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Cancel Culture

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historically speaking

With the beloved children’s author Dr. Seuess being the latest on the chopping block of what is being called “cancel culture,” it is once again worth taking a look at things historically. First, was Dr. Seuess racist? Yes. I have not even investigated the supposedly racist books, but I know he is a product of his time. In fact, if we have to ask of any historical personality, author, singer, actor, or politician before a certain time, if they were racist or sexist, then the answer is yes. Every time, yes. I am not saying they wore a white sheet and burned crosses, but by the standards of our time, every historical figure said or did something that was acceptable at their time but not in ours.

If we go back to the 19th century, most whites were overtly racist and sexist. It was completely acceptable in their society. We are not talking about just slave holders, but even those who fought against slavery still did not think of Blacks as completely equal. Lincoln falls into this category. He abhorred slavery but would have kept it if it stopped the nation from going to war. He certainly never said or did anything to make us believe he hoped for women’s equality. Even avid abolitionists like Henry David Thoreau, who absolutely hated slavery and demanded its abolition, had an entry in his journal that praised a newspaper column that rejected race mixing and hoped to send freed slaves back to Africa. Though Thoreau fought for women’s suffrage, modern feminists would object to plenty of his words and actions towards women. So, what do we do with someone in early America who was considered progressive towards Blacks and women’s rights, but falls short today?

Let’s jump 100 years, to the 1950s and ’60s. There were still plenty, especially in the South, who were just as racist as the 19th Century. Then there were those who believed Jim Crow was wrong and Black Americans should have the same rights as Whites, but still occasionally told a racist joke or used the N-word because it was still acceptable in polite society. Finally, there were even those represented by the character Matt Drayton in the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” The Draytons were a well-off liberal white family who had taught their daughter that all forms of racism were wrong and everyone should be treated equally. They were offended by the N-word. Yet things changed when their daughter brought home her Black fiancé from college. Suddenly her parents faced an internal moral dilemma of what they always believed and what their new reality was.

I am grateful for the MeToo movement. It’s about time we stood up for the treatment of women. The behavior towards women in the workplace in the ’50s and ’60s is despicable, yet it was accepted then and, in some ways, celebrated today. The extremely popular show “Mad Men” has won awards. As depicted, sexually harassing women just seemed part of a normal workday, yet today the entire firm would be under investigation, as it should be. What do we do with the Don Drapers of today? It is easy to take down the street sign of someone in the Klan in the 1960s, but what about the people who were like Matt Drayton or Don Draper? They were fictional, but they represented thousands of men and women in their day. What do we do with people who did not consider themselves racist or sexist in their day but are by our standards today? What do we do if, at their times, slavery was completely acceptable?  What do we do today if a children’s author used a racist word that was not considered racist at the time? What about one of America’s greatest authors who at the time was seen as progressive on race and gender issues but does not fit in today?

I hope no one thinks I am trying to say that racism or sexism were ever okay. I am not. Just because something was accepted does not make it right. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am far from perfect, but I try my hardest to live a good life and be a good person. I just hope that in 100 years from now when people are judging me, if I have done something repulsive to them, that they understand I meant no harm.  I don’t know the answers. I wish I did.  I don’t know if we should stop reading Dr. Seuess to our kids.  I don’t know the man or his heart, but his books have brought joy and I think he cared about making kids smile. Though racism is wrong, they would not have been published at the time if they were socially unacceptable.

I don’t want any Black children in any way to feel “less than. ” If Dr. Seuess makes them feel this way, then maybe we should stop reading those books.  But I do worry about where it ends. I will go back to my original point. I believe that if we investigate anyone before the modern era and ask if that person is racist or sexist, the answer is yes. If we set that as the standard, we basically remove all classic literature, music, culture and historical figures. That does not seem to be the answer.  Somehow, we need to come to an understanding and some type of historical forgiveness.

Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.


Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog.

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Hypocrisy in Sports

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To start, let me say something about myself. I love sports. I was a three-sport athlete in high school and I still love playing sports now (though badly). I love watching sports, both on TV and in person. I have a son on the high school baseball team and never thought I would enjoy watching as much baseball as he plays, but I do. I have heard sports described as either soap operas or reality shows for men. It really is as Jim McKay used to say: “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” The problem is that sports are meant to be fun (unless my Hokies and Razorbacks both lose as they did last week) but, with the politics of the day, they are losing some of their enjoyment as mindless entertainment. What is really starting to get hard is the hypocrisy in sports, yet, historically speaking, maybe it always has been this way.

The big news of last week was the resignation of Las Vegas Raiders Coach Jon Gruden. At first, I was not sure what I thought about an email sent eleven years ago but, as more and more inappropriate emails began to surface, it became clear that he needed to go. His emails were full of racist, homophobic, and sexist language that the NFL has condemned. It is right that the NFL condemns this type of language and the League has tried recently to stand up for what is right.

