Everyone Code Switches

Living in a college town, I deal with people from different places. I notice how, as a parking ramp cashier, I treat customers differently. I’m guilty of judging people by appearances and by accents. I’ve worked this job for so long that I unconsciously categorize people, you might say I profile.

It doesn’t alter the quality of my customer service or anything like that. But it amuses me because of how it does effect how I act.

I think this comes from having spent much of my life split between two distinct regions. I had to learn a new way of talking and acting when I moved to the Deep South as a kid. When I returned to the Midwest after high school, I still had a bit of the Southern accent that I had picked up. It also took me a while to stop referring to all of my customers as “Sir” and “Mam”. There were many ways of speaking that I had to drop from my repertoire, but they remained within my mind.

What many people don’t think about is that inner city dialect is a product of the South. I more often interact with people with an inner city dialect than a Southern one, but they are similar in certain ways. When I hear someone speak with a stereotypical inner city dialect, I naturally fall back to aspects of my Southern way of speaking.

This happened the other day. A black customer spoke with an inner city dialect. Instead  of saying a solid Midwestern “fine” in response to something, I said the (Deep) Southern equivalent, which is “all right” but without the last letters enunciated, more like “ah’righ”.

I would never speak this way to my fellow white Midwesterners. Sure, I’d likely respond to a white Southerner in that same way, but here in Iowa City I don’t run into too many whites from the Deep South or even whites from the inner city of Chicago. It’s mostly blacks who elicit this from me because around here it is only among blacks that I’m likely to hear the closest equivalent to a Deep Southern dialect.

When this happened, I realized what I was doing. I code switched. I didn’t code switch from white to black culture, but from Northern to Southern culture. It’s just that inner city blacks and I have both inherited a bit of the Southern culture.

I unconsciously look and listen for cues about people. I more or less treat people the same, but there are tiny shifts in how I act or speak. I only notice them when I’m actively thinking about it. It is more than just about black people or the rare Southern person I meet. For example, I switch the way I interact depending on how I perceive someone’s class. It is easy for me to code switch between middle class and working class, as I spent my life in both of those classes at different times. I know how to act in proper middle class ways, when needed.

All of this is based on my perception, of course. It is a superficial level of interaction, but that is what daily interactions tend to involve. Everyone does this type of thing and most people give it a lot less consideration. Even if you are aware of how you act in different situations, it isn’t easy to control. Although I couldn’t for the life of me intentionally speak with a Southern accent, I’d probably slide right back into it if I moved back to the Deep South.

These are the outward expressions of social identity. It’s not who we are at a deeper level, just the patterns of behavior we learn from those around us. We then carry these patterns with us for the rest of our lives, even if we leave an early influential environment that shaped us. We all have many selves, ways of acting and roles we know how to play. We can forget about some of these aspects of our identity, until something brings it out in us.

 

The Cultural Determinants of a Voluntary Society

I was reading more of Beyond Liberty Alone by Howard Schwartz. The latter part of the book is getting more to what personally interests me. He has a detailed discussion about equality, equity, and fairness. This leads him into the issues of private property and the commons.

I’m learning much from this book. It focuses on these ideas, both as discussed by early thinkers and how they have developed over time. One thing I learned was how central the idea of equality was to so many early thinkers. Even before the Enlightenment, Thomas Hobbes and other more religious thinkers were arguing about equality, what it means and where it originated (and, of course, what became of that original state). Hobbes saw equality in a state of nature with Death as the great equalizer. Others saw it as coming from God.

John Locke made a different argument than Hobbes. He relied on a more religious argument. Schwartz goes into great detail about Lockean rights. He makes it clear that Locke left many gaping holes in his logic. He goes even further in seeing all rights talk as being problematic. It poses questions it can’t answer and makes assumptions it can’t justify. Instead of focusing narrowly on rights,  especially natural rights, some of the early thinking on equality might give us a stronger foundation for understanding the values that will better serve us, in our aspirations for a just and moral society. Equality was always an important concern in Western thought. It’s just that we Americans have come to overlook its importance and forget the role it once played.

I was also thinking more about the cultural angle not covered by Schwartz. Locke grappled with both the issues of rights and equality. I was wondering about his background. Maybe I should read a good biography of him one of these days. The detail of his life that has caught my attention is his having spent time in Netherlands, in order to escape repression back in England. Some have conjectured that he might have been influenced by Spinoza or else by the same atmosphere that helped to shape Spinoza’s thought.

That is an interesting conjecture because of the important role Netherlands played in British history. It was a relatively short distance across the channel from East Anglia. The Puritans also had left England to escape repression, some going to Netherlands. When they returned, many settled in East Anglia. The Puritans then carried a particular tradition of egalitarianism to America. This was the foundation of the regional culture of New England.

Following different pathways of influence, other regional cultures developed quite differently.

“The persistence of regional cultures in America is more than merely a matter of antiquarian interest. Regional diversity has created a dynamic tension within a single republican system. It has also fostered at least four different ideas of liberty within a common cultural frame.

“These four libertarian traditions were not forms of classical republicanism or European liberalism—even as those alien ideologies were often borrowed as rationales, American ideas of freedom developed from indigenous folkways which were deeply rooted in the inherited culture of the English-speaking world.

“Considered in ethical terms, each of these four freedom ways began as a great and noble impulse, but all at first were limited in expression and defective in their operation. The Puritan idea of ordered freedom was no sooner brought to Massachusetts than it became an instrument of savage persecution. The cavalier conception of hegemonic freedom, when carried to Virginia, permitted and even required the growth of race slavery for its support. The Quaker vision of reciprocal freedom was a sectarian impulse which could be sustained only by withdrawal from the world. The backcountry belief in natural freedom sometimes dissolved into cultural anarchy.

“But each of these four libertarian traditions proved capable of continuing growth. New England’s Puritan faith in ordered freedom grew far beyond its original limits to become, in Perry Miller’s words, “a constellation of ideas basic to any comprehension of the American mind.” Virginia’s cavalier conceit of hegemonic freedom transcended its association with inequalities of rank and race and gender to become an ethical idea that is relevant to all. Pennsylvania’s Quaker inspiration of reciprocal freedom developed from a fragile sectarian vision into a libertarian creed remarkable for toughness of mind and tenacity of purpose. Border and backcountry notions of natural freedom evolved from a folk tradition into an elaborate ideology.

“Each of these four freedom ways still preserves its separate existence in the United States. The most important fact about American liberty is that it has never been a single idea, but a set of different and even contrary traditions in creative tension with one another. This diversity of libertarian ideas has created a culture of freedom which is more open and expansive than any unitary tradition alone could possibly be. It has also become the most powerful determinant of a voluntary society in the United States. In time, this plurality of freedoms may prove to be that nation’s most enduring legacy to the world.”

Fischer, David Hackett (1989-10-19). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: a cultural history) (Kindle Locations 14541-14561). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

See also:

Liberty and Freedom
by David Hackett Fischer

Fairness and Freedom
by David Hackett Fischer

American Nations
by Colin Woodard

Revolution of the Mind
by Jonathan Israel

Society: Precarious or Persistent?

I sometimes think of society as precarious. It can seem easier to destroy something than to create a new thing or to re-create what was lost. It’s natural to take things for granted, until they are gone. Wisdom is learning to appreciate what you have while you have it.

There is value to this perspective, as it expresses the precautionary principle. This includes a wariness about messing with that which we don’t understand… and there is very little in this world we understand as well as maybe we should. We ought to appreciate what we inherit from the generations before us. We don’t know what went into making what we have possible.

Still, I’m not sure this is always the best way to think about it.

Many aspects of society can be as tough to kill as weeds. Use enough harsh chemicals, though, and weeds can be killed, but even then weeds have a way of popping back up. Cultures are like weeds. They persist against amazing odds. We are all living evidence for this being the case, descendants of survivors upon survivors, the products of many millennia of social advance.

In nature, a bare patch of earth rarely remains bare for long, even if doused with weed-killer. You can kill one thing and then something else will take its place. The best way to keep a weed from growing there is to plant other things that make it less hospitable. It’s as much about what a person wants to grow as about what a person doesn’t want to grow.

This is an apt metaphor for the project of imperialism and colonialism. Westerners perceived Africa and the Americas as places of wilderness. They need to be tamed, and that involved farming. The native plants typically were seen as weeds. Europeans couldn’t even recognize some of the agrarian practices of the indigenous for it didn’t fit their idea of farms. They just saw weeds. So, they destroyed what they couldn’t appreciate. As far as they were concerned, it was unused land to be taken and cultivated, which is to say made civilized.

Most of them weren’t going around wantonly destroying everything in sight. They were trying to create something in what to them was a new land and, in the case of the disease impact in the Americas, a seemingly uninhabited land in many cases. Much of the destruction of other societies was incidental from their perspective, although there was plenty of systematic destruction as well. However, my point is that all of this happened in the context of what was seen as “creative destruction”. It was part of a paternalistic project of ‘civilizing’ the world.

In this project, not all was destroyed. Plenty of indigenous people remain in existence and have retained, to varying degrees, their traditional cultures. Still, those who weren’t destroyed had their entire worlds turned upside down.

An example I was thinking about comes from Christine Kenneally’s recent book, The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally.

The areas of Africa where many slaves were taken were originally high functioning societies. They had developed economies and established governments. This meant they had at least basic levels of a culture of trust to make all this possible. It was probably the developed social system and infrastructure that made the slave trade attractive in those places. These Africans were desirable slavves for the very reason that they came from highly developed societies. They had knowledge and skills that the European enslavers lacked.

This where my original thought comes in. From one perspective, it was simply the destruction of a once stable society built on a culture of trust. From another perspective, a new social order was created to take place of the old.

The slave trade obviously created an atmosphere of fear, conflict, and desperation. It eroded trust, turning village against village, neighbor against neighbor, and even families against their own kin. Yet the slave trade was also the foundation of something new, imperialism and colonialism. The agents of this new order didn’t annihilate all of African society. What they did was conquer these societies and then the empires divied up the spoils. In this process, new societies were built on top of the old and so the countries we know today took form.

If these ancient African cultures were genuinely precarious societies, then we would have expected different results. It was the rock-solid substratum that made this transition to colonial rule possible. Even the development of cultures of distrust was a sign of a functioning society in defensive mode. These societies weren’t destroyed. They were defending themselves from destruction under difficult conditions. These societies persisted amidst change by adapting to change.

It is impossible to make a value judgment of this persistence. A culture of distrust may be less than optimal, but it makes perfect sense in these situations. These people have had to fight for their survival. They aren’t going to be taken for fools. Considering the world is still ruled by their former colonizers, they have every right to move forward with trepidation. They would be crazy to do otherwise.

In comparison, I was thinking of societies known for their strong cultures of trust. Those that come to mind are Scandinavia, Germany, and Japan. These societies are also known for their xenophobia. They may have strong trust for insiders, but this is paired with strong distrust of outsiders. So, there is some nuance to what we mean when we speak of cultures of trust. Anyway, it is true that cultures of trust tend to lead to high economic development and wealth. But, as with the examples of Germany and Japan, the xenophobic side of the equation can also lead to mass destruction and violent oppression that impacts people far outside of their national borders.

As for cultures of distrust, they tend to primarily keep their distrust contained within their own boundaries. Few of the former colonies have become empires colonizing other societies. The United States is one of the few exceptions, probably because the native population was so severely decimated and made a minority in their own land. It also should be noted that the U.S. measures fairly high as a culture of trust. I suspect it requires a strong culture of trust to make for an effective empire, and so it oddly may require a culture of trust among the occuppiers in order to create cultures of distrust in the occupied and formerly occupied societies. That is sad to think about.

Cultures tend to persist, even when some people would rather they not. Claiming societies to be precarious, in many cases, could be considered wishful thinking. Social orders must serve one purpose before all others, that is self-perpetuation.

