An Open Letter to the Author of Bitter Marginalia in Reminiscences of the Second Seminole War by John Bemrose.

Radical Equality

Dear Austin, 

Is it OK if I call you Austin? That’s what I imagine, and you haven’t given me much else to work with, so there we are. Me and you, Austin.

Austin, what happened? Until now, you were enjoying this book. Back there when we were reading about “friendly and simple-minded” Minorcans, you kept to yourself. You stayed quiet, too—with a grim set of the jaw, I like to imagine, but I’m not so sure—when “the unfeeling buyers of blood” at the St. Augustine slave market “[caviled] over the qualifications of human beings, with the coarseness of cattle jobbers.” “Picturesque” Indians (who were also, I’m sure you remember reading, “great beggars”); a Black Seminole interpreter “with his paucity of ideas”; Native “children of the woods” who wouldn’t hesitate to kill a “even a lisping babe!”; all went without comment. But not this. So why now?

I’ve been thinking about it, and maybe, Austin, feminism is your jam. All that stuff about race and ethnicity is someone else’s fight. Maybe it’s so clearly wrong-headed that it doesn’t merit marginal argument. But this, this is Austin’s battlefield: women can be unprincipled and wicked, too! Men and women alike can have hard hearts! Which, hey, you’re not wrong. Fair enough.

But I don’t think that’s true. I think you had an axe to grind when you read this paragraph. And it’s OK, we’ve all been there. Like, just this morning on the way to work I was stopped at an intersection waiting for someone to pass so I could turn right; but then, right at the last second, they whipped the car into a turn. No signal! And then the next car did the same thing—and no, they weren’t in a turn lane, I know what you’re thinking, Austin, this was a two-lane road—and then the next one, and the next one, until finally the light changed and I was stuck. I could have turned ages ago if only I had known! So then, later this morning, someone was trying to talk to me about an unanswered email and I couldn’t wait to say, “I know, it’s just like people who don’t use their blinkers! Why do people do that?” And they just sort of laughed and then kept going on about the email.

I’m guessing that whenever it was that you read this, Austin, you felt pretty much the same way about women. Someone would say, “Know who was a real piece of work? Mussolini, that’s who,” and you would say, “I know, I know, but women can be evil, too.” Or someone else would go, “I burnt my fingers on my toast this morning,” and you would say, “yeah, kinda like women can burn your heart.”

If you still feel the need to scribble your rage in old memoirs, OK. The past is a safe space: lived-in, comfortable. That’s one of the reasons we historians like to spend so much time there: we already know the bad parts of the movie, and we know the heroes and villains can’t hear us or object when we grind our axes on their words.

But, Austin, we can also talk about it if you want. I think you might need to talk about it.

All the best,

Chris

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