Gilded Age: Heyday of Laissez-Faire Capitalism

From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican
Liberty in the Nineteenth Century
Alex Gourevitch
Introduction, pp. 3-

On November 26, the Journal printed a letter describing the Knights’ defiance of the “many companies of State militia, with their Gattling [sic] guns,” who were attempting to force the striking workers back to the fields. Little did the Journal’s editors know that by the time they had printed that letter the Louisiana state militia had broken the strike and corralled thousands of strikers into the town of Thibodaux, where a state district judge promptly placed them all under martial law. State militia then withdrew, intentionally leaving the town to a group of white citizen-vigilantes called the “Peace and Order Committee,” who happened to have been organized by the same judge that declared martial law. Upon meeting resistance from the penned in strikers, the white vigilantes unleashed a three-day torrent of killing, from November 21 to November 23, on the unarmed cane-workers and their families. “No credible official count of the victims of the Thibodaux massacre was ever made,” writes one historian, but “bodies continued to turn up in shallow graves outside of town for weeks to come.” 12 Precise body counts were beside the point. The question of who ruled town and country, plantation and courthouse, had been answered. As a mother of two white vigilantes put it, “I think this will settle the question of who is to rule[,] the nigger or the white man? For the next 50 years . . .” 13 A few months later, the Knights continued to organize in parts of Louisiana and elsewhere in the South, but the slaughter at Thibodaux put strict limits on the black worker’s struggle for economic independence and equal rights in the South. Farming a plantation “on the co-operative plan” was not even a dream deferred; it was easy to forget it had ever been a possible world the cane cutters might live in. The Knights, meanwhile, were soon reduced to an historical footnote.

The officially sanctioned mob violence at Thibodaux was one of many over the course of Southern history. In each case, a challenge to race-based class rule was met with vigilante justice in the name of white supremacy. In this case, however, it is worth noting that the Knights articulated their challenge in a specific, not well-remembered, language of freedom. From the abolition of slavery to the end of Reconstruction, many freed slaves sought more than legal recognition as equal citizens. They felt their liberation included the right not to have a master at all. They refused to work for former masters, even when offered a formal labor contract and wages. 14 Instead, when possible, they seized or settled land set aside for them and worked it individually or in joint “labor companies.” 15 Former slaves asserted their independence at all levels by organizing their own militias to protect their rights, by working their own property, by voting as they wished, and by holding local and national office. This radical moment of Reconstruction was quickly suppressed and the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877 spelled the end of any but the narrowest interpretation of what emancipation would mean. 16

When the Knights of Labor swept into Louisiana a decade later, they not only revived old hopes about self-organization and economic independence. They also integrated these regional aspirations of former slaves into a recast national ideology of republican freedom. The aforementioned hopeful parenthesis – “by January 1 we will be in good trim to lease ( on the co-operative plan) a good plantation” – speaks to this ideological shift. No doubt black laborers and local leaders heard echoes of the short-lived Reconstruction-era “labor companies” and black militias in this new language of self-directed “co-operative plans.” Their enemies certainly did. The Thibodaux Sentinel, a racist local paper hostile to the Knights’ organizing efforts, warned “against black self organization by trying to remind whites and blacks of what happened a generation earlier, in the days of black militias, and white vigilantism” and evoked “the old demons of violence and arson by ‘black banditti.’” 17 But former slaves were now also modern workers, and the Knights trumpeted the same emancipatory language throughout the nation, heralding “co-operation” as a solution to the problems facing wage-laborers everywhere. If their message carried special historical resonances in the South, the Knights added a new universalizing and solidaristic note.

