icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Please Ponder

·      Re re-opening:  next time around, let's keep the bars and nightclubs closed and instead open the libraries, museums, and art galleries.  A very different sort of patron goes there, and space in these venues naturally encourages social distancing.  To say nothing of holding down the cost of law enforcement.  When's the last time you heard of a shoot-out at a library or museum?

·      Re Republican objections to mailed ballots, isn't this the way Wall Street has run stockholder elections forever?  You get a little card in the mail and can return it or not.  Big corporations do not want your physical presence at the annual meetings they are required to have.  It's just hypocritical for the Fraudster-in-Chief, who grew up in this milieu, to claim that voters must be physically present.

·      An easy way to figure out what's going on with Republican objections to mail-in ballots:  When someone asked me about this, I asked her to envision an affluent woman and her maid.  Which one has more time to go to the polls?  Which one is more likely to have a car?  Which is paid by the hour and can't afford to stand in line?  Which needs to fetch her children from day care and cook their supper?   Pretty obvious, isn't it?

·      It has belatedly dawned on some folks in Tallahassee that, yes, we will have a catastrophic drop in revenue because of the virus.  Florida's income has declined by more than one-third compared to a year ago.  So, this is an excellent time to consider a state income tax instead of our fiscally irresponsible dependence on sales taxes and an assortment of fees.  Please, fellow Democrats, stop the knee-jerk response of "it will never happen" and help preach the gospel of a more equitable and reliable system.  Other states have.

·      Another huge factor in the decline of state revenue:  The virus has made online shopping with out-of-state businesses a necessity for many of us – and we thus avoid paying state and local sales taxes.  If you want to run government like a business, we need change.

·      Of course Biden's choice for vice president should be Orlando Congresswoman Val Demings:  She is from a swing state; she is a former police chief; and she is the African-American woman he needs to win.  The majority in the "Political Insider" poll conducted by Tampa Bay Times predicted California Senator Kamala Harris.  Come on, guys, we know that this poll is skewed to Republicans -- and they doubtless want Harris because California will give its huge number of electoral votes to the Democrat in any case.  Val is what we need to win Florida, and thereby the nation.




Did you notice that the surname of the notorious Minneapolis police officer is "Chauvin?"  That root is so commonly used with "chauvinist" (especially "male chauvinist") that it seldom is thought of as a separate word – but even in the standard internet dictionary, the first definition is "a person displaying aggressive or exaggerated patriotism."


As it sounds, the word is French, and it has a clearly identifiable origin.  It was 19th century shorthand for the nationalistic attitudes displayed by Nicholas Chauvin.  He clung to Napoleon's delusions of France's right to rule the world, and "chauvinist" came to mean anyone who proclaimed the natural superiority of a nation.  Policeman Derek Chauvin, it seems, didn't far fall from the family tree in assuming superiority.


It was late in the 20th century before the word came to have its current most common meaning, those who claim the natural superiority of men.  Because I was active in feminist organizations when the word's meaning shifted, I was aware of the change from nationalism to sexism.  Words evolve, and that's okay, but somehow I think that "chauvinist" endows haters with a historical dignity that they don't merit.  A better word would be just plain "bully."


Another name connection that has been whirling around in my brain is the surname of Muriel Bowser, the African-American mayor of Washington, DC (and recent Trump target).  Her parents were Joe and Joan Bowser, so that is her name, not a husband's name, and her adopted child also carries that name.  Genealogy is not my favorite form of history, though, so I don't claim to have linked Mayor Bowser to the Civil War spy known as Mary Elizabeth Bowser – but it seems a strong possibility.  Mary Bowser also is known by other surnames, but that does not negate her importance:  Instead, it serves to confirm that she used aliases as part of a network of Union spies in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.


It was illegal to emancipate a slave in Virginia in the 1850s, so Elizabeth Van Lew, a white liberal, did not officially liberate young Mary, but instead sent her to be educated in Philadelphia.  Van Lew stayed in Richmond and created a wartime image as "Crazy Bet."  Under the cover of feeblemindedness, she prowled around the capital city gathering intelligence that would be useful to the North.  She kept in touch with her former slave, and in 1862, Bowser gave up the safety of Philadelphia and risked her freedom to return to Richmond.  It is probable that she gained entrance into the Confederate White House by posing as a servant.  In any case, the two women conducted sufficiently valuable espionage that when he became president, Union General U.S. Grant appointed Van Lew as postmaster of Richmond.


Finally, this seems a good opportunity to address conservatives who claim to be confused about hyphens in cases of races or ethnicity.  Here's an easy grammar lesson.  You hyphenate an adjective, as in the reference above to "Muriel Bowser, the African-American mayor…"   In this case, "African-American" is an adjective modifying the noun, "mayor."  If we were to write a sentence that says, "Mayor Bowser is an African American," we have a noun, not an adjective, and it should not be hyphenated. 


This usage is a grammatical rule applicable to all nouns and adjectives and has no racial or ethnic connotation.  But then, the folks who want to see this as an issue probably slept through English classes, as well as history, and they don't want rules in grammar or anything else.  I'm not expecting any change, but please don't excuse grammatical ignorance by claiming that African Americans somehow are responsible.




I can't think of the national conversation on historical statues without thinking about those lines from Larry Gatlin's song.  It's a good thing to remember:  Not only do statues lack emotions, the people depicted by the controversial ones also are long past feeling.  Feelings still run strong, though, for the descendants of those who were terrorized and murdered by men who now hold places of public honor.  As I said a couple of weeks ago, people – especially children – naturally assume that someone worth a public display is, in fact, worthy.


I'll return to more specifics on this in a later column.  The subject is so complex that there isn't room today – but I do want to point out how we were making progress on a more nuanced form of history until the Trump administration came along with its know-it-all arrogance.  The Treasury Department, for example, had firm plans to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with Harriet Tubman, but that now seems to have hit the circular file.


The know-it-all frat boys who are running Washington in fact know nothing, and they remind me of the political party prior to the Civil War that was proud to call itself "Know Nothing."  They were today's Trumpsters, and their basic tenet was prejudice against anyone unlike themselves.  African Americans held such lowly status then that they were not the object of Know-Nothing hatred:  instead, their focus was on immigrants, especially Catholic immigrants. 


Formally called the American Party, they were akin to MAGA folks in their "America First" attitude and opposed the era's newcomers from Germany and Ireland.  Nor did they reject the "Know-Nothing" label, which derived from the standard reply of secret lodges:  "I know nothing."  They were, of course, all male, as no women voted then – nor belonged to any societies, secret or not. 


The Know Nothing Party won several seats in Congress and some powerful local offices, especially in New York.  It collapsed with the 1856 election, when their presidential nominee won many fewer votes than the major parties.  But their blind prejudice, their willingness to denounce people they don't know, has many practitioners today – on both the left and right.  These are people, both black and white, who do not know what they don't know, and many don't want to learn.  The nihilism of "no nothing" is an apt description of a lack of idealism and aspiration.  "No nuance" is even better.



Make a comment to the author