Uncategorized

Terror Revisited: The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the 1822 Plot For Freedom!

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (EAME), the site of the terrorist attack on June 17, 2015, was again thrust into the forefront of the nation’s sorry culture of racism. The EAME’s history is entangled not only in its mission to provide for the spiritual needs of Charleston’s African American citizenry but its history is centered deeply and intertwined within the nations long and troubled history of slavery, abolition and struggle for black liberation. The EAME’s story is worth revisiting in conjunction with one of the nation’s darkest and most tragic incidents the rebellion and hanging of Denmark Vesey.

In 1781, Bermudian slave merchant Captain Joseph Vesey purchased a 14-year old African slave named Telemaque. After a time for reasons unknown, Vesey sold Telemaque to a planter in French Saint-Domingue what is now present-day Haiti. Telemaque suffered epileptic seizures and was returned to Captain Vesey who subsequently refunded the purchase price to the French planter. (Historians believe that Vesey probably faked his epileptic seizures to escape the brutal conditions of slave life in Haiti)

sugar

Telemaque had a gift for languages and learned to speak, read and write in French, Spanish and English. This would serve him later as he became an outspoken leader. Following the American Revolution, Captain Vesey retired from the sea and slave trade, settling in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was an international hub connected to the Caribbean’s booming merchant shipping trade, particularly focusing on illegal or contraband slaves (slave importation had been outlawed in 1808), rice and indigo exports. Vesey “hired out” Telemaque as a carpenter, and he quickly became a well-known artisan in the city and a member of the Charleston slave and free black community.

historyships

Port of Charleston circa 1865

On November 9, 1799, Telemaque, 32 years of age, won $1500 dollars in a Charleston city lottery. This would amount to roughly $31,000 dollars (calculating purchasing power) in 2015. Telemaque purchased his freedom from Captain Vesey and settled in the City as Denmark Vesey, a free man of color (Vesey chose the name Denmark from the country of Denmark). Vesey married a slave and had children. However due to American slave laws Vesey’s wife and children remained in bondage. Vesey made repeated attempts to purchase his family but was unable to do so. Meanwhile, Vesey found fellowship among the free black population. However, the black community had long been subjected to overtly harsh racism by its white citizenry.  In particular the white community had, by law, complete oversight of the where and how its black population worshipped. Generally blacks could not worship after daylight hours, were forbidden to read and had to be supervised by white clergy.

Denmark joined a local white run Presbyterian Church. The local Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston relegated its black congregation to second-class membership, subjecting it to constant indignities and insults. The church segregated blacks in separate seating, denied them any say in Church governance and forbid blacks a ministerial role. The breaking point came in 1816 when white Church leaders voted to build a Hearse House on top of the black burial grounds. This insult spurred the entire black congregation to walk out and to form what became the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (EAME). Vesey was one of its organizers.

The EAME Church was supported by a few progressive white clergy in the city and rapidly attracted nearly two thousand members, making this the second-largest AME congregation in the nation. However, Charleston had a rabid pro-white-anti-black citizenry, led by, among others Preston Brooks a ferocious advocate of black slavery, preacher of black inferiority and advocate of states’ rights. Brooks is primarily remembered for beating Senator Charles Sumner an abolitionist, with a cane on the floor of the United States Senate, on May 22, 1856 after Sumner gave an impassioned anti-slavery speech.

preston-brooks

Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina

Southern_Chivalry

The EAME Church became a breeding ground for black pride and uplift. White city officials became so alarmed by the EAME’s growing influence among its black slave and free population that it twice closed it for violating slave laws related to times and purpose of gatherings. In 1818 Charleston officials arrested 140 black church members and sentenced eight church leaders to heavy fines and whippings. City officials again raided the church in 1820 and 1821.

Although the details are sketchy, most likely in early 1822, Vesey a co-organizer of EAME became leader of a group of blacks and planned to start a slave uprising. The logistics were fairly simple as Charleston had a majority black population. Vesey and his followers were thought to have planned to kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the slaves, and sail to the black republic of Haiti, which had won its independence in 1804. It’s likely that Vesey wanted to rescue his family from slavery. Word of the plan was leaked, (most probably by a fellow black) and city officials and white citizens terrified that a black revolution, like that of Haiti, would visit its State quickly had a militia arrest the plot’s leaders and many suspected followers in June. Not one white person was killed or injured. Vesey and five slaves were among the first group of men judged guilty by the secret proceedings of a city-appointed Court and condemned to death; they were executed by hanging on July 2, 1822. Later one of his sons was judged guilty of this conspiracy and was among many blacks deported. Interesting enough the Haitian Revolution spurred South Carolinians to ensure that every white male citizen was armed and eligible for militia service.

denmark_vesey31

In 1822 the city-appointed Court of Magistrates and Freeholders continued to arrest blacks and in July roughly 30 more were executed. The Court examined a total of 131 men, convicted 67 of conspiracy, hanged 35 (including Vesey), deported 31 men, reviewed and acquitted 27, and questioned and released 38. Because Vesey was one of the plot organizers and leader the original church was burned down. It is unlikely that 131 blacks were involved and many believed that whites used the Vesey plot as a means to terrorize the black community and in particular to punish the EAME Congregation. Whites believing that black churches fermented slave rebellions outlawed all-black churches in Charleston in 1834. The EAME Congregation met in secret until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Last_palmetto_Charleston_1865

View of the last Palmetto tree in Charleston (1865)

On February 18, 1865 the mayor surrendered the city to Union General Alexander Schimmelfennig; and Union troops. After the eventual surrender of the Confederate States of America, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city’s reconstruction. After the city’s liberation Bishop Daniel Payne (Head of the National AME Church) installed Reverend Richard H. Cain as the pastor of the congregations that would become Emanuel A.M.E. and Morris Brown A.M.E. In 1872, after serving in the South Carolina Senate (1868-1872), Reverend Cain became a Republican Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The congregation rebuilt the church between 1865 and 1872 under the lead of the architect Robert Vesey, one son of Denmark Vesey. After an earthquake demolished that building in 1886, President Grover Cleveland donated ten dollars ($300) to the church to aid its rebuilding efforts, noting that he was “very glad to contribute something for so worthy a cause.” However, being a Democrat, he also donated $20 ($600) dollars to the Confederate Home, a “haven for white widows.” The current EAME building was constructed in 1891. The location of the post-Civil War churches is on the north side of Calhoun Street (named after rabid racist and secessionist, former Vice President John C. Calhoun); blacks were not welcome on the south side of what was then known as Boundary Street when the church was built.

o-EMANUEL-AME-BEFORE-REPAIR-900

The continued saga of the EAME church underscores the continued and disturbing racial animosity, fear and hatred of black religious self expression and the need to consider a move toward a systematic and formalized commitment of black church security.  This would include security guidelines, procedures, and ongoing contact with law enforcement including the FBI and a recognition that no matter how much we are tied to this land there will always be individuals committed to insisting that this is and will remain a “white man’s country.”

Standard
Uncategorized

The Re-emergence of Confederate Nationalism

1386504599880.cachedRecently this month two white female high school students, in what appeared to have been a pre-orchestrated event, stood proudly waving Confederate Battle Flags on one of America’s most hallowed grounds the Gettysburg Civil War Memorial Battlefield. The girls not only shared the photos via social media but also captioned the photos with “South will rise,” and “Already bought my first slave.”

8085a947c066a3305a439b498e891cea3f87f4ac

While one parent attributed the North Carolina’s East Chapel High school girls actions to naiveté their actions are representative of an alarming trend of young white kids from Long Island to California that are not only espousing racial hatred toward non-whites, as in the case where in 2012 Texas’ High School students taunted Mexican American basketball players with chants of “U.S.A.,” but underscore a troubling resurgence of Confederate Nationalism.

Take the incident in April 2014 when a couple of white male students who appeared at Long Island’s St. Anthony’s Catholic high school handball game were suspended for wearing the Confederate battle flag. In another recent case the photo of a group of Denver Colorado high school students dressed for prom, holding guns and the Confederate flag caused a social media uproar. In another example 28 year-old Bus driver Ken Webber of Oregon was suspended for flying the battle flag on his school bus. Rather than removing the flag a defiant Webber defiantly took the suspension saying, “No one here is gonna tell me what I can and can’t believe in.”  Weaver filed a lawsuit and won. Long Island, Colorado and Oregon could hardly be called southern strongholds. Yet, an increasing trend of whites in these areas seem to have gravitated toward what some argue are symbols of white supremacy and slavery.

These episodes whether isolated or falling into a coherent line of Confederate ideology are troubling. Foremost many white students and their parents have elected to reject years of purposeful multicultural education where students were taught the history of the long train of racial abuses suffered by African Americans both free and enslaved. Further they downplay the sacrifices of whites that fought to end slavery and the social, economic, and the political cost of waging the most horrific war ever fought on earth just to hold others in bondage.

