are obviously parallel in basics.  You found your attic and I my Southwestern wilderness.  [I should add that, on the rare occasions I have found attics, I've always been drawn to them.]

 
We both seem to recognize [as do the many other free spirits on this List and a vast number of others in a myriad of other settings] that "the road to Damascus" never stops in that setting.  In fact, the road / trail never stops at all -- for the "call of the faraway hills" always pulls one ever-further toward the horizons and the wonders that lie, perennially, far beyond.
 
My father was the first Native person to serve as a professor [Art] at Arizona State, Flagstaff [later called Northern Arizona University.]  For that long duration, he was an important figure for the increasing number of Native students who, in large part because of his presence, came to that school. [He also, I should add, got along very well with virtually all students.]
 
He often said that the most frequent question he was asked by the Native students was, "How can I study at this college and still maintain my [tribal / cultural] identity?
 
Dad's basic response was simply, "It will never be a smooth and even balance -- because the two worlds are vastly different.  The challenge is always to maintain your primary footing within your traditional identity and, very carefully, take that which is offered by by the "other world" [the American world] into that basic identity of yours -- on your terms:  the terms of your Identity.  It is never easy."  Virtually all of his Indian students took his sound advice.
 
And my father, whose own trail was never anything but rocky, exemplified that advice he so often offered.  As have I, and the members of my own family.  And, again, it isn't easy,
 
I've absorbed much from the "other world" -- but I have done it on my own terms: always within the foundational context of my basic Identity..  And so have you, C,  in your own good way and with your own unique identity, very obviously and successfully. 
 
In your attic -- and in many figurative attics -- you go forth, thinking.  And in my wilderness and its equivalants  I have always done the same thing..  And, again, there are many others.  I have always felt help from forces "seen and unseen.'  Perhaps you have as well.
 
A free mind based in its own fine traditions can and will always keep going.
 
So I have always seen life as much, much more than simply "a fighting chance."  For the Sun always comes down upon the Water -- gives us courage and strength -- and Enduring Life has the Great Good Edge.
 
With thanks and cordiality,
Hunter
 
[Feel very free at any point to write me off-list.  I shall always respond.]
 

HUNTER GRAY  [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]   Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'
 
Check out our Hunterbear social justice website:  www.hunterbear.org
[The site is dedicated to our one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray:
http://hunterbear.org/cloudy_gray.htm

 
In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear] 
 http://www.hunterbear.org/GRAY%20LANDS%20AND%20GRAY%20GHOSTS.htm

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