Wednesday, March 21, 2018

March 21: Hailed a Hero, Bullies and Bullying, My Daughter

And since in this famous fishery, each mate or headsman, like a Gothic Knight of old, is always accompanied by his boat-steerer or harpooneer, who in certain conjunctures provides him with a fresh lance, when the former one has been badly twisted, or elbowed in the assault; and moreover, as there generally subsists between the two, a close intimacy and friendliness; it is therefore but meet, that in this place we set down who the Pequod's harpooneers were, and to what headsman each of them belonged.

First of all was Queequeg, whom Starbuck, the chief mate, had selected for his squire. But Queequeg is already known.

Next was Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from Gay Head, the most westerly promontory of Martha's Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the neighboring island of Nantucket with many of her most daring harpooneers. In the fishery, they usually go by the generic name of Gay-Headers. Tashtego's long, lean, sable hair, his high cheek bones, and black rounding eyes- for an Indian, Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression- all this sufficiently proclaimed him an inheritor of the unvitiated blood of those proud warrior hunters, who, in quest of the great New England moose, had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal forests of the main. But no longer snuffing in the trail of the wild beasts of the woodland, Tashtego now hunted in the wake of the great whales of the sea; the unerring harpoon of the son fitly replacing the infallible arrow of the sires. To look at the tawny brawn of his lithe snaky limbs, you would almost have credited the superstitions of some of the earlier Puritans and half-believed this wild Indian to be a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air. Tashtego was Stubb the second mate's squire.

Third among the harpooneers was Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage, with a lion-like tread- an Ahasuerus to behold. Suspended from his ears were two golden hoops, so large that the sailors called them ringbolts, and would talk of securing the top-sail halyards to them. In his youth Daggoo had voluntarily shipped on board of a whaler, lying in a lonely bay on his native coast. And never having been anywhere in the world but in Africa, Nantucket, and the pagan harbors most frequented by the whalemen; and having now led for many years the bold life of the fishery in the ships of owners uncommonly heedful of what manner of men they shipped; Daggoo retained all his barbaric virtues, and erect as a giraffe, moved about the decks in all the pomp of six feet five in his socks. There was a corporeal humility in looking up at him; and a white man standing before him seemed a white flag come to beg truce of a fortress. Curious to tell, this imperial negro, Ahasuerus Daggoo, was the Squire of little Flask, who looked like a chess-man beside him. As for the residue of the Pequod's company, be it said, that at the present day not one in two of the many thousand men before the mast employed in the American whale fishery, are Americans born, though pretty nearly all the officers are. Herein it is the same with the American whale fishery as with the American army and military and merchant navies, and the engineering forces employed in the construction of the American Canals and Railroads. The same, I say, because in all these cases the native American literally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles. No small number of these whaling seamen belong to the Azores, where the outward bound Nantucket whalers frequently touch to augment their crews from the hardy peasants of those rocky shores. In like manner, the Greenland whalers sailing out of Hull or London, put in at the Shetland Islands, to receive the full complement of their crew. Upon the passage homewards, they drop them there again. How it is, there is no telling, but Islanders seem to make the best whalemen. They were nearly all Islanders in the Pequod, Isolatoes too, I call such, not acknowledging the common continent of men, but each Isolato living on a separate continent of his own. Yet now, federated along one keel, what a set these Isolatoes were! An Anacharsis Clootz deputation from all the isles of the sea, and all the ends of the earth, accompanying Old Ahab in the Pequod to lay the world's grievances before that bar from which not very many of them ever come back. Black Little Pip- he never did- oh, no! he went before. Poor Alabama boy! On the grim Pequod's forecastle, ye shall ere long see him, beating his tambourine; prelusive of the eternal time, when sent for, to the great quarter-deck on high, he was bid strike in with angels, and beat his tambourine in glory; called a coward here, hailed a hero there!

Melville treads a fine line of racial stereotype in these paragraphs.  Queequeg, a cannibal from the islands of the Pacific.  Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from a "village of red men."  And Daggoo, a "gigantic, coal-black negro-savage."  Of course, Melville has already gone a long way to prove Queequeg's moral fiber.  We already know that Queequeg is kind and spiritual and brave.  Yet, what Melville writes is a product of his time--anyone of a different shade of skin was automatically wild and uncivilized.  Sadly, those stereotypes have persisted into the 21st century.  It is so easy to label and demonize.

One of the places this happens most prevalently is in school.  Kids who are struggling to figure out who they are, what they want and believe, are quick to judge and point fingers and mock.  It could be because of skin color or sexual orientation or gender.  My daughter, at the moment, is feeling this.  Without infringing on her privacy, I will simply say that she finds herself the subject of whispers and furtive glances.  Last night, as I was driving her home, she told me, "I hate being at school."  It broke my heart.

I don't know how to help my daughter right now.  If I went to school and talked to her teachers or the principal or guidance counselor, she would be mortified.  If I waited outside the school and beat the shit out of those responsible for this situation, I would go to jail.  If I sit back and do nothing, my daughter continues to hurt.  I'm stuck.

I want to tell her that this situation will soon pass.  That a new person will soon become the target of those whispers and furtive glances.  However, I'm passing the buck by saying that.  Basically, another girl or boy will inherit what my daughter is enduring right now.  That's not right, either.  Solves nothing.  Perpetuates the victimization that exists in our society.

Bullies and bullying can take so many forms.  Physical.  Mental.  Emotional.  Spiritual.  I'm sure I myself, at some time, have been a bully, either wittingly or unwittingly.  At the very least, by not standing up or speaking out when I witnessed bullying, I become a bully.  I know I was guilty of that in high school, and, even after all this time, it shames me.

It's easy to turn away.  Not get involved.  It's safe.  However, bullying eventually bites that hand (and arm and leg and eyes and ears) that ignores it.  I've tried to teach my kids to speak up for classmates who are picked on and ostracized, and I think that lesson has sunk in.  In grade school, my daughter befriended a girl who had a severe form of Asperger syndrome.  My son will play with anyone--gay or straight or black or white or boy or girl.  Doesn't matter.

 I don't know what the answer is here.  All I can do for my daughter is listen.  Provide a hug.  Tell her that I love her.  Unconditionally.  Somehow, that doesn't seem good enough this evening.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the good days when they come.

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