Group One question:
On p. 2, Allen says that “On September 4, 1957. . . U.S. democracy was reconstituted.” What does she mean by saying that?
Taken literally we think of democracy being constituted by the Constitution, the document that spells out the structure and duties of the federal government. If we think in these terms, then U.S. democracy has been reconstituted whenever the Constitution has undergone a major change. The abolition of slavery would be one such reconstitution. Women's suffrage would be another. But Allen thinks that other changes can count as reconstitution as well: changes in the behavior of citizens toward each other. On Sept. 4 1957, the National Guard was sent to Little Rock, Ark., to attempt to protect black students desegregating the previously all-white Little Rock High School. What we saw there was a situation where Brown v. Board of Education has changed federal law in such a way as to very likely count as yet another reconstitution. But on Sept. 4 what Americans saw was that this reconstitution was not going to completely happen because of the resistance of the white citizens of Little Rock. (It seems to me that Allen is mistaken in saying that democracy was reconstituted on that day. Rather that day signaled the realization on the part of liberal white Americans that for democracy to be reconstituted, the behavior of southern whites had to change, that the legal change brought about by Brown was insufficient to reconstitute our democracy.)
Group Two question:
“Habits of citizenship begin with how citizens imagine their political world. And what changed with the photographs? Exactly that: how citizens of the United States imagine their political world. Explain (a) what Allen means by the first sentence and (b) just in what ways citizens’ imaginations changed.
Habits of citizenship consist of how we act toward each other in public spaces. Those habits are closely-related to how we imagine our political world and the people who inhabit it. If, e.g., we imagine ourselves to belong to a political world in which some have more power and greater rights than others, a world of inequality, of one group dominating another, then we will act to enforce that inequality. Some of us will act in a dominant fashion, others will acquiesce in that dominance (and some may rebel against it or leave the polity altogether.) What happened with the publication of the photographs of Elizabeth Eckford and other black students attempting to enter the previously-segregated white Little Rock H.S. was that a large segment of the white population suddenly realized the nature and extent of the unequal citizenship that black Americans had in the south (and to a lesser degree in the north). Northern whites were no longer able to imagine that they lived in a democracy where equality was enjoyed by all. They were thus forced to do something: to attempt to make the changes necessary to realize that equality, or to despair of equality being possible.
Group Three question:
“the image of Hazel cursing Elizabeth raises the challenge of transformation not of laws but of ourselves.” What does Allen mean?
The photo reveals what happened when Elizabeth Eckford and other black students attempted to desegregate Little Rock High School. They were doing so pursuant to the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education which declared segregation unconstitutional. So the laws have been transformed. Yet clearly Elizabeth is not able to exercise her legal right to attend Little Rock H.S. And this shows us that to achieve free and equal democratic citizenship for all requires more than legal transformation. It requires that the traditional patterns of behavior which saw whites being dominant over submissive blacks had to change. As long as Hazel and her white fellows behave as they do in this photo, Elizabeth will be unable to be a full citizen. So the image shows that what is necessary is transformation of the behavior of citizens, not just transformation of the laws.
Group Four question
How does Epiphany 1 show that Old myth 1 is false or inadequate? (Be sure to explain what Old Myth 1 and Epiphany 1 are.)
Old Myth One holds that citizenship is primarily a matter of participation in government. Epiphany One occurs when, in looking at the interactions between Elizabeth Eckford and the white crowd surrounding her, we realize that this behavior is also part of citizenship. This is a public space and these people are acting out certain patterns of behavior that, Allen says, constitute a part of citizenship. “Political order is secured not only by institutions, but also by “deep rules” that prescribe specific interactions among citizens in public spaces.” Citizenship, then, is made up of our participation in formal legal institutions but also how we behave towards each other in public. What we see in this photo is the fact that institutional change is not always sufficient to change citizenship, that behavior in public can deny or retard those institutional changes. Legally Elizabeth Eckford had the same right to attend Little Rock High School as any other citizens, but clearly that right of citizenship was being denied to her by the behavior of resistant white citizens. As long as those dominant patterns of behavior persisted, Elizabeth would never be an equal citizen. If Old Myth One were true, Elizabeth would be a full citizen, because, post-Brown v. Board of Education, she has all the legal rights of citizenship. But she clearly is not a full citizen; she is being prevented from exercising her right to attend a white school. So Old Myth One must be wrong.