The core of my message here is that we should be as concerned about what we are creating as what we are destroying. The example of Africa is an example of that. A similar example is what happened to the Ottoman Empire. In both cases, they were divided up by the conquering nations and artificial boundaries were created that inevitably led to conflict. This formed the basis for all the problems that have continued in the Middle East and the Arab world extending into North Africa.

That world of conflict didn’t just happened. It was intentionally created. The powers that be wanted the local people to be divided against themselves. It made it easier to rule over them or to otherwise take advantage of them, such as in procuring/stealing their natural resources.

We Americans inherited that colonial mess, as we are part of it. America has never known any other world, for we were born out of the same oppression as the African and Middle Eastern countries. Now, the U.S. has taken the role of the British Empire, the former ruler now made a partner to and subsidiary of American global power. In this role, we assassinate democratically-elected leaders, foment coup d’etats, arm rebel groups, invade and occupy countries, bomb entire regions into oblivion, etc.

The U.S. military can topple a leader like Saddam Hussein and destroy the social order he created that created secular stability, but the U.S. can’t rebuild what it destroyed. Anyway, that isn’t the point. The U.S. never cared about rebuilding anything. It was always about creating something entirely new. Yet the Iraqi people and their society persists, even in a state of turmoil.

The old persists as it is transformed.

What exactly persists in these times of change? Which threads can be traced into the past and which threads will continue to unwind into the future? What is being woven from these threads? What will be inherited by the following generations?

Facing Shared Trauma and Seeking Hope

I came across this nugget of inconvenient truth:

“Indeed, a wave of research over the last 20 years has documented the lingering effects of slavery in the United States and South America alike. For example, counties in America that had a higher proportion of slaves in 1860 are still more unequal today, according to a scholarly paper published in 2010. The authors called this a “persistent effect of slavery.”

“One reason seems to be that areas with slave labor were ruled for the benefit of elite plantation owners. Public schools, libraries and legal institutions lagged, holding back working-class whites as well as blacks.”

This is from The New York Times. It is Part 4 of a series by Nicholas Kristoff, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It”.

It brought back to mind a few similar examples of this type of historical effect. A short while ago, an intriguing book was published that included this topic. It is The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally. I learned of the book from a book review by David Dobbs, also in The New York Times. I have since read it and I must admit it is one of the best books I’ve read recently, right up there with Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I appreciated what the author accomplished for similar reasons as with Alexander’s book, telling data in support of keen insight.

The data is overwhelming. The way Kenneally brings it all together makes you feel the full weight of history. Institutions and social orders, cultures and social capital, injustices and traumas, they can and often do persist over centuries. This what people mean when they speak of oppression. They don’t just mean a single generation who loses opportunities of betterment. It’s not just about individuals, but entire societies. It continues to impact the descendants for as long as the social conditions sustain it. This is the moral obligation we face. The actions we take now will echo into the distant future. We choose whether to continue systems and cultures of oppression or to end them. Every generation makes that choice, century after century.

The past is never just past. This is particularly true with trauma. It is hard to forget large-scale atrocities that leave deep imprints. Societies can be forever changed. Kenneally mentions an anthropologist who, during the 1990s, stayed with an African tribe in an area that had high rates of enslavement. The memory of slavery was still apart of their experience. Many of them could point to the homes of people who lost family members to slavery. And sometimes they could even name the people who had sold them into slavery, sometimes members of the same family committed the act (“Almost 20 percent of slaves had been betrayed by people to whom they were close.” Kindle Location 2304). These people couldn’t forget.

There are many enduring effects to this. One of these is easier to think about. It is the resulting economic problems. This relates to the example I began with. Areas that experienced slavery and the slave trade in centuries past still have problems with underdevelopment, poverty, and inequality. Some might dismiss this as simply being a continuation of what came before, that these places always were bad off. That is a too convenient excuse and also false (Kindle Locations 2295-2302):

“In order to find a connection between slavery and modern economies, Nunn asked if the differences in economic well-being today could be explained by differences that existed before the slave trade. Were the countries that were already poor the same countries that were more engaged in the slave trade? In fact, Nunn found the opposite : Regions that lost the most people to slavery had once been among the best-developed economies and best-organized states on the continent, with central governments, national currencies, and established trade networks. It was the states that were least developed and had higher degrees of violence and hostility at the time of the slave trade that were better able to repel slavers and not suffer the long-term effects of the trade.

“Could the relationship between modern poverty and historical slavery be explained by the subsequent effects of colonialism or by the natural resources possessed by a country? Nunn found that although those factors appeared to have an effect, neither was as powerful. It was slavery that mattered, and it mattered greatly.”

Another enduring effect connects to that. As has been observed by many, economic development along with wealth and equality seem to be intrinsic qualities of a culture of trust (see Fukuyama’s Trust). Kenneally writes (Kindle Locations 2327-2352):

They began with the intuition that trust could be a channel through which slavery still affects modern economies. But their goal was to find evidence for it. Of course, trust is a crucial part of any economy: Societies must have some degree of trust in order to be able to trade. At the most basic level, if people don’t trust one another, they are less willing to take a chance in business, whether it involves a simple exchange of goods or a complicated contract. But no one in economics had ever tried to measure the relationships among history, trust, and the economy before. After all, trust was an element of culture, and “culture” was a vague, fuzzy concept. Nunn and Wantchekon defined it as simply as they could: Culture, for their purposes, was the rules of thumb people used to make decisions. Do I trust this person ? Do I distrust him? People from different cultures use different rules of thumb to make such determinations.

If trust is absent, a well functioning society becomes impossible. Some would argue that absence of trust can only be blamed on the local population, not outside forces, but the fact that these once were well functioning societies gives the lie to that claim. The point of causation is most clearly attributed to slavery itself. as shown in the author’s analysis (continuing from above):

“Building on Nunn’s finding that the countries that lost more of their populations to the slave trade over one hundred years ago were also the poorest today, Nunn and Wantchekon examined the Afrobarometer, a survey project that measures public attitudes to different aspects of African daily life, like democracy, employment, and the future of citizenship. It is comparable to a Gallup poll, and it includes seventeen countries. The researchers found that overall, people tended to have more trust in those who were closer to them— for example, friends over government officials. This was a universal pattern. But it was also the case that the groups that were most exposed to the slave trade over one hundred years ago were also the groups with the lowest levels of trust today. Modern Africans whose ancestors lost the most people to slavers distrusted not just their local government and other members of their ethnicity but also relatives and neighbors much more than Africans whose ancestors were not as exposed to the slave trade.

“Did the slave trade give rise to a culture of mistrust that was passed down from the slave era even to individuals who live in the same places today? There are good reasons to believe that it might have. For those who witnessed the ways an innocent bystander might be swept up by or somehow betrayed into the slave trade, it would have made more sense to distrust people, as a general rule. People who automatically distrusted others were probably more likely to do well, or at least to not be enslaved . Wariness would also have been a smart strategy to teach the next generation.

“There’s another way this terrible correlation could be interpreted: Perhaps the slave trade made people not less trusting but less trustworthy. Perhaps people weren’t trusted in countries like Benin because they didn’t deserve to be trusted. After all, chiefs turned on their own people, and families sent some of their own literally down the river. Was a culture of betrayal passed down as well as a culture of distrust? This could partially be the case. Nunn’s analysis reveals that ethnic groups and local governments in the regions that were most affected by the slave trade in the past are also least trusted today. People whose ancestors were more affected by the slave trade were more likely to report that they did not approve of their local councilors, who were corrupt and did not listen to constituents. As Nunn explained , it’s quite likely that this is an accurate assessment of the local councils in these areas. Nevertheless, when they controlled for this effect, there was still a significant amount of distrust in countries most affected by the slave trade— regardless of whether the object of trust was truly worthy.”

A culture of trust is easier to destroy than to re-create. Once trauma becomes society-wide dysfunction, healing those shared wounds will be a slow process. The reason for this is that it hits people at the most personal level, their social identities and relationships (Kindle Locations 2430-2444):

“It seemed that both families and social institutions matter but that the former is more powerful. The data suggested that a region might develop its own culture of distrust and that it could affect people who moved into that area, even if their ancestors had not been exposed to the historical event that destroyed trust in the first place. But if someone’s ancestors had significant exposure to the slave trade, then even if he moved away from the area where he was born to an area where there was no general culture of mistrust, he was still less likely to be trusting. Indeed, Nunn and Wantchekon found evidence that the inheritance of distrust within a family was twice as powerful as the distrust that is passed down in a community.

“This accords well with our personal intuitions about families: The people who raise us shape us, intentionally or unintentionally. The people who raise us were likewise shaped by the people who raised them, and so on. Similarly, the way we treat other people, even our offspring, is shaped by the way we were shaped. This is not to say that our peers don’t affect our attitudes, nor does it mean that the society in which we choose to live doesn’t contribute as well. Obviously, the older we get, the more we develop the ability to shape ourselves. Family history doesn’t necessarily determine who we become, but this body of work suggests that the effect of a family may be so powerful that it can be replicated down through many generations, over and over through hundreds of years. It’s no wonder that so many people choose to study the distant histories of their families to understand how they work today . If genealogists believe there isn’t enough in their daily lives or their culture that sufficiently explains who they are— either to others or to themselves— it may be because they are right.

“In fact, the legacy of a family may be so powerful that it will not only last over extraordinary periods of time but extend over great distances as well.”

In regards to slavery in the United States, this last insight may point to an even further problem.

Africans who weren’t enslaved lost family members and had their functioning societies destroyed, but they maintained their family structures and cultural traditions. This did offer a pathway of transmission for trauma. At the same time, it also offered a certain kind of social stability. These people remember who they are and where they came from. They don’t suffer historical amnesia, as do many Americans. Trauma remembered allows for the opportunity of healing.

African-Americans, on the other hand, didn’t just lose their freedom. They lost everything. They lost their communities, traditions, and every other aspect of their social identities. Once enslaved and brought to America, they sought to rebuild the social bonds that had been lost. However, the slave system and the racial order that was built on it continually destroyed those social bonds or at the very least made it a challenge to maintain them over the generations. Slave families were regularly separated and this enforced instability continued for centuries, for longer than African-Americans have known freedom. They weren’t allowed the extended kinship ties that were traditional in Africa nor were they even allowed to develop dependable nuclear families.

If families are a major factor in passing on culture, what happens when a culture of oppression has been forced onto an entire people such that the foundations of family are undermined? African-Americans adapted to this challenge. Once free, they created new social bonds that could help them face the nearly insurmountable odds set against them. After slavery, the ruling white society continued to send black men off to other forms of unfreedom, from prisons to chain gangs. Their communities were ghettoized and racialized social control kept them trapped in poverty. So, they turned to the people around them and developed extended social networks (see Carol Stack’s All Our Kin; also see The Myth of Weak and Broken Black Families).

This source of strength, within their inheritance of injustice and oppression, is not to be dismissed. These communities still struggle against the legacy of slavery. Bigotry still lives on and racial bias remains institutionalized. Yet these people aren’t mere victims to be pitied. Just imagine what they might accomplish if they were ever allowed to heal from centuries of shared trauma.

Part of the reason so many African-Americans left the South was because they hoped to leave behind the very oppressive social orders that had kept them down for so long. If not for the mass exodus to the northern states, the civil rights movement may never have happened. They had to escape the persistent culture of poverty and inequality. By changing their environments, they were able to begin to see new possibilities and organize around new visions. Now many of their descendants are returning to the South for jobs and cheaper housing. This could in turn transform that old Southern society built on slavery, and so transform all of American society that has been complicit in the continuing racial order.

I’m not sure what specific hopes this offers, but there is a potential there. Some things persist over centuries while other things become transformed. Positive changes only ever happen when entire systems are shifted toward a new balance. One thing that seems clear to me is that this country is in the middle of a shift, whatever that might entail. Remembering the past lights the path toward a different future. That future will be determined by the choices we make now. What kind of world will we leave for the generations that follow after us?