The mythology of Confederate Nationalism has long since been debated by those that argued that it developed as an outgrowth of the Civil War and those that denied its existence altogether. Whether real or imagined Confederate Nationalism was always, at least within the African American community, a real and salient feature of white southern culture. Since the end of the Civil War African Americans, particularly those in the southern United States have always had to deal with a type of shadow Confederate Army. Southern white men and women have proudly flown the Battle Flags at state capital buildings, waved them at sporting events and displayed them to taunt Civil Rights marchers. Just recently the battle flag was moth balled as the representative symbol by one American university.

What has emerged, as a new twist to this surge in Confederate pride, is the linking of the Stars and Bars as the flag is often called with being American. Take for example the Colorado students that instagramed the photo of themselves holding guns and the Confederate flag. The kid’s stated, “We didn’t know it was wrong and we were tyring to express our love of being American.” How these kids were able to conjoin their Americaness to the most important symbol of Confederate and Anti-American identity is a twist of logic that only 19th century racial pseudo scientists could only envy. One only knows if Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, is turning in his grave?

One question we should ask is why is this happening? During the 1970’s as a means to skirt school desegregation laws wealthy white parents opted out of public schools and created exclusive private schools. The less affluent white students that were left behind had no choice but to attend schools with minority students. However, beginning in the somewhere in the 2000’s less affluent white parents began a process of creating schools in all white communities after many cities were released from Federally mandated desegregation plans. Propublica reports that the south is seeing a resurgence of school re-segregation to the degree that 1 in 3 black student’s attends a school that looks as if “Brown V. Board of Education never happened.”

But it’s not only the reforming of segregated schools. School curriculums and textbooks have become battlegrounds for pro or neutral revision of antebellum history.   In 2013, Tracy Thompson author of the Mind of the South (2013) wrote of the ongoing revisionist history effort whereby southern schools and churches are still pretending the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Thompson quoting James Loewen, a sociologist and author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” has said that when he speaks to public school educators across the country today, somewhere between 60 and 75 percent say that the Civil War was fought over the issue of states’ rights, rather than slavery.

The re-assurgence of Confederate nationalism seems to me not only a rejection of multi-culturalism but also an affirmation of a kind of distorted form of white identity. When did Confederate Nationalism equate with American identity and why does it appeal to young men and women in Oregon?   Why are so many young people willing to voice their disdain for multi-culturalism by adopting the symbols of hate?

What I fear is that as America continues to brown it may reach a threshold where Confederate Nationalism is not something that remains solely an act of flag waving but the acts and aspirations of a “disgruntled minority” that feels grieved that its white historical legacy is in jeopardy. The America south and the so-called Bible Belt is increasingly arming its citizenry by passing open gun carry laws, the question is for what purpose?

Standard
Uncategorized

Ok Ferguson, So Now What’s Next?

There is no doubt that the recent events of Ferguson has uncovered a dramatic gulf that exists between the young who seek freedom from oppression and are willing to pay any price to remit that oppression and the old that seek reform only through old tactics of non-violence.   This cleavage between the young and the unyoung comes at a time when youth dominated protests movements have crystalized throughout much of the so-called Third World: The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, the sit-in at Taksim Gezi Park in Turkey, Occupy USA, the various Arab Spring movements from Tunisia to Cairo including the struggle for dignity in Gaza.

After Ferguson there can be no denial of the truth –no other way than to face facts beyond change: since 1865–the end of the Civil War, segments of American society have been engaged in a low-grade genocidal war against Native and African- American communities.   From the 19th well into the 20th century this war saw the exile of indigenous people to reservations, the destruction of centuries old Indian cultures and the obliteration of all black towns: from Rosewood to Tulsa; the segregation of blacks into urban ghettos, the mass incarcerations and the extension of that war to the deportation of thousands from immigrant Latin American communities residing in the U.S.

Young African Americans activists must realize that their desire for justice must be tied to and understood in the larger world wide historical demand for justice that extends from David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829) against international slavery to the continued war against police and State brutality in Brazil, to the continued suburban ghettoization of European youth. This war is a fight against oppressive government sanctioned and institutionalized power that seeks to force people of color into accepting the status quo where 1% of the world’s population controls 99% of the world’s resources–from land where people of color are in the majority.  Make no mistake this is a genocidal war of domination of such epic magnitude that it would make Julius Caesar green with envy.

Non-violent struggle (the authors assert that non-violence is, and can often be, a form of low grade violence) was borrowed from Henry David Thoreau who devised this strategy in the face of an American government attempting to profit from the expansion of slavery in the west. Non-violence was later taken up by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to unseat a racist European power that, through force of violence, dominated every facet of life in India. Martin Luther King, Jr., borrowed these same tactics and preached a form of non-violence that showed the world the true colors of southern racism as they raped, lynched and destroyed black lives, undermined black potential, and forced blacks into a caste system that relegated blacks to poverty and despair. As Civil Rights victories mounted blacks internalized these victories and began to seek the spoils of American life in earnest.

Over time we witnessed the expansion of the black middle and upper classes that earned their way to wealth and prosperity and in some cases to positions of power and authority in American society. Yet, there remained cracks in the veneer of success. Black urban poverty became a way of life rather than a temporary condition, prestigious black colleges that had educated generations of black intellectuals were abandoned and many closed, black health disparities increased, and the mass incarceration of youth to enrich the prison industrial complex gutted communities of color and with that came the loss of voting rights for numerous black males. This was tantamount to the emasculation of black men. This was largely accomplished through the now recognized failed war on drugs, a conscience effort to funnel children of color into prison (see school to prison pipeline) and through state and local legislative policies that solidified institutional racism. No one was spared–neither the poor, the colored, nor the young. Blacks from the middle and upper classes, who had hoped that the content of their character would be the sine quo non of a new American racially egalitarian society, bore witness to their own struggles of racism at work, in their communities and the countless confrontations with police and state authority.

During the past 50 years the older generation of African Americans strived to enter American society as co-equals with white Americans in the work place and in seemingly diverse communities. And while blacks strove they abandoned historically black colleges and universities, abandoned the poor in inner cities, and failed to create any lasting structures that would enable young blacks any real opportunity to move ahead without losing their culture and their dignity. In effect whites demanded a form of cultural monotony while, at the same instance, they denigrated blackness. Black Strivers incorporated a go-along-to-get-along strategy by adopting white cultural values while abandoning the very black values that had created Washington, Garvey, Dubois, Johnson, Angelou and Shakur.

The young have to understand that their education has been defiled in a way to placate them and give them a sense of duty and loyalty to a country that desires to see them give up their culture for a way of life that has destroyed the environment, emasculated Native Americans, fought catastrophic wars from Vietnam to Iraq for resources–the last being for oil; destroyed Union protections for workers and seeks to give Wall Street cartels carte blanche in enriching the 1% while the middle and poorer classes see their stake in society erode.

Protest marches have failed because black leadership has failed. Boycotts have failed because black strategies and tactics have failed. Old ways must be torn asunder. New ways of thinking and acting must be deployed, a new vocabulary that seeks to honor the environment, seek justice for all regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual and religious orientation must be at the forefront of this and future struggles against the forces of darkness that, if given their way will destroy every ecosystem on this planet and along with it human life.

Black, White, Brown, Yellow and Red youth must envision a new alchemy, a new spirit, a new way to thinking. Old revolutionary talk will not free the imprisoned mind, this will only occur through the creation of new paradigms, and new articulations of justice. We, old must work with the youth to achieve new symmetry that will eradicate race as a dominating factor in the life chances of millions from the impoverished Favelas of Brazil to the Detroit’s 8 Mile.

The fight will be hard, and fraught with difficulty. The benefits of justice will require thick skins, strong backs and a firm resolve—but without this resolve what price freedom? What price continued enslavement?

To summarize we assert the following:

  1. African Americans must seek international condemnation for a racist American justice system that unfairly targets people of color; African Americans must seek condemnation for genocidal practices by Federal, State and Local governments that seek to use State sanctioned violence and oppression against People of color;
  2. Build coalitions with minority communities and those whites that seek an alternative structures to replace existing hegemonic institutions;
  3. Create new democratic organizations that value diversity of opinion, diversity of race, color, creed, sexual orientation and religious orientation; and to seek greater and open access to affordable education for all.
  4. Develop institutions that value the natural environment and those creatures that depend on its wholeness for their survival.
  5. Recognize and respect the varied ways in which people seek to govern themselves; and to only wage war only as a tactic of defense and when no other options are available.

 

Also contributing to this article was Major Aldo Putman, USAR. (Ret.). Major Putman served as a combat advisor in Afghanistan.

