If a prime purpose of thinking and study and discussion and learning ends up as something like reasonable action that improves human life, then the overwhelming majority of SOP mediation that happens today in this largely intellectual and dialogic sphere is, viewed most optimistically, counterproductive and absurd. This assertion might appear quixotic and clearly makes a disputatious claim. However, this essay will contend that at least provisionally it proves that contention, in relation more exactly to broadcast or otherwise distributed discourse about social conflict that reputedly involves ‘race,’ ‘racial differences,’ ‘racism,’ and so forth.
In essence, because precisely one human race exists, ‘racism’ only addresses a socially developed concept about a false idea, that different races with different biological qualities in fact are a part of the human condition, a popular and yet completely incorrect conceptualization of human social relations that inevitably colors and distorts what happens among diverse social actors, probably in a completely toxic, and ultimately in a totally self-destructive, fashion.
This statement, inherently and indelibly, will likely effect strong feelings. Does a Spindoctor have the temerity to suggest that color is less important—than class or nation or other trait—as a key piece in understanding the social past? The answer, as the following initiation of this short monograph proves, would resound as an emphatic “No way!”
However, what we can make of that social import of coloration is still open to definition and interpretation. Before we continue to expound on such a task of delineation and elucidation, the sections just below offer readers a briefing about the rooted appearance and fuller manifestation of conflicted coloration during the current period of time.
A first point to make clear is that color did not always mean darkness, or diminution, nor did it ineluctably lead to an impunity to butcher and discriminate against those whose surface hues were dun or brown or charcoal. As a respected expert on Elizabethan culture quoted an even more venerated authority about Othello, “(she) situates the play ‘at a crossroads in the history of ethnological ideas when emergent racial discourses clashed with the still-dominant classical and medieval paradigms.”
Those who follow along will see that point more fully in the coming preface. For now, we can aver that a primary legacy of slavery in the period of capitalism’s infancy was to overthrow most chances that dark skin under a bourgeois rubric could mean power or wealth or high station.
At least as much as any other correlative, the capacity to resist force against oneself or one’s friends or one’s family is a sine qua non of social potency. In the United States, the uncounted thousands of police and vigilante murders—and hundreds of thousands of assaults—each decade fall with such massive disproportion on people of color, and Black folk first among these assaulted populations, that any notion that chance determines this fate must look surreal. The very fact of the disparity is explosively ubiquitous at all compass points, both ideological and cultural, in mediated assessments from every possible place on our planet.
Rather than offering details on the panoply of recent men and women whom uniformed, militarized authorities have shot to death or otherwise slain, whether their surnames sound like Boyd or Brown or Crawford or Garner or Gray or Harris or Hicks or Hill or McKenna or Martin or Rice or Scott or Valencia—themselves part of an only casually tracked social set, over the past quarter century, of plus-or-minus tens of thousands of citizens cut down despite brandishing neither armament nor other credible threat against their killers—today’s analysis merely points out that a major disparity marks this population.
As many as three quarters of them descend from former slaves or ‘conquered’ peoples of the hemisphere, even though no more than a third or so of the overall population have such roots. Moreover, an even higher majority of the killers were Gringos of one stripe or other, and literally none of the ‘executioners’ who were Black ever dispatched a White person.
A fairly thorough search attempt, < “police killings” analysis OR detail OR history OR investigation comprehensive OR complete OR exhaustive OR list >, yielded almost two hundred thousand leads. Gawker and Mother Jones represent merely a pair of accounts from the first page that this pursuit of citations brought to the forefront.
The comments that accompany the latter article are an eruption of stress, tension, anger, and general defensiveness, with plenty of bigotry and blaming and name-calling mixed in. The lack of a context for dialog—which inherently must mean listening and respectful treatment—emerges with frightening clarity.
The mediated explanatory nexus, in any case—either as in these two articles a label, racism, or as in the case of other items among the hundreds of thousands of links a dismissal of color as a significant factor—guarantees that people cannot talk with each other about these matters. The ‘racist’ explanation, arguably, never moves beyond labeling, and overlooking the absolutely incontrovertible color-component either represents willful ignorance or unacknowledged prejudice.
By shifting the grounds of debate, by insisting that ‘police-involved killings’ look at slavery and empire, a different context for discussion might take place. In any case, further instances of color-coordinated violation and disproportion are easy enough to examine and portray.
The carnage of the police state and the ghetto revolve inextricably around the war on drugs, which in many of its particulars echoes broader accounts of militarized assaults on citizens. The Spindoctor has written about these matters, establishing a template that allows subsequent analysis to highlight the way that ruling institutions—particularly military and ‘law-enforcement’—have subsumed roles that in earlier generations fell on masters and overseers and other enforcers of slave or colonial discipline.
The American Civil Liberties Union summarizes this malicious and detrimental incongruity, irreconcilable with anything other than vicious injustice, double-dealing, and purposeful division: “Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African-Americans comprise: 35% of those arrested for drug possession; 55% of those convicted for drug possession; and 74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.
This skewed enforcement of drug laws has a devastating impact. One in three black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are currently either on probation, parole, or in prison. One in five black men have been convicted of a felony. In seven states, between 80% and 90% of prisoners serving time for drug offenses are black.
The statistics for the Latino population are equally disturbing. Latinos comprise 12.5% of the population and use and sell drugs less than whites, yet they accounted for 46% of those charged with a federal drug offense in 1999.”
Moving backward in time, the strict control or prohibition of slave drinking was common throughout colonial English and antebellum United States venues. That such restriction was never successful is not the point. Masters believed that prohibiting partaking would help to instill continued inhibition of license or other outrage. A suspected plan by slave seaman and workers to rise up in New York City and commit widespread arson and pillage was, in the estimation of prominent Whites, largely due to ubiquitous availability of unlicensed dram houses.
“Thus, whether or not there was an actual conspiracy to burn New York City in 1741, what is apparent is the central role drink and tavern life played for many slaves. Contrary to the advice given to British seamen, many northern slaves used
liquor as ‘a soother of the mind,’ a means to take their minds off the numbing brutality of their daily existence.
And in contrast to the controlled settings of religious instruction, taverns and dram houses provided places slaves could socialize away from the prying eyes of masters and other whites.
Many whites agreed with the concerns expressed by (one) Philadelphian (master) that ‘the constant Cabals’ of slaves gathering ‘every Night and every Sunday’ could result in uprisings to the ‘great Terror of the King’s Subjects.’ (This trafficker in human chattel) believed that while sober most slaves would not go to the ‘desperate length’ of violent uprisings, but noted ‘how much they are addicted to Spirituous Liquor.’ With ‘little dram Shops [o]n every Corner and Alley,’ liquored-up slaves were described as acting with ‘great and uncommon impudence.’”
Just as, on any given plantation or in any forced-labor setting, an abrogation of abstemiousness and drudgery could lead to a brutal or even lethal thrashing or other retribution, or at least to steep fines or other economic sanctions, so too in contemporary arenas might the inherent human inclination to ‘get high’ reverberate in an African American life as granting to new ‘slave patrols,’ all clad in uniform blue, a license to discriminate, imprison, terrorize, or even murder the man and woman and child who express preternatural desires to alter consciousness or change their minds.
But these direct and all-too-frequently terminal attacks on brown bodies, and again especially in relation to African Americans, are not the deadliest form of destruction against those whose ancestors ended up being a mélange of slaves, slave masters, indigenous Americans, as well as others, all of whom we now lump under the collective descriptor of Black. On the contrary, the costs in morbidity add up to millions of years of impaired lives per annum as stress-and-poverty-related illness takes its toll in Black communities. The disparate mortality equally so taxes African Americans to millions of lost years in any given 365 day period.
Whether one tallies such illnesses as heart problems or cancer, kidney dysfunction or infectious disease, those whose ancestors lived in slavery suffer more. More grotesquely still, but congruently with the data on disease, the life expectancy of Black men lags behind that of White men by more than five years; Black women, meanwhile, experience three and a half years of lost life, on average, compared to White women.
These gross disparities in well-being are absolutely irrefutable. More or less a hundred million years of lost experience and consciousness is such a massive loss as almost to be incalculable. That Social Determinants of Health include color is no more arguable than that poverty kills. The annual toll of the negative impact of having great-great grandparents who toiled as slaves is, to say the least, a staggering waste, even as socioeconomic components almost always lurk behind these on-the-surface-very-visible issues of color.
Another insidious outcome, which often enough occurs in an even more vicious interpretive nexus, concerns Black families. Daniel Patrick Moynihan a half century ago authored a report for the Department of Labor. It couched its conclusions in an overarching concern for, and even solidarity with, the hopes and needs of ‘Negro’ people. Nevertheless, in terms of its managing its statistical data and in relation to its conclusions, the report without doubt placed the primary burden on Black ‘culture’ and ‘behavior’ as explanations for the inequalities and pathologies that were more and more prevalent in American cities ‘among the colored masses.’
A powerful critique of Moynihan began almost immediately, one that culminated in a thorough and often brilliant work. Blaming the Victim pushed back against the early erstwhile ‘Neoliberalism’ of the Department of Labor consultant. As the author, William Ryan, wrote, “My(original) memorandum and articles, along with articles by Benjamin Payton, James Farmer, and others, together with the activities of these and other leaders of the movement, temporarily derailed the Moynihan Report.” Such a phalanx of analysis needed no labels or jargon: scientific assessment disproved the superficially beneficent and insidiously harmful rhetoric and faux reasoning of The Negro Family.
But, as Ryan notes in disgust, despite all the necessary evidence to prove collusion and plan, sometimes “an ideology like Moynihan’s resonates to perfectly with the mood and purpose of the public and its intellectual leaders…that it is as hard to slay as the Hydra.” Before long, back in the sixties, and repeatedly since then too, “(s)ubsequent articles, reviews, and columns in Life, Look, The New York Times, and other influential publications supported and adopted the Moynihan thesis and swamped the opposition.”
The upshot, over time, was a ‘circling of the wagons’ among progressives to hurl invectives against racism as the central way of assaulting this tendency. In the end, then, accusations of racist razzle-dazzle confronted solemnly fatuous pronouncements of Black irresponsibility. A more surreal juxtaposition is difficult to imagine. Such fallacious dualism ought to be below the level to which a clever twelve-year-old would cling.
The alternative, after all, is both evidence-based and sound, capable of scientific instead of ideological assessment. Social replication of oppression and violence and murder, of prejudice and discrimination and injustice, led to horrific social consequences. One could, in establishing this immutable factual foundation, never conclude that the causal component was responsibility: always the issue would be upper crust benefit from consciously selected laws and policies and customs.
Under slavery, the progeny, both of slave lovers—generally unable to consummate marriage—and raped or seduced slave women whose pregnancies often did result from slave-owners, overseers, and their sons, became property that mostly the practice of the times was to sell to more or less far-afield plantations. One would struggle to find a more logically or morally repugnant position than contextualizing such predation as irresponsibility by slave fathers and mothers.
So too, today, and in other situations between then and now: most contemporaneously, African-American children come into the world in communities where one half or more of the fathers end up missing because of a system that feeds off their labor and targets their behavior, indistinguishable from that of Anglo-Americans, in such ways as to incarcerate and disfranchise and impoverish them for life. Again, a less reasonable and civilized nexus for rearing children is tough to dream up, so that to blame Black families and communities in such a context is, at best, noisome and moronic.
The nauseating and idiotic, illogical and immoral elements of the establishment arguments, though, somehow do not end up the endpoint. The climax instead comes down to racism.
In essence, therefore, this debate, which monopoly-media’s multiple tentacles unvaryingly describe as a racial matter, either a display of racism or a sign of race-neutrality, itself is a legacy of slavery. That most outlets, even the so-called ‘liberal’ or—heaven protect us—‘leftist’ ones, use sophisticated and frequently sophist argumentation to bolster Moynihan ought to be an expected outcome. And, meanwhile, everyone who gets to come to the podium is talking about ‘race.’
An only months-old article in New Yorker, which also brings the estimable Orlando Patterson into the fray, is a good example of such a propagation of propaganda. With a few radical or Marxist exceptions, critics of this and other establishment paragons do not frame the issue as the falsity and error and distortion that are omnipresent in such work; nor do the policies and objectives of the falsifiers ever become the prime locus of controversy; rather, everything comes down to pointing fingers at racist beliefs, which stand as the sole sorts of rebuttals to the heartfelt remorse for immaturity and negligence and so on that typify the Moynihans of the world.
Though the Spindoctor would welcome the opportunity rigorously to dispute and deconstruct those who would defend Moynihan’s theses and use of evidence, this is out of the scope of today’s article. Instead, readers here need only understand the possibility that the characterization of the New York thinker’s followers as racist may itself promote outcomes that further inequity and disproportion, in other words that are racist in their results. Instead of this, one may at least want to ponder a more political-economic, historical, and social dynamic for negotiating these complex and difficult thickets of America’s past and present.
One might in essence detail every possible sign of social health or social ill, and one would discern the impact, through intermediating decades since the 1860’s, of the murder and mayhem and impoverishment and outrage of chattel slavery on the contemporary experience of Blacks in the United States. In any portrayal of wealth, status, certification, on the one hand, and neurosis, psychosis, violence, and on and on and on, ad infinitum, on the other hand, the inheritance of four or more centuries of enslavement colors the lives of African Americans in the 21st century.
Orlando Patterson, in his Slavery & Social Death, unfurls for his readers the imposition of the erasures that chattel relations elicit as intentional effects of systematic involuntary servitude. This dialectic, of exploitation and denigration, even though it has always exploded in the owning classes’ faces, is universal, as Patterson and others show in relation to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, in regard to Japan and Korea in Northeast Asia, and in terms of every nation that grew out of Spain’s and Portugal’s conquest of most of South America and the Caribbean.
Yet these diverse loci of human ownership of other, often but not always differently colored, people is seldom—and in the mass media or corporate journalism the descriptor is basically never—a topic that those who propose to explain current events explore. While to delve even minimally in this arena right this second would be unsupportable, must in essence await a contract or something similar for a three-to-five volume series, a less-than-minimal peek at one of these other instances of slavery could be suggestive.
For this purpose, a glance at the plight of Roma peoples can certainly serve. Interestingly enough, the Romanian period of enslavement very closely parallels what transpired in North America. Plus or minus four centuries of slave-relations came to an end around 1860, yet social horror—disproportionate difficulty among Roma communities and horrid discrimination and intolerance against Roma citizens—has continued through the present, not only in Southern Europe but throughout most of the Eurasian landmass.
“The difficult situation of the Romani population in Europe has recently attracted widespread attention. The collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe brought with it the demise of state welfare measures and, simultaneously, the end of official pressures for enforced assimilation–suddenly leaving Romani communities there to fend for themselves in a new, uncertain, and often hostile world.
Responding to this quandary, numerous governments, international organizations, foundations, nongovernmental organizations, and, most important, Romani leaders themselves are trying to devise programs and policies to address the deep and complex problems of discrimination and poverty that so disproportionately affect the Roma.”
The legacy of slavery, therefore, both in the United States and elsewhere, hypothetically comes down to centuries of brutalization, demonization, and exploitation long after protest and struggle have sundered the explicit chains of bondage. The upshot is the reimposition by alternate means of the imprimatur of ownership and conquest. The ultimate outcome is the universal attempt to degrade the oppressed and demeaned, which serves to salve the psyches of rulers themselves and to malign the ‘lowest of the low,’ and ‘the blackest of the black,’ from others whom elites need to control and manipulate to hegemonic ends.
Legacies of Colonial Empire
No set of relations which emanated from the English colonies and the United States came closer to a completely ‘successful’ genocide, of course, than did the calculated mass homicide of indigenous peoples. Since the present-day assault on Native American individuals is less immediately apparent in journalistic or scholarly mediations, readers may rest easy that a more succinct summation is imminent now.
To provide an overview, one cannot turn to a better choice that the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. John Marshall had in many ways been both a promoter of consolidated elite rule and of color chauvinism in his early career. In 1823, he issued perhaps the most damning and important opinion of a career that in many ways completely defined a ‘balance of powers’ that was anything but.
In this case, Johnson and Graham’s Lessee v. Macintosh, speaking for the majority, Marshall candidly laid the foundation for a pointed and comprehensive dismissal of any idea that Native inhabitants of the Americas might share even approximately equivalent rights as residents of European ancestry. From the Atlantic to the Mississippi, the only rule was of European interlopers, maintained by force of arms. He did not blame either party to this continental conflict, but the victors’ ultimate imprimatur was, despite the facts of interbreeding which he assiduously denied, unquestioned, unquestionable, so that ‘public opinion’s’ softening of harsh rule was not at issue.
After all, from the American ruler’s high bench he could allege, “the tribes of Indians inhabiting this country were fierce savages whose occupation was war and whose subsistence was drawn chiefly from the forest. To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness; to govern them as a distinct people was impossible because they were as brave and as high-spirited as they were fierce, and were ready to repel by arms every attempt on their independence.
What was the inevitable consequence of this state of things? The Europeans were under the necessity either of abandoning the country and relinquishing their pompous claims to it or of enforcing those claims by the sword, and by the adoption of principles adapted to the condition of a people with whom it was impossible to mix and who could not be governed as a distinct society, or of remaining in their neighborhood, and exposing themselves and their families to the perpetual hazard of being massacred.
Frequent and bloody wars, in which the whites were not always the aggressors, unavoidably ensued. European policy, numbers, and skill prevailed. As the white population advanced, that of the Indians necessarily receded. The country in the immediate neighborhood of agriculturists became unfit for them. The game fled into thicker and more unbroken forests, and the Indians followed. The soil to which the Crown originally claimed title, being no longer occupied by its ancient inhabitants, was parceled out according to the will of the sovereign power and taken possession of by persons who claimed immediately from the Crown or mediately through its grantees or deputies.”
Power and victory, swords and sway, Marshall does not once mention race in the opinion, nor need he. The historical underpinning is one of political economic plunder and social evisceration that may or may not ever necessitate compensation of any sort, let alone remuneration, or even a semblance of mutuality. Again, indeed, “(h)owever extravagant the pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited country into conquest may appear; if the principle has been asserted in the first instance, and afterwards sustained; if a country has been acquired and held under it; if the property of the great mass of the community originates in it, it becomes the law of the land and cannot be questioned. So, too, with respect to the concomitant principle that the Indian inhabitants are to be considered merely as occupants, to be protected, indeed, while in peace, in the possession of their lands, but to be deemed incapable of transferring the absolute title to others. However this restriction may be opposed to natural right, and to the usages of civilized nations, yet if it be indispensable to that system under which the country has been settled, and be adapted to the actual condition of the two people, it may perhaps be supported by reason, and certainly cannot be rejected by courts of justice.”
Today, one result of this foundation is that so-called Indians have in many jurisdictions the lowest life expectancy of all ethnic groups in North America. In many cases, their time on Earth compares to that of the citizens of nations with only a fraction of the wealth of the United States.
The most troubled evaluations of self show up in limited studies of cohorts of young Indian men and women as well. Higher rates of depression, double or triple or higher rates of suicide, and other such indicia are commonplace.