Black Feminism and Epistemology of Ignorance

I have some thoughts that have been simmering on the back burner for a while now. It is specifically relates to black feminism. That isn’t something I normally read about, but I came across a quote by Angela Davis and started reading one of her books, The Meaning of Freedom (Kindle Locations 170-174):

“More than once I have heard people say, “If only a new Black Panther Party could be organized, then we could seriously deal with The Man, you know?” But suppose we were to say: “There is no Man anymore.” There is suffering. There is oppression. There is terrifying racism. But this racism does not come from the mythical “Man.” Moreover, it is laced with sexism and homophobia and unprecedented class exploitation associated with a dangerously globalized capitalism. We need new ideas and new strategies that will take us into the twenty-first century.”

This quote was on my mind when the “Not All Men” meme went viral. It really put things in contrast. Davis’ reference to the mythical “Man” refers as much to feminist issues as to racial issues. There literally is no “All Men”. It isn’t fundamentally about blame or evasion of responsibility, as the “Not All Men” argument was framed.

The grand insight of black feminism has been that there is no singular vantage point for all women, no universal set of truths for all feminism. Black feminists saw middle class white feminists as part of the same racial and class hierarchy. Identity politics can create a kind of blindness to important distinctions and inconvenient knowledge.

As a basic example, a middle class white woman in America has more privilege and experiences less violence and oppression than a poor black man in post-colonial Africa (or even most poor black men in America). Or, as another example, consider the issue of women and violence. Most rape and abuse happens to poor minority women, not middle class white women. As far as that goes, a black man in prison is probably more likely to be raped and abused than a middle class white woman.

It isn’t just about being a man or woman. It isn’t just about being black or white. It isn’t just about being rich or poor. It isn’t about any single thing. It is how these factors and issues combine in the lived experiences of particular people and populations.

Generalizations can be misleading and dangerous. They can be used to ignore the real issues. This is how race becomes a proxy for class and in many ways so does gender, for women make less money than men. If class is the most major issue, then all the rest of identity politics can be problematic when they don’t take this into account.

It was from there that I began looking more into intersectionality (where identities and disadvantages intersect), which is related to the larger fields of feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. Intersectionality as a basic understanding has been developing for a long time, across many fields. A major connection goes back to Marxism and its influence on feminist thought through standpoint theory:

“Standpoint theory supports what feminist theorist Sandra Harding calls strong objectivity, or the notion that the perspectives of marginalized and/or oppressed individuals can help to create more objective accounts of the world. Through the outsider-within phenomenon, these individuals are placed in a unique position to point to patterns of behavior that those immersed in the dominant group culture are unable to recognize.[2] Standpoint theory gives voice to the marginalized groups by allowing them to challenge the status quo as the outsider within. The status quo representing the dominant white male position of privilege.[3]

“The predominant culture in which all groups exist is not experienced in the same way by all persons or groups. The views of those who belong to groups with more social power are validated more than those in marginalized groups. Those in marginalized groups must learn to be bicultural, or to “pass” in the dominant culture to survive, even though that perspective is not their own.[4] For persons of color, in an effort to help organizations achieve their diversity initiatives, there is an expectation that they will check their color at the door in order to assimilate into the existing culture and discursive practices.[5]

One’s viewpoint depends on one’s social identities and one’s social position. This isn’t just a philosophical debate, for it has real world consequences. Studies show that environment has a strong influence on individual development and behavior.

Recent studies on the upper class and lower class makes this abundantly clear. Wealthier people have less empathic accuracy in that they are less able to read the emotional experience of others, to understand and appreciate the persepctive of others. They don’t listen to and pay attention to others as much. They also express fewer pro-social behaviors such as being more rude and aggressive (e.g., driving behavior) along with being less generous.

This goes straight to the class issue. Blacks and women, most especially black women, are among the poorest people in America and in the world. Being poor, in some ways, makes them more likely to act in ways that are considered caring and humane. To be on the bottom of society, an individual is more dependent on and interdependent with others.

This could explain why middle and upper class people, both black and white, don’t understand the family structures and support systems of the poor. All they see are marriages under stressful conditions, calling the families weak or broken, but they don’t see the strength of communities surviving under almost impossible conditions.. The ignorance of this judgment from privilege hit home for me when I read the following passage from Stephen Steinberg’s “Poor Culture”:

“More important, feminist scholars forced us to reassess single parenting. In her 1973 study All Our Kin, Carol Stack showed how poor single mothers develop a domestic network consisting of that indispensable grandmother, grandfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a patchwork of neighbors and friends who provide mutual assistance with childrearing and the other exigencies of life. By comparison , the prototypical nuclear family, sequestered in a suburban house, surrounded by hedges and cut off from neighbors, removed from the pulsating vitality of poor urban neighborhoods, looks rather bleak. As a black friend once commented , “I didn’t know that blacks had weak families until I got to college.””

Those rich in wealth are poor in so many other ways. And those poor in wealth are rich in so many ways. It depends on what you value. People can’t value what they don’t see and understand.

The issue of knowledge and ignorance has been perplexing me for most of my adult life. My perplexity has been caught between the rocks of despair and the riptide of outrage.  I have thought about and written about this endlessly. It is what anchors me in place. It is the mystery around which everything else revolves.

I was glad to come across the book Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance, a collection of papers by various authors. In the Introduction, Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana state that “ignorance results from humans’ situatedness as knowers. Because we are located, partial beings, we cannot know everything” (Kindle Locations 64-65). This line of thought is continued in Chapter 2 with “Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types” by Linda Martin Alcoff. In that essay, Alcoff explains that both knowledge and ignorance are situated (Kindle Locations 607-611):

“Thus from the fact of our general situatedness it follows that ignorance should be understood as contextual, since it does not accrue to me simply as an individual outside of a particular situation. I may be a trained linguist with the ability to communicate in eight languages, or an excellent seamstress capable of making my own designs from scratch, but insofar as I am attending a medical operation, I am ignorant of the skills needed to fully assess the health of the patient. What is determinative of ignorance is the interplay between my individual epistemic situatedness- my location, experience, perceptual abilities, and so forth, not all of which will be relevant in any given case-and what is called for in reaching conclusions about this particular object of inquiry.”

The author then connects this situatedness to race (Kindle Locations 698-699):

“most whites in the United States seem to believe that the United States is a form of society based mostly on individual merit, while most nonwhites seem to believe that the United States is a form of society based on a racial contract.”

That caught my attention because it relates to the studies on socioeconomic class. The studies found that wealthier people tend to take individual credit for their wealth, for their position and privilege. Poor people tend to emphasize the importance of their environment.

This seems to directly correlate to the differences in seeing families as nuclear versus as extended networks of support. For the wealthier, even families are seen as individualistic and isolated, and of course they see that as normal despite how unusual it has been throughout history and continues to be for most families throughout the world. Nuclear families are a fairly recent invention and hardly the sign of a healthy society.

Upper class white Westerners are truly weird (and WEIRD–Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) and they don’t even know it. However, some might argue that the ‘D’ for democracy isn’t entirely accurate, considering forms of imperialism still remain dominant in the West, for democratic rhetoric is too often simply used to rationalize power. White Westerners have the privilege to be ignorant of how racism, classism, and other forms of oppression continues in their own countries and are enforced on other countries.

This is a major point made by Alcoff (Kindle Locations 700-706):

“Mills suggests that “whiteness,” which he carefully defines as a political construct rather than simply an ethnic category, brings with it a “cognitive model that precludes self-transparency and genuine understanding of all social realities,” that it ensures that whites will live in a “racial fantasyland, [or] a `consensual hallucination,”‘ and that the root of all this is the “cognitive and moral economy psychically required for conquest, colonization, and enslavement” (Mills 1997, 18-19). If it is true that most people prefer to think of themselves as moral or at least excusable in their actions, then in unjust societies those in dominant and privileged positions must be able to construct representations of themselves and others to support a fantasyland of moral approbation. Thus such whites might believe that the academy is a meritocracy, that modernity began in Europe and then spread outward, and that global poverty is disconnected from Western wealth. The persistence of such myths in spite of increasing empirical and theoretical counterevidence certainly suggests that the cognitive dysfunctions responsible for myth maintenance are more than a matter of differences in group experiences or expertise.”

This is what we face with the overwhelming injustice and suffering in the world today. This is why so many people remain ignorant and remain ignorant of their ignorance. This is how people simultaneously know and don’t know.

As Angela Davis suggests, “We need new ideas and new strategies”. We need to get past our conceptual blindness, our cultural biases, our vested interests. We need to get past all of that toward a broader view, toward a greater sense of shared vision and common cause.

I want to add a caveat as part of my conclusion.

In this endeavor, we should especially listen to those who are in a position to know what we don’t know or don’t fully understand. This isn’t about being allies to the disadvantaged, but about expanding our sense of humanity. It is also to realize every position has its own sets of knowledge and sets of ignorance.

We all have disadvantages, including the wealthy, as the studies show. As for the rest of us not so disadvantaged with wealth, we are the majority of people in the world. Even most white men lack much power and influence in a wealthy country like the U.S. We also shouldn’t forget that most poor people in this country are white. One of the most ignored and silenced groups in America are poor rural whites. They have a position of knowledge on our society that gets heard less often than that of poor urban blacks.

Identity politics can be self-destructive when it divides us. This is where intersectionality is so important. What intersectionality speaks to is what connects, what crosses the artificial boundaries we create. That is the potential we need to find a new language to communicate.

* * * *

If you’re interested in learning about the studies on economic class, here are some videos and articles that go into the details:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business-jan-june13-makingsense_06-21/

http://blog.ted.com/2013/12/20/6-studies-of-money-and-the-mind/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-wealth-reduces-compassion/

http://nymag.com/news/features/money-brain-2012-7/

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/under-the-influence/201208/how-the-rich-are-different-the-poor-ii-empathy

http://www.livescience.com/8978-read-emotions-helps-poor.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/07/03/money-may-make-you-mean-but-can-you-buy-a-heart/

http://www.inc.com/laura-montini/how-the-mind-makes-sense-of-advantage.html

http://bigthink.com/Mind-Matters/study-more-privilege-means-less-empathy

http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/rich-really-poor-in-generosity-empathy-and-altruism-study/830627/

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/21/opinion/marsh-wealth-happiness-romney/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/dec/08/social-status-empathy-philanthropy

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/10/08/do_the_rich_care_less_power_imbalances_can_lead_to_empathy_inequality_between.html

Who are the Basque?

There was a recent human interest story. It was a rare type of report to hear in the news.

A runner was the clear winner as he approached the end of the race, but he thought he had already crossed the finishing line and slowed down. The runner a little ways behind him caught up. This other guy could have run past and taken first place. Instead, he chose not to take advantage of the situation. He pointed out the actual finishing line and let the guy in the lead to keep his lead.

That is an unexpected response. Sports, especially in the United States, is typically portrayed as win or lose and that is all that matters. I would have been shocked if he had been an American athlete who put sportsmanship before winning, but that wasn’t the case.

The one in the lead was a Kenyan and the one in second place was a Basque. The Basque people have one of the most interesting histories in Europe. Their home region is in a mountainous region between Spain and France, and this particular Basque was of Spanish nationality. By American standards, at least, the Basque would most likely be labeled white, although they are somewhat genetically unique as a population. The Kenyan, on the other hand was black.

So, from a xenophobic mentality, there was no reason for one of these guys to do a kindness to the other guy. Competitive sports often touch on deep cultural issues. Individuals play sports not just to prove themselves best but also their group the best.

The divide between these two guys was immense. It was simultaneously a divide between competitors, nationalities, ethnicities, and races. However, the Basque runner apparently didn’t see the world in those terms. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with him being Basque. Knowing their proud history of an isolated and independent society, if anything, I might expect a Basque runner to be more competitively tribalistic.

I doubt this story really has much of anything to do with his being Basque, but that was what caught my eye. I’ve been interested in the Basque for years now. I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer some passages from a few books and following that some links to more information. The Basque are a fascinating people.