 

 

 

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Behind the Veil: White Racism, White Privilege, and Americas Long Road Ahead. (Part IV – Final Installment Slavery in the Americas)

At last we come to an end of this series on the origins of White Racism. Not wanting to lay waste to years of dedicated research by scholars such as St. Clair Drake, we simply have not the time to give a more detailed evaluation and critique of each of the texts we have covered or those that remain.   In this final installment of Behind the Veil, we end our journey where slavery comes full circle and appears as a particular typology of racism. A type known as White Racism, that often results in the killing of unarmed young black men in America and the continued racism that black Americans continuously face.   The literature that follows will outline a systematic process in which European merchants and governments used slavery (both African and Native American) to enrich themselves and their governments.  After the American Revolution the United States government assumed control of a system of plantation slavery that Laurence Mordekhai Thomas called Vessels of Evil (1993).  As profits from cotton and other cash crops began to make America wealthy the denigration of Africans as an inferior being was necessary to justify the type of brutality that would be required to maintain control and profits.  The U.S. Constitution was written and a Bill of Rights added, not with the intent to give all Americans liberty, but with the intent to provide a system of checks and balances that would provide a small number of alave owners and their supporters to maintain the most profitable industrial system ever devised under the guise of American freedom.                                                                                           

We begin with Laurent Dubios’s Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (2004).  Dubois’ book chronicles the methods authorized by Columbus to secure a foothold in the New World. Avengers is a detailed analysis of the policies that led to horrific genocidal violence the transition of the island of Hispaniola (Haiti or Ayiti) into a plantation economy.  Dubois wrote, “slavery was at the heart of the thriving system of merchant capitalism that was profiting Europe, devastating Africa, and propelling the rapid expansion of the Americas.” Hugh Thomas reminds us of the co-mingling of church, state and private property became intertwined as European merchants began to look for New World labor.  The process of bringing this New World labor (slaves) to the New World developed by aligning logistical, religious, defense and financial networks that laid the legal and moral arguments for the greatest forced migration of humans; an unprecedented theft of raw materials and the forced purchase of the same materials through a world-wide network known as the Triangular Slave Trade.

By the date of Systema naturae’s publishing the Taíno population of the island was already decimated by Columbus. In 1503 the colony began to import African slaves, as a substitute for Indian slave labor. According to Dubois, the Italian Cristobal Columbus’ cruelty along with the introduction of new infectious diseases, to which the Taíno had no immunity, had genocidal ramifications for the population. In just twenty-two years Columbus and the Spanish government had, through colonial policies, reduced the native island population from an estimated initial population of 500,000-700,000 in 1492, to only 29,000 by 1514. By 1650 the Spanish conquest had wiped out through violence and disease nearly 90% of the Indigenous population throughout the whole of the Americas with an estimated population of 30 million.  As indigenous populations throughout the Americas were subjected to slavery they died from disease and cruelty.  Stephen F. Cook asserts that at least 90% of California’s Native American population was decimated by the end of the 19th century through European contact.  By the 18th century, British colonial slave owners began a process of Christianizing Africans as a means to strip away African cultural values. This of course took on a different complexion in the other parts of the Diaspora. In Spanish and French Caribbean the Catholic Church was willing to allow African indigenous religions to syncretize with African religions. This allowed some comfort for Africans as they struggled to adjust to the conditions of slavery.  This, in part, allowed Africans in Haiti and elsewhere to hold onto their native mythologies and religions.  The Haitian Revolution confirms the importance of retaining one’s cultural heritage.  However, in British North America, European Protestants understood the necessity to destroy and denigrate black gods and black skin in the minds of the enslaved to ensure that blacks would be unable to live on life sustaining mythologies necessary for proper psychological health; and naturally they would be less likely to rebel.  The destruction of African religious life undermined the spiritual mythologies that offered Africans life sustaining community values.  There is comparative data to suggest the the number of American slave rebellions in the Americas (Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, et.al) reminds us of the influence of African spiritual advisors in giving these Freedom Fighters a moral compass.

European expansion necessitated the need for cheap labor.  The large white labor supply in Europe proved unwilling to sacrifice comfort for the hardships that awaited them in the Americas.  Without an adequate supply of labor there would be few if any immediate financial gains.  Therefore, European investors and merchants tuned to the enslavement of Native Americans.  As Native Americans began to die in a genocidal process of disease, starvation, rape, and murder the population quite nearly vanished from the Americas, along with–their languages, customs and religions. When Native American slavery proved unworkable Europeans turned to African slavery.   Africans survived and proved more than adequate for European needs.  As the English and later Americans took control of the North American continent African slavery was passed down from one successive government to the next; from British colony to American statehood. The United States of America was born with the institution of slavery already centuries old and with it came the accompanying pseudo scientific racial attitudes toward both Native Americans and Africans.   This is why the comments of Danny Ferry, General Manager of the Atlanta Hawks are so offensive.  De-valuing a person on random stereotypes feeds into a continuing history of white denigration of Africans.

American institutions were born of the compromises between Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist and Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican factions during the Constitutional debates (1787). The compromises between these factions were viewed then and now by historians, as necessary to obtain southern support for the proposed U.S. Constitution (See Massachusetts Compromise). A read of the Federalist Papers indicates the duress the Hamilton-Jay-Madison pro-constitutional faction was under. Hamilton believed that without a strong central government with the ability to nurture commerce the American Revolution would have been, in his view, for not. The compromises necessary to gain the Southern states approval of the Constitution would prove ultimately detrimental to human rights for both black and white free men and women, but more disastrous to black slaves and Native Americans. American institutions eventually outlined in Federalist Paper #45 and later written into the U.S. Constitution worked hand in hand with the formation of an American racist ideology, i.e. White Racism. American slavery, in all of its brutality required scientific support to justify the type of genocidal conditions necessary to break black and Native Americans into submission. Without science American slavery would have been vulnerable to the nascent but growing voices advocating emancipation on humanitarian grounds.  The Jefferson Southern slave-holding faction understood the necessity to maintain both local governmental control and some form of veto power in the national government in light of the wrong that slavery was and the growing but silent abolition sentiment among many Northern Convention delegates. One such Northern delegate was Gouverneur Morris (1752 -1816) a Founding Father of the United States, and a native of New York City who represented Pennsylvania at the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

The main issue of the Convention and would ultimately be the single greatest political maneuvering in world history was the Southern push to get slaves counted for constitutional purposes. This was called the 3/5th Compromise. The Compromise reached between southern and northern Delegates during the Convention was to decide whether slaves would be counted when determining a state’s total population for allocating Congressional seats and ultimately Electoral College votes. Southerners lead by Thomas Jefferson attempted to mislead the debate on the Compromise by claiming it’s purpose was for the allocation of tax purposes only. This was a rube. The main goal of the Jeffersonian faction, as Morris understood deeply, was to forever secure Southern (i.e, white) representation in the Electoral College and Congress. The compromise unfairly negated small non-slaveholding states in the North while given sparsely populated states in the South more Congressional representation. The effects of this “covenant with death” were soon apparent to many observers at the time. This line of thought is detailed in the powerfully persuasive and damning work, The Slave Power: The Free North and Southern Domination, 1780 -1860 (2000). Leonard L. Richards’ argument is simple: from 1780 to 1860 a slave oligarchy (Known then as The Slave Power) powerfully controlled both Federal and State governments through bribery, threat of secession, coercion, and later black and poor white voter suppression and when necessary genocidal violence: rape, lynching, shootings, burning of churches and homes and the killing of women and children.

Morris was correct when he attacked the 3/5th Compromise for what it was rather than the Southern characterization that the compromise was only intended as a means for direct taxation. Morris understood well that the Southern slave holding contingent’s argument was a smoke screen aimed to misdirect attention way from their ultimate goal-the spread of slavery across the Continent of the United States. To secure this, Southerners won filibuster power in the Senate and additional and disproportionate representation in the Electoral College and Congress.  Alexander Hamilton and his Federalists, seeking to spread their economic vision across the Continent, sought compromise rather equality for all.       As Hamilton envisioned the U.S. Constitution was purposely designed to embrace British capitalism, which would quickly be seen as a disastrous move by many in the 19th century. It also would be the vehicle to embrace a racist ideology of black inferiority, and the destruction of Native American culture and civilization for the sake of economic gain.

With the capitulation by the Federalists slavery could be secured, its profits maintained and a form of White Southern Racism could be secured throughout the newly formed governmental “democratic” institutions. If one has doubts one should consider that of the first five presidents four owned slaves (John Adams did not). The White House and nations capital and grounds were built by slave labor.  The election of Thomas Jefferson, Adams successor, could be characterized as the first “black” presidential election as the 3/5th compromise aided his ability to secure an electoral victory over his adversary Adams. Subsequently, Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor all owned slaves. Slaveholders dominated the U.S. Congress, Senate, and the Supreme Court until their walking out of Congress after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

We now turn to the last phase of our discussion to put together a coherent thesis of the current state of White Racism, as understood by Drake. It is the White Racism of Donald Trump, Danny Ferry, Bruce Levenson, Paula Dean, Donald Sterling, Trent Lott, The Tea Party, Riley Cooper, and the kind that killed Michael Brown and Ahmadu Diallo. American White Racism has always represented a threat to the lives of blacks was formed out of 19th century pseudo-science primarily through the polemic attacks on blacks via the writings of Louis Agassiz (1807 – 1873). Agassiz was a Swiss-born and naturalized American biologist, geologist, physician, and a prominent innovator in the study of Earth’s natural history and Harvard Professor.   After immigrating to the United States in 1846 Agassiz became a prolific writer of scientific racism. Agassiz was a staunch believer in polygenism, an idea that races came from separate origins, and were endowed by God with unequal attributes (In recent years, critics have assailed Agassiz’s racial theories, arguing that these views tarnish his scientific record).   In order to build his scientific arguments Agassiz and later his student disciples manufactured, distorted, lied, and when necessary fabricated data in order to justify his crude racial theories. While we can quibble whether Agassiz was a man of his time, one would be hard pressed to argue away the overt deceitfulness of his work, even in his own time.