Casinos must in some way represent a perverse dialectical punctuation of this entire process. Here are Indian establishments where retired gringos and well-heeled Anglo fools drop billions of dollars every day. To what end remains uncertain, but the ironic nutrients of such soil must tantalize the storyteller.
Whatever the ultimate assessment of this odd twist might be, the abandonment of Native American communities and the consignment of these ‘Red’ peoples’ bodies to history’s dust-heap remains still the default position of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other institutional repositories of hegemony. Nonetheless, these inhabitants who ‘owned’ the continents of this hemisphere until conquest robbed them of their birthrights, having come the closest to extinction, now have manifested powerful proponents of recompense, an American Indian Movement and other propositions that parallel in many ways the work of Huey Newton, Malcolm X, and others among African Americans.
While no nation practices with such thorough arrogance as does the U.S. its war against duskier-skinned original inhabitants, this pattern of discriminatory rough treatment characterizes almost all of Europe as well, both at home and in the outposts of ‘Commonwealth’ and such. Furthermore, and to the nub of what today’s material concerns, the universal accounting for this oppression of ‘native’ folks is that racism is in play.
As above, a future comparative analysis of these matters might better illuminate what is happening in different local settings than does the light cast from more focused study. No matter what, though, one need not rely on ‘racial’ rationale to account for what has come to pass. Justice Marshall’s opinions resonate powerfully without making such opaque and poorly classified terminology the fallback position.
Legacies of Civil War, Reform, & Reconstruction
Again focusing on the U.S.A., distrust is a widespread result of the way that, after African Americans played instrumental roles in conquering the slaveocracy in the South, the Union reneged on its promises—forty acres and a mule were out of the question when not even a franchise and protection of free labor were possible—and reintegrated former Confederate elites back into their accustomed positions of preeminence. Such treachery made the deepest sort of mistrust unavoidable.
As Melissa Williams makes the case, “(t)he Black political experience during
Reconstruction tells the story of trust given and trust betrayed.” As Professor Williams delineates in her mixture of political philosophy and history that she applies to the here-and-now, this bad faith has persisted till the current moment, a lingering sore that emanates from opportunistic politics and calculated profiteering that also continues to define the present pass.
While a researcher could develop volumes on this issue, a verse from a song in the Dead Prez compilation, Let’s Get Free, can serve for now. This is from the track, “The Animal in Man,” which tells the story of George Orwell’s Animal Farm as an admonitory parable of U.S. society, in which the ‘disgust and betrayal’ might readily refer to the lionization of Lincoln and Civil War in light of what followed.
“After they ran the farmer off the farm
The pigs went around and called a meeting in the barn
Hannibal spoke for several hours
But when talks about his plans for power
That’s when the conversation turned sour
He issued an official ordinance to set
If not a pig from this day forth then you insubordinate
That’s when the horses went buckwild
One of them shouted out
‘You fraudulent pigs, we know your fucking style!’
Hannibal’s face was flushed and pale
All the animals eyes full of disgust and betrayal
He felt the same way (Farmer) Sam felt
They took his tongue out of his mouth
And cut his body up for sale, for real
You better listen while you can
Its a very thin line between animal and man
When Hannibal crossed the line they all took a stand
What would have done?
Shook his hand?
This is the animal in man.”
In such an overall milieu, calls for reparations have become more insistent over the past few decades. They make most Whites want to puke, of course, at least stateside. The reasons for this distaste, even though the Spindoctor supports the concept of community-based remuneration for past injustice, are not ludicrous. The most interesting potential of such actions is that they can elicit intercourse between parties that would basically never otherwise talk with each other.
Readers may discover much more about this topic in a future essay, but for now, a snapshot of what happened in a Duke University forum in March, 2015, might help a thoughtful student of these matters put things into perspective. “Like Coates’ piece (a year ago in The Atlantic), the conversation at Duke centered less on the who, what and how of reparations and more on why reparations are needed. In their remarks, panelists expressed cynicism that reparations would come to pass in their lifetime or even in the next few generations, but also hope for how even just a serious national conversation about them could transform—or, to use a panelist’s word, ‘redeem’—America.”
Related ‘truth-and-reconciliation’ processes also are an aspect of what some community leaders suggest could play a part in healing and integration. In November, 1979, with the advance knowledge of various police forces, heavily armed fascist assassins targeted and murdered communist and grassroots activists who were helping to organize workers into unions and community groups in Greensboro, North Carolina.
This event permits a deep insight into the forces at play in situations where color and class and empowerment collide with reactionary forces that will go to any length to prevent social progress. Of the hundreds of participants in the rally that turned into a killing field, over ninety per cent were African American. Of those whom the Klan and Nazi hit-men shot to death, four of five were White. All five were members of the Maoist political group that had organized the rally against the Klan, one of dozens of actions in the mid-to-late-1970’s, of which the humble Spindoctor organized one and argued passionately not to encourage “Death to the Klan” chanting or publicity of the sort that were bedrock aspects of the Greensboro slaughter.
In Greensboro, “The KKK and Nazi members shot at anyone who wasn’t hiding while four television news teams and one police officer recorded the action. They then got back into their cars and sped away after which the Greensboro police arrived and began arresting protestors.
In the aftermath five people were killed and 11 wounded in the attack. All five were members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO), and four were rank-and-file union leaders and organizers.” Despite the intentional murder or involuntary manslaughter on display, not one of the shooters ever served a day in prison for this charnel dispatch of white organizers.
In a move that many radicals have criticized but which did in fact help to provide clarity and a platform for vocalizing rage and longing in regard to this brutal mass homicide, Greensboro created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to do something about the rifts that the occurrence created in the city. “The truth and reconciliation process is designed to examine and learn from a divisive event in Greensboro’s past in order to build the foundation for a more unified future. The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission is based upon similar efforts around the world, most notably in South Africa. Building on this wealth of international experience, Greensboro represents the first application of this model in the United States.”
While these and other stabs at reformulating resistance and reimagining integration very often embrace the very social forces that most profited from the original bondage and exploitation, just this sort of contradiction implies a polarity from which dandy dialectical dances might emerge. In any event, by placing the discourse on a plane of equality and reason, they make possible conversation that is utterly independent of racial thinking, put-downs about racism, and so on and so forth.
The resuscitation of the slaveholding classes almost a hundred fifty years ago, simultaneously as the non-owning Whites served again as whipmasters and enforcers against former chattel, echoes in every police department that ‘serves’ an eighty-percent Black community with a four-fifths European American Gestapo. Thus, the need for remediation not only stems from relatively long-ago wounds that have festered and never healed, but also from dynamics of inequity and injustice that explode anew on the contemporary scene.
To rectify the past could be, in a sense, to rejuvenate the present thereby. The devilish details of such possibilities, in and of themselves, establish the boundaries for a discussion that could bring together social forces otherwise seemingly intractably opposed.
Once again, a Spindoctor with a license and a budget could go off while he kept going on here. These attempts both to express a networked engagement and seek a wider hearing for redress are only possible because a more civil society has to some extent actually come into being; at the same time, unfortunately, in the vein of ‘one step forward, and two steps back,’ the threat of backsliding is ever present.
As in every case in this essay—and in many of the other such analyses that the Spindoctor promotes—the standard-operating-procedure has been to consider events in ‘America’ first, since, if nothing else, they are easiest for him to investigate. In fact, however, even in this instance of what seems a ‘uniquely’ Yankee process, one might turn to Russia or British India or many other places on the planet to see similar processes in play as have resulted today in the U.S. from Civil War and reconstruction.
A freshly minted news analysis from Counterpunch takes note of a tricontinental strategy session on the topic of reparations that took place in New York early in April of this year. Contingents from the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe all met with the intention to establish networks and develop a strategic orientation that would allow activists to demand and attain compensation for serving so long as prey for the howling wolves of imperial finance and industry.
“French reparations activists have filed lawsuits and initiated other actions around reparations from deprivations by France in the Caribbean and in Africa. CARICOM nations have established a Reparations Commission to conduct further research to initiate legal and other actions against governments of Britain, France and other European countries that maintained colonies in the Caribbean basin.
Louis-Georges Tin, an anti-racism and reparations activist in France, said he had travelled to the Summit with a delegation from the European Reparation Commission to establish closer connections with other reparations activists.”
In a wider parsing of these sorts of skirmishes, one can posit that a primary thread of fascism, in every case since Italy, has interwoven with the expression of the insistence that newly freed slaves, serfs, indentured populations, colonial citizens, and so forth receive a boost for having for decades or centuries confronted exploitation and violent violation. The aristocratic thugs who have most suffered the loss of their privileged position at the ‘top of the heap,’ and easily recruited petty bourgeois sorts who crumble in every crisis, combine and demonize these ‘lower races’ as worthy of renewed depredation.
Legacies of a New Imperialism, Orchestrated from Washington by ‘Free Trade’
In no other arena is the ultimate sinister inheritance of the present historical eventuality worse than in the almost innumerable cases of the rising, and now fully risen, American leviathan’s now planet-spanning neocolonial, neoimperialist enterprises—almost always cast as liberation and aid, as if death and destruction and profiteering and plunder were the result of loving and friendly impulses. Furthermore, because of the inevitable realities of the historical synthesis of these ventures, whether one examines the Philippines or Honduras, Nigeria or Bangladesh, ‘colored people’ still bear the ugly brunt of the ugly American and his beautiful machinery and other machinations of capital’s sway.
The repercussions of this dynamic universally enable vast, seemingly interminable killing and chaos. Looking at a map of the world with overlain graphics of contemporaneous war and social upheaval, this is of course obvious. But in a sense similarly as the Wicked Witch ruminated in The Wizard of Oz, the how of these horrific tortures’ unfolding, again and again with the United States of America in the role of lead executioner and chief puppeteer, is a riddle that study and explication must figure out, unless some sort of random sadomasochistic thrill attends the continuation of these chaotic catalysts of violation and violence.
In an earlier incarnation, the Spindoctor wrote about these matters in relation to the connection between present-day assaults on ‘illegal immigrants’ and two-century-old attacks on Native Americans. “These days, along I-20 from Atlanta to Birmingham, State Troopers seek out ‘illegal immigrants,’ trying to catch and eject them from ‘America.’ Eighteen decades ago, along substantially the same route, the leaders of Georgia—who had recently inaugurated the country’s first ‘Gold Rush’ in Dahlonega–and Alabama—who were readying river valley properties for slaves to work–were preparing to throw out local native inhabitants so that the conquering European immigrants could do whatever they liked. Those who like ironic history will love today’s story.”
Incongruities of this sort, at once bizarre and darkly humorous, abound in the imposition of U.S. imperial authority. The Philippines is a good example. Although U.S. rulers positioned their forces as liberators, almost before the Yanks had run the Spanish off, the Moro and other local Filipino freedom fighters had turned against Uncle Sam and his minions.
“This was not the first time that the United States had dramatically expanded its territories. Neither was this the first time that it had done so by war with another nation (Mexico, 1846-48). That this expansion required the violent subjugation of nonwhites (in this case Filipinos, but for much of the same century, Native Americans) was hardly new, either.
Nevertheless, ironies of empire abounded for this self-styled democratic republic. Many of these ironies were scathingly noted by American anti-imperialist Mark Twain in his writings. Critics pointed out the irony of fighting to free Cubans from Spanish colonial rule then fighting the Filipino War (1900-1902) to retain colonial dominion over a captive people.”
Furthermore, this mismatch between rhetoric and reality—in which prostitution and graft and thuggery accompanied high-finance and ‘foreign aid’ and ‘development loans’ that seemed to make people poorer and hungrier while well-fed American soldiers watched over things throughout the region at facilities like Subic Bay–continued through the closing of the huge base near Manila and persist even as only occasional visits of naval flotillas now occur.
Central Africa, with its mosaic of murderous machinations of British and French and Belgian malediction, would hardly seem like a realm where U.S. malfeasance reigned supreme. However, in the aftermath of the colonial collapse, a new mechanism for control emerged, in which Central Intelligence Agency and corporate functionaries replaced old-school bureaucrats and aristocratic sociopaths.
Thus, from the well-tuned machinery of assassination that sucked up and spit out Patrice Lumumba and countless others to the coordinated management of mass mayhem that characterized the events of Hotel Rwanda and more, the integrated circuitry of exploitation and control has held sway in this region and throughout the ‘dark continent.’ That ‘race’ was comparatively unimportant in these ministrations of horror is possible to demonstrate: after all, numerous recent retrospectives on the ten years of Vietnam’s agony show similar patterns and goals and outcomes as what happened in Africa, or for that matter in Chile forty-two years ago, the Whitest country in Latin America.
In many cases like those above and in relation to Yemen and throughout the ‘Grand Chessboard’ of much of Southwest Asia and the Horn of Africa, the United States has in some views shouldered the “White Man’s Burden.” Kipling’s poem was explicitly about enlarging the scope of U.S. dominance and creating a web of Anglo-American rule over all the lesser, darker folk of the planet, albeit for their own good.
How could such lines as these not be racist?
“Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child…”
The answer to that query, if one is willing to listen, is threefold: the lyrics of Gunga Din; the repeated, ad infinitum, carefully plotted murder of the best and brightest and dearest of these “sullen peoples” because they dared oppose capital; and the occasional early and now almost constant deployment of other “sullen peoples” to control the initial beneficiaries.
In such a context, ‘race’ offers no more clarity than voodoo as elucidation. The key issue of who the conquerors actually recruited locally is also centrally important, about which more directly.
In this new kingdom of bourgeois property triumphant, over time, no place has been off limits to the American Century’s imposition of dominance. Racism is a convenient label that explains none of it, as this preeminent hegemony of the ‘American Way’ has spread out in all directions.
Readers may refer to material just above for a reference to Cuba, Westward across the Atlantic. The Spindoctor has mentioned the island’s history and revolution both here on Contributoria and in earlier writings. Cuba’s resistance to U.S. depredation is a testament to a non-racialist social system. Nevertheless, despite decades of rejuvenated Latino empowerment, in part because of Havana’s successfully standing up to Washington, the threat powerfully persists in Latin America of further slaughter that the Gringos orchestrate.
The network of this dictatorial dominance presumes to encompass everywhere on Earth, including Moscow and Beijing and Tokyo and Berlin and London and Paris. Whether this nearly completed fantasy of a Reich eternal in fact summarizes the human condition may well turn on the capacity to impose a ‘racialist’ mindset on those who protest imperial victory, where the day-to-day operations of ‘business as usual’ lay the groundwork for ghettoes and concentration camps.
Thus, just as in the United States proper, so too in the grinding operations of far-flung provincial and metropolitan dynamos, this systematic mass murder does not lead to the greatest injury and loss and destruction. In the present parlance, ‘Economic Hit Men’ do substantially, or even vastly, greater damage than do the relatively brief interludes of homicide and mass slaughter.
The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other ‘partner’ institutions eviscerate the so-called Third World. Corporate protocols—in arms trade, in relation to ‘medicine,’ in the energy sphere, in technology—further these patterns of dependency and despond. Again, the critic’s response blames the IMF’s or Apple’s or Chevron’s racism, as if any strategic rejoinder to the anaconda of monopoly finance is possible as a result of such a view of victimization and vengeance.
All such sociopolitical developments, with their very specific and well accounted for political economic results, depend on willing cretins from the ‘free polities’ in question, whose service to imperial interests is no more in doubt than are the trade balances that happen when extracted minerals stack up against automatic weapons and sophisticated telecommunications and electronic control methodologies. Franz Fanon is just one brilliant annalist who documents these matters, particularly in relation to North Africa. He speaks hopefully of a revolutionary dialectic that goes beyond ‘development’ that mirrors the West.
“So, comrades, let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her.
Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature.
If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know how to do it better than the most gifted among us.
But if we want humanity to advance a step farther, if we want to bring it up to a different level than that which Europe has shown it, then we must invent and we must make discoveries.
If we wish to live up to our peoples’ expectations, we must seek the response elsewhere than in Europe.
Moreover, if we wish to reply to the expectations of the people of Europe, it is no good sending them back a reflection, even an ideal reflection, of their society and their thought with which from time to time they feel immeasurably sickened.
For Europe, for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”
And he also decries those who sell out the oppressed among their people, the workers and peasants and common folks. “To its brutal policy of oppression(the colonial administration) adds a spectacular and judicious combination of détente, divisive maneuvers, and psychological warfare. Here and there it endeavors to revive tribal conflicts, using agents provocateurs engaged in what is known as countersubversion. Colonialism uses two types of indigenous collaborators to achieve its ends. First of all, there are the usual suspects: chiefs, kaids, and witch doctors. …Colonialism secures the services of these loyal servants by paying them a small fortune.
(Also), the lumpenproletariat will always respond to the call to revolt, but if the insurrection thinks it can afford to ignore it, then this famished underclass will pitch itself into the armed struggle and take part in the conflict, this time on the side of the oppressor. …who never misses an opportunity to have the blacks tear at each other’s throats.”
Eduardo Galeano articulates similar, if decidedly more optimistic, perspectives about encounters around the world, but most especially in Latin America. His recent passing leaves a legacy of clear sighted comprehension of factual nuance and underlying dynamics both, for example in regard to the function of latifundia landowners in maintaining semi-feudal, reactionary patterns of land and productive property ownership, an incisive analysis based on real qualities and relationships instead of skin color.
“Even industrialization— coming late and in dependent form, and comfortably coexisting with the latifundia and the structures of inequality— helps to spread unemployment rather than to relieve it; poverty is extended, wealth concentrated in the area where an ever multiplying army of idle hands is available. New factories are built in the privileged poles of development— Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City— but less and less labor is needed. The system did not foresee this small headache, this surplus of people. And the people keep reproducing. They make love with enthusiasm and without precaution. Ever more people are left beside the road, without work in the countryside, where the latifundios reign with their vast extensions of idle land, without work in the city where the machine is king. The system vomits people. North American missionaries sow pills, diaphragms, intrauterine devices, condoms, and marked calendars, but reap children. Latin American children obstinately continue getting born, claiming their natural right to a place in the sun in these magnificent lands which could give to all what is now denied to almost all.”
Today’s dictatorial thug, plied with prostitutes and armaments, turns into tomorrow’s fall guy, while the latifundia, aristocrats, and local propertied classes remain in control and effectively inoculated against the essential step that the workers of their societies have only occasionally embraced, overthrowing their parasitic and conspiratorial imprimatur once and for all. Though Rodney, in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, rails against prejudice and “vicious White racism,” he is clear in his analysis. In none of the cases that he investigates is the race of the oppressors or the color of the oppressed, or vice versa, the deciding factor.
“(Truly), because of lack of engineers, Africa cannot on its own build more roads, bridges, and hydroelectric stations. But that is not a cause of underdevelopment, except in the sense that causes and effects come together and reinforce each other. The fact of the matter is that the most profound reasons for the economic backwardness of a given African nation are not to be found inside that nation. All that we can find inside are the symptoms of underdevelopment and the secondary factors that make for poverty. Mistaken interpretations of the causes of underdevelopment usually stem either from prejudiced thinking or from the error of believing that one can learn the answers by looking inside the underdeveloped economy. The true explanation lies in seeking out the relationship between Africa and certain developed countries and in recognizing that it is a relationship of exploitation.”