* * * *

Some of Champlain’s best sources were Basque whalers and fishermen— French Basques and Spanish Basques as he called them. Their whaling stations dotted the American coast from Labrador to the Gulf of Maine for many years. They developed the technology of whale hunting and invented the light and graceful whaleboats that would be used for many centuries.

Later, Champlain got to know a Basque named Captain Savalette, a “fine old seaman” who hailed from the French port of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. They first met in 1607, on Savalette’s forty-second voyage to North America. He had been making annual Atlantic crossings for many years—eighty-three of them since 1565, before Champlain was born. Captain Savalette and his crew of sixteen men worked near Canso in what is now Nova Scotia, operating out of a little fishing cove that Champlain later named in his honor. The work was perilous, but highly profitable. In a good year they took home 100,000 big cod , which brought as much as five crowns apiece on the Paris market.

Through the sixteenth century, the Basques also traded with Indians, who wanted iron pots, copper pans, steel knives, metal arrowheads, and woolen textiles such as red blankets from Catalonia.

In return, the Basques wanted furs. So strong was the European demand that the rate of exchange for a fine beaver pelt rose from one knife to eighty knives in the course of Captain Savalette’s career. Europeans also traded for products of the forest: sassafras was valued as a medicinal tea, and ginseng as a sexual restorative. By 1600, Native Americans had become aggressive entrepreneurs. Some Indians got the jump on competitors by acquiring European shallops and meeting European vessels at sea— a maritime equivalent of forestalling the market.

A complex web of cultural relations had developed between Europeans and American Indians long before Champlain came to the new world. The northern coast acquired a unique trading language, a pidgin speech borrowed from many tongues. Much of it was Basque and Algonquian. A startling example is the word Iroquois. Linguists conclude that it was a complex coinage in the pidgin speech of the North American coast— a French understanding of an Algonquian version of two Basque words that meant “killer people.” The term was well established when Champlain became the first to publish it in 1603.

Fischer, David Hackett (2008-10-14). Champlain’s Dream (Kindle Locations 2063-2085). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

By Champlain’s time, Basque whalers in New France had invented the beautiful and very light whaleboat, double-ended with incredibly thin strakes, which oarsmen could send skimming across the water. They were not invented by Nantucket Yankees. French and Spanish Basques developed them from Biscayan shallops, called chalupas in Basque. They were framed from naturally curved oak and planked with very thin oak strakes, clinker-built above the waterline and carvel-built below to reduce drag and increase speed. They could carry a crew of seven or eight. These chalupas were in use on the coast of Labrador and the lower St. Lawrence River by 1600. Maritime archaeologists from Red Bay, Labrador have recovered early examples, remarkably intact.

Fischer, David Hackett (2008-10-14). Champlain’s Dream (Kindle Locations 11994-11999). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

One observation shines bright from the genetics. The bulk of informative male gene markers among the so-called Atlantic Celts are derived from down in south-west Europe, best represented by people of the Basque Country. What is more, they share this Atlantic coastal link with certain dated expansions of mtDNA gene groups, representing each of the main, archaeologically dated, putative colonization events of the western British Isles. One might expect the original Mesolithic hunter-gatherer colonists of the Atlantic coast, over 10,000 years ago, to have derived from the Ice Age refuges of the western Mediterranean: Spain, south-west France and the Basque Country. And that was indeed the case: shared genetic elements, both in the British Isles and Iberia, did include such Mesolithic mtDNA founding gene lines originating in the Basque region.

Perhaps more surprising and pleasing was the identification, among ‘Atlantic Celts’, of gene lines which arrived later, in the British Neolithic period, deriving ultimately from the very first farming communities in Turkey. The British Neolithic began over 6,000 years ago, but the archaeological and genetic evidence points to two separate arms, or pincer routes, of Neolithic migration into the British Isles from different parts of Europe, each with its own cultural precursors and human genetic trail markers. Most Neolithic migration more culturally than genetically is apparent, but in this instance human migration is supported by genetic evidence.

One of these migrations may have come up the Atlantic coast and into Cornwall, Ireland and Wales, preceded in France by the arrival of a particular pottery type known as Cardial Impressed Ware. Cardial Ware had in turn spread mainly by sea, west along the northern Mediterranean coast via Italy and the Riviera, and then across southern France to arrive near Brittany by around 7,000 years ago. In parallel with this cultural flow, specific gene lines appear to have travelled along the northern Mediterranean coast, round Spain and directly through southern France to the British Isles. In the case of this real Neolithic migration, however, the Basque Country seems to have been partly bypassed. The other Neolithic migration went up the Danube from the Black Sea to Germany and the Netherlands (but more of that later).

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 353-370). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

As to who and what were the main British ancestors, we can say they were largely Ice Age hunting families from Spain, Portugal and the south of France. The Basque region still preserves the closest genetic image of the Ice Age refuge community. Obviously, the Basque refuge area has since received intrusions of its own, particularly from the Mediterranean and North Africa, but these still constitute only a small percentage of that region’s present-day gene pool.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 2192-2195). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

In total, around 27%52 of modern British men can claim descent through their fathers from the seven clusters arriving in this early post-LGM period. This is certainly within the bracket of the 25–42% I estimated for maternal descent, but obviously nearer the lower limit of 25%. But even a 30% contribution of Basque Late Upper Palaeolithic male and female ancestors for modern British imposes a completely different balance on our ‘roots’ perspectives.

I shall return to the events taking place after the 13,000-year threshold, but it is likely that this genetic watershed between the initial Late Upper Palaeolithic recolonization period and what came later, during the Mesolithic, is not just a genetic accident. The watershed may reflect the profound climatic reversal that occurred 13,000 years ago, known as the Younger Dryas Event, a short worldwide freeze-up which ended abruptly around 11,500 years ago with another equally dramatic warm-up (see below).

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 2323-2332). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

whatever languages those early hunters and gatherers may have spoken it was unlikely to have been celtic or Germanic. In fact, sub-structural linguistic evidence within both these modern branches of Indo-European suggests the oldest language of the British Isles may have been more like Basque.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 2469-2472). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

A less obvious problem is the fixation in all the academic literature on celtic languages to the exclusion of any others. While it is generally accepted that there were other languages, probably non-Indo-European, in the British Isles before celtic, few have speculated as to what these may have been or as to whether there were non-Indo-European influences persisting from before the arrival of celtic in the Isles. Munich-based German linguist Theo Vennemann has addressed all of these issues and although his reconstruction is controversial, there are extraordinary resonances with the genetic picture.110 First, Vennemann argues for an ancient post-glacial European language sub-stratum on the basis of river-names. He calls this language family Vasconic (i.e. linguistically like the Basque and as with their re-expansion, originating in the Basque refuge and spreading north, west and east). This sub-stratum was progressively overlaid from southeast Europe by Indo-European during the Neolithic starting from 7,500 years ago, moving through central Europe and reaching Scandinavia by 6,000 years ago.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 3909-3917). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

The secret fascination of the Indo-European language family for prehistorians is that there are very few extant languages in Europe that belong to other families. The exceptions are famous in that they break the rule. Apart from some European members of the Uralic family (Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and Saami), Basque is the most widely touted exception since it has no known relatives at all and has a special pride of place for geneticists. The Basque Country is not only one of the central locations of the West European Ice Age refuge, but there are clear genetic and cultural differences between Basques and the surrounding populations. As I have mentioned, these differences have been overstated – the Basques are a genetically representative population for south-west Europe who were conserved and isolated and largely bypassed during the Neolithic. Some linguists even detect substratum evidence of Basque in structural aspects of English and insular celtic languages. However, in Roman times they were not the only linguistic exception: Iberian was another, totally different, non-Indo-European language.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 4327-4334). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

There certainly is a deep genetic division between peoples of the west and east coasts of the British Isles, particularly between the English and the Welsh, but this does not merely reflect the Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman invasions. These were only the most recent of a succession of waves of cultural and genetic influx from north-west Europe, going back to the first farmers and before. Even the first settlers to come up from the Basque Ice Age refuge left different genetic traces on the east and west coasts of Britain. That difference was merely added to by subsequent migrations across the North Sea.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 6894-6898). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

The arrival of celtic languages and associated gene flow could hardly be classed as evidence for the establishment of a Celtic replacement of a former unknown British population on genetic grounds. The highest single rate of Neolithic intrusion from the Mediterranean route in the British Isles was in Abergele at 33%. But in Ireland, such Neolithic intrusion was only around 4%, while it was 2% in Cornwall, 6–9% in the two Welsh peninsulas, and 8–11% in the Channel Islands and southern England (Figures 5.6 and 5.8). For England and the Channel Islands, the Neolithic contribution from the East via the northern route, just across the North Sea, was the same or greater than for the Atlantic coastal source (Figure 5.7).

In other words, Ireland and the Welsh peninsulas – which, on the basis of recent history and language, might be thought to be Celtic bastions – have less evidence of Neolithic genetic intrusions, let alone from the Bronze or Iron Age, than anywhere else in the British Isles. Of course, the flip side of this is that their descendants are truly aboriginal and genetically represent the most conservative parts of the British Isles, retaining respectively 88% and 89% of their pre-Neolithic founding lineages (Figure 11.5a). And where do those founding lineages come from? They come from the same part of Europe, the southwest, but more specifically they match the equally conservative region of the Basque Country.

Ultimately ancestors for the modern Irish population, male and female did come from the same region as those ancient celtic inscriptions, but thousands of years before celtic languages. But then every other sample in the British Isles shows at least 60% retention of those pre-Neolithic aboriginal male founders, reflecting the very conservative nature of the British Isles after the Last Glacial Maximum.

Translating all this back to question the assumption that ‘Celts’, however defined, were the aboriginal peoples of the British Isles, we can see new perspectives, which depend on how that definition is applied. First, if Celts were to be defined by their languages, the small proportion of associated gene flow would make them an invading cultural elite with no stronger claims to aboriginal status than the Anglo-Saxons. If we focused more specifically on those 2–10% of immigrating southern Neolithic, Bronze or Iron Age genes as identifying people rather than language, they would be even less ‘aboriginal’ in Ireland and Wales than in the rest of the British Isles.

I think we should take Cunliffe’s gradualist concept of the Longue Durée of the Atlantic cultural network as a paradigm for the genetics, as Irish geneticists Brian McEvoy and Dan Bradley of Trinity College Dublin, with English colleagues Martin Richards and Peter Forster, have done. Rather than being on the fringe of a celtic-speaking Neolithic revolution, the Atlantic fringe countries of Ireland and peninsular Wales then become the genetic aboriginal strongholds of post-LGM and Mesolithic gene flow from the Iberian glacial refuge, now best represented in south-west Europe by the equally conservative genetic profile of the Basque Country. The rest of Britain and the northern isles off Scotland then become more or less aboriginal with rates varying from 60% to 80% of ‘indigenous’ male markers (Figure 11.5a). In a sense, this is similar to the position taken on the Y gene group markers of ‘the indigenous population of the British Isles’ by geneticist Cristian Capelli (see Chapter 11), only my estimates for indigenous survival are much higher.

Oppenheimer (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 6946-6975). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

And in truth, the first tentative engagements occurred well before that— at least a thousand years ago, when the Vikings tried to colonize eastern Canada, and the Basques surreptitiously discovered , as early as the fifteenth century, the great cod and whale fisheries off eastern Canada and New England. It’s difficult to say exactly when the tightlipped Basques first arrived; by the time the French and English showed up around 1600, they found Mi’kmaq Indians who were fluent in the Basque trading language and who skillfully sailed Basque-made shallops. One stunned Frenchman saw a Mi’kmaq glide by with an immense red moose painted jauntily on his sail. The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America looks at how these unimaginably different cultures grew steadily more similar through the centuries and yet remained stubbornly, and in the end tragically, estranged.