Agassiz became not only a well-respected “scientist” but also a highly regarded and fully embraced member of the upper-class white, liberal society of Boston, racism and all.   The degree that his children married into some of the most well known Boston families is an indication as to the degree Agassiz and his opinions were accepted by Boston’s finest.   Agassiz’s work, ultimately supported slavery and later segregation by giving Northerners, slave owners and Southern politicians the scientific basis by which to build and maintain institutions that kept blacks as second-class citizens. For example, blacks were repeatedly subjected to voting qualifications based upon the false claim that blacks were less intelligent than whites. Agassiz work justified this nonsense. Fore example, he advised:

We ought to beware how we give the blacks rights by virtue of which they may endanger the progress of whites…Social equality I deem at all times impracticable. It’s a natural impossibility, flowing from the very character of the negro race…They are incapable of living on a footing of social equality with whites, in one and the same community, without becoming an element of social disorder.

When pressed Agassiz claimed his views had nothing to do with politics. Unfortunately, we don’t have any evidence as to why Agassiz took this position.   We can only speculate that he, as were many whites, simply racist. Agassiz’s writings on black intellectual inferiority became the mainstay of writings and teachings in a series of lectures known famously as the Lowell Institute Lectures for nearly 100 years after his death. All one needs to do is read the writings of Thomas R.R. Cobb (1823 -1862) to see the influence of Agassiz on Cobb’s virulent racist attacks on blacks. Cobb was one of antebellum Georgia’s foremost legal minds and most outspoken advocates of slavery and of secession. He fought for the Confederacy as a brigadier general and was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Cobb’s arguments were laid out in an eloquent and imposing, An Inquiry into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America (1858). An Inquiry remains the only legal defense of slavery produced by a southerner.   Cobb’s thesis was that slavery was good for blacks and formed the foundation of all great civilizations. Cobb argued, in respect to the natural history of Agassiz, that it was the will of God for the white race to dominate the African just as the red ant dominated the black ant. African slavery was acceptable in practice because God intended for blacks to be inferior to whites. Enslavement allowed whites to “improve” their slaves by bringing them closer to civilization. In a post war Illiterate society where almost no one could read Cobb and his ilk relied on pseudo-science as justification for slavery.

According to Cobb and many of Agassiz supporters if science said it was so then it must be so. Historians Steve Nash and Matthew Bailey argue that while most of these types of proslavery defenses were discredited after the Civil War (1861-65), some of its legal components continued to influence judicial (SCOTUS) decisions more than a century after emancipation.  We see the foundation of racism working in 1857 when Roger B. Taney argued in Dred Scott v. Sanford that the authors of the U.S. Constitution had viewed all blacks as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  These judicial decisions such as Plessy vs. Ferguson (1898) gave American institutions built after the Civil War license to develop discriminatory practices specifically designed to exclude or to segregate blacks.  Take for example the American Medical Association (AMMA), largely seen world- wide as a paragon of healthcare virtue.   The white dominated AMMA used segregation to not only to discourage and exclude black medical school aspirants but also to exclude black physicians from obtaining necessary hospital privileges. This was all done based on the pseudo scientific work we have been discussing here. Even when the AMMA had real scientific and anecdotal evidence that supported something contrary to the beliefs of the racists the AMMA continued its racist policies at a cost of black life.

One of the most heartbreaking books on the subject is Sick From Freedom by historian Jim Downs. According to Downs, life for slaves and later free men and women was so heinous that between 1862 and 1870 at least 1 million out of 4 million blacks (many of them now free due to emancipation) died of malnutrition and disease. Downs recounts one example that is representative of thousands. (I have quoted liberally here for clarity from: “Downs reconstructed the experiences of one freed slave, Joseph Miller, who had come with his wife and four children to a makeshift freed slave refugee camp within the union stronghold of Camp Nelson in Kentucky. In return for food and shelter for his family Miller joined the army. Yet union soldiers in 1864 still cleared the ex-slaves out of Camp Nelson, effectively abandoning them to scavenge in a war-ravaged and disease-ridden landscape. One of Miller’s young sons quickly sickened and died. Three weeks later, his wife and another son died. Ten days after that, his daughter perished too. Finally, his last surviving child also fell terminally ill. By early 1865 Miller himself was dead.

“A Snapshot of U.S. Physicians: Key Findings” from the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, Data Bulletin No. 35 reported that three out of four physicians identified themselves as white, non-Hispanic, while just 3.8 percent were black, non-Hispanic, 5.3 percent were Hispanic, and 17.2 percent were Asian or other races. However, among physicians under age 40, about two-thirds were white and 33 percent were minority—black (4%), Hispanic (5.4%), and Asian or other race (24%).   The AMMA as an inherently American institution is culpable in creating genocidal conditions with black health care. The report found the number of black male applicants proportionate to all medical school applicants decreased from 2.6 percent to 2.5 percent from 2002 to 2011, while both Asian and Hispanic male medical school applicants increased. Black female students are having very similar issues. Not only did the proportion of African-American female medical school applicants drop from 5.2 percent to 4.8 percent but also the proportion of matriculates went from 4.5 percent to 3.8 percent.

The AMMA officially apologized in 2008 for excluding black physicians from membership, for listing black doctors as “colored” in its national physician directory for decades, and for failing to speak against federal funding of segregated hospitals and in favor of civil rights legislation. The end result of this is blacks suffer from health related diseases and death at far greater numbers than the general population. Blacks are more likely to die of cancer than whites, have the highest death rates of heat disease and strokes and are least likely to see a physician, or have health care. While the apology is appropriate, the cost of black lives, suffering and humiliation is untold.

The Civil War abruptly ended the grip of the Slave Power in American life but not the lasting work of Agassiz and Cobb. During Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency (1913- 1921) blacks were viciously segregated and regulated to low-level employment in government offices. The justification?–Blacks were inherently inferior to whites and to keep both races pure and undiluted they would need to be separated. The Ku Klux Klan became not just a domestic terrorist organization bar none. Membership became a necessity for many white politicians. Outed and known U.S. politicians and members of the KKK: President Harry Truman, Senators Robert Byrd, Theodore G. Bilbo, James Eli Watson, R. W. Means; Governors Bibb Graves (Alabama), Edward L. Jackson (Indiana), Charles Morely (Colorado), Clifford Walker (Georgia); Rep. George Gordon; Mayor John Clifton Porter (Los Angeles); SCOTUS Justices Douglass White and Hugo Black. These men had significant influence on American society for generations. Some like Congressman George Porter became Grand Dragons and even Los Angeles Mayor Clifton Porter was a senior member of the Klan. Without a doubt an ethos of white supremacy was vital to the continued domination by a new Neo Slave Power that emerged after Reconstruction.

As black life became increasing perilous and the Neo Slave Power began consolidating white domination, a form of national black consciousness or nationalism developed as a means to address the slow but deliberate attack on black life. The more militant forms of Black Nationalism were attractive was not a sufficient mythology to carry African Americans across a (liminal) threshold from civil rights to a post civil rights era, and was ultimately doomed. For one, the humiliation of slavery both from the perspective of the slave owner and the chattel could only be maintained by the humiliation of both master and slave. Now that slavery ended and voting rights were extended to black males, local requirements were instituted to deny blacks the right to vote. Literacy tests, poll taxes, mass incarcerations, failing schools, lack of or poor health care, lack of meaningful jobs, beatings, murders, lynchings, were all employed to keep blacks from gaining political power. Federal, state, and local government institutions were used to reconstitute and maintain white supremacy. It wasn’t until white segregation was deemed an anathema to American society in 1954 with the SCOTUS decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, and the prohibition of the all white Democratic primary (Smith v. Allwright, 1944). But unfortunately, the foundation for American supremacy had already been cemented. This is exactly what the Black Panther 10 Point Program was created to negate domination or to put it another way White Power.

