Conservative Arguments Recycled and Repackaged

All the arguments typically made against blacks were once made against various non-WASP ethnic groups. Those other white Americans had (and, in some cases, still do have) high rates of social problems, violent crime, and addiction/alcoholism. They also were involved in some of the largest riots in U.S. history.

In the North, the KKK spent more time attacking ethnic immigrants than attacking blacks. Poor whites, including those coming from the South, were often viewed as worse than poor blacks. Part of the reason was all these new whites immigrating from elsewhere were competing with the jobs of whites already in the industrialized North.

One of the differences, though, is that most white ethnic immigrants were eventually forced to assimilate, often against their will. Take the destruction of German culture in this country that was almost entirely erased in the era of the two world wars, even though German descendants were (and still are) the majority of citizens. Blacks, on the other hand, were disallowed from assimilating, even when they wanted to, and forced into isolated ghettos with few opportunities of escape. Their successful communities were destroyed (e.g., Black Wall Street) and sundown towns forced them to flee into the inner cities, including during the New Deal when most Americans were looking toward a bright future.

Racists, racialists, and other defenders of the status quo claim that blacks brought it onto themselves. But how did blacks bring onto themselves a systemic and institutional racism that lasted for centuries through the New Deal Era with Jim Crow?

They have no answer for that. All they can do is evade the question and ignore the evidence.

Even if all they cared about is whites, why do they care so little about the mistreatment of white ethnic immigrants and poor rural Southerners who were at times treated with great oppression?

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America
By Khalil Gibran Muhammad
pp. 6-7

“One of the strongest claims this book makes is that statistical comparisons between the Foreign-born and the Negro were foundational to the emergence of distinctive modern discourses on race and crime. For all the ways in which poor Irish immigrants of the mid-nineteenth century were labeled members of the dangerous classes, criminalized by Anglo -Saxon police, and over-incarcerated in the nation’s failing prisons, Progressive era social scientists used statistics and sociology to create a pathway for their redemption and rehabilitation. 27 A generation before the Chicago School of Sociology systematically destroyed the immigrant house of pathology built by social Darwinists and eugenicists, Progressive era social scientists were innovating environmental theories of crime and delinquency while using crime statistics to demonstrate the assimilability of the Irish, the Italian, and the Jew by explicit contrast to the Negro. 28 White progressives often discounted crime statistics or disregarded them altogether in favor of humanizing European immigrants, as in much of Jane Addams’s writings. 29 In one of the first academic textbooks on crime, Charles R. Henderson, a pioneering University of Chicago social scientist, declared that “the evil [of immigrant crime] is not so great as statistics carelessly interpreted might prove.” He explained that age and sex ratios— too many young males— skewed the data. But where the “Negro factor” is concerned, Henderson continued, “racial inheritance, physical and mental inferiority , barbarian and slave ancestry and culture ,” were among the “most serious factors in crime statistics.””

Poor rural Southerners who remain unassimilated are to this day treated according to a different variety of near-racist prejudice by the ruling whites of the South, two groups with different ethnic histories that have been in conflict for centuries. The same classism and ethnocentrism that keeps poor whites down is what also keeps poor blacks down. It is all about the feared ‘Other’, whether blacks and Hispanics or Scots-Irish rednecks and white trash.

By the way, the same sundown towns that expelled and excluded blacks did the same for ethnic whites (as described by James W. Loewen). These are the most WASPish towns in America. They lack both racial and ethnic diversity. The different threads of prejudice are tightly woven together.

Also, if the critics are so against affirmative action for blacks, then why don’t they equally criticize the affirmative action that was used against blacks?

