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Ry Cooder Takes On Wall Street Greed

Posted on May 25, 2011
Photo illustration from an image by Colin Grey

(Page 2)

Michael Bronski: He actually—so he’s, you know … this isn’t very happy for the Puritans. He actually urges his indentured servants to intermarry with the local native woman. Again, since they’re not Christian, a really heretical…he sets up an 80-foot May Pole which he crowns with a pair of stag horns. Which I’m sure, to the Puritans, looked very much like devil worship, since this refers back to Pan, or to the devil. They had dances around it, they have…he begins to create a society within a few months which has economic equity to it, racial equity, sexual—some degree of gender equity; not completely, but he’s sort of moving there. They even sing songs to Juniper and Ganymede, or Zeus and Ganymede, which the Puritans would have quickly recognized as having homosexual implications, Zeus being the head of the gods and Ganymede being his underage [Laughs] cup-bearer. And … Gov. John Winthrop quickly puts an end to the colony and sends Morton back to England—where he, amazingly, becomes quite vocal in defending the rights of local native people. From the very beginning we see this, sort of like society is repressive; some people move out from it, start their own society, and they’re punished or they’re pushed back into society because of it.

Josh Scheer: You get into that a lot, because when you read about your description of the natives, it’s that they kind of would—if someone was too effeminate they’d actually kind of push them to live with the women, right?

Michael Bronski: Right.

Josh Scheer: …and things like that. And then—but then you get to the European kind of morals and values and everything else. And they were even—the sight of nudeness was kind of shocking, right?


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Michael Bronski: Yeah. For—I mean, for the European—and I don’t want to defend the Europeans coming over, because they were for the most part conquerors and exploiters and racists. But you know, imagine their surprise when they came here from European society and saw different degrees of nakedness among people. They saw women building houses, which was actually the role of women in many of the native tribes. They saw people worshiping the corn goddess, and not God the Father. They saw a laxity in gender roles, where in fact some men could live as women; there were some women who were actually warriors. They also saw people having lots of sex in ways that did not cause, would not engender reproductive results. So for them, it was sort of a complete nightmare, and their response was to convert the peoples, or to kill them, or to enslave them. But it must have been a complete shock to them to actually come up against a lifestyle which they…lives and actions which they literally had never imagined before, and which were completely—again, since this is a very religious culture—completely heretical and sinful for them.

Josh Scheer: You talk about the Puritans…and how they left the Church of England because they felt that the sex was too much, right? I mean, because they were becoming too Roman Catholic, and the Church of England was influenced by the Italian love, and all that. And … [the] description of, like, sodomy laws, where men could even be put to death for sodomy; it’s kind of very shocking.

Michael Bronski: In fact, there’s a great…I believe I mentioned in the book that Thomas Jefferson is seen as a huge liberal reformer when he suggests that sodomy be punished by castration and not death.

Peter Scheer: [Laughs] How brave of him.

Michael Bronski: What’s so interesting, right, is that we have all these laws and yet they hardly prosecute anybody under the law. So they actually kind of allow it. So again, there’s that tension between, we want the best, most pure holy society possible, but you know—if it happens, if happens; if it doesn’t hurt the family, then fine.

Peter Scheer: As a final thought here … this keeps happening throughout our history. Where are we now? Are we just on this endless merry-go-round, are we making real progress, where do you see us now?

Michael Bronski: That’s a great question. I think undoubtedly, we’ve actually made enormous progress. Things—you know, we got rid of slavery; women can vote; in 2003 we did get, finally, insanely, get rid of the sodomy laws. I do think that the tensions play over again and again, with slightly different scenarios. I mean, one thing that I think is important to remember is that the road to any liberation, particularly for LGBT people, is—has two major threads to it. One thread is people wanting equality under the law, which is great—if there’s a law, people should be equal under it, obviously. But the second thread is actually—and I don’t want to say that it’s libertarian, because then it makes you sound like one of those crazy tea party people—but really it’s like the government should be out of people’s lives. The government—I should be able to sleep with whomever I want; I want to be able to have sex with whomever I want; I want to be able to have whatever religious beliefs I have.

Peter Scheer: Or George Washington-style romantic letters.

Michael Bronski: [Laughs] Right. These are actually—there’s some tension between them, but both are actually quite important.

Peter Scheer: Well, thanks so much for joining us, Michael Bronski.

Michael Bronski: Well, thank you.

Peter Scheer: His new book is “A Queer History of the United States.” Go check it out.

* * *

Kasia Anderson: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Kasia Anderson, associate editor [of Truthdig]. And I’m speaking once more with Dr. Marcia Dawkins. She’s a visiting scholar at Brown University and a graduate of the [USC] Annenberg School for Communication’s Ph.D. program. How are you doing today, Dr. Dawkins?

Marcia Dawkins: I’m fine, Kasia. How are you?

Kasia Anderson: I’m doing great. And I wanted to hear more about a piece that we just posted of yours; by the time that our listeners hear this, it might be a few days later. But its appeal is evergreen, in my humble opinion. And it’s called “50 Years of Freedom,” and it’s about the 50th anniversary of the historic Freedom Riders’ trek through the South. Do you want to tell us kind of what the significance of the event was for you, and a little bit more about your encounter with Student Riders and the Freedom Riders?

Marcia Dawkins: Absolutely, I’d be happy to. I kind of stumbled upon, believe it or not, the Student Riders and original Freedom Riders, as I’m visiting the National Public Library pretty much every day [Laughs] and wrapping up my book on racial passing, “Things Said In Passing.” And so I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and was asked to volunteer for an afternoon to make sure that everything would go smoothly for the program.

Kasia Anderson: So all those posters we got when we were little about “Read,” and, you know … literacy, everything that comes from that is good, were actually true? [Laughter] Hanging out in libraries gets you places. So, sorry, go on.

Marcia Dawkins: It sure enough does. And so it got me into the same room with these amazing people, and these amazing younger people who are trying to follow in their footsteps. So when we talk about significance, the significance is pretty personal for me and my family, actually. This event and this anniversary has caused us to do a lot of talking, and my father’s mother, my grandmother, remembers those “colored” and “white” signs, and going into places and not being served, and not being able to process how that felt for her. And my father, though significantly younger, also remembers traveling through the South when they were going to visit relatives, and not being able to stay in motels, and recounted this one experience, when he couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old, where they finally found a motel where they could stay that had this big red light that said “colored only.” And his grandmother had to stay up all night picking the bedbugs off of him. So that gives you an indication that, certainly, separate is inherently unequal.

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