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Historical Blindness

Okay, everyone, pop quiz. What is Kimberly’s new favorite city?

For those of you who guessed New Orleans, San Francisco or London, you are wrong, but you get an honorable mention. I do love all of those and I’m open to loving Paris or Sydney or Hong Kong, too, if someone feels like paying my way. After a recent trip, however, a new city has current custody of my heart.

If you guessed Boston, congratulations! You got it right. You might have psychic abilities. Want to take a crack at the lottery numbers next?

Swan boats. No one can resist swan boats.

Boston has spent a couple of years near the top of my destination list, mostly because my dear friend Holly lives there, but also for its own sake. The Freedom Trail, swan boats, Boston Cream Pie – what’s not to love? Okay, I didn’t actually get any pie, but I did manage a Boston Cream donut at Dunkin’ Donuts in the airport on my way out. It’ll do. Really, the only bad thing about the beautiful city is the FIVE AND A HALF HOURS it takes to fly there from L.A. Unless I decide to go to Maine, it’s the longest flight I can take from my current home city and still be in the U.S.(Just to save you looking it up, the flight from L.A. to Honolulu is shorter by thirty minutes. Even the flight to Anchorage, AK is about five minutes shorter.) To occupy myself, I pulled up my selection of audiobooks and found Cokie Roberts’ Founding Mothers. I didn’t actually do that on purpose. It didn’t dawn on me until after I got off the plane that the tales of women’s participation in the American Revolution made a fitting intro to a city with colonial history. What can I say? Sometimes I am a little slow on the uptake.

Two X chromosomes and a history obsession make an uneasy blend sometimes. (“Uneasy Blend” – that might make a good title for my autobiography someday.) I can only imagine how people of African or Native American descent must feel listening to America’s history. “Gee, you didn’t think people should be taxed without their permission. So marching into my ancestors’ village, kidnapping them and selling them into slavery was okay, but someone taking a percentage of your wages was just too much?” It’s depressing to know that history was written as if people like you either didn’t exist or at the very least didn’t matter. Then, when you complain about it, someone rolls his eyes and asks why you need to “rewrite history.”

Old North Church, of “one if by land, two if by sea” fame.

Fortunately, not everyone takes the narrative they learned at face value. (Not even all white men, I know.) The narrative I heard on this trip demonstrated that scholars have begun to explore a wider variety of historical experiences. It’s a daunting task. While we have, as Cokie Roberts puts it, “every grocery list ever written by the Founding Fathers,” we have precious little documentation from the women who lived and worked beside them and almost nothing from people they enslaved or slaughtered. If as is almost certain anyone at the time loved a person of their own sex, historians developed selective amnesia. Even so, some progress has been made. The guides mention that the first person killed in the Boston Massacre, Crispus Attucks, had African and Native American ancestors. I remember pictures of a whole lot of white people in my history books. Most of us know about John Adams, our second president, and maybe even John Quincy Adams. Fewer of us know about their formidable wives, Abigail and Louisa. (Should you ever go back in time, do not default on a loan from Abigail Adams. You will regret it. And maybe don’t go behind enemy lines with Lousia unless you, too, can convince someone you’re Napoleon’s sister.) If you haven’t read any of the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley, you might want to get on that. The white Wheatley family may have thought they owned her, but it sounds like her writing had more power than they did. George Washington was a fan and when the family took her to London to get her writings published, George III wanted to meet her. (She went home before the appointment was scheduled. Clearly, not even kings get everything they want.)

These stories stuck with me. There were others, and so many more that haven’t been discovered yet. We don’t want to repaint our picture of history to silk screen people besides Anglo-Saxon men on to it. We want to light the gallery properly this time, to show all the people that have always been there, instead of focusing the ones our patriarchal culture has chosen to spotlight all these years.

We can do it and we will. History, like Dunkin’ Donuts, has so many flavors to offer. Why would we stop with just the one?

Kimberly really wants to go back to Boston and she really wants another Boston Kreme Donut. 

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