Weidensaul, Scott (2012-02-08). The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America’ (Kindle Locations 153-159). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Eventually, though, the skrælings drove the Vikings out of Vinland, although evidence suggests that the Norse continued to make periodic voyages there for perhaps several hundred years more, until cooling climatic conditions drove their Greenland colony into extinction around 1400.% 2 By then, other Europeans were coming regularly to what was referred to as Hy-Brasil, the Seven Cities, or the Isles of Antilla, all names for imagined lands west of Ireland. Dreamers assumed Hy-Brasil was a place of great wealth and opulence; doubters scoffed that it was just a myth . But the Basques knew it was a very real place—the land of bakailao, or cod.

Not that they were telling anyone. Basque fishermen may have been making trips to the northeastern coast of North America as early as the thirteenth or fourteenth century, reaping the unimaginable bounty of the cod-rich fishing banks off Newfoundland and the Maritimes. Certainly by the fifteenth century, they were regularly crossing the North Atlantic for the summer fishing season, landing to salt and dry their catch, then bringing it back to Catholic Europe, required to eat fish half the days of the ecclesiastical year.

Good businessmen , the Basques kept their mouths shut about their sources, but by the 1480s English fishermen from Bristol were seeking the cod grounds as well, and may have found them. When Giovanni Caboto (better known as John Cabot) “discovered” his “New Found Ile Land” in 1497, it was no doubt to the disgust of the Basques, who’d had a pretty good thing going there for centuries. Jacques Cartier, setting out in 1534 on behalf of France, relied on directions from Breton fishermen who had been going there for years. When Cartier sailed into the mouth of the St. Lawrence , he was greeted by so many Mi’kmaqs and Montagnais (Innu), long accustomed to European visitors and waving furs to trade from the shore, that his nerve deserted him and he fired guns to scare them off.

Basque whalers came, too. In 1412 a fleet of 20 whaling ships passed Iceland, heading west. Beginning in the 1530s, as many as 600 men a year came to hunt right and bowhead whales, setting up seasonal camps along the Labrador coast. By the summer of 1578 , more than 350 European vessels were fishing off the coast of Newfoundland, with another 20 or 30 Spanish whalers working the waters between Newfoundland and Labrador. In all, some 20,000 Europeans were employed seasonally in the cod and whale fisheries there. Within two years, the French fleet had grown from 150 to 500 ships.

In 1583 , Sir Humphrey Gilbert found the harbor at St. John’s, Newfoundland , choked with foreign boats— which did not stop him from striding ashore and cutting the thick turf to ceremonially take possession of the land for England, thus formally establishing the English empire. The Basque, Portuguese, and Breton fishermen— never mind the native Beothuk— were unimpressed.

If Ktə̀hαnəto had been able to talk to the Indians of the Southeast coast, he’d have gotten an earful about Europeans, none of it good. When the Spaniard Ponce de León explored Florida in 1513, the Calusa Indians tried to cut his anchor lines from shielded canoes, while carefully keeping out of range of his ships’ cannons and crossbows, suggesting they’d already learned the hard way to be careful around European weaponry. The hostile reception and the lack of rich gold and silver mines like those found in Mesoamerica kept Spanish colonization at bay for decades.

Not that they didn’t try. In 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón and six hundred colonists sailed from Hispaniola up the North American coast, founding the colony of San Miguel de Gualdape . Just where they tried to settle has been placed variously on the Pee Dee River in South Carolina and Sapelo Island in Georgia. Whatever the location, within three months the colony went bust, Ayllón was dead, and fewer than a third of the colonists were able to limp back to Hispaniola.

French Huguenots tried to settle at Fort Caroline (now Jacksonville, Florida) in 1564, and that was enough to prod the Spanish into decisive action. They massacred the French, established St. Augustine the following year, and salted the coasts of Florida and Georgia with forts to protect their treasure fleets and with missions to convert and control the Indians. The Timucua, who had helped the French colonists , dwindled quickly toward extinction. The Guale, who had already tangled with Ayllón, rose up twice against their invaders, as part of a regional revolt in 1576 and again in 1597 in an especially violent insurrection. Both times, the Spanish retaliated by burning Guale towns wholesale. But the microbial assault from the Europeans was far worse. By 1600, diseases introduced by the Spanish had reduced what may have been a pre-contact population of 1.3 million people in the Southeast to less than a sixth that number.

The centuries of contact between northeastern tribes and Europeans also had left their mark. Three years before Waymouth’s voyage, Bartholomew Gosnold was sailing along the Maine coast. To his shock, he encountered a party of six or eight Indians expertly sailing “a Baske-shallop with mast and sails, an iron grapple, and a kettle of copper . . . one of them apparelled with a waistcoat and breeches of black serge, made after our sea-fashion, hose and shoes on his feet .” Onboard Gosnold’s ship, the Indian commander drew a chalk map of the coast and mentioned the Newfoundland fishing harbor of Placentia, whose name came from plazenta, the Basque word for “pleasantness.”

“They spoke divers Christian words, and seemed to understand much more than we,” one of Gosnold’s companions wrote. No doubt the Indians, using the trade pidgin long employed with the Basques, were surprised by the newcomers ’ obtuseness . By the early 1600s, pidgin Basque was the lingua franca of Northeast trade, and the coastal people of the Maritimes were fluent when meeting their adesquides. Mathieu Da Costa— a free black man whose skills as an interpreter commanded a handsome price among Dutch and French traders— was able to make himself understood to the Mi’kmaq and Montagnais in the first years of the seventeenth century, probably using another form of Basque pidgin that had developed on the slave coast of Africa. One early-seventeenth-century visitor to the Maritimes observed that “the language of the coast tribes is half Basque.”

Weidensaul, Scott (2012-02-08). The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America’ (Kindle Locations 541-588). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

And that was the face of the East at the moment when the first regular contacts began between the New World and the Old: the close-mouth Basques trading iron kettles for furs while their catch dried in the sun; the Bristol merchants sniffing along behind them to find the source of the cod ; the trickle of ships that would soon become a colonizing flood.

Weidensaul, Scott (2012-02-08). The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America’ (Kindle Locations 1326-1328). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

As well as being instrumental in getting Arthur Mourant a job, the Rhesus blood groups were also about to play a central role in what people were thinking about the origins of modern Europeans and in identifying the continent’s most influential genetic population – the fiercely independent Basques of north-west Spain and south-west France. The Basques are unified by their common language, Euskara, which is unique in Europe in that it has no linguistic connection with any other living language. That it survives at all in the face of its modern rivals, Castilian Spanish and French, is remarkable enough. But two thousand years ago, it was only the disruption of imperial Roman administration in that part of the empire that saved Euskara from being completely swamped by Latin, which was the fate of the now extinct Iberian language in eastern Spain and south-east France. The Basques provided us with an invaluable clue to the genetic history of the whole of Europe, as we shall see later in the book, but their elevation to special genetic status only began when Arthur Mourant started to look closely at the Rhesus blood groups.

Most people have heard about the Rhesus blood groups in connection with ‘blue baby syndrome’ or ‘haemolytic disease of the new-born’ to give it its full medical title. This serious and often fatal condition affects the second or subsequent pregnancy of mothers who are ‘Rhesus negative’ – that is, who do not possess the Rhesus antigen on the surface of their red blood cells. What happens is this. When a Rhesus negative mother bears the child of a Rhesus positive father (whose red blood cells do carry the Rhesus antigen), there is a high probability that the foetus will be Rhesus positive. This is not a problem for the first child; but, when it is being born, a few of its red blood cells may get into the mother’s circulation. The mother’s immune system recognizes these cells, with their Rhesus antigen, as foreign, and begins to make antibodies against them. That isn’t a problem for her until she becomes pregnant with her next child. If this foetus is also Rhesus positive then it will be attacked by her anti-Rhesus antibodies as they pass across the placenta. New-born babies affected in this way, who appear blue through lack of oxygen in their blood, could sometimes be rescued by a blood transfusion, but this was a risky procedure. Fortunately, ‘blue baby syndrome’ is no longer a severe clinical problem today. All Rhesus negative mothers are now given an injection of antibodies against Rhesus positive blood cells, so that if any do manage to get into her circulation during the birth of her first child they will be mopped up before her immune system has a chance to find them and start to make antibodies.

The significance of all this to the thinking about European prehistory is that Mourant realized that having two Rhesus blood groups in a single population did not make any evolutionary sense. Even the simplest calculations showed that losing so many babies was not a stable arrangement. There was no problem if everybody had the same Rhesus type. It didn’t matter whether this was Rhesus positive or Rhesus negative, just so long as it was all one or the other. It was only when there were people with different Rhesus types breeding together that these very serious problems arose. In the past, before blood transfusions and before the antibody treatment for Rhesus negative mothers, there must have been a lot of babies dying from haemolytic disease. This is a very heavy evolutionary burden, and the expected result of this unbalanced situation would be that one or other of the Rhesus blood groups would eventually disappear. And this is exactly what has happened – everywhere except in Europe. While the rest of the world is predominantly Rhesus positive, Europe stands out as having a very nearly equal frequency of both types. To Mourant, this was a signal that the population of Europe was a mixture that had not yet had time to settle down and eliminate one or other of the Rhesus types. His explanation was that modern Europe might be a relatively recent hybrid population of Rhesus positive arrivals from the Near East, probably the people who brought farming into Europe beginning about eight thousand years ago, and the descendants of an earlier Rhesus negative hunter-gathering people. But who were the Rhesus negatives?

Mourant came across the work of the French anthropologist H. V. Vallois, who described features of the skeletons of contemporary Basques as having more in common with fossil humans from about twenty thousand years ago than with modern people from other parts of Europe. Though this kind of comparison has since fallen into disrepute, it certainly catalysed Mourant’s thinking. It was already known that Basques had by far the lowest frequency of blood group B of all the population groups in Europe. Could they be the ancient reservoir of Rhesus negative as well? In 1947 Mourant arranged to meet with two Basques who were in London attempting to form a provisional government and were keen to support any attempts to prove their genetic uniqueness. Like most Basques, they were supporters of the French Resistance and totally opposed to the fascist Franco regime in Spain. Both men provided blood samples and both were Rhesus negative. Through these contacts, Mourant typed a panel of French and Spanish Basques who turned out, as he had hoped, to have a very high frequency of Rhesus negatives, in fact the highest in the world. Mourant concluded from this that the Basques were descended from the original inhabitants of Europe, whereas all other Europeans were a mixture of originals and more recent arrivals, which he thought were the first farmers from the Near East.

From that moment, the Basques assumed the status of the population against which all ideas about European genetic prehistory were to be – and to a large extent still are – judged. The fact that they alone of all the west Europeans spoke a language which was unique in Europe, and did not belong to the Indo-European family which embraces all other languages of western Europe, only enhanced their special position.

Sykes, Bryan (2010-12-20). The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry (Kindle Locations 575-619). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

When we applied exactly the same procedure to the clusters in Europe we got a surprise. We had been expecting relatively young dates, though not as young as in Polynesia, because of the overwhelming influence of the agricultural migrations from the Near East in the last ten thousand years that were so prominent a feature in the textbooks. But six out of the seven clusters had genetic ages much older than ten thousand years. According to the version of Europe’s genetic history that we had all been brought up on, a population explosion in the Near East due to agriculture was followed by the slow but unstoppable advance of these same people into Europe, overwhelming the sparse population of hunter–gatherers. Surely, if this were true, the genetic dates for the mitochondrial clusters, or most of them at least, would have to be ten thousand years or less. But only one of the seven clusters fitted this description. The other six were much older. We rechecked our sequences. Had we scored too many mutations? No. We rechecked our calculations. They were fine. This was certainly a puzzle; but still we didn’t question the established dogma – until we looked at the Basques.

