Hamilton has colonized my daughter’s fourth grade. To be a subject in the Hamilton Empire, you need to have memorized the musical’s main songs. To be a master, you need to have seen—or be about to see—the play itself. Which means, in Washington, DC, you need to be able to shell out $400/person to enjoy the three-hour experience. It is difficult to grasp how anyone can attach emancipatory politics to such an theatrical commodity whose price puts it beyond the reach of all but the very rich.
Right now, my daughter is upstairs singing along to the songs that have been playing in a continuous loop since we bought the CD. Without having heard the actual music ever, she knew half the songs by heart. She learned them on the playground where kids sing them everyday, all recess long.
With modified words, it seems. I learned this yesterday when she asked about the seventh word in the first song: whore. We had an interesting conversation about sex work, poverty and misogyny. She then asked about the fourth word: bastard. We talked some more about misogyny and shame. These were conversations I never thought I’d be having.
“What do the teachers say when you sing about whores and bastards?” I finally asked.
“Oh, no one sings those words,” she replied. “They replace them with others.”
I listened in for a few songs. At one point, I pointed out, “That’s dancehall style they’re singing. Remember listening to Capleton?”
Like most people, my daughter is allergic to my pedagogical voice. She told me to shut the door so she could listen in peace.
This morning, as we sat down to French toast, she asked, “What exactly was the American Revolution?”
I asked what she knew about colonists fighting the British Empire, and she told me.
“That’s what we’re taught, but it’s a simplification of reality.”
“What’s a simplification?”
“It’s when you turn something that is in reality complicated into something simple.”
There I was with that pedagogical voice, “But in any society, there’s lots of struggles going on at any time, right? What were the other struggles going on in the British colonies of north America?”
They’ve been studying this stuff for a couple years now, and she began to talk. She told me about the struggles of Native American Indian communities against the waves of white settlers. She recalled our infamous ancestor, Captain Isaac Maddeson of the Jamestown Colony, and his genocidal war against the Powhatans. She recalled the time we saw representatives of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi peoples deliver their tribute to the Governor’s House in Richmond, as they do each November, to fulfill the terms of their 1646 Treaty with the Commonwealth of Virginia. She told me about enslaved people (yes, thankfully, this corrective phrasing—and the concept behind it—are taught in her elementary school!) struggling against slaveowners and slaveowner allies. We talked about struggles between rich colonists and poor colonists, landowners and workers.
She spoke eloquently, yet was frustrated, “But what do they have to do with the American Revolution, Baba?”
“That’s the point. The American Revolution is a simplification, making all these other complicated struggles disappear or appear irrelevant, so that people talk instead about one group of white male settlers who took up arms against their home country. But that’s what war does.”
“What does war do?”
“It gets people to forget all the struggles they know of. Instead, they talk about only one—and it might not be the most important one.” There was an awkward pause. I added, “You’ll see this soon enough.”
“See all what?”
“See what happens when Trump starts a war. All the people you know who today think Trump is bad. Or the Republicans are corrupt and the NRA is nasty. You watch, as soon as Trump starts the next war. Most of them will say: this is no time for disagreements; now’s the time for unity; we’ve got to stand with the President, even if we didn’t vote for him, even if we oppose him. I’ve seen it happen a few times in my adult life now.”
“How many wars are there?”
“I’ve lost count.”
By now, my daughter was clearing her plates from the breakfast table. “Can I go back to my room, Baba?”
As I started washing the dishes, I could hear the strains of Hamilton coming from her room again.