Coloring Columbus: On the Importance of Leaving Out the Details

Christopher ColumbusI am the parent of three children, two of whom are elementary school-aged.  As such, I have now twice been handed an image of Christopher Columbus (not unlike the one featured above) that they each have dutifully colored, which appears to be a requisite kindergarten activity at our local public school. Because of the historical evidence that details Columbus’s systematic torture and murder of the peoples whose lands he colonized, I have always found this exercise something akin to coloring a picture of Saddam Hussein or some other such figure. Continue reading “Coloring Columbus: On the Importance of Leaving Out the Details”

There’s No Place Like Home?: The Narrative of Fly-Over Country

Ruby SlippersI have lived most of my life in various parts of what some have referred to as “fly-over country,” a term often used to describe the vast majority of the U.S. that lies between the coasts.  As the name implies, the popular perception is that these places aren’t particularly worth a visit because they are thought to lack cultural diversity, professional opportunities, and are often considered to be the seedbeds of a tired but persistent traditionalism that denies the value of progressive thinking. Continue reading “There’s No Place Like Home?: The Narrative of Fly-Over Country”

Hitler’s Ride

icon_bug2Photo credit: NPR

A recent NPR story by author Maureen Pao tells of a sort of bait and switch going on with some of the world’s most famous consumer products, the branding strategies of which are tied to national identity.  Did you know that Levi’s jeans are now no longer manufactured in San Francisco (nor even the United States), or that Stoli Vodka is now not “Russian” at all, but is produced in Latvia? Even the iconic body style of the original Volkswagen Beetle was last produced in Mexico.  Additionally noteworthy to Pao was the decision to move the production of Britain’s famous condiment, HP sauce, to the Netherlands, something likened to “selling the family’s silver.” Continue reading “Hitler’s Ride”

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: On Deception and Identity

SpanxEver seen those?  Those are Spanx brand undergarments.  I’ll get to them in a minute.

I have just returned from my 20th high school reunion, which, as one might imagine, provides a cornucopia of data on identity.  There were plenty of “Can you believe it’s been twenty years?” comments, the resurrection of lots of insider jokes that were much funnier long ago, and many discussions of spouses, jobs, and kids.  In other words, it was an enjoyable, albeit predictable, time. Continue reading “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: On Deception and Identity”

Gettysburg, Or How (And What) We Remember


This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg is remembered as one of the most pivotal moments in the United States’ Civil War, in part for the way that momentum shifted towards the Union forces, but also because the largest number of lives were lost there than in any other battle in the conflict. Continue reading “Gettysburg, Or How (And What) We Remember”

Habla Espanol?

menu_crispy_tacosI was at Chipotle this weekend, waiting to order my favorite fast food (crunchy chicken tacos with veggies, heavy on the corn salsa).   The man behind me in line spoke fluent English to a child with him, but when it was his turn at the counter, he looked at the young female employee and began ordering in Spanish.  The glitch in the plan was that while he was talking to a woman with brown skin (who, according to popular identifiers, might have a better chance of being a Spanish-speaker than others), she was not a Spanish speaker at all; in fact, as she pointed out to him, she was Asian.  After a few embarrassing laughs the burrito bowls and extra guac were ordered, and everyone scooted out the door. Continue reading “Habla Espanol?”

Supermodel Blues

Some of you may have seen supermodel Cameron Russell’s recent TED talk on the topic of beauty (and, more to the point, its social construction).  In the talk, Russell enters the stage wearing a tight, revealing black dress and very high heels, but as the substance of her speech ensues, she quickly changes into a far more demure (not to mention much looser) skirt and sweater. Continue reading “Supermodel Blues”