Today black Americans are faced with an ever-growing problem. The face of White Power has remained a constant in America and has been politically, socially and intellectual consolidated in various cities, counties, and states were black populations remain poor and marginalized. White Power has consolidated itself through various forms of grass roots organizing in the form of political organizations, gun clubs, all white communities, voting blocks in state and city council governments and the having judiciary. But its most formidable constituency is the American public.   For this there are few options. Black Americans can choose to remain in the United States, to brave the future of a possible multicultural America as many on the Left envision. George Yancey’s most reveling work, Who is White?: Latinos, Asians, and the New Black/Nonblack Divide (2003), offers an entirely different view of the progress of whites becoming a racial minority. Yancey argues that white predictions of minority status are incorrect, in large part because they are built on faulty assessments of the growth of racial minorities. But even more sobering is the shifting definition of who is “white.” White has never been a static concept. Yancey argues as more non-black minorities come into the United States they will choose to categorize themselves as White in lieu of Latino, Asian or other. Surveys reveal that other minorities are more willing to allow their offspring to marry whites, live in white communities and declare themselves white than blacks. According to Yancey what we are facing is an America that is divided into Black and Non-Black. If Yancey is correct in his assessment White Power will find new support. The case of Latino George Zimmerman, who might have been targeted for deportation by the Tea Party, nevertheless was embraced by the white community because he ultimately stood in opposition to the black community.

The choices are never simple. But its my hypothesis that we may be facing the extinction of the African American community in the next century if African Americans don’t find a way to consolidate the community behind a set of shared values and purpose. This way the best possible solutions to our dilemma behind the Veil can be approached with reason and hope.  A possible corrective action may lay in the idea of William McNeil, authored The Care & Repair of Public Myth, (1982). McNeil’s hypothesis is that mythology (not used in the pejorative sense) lies at the basis of human society. Myths are in fact statements about the word and its parts particularly nations and other human in groups, that are believed to be true and acted upon whenever circumstances suggest or common response required. It is man’s replacement for natural instinct. McNeil asserted that a people without an up to date mythology find it impossible for common action. Common action once bound those who believed in the idea of a public body, capable of acting in accord, whether it was the Self-Help philosophy of Booker T. Washington, the Talented Tenth of W.E.B. Dubois or even the revolutionary ideology of Black Power, these were at once viable African American mythologies.

The alleged gains of the Civil Rights movement pushed the African American community toward materialism and the quest for wealth. Black exploitation films illustrate the depth by which the community lost its focus and turned outward to find its full cultural patterns of expression.   Without the development of a mythology to bind African Americans toward a greater purpose beyond material wealth but toward the preservation of the community will be the communities only chance for true liberation and self-preservation. I just hope this can be accomplished and the African American people escape the fate of the Taino.

This brings to and end the series on the intellectual history of racism in America.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Behind the Veil: White Racism, White Privilege, and Americas Long Road Ahead. (Part III)

I hope my readers will be gracious in affording me the opportunity to take more time to lay out the final installments of my writing on the ubiquity of racism in America. This comes at a time when events in Ferguson, Missouri should remind us of the importance of understanding the dynamics of racism in all of its various amplitudes and degrees.  Because of the recent shooting of Michael Brown I thought I would present two final installments so that a broader view of what Drake considered to be a unique moment in humanity’s racial history, one that culminated in the birth of white racism.

In the first two installments of Behind the Veil, we became familiar with Drake’s stunning work on the degree at which black skin color was venerated and held in high regard throughout much of literate human history.   Drake’s work, Black Folk, Here and There (BFH&T) presented a mountain of scholarship that clearly demonstrates that racism, was in fact, a recent human invention and more importantly–white racism came to be the trough that continues to feed western society.   If, as Drake argued in BFH&T, (There can never be any substitute for your own close reading of Drake) that white racism is the key to unlocking the success of western society, then where did white racism originate?

White racism is the direct result of European expansion & exploration during the period historians call The Age of Exploration (from the 1500’s through the 1800s). During this time period Europeans seized vast swaths of the world’s land mass and quickly capitalized on the pirating and exporting the world’s mineral wealth and raw materials to feed its growing mercantile economies. The Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1494–two years after Columbus landing in Haiti–divided the entire world, outside Europe, between Portugal and Spain.   Later, the Dutch, French and English would all contest Papal authority, Spain and Portugal’s mysterious religious and hegemonic control over the world’s territories. The vast numbers of wars in Europe, ending with the Haitian Revolution and the American & Indian Wars in the 1880’s were a direct result of the fight over this territory, particularly in North America.

Europeans, such as the English were ever more realizing that wealth could be created through global plunder and eventually trade.  English Lord’s were salivating as Spain and Portuguese tales of conquest and riches made them envious. English, French, Dutch spies brought back confirmed reports of Spanish ships loaded with bars of Aztec and Peruvian silver and gold.   Naval piracy would get its start with the English, who came late to the game of conquest.   When the bars of silver dried up, or when English efforts to locate sources of mineral wealth failed (This was the principle goal of the English chartered companies in early North America) off the coast of America they turned as the Spanish and Portuguese had done to exploiting the captive regions natural resources.  But before we press on I need to say a few things about the economic system of the time: mercantilism.  Mercantilism was not a unified economic theory so actually describing its full tenants is quite difficult as it varied from region to region.  But the basic tenants, for our purposes is that nations believed that they should export more than import between existing countries.  They all believed that do trade with other kingdoms would result in a loss of treasure.  Therefore, to rectify this and to ensure job creation, a stable tax base, and a steady flow of raw materials nations came to realize that if they could capture large vast “pagan” people, Christianize them they could be reduced to not only slavery but would be captive commercial markets for the finished goods sent back to conquered territory by French, English or Spanish workers in the “mother” native country.  Mercantilism predicated that one could be both a slave to work and to consumption.  Ghandi’s message to Indians subjugated under British rule in 1930 was to march to the Sea and to make: Salt! In short, mercantilism helped to drive European exploration, and necessitated the entrapment of indigenous populations to a form of hegemonic consumption.  The eradication of the First Nation’s Potlatch system in Canada by the French and English is an example of  predatory vampiric economics.

In order to move raw materials from its newly captured territories it would require massive amounts of labor.   Getting the necessary labor to cooperate would be a Europe’s  and later America’s only real contribution to world economic history.   The reality was however, another issue.  Governments could entice people to leave the security of home for lands unknown or persuade the local indigenous population to work for or against their own interests.   The first resulted in Indentured Servitude circa 1620.   This proved unworkable, especially when news of the wretched conditions that awaited them in the New World spread throughout Europe.  Eventually a booming European economy and the horrors of British indentured servitude dried the pool of the willing labor.   (Indentured servitude did not completely end during the Revolutionary era. There is much debate on this subject. But for our purposes can say that slavery replaced indentured servitude as a dominant labor system in much of the Americas, the United States included).

Aside from a few marginal religious groups, enticing the required amount of European labor necessary for European plantations and fields would prove unworkable and was abandoned for Native American and African slavery.  In order to make overseas expansion profitable indigenous labor would have to be institutionalized and scaled to make the movement of raw materials in the Americas profitable.  To achieve this institutionalized forms of physical and psychological torture were necessary to ensure cooperation from both enslaved and non-slave owner alike. Economies built on mass production necessitated the subordination of labor to the demands temporally, spatially and eventually to the whim of consumer demands.

How was the racial debasement of Black people in general (Native American genocide followed an almost parallel trajectory) intertwined with slavery?   In order to answer this question we must turn to John Haller’s, Outcasts From Evolution (1971).   Haller’s argument points us in the direction of the developments of modern science in the 18th century.   As European ships spanned out into the oceans in search of wealth they found not only a vast treasure of natural resources, animals, plants and mineral wealth (gold, silver, etc.) they also discovered within the human species a wider variety of skin colors, languages, and religions as previously unknown to them.   They were well aware of some Africans and “Arabs,” and through the adventures of Marco Pollo had some knowledge of those living in the Far East.   From experience and by reading travel accounts of Moors of Al-Andalus, Europeans had some sense of the complexity of cultures but nothing to compare to what waited for them as they spanned over the oceans.

As Europeans marveled at the world’s complexity of cultures they sought to make sense of the unfolding world around them.  They began by using the services of Naturalists (a precursor to modern scientists) who had begun to develop systems to classify “newly” discovered animal and plant species.   By the mid 1700’s the Naturalists were well on their way to classifying the varieties of humans into a scientific taxonomic system. As Haller noted, the difficulty was in formulating a sound methodology.   This difficulty stemmed from the vast gradations of skin color and physical types that can and did exist within human groups that were being discovered.   Carl von Linnaeus (1707-1778) one of the first Naturalists developed the first taxonomic system based on skin color.   Linnaues’ Systema nature (1735) was a Eurocentric work that fixed four families of man to certain moral, intellectual and physical attributes.   He described Homo Americanus (Indian) as reddish, choleric, obstinate, contented and regulated by customs; Homo Asiaticus (Asians) as sallow, grave, dignified, avaricious and ruled by opinions; and Homo Afer as black, phlegmatic, cunning, lazy, lustful, careless and governed by caprice; and most equally important Linnaeus then classified Homo Europaeus as fickle, sanguine, blue-eyed, gentle and governed by laws, as white.  As Haller notes “These ‘insights’ into what Linnaeus divined as racial character, personality traits, behavior, intelligence, language, and a host of other related categories were transmitted into subsequent attempts at a science of classification and became more fixed than the races themselves.” None of Linnaeus’ classification system–obviously guided by a pride in all things European and Nordic–had any scientific or rational basis but the ideas stuck.    Degrading Africans (and Indigenous Americans) and attributing them to the bottom rungs of the Naturalists evolutionary ladder, fed the idea to the public that Africans and Indians were inherently created by God as lower creatures built for manual labor.  Beginning with Linnaeus generations of Americas and Europe’s finest academic minds would side with the thesis that those of the African race were inferior, physically and mentally.   It was well accepted by the American public well into the 1960s’ that black Americans were intellectual inferior to whites.   Ironically, by the 19th century this would be a driving concept of Northern Republicans in the education of blacks just liberated from slavery. Black industrial and agricultural colleges are a reminder of the degree to which this as a symbol and value system permeated Black America.