When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America
By Ira Katznelson
from Preface

“From Robert Lieberman, we know how Social Security left out maids and farmworkers and how the landmark law of 1935 distinguished between social insurance for old age and more constricted , less centralized instruments of social assistance. From Jill Quadagno, we learn about the racial sources and implications of modern social policy. From Michael Brown, we discern the tight set of linkages that connected race and fiscal imperatives to the power of the southern wing of the Democratic Party when the modern American welfare state was shaped. From Suzanne Mettler, we are taught how even apparently universalistic public policies can divide categories of citizens from each other. From Neil Foley, we understand the impact of midcentury social policy on racial groups in the cotton culture South. From Lizabeth Cohen, we experience how, even in the North, the treatment of veterans after the Second World War was significantly differentiated by race. From Daniel Kryder, we comprehend the powerful impact race had on the nation during that global war. From Desmond King, we perceive the role that the federal government played from the 1910s to the early 1950s to secure racial segregation. From Nancy Weiss, we witness how torn black Americans were by the bounty and constraints the New Deal presented. And from William Julius Wilson, we grasp the economic, social, spatial, and political mechanisms that have divided black America between a growing but minority middle class and a far less fortunate and good deal more marginal African American majority.”

A similar point is made about sundown towns. The following explains why at least a certain segment of our society has a clear self-interest in remaining willfully ignorant of white affirmative action and sundown towns.

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism
By James W. Loewen
pp. 373-374

“Republicans do especially well in sundown suburbs owing not only to their racial ideology, but also to their NIMBY principles and small-government philosophy.41 But these principles too have a racial tinge and tie in with the soclexia that results from living in sundown towns and suburbs. In Chain Reaction, their analysis of the GOP’s appeal to racism from 1964 to 1990, Thomas and Mary Edsall pointed to Republicans’ use of the stereotype that whites work and succeed, while blacks don’t work, hence don’t succeed. As former Nixon aide John Ehrlichman put it, Republicans win in the suburbs partly because they present positions on crime, education, and housing in such a way that a voter could “avoid admitting to himself that he was attracted by a racist appeal.”42

“Sundown suburbs are politically independent and usually quash efforts at metropolitan government. Their school systems are separate and usually oppose metro-wide desegregation. They resist mightily what they view as intrusions by people or governments from the larger metropolitan area or the state. In New Jersey, trying to comply with a New Jersey supreme court decision mandating equal educational opportunity, the legislature passed the Quality Education Act, and Governor Jim Florio proposed higher taxes on families earning more than $100,000 to pay for it. Suburbanites responded by voting out of office many of the politicians who supported the equalization bill, including Florio, whom they replaced with Republican Christine Todd Whitman.43

“The Edsalls point out that the principle of self-interest explains what otherwise might seem to be an ideological contradiction: sundown suburbanites usually try to minimize expenditures by the state and federal governments, but locally they favor “increased suburban and county expenditures, guaranteeing the highest possible return to themselves on their tax dollars.” The Edsalls cite Gwinnett County, Georgia, as an example. Gwinnett, east of Atlanta, is “one of the fastest growing suburban jurisdictions in the nation, heavily Republican (75.5% for Bush [senior]), affluent, and white (96.6%).” Its residents “have been willing to tax and spend on their own behalf as liberally as any Democrats.” Such within-county expenditures increase the inequality between white suburbs and interracial cities. They also do nothing to redress or pay for the ways that Gwinnett residents use and rely upon Atlanta and its public services.44

“Meanwhile, white suburbs favor “policies of fiscal conservatism at the federal level.” Interestingly, despite enjoying more than half a century of federal intervention on behalf of whites in suburbia—FHA and Veterans Administration (VA) loan guarantees, FHA and VA policies that shut out blacks, highway subsidies, and all the rest—residents feel they achieved home ownership in their all-white suburb entirely on their own. Since 1968, whenever African Americans have mobilized to try to get the federal government to act on their behalf, suburban Republicans have rejected the idea: “We’ve done so much for them already.” Many white suburbanites identified attempts of the federal government to be fair about housing, such as the 1968 housing act, with the Democratic Party, and considered them outrageous examples of “special interests” and “federal intervention in local affairs.”

“Today the most important national impact of sundown towns and suburbs is through their influence on the Republican Party. The Edsalls conclude, “The suburban vote is becoming the core of the Republican base.” Since elected officials from safe districts develop seniority, suburban Republicans dominate committees in the House of Representatives and in state legislatures when Republicans control those bodies. They also wield much power over their party in most states.45”

Knowledge Doesn’t Matter

Does knowledge matter?