Nobel Literary Laureate Wole Soyinka hammers this notion home. “Walter Rodney was no captive intellectual playing to the gallery of local or international radicalism. He was clearly one of the most solidly ideologically situated intellectuals ever to look colonialism and its contemporary heir black opportunism and exploitation in the eye.”
Again, coloration, or race, does not cause or play a significant role in this opportunism and exploitation: these malefactors come in all shades. What turns out to be dispositive, again and again and again and again—and again—are the twin factors of geopolitical strategy, along with its scramble for resources and markets, on the one hand, and the capacity to control and dispose of vast armies of labor and muscle, as well as buckets of cash, on the other hand. Skin color just doesn’t explain either the political economic tangles or the socioeconomic conundrums that capital causes in these struggles and then solves to its own advantage until working people of different colors—can anyone present say Cuba?!—have united to oppose bourgeois overlords.
Most recently as regards both Africom, with the U.S. emphasis on an entire continent, and Ukraine, with the focus on flanking any Eurasian union that sets American finance aside, militarized and belligerent policies and tactics have again been appearing in the guise of free markets and freedom: “We only want to help you be free, free to sell us your commodities at reduced rates while we provide loans and credits that guarantee debt peonage more stringent than what Argentina is battling.” A slightly different plotline spins out in Iran and Southeast Asia, merely to mention a couple of other spots that the United States of America intends to dominate as it barricades the Chinese colossus.
Wherever one turns, in any event, literally everywhere on Earth, imperial threads bind up social ties and predatory plutocrats in the service of empire seek to siphon the flow of production and consumption through their elite organizations—banks and conglomerates and corporate behemoths. They care about skin color only when it serves as a motivation or a distraction, either a ‘carrot’ or a ‘stick,’ that helps to lubricate their successful predominance. Those whose station in life requires, if they are to prosper or even live, organizational alliances with other similarly situated citizens would do best to keep this point in mind.
Legacies of Relatively Recent Oppression, Discrimination, Brutality, & Murder
One might liken the present pass to a slow motion chain reaction, in which humans act in similar fashion as concentrated atoms of fissile material. Whether the Uranium originates from Canada or Central Africa makes zero difference, just as the social conflicts of the present, whatever appearances might suggest, do not depend on skin color so much as on deeper historical, geographic, and socioeconomic forces.
Unfortunately, the apparent protracted attainment of a critical mass has probably contributed in lulling people not to worry about the very real potential of crisping in an actual nuclear frying pan, as a result of the volatility of our ongoing social battles. In a sense, we are like pathetic frogs—some green, some yellow, some brown, all the same species and wary of each other as our fluid perches get warmer and warmer—that will not leap from the water that will boil them so long as it heats up slowly enough.
Just as human communities of any coloration long for the same things—decent employment, good schools, comfortable places to live, etc.—so too the differently hued amphibians would have similar needs and, in their froglike ways, hopes. Even as the scientists studying the frogs might separate them by color, or the elites ruling the human roost might divide populations by skin tone, these factors will actually mean nothing in terms of their ultimate fate.
In his Impacts of Science on Society, Bertrand Russell spoke to this issue with a simple and yet lovely parable. “Mankind is in the position of a man climbing a difficult and dangerous precipice, at the summit of which there is a plateau of delicious mountain meadows. With every step that he climbs, his fall, if he does fall, becomes more terrible; with every step his weariness increases and the ascent grows more difficult. At last there is only one more step to be taken, but the climber does not know this, because he cannot see beyond the jutting rocks at his head. His exhaustion is so complete that he wants nothing but rest. If he lets go he will find rest in death. Hope calls: ‘One more effort-perhaps it will be the last effort needed.’ Irony retorts: ‘Silly fellow! Haven’t you been listening to hope all this time, and see where it has landed you.’ Optimism says: ‘While there is life there is hope.’ Pessimism growls: ‘While there is life there is pain.’ Does the exhausted climber make one more effort, or does he let himself sink into the abyss? In a few years those of us who are still alive will know the answer.”
The flashpoints, from which our kind can ‘slip into despair’ and disappear in a heated rush, are legion, though some hotspots named in the section just above rank as likelier possibilities for mass collective suicide than do other places. The conflicts in most of them are possible to view through a lens of ‘race,’ something that half or more of the critiques of U.S. or ‘Western’ policy bring to bear in excoriating the slide toward mayhem and murder. Yet this trope—that ‘racism’ explains why and how we move toward predatory warfare—simply does not hold up.
The Spindoctor has written on Contributoria and elsewhere about the willful ignorance and distorted propaganda that has passed for monopoly mediation about the past few years in Ukraine. While ‘racism’ is simply impossible to apply in this location, even though dynamically and structurally it differs little from possible debacles elsewhere, many analysts do view the confrontations there as potentially lethal in any number of ways, including the possible inducement of multiple Chernobylish meltdowns or the simple escalation of conflict between Russia and the U.S., whose combined thermonuclear arsenals are fully adequate to kill all humans in the world several times over. Helen Caldicott is one of those who warns us.
“The expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders is ‘very, very dangerous,’ Caldicott said. ‘There is no way a war between the United States and Russia could start and not go nuclear. … The United States and Russia have enormous stockpiles of these weapons. Together they have 94 percent of all the 16,300 nuclear weapons in the world.’
We are in a very fallible, very dangerous situation operated by mere mortals,’ she warned. ‘The nuclear weapons, are sitting there, thousands of them. They are ready to be used.’
Caldicott strongly criticized Obama administration policymakers for their actions in forward positioning U.S. and NATO military units in countries of Eastern Europe in response to Russian support of breakaway separatists in the provinces of eastern Ukraine. (A few days ago), the U.S. government announced the deployment of the Ironhorse Brigade, an elite armored cavalry unit of the U.S. Army to the former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, along the historic invasion route from the West to St. Petersburg.
‘Do they really want a nuclear war with Russia?’ she asked. ‘The only war that you can have with Russia is a nuclear war. … You don’t provoke paranoid countries armed with nuclear weapons.’”
The masters-of-the-universe in charge of things in the District of Columbia and Manhattan and elsewhere are certainly not the first ruling class that has believed it could practice rapine and manslaughter without having ever either to pay any recognizable piper or to confront an opponent that will go to the mat. Very similar events happened in 1914, when, without once even wondering about ‘racial’ overtones, all the ‘smart money’ plutocrats publicly insisted, and the ‘leaders’ of unions and socialists also contended, that the carnage of World War One ‘would never happen.’
“The key to preventing war, socialists believed, was to force arbitration through the threat of a general strike. In 1914, their great chance to force arbitration had come, but they had not had time to put their theories into place because events moved with dizzying speed. None of the Brussels delegates ‘suspected that a European war was imminent,’ even though it was just hours away,” and fated to involve all the ‘races-of-man’ in a mad, homicidal melee.
Or perhaps the thought is that ‘containment’ is plausible, not of the forces that empire’s fiendish administrators draw forth in opposition, but of the uproar and outbursts of the nuclear explosions themselves. In such a view, even as imperial fantasies crumble into dust, even as nuclear reactors melt down and spew forth invisible plumes of mass murder, even as people begin to rise in revolution against any further plutocratic plunder, somehow or other the Strangelovian geniuses in command will foreswear the final thrust that delivers the coup d’état to all and sundry all at once. Does that seem like a reasonable scenario for optimism?
One might ponder the multiple contingency plans of the United States in ruminating about an answer to the question. As a socialist organization argued about the early-2000’s ‘build-up’ that took place prior to the present ‘build-up,’ “The new nuclear weapons doctrine was drawn up in a secret Pentagon report delivered to Congress in January, and made public by the Los Angeles Times March 10. Seven countries are on the US hit list, including Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya, and the US military would be authorized to use nuclear weapons under a wide range of conditions, including whenever conventional weaponry proved inadequate for Washington’s purposes.”
Six of those polities might lead one to invoke a ‘racial’ explanatory nexus. Russia, obviously, unless we bring Hitler and his ‘hatred of Slavs’ back to the forefront, as the seventh, could not serve as a ‘racial’ case. The upshot is that in these matters of calculating life and death, in which the same propositions and theories are in play as in dealings with Mexico or Haiti or inner city conflicts in North America, ‘race’ is at best foolish as a way to account for things, even though people do so, arguing that ‘attacks on Libya/Iran/North Korea/China are racist’ when the same factors induce such actions as induce a skirmish with Russia, or conceivably with New Zealand for that matter. The journalists from the Fourth International break down how the nations—and ‘races—involved have responded to these games of brinkmanship.
“The governments of the states targeted for nuclear annihilation were naturally unwilling to accept US assurances that the Pentagon nuclear plan was merely a continuation of contingency plans drawn up under the Clinton administration. (No US spokesman has sought to explain the contradiction between the claim that the plan contains ‘nothing new’ and the fact that it was devised in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks).
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi stressed that China and the United States had agreed not to target each other with nuclear weapons. ‘Like many other countries, China is deeply shocked with the content of this report,’ he declared. ‘The US side has a responsibility to explain this.’
A leading Russian legislator, Dmitri Rogozin, declared that the US government seemed to have lost touch with reality since September 11. ‘They’ve brought out a big stick—a nuclear stick that is supposed to scare us and put us in our place,’ he told NTV television. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov called the reports destabilizing and said that top-level Bush administration officials had an obligation to ‘make things clear and calm the international community, convincing it that the United States does not have such plans.’”
Whatever the case may be, students of human existence far wiser and more knowledgeable than any mere Spindoctor have long warned about these sorts of ‘slippery slopes,’ which can exist as much more than logical fallacies when the necessary prerequisites are, so to say, fully requited. Many of these wiser heads, though they served as ‘race leaders,’ in fact often focus passionately on these matters of geopolitics and imperial imprimatur.
Martin Luther King, who died interestingly enough when his work turned fully against the Vietnam war and in favor of explicit, multihued working class organization in Memphis, warned presciently, in essence, that ‘the bombs that we detonate in Southeast Asia will explode, soon enough, in our own living rooms.’ He had wedded his career to discussions of racial rights, and yet in these conversations, this way of thinking very definitely receded into the background, since the equities in play applied to people of all colors, even if disparate negative impacts continued disproportionately to affect darker-skinned minorities.
Moreover, no less than Nelson Mandela spent much of his energy in his final years fighting to eliminate nuclear war from the human prospect, doing work in which he often made zero mention of race or racism. He presented an impassioned plea at the United Nations on the Autumnal Equinox in 1998 along these lines, begging for the elimination of nuclear annihilation as a political tactic, and tying this entreaty to a general analysis of social justice: “The very right to be human is denied everyday to hundreds of millions of people as a result of poverty, the unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water and shelter, education, health care and a healthy environment.
The failure to achieve the vision contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights finds dramatic expression in the contrast between wealth and poverty which characterises the divide between the countries of the North and the countries of the South and within individual countries in all hemispheres.
It is made especially poignant and challenging by the fact that this coexistence of wealth and poverty, the perpetuation of the practice of the resolution of inter and intra-state conflicts by war and the denial of the democratic right of many across the world, all result from the acts of commission and omission particularly by those who occupy positions of leadership in politics, in the economy and in other spheres of human activity.
What I am trying to say is that all these social ills which constitute an offence against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not a pre-ordained result of the forces of nature or the product of a curse of the deities.
They are the consequence of decisions which men and women take or refuse to take, all of whom will not hesitate to pledge their devoted support for the vision conveyed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This Declaration was proclaimed as Universal precisely because the founders of this Organisation and the nations of the world who joined hands to fight the scourge of fascism, including many who still had to achieve their own emancipation, understood this clearly—that our human world was an interdependent whole.” The only race here, as Mandela reminds those who will listen intently, is the human race, which is both our mutual collectivity as a species and our long run toward something akin to human thriving and survival.
Color & Convenience in Selecting Schemes of ‘Divide & Conquer’
Karl Marx famously implored unity among working people. The regular failure of this evident directive notwithstanding, one might reasonably posit that only such an eventuality can result in a historical transformation that makes something other than the decimation or elimination of any human future plausible.
Imbibing argumentation in this manner, one cannot help but wonder if the seemingly random and yet immanent outgrowth of ‘race’ and the legions of other grasping individualistic ‘identities’ are not so much natural as cultivated, not so much inherent as manipulated. After all, if a fundamental unity, at the same time organic and social, binds people and their fates together, as if some optimistic musical production were in fact actual, then the lines from “Solidarity Forever” would prove unstoppable.
“In our hands we hold a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand-fold;
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,
For our union makes us strong.”
In the Gilbert and Sullivan staging of such a drama, the entrepreneur and the banker and the industrialist and the field-marshal in chorus would shudder and shout, “Heaven forfend!!” They would scurry about, their faces purpled and their hearts aflutter, as they parlayed together to imagine, and then impose, tricks to distance from each other all of their inferiors, in so doing crushing any such prospective union, let alone a real, society-wide class conscious unification.
In this vein, by far the most utilitarian mechanisms for pushing people apart have to include skin-color, language, cultural background, and religious faith. Thus, that an ongoing conflation of all of these factors as racial has been occurring since at least the 1990’s is noteworthy, not to mention profoundly troubling. While essentially innumerable examples of such happenings would be possible in a still-longer investigation, here we might peer at a few cases and know that plentiful additional data is available.
A first sampling examines a recent post in the wide-ranging online periodical, CounterCurrents, which speaks of how divide and conquer schemes in contemporary Gujarat have imposed color separation on Hindu and Muslim students. The predictable outcomes of this policy choice, alienation and tension, are none the less hideous for their plain inevitability.
This story’s articulation details how, following fiscally manipulated and politically enforced ‘concentration’ of Islamic residents, ghettoized Muslim academies are without exception dictating that students wear green uniforms, while Hindu pupils don saffron garb. “What do we do in the face of a situation where the schools are choosing uniforms according to the religion of the children, and how come the percentage of children is overwhelmingly Muslim or Hindu in particular areas? This is due to physical segregation and is contrary to the spirit of communal harmony and the values ingrained in the basics of Indian Constitution, the spirit of Fraternity.
One has to counter the myths, biases and prejudices about the ‘other community’ as these stereotypes form the base of communal violence, which in turn paves the way for segregation and ghettoization which further leads to ‘cultural demarcation’, the way these two schools show. What type of future society(will result), we can envisage with such stereotypes entering into our education system. (At the very least), (t)he physical and emotional divides which are coming up are detrimental to the unity of the nation as a whole.”
The author’s final paragraph harks back to the very year in which Britain’s imperial unraveling consciously surrounded Hindi India with Islamic East and West Pakistan. “The communal violence has brought to (the) fore the religious identity without bring(ing) in the values of tolerance and acceptance for the ‘other’. I remember having watched V.Shantarams’ 1946 classic, Padosi (neighbor), and leaving the theatre with moist eyes, wondering whether Hindus and Muslims can ever live like this again, whether the composite culture which India inherits has any chance of survival in the prevalent divisive political scenario!”
U.S. prisons, meanwhile, the seamier and more violent lock-ups especially, offer up a second set of instances, that in general circumscribe an entire universe in which strictly coded and enforced ‘racial segregation’ has become the default, a clearly illegal outcome in terms of equal protection and other such Constitutional fantasies, but a result that authorities permit ostensibly for the safety and security of both the degraded and dehumanized prisoners themselves, often in a state of semi-permanent lockdown, and for the benefit of the largely White population of prison guards. Recent California legislation to rein in such practices notwithstanding, they remain the cutting edge of current incarceration practice in maximum-security facilities. Not that such practice is illogical, quite the contrary, in settings in which White-supremacy is a dominant ideology among many Anglo workers, nationalist separatism and self-protection holds sway among particularly some Islamic Black cohorts, and clearly racialist, Spanish-speaking gangs have emerged among Hispanic prisoners, such ironclad division appears immutable.
A young scholar from Florida makes a chilling case that such developments are corporate policy, the imprimatur of imperial capital writ large. “The aim of this analysis is to uncover the reasons why crime legislation became progressively more punitive, reaction to African Americans gains in post-Civil Rights more hostile, and the manifold ways in which these phenomena drive the expansion of the prison system and its increasing privatization. In the process of this expansion, a racial caste system which oppresses young African Americans and people of color has become recast and entrenched. Specifically, I offer the notion that in the last three decades, punitive crime legislation focused on African Americans and served to deal with labor needs and racial conflict with harsher penal legislation; in doing so, it depoliticized race, institutionalized racial practices and served the interest of private prison businesses in new and oppressive ways.”
A New York Review of Books parsing of a 2014 monograph, Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust, demonstrates a third, absolutely fascinating dialectic. A clearly brillant author, Gotz Aly, a freelance historian, has composed an array of studies that demonstrate the political-economic, class-based, opportunistic, and anti-communist underpinnings of the Nazi rise in Germany; in this newest work, he assembles a powerful argument about how Jewish success in Germany laid the basis for the ‘racial’ fantasies of Mein Kampf, in so doing uncovering a big part of both why ‘liberal’ Germany succumbed to Nazism and how the Reich maintained rank-and-file loyalty through purges and the second greatest loss of blood and property in the mayhem of World War Two.
Aly in essence therein establishes how insidious and destructive are propaganda and ideology that describe ‘racial theories’ as valid. “Race hatred,” or racism, induces a fascist upsurge when the material basis of economic affairs becomes problematic enough, and struggling against the ‘racial detestation,’ or racism, has little or no impact on the underlying economic and social dynamics actually in play. Jewish identity, Jewish culture, Jewish religion, along with capital’s intensifying crisis, the increasing centrality of anticommunism, and the escalating desperation of small businesses and workers, all conjoin in a battle between ‘racial ideology’ and the battle against it, a loggerheads out of which one version or another of fascism rises up triumphant.
To finish this tiny little piece of this big and difficult, and yet far too small and sketchy, puzzle, one might ponder a question. If people’s coloration and arbitrarily attendant factors divide the human species into races, and accompanying this division elites will always benefit from setting people against each other, how on Earth can attacks on racism ever succeed, given the supposedly—no matter how idiotic or fatuous they actually are—irreducible facts of racial separation and difference?
How much worse a recognition is—about which a substantially expanded set of data is forthcoming—that not one iota of biological knowledge supports what one critical volume called The “Racial” Economy of Science that predominates at just this historical stage. This collection of essays has a brief subtitle that hints at what is at stake in straightening out this elevation of superficiality and fatuous nonsense: Toward a Democratic Future.
Suppressing Class & History As Guarantees of False Consciousness
In the event, then, as will appear in the next, and the next-after-the-next, components of this effort at reportage, the very idea of race is an utterly discredited and socially reactionary theory. Thus, its close cousin racism cannot under any circumstances exist except as an at once malicious and stupid belief. And most importantly, the hue-and-cry to eliminate this item-that-has-zero-real-substance can only boomerang and slay the very hopes and dreams of comity and congruence that those who attack it say that they hope to achieve.
What can replace this discreditable, and often discredited, contextualization are rubrics that use historical, political-economic, artistic and narrative, social-scientific, and scientific foundations to scrutinize the ways that people relate, for both good and ill. Plenty of such case-studies and feature productions do abound among the scholarship and reporting and outpouring of texts and performances around the globe. That precious few of them seek to synthesize these various methodologies lays the basis for the Spindoctor’s oh-so-humble endeavor at just such an amalgamation.