But how could one justify enslaving other humans to a system of labor as the Romans and other pagan people had done for their own pleasure or economic benefit?   Are they not the one’s that killed Christ?   Ironically, to solve this dilemma of conscious Europeans turned to Christianity.   Europeans asserted that the failure of Africans to hear God’s revelation in Christianity was the primary evidence that Africans were a debased and savage people.   In short, to whites divine revelation conscripted Africans to labor per la vita as an expendable labor supply.   Plantation slavery was then predicated on Blacks being placed on the lowest evolutionary rungs.   Whites then developed an ideology that the only redemption for blacks was to live as African Christians and hope to be saved by White Christianity.   The debasement and humiliation of Blacks could then be justified as the “White Man’s Burden” to civilize both Africans and darker skinned peoples of the world.   Slavery could then be justified as offering religion and enslavement as redeeming institutions for Africans and Native peoples.   Much of the mythology revolving around the so-called Curse of Ham, a fable that cursed the sons of Ham (allegedly Africans and Arabs, & other dark skinned people) was often cited by Europeans and Americans as religious justification for slavery. After the demise of slavery this philosophy was re-tooled into a campaign of “free” markets and democracy for all. Much of the resistance in the 20th century to American overseas foreign policy is directly related to this antiquated 19th century hegemonic philosophy.

So let us take a look at how slavery contributed to what historian Winthrop Jordan called White Over Black. Hugh Thomas author of The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440 – 1870 (1997) an impressive and exhaustive study of the slave trade supports Drake’s argument that development and sustainment of the U.S. & Western European mercantile and later capitalist economies was predicated on the growth of plantation slavery.   Thomas wrote, “By century’s end (1700’s) the slave trade ”seemed an essential part of the economies of all advanced countries.” Without labor there would be no men and women to search for gold, silver or other minerals. The demand for labor was unquenchable, as the demand for products in European households exploded—Native American workers were needed for Peruvian and Mexican mines; Natives and Africans for Caribbean and Brazilian sugar and coffee plantations, and ultimately for North American rice, tobacco, and cotton fields. Thomas noted that Europeans transported 750,000 African slaves to the Americas in just one decade. Simply stated: American and Western European economies were underpinned by bedrock of Red and later Black slavery.

Black Africans were necessary to pick, cut, chop, make, build or dig out natural resources that would in turn be used to create commodities to be sold to European and later American households.   The vast amounts of raw materials enabled, through economies of scale, European men and their nations to increase and spread their wealth beyond what had previously been known in human history.   Europeans and Americans at every social and class level benefited materially from forced Black labor.  In Europe, no matter who you were, where you lived, or your occupation you benefited directly or indirectly from the extinction of Native Americans and the exploitation and near extinction of Black slaves in the Americas. For example as one historian noted, three quarters of sugar and coffee produced in the American colonies and sent to France was re-exported to other countries in Europe. Roughly one million of the 25 million inhabitants of France depended directly on the colonial trade. In the mid 1700’s roughly £21 million British pounds worth of goods were illegally smuggled by future Founding Fathers per year to support French and Spanish slave plantations in the Caribbean. (Much of the crisis between the British Crown and American colonists was due to smuggling activity by many of the Founding Fathers, i.e. Alexander Hamilton). The results? According to Thomas, as a direct result of American & European slavery Africans perished by the millions.

As more slaves came into the Americas its plantation system was transformed into what Laurence Thomas called “Vessels of Evil” on par with the Shoah (Vessels of Evil: American Slavery and the Holocaust, 1993).   In real time, the pseudo science of the Naturalists gave colonial societies, awash in cruelty, the mythology necessary to be able to live with the day to day cruelty, violence and crushing guilt necessary to physically force Black Africans to labor against their will.   The slave ship and the plantation were instruments of torture used to break Africans and to reduce them to what Orlando Patterson called natally alienated creatures.  Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (1982) shows us that slavery was a parasitic relationship between master and slave which necessitated turning of former members of their societies into natally alienated, socially dead, marginalized persons for which manumission or death was the only escape. Today, we Americans have pushed so far down into our unconscious the horrors of slavery in order to be able to live with the blood and deprivation that is the foundation of our collective American heritage. The Civil War is a testament to my argument.

Thus, Africans were re-made into Blacks. This is exactly the point where we begin to see how forms of domination fermented into White Racism. “Seasoning” was a term used to describe the process used by plantation owners and overseers to break Africans, turn them into slaves, and to keep order within the plantation. The seasoning process necessitated that Africans were subjected to dehumanizing and degrading conditions, brutal punishment, negative signs, symbols to such a degree as to render herself unable to organize an effective resistance to their material conditions.   In the American colonies and later the United States, Black slaves, men, women, children the elderly, suffered from leprosy, malnutrition, intestinal worms, poor and rotted teeth, mental and other physical ailments. Whippings were used as torture; hot peppers, lemons or ashes were rubbed into wounds. Wounds were burned over open flames to inflict more pain. Male slaves were castrated regularly as a form of punishment. One man wrote in 1730’s about the practice of placing gunpowder in the anus of slaves and lighting it.   Women’s “private parts” were burned with hot coals.   Some were boiled alive with cane juice.   Others were forced to dig their own graves and then buried alive in them.   Historian Kenneth Kipple estimated in his work, The Caribbean Slave: A Biological History (2002) that at least 5 million Africans may have died in these seasoning camps. The reversal of this psychological trauma inflicted on people of African descent would be the life’s work of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey and later Malcolm X.   Two significant works that reveal the damage caused by this trauma to the psyche are William H. Griers’ & Price M. Cobbs’ Black Rage (1968) and Stanley Elkins’ Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1976).   Criticism withstanding Elkin’s crude portrayal of seasoned Black slaves as docile, irresponsible, and perpetual children he outlined what I believe is real psychological damage inflicted upon Blacks during American slavery.   Elkin’s main argument was poignant: “Basically, slavery in the United States was much worse than slavery in other countries and had a much more severe effect on the slaves. American slavery was comparable in many ways to a concentration camp. It took away personal initiative from slaves and destroyed their personalities.”   Critics pointed to the cruelty of plantation slavery in the Caribbean and elsewhere but failed to grasp the significance of Elkins thesis.   Racism worked to ensure that Blacks would be incapable of conducting themselves as equal citizens in a modern industrial and technologically advancing world. When placed against Cobbs’ and Grier’s (two African American psychiatrists), work Elkins Slavery gets much needed revival.  Writing at the height of Civil Rights demonstrations and racial tensions in America Cobb and Grier argued that many of the ailments that afflict Black America were directly attributed to slavery.  Cobbs and Grier wrote, “History is forgotten. There is little record of the first Africans brought to this country. They were stripped of everything. A calculated cruelty was begun, designed to crush their spirit.”                                                   

In another work, The Redemption of African and Black Religion (1970), St. Clair Drake illustrated that the slave master’s socialization process transformed the African tribesman, deeply rooted in his society and with all the rights and privileges of his society into a “worthless Black” or “Heathen N_____.” The objective was to degrade the individual to break any feelings or sentiments of self worth.   Dependency and fear were necessity to maintain and increase economic production. In North America where absentee landlordism (where plantation were seldom visited by their owners) were of less of a formal system than in the Caribbean, a fierce system of degradation was necessary to allow for close living between master, slave and the free population. To grasp the desperation of Slaves on these plantations all one has to do is hear the lamentations of Negro Spirituals:

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.

There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.

One of these mornings bright and fair,

I’m gonna lay down my heavy load.

Gonna kick my wings and cleave the air,

I’m gonna lay down my heavy load.

 

The final installment of Behind the Veil is forthcoming.

Standard
Uncategorized

Behind the Veil: White Racism, White Privilege, and Americas Long Road Ahead. (Part II)

 In my first article, Behind the Veil: White Racism, White Privilege and America’s Long Road Ahead (Part 1), I presented a plan of discourse to illustrate the leading scholarship on how and why racism came to be the sine qua non of American life. Here in Part 2 I will present the first works of scholarship I believe reveal valuable insights on how racism came into its present form and why it remains imbedded in our culture. Moreover, why it continues to burden African Americans and other minorities and remains an enigma to Whites.

