To the editor,
Your March 8, 2002, cover story, “Hot and Bothered,” represents a vital discussion of the global warming trend and its effects–especially in light of continued government denials of scientific evidence and the local media’s willingness to shelve the issue in favor of yet another nightly “investigative report” of plastic-surgery advances, teeth-whitening technology, and the latest in no-run pantyhose. I too was distraught to hear meteorologists gleefully announce our recent “springlike” days, wondering if whether, in a decade, my children will need to wear sun-blocking hats to school, as has already become national policy in Australia. Ted Kleine has done us all a public service, and I’m sorry to have to offer the following critique.
Kleine writes briefly of the “hot and humid south,” posing the rhetorical question, “In that heat, who has the energy to work and study?” Well, plenty of folks have the energy to do the former–including immigrant farmworkers like two of my own uncles who died of cancers traced to routine pesticide exposure in the early 90s. Who exactly does he think picks the cotton for his Dockers and puts most of the produce on his table, apart from sweating laborers around the globe? The discourse of climate-makes-character emerged in its starkest form as the European imperial powers struggled to justify their violent exploitation of territory close to the equator in the 19th century, believing that the sun had baked the natives’ brains (and skins) to the point that they couldn’t be trusted to rule themselves. “If we inherit their climate we may inherit their sloth too” could have come from any number of tracts arguing that colonials should refrain from taking up residence in the areas ruled, lest they suffer the same fate as their dark, “backward” subjects. (Funny that so few productive, industrious northerners–New World and Old–doubted the ability of blacks to work in the heat during the transatlantic slave trade.) One Garrison Keillor still equating cold winters with hardiness, virtue, and clearheadedness is enough. At least he’s half joking.
I would also point out that low high school graduation rates in the south have less to do with weather-induced sloth than a dearth of funding for children of color, a history of racist disenfranchisement–which continued into the last presidential elections, thanks to Katherine Harris and her ilk–and state administrations more interested in arguing to retain the death penalty than in funding public schools. Oh Ted, you were so close to the mark: stick to the facts next time and give the overworked stereotypes a break.