This program of liberation through cooperative self-organization, articulated in the transracial language of making all workers into their own employers, scared northern industrialists just as much as Southern planters. In fact, if we see the Thibodaux massacre as just a Southern race story, then we run the risk of unintentionally and retrospectively ceding too much to the plantocracy and its attempts to control labor relations by transforming economic conflicts into questions of racial superiority. After all, wherever the Knights went and wherever their message of cooperation and independence took hold, they were met with violence not all that different from that of Southern vigilantes. Throughout the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s, the Knights faced private violence from employers and their hired guns, most notoriously the Pinkertons. The Pinkertons operated in legal grey zones, sometimes with outright legal sanction from the courts, and often in cooperation with National Guards or even Federal troops. In fact, on occasion it was the public violence of the state that was responsible for spectacular acts of legally sanctioned murder and coercion. 18 Labor reformers labeled this unholy alliance of the state with the “Pinkerton Armed Force,” its spies and “provocative agents,” as a kind of “Bonapartism in America,” threatening to turn “the free and independent Republic of the United States of America” into the “worm-eaten Empire of Napoleon the Third.” 19 Just as in Thibodaux, the lines between vigilante violence and legal coercion sometimes blurred into indistinction. What, then, was the idea of freedom that triggered such extreme responses?

The Knights of Labor represented the culmination of a radical, labor republican tradition. Their starting premise was that “there is an inevitable and irresistible conflict between the wage-system of labor and the republican system of government.” 20 Wage-labor was considered a form of dependent labor, different from chattel slavery, but still based on relations of mastery and subjection. Dependent labor was inconsistent with the economic independence that every republican citizen deserved. That is why, in the name of republican liberty, these Knights sought “to abolish as rapidly as possible, the wage system, substituting co-operation therefore.” 21 Here was the source of their “co-operative plan,” which they found as applicable to the cane fields of Louisiana as to the shoe factories of Massachusetts. 22 The Knights wrote the cooperative program into their official constitution, the Declaration of Principles of the Knights of Labor, and, at their peak, organized thousands of cooperatives across the country. 23 The cooperative ideal threatened Southern planters, Northern industrialists and Western railroad owners alike because it struck at the dominant industrial relations between employer and employee. Affording all workers shared ownership and management of an enterprise, whether a sugar plantation, newspaper press, or garment factory, was – according to the Knights – the only way to secure to everyone their social and economic independence. The abolition of slavery two decades earlier was but the first step in a broader project of eliminating all relations of mastery and subjection in economic life. Although these ideas had been around well before the Civil War, it was only the abolition of chattel slavery and the rise of industrial capitalism that allowed the republican critique of wage-labor to come forward as a unifying, national cause. As Ira Steward, a child of abolitionists and prominent post-war labor republican, wrote in 1873, “something of slavery still remains . . . something of freedom is yet to come.” 24

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Rates of Young Sluts

There is nothing that gets the political right as excited as the sexual activity of the youth. They stay up late at night obsessing over all the teenagers having sex and worrying about how it is destroying our country. It’s almost as bad as Islamic terrorists or Obama, same difference.

I came across A few graphs about teen pregnancy and sex by Ampersand, over at the ALAS! A BLOG. This particular graph caught my attention:

age-of-having-sex-graph

I was born in 1975, the great and wondrous GenX. My generation, of course, was the most slutty as teenagers. I didn’t personally contribute to most of those numbers, but it is nice to know that my peers were getting it on at such inspiring rates. At age 14, one in ten of my cohorts had or at least claimed to have had sex.

Since that low point in American sexual depravity, the average age of early sexuality has been going up and up. It’s just like the violent crime rate, that also grew with my generation and then reversed course. It probably is another side effect of all that lead pollution that fucked with the young tender brains of my generation.

Anyway, it turns out kids these days aren’t so slutty. That is interesting as the kids these days are largely the children of those earlier slutty GenXers. But just going by the graph, leaving out the even lower teen sex rate of GenZ, there isn’t a massive difference between the teen sex rates of Millennials and that of Boomers and Silents. My parents were born in the 1940s, when even at that time at least half of my parents’ peers were having sex at some point during their teenage years.

My parents would be shocked by such data. They would deny having done any premarital hanky panky, and I have no reason to doubt it. But Jeez! their generation wasn’t all that different in rates of youthful sluttiness. The youngest generation right now isn’t particularly slutty or not necessarily any more slutty than those old people were at the same age.

