Lately I am reading and learning more about The Dust Bowl, the severe dust storms of the 1930’s. I had a general idea about these dust storms, but was really quite clueless (I discovered) about their extent, severity, and cause. PBS had a special about them (available to watch free if you have Amazon prime): Ken Burns: The Dust Bowl. It is well done. My husband, who normally isn’t a big fan of documentaries, was pulled right into it.
I also read The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, as well as the less known book Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb. Both are fiction but based on the truths of this time period. Briefly, I was taken aback by all the profanity in The Grapes of Wrath. If it wasn’t for the fact that this was, well, such a classic book I would not have kept reading it. Babb’s book also follows a family as they migrate to California, but her writing style is different than Steinbeck. (And only ONE use of profanity compared to DOZENS.) Babb actually worked among these displaced people as a social worker, so her book, while fiction, is based on her real life experiences and observations.
Of interest to the writers/readers out there, Babb’s book was moving towards being published when Steinbeck’s book came out and literally eclipsed it. Babb’s publisher said that the market could not handle 2 books on the same issue at once, and would not publish it. (I’d say the book market has changed a lot since then!) Finally, in 2004, University of Oklahoma Press published Babb’s book! Yeah! Learn more about this over at The Smithsonian: The Forgotten Dust Bowl Novel That Rivaled “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Our nation has a long history of prejudice, of all types, and fear of unknown peoples. When many from the Great Plain states (Oklahoma, Kansas, etc) migrated to California – it created a “border” issue. Many in California were not welcoming to the “oakies”, as they were called, the refugees fleeing the ecological disaster in the Great Plain states. Various things were done, legal and illegal, to keep them out or make their lives difficult in California. The injustices disturbed me. I was surprised to learn about this in the PBS documentary and in the books by Steinbeck and Babb.
I guess what surprised me is that this prejudice and mistreatment was against fellow Americans of the same skin color and religion. (More typically I think of prejudice being directed towards those more overtly different in background.)
I was also surprised at various measures taken at the California border to keep the “oakies” out. (This type of thing is more what I would expect at borders between certain countries, not between US states.)
On a related note, earlier this year I reviewed 2 books related to racism:
- Slavery by Another Name, The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to WW II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Pulitzer Prize winner) -and-
- America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis. My review of both books is here.
I recently preached a sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22, and I consider racism and prejudice. Listen or read the transcript here: Peace is a Person. Reconciliation with God and others through Christ. Since we as Christians have been reconciled to God, we need to be agents of reconciliation in this world – bringing people together, tearing down walls, and pointing people to the cross of Christ as the only source of hope and peace. I quote a commentary that said: “The cross is God’s answer to racial discrimination, segregation, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and every form of strife between men.”
Too many Christians are failing here, and we all need to prayerfully consider our prejudices and prayerfully consider the implications of our reconciliation with God.
I know “real life” is complex but this is a place to begin.