For reasons discussed in an earlier chapter, the Basques have long been considered the last survivors of the original hunter–gatherer population of Europe. Speaking a fundamentally different language and living in a part of Europe that was the last to embrace agriculture, the Basques have all the hallmarks of a unique population and they are proud of their distinctiveness. If the rest of Europe traced their ancestry back to the Near Eastern farmers, then surely the Basques, the last survivors of the age of the hunter–gatherers, should have a very different spectrum of mitochondrial sequences. We could expect to find clusters which we saw nowhere else; and we would expect not to find clusters that are common elsewhere. But when we pulled out the sequences from our Basque friends, they were anything but peculiar. They were just like all the other Europeans – with one noticeable exception: while they had representatives of all six of the old clusters, they had none at all of the seventh cluster with the much younger date. We got hold of some more Basque samples. The answer was the same. Rather than having very unusual sequences, the Basques were as European as any other Europeans. This could not be fitted into the scenario in which hunters were swept aside by an incoming tide of Neolithic farmers. If the Basques were the descendants of the original Palaeolithic hunter–gatherers, then so were most of the rest of us.

But what about the cluster that was absent from the Basques – the cluster that was distinguished from the rest by having a much younger date compatible with the Neolithic? When we plotted the places where we found this cluster on a map of Europe, we found a remarkable pattern. The six old clusters were to be found all over the continent, though some were commoner in one place than in others. The young cluster, on the other hand, had a very distinctive distribution. It split into two branches, each with a slightly different set of mutations. One branch headed up from the Balkans across the Hungarian plain and along the river valleys of central Europe to the Baltic Sea. The other was confined to the Mediterranean coast as far as Spain, then could be traced around the coast of Portugal and up the Atlantic coast to western Britain. These two genetic routes were exactly the same as had been followed by the very first farmers, according to the archaeology. Early farming sites in Europe are instantly recognizable by the type of pottery they contain, just as Lapita ceramics identify the early Polynesian sites in the Pacific. The push through central Europe from the Balkans, which began about seven and a half thousand years ago, is recorded by the presence at these early sites of a distinctive decorative style called Linear pottery, in which the vessels are incised with abstract geometric designs cut into the clay. The Linear pottery sites map out a slice of central Europe where, even today, one branch of the young cluster is still concentrated. In the central and western Mediterranean, early farming sites are identified by another style of pottery, called Impressed ware because the clay is marked with the impressions of objects, often shells, which have been pressed into the clay before firing. Once again, the concordant distribution of Impressed ware sites and the other branch of the young cluster stood out. This didn’t look like a coincidence. The two branches of the young mitochondrial cluster seemed to be tracing the footsteps of the very first farmers as they made their way into Europe.

Sykes, Bryan (2010-12-20). The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry (Kindle Locations 1909-1942). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

What those pre-Celtic languages sounded like may not be entirely a matter of guesswork or even more scholarly reconstruction. Euskera, the Basque language, has survived against all odds in an Atlantic-facing enclave and it certainly not only predates Celtic but also all the other Indo-European languages. Basic Basque words are very different: gizon for ‘man’, andere for ‘lady’, neskaro for ‘girl’ and bihotz for ‘heart’. It may well be that the language has survived because its geography prevented outside influence. Distributed on either side of the Pyrenees, the Basque communities live on a rocky Atlantic coastline in what is now Spain and in France behind a string of sandbars and salt marshes known as the Landes. Traders were perhaps reluctant to put in along that littoral and perhaps they did sail diagonally across Biscay on the open sea, searching for the light burning at the top of the Tower of Hercules.

Moffat, Alistair; Wilson, James (2011-05-01). The Scots: A Genetic Journey (Kindle Locations 1552-1558). Birlinn. Kindle Edition.

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Closely related geographically to Asturias was another group of people never conquered by the Moors, the Basques. A pre-Celtic people, the Basques are possibly the most ancient in Europe. In the eighth century they lived on the Bay Biscay where the coast turns westward, with their territory stretching eastward toward the mid-Pyrenees and south to the upper reaches of the Ebro River. Basque settlement also traversed the Pyrenees into Gascony, a word derived from Vasconia, the original Roman name for the Basque lands. Some Basque territory was absorbed by the kingdom of Asturias, but the Basques remained fiercely independent, as a number of intruders such as Charlemagne would find out at great cost.

Charles Martel and his son Pippin III “the Short” followed up the victory at Poitiers by driving the Moors out of most of southern France. When in 778 Charlemagne was invited into Spain by the dissident Moorish wali (governor) of Barcelona, the emperor-to-be was ensnared in a strategic quagmire, with infighting among his Muslim allies. His troubles increased when the Saxon revolt under Widukind forced him to retreat prematurely. He withdrew back across the Pyrenees, using the mountain pass at Roncevaux. Here the Frankish rear guard was trapped in mid-August 778 by anti-Frankish Basques.

The Basques staged an ambush. Hidden in forests above the 3,470-foot (1,050-meter) pass, they waited until nightfall , then attacked the baggage train and rear guard at the top of the pass. Charlemagne’s biographer Einhard reports that they drove the Franks “down into the valley beneath,” where they had no room to maneuver. “The Basques joined battle with them and killed them to the last man,” with the Basques escaping in the darkness. 4 Among those killed was the Paladin (knight) Roland. By the twelfth century the story of Roland’s last stand had taken on epic proportions and this relatively insignificant incident became the subject of the first great poem in Old French, The Song of Roland. A product of the crusading era, it blames the Moors for the slaughter rather than the Basques.

But Charlemagne didn’t give up on Spain. To protect his southern flank, he reestablished the Kingdom of Aquitaine, including Gascony, in 781 and appointed his son Louis the Pious as king there. This opened the way for an exodus of Christian refugees from Spain, including Agobard, later bishop of Lyons. It also gave the Franks a base from which they could reoccupy the region south of the Pyrenees to the east of Asturias and north of the Ebro River, the frontier province that became the Spanish March. But it proved difficult to maintain as a unified whole, and from it the independent kingdom of Pamplona emerged in the mid-ninth century. The majority of the Basque population lived in Pamplona, which also embraced the small county of Aragon.

Collins, Paul (2013-02-12). The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century (Kindle Locations 3401-3422). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

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The contractualist doctrines built in to Spanish theories of the state allowed for different levels of resistance. The first and most fundamental of these, which was to have a long and important life in the Indies, was articulated in the formula originally deriving from the Basques and subsequently embedded in later medieval Castilian law, of obeying but not complying. An official or an individual receiving a royal order which he considered inappropriate or unjust would symbolically place it on his head while pronouncing the ritual words that he would obey but not comply: se acata (or se obedece) Pero no se cumple. This simultaneously demonstrated respect for the royal authority while asserting the inapplicability of royal orders in this particular instance. Appearances were thus preserved, and time was given to all parties for reflection. This formula, which was to be incorporated into the laws of the Indies in 1528, provided an ideal mechanism for containing dissent, and preventing disputes from turning into open confrontation.54 Hernan Cortes took obedience without compliance one stage further when, on arriving on the coast of Mexico, he ignored the governor of Cuba’s orders that he was to conduct an expedition of reconnaissance rather than conquest. Instead, he denounced him as a `tyrant’, and appealed over his head directly to the monarch.55 The right of appeal was fundamental in this society, as was the right of the vassal to be heard by his prince, and between them they provided an essential device for conflict resolution.

Prof. John H. Elliott FBA. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (Kindle Locations 2376-2384). Kindle Edition.

A steady stream of Spaniards, however, continued to migrate, although apparently it flowed less strongly than in earlier times.27 As with British emigration in the eighteenth century, new tributaries were joining this stream. Just as, as in the eighteenth century, the British periphery was producing a growing share of the total number of white immigrants, so too the Spanish periphery was playing a larger part than before. During the seventeenth century increasing numbers of Basques, in particular, had joined the Castilians, Andalusians and Extremadurans who had preponderated in the first century of colonization. Eighteenth-century emigration saw the increased representation of immigrants from the northern regions of the peninsula – not only Basques but also Galicians, Asturians and Castilians from the mountain region of Cantabria – together with Catalans and Valencians, from the east coast of Spain.21

Prof. John H. Elliott FBA. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (Kindle Locations 4571-4575). Kindle Edition.

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Led by Colonel von Richthofen of the Condor Legion, the German Luftwaffe dropped thermite incendiary bombs on the Basque village of Guernica on 26 April 1937. The attack occurred on market day. Animals and people were slaughtered. It was an urban firestorm, an inferno, anticipating the bombing of Dresden, London, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

The first vice president of the United States, an improbable observer, helps us to understand the significance of the destruction. As a student of republics, John Adams traveled to the Basque country and was astonished. The Basque have “never known a landless class, either slave or villein.” Well before the regicides of modern European revolutions, “one of the privileges they have most insisted on, is not to have a king,” Adams wrote.” The seamless woolen beret became the symbol of Basque social equality. As a political style, the beret made its way through the Basque refugees to France, from France to the Resistance, from the Resistance to beatniks in the metropolis, to Che Guevara, and to the Black Panthers.

The liberties of the Basques were traditionally renewed at an oak standing on ground in Guernica. The liberties derive from thefueros or charters of the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries. They are similar to the Magna Carta-providing jurisdiction, defining customs, delineating tenures, documenting pasturage rights. The Castilian king swore at Guernica that he and his successors would maintain the “fueros, customs, franchises, and liberties” of the land.” The charters began as an orally transmitted code of uses and customs. The details of commoning varied from valley to valley, village to village, but clearly indicated a precommodity regime.19

An episode of covering up Picasso’s Guernica at the United Nations building in New York just prior to the U.S. bombing campaign and invasion of Iraq was emblematic of the state’s anxiety about symbolic production 20 The American secretary of state was not the first to try to cover up the Guernica story. Colonel Richthofen himself tried to hide it. Conservatives of England, Spain, and Germany hoped to hide the story, but the intrepid journalist George Steer revealed the truth, showing that the town was a center of Basque liberties and the location of the oak where local assemblies had met for centuries.21 Picasso began Guernica on May Day 1937 and exhibited it a month later at the Paris World’s Fair.

To cover up his mural, therefore, was more than a deliberate attempt to destroy the memory of civilian bombing; it struck at a location that presented the most durable, actual alternative to monarchy and capitalism found in Europe and, as such, a place of constitutional interest to John Adams as well. Behind Guernica was the commons.

Peter Linebaugh. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (Kindle Locations 1960-1975). Kindle Edition.

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https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/08/27/general-american-and-the-particulars-of-our-origins/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/revolutions-american-and-french-part-2/

http://hbdchick.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/civicness-in-spain-by-region/#comment-26653

http://hubpages.com/hub/Irish-Blood-Genetic-Identity

http://www.heritage.nf.ca/exploration/basque.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_Country_(greater_region)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Basque_Country

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Basque_Country

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_Country_(autonomous_community)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navarre

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_people

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_diaspora

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_Americans

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_the_Basques

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vascones

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_Prehistory

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Basque_people

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Basque_whaling

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Late_Basquisation

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_language

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Basque_language

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_mythology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_surnames

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Basques

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_with_Basque_ancestors

The Midwest, Is It Great?

I’m a big fan of the view that regions in the U.S. are more or less culturally distinct, although with plenty of overlap at the borders. As a Midweseterner, I have pride in my region, along with significant criticisms, but for the moment I’ll focus on the positives.

I’m not offering a serious analysis here. I just came across an article about the Midwest that offered some data and so I thought I’d share it. The article is This Is Why It’s So Great To Be A Midwesterner, According To Science by Sara Boboltz. It is a HuffPo fluff piece, but some of the data is nonetheless interesting.

Regional Differences In Personalities Confirmed In New Study

“Their findings: Friendly and conventional were the most common traits among people living in the South and north-central Great Plains region, while relaxed and creative were the most common traits for those in the Western and Eastern seaboard areas. New Englanders, on the other hand, were most likely to possess the traits of uninhibited and temperamental.”

Yeah, friendly and conventional. That sounds about right. This might seem strange in some ways, though, for these same parts of the Midwest are also historically known for their progressive and socialist politics. So, it is conventional in its own way, but not in the way the MSM media portrays what is conventional in the US.

By the way, there appears to be one state that is a good balance between Midwestern and West Coastal predispositions. That state is Wyoming. It rates moderately high on friendly and conventional while it also rates moderately high on relaxed and creative. Colorado also looks fairly balanced between the two.