I was having a discussion about that question with a friend. He isn’t an anti-intellectual, but he is one of those post-Enlightenment New Agey liberals who mistrusts rationality. To give you an idea of the type of guy he is, he didn’t cite evidence for his argument, but instead cited a lyric to a song. To give you a further hint, my dear friend in support of his view referred to Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the rider and the elephant… don’t even get me started on Haidt.

I, on the other hand, am a fierce defender of truth. Damn it, just give me some red-blooded truth and give it to me raw. It was only my friendship that made me hold my tongue in that discussion. I will never understand any person, whether conservative or liberal, who thinks truth doesn’t matter or who will devalue it in any way.

Truth. Not just information, not just knowledge, but all of that and the insight, the wisdom that goes with it. Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Truth that enflames the senses, pierces the heart and sets the mind ablaze.

Truth isn’t some tiny detail. Truth is reality itself. We breathe truth for if you try to stop breathing, I swear to God, you quickly will know it. Now, that is the force of truth. It ain’t no intellectual game. We have to start getting serious about this reality we all share.

The force of truth can at times hit you like a brick wall. I personally love that sensation. It means I’m awake and still alive. My face smacks up against something that doesn’t move and I start to suspect that there might be something fundamental in front of me. So I reach out into the dark, find a switch, turn it on… and well damn there is a wall right there. What kind of fool tries to walk through a wall? A fool walking in the darkness of ignorance,  I tell ya.

But truth is usually more subtle than that. It creeps up on us. Little bits of info piling up, a comment here and an example there, an observation here and an insight there. Then before ya know it, a new understanding begins to dawn. Usually, though, something finally brings it all together.

I’ll give you two examples, one of each variety: a face-smacking wall and a slow dawning.

The first example is my having learned about sundown towns.

That bit of truth came at me from an angle. I was reading about regional cultures when the author, David Hackett Fischer, made a comment another author’s work (Sundown Towns). So, good truth-seeker that I am, I bought that other book and began reading it. That other author, James W. Loewen, was talking about my particular region. He even mentioned a town I live right next to. Once upon a time, that town had a bunch of black families… and then shortly later all the blacks disappeared. Where did they go? This happened a thousand times over, all across the North.

I knew racism existed in the North, including systemic racism, but I didn’t have a clue that it was so pervasive. I just figured Iowa was naturally a white place where blacks didn’t live in the past. I figured blacks had little interest in living here, until recently that is. I assumed blacks simply went to the big cities because that was where the jobs were. I assumed most blacks wanted to live with blacks in black neighborhoods and ditto for whites with whites, as that has been the basic order of the society I’ve grown up in.

It never occurred to me that after the Civil War large numbers of blacks moved all over this freaking country in every state and in every town, rural and urban, North and South, East and West… but that they soon found they weren’t welcome in many of these places, not welcome in particular neighborhoods or in some cases entire states. Only after this great migration did they all head to the big cities seeking safety in numbers.

I was ignorant of this piece of history. Plain and simple, I was ignorant. Worse still, my white privilege allowed me to remain ignorant for so long. My white skin color and my white Midwestern heritage corresponds with the dominant white culture. Just because I’ve had black friends doesn’t change this condition. My only excuse is that I was ‘educated’ to be ignorant in this way. Sad but true. Ignorance must be learned… and so ignorance must be unlearned.

Reading Loewen’s book on the topic was an educational experience, a brick wall that bluntly forced me to reassess what I thought I knew.

The second example has to do with affirmative action and white privilege.

Over the years, I’ve come across mentions of the relationship of racism to the Populist and Progressive Eras.

For example, I came across the intriguing fact that the KKK supported universal public schooling and the banning of child labor. The reason they took this position was because kids, black and white, were competing for the same jobs that KKK members wanted for themselves. So, if you got the kids out of the factories, you had to justify it by sending them somewhere and public schools made for a good way of keeping the kids occupied, and as any good KKK member knows you particularly want to keep those black kids occupied or else they’ll cause trouble.

Another example I’ve learned about in the past is that black farmers didn’t get the same funding that white farmers received. This was done intentionally, of course. It is no big secret at this point. Just another data point in a long history of racism.