What makes it hard to accept, however, is that with its moral outrage, NFL is also allowing a Super Bowl half-time show featuring Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Dr. Dre. You may be aware of these artists, especially Snoop Dogg, who is becoming a cultural icon with his laid-back persona and commercials with Martha Stewart. However, if you are not, I would love to give you a sample of their lyrics, but I can’t because most papers would not print them. Their songs are full of racist, homophobic, and sexist language, much worse than Gruden’s. Add to that the violence and drug use these entertainers promote. I want to say sports can’t have it both ways, yet it does.

There is plenty of modern history showing the hypocrisy of sports. Most recently is Lebron James, who claims to be a champion for social justice yet attacked Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey for supporting democratic protesters in China. China was threatening to cut ties with the NBA, meaning James and the NBA could lose millions. James said of Morey, “But I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand and he spoke.” It seemed what James really meant was Morey may not have been considering how much he might lose by supporting oppressed people not in America.

Then there is Nike, who also claims to support social justice and human rights. Nike used major social justice warriors like Megan Rapinoe and Colin Kaepernick in its ads but also refused to pay a real wage to workers in third-world countries, helping to keep those workers in poverty. There are championship sports teams that took their conservative players to meet Democratic presidents but refused to take their teams to either Bush’s or Trump’s White House. Then there was Monday Night Football, which dropped country legend Hank Williams Jr. for comparing President Obama to Hitler, while having no issues with artists and celebrities who made the same references to Trump.

Speaking of Hitler: When I think of one of sport’s biggest hypocrisies, he is at the center of the controversy. Most people know the story of the 1936 Olympics and American track star Jesse Owens (if you want to learn about these games from a non-track perspective, I highly recommend Boys in the Boat). Hitler planned to use these games to showcase his nation’s power and the strength of what he thought of as the “Aryan race.”

What he was not prepared for was a Black man from America showing up his track and field athletes. While Hitler’s Germans did win the most medals overall and the most gold medals, Owens walked away with four golds, more than any U.S. athlete at the time. While Owens’ dominance was the main story, the side story was his treatment by Hitler. After the first day of competition and after Hitler shook hands and congratulated the German winners, he left the stadium. The head of the Olympic Games told him that he either had to shake the hands of all the winners or none of them. He chose none of them.

Americans were furious and the story began to circulate that Owens, now a true American hero, was snubbed by the German leader. Yet when Owens was asked about the mistreatment, his answer was telling: “I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler. But I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President either.” FDR, who had spent much of his life in the South, in true hypocrisy did not invite Owens to the White House or acknowledge his accomplishments as he did with the white athletes. Americans who were outraged at Hitler did not seem to care about FDR’s own snub.

It is sad that politics and hypocrisy take over what many Americans like me use to get away from the world for a short time each week. Though it has not always been the case, sports today are the one place where merit rises to the top. Black or White, rich or poor, the best players in the games play together. It should be the place with the least amount of divisive language. I applaud the NFL for condemning the words of Jon Gruden. But if the League is serious about ending the hypocrisy and truly wanting to unite the nation and end this type of language, the NFL needs to find a new half-time show.


Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.

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Republican Heroes

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It is about time we recognized the true heroes of the Republican Party.  They are not the dopey louts who rampaged through our nation’s capital and the moral cowards who still cover for them.

They are not the ranting demagogues exploiting the emotions of the resentful.  They were the unsung people not seeking attention, but doing their jobs: from poll workers to police officers.  They were Republican state legislators and governors who did not bend to pressure to overturn the elections in their state.  They were Republican judges who did not allow mere allegations unsupported by credible evidence to deny votes that happened.  They were a Vice President who stayed loyal to the Constitution and the rule of law above any man.  They were Republican congressional representatives and senators who did not fear to try and hold their own president accountable and dared to stand on their conscience instead of following the majority in their party.  They did not win.  But they showed more bravery than the majority in their party who did.

It is Republicans like those who could save the soul of the party from being lost to a band of fascists if they find the nerve to do so.  My father was a lifelong Republican who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  After the sacrifices that generation made to defeat fascism, I’m glad he was not alive to see his party dishonored by America’s Mussolini.

James Tweed
Ocean City, NJ

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Appreciative parent supports Funk for School Board in Happy Creek District

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I am writing this letter to extend my support and endorsement to Dr. Antoinette Funk for Warren County, VA School Board-Happy Creek District.

As a parent of a former Ressie Jeffries student, I would like to share my experience of having Dr. Funk as assistant principal during my child’s elementary education.

Dr. Funk is a conscientious professional. Her decisions were always based on what was in my child’s best interest. We were not always in agreement; however, she always gave explanations regarding her decision and willingly listened to our concerns (including those of my son). She provided other options as she deemed available and made final decisions based on the needs of my son, providing support at school and at home.

