Who’s Sorry Now is Like the Corners of My Mind (or, Connie Francis Meets Gladys Knight and Mashes-up Public Memory)

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A New York Times headline recently trumpeted that Virginia Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, had telephoned law professor Anita Hill at her faculty office and left a message. You can read about it here. Odd behavior, to say the least. And by odd behavior, I don’t mean the fact that Professor Hill reported the call to campus security or that her university reported it to the FBI. Under the circumstances, I consider the call vexing and harassing. The proffer of an “olive branch” is usually used to symbolize peace, not to figuratively re-assault the victim.

I teach the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill matter in my Race & Racism class and in a class called Law in Literature and Film (we do non-fiction as well as fictional depictions of law in film in the latter class. I spend quite a bit of time discussing, though, whether even televised hearings are truly non-fiction, unvarnished “truth”, given issues of editing, staging, camera angles, etc.). I am always astounded to find that so many students are not at all aware of what had occurred during the Thomas confirmation hearings until we study it. (“Oh,” one student said in a recent class after understanding what had occurred, “Is that why Justice Thomas is always so quiet?” I have no answer for that, really.) My eldest children were very young (younger than some of my students) at the time of the hearings, and yet my children have a very clear memory of the events and a good understanding of what went on based on what they learned as they got older. Given the disparities in shared knowledge about this event, such knowledge (and such memories) begin to feel personal and narrowly cultural rather than public and broadly social. They seem to depend on the particular focus of ones home or educational community.

Public memory can be tricky, as I’ve determined from exploring it in other work. It is often viewed as static and unchanging, and is typically concerned with forging a collective sense of what to remember and how to remember it, and is often a significant component in forging identities both individual and collective. But public memory, as one scholar writes, is subject to the “history, hierarchies, and aspirations” of a particular community, and is therefore often anything but static. At its core it is both contested and contingent, and the contest is frequently between the “official culture”—that which exercises hegemony, and the “vernacular culture”—informal, unofficial, subsidiary cultures.

Read the rest of the post here.

-Lolita Buckner Inniss

cross-post from Ain’t I a Feminist Legal Scholar, Too?

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One Response to Who’s Sorry Now is Like the Corners of My Mind (or, Connie Francis Meets Gladys Knight and Mashes-up Public Memory)

  1. nbleighe says:

    “But public memory, as one scholar writes, is subject to the “history, hierarchies, and aspirations” of a particular community, and is therefore often anything but static.”

    In addition… ‘public memory’ is subject to the ‘echo chamber’ of the media… which is why critical thinking is more important today than ever before.

    Consider… in the time of the tribal hunt, only a few skilled warriors took part in the endeavor… and they knew their assigned roles. As a corollary… it was the women who stayed home and farmed… which really kept the society together.

    The men got to beat their chests… 2 or 3 times a year… while the women got to beat the roots on stones… every day.

    Fast forward to today… the media ‘echo chamber’ would have everyone with electronic connection to the outside world – believe that they are the master of their fate… without realizing why the few have always ruled the many – namely, the few know what they want… and the many don’t know that their wants… were put into their minds… by the few.

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