Volunteering in America: Research Highlights

“Highest volunteer rate: Since 1989, the Midwest region of the United States has had the highest volunteer rate among U.S. regions for all adults, with a rate of 23.9 percent in 1989, and 30.2 in 2008. This is a shift from 1974 when the West had the highest volunteer rate.

“Largest number of volunteers: Since 1974, the number of volunteers in the South has almost doubled from 10.5 to 20.7 million, giving the South the largest number of volunteers of all the regions. Just between 2006 and 2008, the South has gained almost 300,000 volunteers. The Midwest comes in at a distant second in volunteer numbers at about 15.6 million.”

Two other regions need to be given credit. The West region doesn’t have the highest rate of volunteers, but apparently those who do volunteer make up the difference for they win the award for most volunteer hours on average. In the Northeast region, they are dedicated to fundraising and so at least they put their money where their mouth is. As for specific states, Utah and Alaska deserve respect in their volunteer activities.

Route 66, Midwest culture charm international tourists, study finds

““When Europeans travel on Route 66, most of their feedback is that it’s a very different experience from the big cities like Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., which can all seem very much alike,” Huang said. “Route 66 reveals the inner beauty of the U.S. Midwesterners are friendly, easygoing and enthusiastic. They’re proud to tell you what they have in their community and are willing to share their heritage, their history and their stories. A lot of tourists enjoy that.””

I’m not so sure about this study. It seemed rather limited and self-serving. Route 66 extends way beyond the Midwest.

Montanans, Alaskans Say States Among Top Places to Live

“Residents of Western and Midwestern states are generally more positive about their states as places to live. With the exception of the New England states of New Hampshire and Vermont, all of the top 10 rated states are west of the Mississippi River. In addition to Montana and Alaska, Utah (70%), Wyoming (69%), and Colorado (65%) are among the 10 states that residents are most likely to say their state is among the best places to reside. Most of these states have relatively low populations, including Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, and Alaska — the four states with the smallest populations in the nation. Texas, the second most populated state, is the major exception to this population relationship. Although it is difficult to discern what the causal relationship is between terrain and climate and positive attitudes, many of the top 10 states are mountainous with cold winters. In fact, the two states most highly rated by their residents — Montana and Alaska — are among not only the nation’s coldest states but also both border Canada.

“With the exception of New Mexico, all of the bottom 10 states are either east of the Mississippi River or border it (Louisiana and Missouri). New Jersey (28%), Maryland (29%), and Connecticut (31%) join Rhode Island among the bottom 10.”

This seems less about the Midwest. It is only parts of the Midwest that show this pattern. What this actually shows is that the Midwest is split between Eastern and Western Midwest and between Lower and Upper Midwest. This corresponds to the parts of the Midwest that were settled earlier and those settled later, which corresponds to the concentration of populations in rural areas and big cities.

Pinterest Hits 10 Million U.S. Monthly Uniques Faster Than Any Standalone Site Ever -comScore

The popularity of Pinterest in the Midwest isn’t necessarily a good thing. I don’t have any strong opinion about Pinterest, but I’m not sure what value Pinterest adds to the Midwestern quality of life.

America’s Most Affordable Cities

“But the Midwest dominates when it comes to affordability, with 11 metro areas making the list, including five in the state of Ohio alone: Cincinnati (No. 3), Dayton (No. 4), Akron (No. 6), Toledo (No. 11), and Columbus (No. 20). Michigan landed three cities on the ranks: Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Warren. Even as Detroit languishes in the wake of banruptcy, the suburban hub of Warren, half an hour away, is experiencing an auto manufacturing renaissance of its own.”

The real story in the data is that it is extremely expensive to live in the West. That probably has to do with the combination of large populations and low availability of water. Many Western states are dependent on immense government funding to maintain their massive infrastructures.

Air Quality Better in Northeast, Midwest

“While a decade of efforts to reduce air pollution in the United States has improved air quality in many cities in the Northeast and Midwest, 175 million people are still exposed to dangerous levels of smog and soot, a new report reveals.”

Once again, the real story is that it sucks to live in other places. Having clean air shouldn’t be something that gets praise. Rather, clean air should be seen as a basic human right. The Midwest simply has less polluted air, relatively speaking. But we all share the same freakin atmosphere and so we all end up breathing the pollution, just that some get more of it than others.

Utahans Least Satisfied With Air Quality

“Meanwhile, residents of the northern Midwest are the most likely to be satisfied. South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming top the list, with 96% satisfied in each state. Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are also among this group, as are far away New Hampshire and Vermont. These regional similarities may be related to the climate or geography in these disparate parts of the country, or a matter of population density, or some combination of the three, as in Utah.”

Of course, it is nice living in low population states so that you aren’t constantly sucking on heavily polluted air. This is probably a large reason for why people living there love their states so much. However, those people in those states indirectly contribute to the pollution in the rest of the states by products they buy that are made and transported from elsewhere. It’s the old problem of costs being externalized onto others.

It is strange, though, that Utahans complain about their air quality. I wouldn’t think that Utah has higher rates of pollution than the coastal states. Maybe they are a sensitive group of people. The article blames it on a weather phenomenon that traps the smog where most of the residents live. Could that possibly be worse than some of the bigger cities famous for their smog? Maybe so.

Want a three-car garage? You’re more likely to find it in the Midwest

“For one, housing hasn’t grown evenly in all regions of the country. New homes are largest in the South, where the median floor area last year was 2,469 square feet; they’re smallest in the Midwest, at a median 2,177 square feet. (The median for the whole country is 2,384 square feet.) But over the past four decades, home size has grown the most in the Northeast: The median floor area of a new home there was 61% above the corresponding median in 1973. [ . . . ]

“Midwesterners, by contrast, appear more interested in garage space than living space: 38% of new homes in that region have garages built for three or more cars, well above all other regions. (Perhaps they need the room for their snowblowers and other winter gear?)”

I’m not sure why Midwestern homes would have less floor area. But it is understandable that Midwestern homes have larger garages.

Midwesterners do need more winter equipment. Plus, in my experience, Midwesterners simply love to do manual labor, such as doing their own yardwork or building things. Midwesterners love to have equipment that can be used to accomplish things, whether blowing snow or sawing wood. There is a self-reliant streak, which seems to make Midwesterners reluctant to hire out work, even among those with the money to afford it.

That is just a hypothesis. But I would like to see data about it.

States in West and Midwest Lead Nation in Teacher Respect

“Residents living in several states in the West and Midwest lead the nation in saying teachers in their communities are well-respected. Nevadans and Louisianans are among the least likely to say this about their local teachers — slightly more than six in 10 residents in each state say their teachers are well-respected.”

The differences are worthy of note. In some states, it is nearly 9 in 10 residents who say teachers are well-respected. But pointing that out misses the fact that the majority of all Americans say teachers are well-respected. But you wouldn’t know that by paying attention to right-wing media or listening to conservative politicians.

Buying lunch out? Survey shows Midwesterners spend less than others

“The credit card company found that Americans typically buy lunch out almost twice a week and spend about $10 each time. Specifically, average national spending was $18 per week, or $936 per year.

“But spending patterns varied by region, and Midwest diners spend less on lunches out than people in any other part of the country, the results showed. They went out 1.7 times per week and spent only $8.90 each time, for a weekly average of $15.13.

“Southerners led per-week spending, going out twice a week and spending $10 each time, or $20 a week. Westerners spend $10 per lunch 1.8 times a week for a total of $18.

“Northeasterners lunched out the least, but spent the most when they did, dining out for their midday meal 1.5 times a week but dropping $11.40 each time, for a weekly total of $17.10.”

I don’t know what could possibly explain this. Maybe this relates to the Midwest being a more affordable place to live. So maybe it is also a more affordable place to operate a restaurant, and so cheaper prices for meals served. But it is hard to say. There could be many factors involved.

Anyway, I’m not sure this is evidence for Midwesterners being cheap or thrifty.

The Midwest Accent

“The examples of the cot/caught merger and the Northern Cities Shift serve to contradict the perception that Midwestern speech lacks any distinguishing characteristics. However, both of these developments have been in operation for several decades at least. Why haven’t they entered into popular perceptions about Midwestern speech? Perhaps they will come to be recognized as features of the dialect in the same way that dropping of /r/ serves to mark Boston speech or ungliding of long i (‘hahd’ or hide) marks Southern speech. But, considering the general stereotypes of the Midwest, it seems more likely that they might never be recognized. One thing about linguistic stereotypes is certain: they have less to do with the actual speech of a region than with popular perceptions of the region’s people. As long as Midwesterners are viewed as average, boring or otherwise nondescript, their speech will be seen through the same prism.”

This article is about a shift that is occurring in the Midwestern dialect, a shift that few seem to be noticing at present. It is a change that may lead to larger changes in American English. The Midwest has for a long time been a source of what is considered Standard American English. As Standard American English changes in the Midwest, it likely will shift across the nation.

I don’t know why this matters all that much. It does imply something culturally important about the Midwest. This is the Heartland and it is called that for a good reason. The Midwest has always been central. It is central in terms of geography, in terms of population concentration, and in terms of infrastructure. It is the crossroads of the country.

Who Moves? Who Stays Put? Where’s Home?

“Both the survey and Census data indicate that the biggest differences in the characteristics of movers and stayers revolve around geography and education. In the Midwest, nearly half of adult residents say they have spent their entire lives in their hometown. That compares with fewer than a third of those who live in Western states. Cities, suburbs and small towns have more movers than stayers, while rural areas are more evenly split. Three-quarters of college graduates have moved at least once, compared with just over half of Americans with no more than a high school diploma. College graduates also move longer distances — and move more often — than Americans with a high school diploma or less, and employment plays a greater role in their decisions about where to live. By income group, the most affluent Americans are the most likely to have moved.”

That is interesting in a number of ways.

There are differences between more rural and more urban states. But many of the farming states still have most of their populations concentrated in urban areas. So, a rural state isn’t necessarily the same as having a majority rural population.

Something else that came to mind is that the Midwest tends to highly value education. But maybe the Midwesterners who get the most education tend to move away from the Midwest. I don’t know. There are a ton of college towns all over the Midwest, although I’m sure they don’t represent most of the population.

Anyway, it does fit the stereotype of the Midwest. One thinks of the region as a settled place with relatively stable communities. This would follow the aspect of the friendly and conventional Midwestern personality.

 

Random Views On Anglo-American History, Culture, And Politics

“British researchers Iona and Peter Opie spent their lives documenting the games that children play when they are out of doors and out of the purview of parents and teachers. “If the present-day schoolchild was wafted back to any previous century,” said the Opies, “he would probably find himself more at home with the games being played than with any other social custom.” They found English, Scottish, and Welsh schoolchildren still playing games that date back to Roman times.”

Harris, Judith Rich (2011-10-25). The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do (p. 188). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

“For better or worse, the heirs of the rationalist rather than the sentimentalist Enlightenment now dominate both philosophy and social science. Enlightenment sentimentalism has long been underappreciated by comparison with Enlightenment rationalism—as the very notion of the eighteenth century as “the age of reason” will attest. Even philosophers today who are well aware of the centrality of moral sentimentalism to eighteenth-century intellectual life tend to define the Enlightenment in purely rationalist terms. John Rawls, for example, defines “Enlightenment liberalism” as a “comprehensive liberal and often secular doctrine founded on reason,” one capable of supporting political morality through a direct appeal to the rational faculties alone.6 Normative theorists and social scientists who are now rediscovering the importance of emotion in our moral and political lives have thus often been led to believe that they are refuting the philosophy of the Enlightenment, rather than lending support to one popular eighteenth-century view of reflective autonomy over another.”

