July 4th 2017 Dispatch #27
Day 240 Post-Ascendency of White Supremacy & Misogyny (PAWSM)
Day 165 Post-Installation of White-Supremacist-Misogynist-Pussy-Grabbing-Self-Aggrandizing-Demagogic-Bully-Illegitimate-PeeeOTUS & his White-Nationalist-Fascistic-Christian-Supremacist-Quislings
Today Americans celebrate the white male slave-holders and slavery-supporters who founded America with a plan for wreaking genocide and illegal land appropriation on the indigenous peoples. Oh dear, too harsh an assessment? If this is your reaction, then you really need to learn our history so you can understand why we have Fascism in 21st Century America.
Kudos to The Washington Post for carrying this column by Ibram X Kendi, author of the recently published STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/07/02/the-civil-rights-act-was-a-victory-against-racism-but-racists-also-won/
“Fifty-three years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and forcefully challenged “all” Americans to “close the springs of racial poison.”
The landmark legislation spurred all sorts of racial progress — from desegregating Southern establishments, to driving anti-discrimination lawsuits, to opening the doors of opportunity for the new black middle class.
But this celebratory history that Americans love has only been part of the story. The other, less popular part of the story is understandably underplayed: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, intended to dismantle racism, also spurred racist progress.
Racial disparities persisted after the law was passed because discriminatory policies persisted under a patina of colorblindness. The legacy of the Civil Rights Act’s failures abound: America is still hemorrhaging from the racism of police bullets, health disparities and environmental catastrophes. The black unemployment rate has been twice the white unemployment rate for 60 years, segregation is on the rise in public schools across America, and an unprecedented number of black and brown bodies have been mass incarcerated as a result of the war on drugs.
After the passage of the act, Americans quickly confused the death of Jim Crow for the death of racism. The result: They blamed persisting and progressing racial disparities on black inferiority. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had been complaining throughout the 1960s about those “dependent animal” creatures on welfare. Criminologists like Marvin Wolfgang were writing about urban blacks’ “subculture of violence.” Sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Johnson’s assistant secretary of labor, pointed to the black family as a “tangle of pathology” in a 1965 report.
For many Americans, it was this violent subculture, emanating from the weak and dependent black family, that caused the hundreds of urban rebellions that followed in the days, months and years after the Civil Rights Act. As the Wall Street Journal headline on Aug.16, 1965, explained: “Behind the Riots: Family Life Breakdown in Negro Slums Sow Seeds of Race Violence: Husbandless Homes Spawn Young Hoodlums, Impede Reforms.”
As much as the 1964 act closed some springs of racial poison, it opened up a new spring for poisonous racist ideas to pour out, including the most poisonous idea to date: that America has defeated racism. It was an idea that ignored the white head-start, presumed discrimination had been eliminated, assumed equal opportunity had taken over, and figured that since blacks were still losing the race, the racial disparities must be their own fault. By situating the problem as black people and not racial policies, this argument framed affirmative-action policies meant to eliminate disparities as “reverse discrimination,” entirely unnecessary in America’s “colorblind” — and now “post-racial” — society.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not the beginning of the end of American racism. It was the beginning of our poisonous belief that America was ending racism.”
We white Americans are stamped with an historical narrative that (1) minimizes the pivotal role played by slavery in the emergence of America as an international power, and (2) camouflages how the legacy of the Civil War continues to be whitewashed by the nobility of the South and the innocence of the North. We are White-Washed and thus complicit with our current vicious resurgence of White Supremacy in America.
In the New York Review of Books, David S. Reynolds examines the dimensions of this narrative in his review, titled The Slave Owners’ Foreign Policy, of This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy by Matthew Karp (Harvard University Press). www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/06/22/slave-owners-foreign-policy/
The US Civil War was once commonly interpreted as a conflict between a progressive North, industrially strong and committed to a powerful central government, and a backward South that clung to states’ rights and agrarianism in its effort to preserve slavery. In this reading, proposed most influentially by the late Eugene D. Genovese, the South was distanced from modern society and the world scene.