For whatever reason, I didn’t quite fully and coherently think about this in a larger context. It didn’t quite come together, beyond knowing about the general history of racism. I knew many of the details and incidents. And I knew the individual pieces might fit together in various ways. But it took someone else to clearly connect the dots before I saw the picture it formed.

The person in question is another author, Ira Katznelson, and the guilty book is When Affirmative Action Was White. It isn’t a matter of the original intention of many progressive reforms. Racism was rampant, but most people weren’t overtly thinking in terms of racism. Even so, racism was able to trump other concerns by co-opting the policies that were implemented. It became white affirmative action by default. The wording of progressive reform didn’t state it as white affirmative action, but that was the result successfully implemented by the racists in power who wished to maintain their grip on power. Progressivism was just a convenient front for old racial injustices. This is how Jim Crow was rooted in the New Deal.

Framing white privilege as affirmative action helped me to see the profound impact that it has had. It wasn’t just racist policies in the South or even isolated racist incidents in the North. It was a systematic strategy that was nationwide, even if the strongest impetus was in the Jim Crow South. With this new framing, all the pieces of the puzzle came together.

Ignorance is a strange thing. We can’t know we are ignorant for we are ignorant of our being ignorant. We don’t know what we don’t know and we don’t know that there is something we could know, until something forces us to begin to know and then the comfy sweater of our ignorance begins to unravel.

Ignorance upon ignorance, generation after generation. All of this ignorance, individual and collective, took a long while to be learned. It took our entire history, in fact. And so it will take a very long time to unlearn. We should see others in this more forgiving light, especially older generations. But a forgiving attitude can be a hard thing to hold onto when the stakes are so high. Culpability must be accepted, even if the blame game isn’t helpful.

In this regard, my parents are typical of their generation… or I should say they are typical of white Americans of their generation… a generation, by the way, that was born and raised when Jim Crow laws were at their height and were well into adulthood when the Voting Rights Act was passed. If anything, they should personally know of the effects of racism better than I know it for they saw it when it was truly powerful as a blatant political force. But they don’t know what they don’t want to know, don’t know what offers them no personal benefit to know. No surprise to that normal human response toward uncomfortable truths.

My mom doesn’t see white privilege at all, even though she obviously benefited from it. My dad’s thinking is a bit more nuanced. But all my dad can offer, when his good fortune is pointed out, is that God must have been looking out for him. I guess God disproportionately looks out for whites and in particular middle class white males. It never occurs to him to consider the possibility that he is no more worthy of divine intervention than all the poor minorities. I’ve heard that Jesus message is specifically about helping the least among us, but I guess that doesn’t apply to issues like racial oppression and prejudice. God, after all, is a conservative, maybe even a right-winger. There are even rumors that God is white.

Joking aside, my parents are as much the product of their environments as I am of mine. They simply believe what they were raised to believe, speak what they were taught to know. It is their truth, even if it isn’t objective fact. I don’t wish to deny my parents’ sense of truth in their pride in having worked hard or even that God has looked kindly upon them. Those are their truths. But a personal truth becomes an untruth when uprooted from the larger truth of our shared reality. The trick is to begin with the truths you know and from there expand your vision. Attacking someone’s truth, however, creates fear and doesn’t encourage them to expand their vision.

I can feel righteous at times, but it’s hard to maintain righteousness. We are all ignorant to varying degrees and in various ways. Still, I want to be righteous about truth and righteous for the right reasons. It really does matter. For that reason, I want people to see the truth, be it a brick wall to their face or a dawning of the light.

More than anything, I respect not just truth but a passionate zeal for truth. We can’t let ignorance get us down, not even our own. We have to be brutally honest, especially with ourselves. Words must not be minced.

Now, here is the kind of thing that inspires me, that gets my juices going. Tim Wise is a truth-teller about racism, if there ever was one. Listening to him speak, I had to restrain myself from yelling out loud ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the Lord’. Maybe it isn’t the eloquence of an MLK speech, but it sure does hit the spot. All the MSM BS makes me downright hungry for a healthy heaping plateful of simple straightforward meat-and-potatoes truth-telling.