In particular, in this vein, social class analyses must inform studies that rely on color and other qualities that divide the majority of the planet’s populace, plus-or-minus ninety percent of whom are workers, with little or no access to capital that would permit their survival without wages. This interweaving of class and color and so forth is essential, in any case, if anything other than recrimination, destitution, and devastation are the hoped-for products of scholarship and journalism and other annals of the human prospect. In unity lies strength.
As things are transpiring in the realm of the real, despite the absolute and horrifying truth of the injustices that are here in view, people at the grassroots are everywhere on this orb of green and blue recognizing that their differences in hue do not prohibit, as their due, the most intimate and powerful connections among each other. After all, millions of colorful women have mated with millions of paler men, and vice versa: the Spindoctor’s love-and-life partnership, as well as his sister’s and brother-in-law’s and his brother-in-law’s and sister-in-law’s, are merely personal experiences of this undeniable truth.
The personal decidedly shines with political shades. As other pieces of today’s article will develop, this conjunction of black and white and brown and yellow and red, not to mention men and women and people of all faiths and nations and cultures, extends well beyond individual or emotional relationships. It encompasses the best collective chances that humanity has to flower and prosper. Not surprisingly, also as readers will learn, discursive expression that focuses on race and racism subverts or even destroys such potentiation of human progress as are nevertheless coming into bloom in workplaces and communities, in associations and political parties, and in plenty of other ways as well.
This unfolding posting has sought to develop in this subsection of this report an accurate reflection of one aspect of how people are relating to each other in the present pass, including violent or lethal relations between citizens and ‘authorities.’ In particular, of course, interactions and outcomes among people whose skin colors differ are on display.
That such relationships in multiple historical contexts repeatedly constituted monstrous crimes against humanity, blights on the possibility of humankind’s integrity—realities that today’s text will soon copiously detail without once using the term ‘race’ or its derivative, racism, in any explanatory or analytical fashion—is not particularly radical. After all, none other than Thomas Jefferson—stout bourgeois farmer optimist that he was— could intone, “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other.”
The here-and-now listings in the current chapter show that a substantial and yet largely unremarked correlation exists between on the one hand the likelihood of vicious treatment, ill-health, or death, predation and monstrosity to which the Nation’s third President bore substantial witness two centuries back, and the tendency of today’s victims to share ancestry with the slaves whose plight Jefferson long ago detailed. Moreover, equally pernicious molestation has attended the evolution of culture and community of other oppressed people of color, so that today’s manifestations, from Africa to Asia to indigenous communities in the Americas and the multiple, intersecting Diasporas of both these peoples and the offspring of enslavement everywhere on Earth, also reveal inequities and morbidity and hurt that color just about everything in modern existence.
That such linkages are patently obvious does not make their plausibly—many would say indubitably—causal impact clear, unless one points them out. Hence, just such a purpose underlies this somewhat long and yet all-the more inadequate abbreviation of what these issues really are when one ponders them in a fully contextual fashion, one which employs history, political economy, and the evolution of social relations through time.
In any event, the profferal that this briefing conveys must be pertinent, at least as relevant as blaming the entire noisome butchery of inequality on something that generally no one defines, that doesn’t hold water as a scientific concept, that is at once a mere label and a blockade to actual analysis. Such a perspective is at an absolute minimum worth considering, immediately and thoroughly.
On only a few occasions have presentations from ‘established’ communications outlets presented this sort of nuance and some of the data that can assist an observer in attaining something akin to comprehension. As venerable a journalistic venture as the Guardian, in reporting the execrable failure of the U.S. Government to aggregate statistics of officer homicides, does manage to conclude that something like 900 to a 1,000 citizens probably die at the hands of militarized gendarmes every year in the U.S., for example. Herein, we have seen such regular occurrences of vicious inequity as both general portrait and partial inventory.
This could easily continue, until the current total volume of textualization about life—all the manuscripts of every sort everywhere on Earth—had doubled or tripled or more. Rather than seek to recount even a few additional horrors, however, though doing so would be exceedingly easy and arguably useful in some senses, such as reality orientation if nothing else, the Spindoctor choice at this juncture will be to advance this report’s overall argument once again, which materializes now and again in today’s overall work.
An inculcated bigotry, ignorant chauvinism, an at times ad hoc and at other points highly honed ideology of White supremacy, a likely both biological and socially-promulgated clannishness and ethnocentrism: these are among the explanatory mechanisms that can account for the present pass and its historical underpinnings. This essay does not define these terms, but it could easily do so and does provide portals that direct readers, if they like, toward awareness that flows from a foundation of agreement about what in hell we’re talking about when we argue and advocate about these deadly encounters and deleterious rubrics that define most of the planet, and U.S. society with special force.
The ultimate point of this aggregation of ideas and facts and positions is that no equivalent definition of race is possible that has any meaning other than bullshit. Why a default manifestation of dispute about absolutely crucial mosaics of social conflict would devolve to horse manure might well be no more difficult to apprehend than is the underlying rationale for the bigotry, chauvinism, White supremacist ideology, and clannishness or ethnocentrism delineated just above.
These reasons concern power. They circumscribe class rule. They proffer the underpinnings of hegemony, which are always replete in division, from which conquest will ever flow.
If, therefore, a citizen’s aim is grassroots empowerment, at least an attenuation of ruling class predation, a reduction in plutocratic hegemony, and struggling to find an answer that avoids yet another pathetic holocaust that must inevitably stem from divided-and-conquered underlings, then one at least ought to consider approaching these matters without ever again accepting or even acknowledging that the issues at hand might center on ‘race’ or ‘racism.’ After all, the minority of victims in these thousand extrajudicial executions each year are White, and if nothing else their presence among the casualties does not emanate from their ‘race’ or hue, though it absolutely associates with working for wages and not being wealthy, just as is the case with nearly the sum total of their erstwhile ‘racial’ counterparts.
Perhaps a brilliant epigram from Arundhati Roy, a multihued writer of color, gives form and thrust to what the Spindoctor has been developing here. “Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
The most recent Nobelist of color guides those willing to follow to the most crucial reason for abandoning ‘race’ as an organizing principle, for rejecting ‘racism’ as the causal agent of oppression and exploitation and vicious inequity: no matter one’s ‘good intentions,’ insisting on racial categories lets the real factors that cause our woes escape notice; insisting on racial categories gives elites the chance to ‘toss a bone’ to the crushed masses that does nothing to change fundamental problems; insisting on racial categories, in a busy and crowded world, will always cause opportunity costs since one can only do so much, meaning that the real causative elements receive short shrift or no attention at all.
Having such a litany of viciousness, with an apostrophe of hope and power, as what shows up above appear before one’s eyes, one must conclude that murderous oppression has in fact come down to the present day in a way both systematic and incontrovertible, both horrifying and necessary to witness, so that thereby we become capable of recontextualization so as to forge new potency and potential. With very few exceptions, though, almost all widely publicized chronicles and widely read chroniclers of the present incarnations of these patterns now call the cause of such expressions of mass murder racism.
The estimable Nobelist, Ms. Roy, certainly implicates a different set of inducements, at once more imperial and more ‘self-interested.’ Along similar lines, before we ponder further the Spindoctor point-of-view on these slippery concerns, an examination of how humans have considered each other, in both the distant and recent past, ought to help a thoughtful assessment of these matters to transpire.
The absolutely fundamental point, to start, is that the utilization of ‘race’ as a common term or key concept is actually a quite recent phenomenon. An excellent proof of that point emerges from the ever-magnificent—if also flawed and culturally very much of its day—eleventh edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. The entry under the heading “Race” essentially is so paltry as to be nonexistent.
The text consists of a fourteen line dictionary portal in Volume 22. Almost two thirds of this speaks to running or other competitive activities; five of those lines deal with this: “a tribe, breed, a group of individuals descended from a common ancestor.” Published in 1916, this material therefore indicates that common employment of race as a term of art is less than a century old. It also means that only one human race existed, by its own definition.
Whereas contemporary usage seems so obsessive that ‘racial’ appearances are almost constant, its use a hundred or more years back was very much in passing. The thinker about these things might look elsewhere in this venerable Anglo-American reference source to get a sense of what discussion then deployed instead of race.
Ethnicity and related terminology, Slaves & Slavery, and Negro state a few of these headings. They are full of misinformation and bigotry, as well as insight and a grappling with empirical reality. The point for us to consider here is that they did not make a case, in any general or overall fashion at all, for race, the ubiquitous insertion of which so characterizes the current pass.
Myths & Legends of Kith & Kin, & What Humankind Means
Perhaps no easier gateway to these stories exists than the Biblical accounts—and their interpretations—of the ‘sons of Ham.’ An inaugural note about this is that the interpretative nexus that assigns gospel denigration to noir, or “el negro,” comes from the last couple of centuries. Both upper-crust antebellum apologists and Mormons have made this canonical appeal as a justification of oppression.
“Brigham Young is quoted as stating, ‘In as much as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the ordenances of God, in the Preisthood and order and decrees of God, we must believe in Slavery- The seed of Canaan will inevitably carry the curse [of servitude] which was placed upon them, until the same authority which placed it there, shall see proper to have it removed.’
A hundred years later, when segregation was an issue of national debate, some Mormons matched conservative Southern Christians in justifying American segregation with biblical authority. A prominent example is McConkie’s 1958 Mormon Doctrine, published during the aftermath of nationally prominent desegregation attempts in Little Rock, Arkansas. In its entry on ‘Caste Systems,’ the book expressly approved of ethnic segregation and ‘caste systems’ as originating in the gospel.”
Unlike the so-called ‘liberals’ and post-modern theoreticians who have mired public discourse in the indefinable and false concept of ‘racial difference’ and racism, at least Mr. McConkie calls what is going on by an accurate and useful name: Caste Systems. The commentary on this matter provides an eye-opening, arguably ironclad exegesis of this particular story—i.e., that its origins dealt with incest and had plus-or-minus zero to do with skin color.
If one strays widely from canonical mythology, one discovers still further reasons at every turn to doubt that the cultural divisions that people have inherited and selected, in order to identify themselves, revolve around or even have much of a connection to color. An example emerges from two geographically adjacent clans, which view themselves as utterly discrete ethnicities, in Uganda, though one might look at any populated part of the ancient world to find similar occurrences of distinction and division in which hue matters not a whit.
In these tales, two brothers come from high in the mountains to be the first people. One was a farmer, the other a hunter: Cain and Abel, in other words, originated in Africa. The farmer meets a woman, a daughter of gods, who finds him comely. In order to marry into the line, however, he must submit to circumcision, which defines his manhood; the chance for her brother to come to Earth and, chaotic roustabout that he is, introduce death, leads to their children’s demise.
Both adjacent Ugandan clans agree on many of these particulars. Their languages are very similar. They appear almost interchangeable, not only to outsiders, but to each other. Yet they identify as different breeds, different sets, more or less different races.
While such thinking might be adaptive under conditions of struggle and scarcity and frequent geographic dislocation or isolation, in the context of seven billion or so cousins who have for centuries intermingled in every way imaginable, from the spiritual to the carnal, to hold such views is fatuous, likely insane, and, to say the least extremely dangerous to the health of human viability.
A Japanese origin myth describes a mythical mother and father whose prayers for any sort of child, even the smallest, bore fruit as “Little One-Inch.” This diminutive fellow, great of heart, saved a fair damsel at great risk to himself, for which those overseeing the cosmos gave him a fully formed manhood, whereupon the maiden took him home and won the chance to wed.
Though little doubt is possible that the characterization of Japanese society as insular is accurate, this tale tells of an opening for acceding to physical difference. What could more obviously set apart two different human breeds than a sixty-to-seventy times size differential? In such old, old tales lie a conception of humanity at once more generous and more inclusive than much of what now passes for humanism.
In Italy, a feminist and socially democratic community of colors highlights the likelihood that Mediterranean creation stories infiltrated Northward from Africa. In fact, a scholar among the cohort believes that “out of Africa” has emanated a “Dark Mother” of us all.
“Work of other cultural theorists—…Antonio Gramsci on the significance of folklore as transmitter of values, notably the “buon senso” of all peoples, and Noam Chomsky who considers our genetic endowment to be ‘a memory of our earliest existence’—has encouraged me to formulate a working hypothesis: The memory of the prehistoric dark mother, and her values—justice with compassion, equality, and transformation — appear to remain vibrant in subordinated cultures, and in the submerged memories, perhaps, of everyone.
This working hypothesis is explored in my forthcoming Godmothers~ African Origins la dea madre …wherein, as a historian, I place the themes in a narrative, beginning with signs of the dark mother—red ochre paint in caves of south Africa 900,000 B.C.E., the pervasive pubic V in the rock art of central and south Africa 50,000 B.C.E. when africans migrated to all continents, the similarity of prehistoric rock art everywhere, and the common theme of creation stories of peoples of all five continents.”
The Spindoctor could brief his readers about mythos from Korea and Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, throughout the Americas, in the Greek and Roman worlds, and everywhere else on Earth, all of which contains common themes and characters and action and plotlines. As Capitalism on Drugs also affirmed, human yarns inherently share common components. We are all cousins, truly and ineluctably.
Thus, even so apparently ‘dark’ a people as the citizens of Malaysia, or so ‘light’ a folk as the Swedes or the English, as in any nation now, represent an impossible to separate mix of ethnicities, languages, religions, cultural traditions, and so forth. “The laws of genetics” and the dynamics of culture dictate blending over time to such an extent that after plus-or-minus ten generations—only a few centuries—intermingling and extension eliminate possibilities of ‘pure’ strains, with concentrated attributes.
To circumscribe such an intricate mélange on the basis of skin or tongue or faith or any one or even small number of these contingencies means that the description simply does not come close to matching reality: on the other hand, if one extends the depiction much further, then it creates a web or net that gathers up vastly greater numbers than the ‘race’ in question, quite likely in fact most or all of humanity. Socially, intellectually, one can make a choice to speak of race, of ‘breeds’ of human, of ‘strains’ of blood, but why in the world—other than clannishness and a fierce insistence on one’s superiority to overcome feelings of inferiority—would one do that?
An incisive essay on “Foundation Myths” from The Encyclopedia of Nationalism does much more than provide both recent and ancient views of Volk or Nation or Race, which do portray stories that dovetail with or even explicitly exhibit clannish and racial ideation at the foundation, as it were, of some mythic elements of our species. It also specifies the material, and in “political communities,” sociopolitical, features of such thinking, which when visible in the clear light of reason at a minimum serve up choices about continued utilization or adherence.
“Where we choose our point of beginning can say much about who we see ourselves as and who we exclude from such a sense of community. By establishing boundaries over the flux of time and space, meaning becomes possible and political allegiances and roles are defined and validated. Equally, however, other potentialities and identities become marginalized or invalidated.”
A two volume set, Creation Myths of the World, reiterates some of these points and presents innumerable examples of such cultural initiation on the largest stage possible. The volume notes the dialectic of creation and destruction, of advance and decline, that multiple mythic mantras embrace.
“Many cultures see creation as a process involving several stages or historical ages. Often the stages relate to the development of humankind. The Greek creation story told by Hessiod in his Theogeny begins with the creation of the universe by Gaia and Ouranos (Earth and Sky). But this first couple is overpowered by the Titan Kronos.” Not only in Aryan mythic traditions, where successive periods of violation and violence replace one set of deities with another, even as the goddess succumbed to Olympus, but also in the Americas and in East Asia, other tales related similar horrific exigencies that finally had born humanity into the world.
The purpose of this preface—literally, before the face or the surface of reality or presentation—is anything but completeness. It seeks only to show that the complexities and inconsistencies and the fierce debates about the mythos of complexion and ‘blood,’ both in the past and over time, contain massive amounts of information that at once elucidates and damns those who would claim that ‘race’ is the primary, or even a useful or otherwise real, category for analysis and understanding of how people see themselves in relation to ‘others.’
Jefferson pointed out what Greece’s legendary bard wrote in this regard. “That a change in the relations in which a man is placed should change his ideas of moral right or wrong, is neither new, nor peculiar to the color of the blacks. Homer tells us it was so two thousand six hundred years ago.
‘Jove fix’d it certain, that whatever day
Makes a man a slave, takes half his worth away.’”
Closer to our own time, a Russian scholar’s thesis has elected to explore the intersection of mythology, religion, and origin stories of indigenous North Americans, on the one hand, and the work of contemporary Native American fiction writers, on the other hand. In so doing, she has delineated significant and relevant information that she conveys to readers about the ‘Indian’ mythos. For the most part throughout the continent North of the Aztecs, a more or less universal set of principles and promises were present, which were at least in practice often inclusive of the human condition generally.
She quotes “three generalizations” from an authority on the subject:
- 1. First, at the time of European contact, all but the simplest indigenous cultures in North America had developed coherent religious systems that included cosmologies – creation myths, transmitted orally from one generation to the next, which purported to explain how those societies had come into being.
- 2. Second, most native peoples worshiped an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator or ‘Master Spirit’ (a being that assumed a variety of forms and both genders). They also venerated or placated a host of lesser supernatural entities, including an evil god who dealt out disaster, suffering, and death.
- 3. Third and finally, the members of most tribes believed in the immortality of the human soul and an afterlife, the main feature of which was the abundance of every good thing that made earthly life secure and pleasant.
This rubric is certainly congruent with many aspects of Christianity, as the author emphasizes.
She also makes transparent the near-extinction of indigenous communities that happened as a result of consciously adopted English and American policies, which illuminates why considering these mythic elements in relation to material reality is mandatory. The deleterious impacts of this migratory arrival was obviously vastly worse than the worst fantasy of “illegal immigrants” that reactionary U.S. citizens now promote, in which in particular they often target young people and children.
This Russian scholarly paper also examines the focus on young people that characterized U.S. actions, a routinely unsuccessrul attempt to root out any attachment to or knowledge of their own traditions and mythology. Completely in line with Forrest Carter’s devastating portrait from The Education of Little Tree, Native American Mythology in Modern American Literature states, “During the middle decades of the 20th century, whole generations of children were kidnapped, forcibly confined in residential schools, and abused physically, sexually, and emotionally.”
Perhaps an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, about the children whose lives are the only way that we have of furthering humanity’s race, can move us along. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself,” a cavalcade of cousins seeking to shape a context for continued creation.
Early ‘Scientific’ or Other Authoritative Scholarship About These Bloody Affairs
In essence, then, every human group that has enough staying power to constitute a clan manages to visualize itself in relation to all of nature. These creation tales do not demand, nor do they prohibit ‘racial’ thinking. They definitely arise from the material world and are an adaptive response to such issues as the need for loyalty, the inculcation of the young in the ways of survival, and dealing with matters of propagation of the group and the death of its members. Arguably, human communities cannot subsist without such social technology, as it were.
And again, race just didn’t manifest itself as a categorical element of this process. However, beginning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more or less fully articulated theories of European superiority, as well as an intellectual solidification of the purported ‘missionary impulse’ with which Spain and the rest of Europe justified its depredation, began to appear. Such literary maestros as Lord Tennyson were avid readers of such texts.
