Alexander Pushkin was black.
Yesterday was his birthday.
I did not see a lot of celebrations of his heritage as a heritage of a literary genius of African descent.
What I saw instead is an announcement that Yale students call for abolishment of a "core course" in English literature.
Because only white male straight poets were included into the curriculum. And students rebelled and claimed that the English major must be "decolonized".
So, who "colonized" the English major at Yale university?
Here are the names of the offending poets:
For the fall semester:
- Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400);
- Edmund Spenser (1552-1599);
- William Shakespeare (1564-1616);
- John Donne (1572-1631), and
Students actually filed a petition to abolish the course which says, among other things:
“A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity,” the petition reads. “The Major English Poets sequences creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color. When students are made to feel so alienated that they get up and leave the room, or get up and leave the major, something is wrong.”
I wonder if "students of color" or women or "queer folk" would stand up and leave the room where they are taught, let's say, chemistry, or physics, or any other science that was, until recently dominated by white males.
It apparently does not occur to students of any identity that even in the United States, homosexuality was a crime until just 15 years ago, and it was punishable by death in Europe in the middle ages.
What kind of "literary contributions of the 'queer folk'" - acknowledging their homosexuality in the open - do our modern-time students expect?
Actually, hints at homosexuality exists in the works of the same:
Should straight students now get offended of the same course and feel that the course creates a "hostile environment"?
Actually, to me, a person who has been born and raised in a Communist country, the USSR, this petition caused a flashback to the years of the so-called "socialist realism" in the literature.
Because the Yale students did not say the poets chosen were bad poets, or that they did not reflect the literary tradition - which is exactly what they came to Yale to study.
They did not like the fact that the identity of the poets and topics of their poetry - allegedly - did not reflect the latest-day concept of diversity, which did not exist at the time the overwhelming majority of these poets (7 of 8) lived and worked.
In the USSR a person could not be considered a bona fide writer worth to be known to the public if he or she did not write in the tradition of "socialist realism".
My memory is still crammed - from childhood, cannot uncram it - with verses I was made to memorize at school that, if I recite today, will raise quite a few eyebrows.
Yet, at that time that was the requirement of the day for poets and writers who wanted to see their name in print to write in that "tradition".
The verses that I was made to memorize at school promoted loyalty to the country and the Communist party beyond your life, rejection of relatives and their religion, glorifying snitching to authorities of your parents if they were idelogically opposed to the party.
Movies in the country swept by pre- and post-WWII hunger and destruction was about the greatness of Stalin and of the same communist party.
The true issues were not allowed to be described.
It appears that now the future rulers of this country - the intellectual elite from Yale - claim they will be offended by simply learning about the literary tradition, because the literary masterpieces they are assigned to read were not created by women, "people of color" and "queer folk".
As to the "queer folk" I already pointed out that the youngsters who were keyboard-happy to write and file the petition, did not give themselves time to research the history of the time when the "assigned" poets lived and whether those poets were actually "closet" homosexuals who were simply afraid to reveal their identity because there was a death penalty for homosexuality that was considered a sin by the church.
The students did not consider that women were predominantly illiterate at that time and property of men - so what kind of creativity, and especially published literary works, could you expect from women of 14th to 18th century?
For example, a 12th-13th century female poet Marie de France was (as scholars say) an abbess and a half-sister of English King Henry II.
Marie De France wrote in French, so her work cannot be attributed to the English literary tradition.
Another known female medieval poet, and also a member of the nobility, is known only by name, Gwerful Fychan - and her literary works reportedly did not survive, and she lived in Wales, which is a different language.
There are many medieval female poets known - but all of them appear to be from either Wales, or France, or Spain, or Italy, or they were Arabic, so their works could not be assigned in an English major class.
What I did not see in the students' petition is suggestions.
The youngsters came to Yale to study English literature and the English literary tradition.
That literary tradition was created gradually, for centuries, and was influenced by history of the period when literary works were created.
While it may be offensive that women, and people of color, and homosexuals were not well represented - or represented at all - in the English literary tradition of several centuries back, if that is part of history, history cannot be re-written just because we want it.
If there were no known outstanding female poets, or openly homosexual poets, or poets who were "people of color" who contributed to the English tradition of 14th to 19th centuries - we cannot re-write the history where a few white males were the privileged class and prevented education of everybody else.
That history cannot be re-written, and hiring a modern female African American poet will not replace knowledge of the English literary tradition of 14th - 19th centuries.
If students want to find such authors - they can just as well do it, and present the faculty with the names and the works they want to be assigned, which they did not do in their petition.
Yet, if students pressure the faculty as to how to restructure assigned courses, the university can always ask such students to go some place else, where they will like the curriculum better.
Because a petition without any suggestions as to who is going to replace the "eight white male poets", the renowned classics of English literature, is simply pressure seeking publicity and disrupting work of the school, and nothing else.
I cannot imagine while people cannot read - and enjoy - good poetry without seeing whether the person who wrote it is a woman, what is the author's sexual preferences and what is the author's skin color.
It is profoundly bizarre to me to assess the worth of a work of art by the identity of who created it. If it is written by a woman - the poem is good, by a white male - bad?
If Yale yields to this pressure, we will then see pressure upon professors in other courses, and in other schools - from chemistry to math - to assign for studying only the work created by "women", "people of color" and "queer folk", without regard of the actual value of that work, and while overlooking the work created by "white male" authors.
If the Yale faculty allows students to control the curriculum, governed by the students' desire to remain illiterate as to the actual classics of the English literary tradition because of identity of their authors, that would be the end of education.
I will then suggest, as a taxpayer, that IRS should withdraw the tax exemption from Yale, and from any other "public charity" schools, if schools eliminate proper educational content from the curriculum because of the color of the author's skin.
I wonder if William Shakespeare could imagine that at any time in the future he and his works will be sought to be banned from the curriculum of one of the best universities in the world because of the color of his skin.
To those students who continue to engage in this educational racism, I suggest: stop using all modern time inventions and conveniences unless you verify that they were not created by white males, but instead are created exclusively by women, people of color and "queer folks".