Opinion | Susan Knopf: Who’s articulate?

Susan Knopf

Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”

— Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine

This month, Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone magazine — which I always presumed represented the vanguard of music and culture — said Black and female artists were not “articulate enough on this intellectual level.” Thus Wenner did not include any black or female artists in his new book about rock and roll. Let’s put aside that the statement is inarticulate.

If the white man deciding who lands on “The Cover of the ‘Rolling Stone'” — a hit Dr. Hook song written by Shel Silverstein — is a person who is blinded by his own racial perspective and his reproductive organs, is it a wonder that everything we consume in our culture has been filtered to be preferential to white straight males?

Summit School District has been in step with the majority of Americans who ask, “Who else contributed to building our country?” District officials have been rewarded for their valiant efforts, to be inclusive of all students in the district, with angry pushback from a loud, well-organized minority of parents (and people who don’t have children in this district).

I have a theory about the anger and political polarization. When I was asked to be the Community Equality Chairperson for the Summit Colorado Interfaith Council, I read a number of books on the subject. One interesting read is “Confederates in the Attic” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tony Horowitz. The book’s subtitle is “Dispatches from the unfinished Civil War.”

This concept that the Civil War is not finished has weighed on my mind since I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1980, after growing up in Los Angeles. The fiction book I’m reading now, “Freeman” by Leonard Pitts, Jr. asserts the same idea. After losing the Civil War, white southerners were angry, arrogant and acted as if they won the war. For many people, then and now, the Civil War is not over. It’s shocking to hear people advocating for a repeat of our bloodiest war. Do you really think the outcome would be different?

This concept is further exacerbated by the prideful lack of knowledge found among so many people. I vividly remember interviewing a man who brandished a Civil War battle flag at the Frisco Fourth of July parade in 2019. He said the Confederate battle flag represents government resistance and taxation issues. He claimed to have close Black relatives. He did not believe the Confederate battle flag, popularized by Dixiecrats in 1948, represents hate. Obviously, his relatives have avoided this conversation!

“Confederates in the Attic” has a very interesting retelling of a similar story: violent conflict between teenagers generated by the display of the confederate flag. Good on former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for having the political courage to remove this divisive symbol from her state capitol. Should free speech really protect hate speech and the denigration of people of color?

The process of failing to move forward through uncomfortable issues like racism and cloaking it other words has become institutionalized. This ploy has given cultural cover to a myriad of social disgruntlements: sexism, homophobia, xenophobia.

I graduated college in the late ’70s. I experienced sexism daily in the workplace. I have experienced marginalization as an older female ski instructor. Pushing women, people of color, Indigenous people, non-heterosexual people and immigrants to the side is ubiquitous. Wenner told us he thinks those people lack the intellectual articulation of white men.

Our cultural preference for this point of view means that anybody other than a white straight male has to work twice as hard to get half as much credit. If you doubt this, look at any of our local ski schools. It’s well-known within Professional Ski Instructors of America that white males dominate schools and management.

When will we in Summit County catch up with the national conversation? What benefit will women, gays and people of color bring to our process, our success?

For the record, Rolling Stone magazine was quick to distance itself from these misguided comments. The magazine released a statement, “Jann Wenner’s recent statements to the New York Times do not represent the values and practices of today’s Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner has not been directly involved in our operations since 2019.”

Wenner was also removed from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation Board.

One suggestion: Don’t buy Jann Wenner’s book. Historically, we’ve heard enough from that perspective. Let’s go on an adventure! Let’s diversify our sources, so we can broaden our thinking.

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