No doubt, one can distance oneself from the silly and even bizarre theories that typified many of these ideas about the origins of human difference and the inherent advantage that ‘Whites’ brought to the competitive table, as it were. Nevertheless, in florid and brutal detail, such theories guided those who colonized the world from Europe, and their echoes have kept resonating in America’s Manifest Destiny and so forth.
Here we have Herbert Spencer. “The forces which are working out the great scheme of perfect happiness, taking no account of incidental suffering, exterminate such sections of mankind as stand in their way, with the same sternness that they exterminate beasts of prey and herds of useless ruminants.”
In any case, the Spindoctor has written more than a mere line or two about these matters here on Contributoria in two of his previous installments. Those pages advanced and defended several contentions that apply to what we are seeking to attain in the present essay.
Capitalism on Drugs provided at least a modicum of detail about aspects of myth and human society. And the episode about Victor Jara showed multiple facets of U.S. imperial arrogance and the historical, political-economic, and social underpinnings of such high-and-mighty supremacist exceptionalism.
Other of the Spindoctor’s writings have investigated these issues as well. He has explored the tangles of science and technology and society more than once. These efforts have demonstrated what is a now well-established fact about ‘scientific’ thinking—that it has little more protection or guaranteed insulation from selfish interest, hypocrisy, or presumption than does the ideation of the merest yokel.
An STS “approach suggests that neither knowledge nor machines emanate from ‘objective’ or neutral labors of unbiased ubermensch, any more than the castles and guilds of feudalism emanated from God’s commands. Instead, everything that is results from complex webs of relations that inherently blend social, political, and economic factors in a dynamic interplay of human conflict and cooperation that yields the present from the past, just as the only route to the future is through the now.”
Though it primarily evinces the best practices and received wisdom of current scholarship, in the already cited entry on “Foundation Myths,” The Encyclopedia of Nationalism also reviews much that is helpful to readers who want to see the evolution of such thinking over time. So as both to validate the folk and to invalidate the foreign, mythic iterations may attach to proto-scientific and otherwise rationalized theories that account for and justify victory and desserts.
“Since nationalism is based on the theory that the world is naturally made of nations with territorial domains, one of the functions of much nineteenth-century historiography was to establish through foundation myths and origin myths charter rights of peoples to territories. Another was to explain favoured political and cultural trends in terms of ancient and accepted practices. …link(ing) imagined cultural, religious, and even biological attributes to territory.”
Perhaps no metaphorical network of this sort has more power in the present moment than does evolution. Not surprisingly, therefore, social-Darwinist ideology has provided the most powerful impetus for a racialist conception of science and knowledge. While this thinking became prevalent if not predominant in the nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries, its critics have, arguably won the field.
Unlike social Darwinists, these rebuttals “contend that the continued racial classification of Homo sapiens represents an outmoded approach to the general problem of differentiation within a species.” For Steven Jay Gould, for instance, “(i)n other words, I reject a racial classification of humans for the same reasons that I prefer not to divide into subspecies the prodigiously variable West Indian land snails that form the subject of my own research.”
Malthus’ provocative work also contained fodder perfectly formulated to excite the reactionary mind. Overpopulation, massive die offs, and the general gloom of human existence as human productive capacity advanced, these and other elements of the historian-political economist’s work lent themselves very easily to chauvinistic views. Of course, those who take such a route overlook the utterly obvious conflicts of interest in his own intellectual path, such as his longstanding dependency of the support and patronage of the East India Company.
The reaction among workers to Malthus, and his coterie of emulators in England and elsewhere, were uniformly hostile. “Other working class papers consistently opposed Martineau(a Malthusian enthusiast). The Working Man’s Friend and Political Magazine, another unstamped weekly, published a letter in 1832 containing a fictitious exchange between John Bull, a poor laborer, and a Whig: ‘I don’t believe you,’ said poor Johnny—‘you only wish to put me in a workhouse.’ ‘Read Malthus and Martineau,’ said the Whig—‘the fewer labourers, the more wealth.’ ‘Aye, the more wealth for the idlers because the less worry,’ said poor John Bull. ‘But I am a working man.’”
Not only did grassroots opposition to such supposedly science-based ideologies emerge, but also the application of such thinkers’ labors to the justification of racial theories frequently profoundly distorted the conceptual and empirical content of those efforts at understanding. More to the point of the reification of racial ideology, both before and after the labors of Malthus and Darwin had transpired, innumerable apologists for European, White hegemony laid out their premises and conjectures to justify predation and predict continued predominance. These chauvinists used science, but only opportunistically and duplicitously; their thinking proceeded apace with or without such backing.
As well, the popularization of these theories flew in the face of what, at least once in a while, Darwin said about these mattes even as, for his part, neither Malthus nor his ideas were easy to contextualize as friendly to social democracy. The author of The Descent of Man never showed a freewheeling acceptance of social equality, but he repeatedly acknowledged that the evidence disallowed racial conclusions. His work thereby destroyed the basis for a category of ‘race’ in any science of human affairs.
“In all parts of Europe, as far east as Greece, in Palestine, India, Japan, New Zealand, and Africa, including Egypt, flint tools have been discovered in abundance; and of their use the existing inhabitants retain no tradition. There is also indirect evidence of their former use by the Chinese and ancient Jews. Hence there can hardly be a doubt that the inhabitants of these countries, which include nearly the whole civilised world, were once in a barbarous condition. To believe that man was aboriginally civilised and then suffered utter degradation in so many regions, is to take a pitiably low view of human nature. It is apparently a truer and more cheerful view that progress has been much more general than retrogression; that man has risen, though by slow and interrupted steps, from a lowly condition to the highest standard as yet attained by him in knowledge, morals and religion.”
Nonetheless, the typical or standard ‘official’ view leaned toward bigotry for the generations that lived during the charnel final decades of chattel bondage, as well as during the final quarter century or so that followed slavery’s crashing and burning and dying as the peculiar institution that had laid the basis for so much ‘magnificent’ capital accumulation. A return to Britannica makes this summary position patently undeniable in one case, and complicated but at least in part accurate in another case.
In the entry for “Negro,” the exceptionally nauseating arguments balance how self-contradictory and lacking in even the most rudimentary standards of evidence these ‘expert’ authors are. In any case, they go on for tens of thousands of words with their pontifications and distortions and half-truths and simple, foolhardy errors.
“Mentally, the negro is inferior to the white. The remark of F. Manetta, made after a long study of the negro in America, may be taken as generally true of the whole race: ‘the negro children were sharp, intelligent, and full of vivacity, but on approaching the adult period a gradual change set in. The intellect seemed to become clouded, animation giving place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yielding to indolence. We must necessarily suppose that the development of the negro and the white proceed on different lines. While with the latter the volume of the brain grows with the expansion of the brainpan, in the former the growth of the brain is on the contrary arrested by the premature closing of the cranial sutures and the lateral pressure of the frontal bone. …no doubt largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro’s life and thoughts.”
Do what? Never mind fabricated evidence, predisposition to nonsense, complete addiction to non-sequitur, a total unwillingness to accede to refuting data, and projection of insecurity wholly unrelated to the issue at hand, this entire entry stinks of the darkest fantasies and most hideous idiocy. But it is the authoritative view, imposing racial categories even as the foundations of science—not to mention Britannica itself, reject such conceptual frameworks.
To ameliorate this excrescence but also see ongoing difficulties with the tenor of the times, one could turn to the long and generally informative article on “Ethnology and Ethnography.” It completely overturns the later piece that just manufactures its facts and tortures its analysis on Negroid life and biology, yet it also bows and scrapes to White supremacist and otherwise chauvinistic views. In any event, at its base, it discards a racial view as both false and untenable.
“The only fundamental problem which need here be referred to is that of the whole question of the division of mankind into different races at all, which is consequential on the earlier problem(dealt with in the article ANTHROPOLOGY) as to man’s origin and antiquity.
If we assume that man existed on the earth in remote geological time, the question arises, was this Pleistocene man specifically one? What evidence is there that he represented in his different habitats a series of varieties of one species rather than a series of species? The evidence is of three kinds, (1)anatomical, (2)physiological, and (3)cultural and psychical.”
Vast numbers of other works from this time—travelogues, journalism, erstwhile authoritative scholarship, political theory, and more—followed a supremacist line more in keeping with the execrable former assessment, though they did not yet universally justify the effort on the basis of race. That sort of linkage was coming however, as we will soon see, both among those who advanced, and those who decried, these points of view and the results that they both elicited and annotated.
At this point in our passage, primarily, we will simply assert that this congruence of denigration and hegemony was no accident. The workers and their media recognized this at the time, as noted above, so perhaps we ought to notice too. Given time and inclination, of course, Spindoctor argumentation could prove the point beyond any dark shadow of doubt.
Historical & Social & Popular Annals from Slavery’s Foundation to Its End & Beyond
Whatever the diverse theories and analyses that have come from biology or anthropology or otherwise, a useful comparison is possible with how historians, journalists, and other commentators once presented these eventualities. Inevitably, again, only the briefest glimpse is possible in these matters, though in the fullness of time a deeper delving could be possible to achieve.
That paradox and dark contradiction rule in this realm would prove impossible to deny. Many a dissertation, beaucoup popular histories, would be possible to compose at this intersection of consciousness and production about color and social relationships: bigotry meets social equality; righteous selflessness sits down with hypocritical grasping greed; black and white as allusions to insoluble separation dance as Blacks and Whites who push each other away and pull each other closer.
One might begin such a contextualization by examining two writers’ brief lives. Stephen Crane, without once mentioning ‘race’ as a pseudoscientific or social construct—except in relation to a squirrel that skedaddled—without a single note about slavery—except in relation to the soldiers who were slaves of slaughter—and with only one note about a negro character, part of the Union army, created Red Badge of Courage, a lasting testimony to the sacrifice and sacrilege of war’s political import and mass murder.
Crane clearly understood the context of the fight. “The North had a larger population—22 million compared to the South’s 9 million, of which 4 million were slaves who were not eager to support the Southern cause. Some of these slaves fled to the North to claim their freedom and fight for the Union. The North was able to enlist 2 million soldiers, including almost 200,000 African Americans, while the South gathered only 900,000 soldiers.” And such factors were all about the book, though the story was not about them.
He is a child of the working class, at least inasmuch as he had no capital or trust fund to back up his pen. He constantly worried about debt and income. He contracted tuberculosis and died in its throes, aged twenty-eight years. His work never suffered from any sort of committed White supremacist stance. Nor were his political sensibilities much engaged in his work, however.
Jack London, at once a committed socialist and a seemingly irremediable bigot, appears, at first glance, very much ‘on the other hand.’ He too is a working class boy who rises through literary practice and physical drudgery to become one o the world’s most popular writers of the early twentieth century.
He lives in a world surrounded by inculcated prejudice. He at one and the same time tells stories that reinforce chauvinism and composes paeans to color and working class solidarity. He drinks far too much and suffers both bodily and spiritual sickness that leads him to use morphine as a palliative. Only forty in the Autumn of 1916, he dies from uremia and too much opiate, possibly a suicide.
The received wisdom is that ‘racism,’ though culturally transmitted, infected London and deflected him from perfecting his revolutionary work. Recent scholarship, such as Rereading Jack London, a collaborative monograph of Leonard Cassuto and Jeanne Reesman, has developed a more nuanced view. By examining both London’s journalism—his reportage on Black boxer Jack Johnson revels in the African American heavyweight’s intelligence and wit—and his fiction—in which multiple tales celebrate the soul and smarts of Asian and African ‘stock,’ as well as his personal correspondence, Cassuto and Reesman make a compelling case that London was in fact grappling with just the issues of racial nonsense and class conflict that the Spindoctor notes.
Near the end of his life, he resigned from the Socialist Party because he was basically looking for greater revolutionary fervor. He wrote a missive to convey his choice. He truly embodies the transition to an era of racial thinking, which immutably destroys the project of class solidarity that defined London, heart and soul.
“In this letter, in perhaps his final words on the race issue, questions of power and courage are inextricably linked to those of race and class: ‘If races and classes cannot rise up and, by their own strength of brain and brawn, wrest from the world liberty and freedom and independence, they never in time can come to these royal possessions.”
American literature more generally, in at least some instrumental ways, originates in tales of slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for those who have read it once, is a fitting example, a narrative that draws a reader back repeatedly. Not only was this the best-selling volume of the nineteenth century in North America, but it also palpated themes of liberation and struggle that came to pass in the blood and fire of Civil War.
Mark Twain’s works were others that often both reflected the diminution of African American humanity that was inescapable either under slavery or the Jim Crow repression that followed, on the one hand, and depicted the monumental strength and intelligence and decency that Black characters had in their confrontations with hateful and harmful prejudice, the wastage and evisceration of their humanity and potential.
Or one could look at both the work and attitudes of an itinerant bard such as Walt Whitman, the quintessential American individualist. His poems and letters too contained both an overall commitment to ethnic compatibility, even love, and plenty of instances of personal prejudice and violent racialized rejection.
Most central to this nineteenth century contextualization of these brutal eventualities, at least arguably, were the works of escaped slaves and free Black thinkers and writers and activists. In particular, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs deserve pride of place in any such litany of actualization of action against a murderous and very strange way of organizing human affairs.
Douglass’ efforts, his various incarnations of his autobiography and his activism and coalition building, for example, may well have amounted to a greater impulsion to the overthrow of slavery than many other elements of the drive to Civil War put together. His signature, “Life is struggle,” defined his existence and altered the course of history.
Not nearly so well known now, Jacobs horrified Northern Whites in the last antebellum years. Her recounting of the routine rapes and plotted plunders of Southern life so graphically branded the minds of millions of readers and citizens that she too must equal any number of other basic components of the irresistible forces to eliminate at least the formal acceptance of human bondage in the land of the free and the home of the brave. As in the case of Douglass, one could go on, essentially forever, and not run out of ammunition that these two—and others purveyed to abolitionists and others who demanded change.
Nor would we necessarily stop with depictions from the intellectual arena. Slave rebellions and plots, and rumors of such, not to mention the acts and ideas of the likes of those that Douglass and others inspired—such as John Brown—played huge roles in bringing an end to the Confederacy even before it took completely tangible form. Among all of these actors on their own behalf—Whites like Brown absolutely believed that they fought for their own and their progeny’s lives—none made appeals to ending racism. As the Spindoctor pointed out near the beginning, the key issues centered on power and engagement, not on color or ‘race.’
Furthermore, in this vein of ‘self-help,’ slave tales themselves also appeared on the nineteenth century cultural stage. Whites appropriated and sold them. Blacks performed their stories for each other as a form of resistance. These yarns and folktales and poems and skits form a rich loam of American literature that has continued to fertilize narrative and production to this day.
Even Edgar Allen Poe’s genius, steeped in rum and opium and chattel relations, was inextricable in its connection to slavery and resistance, White supremacy and Black persistence. Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race, is a collection that documents this. Erotic, quixotic, dark, and twisted, the connection of White folk and dark folk in some ways permeated his work, especially his poetry.
John Henry more explicitly exemplified multiple elements that characterize folk tales and songs and poetry and literary stories all at once, White and Black, with no mention of race or racism, just a lionization of strength and heart. “There are almost two hundred recorded versions of the ballad of John Henry. It was among the first of the songs that came to be called ‘the Blues’ and was one of the first recorded ‘country’ songs. Folklorists at the Library of Congress call it the most researched folk song in the United States, and perhaps the world.
Particularly among African American men and women, John Henry has remained an icon. …In the schoolrooms of working-class Cleveland and rural West Virginia, teachers recite his exploits to inspire Black boys and girls to think about their own history. For more than a century, most historians and folklorists have assumed that John Henry was just a legend, a story designed to inspire pride, an invention. When I began my research, I too started looking for a legend, but in the end I found a real man.”
Indisputably, no doubt about it, ethnocentric, bigoted, even vicious cultural production was also present, simpleminded and onesided. In many ways, these kinds of storylines may very well have added up to a substantial majority. None of them, however, sold the millions of copies that Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglas sold. None of them, moreover, despite plenty of violent, even fascist, White supremacist chauvinists who linger on—not to mention the imprimatur of vast numbers of faux-scientific justifications—appear above the horizon that past literature and music and so forth must rise from in order for readers and listeners today to name and notice these prejudiced contextualizations.
As a matter of scholarship, or predilection, of course, one can find such items. They exist in archives. But the routine paucity of their presence among us is not primarily a matter of their falsity, though they were false, but of how superficial and paltry and boring they were, compared to what Huck Finn and Jim, what Cassie and George Harris and George Shelby and Simon Legree represented, the conflicts that the latter sets of characters sought to negotiate the networks of wonder and woe, of insight and doubt that they confronted or elicited and that in turn were part and parcel of the complexities and difficulties of actual existence at that time. More to the point of what literature serves in society, these remembered and still-loved volumes serve us too, as we face the ‘complexities and difficulties of actual life.’
In this lengthy and yet all-too-brief presentation, a bystander might theorize the existence of a dialectic. The original narrative threads of Homo Sapiens, far and wide, share much in common, to such an extent that almost certainly contact and biology have played a role in different kin groups’ having manifested remarkably similar tales of their emerging into the world.
Yet, with the coming of a new rubric of both production and dominance, and its accompanying mastery of the empirical and the initiation of the scientific epoch, ruling elite priorities conveniently melded with growing political domination to permit clearly false, and merely scientistic, biological conceptualizations, which established a pseudo-authoritative foundation to explain and justify socioeconomic and political supremacy. From these roots sprang the initial tendrils of racialist worldviews, perspectives that contradicted and yet in twisted-sister retelling somehow also harmonized with the thousands-of-years-old and still unfolding folk ethos of myth and legend and fairy tale.
A similar push and pull existed between these early experts’ holding forth on where and how noticeably different human ranked in comparisons with each other and the outpouring of literature and other cultural output that so often and so tangibly spoke to mutuality and even equality. This interaction of what we might proffer as technos and what is certainly in some senses an ongoing expression of mythos endures to such a degree that no matter what appears on the Internet tomorrow, from whatever the most recent music video presents to whatsoever the table of contents of the upcoming scientific journal contains, it likely will embody this dancing interplay, or a very close facsimile thereof.
In any case, at this conjunction, we can move one step closer to the present passing moment and completion, to see if such a prediction continues to appear plausible. Ralph Waldo Emerson can usher us forward, showing how an Anglo’s vision and wisdom and honesty and poetry viewed the context of color and conflict and commerce.
“(T)he negro has been an article of luxury to the commercial nations. So has it been, down to the day that has just dawned on the world. Language must be raked, the secrets of slaughter-houses and infamous holes that cannot front the day, must be ransacked to tell what negro-slavery has been. These men, our benefactors, as they have been producers of corn and wine, of coffee, of tobacco, of cotton, of sugar, of rum and brandy; gentle and joyous themselves, and producers of luxury and comfort for the civilized world…I am heartsick when I read how they came there and how they are kept there.”
BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION
Thus far, the material here has laid a foundation to understand either how these issues have come to the fore primarily prior to the twentieth century, or how they are manifesting in our faces, so to say, yesterday and today. In this section, this more recent period—the 1900’s—will have its chance to strut across the page.