 Due to word limits my inquiry will not be as comprehensive as I would prefer nor will every book merit equal consideration, but I do hope to give the reader the best in critical thinking on the subject so that they may have greater insight to think more critically and personally about these issues. How many of us really understand the degree to which racism plays a role in shaping personal outcomes for yourself, for others inside or outside of your racial group? Perhaps we simply believe that all of our personal gains are a result of our or others “hard work.” Our value system pushes us to think of racism always in the negative and this takes us away from asking other more critical questions. From my perspective, a singularly overlooked question would be: have you or anyone you know been a direct beneficiary of racism? How often do you hear this question? How often do you think about it? How many would be willing to accept the notion that many of the real benefits that we Americans hold dear have been made available simply by denying others access to these same benefits? In the United States we value, as a uniquely American mythology–individual opportunity and free will. But how many of us would be willing to accept that underneath the rhetoric of an American meritocracy benefits such as jobs, housing, education, and health security may be attributed more to keeping members of other groups from achieving the same goals than through any personal merit of your own. Sure you may have attended a really well equipped high school, done well in college prep courses, gone to college, worked hard and are working to give you and your family a decent life. But with every positive admission’s letter or new employment opportunity there may be, more often than not, racism associated with those same benefits.

 To grasp the complexity of racism in the United States is to begin to understand how institutions and ideologies were interconnected through overseas European expansion beginning in the 15th century and later taken over by Americans as they forged ahead with African slavery as a principle labor supply in the 18th century. Our initial inquiry will be to deconstruct the nascent rise of racism and how it evolved into its present form. For this we will turn to St. Clair Drake’s Black Folk, Here and There (BFH&T). BFH&T is a tour de force, a work of such enduring insight that it is hard to fathom why this work remains one of the most under-appreciated and ignored works of scholarship. Perhaps this oversight can be attributed to BFH&T’s scathing indictment developers and inheritors of western civilization that seek justification of continued control through oppressive systems of racial domination. BFH&T directly challenges the idea of American and western European mythologies of meritocracy, and exposes the roots of racism that continuously seeks to retard the economic, social, cultural and spiritual life of non-whites. Indeed these are challenging and bold assumptions offered in BFH&T.   These assumptions, fully understood in their spatial and temporal amplitude would reveal the unprecedented growth and sustainment of a particular type of racist ideology that defies both history and reason.

 In 1977, Drake began BFH&T (initially titled “Coping and Co-optation”) and upon completion it was selected for publication by the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies of the University of California at Los Angeles. As a graduate student I was introduced to Drake’s work by Robert Hill, then a professor in the history and African American studies departments at UCLA and the foremost expert on Marcus Garvey.  Professor Hill’s mentorship was invaluable to my understanding of Drake & Garvey and the Black Experience throughout the Americas. Drakes initial idea was to carry out “an analysis of the values and symbols that have emerged within Black communities in the Diaspora and to relate them to the ‘coping’ processes at various periods in history and in diverse places where ecological and economic contexts present quite the different options.” At the outset Drakes’ concern was to show how blacks managed to create the variety of cultures in direct response to having been torn from Africa and subjected to the brutal conditions of slavery. For example, “Negro Spirituals” and “Reggae” are twin cultural coping mechanisms that came out of the savagery of American & Caribbean plantation slavery. BFH&T evolved into a synthesis of secondary literature to highlight the origins, growth and spread of racism throughout the world and its varietal effects on black people globally.

BFH&T really began to take form when Drake’s initial research agenda led him directly to a capacious and alarming amount of work produced in the 1970’s that attributed the America’s racial problems, not to slavery, economics, power, culture or society in general but directly to black skin color.   Quite naturally, this alarmed Drake. This large and growing amount of research was attributing America’s race problem to the fact the blacks are dark skinned or simply stated–black in color.   First, this post-civil rights literature shifted anti-racist arguments for the origins of racism from anthropological and sociological organization back to 19th century psychological explanations. This was a regressive thinking and supported previous historical literature that pointed to innate mental inferiority of blacks. Two of the most important of these works was Kenneth Gergen’s Significance of Skin Color in Human Relations (1965) and Carl Degler’s (Pulitzer Prize winner) Neither Black nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (1971).   Both Gergen and Degler asserted that interracial relations reflected the western symbolism of Black skin color to always being contrasted negatively to white skin color for all people and at all times in human history. This would include Blacks derogating blackness as well! To restate: the Gergen-Degler hypothesis argued that there is a “universal” (i.e. psychological) dislike of “darkness” or “Blackness” and “also that invidious distinctions are made everywhere between light and dark people.” According to Gergen, people have always and will continue to prefer those that have the same facial and color distinctions (somatic-norm image) as themselves and all groups will prefer those with white or whiter skin color.

 According to Gergen, psychologically (Freudian) all groups, including blacks, have within their folk cultures associated negative connotations with blackness and positive connotations with whiteness (i.e. Angel Food & Devils Food cakes, shining White Knight, monsters and darkness, the Black Bart, etc.).  Drake’s work in volume one of BFH&T was to examine the validity of the Gergen-Degler skin color hypothesis. In doing so he uncovered what he called the foundations of White Racism. BFH&T traced the first forms of racism that began to appear in the western world during the time of European exploration and expansion (1418-1957). A form of racism known as White Racism–is shown by Drake to be the single greatest factor that limited and continues to limit the life chances of Blacks and other people of color in the modern world.

 If Gergen and Degler were correct in their assumption that white is always preferred over black (modern Manichaeism) one would expect to see the continued durability of racism and no end to the Donald Sterling’s of the world. What would a world look like for African Americans if we accepted the Gergen hypothesis? What kind of psychological trauma could we expect from those that are born in Gergen’s world? Born into a world that has, according to Gergen, historically always associated negative connotations to one’s skin color. These and other questions became the challenge laid before Drake in 1977.

 Drake’s research approach included systematically examining the lives of Blacks (temporally and spatially) that lived in various geographic regions and at various times throughout human history. Drake asserts that throughout the ancient world some forms of color prejudice appeared to have existed several hundred years before European expansion. However, this color prejudice was not accompanied by any systematic doctrine of racial inferiority or superiority (i.e. racism) as it would later under the rubric of White Racism.  Drake noted that at various times and places Blacks were held in high regard and often achieved positions of prestige and authority within their particular societies (European or other).  Remember, this would not be possible in Gergen’s world where all people dislike Black color.  Proponents of Black skin derogation and innate inferiority would have a hard time explaining the numbers of Blacks that were held in high esteem by Whites in Europe and in other significant geographical locations and at various times. For example, how do we account for: Simon of Cyrene, the large number of Black Egyptian Pharaohs & Gods (i.e., Osiris, Isis,), Black Christian saints such as St. Maurice, St. Catherine, & St. Clement; Black European royalty: i.e., Charles the V, Otto King of Saxony, Emperor Manuel I, John VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium, Giovanni Moro (Johannes dictus Morus, Governor of Sicily); General Thomas Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (Thomas Alexander Dumas father of Alexander Dumas and peer to Napoleon), Ulrich von Hutten and the vast amount of inter-racial marriages-including Queen of England Philippa of Hainaut (1314-1369) married to King Edward III and Queen of Great Britain and Ireland Sophia Charlotte of Meclenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) married to Britain’s King George III? And lastly, but most troublesome, are the sheer plethora of various Black Madonna introduced to Catholic Europe from the 12th through the 15th centuries and still continuously worshipped Catholic countries today. To get a greater sense of how blacks have been written out of European history see the marvelous work on blacks in Western art: http://www.imageoftheblack.com/volumes.html.

The absence of historical memory of Black life in European society and culture is a direct result of White Racism acting voraciously to wipe out any vestiges of Black European veneration. Drake’s work remains an important anti-racist tome in that it refutes the ideology that racism is keyed deep into human psychology or unconsciousness, as Degler, Gergen and other 1970s anthropometric writers would have had us believe. What is important is Drake’s inability to find White Racism’s existence in any other epoch reflects a historical sea change in White attitudes toward Black people. According to Drake, White Racism is a reflection of the systems, institutions and ideologies that make up western society, i.e. Europe and the United States developed in order to create the conditions necessary for African slavery and Native American genocide. Empirical evidence suggests that White Racism was unknown in the ancient world and through much of the Middle Ages. So how and when did this occur?  Part three forthcoming.

Standard
Uncategorized

Behind the Veil: White Racism, White Privilege, and America’s Long Road Ahead (Part I)

I had hoped in my inaugural launch of niyabinghiblues to devote the bulk of my time writing on more pressing theological concerns rather than delving into the much discussed topic of race & racism. From my point of view what more can be said about that topic? But in light of the racial diatribes by Los Angeles Clipper owner Donald Sterling, Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy and “plantation mistress” Paula Deen I began to wonder why, in-spite of our collective anti-racist efforts, so many white Americans still cling the view that blacks are and should remain unequal members of society?   Steve Nash, a highly respected athlete and potential NBA Hall of Famer, said it best by asking why racist ideologies like those of Sterling still remain inviolable in certain segments of our community?