Not only are the young’uns having less sex (with lower rates of pregnancies, abortions, and STDs), but also partaking in less alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Kids are becoming boring prudes.

Early Cold War Liberalism

Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession [Brown v. Board of Education] would ever have been made if it had not been for the competition of the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating herself and therefore had, for political reasons to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters.
~ James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (from Corey Robin)

The following two passages are from quite different writings. But both describe the early Cold War atmosphere. It is strange to read about that long ago time. I only have a childhood’s glimpse of the ending of the Cold War. The generation following mine has no living memory at all of that era.

The first passage below is from Lillian Smith’s Killers of the Dream. She wrote the book in the late 1940s, but the foreword wasn’t written until later and published in the second edition in 1961. The Cuban Revolution had just happened and there now was a Communist government at America’s doorstep. That worried her.

This was a Cold War wake up call for Americans, from conservatives to liberals, Lillian being the latter. Communism was no longer a distant political system to be debated as abstract theory. Four years after she wrote in distress about Communist influence, the 1965 Civil Rights Act was passed. The Cold War forced the hand of the political elite, for fear of what would happen if the Civil Rights Movement became further radicalized.

The second passage is from John Hartley’s introductory essay (“Before Ongism”) to a work by Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (from the 30th Anniversary Edition). Hartley puts Ong’s academic work into perspective. Ong was beginning his academic career just as the Cold War started, following the Second World War. That was a new era for America, then a rising global power.

In the 1940s, the CIA was formed and the FBI took on a greater role in national security.The Cold War was seen as a potential total war and one of the emerging weapons was propaganda, media manipulation, and an oppressive variety of culture war. In the 1950s, Americans fell under influence of domestic covert operations like that of CIA’s Operation Mockingbird and FBI’s COINTELPRO. Also, America came to be dominated by McCarthyism. The Civil Rights Movement, even as it was having legal successes, was increasingly targeted. It was seen as a breeding ground for Communists and radicals.

American universities were a battleground. Long before the protests of the 1960s, the CIA and FBI were focusing intently upon academia, both in looking for threatening activists and for potential recruits. The CIA was also interested in shaping academia and its influence. The CIA used its funds to promote particular artists, writers, and thinkers. Some professors were even spymasters.

This was the world that Walter J. Ong entered. There is no evidence that he knew about any of it, but it certainly shaped everything around him. The US government understood that ideas had power. Lillian Smith wasn’t part of that Cold War academic world, but she did have a 134 page FBI file. She was considered dangerous because she wielded ideas to promote change and all change was deemed dangerous to those in power.

The mid-twentieth century was a time when liberalism, both as a liberal ideology and liberal arts, was simultaneously striving and constrained. It was being carried along by far greater historical and political forces.

* * * *

Killers of the Dream
by Lillian Smith
Foreword (1961)
pp. 15-17

And its relevance for this hour we are living in astonishes me. For what was based on intuition, on a kind of prophetic guess, is now boldly actin itself out on a world-size stage. I had felt the curve of approaching events but I could only warn, I could not prove. And now here it is: the new African nations, the hatred of colonialism, and the Communists’ shrewd exploitation of this word so fatefully tied to “the white man” and to Western democracy—and to everyone’s future.

When I wrote those chapters I was afraid—I am more afraid, today—that we may not break our bondage to past errors in time to win the confidence of young nations who need our help. And whom we desperately need. I watched with a sense of horror—I am still watching—the hands of the Southern clock (and the American clock) move with the death-slowness while the world clock speeds along as if stuffed with the energy of a rocket.

And now, there is Cuba. Ninety miles away, a Communist government. How could it have happened! Why are we so blind to each disaster as it begins slowly, slowly, and then rushes toward us! Is it complacency? But what causes this kind of complacency, so unreal, so without substance? Why are we suppressing anxiety, denying danger? Why apathy—when we desperately need moral energy? Why flabby spirits when we need iron strength?