Periodization always tenders interesting wrinkles in such narratives as this. Why stop at plus-or-minus 1900? How far should the next section proceed?
The answer to such interrogatories can always be strictly arbitrary, but the Spindoctor has actual social and political and like benchmarks in mind when he looks at a particular arc of time’s arrow. In today’s article, the initial material scrutinized more or less the immediate present. The just completed preface stepped back, in part starting over from the foggy shrouds surrounding humanity’s first days, in part beginning with the origins of modern slavery in more or less the fifteenth century, and then moving forward to the ending of the 1800’s.
At just that juncture, as the colonial European project arrived at the cul de sac that called forth the murderous carnage of World War One, the hyped-up ‘American Century’ arguably began. Thus, the end of the previous section and the initiation of the present one both originate here, at plus or minus 1900.
More or less, the materials here will take readers to the cusp of the cold war and the nuclear arms race. The basis for this choice is strictly empirical, inasmuch as the decades that followed that, more or less the half century or so prior to now, have been the time that, for better or for worse, the imposition of what Spindoctor has here called The Race Trap happened in fact. As such that period demarcates the following section, our so-called Core Matters of this narrative.
More so than has thus far been the case in this effort, the heart of the material in this, and to an extent in the next, section will center on the Southern U.S. The motives for such a choice flow from the topic at hand; so much that is ‘racial’ or that concerns Black and White interrelations stems from the war that defined America, the conflict that ended slavery and revolutionized the South and represented the first giant step toward a globe-trotting U.S. empire.
In the event, the rise of Fascism, the revolutionary struggles of Europe, and the nascent by growing challenges that confronted colonialists from China and its fringes to Latin America and every square inch of the African continent had identifiable roots in Southern soil. That Hitler borrowed from the Klan, that Southern soldiers manned empire’s outposts, that Southern ‘statesmen’ and corporate functionaries oversaw pieces of the grand imperial puzzle, are true and just a part of the grand scheme of interconnection that now marks every relationship that matters on Earth.
Early Modern ‘Literary’ & Initial Mass Mediation of Color-Conflict & ‘Race’
Conceivably, an analyst could spend a lifetime, say seventy years or so with luck, in studying just this time and subject matter and literally deal only with such a small fraction of the wealth of material available that he or she would look back and wonder how in heaven not even a ripple on the surface marked the passage of the years and the decades of sweat and thought. At the same time, someone like the Spindoctor, having parsed these matters less deeply over time, can proffer for readers an overview that ought to orient one.
Of especial pertinence today, of course, is an orientation that permits an observer to gain some insights about an intersection of ‘race’ and region and resistance that, the Spindoctor has argued before, is as critical to human survival as is any dynamic anywhere else on this lovely planet of ours. Multiple skeins account for this regional, which is to say Southern, criticality.
In some senses, this import flows, speaking of critical masses, from such tangible facts as the South’s having become the Hydrogen Bomb breadbasket after it played such critical roles in the coming of the atomic age; in other ways, this key role comes from the way that Southern politicians have for well over a century—with the likes of Wilson, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton truly small potatoes in the mix—orchestrated anticommunism, anti-unionism, anti-progressivism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-solidarity, so as to define and delimit United States society; in somewhat different fashion, the cultural and activist roots of just about every aspect of what is most lively and powerful in America has a Southern parent or grandparent.
Thus, Birth of a Nation in some ways served as a sort of midwife to a certain sort of epic film. In the U.S., such creative works rarely if ever crossed the color line, and D.W. Griffith, border-state Southern family ties firm, certainly would not do so.
Yet, paradoxically, this film that ever since has received the label of ‘racist’ instead of an analysis of its White supremacist ideology and clearly political support for a Jim Crow and gerrymandered South in which corruption and lynching go hand in hand, contained more of a portrait of Black experience than almost anything out of Hollywood over the next fifty years. This portrayal is false and pernicious, but, unlike the vast majority of Hollywood’s rare depictions of Black people on screen, fully half of the caricatured African Americans in the movie were actually Black.
Privately financed at a cost of what would today be a blockbuster budget—the first of its kind—the movie went on to make more money, vis a vis its production budget, than any other mediated creation in history. It established a protocol for Southerners and Hollywood that in some senses has kept on until this moment in time, passing on its way through both Gone With the Wind and, populist blossoms as colorful as Munchkinland, Wizard of Oz.
At the same time that the preeminent cultural behemoth that developed in Southern California literally almost never stepped across the color divide till after the civil rights movement unfolded, music and local performance more than at least occasionally did so. Jim Crow strictures remained in force for the most part, but the very nature of radio and recordings meant that the Blues infiltrated White homes and dances and at the fringes of country a new form that blended Black and White into Rock and Roll began to take shape.
Moreover, dualities and polarities and bountiful paradoxes and contradictions affected the lives that wrote and played the songs of the era. As well, this climate of contrariety flickered from the silent screen at the period’s beginning, and, with the release of Gone With the Wind at the cusp of another world war, also announced itself more powerfully, in Technicolor surround-sound, as the years in questions drew to a close.
In regard to the business of the human voice, one would need a volume apiece to even approach a clear telling, instead of a paragraph for all three, but Billie Holliday and Marion Anderson and Paul Robeson washed over American music like a cleansing powerful tidal wave. Holliday’s willingness to face prison rather than stop her singing of the lynching tree, Anderson’s finessing of the Daughters of the American Revolution to perform at the Lincoln Memorial, and Robeson’s constant contact with Soviet Russia, whose lifelong “loyal friend” he vowed to be, practically swamped classical and popular song, nor were White performers all Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, as Will Rogers and Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and others risked being politically risqué, and antithetical to ‘race’ separation, more than once in a while.
Mass media during this period was only just taking shape. While the money to build and create, and the profits from output and creation, tended to flow, respectively, from and to financial centers, communities throughout the South and in rural areas elsewhere, had radio stations and access to movies. Thus, as a result of electronic innovations, a networked society began to happen far from metropolitan centers, a phenomenon that simultaneously reinforced stereotypes and prejudices and served to undermine or erode them.
W.E.B. Du Bois, with his Massachusetts origins and Harvard PhD about the trials and breakthroughs of Black reconstruction—does not instantly spring to mind as either a cultural mediator or one whose joinder with the South would be easy to illustrate. But his Souls of Black Folk combined poetry and reportage and storytelling, while his long tenure at Atlanta University in Georgia’s capitol, one of the first Historically Black Colleges and Universities, connected him to the heartland of the what he termed “the problem of the twentieth century, the color line.”
While at AU, one of the ‘race riots’ of the first half of the 1900’s came to pass, in which gangs of Whites pillaged Black property and decimated African Americans themselves. Du Bois witnessed this horror with a fire and thrust that were both potent and creditable; his own life became a template for achieving the unity about which he waxed eloquent. A chronicler has summarized what was going on.
“It was no coincidence that Atlanta’s white press was taking such an interest in black crime on the eve of an important gubernatorial election. Both Democrat candidates were newspaper editors, and inflaming racial tensions was a tested party method for securing the vote of southern white men. A decade prior, city had served as the birthplace of Booker T. Washington’s infamous Atlanta Compromise that exchanged black aspirations and progress for interracial peace and charity, and Atlanta’s educated and wealthy black community had grown uneasily in the shadow of this pact. White businessmen were becoming resentful of black success, and the Democrats promised a return a familiar social order that became more distant with each special edition.”
The searingly honest and powerfully crafted novels and stories of Richard Wright also emerged toward the end of this half-century. Though he succeeded in fleeing Mississippi and Tennessee, Wright’s voice is unmistakably that of a Southern scribe. Even from Paris, where he wrote The Outsider, he retained touches of the Gothic and the horrifying that were like a toxic tonic of Southern bloodlines.
Black Boy almost bursts with tension, both physical and psychic. A noisy feline shows the intersections of authority and detestation that burst like pustules in every life. He takes literally his father’s directive to get rid of the creature that is bothering the elder. He kills it, which immobilizes pa with horror. “I had made him believe that I had taken his words literally. He could not punish me now without risking his authority. I was happy because I had at last found away to throw my criticism of him into his face.”
When his mother forces him to bury the cat, he freaks out at the thought of night and death and responsibility. “Then, just before I was to go to bed she uttered a paralyzing injunction: she ordered me to go out into the dark, dig a grave, and bury the kitten.
‘NO!’ I screamed, feeling that if I went out doors some evil spirit would whisk me away.
‘Get out there and bury that kitten!’ she ordered.
‘And wasn’t that poor kitten scared when you put that rope around its neck?’ she asked.
‘But it was only a kitten,’ I explained.
‘But it was alive,’ she said. ‘Can you make it live again?’”
Childhood terror; the iconography of lynching; and the uptake of moral accountability in half a page: the man was a genius for whom color was his métier, who instructed all and sundry—Black and White—who would read or listen.
Perhaps the novel at the center of the American canon, Native Son describes in gripping, and yet sickening detail, the horror and alienation, the violation and violence, that occupy the dark heart of American history. Bigger Thomas, surly and unsuited for liberal largesse, suffocates his employer’s daughter when, as he does his job as chauffer and ushers her, drunken, to her room, where she begins to kiss and grope him, the poor young woman’s blind mother shows up. Bigger just hoped for silence to hide his actions, whether sinful or natural or whatever in hell they were.
Of course, he falls into the net of the police. He has killed, willfully and with purpose, his own Black lover, but this is a trifle. He will die in an electric chair for the crime of being Black and over his head and scared.
Before he faced that fate, however, a lawyer, a revolutionary Communist Party lawyer, Max, who desperately longs to be able to give Bigger the chance at life in prison, becomes the young doomed man’s defense attorney. In his presence, listening to him speak and argue on Bigger’s behalf, this Black youth learns what the world is and how it works, which has nothing to do with categories that don’t exist and everything to do with profit and oppression, with corruption and exploitation.
Max’s summation is a text for all time:
“What atmosphere surrounds this trial? Are the citizens soberly intent upon seeing that the law is executed? That retribution is dealt out in measure with the offense? That the guilty and only the guilty is caught and punished?
No! … The hunt for Bigger Thomas served as an excuse to terrorize the entire Negro population, to arrest hundreds of Communists, to raid labor union headquarters and workers’ organizations. Indeed, the tone of the press, the silence of the church, the attitude of the prosecution and the stimulated temper of the people are of such nature as to indicate that more than revenge is being sought upon a man who has committed a crime.
What is the cause of all this high feeling and excitement? Is it the crime of Bigger Thomas? Were Negroes liked yesterday and hated today because of what he has done? Were labor unions and workers’ halls raided solely because a Negro committed a crime? …
Your Honor, you know that that is not the case! All of the factors in the present hysteria existed before Bigger Thomas was ever heard of. Negroes, workers, and labor unions were hated as much yesterday as they are today.
Crimes of even greater brutality and horror have been committed in this city. Gangsters have killed and have gone free to kill again. But none of that brought forth an indignation to equal this.
Your Honor, that mob did not come here of its own accord! It was incited! Until a week ago those people lived their lives as quiet as always.
Who, then, fanned this latent hate into fury? Whose interest is that thoughtless and misguided mob serving?
The State’s Attorney knows, for he promised the Loop bankers that if he were re-elected demonstrations for relief would be stopped! The Governor of the state knows, for he has pledged the Manufacturers’ Association that he would use troops against workers who went out on strike! The Mayor knows, for he told the merchants of the city that the budget would be cut down, that no new taxes would be imposed to satisfy the clamor of the masses of the needy!
There is guilt in the rage that demands that this man’s life be snuffed out quickly! There is fear in the hate and impatience which impels the action of the mob congregated upon the streets beyond that window! All of them—the mob and the mob-masters; the wire-pullers and the frightened; the leaders and their pet vassals—know and feel that their lives are built upon a historical deed of wrong against many people, people from whose lives they have bled their leisure and their luxury! Their feeling of guilt is as deep as that of the boy who sits here on trial today. Fear and hate and guilt are the keynotes of this drama!”
Years prior to Wright’s rapid ascent to cultural pinnacles, the Harlem Renaissance had displayed its raucus roots that snaked North from Dixie. While Zora Neale Hurston’s Alabama and Florida flowering genius may be the best-known example of this back-and-forth fertilization, as when Ms. Hurston won second place in a 1925 Short Story competition with an entry dripping the Gullah Speech of the Sea Islands, but plenty of other examples are available.
Music, dance, and the interplay of club and street, of theater and salon, characterized the 1920’s there. “Patrons,” rich Whites, ruled the roost. The literary and artistic work was soft and full of fluff.
“Wallace Thurman provided the only detailed contemporary account of the movement, (a) thinly veiled satire…of…mediocre artist lost in a web of frivolity and recalcitrance without purpose… .By the mid-1930’s, exotic and genteel novels about Black life were no longer popular with publishers and were attacked by a new breed of Black writers and critics.”
Nor were Black producers and writers the only promulgators of such incisive and provocative work. Lillian Smith, while facing Klan arsonists in Georgia, wrote essay after essay that flaunted her rejection of color segregation. Her novel of the same name as Billie Holliday’s controversial song put forward a Black woman and a White man as lovers and deeply flawed protagonists against all odds of society and convention and personal and social moral corruption.
Inevitably, the story ends in tragedy and murder. Smith recognizes that her own moralism hurts the literary quality of the narrative, but despite bans and fury from the clans around her, the story has prevailed, with new editions now a regular event every decade or so.
“Whatever else it might be, Strange Fruit is about relationships, crossing lines, breaking rules, being different, rejecting prescribed rules, transcending categories, and those ‘racial abstractions’ that Smith often said existed only to divide and conquer and corrupt their victims.”
Steinbeck and Faulkner and others also sport grounded Southern roots, a function of the migration that readers will see below as economic collapse and the drumbeats of mass slaughter took hold. The Okies were Southern tenant farmers to their core, and their trek to California was a flight from the impossible to the improbable, which they made because they had no choice.
Faulkner famously summarized the critical impact of history in the South. “In the South, the past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in a matter of minutes he honed in on, in relation to the most personal and the broadest reaching aspects of ourselves, what is undoubtedly a core component of modern psychic meltdown.
“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”
Above, contradictory aspects of Walt Whitman’s work and life appeared, vis a vis how he viewed and related to abolitionist movements and slavery and so forth. His attitudes have over time proven very noteworthy to other writers and thinkers, who have included the likes of D.H. Lawrence, whose masterful Studies in Classic American Literature developed a thesis of what caused Whitman both to sigh in sorrow at slavery but his turn his back on individual African Americans.
“If Whitman had truly sympathized, he would have said: ‘that negro slave suffers from slavery. He wants to free himself. His soul wants to free him. He has wounds, but they are the price of freedom. If I can help him I will: I will not take over his wounds and his slavery to myself. But I will help him fight the power that enslaves him when he wants to be free, if he wants my help, since I see in his face that he needs to be free. But even when he is free, his soul has many journeys down the open road, before it is a free soul.’”
Ralph Ellison could serve as a point of demarcation. His at the same time highly acclaimed and fiercely criticized Invisible Man came out in 1952, a bit beyond most of the rest of the material in this section.
This both adulatory and ferociously dismissive response makes perfect sense. He started the novel while working for ‘the war effort.’ He shaped the narrative as the return stateside of millions of soldiers both elicited a predictable baby boom and a heightening of tensions between Black and White working people throughout the land.
Thus, perhaps, from establishment media “it receive mostly positive reviews. However, Communists attacked it as being affected and pretentious, written to please ‘the White supremacy,’…’a vicious distortion of Negro life.’” Irving Howe, at first favorable about the work, ultimately excoriated Ellison as failing to create a text that dug deeply into Black life and the tortured social relations of ‘America the bestial.’
In sum, then, a few interesting thoughts are possible to articulate. For one thing, a significant chunk of the cultural output of the entire United States—much or most of the music business, the most profitable film in history and another top-ten hit of the silver screen, and literally dozens of canonical and unsung thousands of lesser-light novels and stories and poems revolved around the color line and the social dogfight that defined its daily unfolding.
As well, in ways that had only rarely appeared before these works came to the forefront at this time, the entire process had both a subtext and multiple direct messages that occasionally cast down a bigoted gauntlet and just as frequently, or likely more often—at least on the literary front—challenged social actors to discard chauvinistic and unequal and viciously unjust mores and norms. A truly insurrectionist tension, one day reactionary and the next revolutionary, lived inside the words and images that defined the times.
Finally, for now, the creators themselves not only now were very frequently African American and otherwise ‘of color,’ but they also quite often made connections and established collaborative nexuses that shattered every semblance of a theretofore sacrosanct color line. Wright and Ellison might be at each other’s throats, but they both had White agents and editors and friends; in clubs in the North and West, and even on the fringes of the South itself, White women danced cheek to cheek and crotch to crotch with Black men, and Black women tangoed with White men; Lillian Smith could write and Billie Holliday could sing of ‘Strange Fruit,’ even as the corpses of the lynched dangled their reproval of any easy conscience.
Twentieth Century Historical & Social Scientific Scholarship, Through the ‘Cold War’
After Darwin, as the prefatory sections showed, opportunistic intellectual thugs latched on to the notion of the ‘survival of the fittest as a way to, on the one hand, justify predation and, on the other hand, to blame those who suffered, even mortally, as being somehow not good enough to survive. This variety of hypocrisy and self-dealing continued throughout this period, though the ferocity of capital’s crisis in the 1930’s made hiding behind superficial pretense more difficult.
Thus, the median social scientist during this period probably kept on with his commitment to Social Darwinist and other chauvinist ideologies. Upton Sinclair righteously and rigorously demonstrated such a tendency in his fierce critique of the American University a quarter way through the twentieth century.
In The Goose Step, Sinclair described campuses that were almost exclusively lily-white as a result of vicious color prejudice, but this is not what made these ‘idea factories’ into dens of ‘yes-men’ who would go along with such a stupid and wasteful scheme. No indeed: the ‘trusts’ owned the schools and did not see them as much more than finishing academies for inculcating the ideologies and social mannerisms of big business, which as all and sundry knew was a bastion of whiteness.
“Let us continue East on the Northern Pacific Railroad, which has Mr. Morgan and two of his partners for directors, a recent Harvard overseer and Massachusetts Tech trustee for chairman, a Harvard overseer and Smith College trustee, a Cornell trustee, an Amherst trustee, a Hampton trustee and a Union Theological Seminary trustee for directors, also three First National Bank directors… .
For a generation the grand duke who ran the University of Minnesota was John S. Pillsbury, co-author with his two brothers of a famous work entitled ‘Pillsbury’s Best,’ widely known all over the United` States. I had better abandon this feeble jest and be explicit, stating that Governor Pillsbury belonged to a family of flour manufacturers, the founders of the Milling Trust. Governor Pillsbury himself went in more especially for lumber; he got fraudulent possession of more public lands than any other person in the state, and gave some of the profits to the university, and so is called the ‘father of the university.’ Now he is dead, and the grand duke of his institution is his son-in-law, Fred B. Snyder, president of a mining company and director of the biggest bank and trust company in Minneapolis. As his right-hand man he has Pierce Butler, railroad attorney, a hard-fisted and aggressive agent of the plutocracy, counsel for the Great Northern Railroad. …
I remember Lincoln Steffens, telling twenty years ago of the Shame of the Cities, describing how the politicians in Pittsburgh would travel to Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, and other cities, to find out the latest wrinkles in graft, with a view to applying them at home. It occurs to me that the interlocking regents of Minnesota must have sent a commission to study methods at the University of Pennsylvania; for when I asked Minnesota professors to tell me what happened to them, I heard the same story that I had heard in the Wharton School of Finance, told in the very same phrases.”
