White People

I’m teaching Oral History—great students, mostly 19-years-old, and from all over the world—and recently we read All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw by Theodore Rosengarten. It’s a great book. Rosengarten was a doc student at Harvard decades ago, travelling around the South interviewing folks who’d been involved in the communist-led, short-lived and violently-suppressed Sharecropper’s Union. Shaw had been an organizer for the union, was arrested and did over a decade on a chain-gang. Lots of amazing stories from an old peasant/farmer/organizer with almost total recall.
Lots to say about the book, and the class too.
For several pages Shaw explains how to judge the value of a mule, and for several more he talks about the terrors of boll weevils. And more than you ever thought you’d know about land and economics and marketing and religion and…fascinating stuff, all new and strange to me.
At one point Shaw says, “So you see, all God’s dangers ain’t a white man. The boll weevil is also a danger.”
Rosengarten gets what Shaw means, and so he doesn’t say, Whoa, wait one minute. That’s a pretty broad brush. You don’t mean me, do you? I’m not a danger!
He just lets it go, and in a broad sense, he actually agrees with Shaw.

We all do.


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