Colonialism was once a harsh exploitation of peoples; today, it is a symbol stalking the earth. And men live and die by their symbols. To Asia and Africa—and Cuba, yes—the word means shame and degradation, it means dehumanization, poverty, pain. And here, in this great country whose people love freedom and respect men as human beings, colonialism’s twin brother, segregation, not only lives but wields power, and earth-shaking decisions are made by its followers. But the new nations of Asia and Africa are making earth-shaking decisions, too; they have it within their power to do so not only in the United Nations, not only in secret sessions with Russia and China, but in the secret rooms of the people’s memory.

Why can we not see the pattern laid out so plainly before our eyes? Ghana . . . Mali . . . Guinea . . . Tanganyika . . . Kenya . . . Liberia . . . Nigeria . . . Mauritania . . . Republic of Chad . . . Republic of Niger . . . Angola . . . Southwest Africa . . . Nyasaland . . . Southern Rhodesia . . . Northern Rhodesia . . . Mozambique . . . Sudan . . . Somalia . . . Central African Republic . . . the Congo . . . Bechuanaland . . . South Africa . . . Malgasy . . . Basutoland . . . Swaziland . . . Gabon . . . Republic of Ivory Coast . . . Senegal . . . Ethiopia . . . and others and others. Mixed together, as I have jumbled them here, the free and the not yet free, they are Africa below the Desert, Africa in struggle with itself, Africa smeared by old bleeding memories, reaching out for a future called “Africa for the Africans” which may turn into mirage because of a too urgent hunger to become. Too urgent? Yes. For starvation can be exploited by unscrupulous leaders; it is easier to arouse hatred of others than love for one’s own freedom and future; it is easy, to, for these leaders in their difficulties to appeal to color just as southern demagogues did when the South was in chaos after the Civil War. We should not be surprised if we hear in African accents words about Black Supremacy, just as we still hear in southern accents words about White Supremacy. The fine concept of the human being may get lost in the shuffle and we may face  a black racism just as white racism is disappearing. this is possible although it would be tragic error.

But whatever wisdom or irresponsible ambition their leaders may show, these new nations need us: our financial and technical aid, our moral support, our acceptance of their citizens as human beings.

But we cannot give them support or acceptance, no matter how eloquently we may offer it, until we rid our own country of racism and its primitive rites of segregation. The President may try, the State Department, the USIA and Peace Corps may try, but no matter what they do or say, the offer of help and friendship will be without psychic and moral substance as long as we practice segregation here at home. And at the critical moment, many of these nations, too, will turn to communism, rejecting what they call “white democracy.”

Our President and his executive office can achieve much; and the State Department is not without the means to persuade; and the Peace Corps, with its young members’ person-to-person contacts which transcend governmental activities, will be of service in overcoming misconceptions and resentments. But to change our foreign relations wsith asia and Africa our symbols must change. For neither we nor they are animals: we live by our symbols as do they: we cannot change their feelings about us as long as we are acting out, symbolically, the concept of White Supremacy in schools and parks and movies and churches and buses and restaurants.

Why don’t we see this? Is there a tendency to blindness in those who overvalue their whiteness? Sometimes, I think so; even in those who cannot be called racists there is blindness. If we were not blocked off by our racial feelings would we not realize that segregationists, South and North, are our country’s dangerous enemies, even when unwittingly so? Would we not realize the threat they are to our survival as a strong free nation? For the sake of a mythic belief in the superiority of their “whiteness”—a strange mad obsession—they are willing to drag us to the edge of destruction because they have actually lost touch with reality. Think of the irony, the terrible absurdity of those racist U.S. Congressmen investigating everybody’s subversive acts but their own—when it is what they are doing by their blunt, stubborn refusal to give up segregation that is pushing us closer and closer to disaster.

