I cried when I heard of Howard Zinn’s dying of a heart attack on Wednesday night.
I was going to write something on Thursday but I was called into work.
For a formal obituary I suggest The New York Times.
How our history is written shapes how we we think of ourselves in the present. Here in Texas there is a major struggle in the State Board of Education regarding what is stressed and what is to be omitted from the history taught to the children of Texas. The conservatives want to teach the importance of wealth and religion, the powerful white men while omitting the struggles for the abolition of slavery, racial equality and the rights of women. Naturally the progressives are more inclined to include more of the history of the un-named people who struggled to make Texas and the nation a better place for people of color, women as well as LGBT/T folks.
In high school during the early 1960s, I was a history punk before I went to college and joined SDS. I had a teacher who taught the text but who let me add information from works I read outside of school. She even suggested I read certain books.
As a radical I saw how the new papers under counted those demonstrating against the war in Vietnam and over counted the few counter demonstrators, a practice that continues to this day with the most notorious recent examples being the huge over counting of the numbers of Tea Baggers vs the incredible under counting of the number of anti-war demonstrators at the protest in New York City prior to George W. Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.
I have seen how corporate media has distorted the views of feminists as well as the demands for equality on the part of LGBT/T people.
Before I read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States 1492-Present I read James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. I don’t think I needed a book to tell me that something was rotten and that I was being programmed to forget what actually happened at some events I was physically a part of. I knew something was wrong when the official histories and media accounts of those events were so different from the events I was part of that I had to question if I were actually there.
Howard Zinn never gave in to the vast right wing media propaganda machine. Even when it would have been easier and far more rewarding for him to do so. Others on the left did and were rewarded handsomely with guaranteed best sellers and large grants from right wing foundations. Some of these former progressives are almost convincing in their role as Judas Goats others are simply pathetic.
In the 1990s I read a fictional work by Felice Picano titled Like People in History which caused me to start thinking about all the events I had been a part of from the anti-war movement to the early days of DIY transsexual self help/support groups.
Later Jacob Hale introduced me to Susan Stryker, who collected an oral history from me which was in turn referenced by Joanne Meyerowitz in her book, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States.
Eventually so many right wingers bad mouthed Zinn and Chomsky so harshly and often I felt I had to read them.
Because of Howard Zinn I came to realize how much real history is left out of the history they teach in schools, the history they want us to know because if we knew the real history of the common people then we might know that our present struggles are part of a long history of struggles against a wide assortment of oppressions.
What started for me with Susan Stryker collecting my oral history was magnified by Zinn into a recognition that so much of real history is found in memoirs rather than over arching historical texts emphasizing the actions of kings, presidents and generals.
My most recent memory of that importance was a staged reading of Voices of A People’s History on the History Channel.
History belongs to each and every one of us. It becomes ours when we take a stand against oppression and speak truth to power. I do not automatically dismiss our personal stories with a sneer of contempt as, “just another trannie biography” when as a whole they tell about who we are as a people far better than any work by any Ph.D. who studies us including Dr Benjamin, who some think we should rename transsexualism for.
But Dr. Benjamin had nothing to do with making us who we are or for that matter with the condition we were born with. The power lies in the narrative we tell of our lives, the reclaiming of our own personal histories.
Howard Zinn and others have taught us that the stories of our lives count.