Group Five Question:
How does Epiphany 2 shows that Old myth 2 is false or inadequate? (Be sure to explain what Old Myth 2 and Epiphany 2 are.)
Old Myth 2 states that a democratic people should attempt to become one people, erasing group differences so that we are all just plain Americans. Epiphany 2 is the realization, seen in the photo of Elizabeth and Hazel, that Americans are not one people. The photo shows clearly that Elizabeth and Hazel live by different citizenship rules. Now, the fact that we are not in fact one people does not show that Old Myth 2 is wrong: it may just show that we haven't achieved the goal of oneness yet. Thus Allen also attempts to argue that Old Myth 2 is not only not accurate as a description of American democracy, but is inadequate as an ideal for what that democracy should be.
Group Six Question:
6. Why does Allen believe that “wholeness” is the proper metaphor for the people, not “oneness.” Why does it matter how we imagine “the people,” and whether we imagine it as one or whole?
“Oneness” as a metaphor implies assimilation of racial and ethnic minorities to the dominant group. It's the “melting-pot” theory whereby immigrant groups are supposed to lose their distinctive ethnic or racial characteristics in order to become one with the dominant group. Italian immigrants e.g. are supposed to raise their children to speak English, not Italian and to otherwise see to it that they are Americans not Italian-Americans. Taken to its logical extreme, African Americans should intermarry with whites until there are no blacks left. (That the “one-drop” rule would make this impossible is one of those ironies.) “Wholeness” on the other hand implies that racial and ethnic minorities can retain their distinctive group characteristics while becoming part of a larger whole. On one extreme, we have oneness in which there is no group differentiation at all; at the other we have living together but with no sense of belonging to the same polity. In the middle we have wholeness, where groups retain their distinctive qualities but at the same time belong to a larger whole with other groups. It matters how we imagine ourselves as a people because such imaginings are part of what makes us a people and will affect what kindof people we become. If we imagine ourselves as one, then we will make efforts to eliminate group differences. If we imagine ourselves as a whole, we will at least tolerate such differences and may in fact take measures to support them. (American government policy toward Indians is an extreme example of what happens when oneness is the guiding metaphor. Indian children were taken away from their parents and sent to schools where they were forbidden to speak or learn their native languages, religions, or other customs. The goal of these schools was to turn Indians into whites, culturally speaking.)
Group Seven Question:
7. Allen quotes Ralph Ellison as saying “This society is not likely to become free of racism, thus it is necessary for Negroes to free themselves by becoming their idea of what a free people should be.” What does Ellison mean? Might this apply to peoples other than blacks?
The key to this question lies in what Allen says directly before: “If they wish to change their politics, they must clothe themselves in new forms of citizenly action.” Remember that a central theme of these first two chapters is that democracy is not just a set of institutions like voting but also a set of patterns of how citizens behave toward each other. Presumably then democratic change can happen in two ways: institutional change first, followed by changes in behavior of citizens, or citizen behavior change first, followed by institutional change. Ellison was suggesting that African-Americans cannot afford to wait for institutional change because the racism of American society makes that change unlikely. Instead he believes that African-Americans must behave as if they were free and such behavior would possibly stimulate institutional change. The deferential behavior of blacks such as Elizabeth Eckford must give way to behaving as equals. Freedom operates on two levels: the legal, governmental level and the level of citizens' behavior. Ellison suggests that acting as if one were legally free can in fact lead to legal freedom. Finally, there's no reason to think that Ellison's prescriptions isn't applicable to any racial or ethnic minority trapped in patterns of legal and behavioral oppression.