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Revisiting 'Hamilton' and power of unlearning what we think we know

This week's culture conversation

"Hamilton," from two people who haven't seen it (WE KNOW, but bear with us ...)

Brandon: The past week has felt like a giant history lesson. Lots of people are reexamining the national narratives that they'd long accepted. One interesting vehicle for that conversation has been "Hamilton," which just hit Disney+. Have you seen it?

Leah: I think that I am one of the only people on the planet who has NOT seen it. Have you?

B: That makes two of us! I haven't seen it, either. I definitely know about it through, like, cultural osmosis. But I never made an effort to see it when it premiered back in 2015.

L: Yeah, I remember back then so many hailed it as cutting edge -- this idea of a race-blind casting of Alexander Hamilton's life. Barack Obama famously said that it was the only thing he and Dick Cheney agreed on, something they both loved. But I also remember the critiques about how it didn't address Hamilton's history with enslaved people or his treatment of Native Americans. Which, yikes -- pretty major things to leave out. Even with race-blind casting, who does that version of history serve?

B: Right. I think that many people would say that "Hamilton" is still zooming in on history from a very specific perspective -- i.e., the perspective of the (White) Founding Fathers.

I think that it's fair to say that "Hamilton" was appealing to a different moment. As you pointed out, it's an artifact of the Obama era, when there was a feeling of hope about the direction the country was going in, and a sense that we could be honest about the past.

But this history is now being contested in a very different way. To watch "Hamilton" valorize the Founding Fathers, even as it tries to do so subversively, doesn't hit the same way when the Founding Fathers themselves are in question.

L: Exactly! The discussion the play itself raises doesn't feel particularly relevant in the way it tried to be. But, did you see Lin-Manuel Miranda's response to some of the criticism the play/movie's received?
B: I did -- and thought he handled it extremely well. He said that he agrees with writer and podcast host Tracy Clayton, who tweeted that "hamilton the play and the movie were given to us in two different worlds & our willingness to interrogate things in this way feels like a clear sign of change."

She's exactly right. While there are some people who are predictably interpreting this conversation as #CancelHamilton (lol), it's so much more complicated. The play itself has come to embody the process of unlearning.

L: Tracy Clayton has NEVER missed. I totally agree. I mean, this just shows how we're all (even POC!) learning and reengaging and unlearning and all that, ALL THE TIME. It's not simple enough to just read a book and think, "Well, that's it! I am now educated on everything about race!"

B+L: OK, obviously we could go on. With more time, we could get into 100 other things, like what the play says about immigration or how it comments on modern xenophobia. Alas, that's space we don't have, but it's something we are definitely thinking about, and maybe you are, too.

The historical context

James Baldwin on confronting the past

Confederate monuments, the cringeworthy names of popular sports teams, "Hamilton": In recent days, there's been lots of buzz about history -- about revisiting and even unlearning the glossy, incomplete versions of history that we've been taught.

No, it's not about propaganda or erasure. (Some on the right, including the President, would have you think that, though.) It's about being honest about the depths of America's racist past -- about which stories society has chosen to polish and elevate, and at whose expense.

This process of confronting the truth is hard and painful -- but vital. It's something that the writer James Baldwin crystallized from a Black perspective in 1965, during a historic televised debate against William F. Buckley Jr., an influential conservative intellectual.

"When I was growing up, I was taught in American history books that Africa had no history, and neither did I," Baldwin told the rapt audience at the University of Cambridge in England. "That I was a savage about whom the less said, the better, who had been saved by Europe and brought to America. And, of course, I believed it. I didn't have much choice. Those were the only books there were."

He continued. "It is only since the Second World War that there's been a counter-image in the world. ... This gave an American Negro for the first time a sense of himself beyond the savage or a clown. It has created, and will create, a great many conundrums."

Likewise, the ongoing protests feel so singular in part because they're fueled by a battle between, to borrow Baldwin's words, images and counter-images -- by a desire to be honest about the damaging racial narratives that America broadcasts.

But this time, it isn't just Black Americans who are doing the work of anti-racism. White Americans are joining the cause more vigorously than at any moment in recent memory.

Recommended for your eyes and ears

The fact that White Americans are joining the cause now more than ever speaks to a key question: Why now? It's a question that NPR's "Code Switch" podcast tries to answer in an episode titled "Why Now, White People?" as anti-racism reading lists are shared across the internet. The conclusion the hosts come to may make you uncomfortable -- but that's a good thing.
As many begin to dive into those anti-racism books they ordered, beginning a process of "unlearning" or "checking their privilege," the tendency to think that reading a book will absolve racism is enticing. But as Momtaza Mehri reminds us in her piece for The Guardian, "Anti-racism requires so much more than 'checking your privilege.' " The process of unlearning goes far beyond mere self-reflection -- it requires active persistence.
In a society that repeatedly touts Islamophobic sentiments -- particularly to those who wear the hijab -- The New York Times' "I Am Here to Prove You Wrong" chronicles Miss Muslimah USA, a Muslim beauty pageant. The history of beauty pageants is, of course, fraught. But this piece illustrates how Muslim women are creating room for themselves in a space where they've historically been denied, while also challenging non-Muslim readers to question their own assumptions about beauty.

Around the office

Given the country's uneven legacy of freedom, Black Americans have long struggled with commemorating the Fourth of July. CNN's John Blake wrote about the holiday from a fresh perspective -- one that's both honest and hopeful:

"The country seems like a mess. Racial protests have rocked every major city. Unemployment has soared. And Americans can't even agree if they should wear face masks in the middle of a pandemic. But what some see as chaos, others see as an explosion of patriotism.

"They see it in the armies of Americans that took to the streets to protest racism. They see it in the companies that are taking unprecedented stands against racial and social injustice. Even the Americans who are wearing masks for the health of their neighbors -- they, too, are reasons to wave the flag. All of these different groups have declared their independence from symbols and ideas that they've decided no longer represent them."

Football news:

Tottenham will buy Heybjerg from Southampton for 15 million pounds. And will release Walker-Peters for $ 12 million. Southampton Midfielder Pierre-Emile Heibjerg is close to changing clubs
The Champions League will be finished under the new rules. The amendments will make it easier for goalkeepers to take penalties
UEFA will count 0:3 for clubs whose fault is due to the coronavirus will disrupt European Cup matches
15-year-old forward Mukoko trains with the Borussia Foundation. He will be able to play for Dortmund in November
Dybala became the MVP of Serie A-2019/20, Immobile-the best forward
Real Madrid: Casillas will always be a Real Madrid player. The best goalkeeper in the history of Spain
In Spain, complete chaos: Espanyol refuses to fly out of La Liga, Depor and all the others - from Segunda