* * * *

Orality and Literacy: 30th Anniversary Edition
by Walter J. Ong
“Before Ongism” by John Hartley
XVII-XVIII

Without wanting to overstate it (as American supremacism, for instance), there is a vein of political philosophy running through the literary-historical scholarship of mid-century America. The mood extended well beyond Harvard. Across the country, literary scholarship seemed determined to give substance to Walt Whitman’s post-Civil War vision for America’s “democratic vistas”; 13 a vision newly urgent in a post-World War II world. Richard Altick at Ohio ( The English Common Reader, 1957) and R. F. Jones at Stanford ( The Triumph of the English Language, 1953) come to mind. 14 Most notable, perhaps, was Yale, where American Studies was established in the same period, not least for political reasons. American Studies was:

an enterprise that would be, among other things, an instrument for ideological struggle in what some among them termed the American crusade in the Cold War, and what others among them saw as virtually a second civil war. (Holzman 1999: 71)

A leading figure in this enterprise was Norman Holmes Pearson, who, like Perry Miller at Harvard, was a secret agent for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) – precursor of the CIA – during World War II. Where Perry’s protégés at Harvard included the Jesuit priest Walter Ong, Pearson’s at Yale included James Jesus Angleton, who learnt there the craft of practical criticism of decontextualised documents. Angleton went on to apply it as chief of counter-intelligence at the CIA, where he remained for a generation (Holzman 2008). While at Yale, as Terence Hawkes has pointed out, Angleton was much influenced by the New Criticism, especially as practised by William Empson (1930), whose theory of the irreducible ambiguity of expression served Angleton well in his search for double meanings as evidence of Soviet “double agents,” within the CIA itself. His obsessive search for spies turned to domestic suspects during the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, among them the liberal and countercultural elite of American society, including Martin Luther King and Edward Kennedy. Hawkes draws the parallel between literary criticism and counter-intelligence:

When agents may be recognized as “turned”… they themselves become “texts” which demand complex analysis. A sensitivity to ambiguity then becomes a crucial weapon. The improbable but undeniable impact of modern literary criticism on practical politics has no better model, and Angleton later described his work in counterintelligence as “the practical criticism of ambiguity.” (Hawkes 2009)

Strangely, it seems, the study of rhetoric, of literary theory, and the practical criticism of arcane texts at Ivy-league colleges, intersected both personally and institutionally with the career of high-stakes political Americanism during the crucial period of its global ascendancy. As a Jesuit, presumably Ong was not involved in the counter-espionage shenanigans of active spy-masters like Perry, Pearson and Angleton, but he was brought to prominence in an intellectual environment where literary history, linguistic analysis and an expanded doctrine of the USA’s “manifest destiny” were brought into alignment.

Trump’s Populism, Something For Everyone

Yeah, Trump.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan claims in the title of a recent article that, America Is So in Play. She writes that, “Mr. Trump’s supporters aren’t just bucking a party, they’re bucking everything around, within and connected to it.” And that, “Something is going on, some tectonic plates are moving in interesting ways.”

On the subject of elites, I spoke to Scott Miller, co-founder of the Sawyer Miller political-consulting firm, who is now a corporate consultant. He worked on the Ross Perot campaign in 1992 and knows something about outside challenges. He views the key political fact of our time as this: “Over 80% of the American people, across the board, believe an elite group of political incumbents, plus big business, big media, big banks, big unions and big special interests—the whole Washington political class—have rigged the system for the wealthy and connected.” It is “a remarkable moment,” he said. More than half of the American people believe “something has changed, our democracy is not like it used to be, people feel they no longer have a voice.”

Mr. Miller added: “People who work for a living are thinking this thing is broken, and that economic inequality is the result of the elite rigging the system for themselves. We’re seeing something big.”

I would agree that there is something interesting going on and has been for some time.  Populism is in the air! From Occupy to the Tea Party.

This is why outsiders are making waves on both sides. Trump and Sanders even have overlap on some major issues: immigration reform to protect American jobs, campaign finance reform to eliminate bribery and corruption, tax reform with progressive taxation, etc. Trump is conservative on some issues, but on others he is more liberal than the Democratic Party establishment.