Recent historians increasingly have recognized the inadequacy of this explanation. As the producer of America’s leading export, cotton, the South in the first half of the nineteenth century was a major participant in the global economy. Its rate of urbanization relative to population, while not as rapid as the North’s, exceeded that of England, France, or the American Midwest. Politically, the South was dominant. Slave owners occupied the presidency for about three quarters of the nation’s first sixty-four years. A slave owner, John Marshall, served as the chief justice of the Supreme Court for over three decades and was succeeded by another one, Roger Taney, who headed the Court for almost as long. For much of this time, southerners had a grip on the cabinet and lower government positions as well.
The expansion of slavery was one of the South’s main goals. The immediate trigger of the Civil War was the election of Abraham Lincoln, whose aim of halting the westward spread of slavery led to the South’s secession and the outbreak of war. Matthew Karp’s illuminating book This Vast Southern Empire shows that the South was interested not only in gaining new slave territory but also in promoting slavery throughout the Western Hemisphere. Far from insular, proslavery leaders had a far-reaching awareness of the international status of human bondage, which they regarded as essential to progress and prosperity. Holding the reins of political power, slave owners largely determined American foreign policy from the 1830s through the 1850s. As Karp reveals, they were well positioned to use the resources of the federal government to push their agenda around the world.
This reliance on the national government, manifested in robust military spending and an aggressive policy abroad, was at odds with the states’ rights position that southerners took on other issues. Then as now, politicians were at ease with inconsistencies as long as their goals were served. The South opportunistically appealed both to states’ rights (as in its resistance to federal tampering with slavery) and to a strong national government (as in its support of the Fugitive Slave Act or the gag rule on the discussion of slavery in Congress). In foreign policy, Karp demonstrates, proslavery elites favored a powerful central government. The historian Henry Adams later recalled, “Whenever a question arose of extending or protecting slavery, the slave-holders became friends of centralized power, and used that dangerous weapon with a kind of frenzy.”
Reynolds asserts that Karp’s scholarship reveals the centrality of defending and profiting from slavery in America’s foreign policy during the run-up to the Civil War.
Tensions over the issue [slavery] escalated during the 1850s. This decade is traditionally viewed as a time when the South became intransigent and revived its conservative traditions as northerners were increasingly attracted to reforms, such as abolitionism. Karp argues that, in fact, the South saw itself as ultra-modern and forward-looking. Slave countries like Brazil and Cuba, proslavery leaders held, were prospering while places where slavery had been abolished, such as Mexico and the West Indies, were faring poorly. Slavery, therefore, appeared to southerners to make excellent economic sense for the modern world. American champions of human bondage noted that even England, despite its official policy of abolition, exploited indigenous peoples in India, China, South Africa, and elsewhere. The necessity of coerced labor was also proved by the widespread use of other types of dark-skinned workers—whether “coolies,” “apprentices,” or “slaves”—to cultivate agricultural staples throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Americans insisted that, in comparison to the destructive imperialism of Great Britain and other nations, slavery in the US was benign and exemplary.
The southern view, Karp reminds us, was bolstered by contemporary scientific ethnology, which identified “inferior” races destined to die off unless they had the protection and security offered by American-style slavery. The political essayist Louisa McCord, an outspoken defender of slavery, echoed the scientific consensus when she wrote in 1851, “God’s will formed the weaker race so that they dwindle and die out by contact with the stronger…. Slavery, then, or extermination, seems to be the fate of the dark races.” Southern masters were presented to the world as models of how to save black people from extinction. A writer for the southern magazine De Bow’s Review described the South’s “three hundred thousand masters” as an imperial army “standing guard over a nation of four million negroes, and absolutely preserving their lives from destruction.”
Convinced that they were advancing a noble cause, many southerners serving in the US government during the 1850s continued to advocate for a military buildup in response to what they regarded as a worldwide threat from abolitionism. Although the proslavery politicians did not get everything they requested from Congress, by 1857 they had succeeded in nearly doubling the size of the naval fleet, quadrupling the number of guns on the ships, and increasing active troops in the army from 11,000 to nearly 16,000.