In An American Dilemma, however, by Gunnar Myrdal, a different and less indirect system of corruption and plunder appears. The Swedish Nobel Prize winning economist writes in 1,500 pages of The Negro Problem for which the ‘Dilemma’ is the subtitle about the horrors that bound Jim Crow even in the 1940’s when jobs and wages and ease are more accessible than they’ve been in a quarter century, since the last worldwide carnage.
Though Myrdal’s labors produce a good liberal document, which locates the problems of ‘the Negro’ in the White person’s heart, and no doubt the Carnegie Foundation was happy with the result that it sponsored, the conclusions and analytical framework for the volume—lacking in real political-economic and social insights and without a historical context—are sorely in need of improvement. Many critics have pointed this out over the years, while acknowledging the value of the Scandinavian’s vast troves of data in the effort.
One of the critics was Ralph Ellison, who took the book apart in a critical and powerful 1944 review. “Since its inception, American social science has been closely bound with American Negro destiny. Even before the Civil War the Southern ruling class had inspired a pseudoscientific literature attempting to prove the Negro inhuman and thus beyond any moral objections to human slavery. Sociology did not become closely concerned with the Negro, however, until after Emancipation gave the slaves the status—on paper at least—of nominal citizens. And if the end of the slave system created for this science the pragmatic problem of adjusting our society to include the new citizens, the compromise between the Northern and Southern ruling classes created the moral problem which Myrdal terms the ‘American Dilemma.’”
Another scholar, but driven by life’s lessons away from easy liberalism, W.E.B. Du Bois more properly belongs in a subset of materials where other respected scholars, and more than a few charlatans, show up. The estimable thinker, who lived to be nearly a hundred, began his intellectual career as a fierce critic of ‘Negro sloth’ and ‘a tendency to thieve.’
However, as he founded the N.A.A.C.P. and became more of a practical activist, his own personal tendency to blame Black victims receded as he recognized more and more the systematic ways that the United States knowingly and profitably crushed black people, grinding them down mentally, spiritually, and physically. As Communists made organizing inroads in the States, he increasingly fraternized and collaborated with reds.
He also battled with the Party, which ferociously critiqued the NAACP on many occasions. His faux comrades among liberals left him hanging when McCarthy’s inquisitors grilled him, at the age of 81. When the U.S. prohibited to permit him to travel to the Bandung Conference that he played a part in formulating as a program, this in some basic way broke his heart.
In 1961, aged 93, on the verge of relocating to Ghana, he finally joined the Communist Party. He was furious at the Supreme Court’s upholding the law, the McCarran Act, which required Party members to register, like Jews in Hitler’s Germany.
As he was dying in Ghana a few years later, the liberal warhorse, and longtime editor of the Atlanta Constitution, Ralph McGill traveled to Africa to interview him. They parried about life, the South, and cooperation between those McGill would consider the right White people. By this he meant Joel Chandler Harris for example.
Du Bois grew angry and told the presumptuous journalist why he had never sought the folklore thief out. “’(I)t was no use. He and they had no question in their minds about the status of the Negro as a separated, lesser citizen. They perhaps were kind men, as you say. They unhesitatingly lived up to a paternalistic role, a sort of noblesse oblige. But that was all. The status slowly had become immutable insofar as the South’s leaders of that time were concerned. Booker T. Washington had helped them rationalize it. I do not think that he meant to do so. But he did. In fact, he put a public stamp of acceptance on it there in your city when he spoke at the Atlanta Exposition.’”
Another angry American, a local combatant in the socioeconomic battlefields that accompanied Southern transformation, lived and practiced medicine in Birmingham. Thomas Duke Park felt sickened by the convict lease system that grew up alongside Andrew Carnegie’s and J.P. Morgan’s steel interest in the region.
During World War One, when demand for iron and hardened steel was at a high point, as many as a hundred and fifty or more out of a thousand imprisoned miners died in the traces. The largest companies were the prison system’s biggest clients, putting the hapless misdemeanants caught up in Birmingham area stings against gambling, ‘race-mixing,’ and other ‘crimes’ such as drunkenness into jail for months at a time, to work twelve hour and longer shifts underground extracting the coal that made combined with local iron ore and limestone to make the region so perfect for metallurgy.
The struggle against the convict lease merely represented one tentacle of a monstrous octopus of imprisonment and oppression that, just as under slavery and during Reconstruction, continued to characterize Southern ports of call during these years—just as this pattern not only persists in the region but has spread far and wide to circumscribe almost the entirety of American police-community relations in the current moment. In every state in the region—from Florida to Arkansas and From Texas to Virginia— police state conditions prevailed repeatedly.
In a 1904 conference that Du Bois helped to organize in Atlanta, the keynote speaker dispassionately and brutally laid out the truth. “The abuses of (our criminal justice system) have often been dwelt upon. It had the worst aspects of slavery without any of its redeeming features. The innocent, the guilty, and the depraved were herded together, children and adults, men and women, given into complete control of practically irresponsible men, whose sole object was to make the most money possible.”
The very names of the State Prisons—Huntsville, Angola, Parchman, Reidsville, and more—have entered the lists of song and story as symbols of devastation and peonage. A 1996 monograph, Worse Than Slavery, offered readers an in depth introduction to Parchman Farm and Jim Crow Justice.
Describing social conditions that approximated life in a Holocaust labor camp, the author outlined what happened when profiteering became the primary motive of imprisonment. “’Self-supporting prison systems must, in the end, become slave camps. Slavery is the partner of the lash. The wielder of the lash is brutalized along with the victim, and bruts will sometimes kill.”
Among the most important developments in all American history, the Tennessee Valley Authority represented an opportunity for the U.S. to turn toward social democracy. However, under the leadership of David Lilienthal, as World War Two washed over the country, this key institution, which employed tens of thousands of White and Black laborers and skilled workers, turned toward the military industrial complex and monopoly capital.
In a strange and little studied case of anticommunism, the “Knoxville Fifteen faced job loss and prison for the ‘crime’ of believing in unions, consorting with socialists, and, in some cases, having once joined the Communist Party. This relatively small sidebar of this period is a useful case study, however, because it illustrates so clearly how little color played in many decisions—even of life and death, even in the heart of Dixie—when basic political-economic and geopolitical interests were in play.”
While TVA ended up as the South’s largest single employer, an immense migration nevertheless accompanied Jim Crow and depression and the coming of war. Chicago gained hundreds of thousands of Black residents, as did Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Oakland, and many more.
This is another of those eventualities of the period that completely undermine, and, if examined closely enough, fundamentally destroy even the notion of a socially constructed racism as causing anything. Number one, Southern Whites often enough made leaving a crime; they lynched labor agents along with Blacks on occasion. Number two, the White power brokers who orchestrated and benefited from this migratory influx of labor—and hence competition with Northern Whites—then set about establishing police forces, housing restrictions, and other coded laws and norms that absolutely guaranteed that White and Black workers would have little or no basis to meet or unite.
If racism were the issue number one would happen at all. If racism were the issue, number two wouldn’t be necessary.
At the end of this period, meanwhile, the coming of War itself proved transformative, as the radical or even revolutionary impulses that the South had seemed halfway prepared to unleash again put on harnesses to provide the martial and muscle and productive potency to win World War Two and further solidify the American Century. From Oak Ridge to Fort Benning to Pensacola and on and on, Southern town and countryside promoted the war effort.
As well, in murderous outbursts, Black soldiers at times likely suffered much worse fates that they would have expected had they found themselves at the Battle of the Bulge. One of these cases, narrated in The Slaughter, tells a tale of Camp Van Dorn, in Southwestern Louisiana. The book’s subtitle speaks volumes: “An American Atrocity,” alleging the murder in the middle of 1943 of over a thousand Black soldiers who were protesting conditions at the camp and violent treatment at the hands of local civilians.
To close this session, one might turn to what Louisiana State University has produced in the way of a comprehensive Southern history. Though these issues of color and caste, of bigotry and discrimination, extend around the planet, again ‘As the South goes, so goes the nation,’ gives plentiful reason to raise the level of attention to these erstwhile ‘provincial’ accounts.
This series establishes a foundation from the sixteenth through the twenty-first centuries, for analyzing a region as an internally related whole and as a funnel through which the connections of the world pour and permit the broadest sort of comprehension. As an intellectual middle-ground, a place of data and rationality from which citizens can talk to each other in level tones, with honest estimations of reality, and honorable intentions, this collection is invaluable. Such materials are never enough, for all that, but they are nonetheless marvelous.
Grassroots Responses, Institutional or Otherwise Organized, to This Mayhem
In any event, the stands and actions that have resulted from people themselves are critical to contemplate separately. Indeed, the great exodus from Dixie in some senses represents such a bottom-up occurrence, though its level of organization was at most marginal. Here, in any case, readers will discover a series of mutually contradictory and ineluctably authentic uprisings toward popular power, some of which could lead to fascism resplendent, others of which at least grapple with establishing a basis for social justice, if not social and economic democracy.
A further insight to develop is that spontaneous outbursts were distinguishable in various ways from organized responses. For one thing, the former were much more prone to prejudice and the manipulation of established biases, though things did not always work out in this fashion. Concomitantly, those actions that resulted from specific campaigns were much more likely to represent strategic or otherwise self-conscious attempts at social improvement.
Beginning with this final sort of situation, an indubitable truth is apparent, even though monopolized mediation and much standard scholarship avoids this evidence as if it were plague-ridden or otherwise anathema. This incontrovertible fact is that the inauguration of the widespread social struggle against color hatred and chauvinist ideology and policy had three primary sources: grassroots Black activists themselves; communists and socialists; and labor union proponents.
One of the most powerful arguments in support of this thesis stems from the way that courts have so often completely screwed working people. In particular, a case from a half century prior to this period, the Dred Scott ruling, established a protocol that some people would contend was still in play: that “no Black man has rights which any White man is bound to respect.”
More in keeping with the period under consideration, Plessy versus Ferguson made ‘racism’ completely unnecessary by permitting—which in terms of practice meant mandating—segregation of facilities, transport, housing, schools, and everything else. “Separate but equal” is Apartheid and counts as either a lie or bullshit, depending on who is supporting it.
The United Mine Workers of America was arguably the first national organization specifically to feature the idea that multicolored organizations had to happen. Under the vigorous and militant leadership of John L. Lewis, UMWA organized all and sundry. Mary Harris (Mother) Jones was an organizer. The union sought to bring together Blacks and Whites again and again, despite murder and mayhem at its attempts, not because of racism, but because of profit.
John Sayles film, Matewan, is a beautiful and nuanced, if heartbreaking narrations of such a story. The Spindoctor has written an extensive review essay about the movie that tells the underlying story fairly thoroughly, as is his wont.
The Coal Creek Wars is another instance of Blacks and Whites actually uniting to fight the power, despite the fact that race-mixing was illegal at that time in Tennessee, around the turn of the twentieth century. White miners from Chattanooga to Knoxville, and points in between, were lobbying for an end to leasing convicts, as well as safer conditions.
Some miners wanted unions, which most owners thought should be illegal too. In any event, in came the convicts, almost exclusively Black. The miners, armed as well as the guards or better, proceeded to let the ‘criminals’ go and on several occasions to burn the stockades. In at least half a dozen cases, the Black prisoners chose to join the miners rather than to run off and be ‘free.’ If we put our thinking caps on, just so, we ought to be able to notice that this sort of crushes the ‘racism-was-the-problem’ argument once again.
In close temporal alignment with the UMWA were all manner of socialists. Eugene Debs was a stout opponent of segregation. Other social democrats were at least occasionally likely to be White Supremacist and basically to accept the arguments of ‘separate-but-equal,’ but the Socialist Party itself always provided at least strong rhetorical backing for a color-blind society.
At least some of Debs votes in 1912 came from African Americans. The Socialist Party was never a big hit with Blacks, but neither were African Americans and the party at odds.
Soon enough, though, communists—initially almost all Bolsheviks—began to rally round the notion first of all that absolute social equality was an immutable law of working class empowerment and second that Blacks deserved a Negro Nation as reparations for slavery, a place where Whites would be welcome but ownership would concentrate overall more or less exclusively among the residents and arrivals who were African American.
The Communist Party proved adept at developing grassroots campaigns. Its members included hellacious and tenacious organizers. And the Commies ‘walked the walk,’ as well as ‘talked the talk.’ Thus, in fighting to keep the Scottsboro boys alive, in fighting to build the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, in fighting to build the Congress of Industrial Organizations—which was the steelworker, auto worker, chemical worker, rubber worker, and so forth side of what is now AFL-CIO—communists were instrumental in building for working class power from the ground up.
Writers depended on Communist help. Actors and artists flocked to red banners, as the film, Cradle Will Rock details in one instance. Culture, labor, social equality, no wonder that the U.S. government elected to make communism a crime. Again, the issue was not race.
A possible exception to the rule above—grassroots black activists themselves, reds, and labor organizers as the only institutional support for equality—would be the Highlander Center. As the Spindoctor once wrote, “Seventy-eight years ago, Don West, Myles Horton, and James Dombrowski had just embarked on the odyssey of the Highlander Folk School(HFS), which has played a key behind-the-scenes role in supporting civil rights, labor rights, women’s rights, and environmental justice in the South since 1932.
Of course, students now almost never hear about HFS, even though it still operates in a Smoky Mountain, New Market, Tennessee home.
Least heralded of HFS’s founding trio, Don West’s North Georgia youth included lessons in Radical Republican anti-bigotry at his grandfather’s knee.
He attended Berry College in Rome, a wild collegiate saga involving Ford family money and all manner of radical Reds.
When West fulminated a mass rally against the campus screening of “Birth of a Nation,” which included false and bigoted depiction of African American rapine as justification for the KKK, Berry expelled him.
He went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, where he led a protest ‘against campus paternalism,’ which also culminated in his expulsion, though his fellow students succeeded in gaining his reinstatement. Upon graduating, he enrolled at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School in 1929.
James J. Lorence writes about this period of matriculation. ‘As a student West visited Danish folk schools inspired by N.F.S. Grundtvig, who advocated curricula based on tradition and cultural heritage.’ Because this visionary Dane ‘believed in the wisdom of the ordinary people above the educated and elite, and thought that it was the ordinary people who were capable of enlightenment,’ the schools that he facilitated, like HFS, have fostered social transformation toward justice, equity, inclusion, and democracy.”
Highlander only may be an exception because all of these young fellows, and some others besided, could conceivably have been Pinkos. In any event, they never barred or otherwise discriminated against Communists or Blacks, both of which inclusive institutional behaviors violated different Tennessee and other Southern statutes.
Among more than any mere smattering of powerful advocacy groups, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People would almost always rank as first among equals until Martin Luther King formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Above, readers will have noted Du Bois’ founding role in the group, as well as seeing some of the problems and contradictions that it faced.
Booker T. Washington’s hopes at Tuskegee, where syphilis infection of working class Blacks was U.S. policy, the Urban League’s hopes to become something akin to a Black Chamber of Commerce, and other attempts to work with the American marketplace typified African American organizing efforts on many occasions. Without exception, they failed. ‘Racism’ was the culprit, in the end, though a Spindoctor would pray to heaven that readers who’ve actually managed to imbibe all that’s here would doubt that proposition already.
In essence, on can state an essentially irrefutable hypothesis. Not all ‘progressive’ propositions were exclusively red, at the same time that no honest labor for social justice happened during this period, and especially in former Confederate jurisdictions, without some involvement and support from Bolsheviks or their close allies.
One response among those Blacks who hated socialism, and even more robustly despised Marxists and Leninists and Stalinists, oh my! was a turn toward return to Africa and other Black Nation movements. A century before, such thinking and activities had led to the disastrous attempt to return freed American slaves to Liberia, where many died and many more turned into ugly, ugly profiteers.
Elijah Muhammad was, arguably, merely the most prominent Black Nationalist— Marcus Garvey supporters might disagree, but they don’t currently sport a vibrant organization that entertains both ReDemoPubliCratiCan politicians and leaders of the American Nazi Party—of the past century. Muhammad has played a crucial role in later development of African American, Black power. He not only trained and mentored Louis Farrakhan, but he also was responsible for recruiting Malcolm Little, whose X even today marks an amazing American story of fighting for justice and facing an extrajudicial death sentence for his troubles.
To point out that the Nation of Islam, now Farakhan’s organization, is controversial, is a gargantuan understatement. Relations with women, violence against dissenting members, friendly arrangements with fascists of all stripes, these are just a few of the issues that a thorough study in this arena would touch on.
Throughout this period, in fact, the White nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan also worked actively to assure that no movement to advance civil rights would succeed. Because of the reach of the organization—which ranged from veterans groups to lawyers and professors and teachers to all sorts of businessmen and at least a few workers’ networks—and its fiscal muscle—bankers and merchants, at least who weren’t actively Jewish, loved KKK—it caught up all kinds of White Southerners in its webs. Hugo Black was just one famous ‘liberal’ who was a longstanding adherent in his native Alabama.
The Klan’s involvement in lynching, its good-old-boy networks in charge of running rural jurisdictions, its lumping together of Catholics and Jews and Commies, oh my! as equally deserving of bigotry, hatred, and violence as were Blacks, certainly does not make of it a politically correct organization. But from White Citizens Councils to Tea Parties, its input has continued to be measureable, especially in Dixie.
Having mentioned John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath above, nothing could be more appropriate than to examine, at least briefly, the horrifying conditions, and organizational resistance to those subhuman circumstances, that Southern Sharecroppers mounted. The Southern Tenant Farmers Union relied on brave and stalwart labor organizers, communists, and a smattering of radicals without portfolio to accomplish some gains for landless farmers in the South.
White and Black together, in violation of the law, STFU faced beatings, murder, jail, and general harassment not because of race, since many of the members were white, but as a result of their being willing to organize for justice in spite of color. The organization’s history is an absolutely key component of deconstructing the madness of blaming ‘racism’ for the problems of poor workers of any color. Fighting ‘racism’ will never win much at all for the folks at the bottom, so why in hell focus on such a pointless categorical fantasy?
In reaching this point, we have conducted an absolutely whirlwind tour of a dialectic of reaction and resistance that was part of the cultural experience worldwide, but which we have seen via what we might imagine as flashcards of Southern conflicts and connections that both subsumed and countermanded the ruling insistence that ‘Black is Black and White is White.’ Do writers now, and did writers then—like Du Bois, for example, among many others—speak of race and racism as accurately descriptive of this flowing fifty years of wild upheaval, encompassing two world wars, the introduction of the first weapons capable of killing everybody in the world at once, and the second coming of the KKK?