Dr. Funk understands the relation between having a strong bridge between school and home. She was fair and respectful. My child benefited tremendously throughout his school years and into adult life due to his time at Ressie under Dr. Funk’s educational and social guidance. Being a parent of a special needs child herself gave her insight into the daily challenges of students and teachers. I found her to be honorable, thorough, and supportive. I knew my son was being academically challenged.

I say without reservation that Dr. Funk is dedicated and commits herself to serve the educational needs of each individual student. Her expectations and consequences were always made clear.  Her commitment to education is a priority, and she remained a source of support and education well into his middle school years.

I ask you to make an informed decision in your choice in the upcoming election.  If you want an experienced, dedicated individual, committed to making decisions and standing up for what is best for the education of your children, vote for Dr. Antoinette Funk for Warren County, VA School Board-Happy Creek District.

Juanita Shafer
Warren County

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We need Angela Robinson on our school board

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Angela Robinson – a person who will fight for your child.

I am writing to share my experience with Angie Robinson as a teacher, advocate and now friend. My daughter had begun to show signs of learning difficulties when she was in elementary school. I had known Angie through the school, but had not had her teach my child. When my daughter made it to fourth grade, she had fallen behind, and I just could not get the services needed for my daughter.

Angie assured me that she would do whatever she could to help my daughter and to address the concerns that I had. Angie was able to do that and even more. She made sure my child got her special services through an IEP, and she continued to follow through with my child throughout her years in Warren County schools. She offered to go to IEP meetings after she left the elementary setting. She even went as far as to continue to tutor my daughter throughout her high school years.

Angie cares about our children. She cares about their journey and their future. She dedicated her time to fight for my daughter. This is why we need her on our school board – to fight for the students who need to be fought for. She understands how the system works and how important it is to make our students successful. I am proud to say that my daughter graduated from Skyline High School, and we couldn’t have done it without the support of Angie Robinson. She cares about our students, our families and our schools. We need Angela Robinson on our school board.

Stacey Sprague
Front Royal, Virginia

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Response to ‘Open Letter to Warren County voters…’

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The writers assert the reason for the relatively high percentage of private and home-schooled children in the community are generally failing standards in state and this county’s public school systems. This assertion ignores the impact of a half century of location of private, Catholic educational institutions into this community, prominent among those Christendom College, Chelsea Academy and Seton Home School. Those institutions, among others like Human Life International, have been followed into this community by an expanding Catholic population of a generally conservative outlook, an outlook that might blur the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state for some.

Many families within that community have their own preference for a religiously based education for their children, regardless of the quality of the public school system here. Add the even longer-standing private school option of Air Force Junior ROTC and Methodist-sponsored Randolph-Macon Academy, now at the middle and high school levels, and you have an even greater private school alternative to public education in this community that predates current debates over educational and social policies and standards.

Whether one receives a better quality education publicly, privately, or in the home is matter of opinion and debate that will reflect the perspectives – religious, social and political – of the involved parties, as Mr. Waller’s and Lundberg’s letter illustrates. But leaving relevant facts out of the debate to promote one’s opinion as factual analysis is too often a symptom of advocacy, as opposed to objective exploration of the topic under scrutiny.

Roger Bianchini
Royal Examiner Editorial Board member

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Setting the Record Straight Re: School Budgets

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On October 19, the Royal Examiner published an open letter from two concerned citizens regarding their opinion that the entire Warren County School Board needs to be replaced. Many things were said in that letter to which a person might choose to respond, but one thing, in particular, stood out to me: “…it costs $64 million annually to educate 4,958 students in the Warren County Public School (WCPS).  That means Warren County taxpayers are paying almost $13,000 to educate one public school student a year.  That seems excessive!”

Is $13,000 per student excessive? I decided to compare some numbers to find out.

Firstly, as reported by the Royal Examiner on May 6 of this year, the budget approved for 2021-22 was $63,944,829. Divided across 4,958 students, that would be $12,897 per student.

The national average for public school spending is $12,612 per student. This is a difference of $285. Put another way, Warren County spends 2.25% more per student than the national average.

Excessive, indeed.

Ah, but excess is not determined solely by the grand total. We could spend a fraction of this budget, and if it was allocated poorly (spent frivolously to paint fences, perhaps) then it could still be considered excessive. The website for Warren County Public Schools helpfully has a link to the full budget; on page three, we can see that 76.31% of the budget ($48.8 million) is explicitly allocated for instruction.

Is that excessive?

Also interesting to note, near the end of the Warren County Public Schools budget (on page 38), the School Board has helpfully compared Warren County’s per-student spending to the state average. Since 2017, Warren County Public Schools has consistently spent almost $2,000 less per student than Virginia’s average.

Is it excessive to have a budget in line with the national average, a budget BELOW the state average, with almost all of the budgeted funds being explicitly directed to educating our children?

I suppose we will learn what the people think on November 2.

Joe Plemmons
Front Royal, Virginia

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