One of Karp’s contributions is to reveal ways in which the South was not isolated, either nationally or internationally. He shows that it appropriated the main structures of federal power. In this sense, through much of the era leading up to the Civil War, the South, effectively, was the United States, at least in its contacts with the rest of the world. As Karp writes:
For nearly the whole antebellum period, southern confidence in slavery was more often synonymous with confidence in the United States, whose government had done so much to nurture slave institutions throughout the hemisphere.
Reynolds also asserts that Karp does not give enough attention to the historical significance of the “cultural differences narrative” claimed by the Southern powerbrokers.
Although Mark Twain exaggerated when he remarked that the Civil War was caused by “the Sir Walter [Scott] disease” that infected the South, he had a point. The South’s dedication to ideals then associated with Walter Scott’s immensely popular novels—chivalry, honor, and the like—shaped its identity as much as the transatlantic concerns about race that Karp discusses. If the South championed slavery before the world, as Karp shows us, it also built a euphemistic defense of its society by fabricating cultural myths about its alleged superiority to the North, which it represented as fanatical, base, and full of anarchic tendencies.
The perceived cultural divide was so great that some leading southerners said that the war was not about slavery but about radically different peoples. A southern correspondent for the New York Herald, the nation’s most widely read newspaper, put it this way: “The people of the North and those of the South are distinct and separate. They think differently; they spring from a different stock; they are different every way; they cannot coalesce.” Mississippian J. Quitman Moore wrote in De Bow’s Review, “No civil strife is this;…but a war of alien races, distinct nationalities, and opposite, hostile and eternally antagonistic Governments.” A Tennessee-born army officer wrote that “the bed rock cause of our political wrangling and disputations” was a “dissimilarity of human nature” between northerners and southerners.
Such extreme statements of difference reflected the South’s evasion of the hard facts of slavery just as surely as did its claims to foreign nations that it had an exemplary history of slaveholding. Cultural myths and political lies were part of the South’s effort to take the moral high road. www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/06/22/slave-owners-foreign-policy/
The embedded-ness of White Supremacy and the legacy of slavery are both enervating and ubiquitous. Media headlines asking whether PeeeOTUS is personally against Obama as his quislings and collaborators direct that every Obama accomplishment be undone intentionally miss and thus camouflage the real dynamic: 8 years of Republican-White-Supremacy messages that the country is being destroyed by a black president now demand this dismantling.
What is to be done?! How can we specify the responsibilities of white Americans to educate themselves and act to uproot White Supremacy? How can we heed Baldwin’s writing about the moral/spiritual bankruptcy of white people in America that required the ongoing brutal oppression of black people?
In Totalitarianism in the Age of Trump: Lessons from Hannah Arendt, Zoe Williams considers Arendt’s views on what acts of protests and resistance matter in times of fascism and oppression. www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/01/totalitarianism-in-age-donald-trump-lessons-from-hannah-arendt-protests. Williams is conflicted about Arendt’s warning that large protests can obscure the banality of evil and thereby devalue the importance of consistent individual actions of resistance.
To put this in a modern context, “official political reality is now being enacted by the modern capitalist businessman”. Politics and economics are, in Trump, indivisible. “And although it looks wonderful that people are demonstrating, it’s actually rather frightening, because it’s generating a crisis situation in which, ultimately, the protection of law and order justifies the government in extreme measures. For some of us, it’s repeating the proto-fascist scenario.” It’s an old Leninist stunt, the generation of civil unrest in order to attack civic society. In that sense, we are all playing into Trump’s tiny hands.
Yet I see the sense of these arguments, and wonder, what would Hannah Arendt do? Would she have marched on Downing Street? Davis is conflicted. “Certainly, I think there is a lot to be gained from people gathering together to show solidarity. But in a world where the institutions that we’re protesting in front of are losing their legitimacy and their power, I’m not sure that this has the impact that it once did. If we think of evil as this one person, this one big event, then we tend to want to match that with one big display of resistance. But actually, if evil is banal – a set of ordinary, mundane decisions day by day – then maybe we have to start living differently day by day.”