Of course they do. But a different view is possible. We can hold in abeyance how we will decide, but we should at least listen and ponder—based on sound reasoning and copious documentation—possibilities that a Spindoctor believes are true, to wit that only by absconding with ourselves, away from ‘race-based’ conversations, can we advance socially toward sustainability and survival.
Once again, a Spindoctor’s congratulations are in order to those who have come this far. Inevitably, both some repetition and occasional inadequate development will be apparent. What follows essentially explicates, for the time period roughly 1950 to the present, five subsections that are important to the overall presentation.
Before we embark on this most central set of facts and ideas, a brief summary of the overall direction of this report couldn’t hurt. The essential point is relatively simple to state: for reasons unlikely to be entirely random, those in charge of matters in the social world have substituted a causal explanation for most conflict on Earth that is at best meaningless, an explanatory nexus that guarantees to those who use it that the sorts of problems that it purports to explain will deepen and worsen—welcoming all and sundry to the world where a ‘race’ that doesn’t exist brings about horrible ‘racism’ that in turn brings about all that is wrong with our relations with each other.
The Emergent Categorical Imprimatur of Race for Both Analysis & Redress
Without contradiction, the honed and often enough almost exclusive focus on race and racism, to the exclusion of class or general social assessments, now characterizes more or less all institutionally initiated, financed, or otherwise supported attempts to ameliorate the conditions that have shown up in these pages as a noisome inventory of shame and violation. This has basically been so since plus-or-minus 1960.
To some extent, a conference that to all but those who live in this world was quite obscure, could serve as the launching pad for the ascendancy of Race. The Bandung Conference, supported by the U.S. and various high-level multilateral organizations, and also important to the so-called ‘non-aligned movement,’ took place in Indoneasia in April, 1955.
It enshrined respect for all races in its pronouncements, which of course means that it enshrined the notion of a rich plethora of human races in its protocols. From this point on, race was a key component of all upper crust dialog.
Nationally, foundation-led initiatives in the lee of this meeting began to tie grants and institutional support from NGO’s to applicants that focused on racial issues of different sorts. Further data in this arena will appear soon.
Exceptions to, or at Least Critiques of, This Rule Among Marxists & Radicals & Reds
Those who have perused previous elements of this narrative will have noted that communists universally rallied to the defense of all workers, at times as the only organized force that willingly took such risks, whatever the wage-earner’s color or culture. In keeping with such indisputable facts, one can also demonstrate that the theoreticians, as well as the practitioners, of social democracy—which is to say Marxists of different stripes—have generally rejected this uber-emphasis of the exigencies of racial categories, race, and racism.
As with other portions of this attenuated centerpiece of today’s essay, more details—flesh on the bones, so to speak—will be coming soon. Readers may rest assured on that point.
Social anarchists too have rallied to the flag of human rights and a diminution of the obvious drive toward a police state that so marks the modern moment. Such a Canadian blithe spirit has recently had the temerity to interview the powerful and brilliant creator of the aggressive insistence on our oneness against fascist police forces, Rob Hustle. The estimable artist affirms our oneness, whatever our variations in hue.
Affirmations of Race & Nation & Reaction in Black & White
Inevitably, given this evolutionary rubric, those who would like to dispatch the differently colored, and presumably weaker, stupider, and less genetically sublime specimens to kingdom come are precisely the social forces that affirm, even insist on race. Thus, Nazis and other fascists, inveterate nationalists and their accompanists, are the defenders-of-the-faith in this regard. If nothing else, we might reflect on ‘the company we keep’ if the temptation exists to explain our troubles in terms of race and racism. As with other portions of this version of Core Components more is on its way very soon.
Dialectical Developments in Popular Culture
Nevertheless, whether in rap music or in spoken work, whether in independent film or community performance spaces, production both wildly successful and radically critical of the triumph of prejudice and supremacism have become prominent, if not outright predominant. One might find the energy of This Is What Happens When You Call the Cops either threatening or enlivening, the politics either aggressive or apropos, but the message does not appeal to race but to democracy, nor does it elevate color consciousness over human rights.
Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s current novel, God Help the Child, perfectly illustrates this impossible union of opposition, this polarity of what is and fantasies of commodified ideals. The main character is a beautiful baby, who grows up to be a beautiful woman. Her only problem, which she will imbibe with her mother’s condemnation, straight from the breast as it were, is that she’s a little on the dark side.
A New York Review of Books release from this very instant contains a briefing about this ‘failing,’ which in fact of course is a failing of those who believe in racial typology in the first place. The essay’s title is instructive: “Growing Up Too Black.” The article quotes from the book.
“It didn’t take me more than an hour after they pulled her out from between my legs to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me. Midnight black…Some of your probably thinks it’s a bad thing to group ourselves according to skin color—the lighter, the better—in social clubs, neighborhoods, churches, sororities, even colored schools. Bu how else can we hold on to a little dignity?…I hate to say it, but from the very beginning in the maternity ward the baby, Lula Ann, embarrassed me.”
At its best, instructional practice now integrates a more holistic and less judgmental approach to identity. This means that our myths of creation, not to mention our surface attributes of coloration and facial organization, do not separate us from each other any more than would the differential placement of our freckles and birthmarks.
“This lesson introduces students to the relationship between humans and planet Earth by focusing on creation stories from a range of cultures. The resources section provides a selection of creation stories from a range of cultures, such as the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iroquois creation myth, the Mayan Popol Vuh, and a popular Japanese myth from Genji Shibukawa. Activities and reproducible pages will guide students in analyzing and comparing these stories as they look at how creation stories provide insight into humans’ relationships with the environment. ” And, of course, we are part of that environment that we’re all relating to.
The Developing Solidification of Biology’s Utter Rejection of Race
Scholars from around the world are now, if not universally then generally, if not completely, then mostly, in agreement with Stephen Jay Gould, quoted many pages ago. In other words, they have foresworn continue reliance on ‘race’ as worthy of any scientific imprimatur whatsoever.
One such brief establishes a bright line that must inherently separate assessments of genetic properties of organisms, from different places or the same place, etc., and investigations of culture and narrative and such. This is just one of hundreds of recent entries from the technical literature of genetic scholarship along these lines.
A widely reviewed new monograph by a scholar of skin makes this point with judicious scholarly restraint. A more aggressive, or journalistic, take on the issue would simply say that ‘people in the past paid little attention, so far as credible data suggests, to each other’s coloration, at least in terms of contending social superiority or inferiority.’
“We have no evidence that when people of different skin colors first met in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, their relationships or business transactions were affected by skin color. … (Later, however)European explorers tended to be more exploitative than egalitarian in their attitudes and less than charitable in their descriptions of the peoples they met during their travels.”
Proving that technical expertise in physical anthropology does not in any sense dispose a thinker to the capacity to analyze political economy, Jablonski goes on to contend that opportunistic denigration by the traders—who then dabbled and would soon own the slave trade—was the cause of slavery, rather than an opportunistic effect of its plunder and predation. Such a miscue is forgiveable, but the not one iota the less erroneous.
Nevertheless, she closes brilliantly, insisting that any coloration or race that relies on skin tone is worthy only of complete rejection. “The association of color with character and the ranking of people according to color stands out as humanity’s most momentous logical fallacy. While widely recognized as malignant, color-based race hierarchies are still treated as facts of nature by some and are duly upheld and promulgated. A large portion of this book explores the origin and ramifications of this powerful social deception and the many ways in which it has played out in human history.”
The Spindoctor has written before on these matters. One such previous posting, “We’re All Cousins After All,” provides a fairly thorough chronicle of much of the scientific and expert thinking on these issues. Updates, for those with an interest, are also forthcoming that will significantly expand and update this earlier incarnation.
In such an arena, then, one might stare in stupefaction at the persistence of ‘racial’ thinking. But such disbelief overlooks the guiding forums that—through the grants and directives and legislated steps—dictate the bounds of these sorts of conversations. It also overlooks the primary directive by which all rulers operate: Divide & Conquer.
As always, this portion of this narrative has been impossible to predict, since the assemblage of data and argument are the only basis for suggesting reasonable actions in reply to a specific nexus of social conflict and crisis. While literally scores—at a minimum—of such plausible or rational inferences would be reasonable to construct, at least half-a-dozen must make a scene here.
Or so the Spindoctor will allege. What shows up below tends toward the dialogic, aimed as much at engagement and consciousness-raising as at specific policies or occurrences. Could we ask for or imagine more? Surely such would be the case, but “let’s talk about it” would be an essential starting point, come what may.
AN INITIAL DEDUCTION
For residents who hope that their children and grandchildren might just conceivably have an opportunity to create a human existence, an absolutely mandatory development is a community-based process of talking about and determining action in regard to the thorny thickets of social upheaval that we now contextualize as race or racial, as emanating from racism.
While a typical retort to such an idea is something akin to, “Yeah, right!” any cynicism so profound as to disallow at a minimum a consideration of this kind of approach will likely assassinate action at any level. All social transformation that does not ‘grow directly from the barrel of a gun,’ to borrow from Chinese insurrectionists, can only start with a dialog of one sort or another.
A SECOND DEDUCTION
The utilization of social technologies that have often enough assisted in such processes—citizens’ juries, citizens’ panels, truth and reconciliation commissions—are readily accessible, in that at both the most elevated international level and in various national instances, institutions and communities have attempted, through these means, to resolve intractable problems, which in one way or another have become incapable of addressing through other methods.
France, Scandinavia, and the United Nations represent just a sample of the venues that have attempted to deal with social issues with such formulations as those above, or through similar mechanisms. Such intellectual technology or social machinery counts as part and parcel of the range of potential social engagement that the present pass requires.
A THIRD DEDUCTION
Not only should reparations for atrocities not be out-of-the-question, but their exploration ought to be a top priority and their employment a distinct possibility, no matter either their likely unpopularity, or even that some social sectors express downright outrage about such suggestions.
To an extent, when one confronts a Scylla and Charybdis situation, the default preference of many people is to wait, or to do nothing. However, in the current sociopolitical context, that likely equates with a decision to wait for an onrushing freight train to smack into humanity’s VW bug, because a swamp awaits if we back up and a precipice looms if we go forward. Anything is probably superior to the certain doom of treading water.
In relation to number three, above, a key approach has to be to insist that all sorts of remunerative potential should be ‘on the table,’ so to say, so that free-of-strings community development funding that participant communities might themselves control would be a part of the discourse and a distinct potential outcome of any action.
Politics always entails sweeteners of one sort or other. Thus, what this is suggesting is that more sources of support might be plausible to enlist if the orientation of the overall process were accepting of inducing buy-in among various parties, or in the parlance of the present paradigm, stakeholders, by dangling carrots—one can imagine funded local research initiatives, the construction of Internet cafes, opportunities for grassroots theater or other production and performance, and so on and so forth—in front of those who ought to take part in the conversational nexus, so to say.
A FIFTH DEDUCTION
Along an at least somewhat similar path as number four, a huge influx of both State-level and National-level and various sorts of nongovernmental organization funding must take place, on the order of hundreds of millions or billions of dollars a year—in other words between one dollar for every ten thousand and one dollar for every thousand military dollars that the United States spends—to encourage essays, research papers, monographs, films, and other intellectual production and mediated output about these issues.
The marketplace is much worse than structurally deficient in regard to such matters. Not only are the profit margins for hip-hop about racial ideology likely smaller than those that deal with booty and contraband, but also those who are in charge of the world feel a much more profound threat from the former product than they do from either of the latter.
In such a context, likely the only and definitely the most efficient way to ensure that necessary output takes place is through socially promoted inducement. To fight against this is like saying that ecocide and mass collective suicide are preferable to even pondering going against vaunted ‘free market’ principles.
A FINAL DEDUCTION
From the United Nations and elsewhere at the international level, initiatives that address these matters need to pour forth, not to replace but to augment or otherwise seed local action that could very well initially be more difficult to ‘sell’ to so-called ‘gatekeepers.’
That the United States—the birthplace of both Frederick Douglas and the Ku Klux Klan; the progenitor of both the total replacement of the aristocracy and the complete canonization of the bourgeois, all of which came into the world via portals of bondage and chattel slavery—must end up as one epicenter of such activity is obvious. On the other hand, almost no other political jurisdiction on earth confronts worse distractions, diversions, and vicious trickery to forestall any real chances of discursive commitment.
Confronting such blockage, a finesse ‘from on high’ could just conceivably make a difference. In any event, bringing international organizing pressure to bear cannot possibly make the present pass worse than it is, with police murder that rivals low intensity conflict in the center of North America, the belly of the beast so to speak.
Rather than positing that such developments as these are so unlikely, given all the hurdles to overcome in their attainment, that observers might as well ignore them, those who want at least to imagine a future that makes Homo Sapiens’ lives plausible in other than horrific circumstances might instead recognize—which should not be difficult to do, so long as one can ‘get real’—that absent something like this retinue of reform and engagement, the human prospect will, probably sooner rather than later, end in a vicious crush or a fiery rush of decimation and conflagration. Any number of sober voices of optimism could shepherd us forward as we move toward the end of this journey.
Clearly, these suggestions are irrational, in that no basis for their immediate accomplishment is readily apparent. George Bernard Shaw has at least a little bit of juice for us to imbibe, however. “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Closer to the current day, we might listen again to Nelson Mandela, whose existential struggle was in large measure an attempt altogether to remove ‘racial-thinking’ and color prejudice from everyday life and routine practice. “We are fighting for a society where people will cease thinking in terms of colour. …(though we realize both that) (w)ithout democracy there cannot be peace. …(and that) (r)econciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.”
So saying, we have wended our way again to almost the very end. More than merely occasionally, the Spindoctor has faced some scores of people, generally but not always both youthful and putatively seeking knowledge. They have generally not wanted to delve as deeply as their instructor would have liked; they have normally expressed at least mild skepticism that the manner of these things working out would ever, ever change.
In such situations, the first response from a Spindoctor perspective has been a simple query. It has more than eight times out of ten gone out to a roomful of young Koreans and Korean Americans, or Chinese and Chinese Americans. The remaining listeners have basically split down the middle between Americans of European and African origin, though the presence of Hispanic or Native American or other linguistic or ethnic groups would not have changed the reality that the inquiry had intended to reveal, to wit, “What are you in relation to everyone else in this room?”
Without exception, this interrogatory has caused a lessening of tension, a sense of uncertainty, a willingness to consider. “Well, I don’t know, what am I to you, or you, or you, teacher man?”
The answer, which in dozens of instances of posing this question not a single person has figured out, is easy. We are cousins, with only the occasional sibling or parent or child a counterpoint to this otherwise universal and undeniable fact. Within the past few thousand years, we’ve all shared common grandparents.
In a different context, on art that he and his sweet love have jointly made, this essay’s creator stated the matter thus: “The circle of our closest relations includes basically all of the creatures in Earth’s biosphere, since even as seemingly unlikely a candidate as slime mold shares plus-or-minus half Homo Sapiens’ key protein-coding or enzyme-processing genetic capacities: that each human cousin is a more-or-less close relative of a single human species, or race, basically goes without saying, or should anyway, except that the rubric of ‘racial differences’ and its inextricably intertwined concept of ‘racism’ fatuously or insidiously—in any case, bizarrely—holds sway at the highest levels of our vaunted cognoscenti.”
Of all the successful, established political leaders of the United States, none have recently appealed to idealism as readily or as powerfully as did John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Ironically, his father—a bootlegger and stock manipulator whose hundreds of millions in fortune came from felony and predation— bought the election for young Jack in Cook County, Illinois.
As President, Kennedy seemed to move in multiple directions: the initiation of involvement in Vietnam and acceding to the Bay of Pigs attempt to murder the young socialist experiment in Cuba on the one hand, and true openings to civil rights leaders and peace proponents on the other hand. This is neither the time nor the place to try to set that convoluted context in smooth and satisfactory order.
However, we might note that at American University, in June 1963, JFK delivered a commencement address that has since passed with little notice, till recently. It has of late garnered attention anew because the world’s power brokers appear fixed on intractability about empire and the rights of monopoly finance to rule every roost, attitudes that might bring about nuclear holocaust as cousins of different colors, different religions, different cultures, and different backgrounds, essentially shrug and accept the march to war, all the while insisting that they don’t want ‘racism’ to triumph, yet looking on passively at all the preparations for mass evisceration of different nationalities and traditions and ‘races.’
“I have, therefore, chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived–yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace.”
Quite reasonably, our former President, who was almost painstakingly humble when he delivered this address five months before a gangland hit cut him down as if he were a mob boss, could have been referring to ‘race,’ or, more rationally, color and class and ethnicity, when he mentioned ‘the most important topic’ for us to consider. For at least equivalent to any other contributory factor in the complex mix of causes for warfare and violence is the admixture of just these issues of skin and speech and facial characteristics and neighborhoods, which the condemnation of ‘racism’ in the end does less than nothing to ameliorate.
In any case, Kennedy continued so as further to evoke the context that this report has created. “What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.“
One might yet cavil: this has little or nothing to connect it to questions of race and racism. In the event, John Kennedy thought otherwise, on a windy late Spring day on a Washington campus, where his audience delivered its most thundering affirmation when he spoke about these connections between social justice and peace. Perhaps we would be willing to tune our ears to this.
“(W)herever we are, we must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together. In too many of our cities today, the peace is not secure because freedom is incomplete.
It is the responsibility of the executive branch at all levels of government–local, State, and National–to provide and protect that freedom for all of our citizens by all means within their authority. It is the responsibility of the legislative branch at all levels, wherever that authority is not now adequate, to make it adequate. And it is the responsibility of all citizens in all sections of this country to respect the rights of all others and to respect the law of the land.
All this is not unrelated to world peace. ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord,’ the Scriptures tell us, ‘he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ And is not peace, in the last analysis, basically a matter of human rights—the right to live out our lives without fear of devastation; the right to breathe air as nature provided it; the right of future generations to a healthy existence?
While we proceed to safeguard our national interests, let us also safeguard human interests. And the elimination of war and arms is clearly in the interest of both.”
As ever the case will be, the Spindoctor could go on; and on. The point that has appeared here, with evidence and argument to bear it out, is that any racial conceptualization must in the end do us in. If we want to live, we have no choice but to discard these false and yet seductive, as well as currently orthodox, views. On another panel of the driftwood art that the Spindoctor and his spouse manufacture, the message takes this form.
“Every human cousin here started as an infant, every God-fearing Christian, every Allah-loving Muslim, every Torah-toting Jew, every reincarnated Hindi, every nonattached Buddhist, every patriot, every terrorist, every nationalist, every clan supremacist, and so on and so forth: what would need to happen to have the far-flung members of our fractious clan treat each other with mutual respect and compassionate regard? Inquiring minds should want to know.”
Such an inquisitive perspective might lead to the recognition that no other pathway to comity exists than the empowerment of those who are lowest, which, whatever else comes to pass, can only occur in a context of social justice and social equality. Those who would fight ‘racism’ allege such good hearts and sweet intentions that one might pray, at least, that a commitment to socially equal prospects would ever remain central to their agendas. If these stances are other than pretense, their jobs must include grappling with the paradox, no matter how perverse it may seem, that an obsession with ending racism not only can never bring to pass social democracy but also must inexorably assassinate its potential for existence.