By the way, Trump said of the last four presidents that Bill Clinton was his favorite and has supported Hillary Clinton throughout her political career. About a decade ago, he stated that “Republicans are just too crazy right” and that “If you go back, it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans.” Near the end of Bush jr’s presidency, Trump strongly denounced him as “possibly the worst in the history of this country.” He thought it “would have been a wonderful thing” if Pelosi had impeached Bush for the 2003 Iraq invasion. He actually praised Saddam Hussein for killing terrorists. On the opposite side, he has strongly supported many of Obama’s policies and appointments. He has also changed his party affiliation at least four times in the last 16 years.

Both Trump and Sanders are populists with progressive tendencies. It’s good to keep in mind that in the past there was great ideological diversity in populist and progressive movements, including strong support from the political right and religious right. Populism and progressivism have no consistent history in terms of the mainstream left-right spectrum, although economic populism has often had a strong nativist strain.

Trump’s views are rather mixed. Some might say they are ideologically inconsistent. Certainly, he has flipped his views on many issues. He sure likes to keep it interesting.

  • for progressive taxation and higher taxes for hedge-fund managers
  • wanted to get rid of the national debt with a one time massive tax on the wealthy
  • not for cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security
  • praises single payer healthcare as working in other countries, but thinks it is past the point of implementation for the US
  • previously stated wanting guaranteed healthcare for the poor paid by an increase in corporate taxes
  • has used unionized labor for construction projects, but has criticized teacher unions
  • supports using eminent domain for private gain
  • no longer supports abortion rights, and yet sees no constitutional argument for banning it
  • has supported stricter gun laws, including bans of some guns
  • used to support amnesty, but obviously has changed his mind
  • favors trade protectionism and wouldn’t mind starting a trade war with China
  • talks about campaign finance reform and sees big money as essentially bribery
  • spoke out against the Iraq War, but says he is now for strong military responses
  • wants to neither raise nor get rid of minimum wage

It’s not just GOP insiders who dislike Trump. Libertarians, of course, don’t care much for him. But also strong critics of liberalism, from Glenn Beck to Jonah Goldberg, really can’t stand him.

You could say that Trump is just confused. But if so, the American public is also confused.

When you look at public polling, there is a wide range of views toward ideological labels, depending on the demographic. Many those who identify as conservative support liberal policies, especially in terms of economic populism. And during the Bush administration, many on the political left became patriotic war hawks in support of the War On Terror. Conservatism is a more popular label than liberalism, but progressivism is more popular than both, including among Republicans.

Most Americans have a more favorable view of capitalism than socialism, although the opposite is true in some demographics: those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year. Then again, more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than the Tea Party. Even a large percentage of Tea Partiers have a favorable view of socialism. Strangely, more Democrats than Republicans have a positive view of libertarianism and fewer Democrats than Republicans have a negative view.

Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism

Little Change in Public’s Response to ’Capitalism,’ ’Socialism’

‘Liberal’ unpopular, but newer ‘progressive’ label gets high marks in poll

“Socialism” Not So Negative, “Capitalism” Not So Positive

Just 53% Say Capitalism Better Than Socialism

Socialism Viewed Positively by 36% of Americans

Section 2: Occupy Wall Street and Inequality

Poll: 26% of tea partiers are okay with socialism

NEW POLL: 42 Percent of Americans Think Obama Has Expanded Presidential Power Too Much; 53 Percent Want the US Less Involved in Israel-Hamas Peace Talks

It is hard to know what any of that means.

People change their opinions depending on current events, framing of questions, and on the basis of who is asking. Polls have shown that Republican support for some of Obama’s policies increase when it is stated that Trump supports them. Democrat views changed depending on whether or not they early on saw video of the 9/11 attack or heard about it on the radio or in the newspaper. People are easily influenced by external conditions.

Anyway, here are various articles from across the political spectrum tackling Trump’s brand of populism:

Sanders and Trump: Two peas in a pod?

Republicans are way more likely to support single-payer when you tell them it’s Donald Trump’s idea – AMERICAblog News

Is Donald Trump still ‘for single-payer’ health care?