I still see the point in protesting as a concrete expression of solidarity. I’d take more, if under attack, from a person who went outside than a person who signed a petition. Tangentially, I have a sudden new faith in the feminist framing of recent demonstrations as women’s marches, which does something to allay the intimation of public violence that is always used as the justification of suppression. It seems clear, nonetheless, that it isn’t enough: that perhaps Arendt’s most profound legacy is in establishing that one has to consider oneself political as part of the human condition. What are your political acts, and what politics do they serve”?
In her book Loving: Interracial Intimacy and the Threat to White Supremacy (Beacon Press 2017), Sheryll Cashin examines the political heritage of miscegenation bans to develop her insights for informed and intentional political acts to dismantle White Supremacy.
Such miscegenation bans were a relic of slavery. When wealthy planters transitioned from largely white indentured servitude to black chattel slavery in the second half of the 17th century, they feared that poor whites who labored alongside slaves and sometimes took them as lovers would rebel with them or help them escape.
Miscegenation laws in as many as 41 states helped to keep these dangerous whites from subverting slavery, and later Jim Crow. As Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the unanimous Loving opinion, such laws were an instrument of “White Supremacy” — the first time the Supreme Court used those words to name what the Civil War and the 14th Amendment should have defeated.
After Loving was decided, politicians dog-whistled for five decades. Divide-and-conquer tactics like union-busting and gerrymandering destroyed the possibility of class unity among struggling people. In its absence, culturally dexterous people may be our only hope for disrupting hoary race scripts.
This transition from blindness to sight, from anxiety to familiarity, is a process of acquiring “cultural dexterity.” Love can make people do uncomfortable things, like meeting a black lover’s family and being the only white person in the room. Culturally dexterous people have an enhanced capacity for intimate connections with people outside their own tribe, for recognizing and accepting difference rather than pretending to be colorblind. …..Ardent integrators also transfer benefits to the less dexterous people in their tribe. Attitudes can be improved merely by knowing that someone has a close friend from another group……Eventually, a critical mass of white people will accept the loss of the centrality of whiteness. When enough whites can accept being one voice among many in a robust democracy, politics in America could finally become functional. www.nytimes.com/2017/06/03/opinion/sunday/how-interracial-love-is-saving-america.html
Cashin recommends that, while there are multiple ways to be white in America, being actively antiracist is likely the most joyous path.
Although they are not the answer to all America’s ills, ardent integrators are helping to spread dexterity. And in communities that integrators gravitate to, there is the possibility of a refreshing redo on race—not imaginary color blindness, but seeing difference and smiling at it. In small utopias that are very intentional about inclusion and valuing difference, strangers may see a dark-skinned black boy as adorable, beautiful, and full of potential, the same way his parents see him. www.alternet.org/books/ascendant-multiracial-coalition-cusp-defeating-white-supremacy-and-will-open-doors-new-era
Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race similarly insists that white people must take on the work of Cashin’s ardent integrators.
Eddo-Lodge’s weary title is a provocation, born of years of frustration with a deep and general lack of understanding on the part of white people. Early on, she highlights white fears of a rising tide of people of colour, which extended to objections to the casting of a black actor in the role of Hermione in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. “White fans,” she writes, “couldn’t imagine little black girls as precocious, intelligent, logical know-it-alls with hearts of gold” because “blackness in their heads is stuck in an ever-repetitive script, with strict parameters of how a person should be”. www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/03/why-no-long-talking-white-people-review-race-reni-eddo-lodge-racism
I am glad that you have read to the end of this lengthy dispatch! If you are feeling disheartened or even stunned about the comprehensive pervasiveness of the American White Supremacy narrative, then you are one step closer to embracing the responsibility of being an ardent integrator and a powerful political actor.
In order to see where we are going, we not only must remember where we have been, but we must understand where we have been. Ella Baker http://www.azquotes.com/author/795-Ella_Baker