Racism, Deady Hall, and Tube Socks

I value traditions because I think everyone should get to vote — not only those who haven’t yet died. I often find myself defending things that others find offensive — Elizabethan Shakespeare, canned cranberry gelatin, University of Oregon’s Deady Hall.

I do believe we should let dead people vote, if only to be reminded that we, the living, are in the minority. Don’t ask me how they make these calculations, but world demographers estimate that the planet has hosted approximately 108 billion humans, not counting the 8 billion who are currently alive. That means the dead outnumber the living, 14-to-1. But hey, we’re the ones doing the counting, so we have that going for us.

Me, I don’t plan to live forever, but I do hope my votes continue to count. History will not always be kind to me and my choices, but I do hope those who come after will take time to understand whatever shaped my point of view. They have my permission to grin empathetically at my silly mistakes.

It’s easy to become outraged when all its defenders have been silenced by death. That doesn’t make it fair, nice, or helpful. Believing we’re smarter and better than all humans who came before us doesn’t make it so. Chronological bigotry is still bigotry.

Why not put that effort into undoing mistakes we’re still making — disposable diapers, Bill Cosby albums, “pets,” college football, lather-rinse-repeat, or tube socks? Whatever it is that will someday embarrass us, only one thing is certain. It will be something we’ve overlooked.

Like tube socks. For millennia, humans have needed something between their tender toes and whatever harsh reality the ground had to offer. Shoes were invented, becoming sturdier and more durable. Eventually, human toes needed protection from the shoes — but only until Barbara Bowerman donated her waffle iron to her tinkering husband.

Socks provided the needed cushion between bunion and boot, making “darn” a good word for centuries. Ask any knitter and they’ll tell you the heel is the hard part. The math for the curve is difficult, and it has to be in just the right place or the sock won’t fit.

Advances in elasticity solved that problem another way. Tube socks could be sold without a heel, making them one-size-fits-all. We love such modern standardizations beyond all reason. Yes, socks suddenly are much cheaper, matching them out of the dryer has never been easier — but they just aren’t as — oh, I don’t know — “socky”.

Tube socks are better only for those who make and sell socks, not for anyone who wears them. Marketers left off the last two words from the phrase “one size fits all.” Maybe it wouldn’t fit so neatly on the packaging, but “one size fits all equally poorly” would be more truthful.

Those who come after us will giggle at our tube socks. Or they won’t, because they’re wearing tube tops. No wait, that’s another mistake we already made. If history is good to tubes, our socks may go unnoticed, complete with the extra fabric that bunches at the top of our instep. But I’m not so sure.

How we treat history will determine how history treats us.

Can we correct the mistakes of our forbears without expunging the identities and perspectives of those who were mistaken? Once history removes every mistake I’ve made, I’m pretty sure the page will be mostly empty. Somebody someday might decide it would be easier to dip the entire page of my life in white-out, unless history later becomes unkind to all things lacking pigment.

Let’s be busy correcting the things that we still have time to correct, but leave alone the mistakes others made before us, choosing to learn from them instead. And by “them,” I mean the mistakes, but also the people.

Fix the mistakes, respect the people. If their mistakes make it easier for us to do the right thing, we should be grateful and gracious — not angry and arrogant.

Keep Deady Hall’s name, teach how slavery once made sense to otherwise good people, and pull up your socks.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.