That Time When Donald Trump Praised Single Payer Health Care in a GOP Debate

Trump Calls Himself a ‘Conservative With a Heart’ Because of His Controversial Stance on This Issue

Trump On A Wealth Tax: ‘I Think That’s A Very Conservative Thing’

Trump More Progressive Than Democrats on Warren Buffett Problem

Donald Trump, Campaign Finance Reformer? | The Progressive

Donald Trump’s Nixonian populism: Making sense of his grab bag of nativism & welfare statism

Donald Trump Must Reckon With Rich Progressive History: Part II

The Surprisingly Strong Progressive Case For Donald Trump

Donald Trump names his favorite prez: Bill Clinton

Donald Trump Can’t Win. But He Can Build a Lasting Political Movement. Here’s How.

No, Donald Trump is not a “true conservative”

Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican — including on some big issues

Donald Trump’s Surprisingly Progressive Past

“Because they think they are white…”

Adaptation of James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew that appears at the beginning of “The Fire Next Time”
(from Abagond)

You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger. I tell you this because I love you, and please don’t you ever forget it.

They have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death. But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity.

Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear.

There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity.

By a terrible law, a terrible paradox, those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are loosing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers – your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.

“The very time I thought I was lost,
My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.”

We cannot be free until they are free.

“On Being White . . . and Other Lies”
James Baldwin

Just so does the white community, as a means of keeping itself white, elect, as they imagine, their political (!) representatives. No nation in the world, including England, is represented by so stunning a pantheon of the relentlessly mediocre. I will not name names— I will leave that to you.

But this cowardice, this necessity of justifying a totally false identity and of justifying what must be called a genocidal history, has placed everyone now living into the hands of the most ignorant and powerful people the world has ever seen. And how did they get that way? By deciding that they were white. By opting for safety instead of life. By persuading themselves that a black child’s life meant nothing compared with a white child’s life. By abandoning their children to the things white men could buy. By informing their children that black women, black men, and black children had no human integrity that those who call themselves white were bound to respect. And in this debasement and definition of black people, they debased and defined themselves.

And have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white. Because they think they are white, they do not dare confront the ravage and the lie of their history. Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all men are brothers. Because they think they are white, they are looking for, or bombing into existence, stable population, cheerful natives, and cheap labor. Because they think they are white, they believe, as even no child believes, in the dream of safety. Because they think they are white, however vociferous they may be and however multitudinous, they are as speechless as Lot’s wife— looking backward, changed into a pillar of salt.

However—! White being, absolutely, a moral choice (for there are no white people), the crisis of leadership for those of us whose identity has been forged, or branded, as black is nothing new. We— who were not black before we got here, either, who were defined as black by the slave trade— have paid for the crisis of leadership in the white community for a very long time and have resoundingly, even when we face the worst about ourselves, survived and triumphed over it. If we had not survived, and triumphed, there would not be a black American alive. And the fact that we are still here— even in suffering, darkness, danger, endlessly defined by those who do not dare define, or even confront, themselves— is the key to the crisis in white leadership. The past informs us of various kinds of people— criminals, adventurers, and saints, to say nothing, of course, of Popes— but it is the black condition, and only that, which informs us concerning white people. It is a terrible paradox, but those who believed that they could control and define black people divested themselves of the power to control and define themselves.

Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
pp. 146-151

We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.

But you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious. And you are here now, and you must live— and there is so much out there to live for, not just in someone else’s country, but in your own home. […]

This power, this black power, originates in a view of the American galaxy taken from a dark and essential planet. Black power is the dungeon-side view of Monticello— which is to say, the view taken in struggle. And black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers— lost in their great reverie— feel it, for it is Billie they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley they hum in love, and Dre they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here. We have taken the one-drop rules of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people. […]

The power is not divinity but a deep knowledge of how fragile everything— even the Dream, especially the Dream— really is. Sitting in that car I thought of Dr. Jones’s predictions of national doom. I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. I left The Mecca knowing that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves. […]

I do not believe that we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.