The question posed by Nash gives us a platform to dialogue on racism’s saliency and why racism seeks and finds expression in a myriad of ways each no less astonishing and hurtful to Americas “majority minority” population.  Deen, Sterling and Bundy and many others believe deeply that blacks are social pariahs and better off earning their keep as plantation slaves.  The effects of this racist ideology confirm what many feel in the African American community, that the Civil Rights mission to fully integrate the bulk of black Americans has been a dismal failure.  What accounts for this phenomenon? In a series of essays to follow I will present what I believe to be the most poignant and ignored research on the topic.  Poignant because it gets to the heart of racisms ubiquity in the white community, and ignored because it nakedly exposes the rotted core of American racial ideology.

Inter-racial dialogue on racism, I argue, has failed to adequately address racism because it fails to take into account the full breadth of scholarship in the social sciences (experimental psychology, theology, history, and anthropology) to illuminate a much deeper and complex structure to white racism. The failure to do so, I argue, continues to lay waste our collective efforts to rid America of this pattern of racism.  I will present a broad scope of cross-disciplinary research (transdiciplinarity) so that we may attempt to positively push forward the stagnated dialogue on the subject. Ultimately, I believe that we must use relevant scholarship within the social sciences to explore racism, its effects on subject populations, and then construct theological based mythologies to combat and finally put an end to this American scourge.  The power to do so is within all of us, black, white, no matter.

The ideology of an American multi-cultural meritocracy, if not already, should be laid to rest.   Egregious acts of racism in America are so regular they appear universally accepted by all classes within the white community.  Whether it’s septuagenarians like Sterling, racist “tweets” against Joel Ward’s 2012 NHL playoff goal, or NFL WR Riley Cooper’s indignation at “niggers.”   It would appear, efforts to racially equalize American society, finds its greatest resistance within the white community.  We should consider why racism continues to be durable even with the consistent dedication of educational institutions and the efforts of good citizens of every color in combating racism?  Rather, racism and the resistance of many whites to multiculturalism have defied efforts to remake the United States into the racial utopia envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We Americans are seemingly unable to come to terms with what should be self-evident, that we have failed in King’s efforts to create a color-blind society.

Without a doubt we no longer live in a society where Klan rallies, cross burnings, rapes, and lynchings are a mainstay of life for blacks as they were just 60 years ago. Some will point out, justifiably, that African Americans have made enormous progress in American society. For example, there are more black millionaires, blacks in the middle class, and a higher percentage of black high school graduates than any other time in America history. No longer are African American women raped indiscriminately; black neighborhoods, churches and schools burned, nor are black men taken from their wives and murdered in front of their children.   Local, State and Federal agencies no longer act as a unified chorus in sanctioning ritualized acts of barbarity as they had after the Civil War.  However, this ignores the mountain of evidence suggesting that for the masses of African Americans little of life has changed since Reconstruction. In a nation where concentrated wealth would shame Caesar Augustus, Black poverty is persistent at 28.1%; 33% of black children (3.6 million) live below the poverty level; only 16% of blacks hold bachelors degrees compared to 37% of whites and 51% Asian Americans; In the 10 most populated states, rates of child poverty among black children range from 29% in California and Florida to 47% in Ohio; incarceration rates by race should cause the most hardened criminalist embarrassment and self-reflection.

Law professor Michelle Alexander has illuminated the state of black males and prison in her work The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012). This should be required reading for every American citizen. Yet, a more chilling assessment of our prison system was offered in a 2007 report from the Center on Media, Crime and Justice: Unlocking America – Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population.  The report summarizes and demonstrates that incarcerating large numbers of people, in particular people of color, has little impact on crime and is not cost effective.  According to the report, prison policy has exacerbated the festering national problem of social and racial inequality. Incarceration rates for blacks and Latinos are now more than six times higher than for whites; 60% of America’s prison population is either African- American or Latino. A shocking eight percent of black men of working age are now behind bars, and 21% of those between the ages of 25 and 44 have served a sentence at some point in their lives. At current rates, one-third of all black males, one- sixth of Latino males, and one in 17 white males will go to prison during their lives. Incarceration rates this high are a national tragedy.

And there is no end to the growth of prisons under current policies. In 1972 there were roughly 200,000 prisoners, by 2012 roughly 1,571,013.   Elites within political, police, and judicial institutions, dominated by white males, sought to incarcerate low level, non-violent drug offenders by appealing for support from traditional black allies: poor and working class whites. The net result, of white Americas War on Drugs, was the creation of prison culture in the black and brown communities, an armed police state within the white community (Stand Your Ground and Open Carry Laws) and the loss of American claims to exceptionalism. The Sentencing Project has confirmed that sentencing policies since 1982, have resulted in the dramatic growth in the number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses from 41,000 in 1980 to half a million in 2011. Furthermore, harsh sentencing laws such as mandatory minimums keep drug offenders in prison for longer periods of time: in 1986, released drug offenders had spent an average of 22 months in federal prison. By 2004, federal drug offenders were expected to serve almost three times that length: 62 months in prison. Alexander has narrated the sinful irony of the political realignment gained by politicians in creating and supporting the prison industrial complex (PIC). Alexander wrote: President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising.  From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics.  The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action.  In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks.  The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” I will show in subsequent articles how the regulators of the PIC are the direct descendants of the Slave Powers that were violently expunged from power in the Antebellum South. I argue that the incarceration of black males was an all out war on the black family, specifically black males to ensure white male hegemony in America.  The facts are indisputable.

Anti-racists have failed to accept the idea that there is a durable and accepted ideology among white America that black life is of lesser value than white life. How would one explain the consistent parroting of white kids in black face, the hanging of President Obama in effigy on college and high school campuses or the harassment of Obama supporters after his election victory by young white males? The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported violence against Obama supporters in “Racist Backlash Greets President Barack Obama,” (2009). The SPLC documented assaults on Black citizens is no less chilling than the violence perpetrated on blacks during the Age of Jim Crow. Obama effigies were hung from trees at the University of Kentucky. In Snellville, Ga., a boy on a school bus told a 9-year-old girl that he hoped Obama would be assassinated. A dark-skinned doll labeled “Obama” was hung in a high-school stairwell east of Tacoma, Wash; five students were expelled. A University of Alabama professor reported that an Obama poster was ripped off her office door. When she put up another one, somebody wrote a death threat against Obama and a racial slur on it. A biracial student at a high school north of Pittsburgh complained that a teacher’s aide said to a student that Obama would be killed, that the American flag would be changed to the KFC chicken chain’s emblem, and the national anthem would become “Movin’ on Up” — the theme song of “The Jeffersons,” a sitcom about a black family. The aide also berated her for supporting Obama, the student said. How does anyone explain why so many (young) whites hold these views and feel free to express them openly? The typical explanation, offered is that white children are taught racism at home and receive media and consumer messages that blacks are intellectually & morally inferior and spiritually bankrupt.   Yet, intuitively this line of argument defies logic. I am not arguing that racism is not passed from one generation to the next or not perpetuated by the media. What I am saying is that there are enough competing positive racial images that should have rendered these negative images of blacks unworkable. Black movie stars, intellectuals, and athletes have been dominant for nearly 40 years providing clear refutation of stereotyped images. Yet, while Magic Johnson, is arguably one of Americas most beloved celebrities, Don Sterling and his peer group feel he barely warrants an admission ticket to a Clippers game. The long held belief of racisms inevitable demise is grossly premature.

The task ahead is fraught with peril and many will resist the idea that white privilege, and white hegemony exist at all. Coming in consciousness of ones own power, especially to acknowledge this privilege is to be open to the possibility that one’s own personal economic, political and social standing has been achieved not by the sweat of one’s brow but by the sweat and pain of loss by another. The possibility of unrecompensed material gain in an alleged meritocracy smacks at the face of Americas greatest article of faith: The Self Made Man. For some, the very nature of inter-racial dialogue would question the very core of American values and the very foundation these American institutions rest. This may explain, in part, why racism refuses obsolescence. In short, racism is a product so deeply woven into the fabric of American society that to end racism may be to end America as we know it. At best it will require the complete eradication of the institutions that have supported American exceptionalism since the founding.  But by doing so, by examining, questioning and discarding the very ideologies that supported the genocidal massacre of Native Americans and Africans might prove liberating and reveal a stronger, freer and more inclusive America.

Over the course of months I will provide a series of articles that will examine the construction of American ideologies of white racism, white privilege, and African American’s responses over the past four centuries of black life in America. These uniquely American ideologies work in concert to perpetuate white over black even while we sleep. The challenge is to rise above these ideologies to seek love rather than hate, brotherhood over antagonism and to work with white and other Americans to deconstruct racial privilege. As we move to a “majority minority” society our greatest necessity and challenge in the 21st century will be to dismantle white privilege peacefully and without the chaos and loss of life America experienced from 1861-65.

Standard