Frazer, Michael L. (2010-07-21). The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Kindle Locations 136-144). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

“Evidently Scotland and France in the eighteenth century were very different from each other, with the former, far more closely than the latter, respecting the ideals of religious and political toleration. But the two countries had this much in common, that they were main players in the European Enlightenment. As this book develops we shall see not only that they shared a host of intellectual interests and concerns, but also that they were in discussion and debate with each other throughout the century of Enlightenment. In preparation for a discussion of the relations between the two countries and cultures, I shall first focus on the fact that these close relations have a long history, and especially on the fact that for many centuries Scots have engaged in several crucial sorts of cultural activity in France. One small indication of the depth of these activities is the fact that by about 1600, at least seventeen Scots were rectors of the University of Paris. There may well have been far more.

“About the time of this David [sc. David I of Scotland] lived Richard of St Victor, a Scot by birth, a religious of the Augustinian order, and he was second to no one of the theologians of his generation; for both in that theology of the schools where distinction is gained as wrestler meets wrestler on the battlefield of letters and in that other where each man lets down his solitary pitcher, he was illustrious.”

“There is rich symbolism in the fact that the earliest known person to have been active in the Scottish philosophical tradition spent a large part of his life in France. He is Richard of St Victor (d. 1173), whose Latin name, which tells us his country of birth, is Ricardus de Sancto Victore Scotus.”

Broadie, Alexander (2012-11-05). Agreeable Connexions: Scottish Enlightenment Links with France (Kindle Locations 189-202). Birlinn. Kindle Edition.

“Scots and Irish left the British Isles in such numbers that three-quarters of that descent now live elsewhere. The effects of this migration within Britain-the voluntary and involuntary exodus of religious dissenters, political radicals, and discontented Celts-bolstered English influence and reinforced the United Kingdom’s internal balance of antirevolutionary sentiment and commercial preoccupation. We can only guess the probable politics of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century parliaments had Britain retained its high Irish and Scottish population ratios. Much less Conservative, certainly. Meanwhile, receiving much of this dispersal made the United States a notably different English-speaking, great world power: more democratic in its politics, more egalitarian in its culture, and more revivalist rather than traditionalist in worship. The new republic became a mecca for discontented populations from Catholic as well as Protestant Europe, a role that nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain could never have played. [ . . . ]

“The English pursued a policy of internal colonialism toward Wales, Scotland, and Ireland alike. In each case, London ordered a political union consummated to submerge the Celtic people and culture in question [ . . . ]

“Through all of these devices and circumstances-colonial charters for Protestant dissenters; occasional periods of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish ethnic persecution or flight; gathering of Europe’s Protestant refugees; German recruitment; relentless transportation of felons, debtors, military prisoners, and vagabonds; and a private “emigrant agent” business that ranged from serious recruitment to kidnapping-Britain turned a late entry in New World colonizing into the largest and fastest-growing clump of European settlement in the Western Hemisphere, with remarkably dual success. We have seen how this exodus made the population and culture of the British Isles less Celtic and more English, less revolutionary and antisocial and more deferential. It also positioned the fledgling United States of i82o, with a very different population, and already set on a very different track, to become the preponderant demographic and political force in the new world.”

Kevin Phillips. The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America (p. xxiii-586). Kindle Edition.

“Americans. Grateful, joyful, almost delirious were they as a people in 1783-intoxicated with newly won independence, ecstatic that the colonial yoke of Britain had been thrown off, and delirious with hopes for the future. They set out to establish the world’s first land of liberty, where men, women, and children would be governed not by the capricious decrees of governors and justices, but rather by laws. Laws, enacted by assemblies representing all the people, would enforce the principles most beautifully stated in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Indeed, governments “are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed” to “secure these rights.”

“High purposes. Lofty aims. Welcome promises. Written into poetry and song were these great principles. Recorded in paintings and books were these sweet ideals. Drama, oratory, sermons bristled with liberty, freedom, and equality for one and all. Merchants, captains, planters, yeomen, artificers, and stevedores shared the spirit, lauded this new land of liberty.

“And yet, by 1800, less than a quarter century from the time Americans declared these exalted ideals to the world, they had almost to a person rejected the very principles and ideals of their Revolution. By 1800 not only did most Americans not seek to perpetuate, expound, and practice the principles of the Revolution, they had entered into a process of attempting to supplant the values of the Revolution either with a political process that sucked all meaning out of those principles or with an alternative social and political philosophy that promised liberty-not through greater doses of freedom, but through a careful and meaningful structuring and ordering of the world. So disillusioned were they with the unfulfilled promises of liberty, they underwent a transformation that affected every segment of American society.

So thorough was this transmutation that fledgling attempts to make every American a citizen, to provide equal rights to all, to abolish slavery, and to incorporate women, African Americans, and new immigrants into American society were abandoned. Not only were these once-sacred goals deserted, the words used to describe these goals were also transformed and given new meanings. Liberty itself, once freedom from oppression, came to mean independence within a prescribed system. Freedom, once the absence of restraint, came to mean choice among defined options. Equality mutated from a philosophical description of a condition of nature to a notion of equal opportunity within one’s class or social condition. The vaunted rights of man devolved from a set of natural rights provided by God to a slate of prescribed rights established by men.

“And so went all of the precious symbols of the American Revolution until every word reflected a new meaning and value. Democracy came to connote a right to vote, not a fair division of property or equality of rights and treatment. Party came to describe an electoral machine, no longer a divisive faction subverting government. The republic itself stopped being a government by the people and became instead a government prescribed by a constitution devised precisely to keep the people from governing. But the most telling revision of all was the special new meaning reserved for revolution itself: chaos.

“By 1798 the deed was done. By 1800 what can only be called the American Counterrevolution had reached full tide. Hardly a step had been missed in the transformation from one set of values to another, from one set of aspirations to another, and from one set of rules for human interaction to quite another. So subtle was the shift that almost no one at the time recognized or understood what had taken place. Americans only knew, if they were among the original friends of liberty, that they were no longer welcome in American society; they knew that if they continued to preach the old gospel of liberty, they might be in danger of life and limb.

“If they happened to be proponents of revolution, they soon met threats, taunts, and challenges to settle scores on the field of honor. If they happened to be African Americans, they came to suffer a fate almost equal to imprisonment or death. If slaves, they saw virtually all systems of emancipation-manumission, purchase of freedom, and legislative emancipation or curtailments of enslavement-dry up. If free blacks, they saw in every state and territory of the nation a steady evaporation of rights and the erection of barriers prohibiting individual movement from state to state, as well as an aggressive expansion of inducements either to migrate back to Africa or to be colonized there. If women, they saw in every state and territory the banishment of invitations to seek independence and the issuance of commands to accept, practice, and teach domestic service as matrons of society.

“The abolition of liberty in America far preceded the abolition of slavery; the eradication of freedom much predated the rise of a new individualism that gave personal sovereignty to pursue adventure and wealth with little restraint to a relatively small class of white American men; the abandonment of the idea of natural equality among humans-intellectual or spiritual-far antedated any discussions of universal male suffrage; and all the glorious notions that there was a basic set of rights that should be enjoyed by all men (and, presumably, women) were canceled except for those few Americans-again, mainly white men, who clung to those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.”

Larry E. Tise. American Counterrevolution: A Retreat from Liberty, 1783-1800 (Kindle Locations 426-456). Kindle Edition.

“Amongst others that came with him, there was one Mr. Thomas Morton, who, it should seem, had some small adventure of his own or other men’s amongst them, but had little respect, and was slighted by the meanest servants they kept. They having continued some time in New England, and not finding things to answer their expectation, nor profit to arise as they looked for, the said Captain Wollaston takes a great part of the servants and transports them to Virginia, and disposed of them there, and writes back to one Mr. Rasdale, one of his chief partners, (and accounted then merchant,) to bring another part of them to Virginia, likewise intending to put them off there as he had done the rest; and he, with the consent of the said Rasdale, appointed one whose name was Filcher, to be his Lieutenant, and to govern the remainder of the plantation until he or Rasdale should take further order thereabout.

“But the aforesaid Morton, (having more craft than honesty,) having been a petty-fogger35 at Furnival’s Inn, he, in the other’s absence, watches an opportunity, (commons being put hard among them,) and got some strong drink and other junkets, and made them a feast, and after they were merry, he began to tell them he would give them good counsel. `You see,’ he says, `that many of your fellows are carried to Virginia, and if you stay still until Rasdale’s return, you will also be carried away and sold for slaves with the rest. Therefore I would advise you to thrust out Lieutenant Filcher, and I having a part in the plantation, will receive you as my partners, and consociates, so you may be free from service, and we will converse, plant, trade and live together as equals (or to the like effect).’

“This counsel was easily followed; so they took opportunity, and thrust Lieutenant Filcher out of doors, and would not suffer him to come any more amongst them, but forced him to seek bread to eat and other necessaries amongst his neighbors, till he would get passage for England. (See the sad effect of want of good government.)

“After this they fell to great licentiousness of life, in all prophane- ness, and the said Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a school of Atheism, and after they had got some goods into their hands, and got much by trading with the Indians, they spent it as vainly, in quaffing and drinking both wine and strong liquors in great excess, (as some have reported,) ten pounds worth in a morning, setting up a May pole, drinking and dancing about like so many fairies, or furies rather, yea and worse practices, as if they had anew revived and celebrated the feast of the Roman goddess Flora, or the beastly practices of the mad Bacchanalians.”

Thomas Jefferson describing Thomas Morton’s having wrongly and unlawfully saved some men from the fate of slavery
Letter to John Adams, Monticello, December 28, 1812
Bruce Braden. “Ye Will Say I Am No Christian”: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values (Kindle Locations 356-371). Kindle Edition.

“There appears to be such a mixture of real sensibility and fondly cherished romance in your composition, that the present crisis carries you out of yourself; and since you could not be one of the grand movers, the next best thing that dazzled your imagination was to be a conspicuous opposer. Full of yourself, you make as much noise to convince the world that you despise the revolution, as Rousseau did to persuade his contemporaries to let him live in obscurity.

“Reading your Reflections warily over, it has continually and forcibly struck me, that had you been a Frenchman, you would have been, in spite of your respect for rank and antiquity, a violent revolutionist; and deceived, as you now probably are, by the passions that cloud your reason, have termed your romantic enthusiasm an enlightened love of your country, a benevolent respect for the rights of men. Your imagination would have taken fire, and have found arguments, full as ingenious as those you now offer , to prove that the constitution, of which so few pillars remained , that constitution which time had almost obliterated, was not a model sufficiently noble to deserve close adherence. And, for the English constitution, you might not have had such a profound veneration as you have lately acquired; nay, it is not impossible that you might have entertained the same opinion of the English Parliament, that you professed to have during the American war.

“Another observation which, by frequently occurring, has almost grown into a conviction , is simply this, that had the English in general reprobated the French revolution, you would have stood forth alone, and been the avowed Goliath of liberty. But, not liking to see so many brothers near the throne of fame, you have turned the current of your passions , and consequently of your reasoning, an-other way. Had Dr Price’s sermon not lighted some sparks very like envy in your bosom, I shrewdly suspect that he would have been treated with more candour; nor is it charitable to suppose that any thing but personal pique and hurt vanity could have dictated such bitter sarcasms and reiterated expressions of contempt as occur in your Reflections.

“But without fixed principles even goodness of heart is no security from inconsistency, and mild affectionate sensibility only renders a man more ingeniously cruel, when the pangs of hurt vanity are mistaken for virtuous indignation, and the gall of bitterness for the milk of Christian charity.”

Mary Wollstonecraft writing about Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution
Wollstonecraft, Mary; Janet Todd (1999-08-19). A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution: WITH “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (Oxford World’s Classics) (Kindle Locations 1268-1286). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Equal Opportunity Oppression in America

I was listening to the audio version of The Mis-Education of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The narrator isn’t the best, but the book is worthwhile. It is an older book, having been published in 1933, which is part of what makes it interesting. I came across a passage that showed its age (p. 73):

Again, one observes in some of these catalogues numerous courses in art but no well defined course in Negro or African art which early influenced that of the Greeks. Thinkers are now saying that the early culture of the Mediterranean was chiefly African. Most of these colleges do not even direct special attention to Negro music in which the Negro has made his outstanding contribution in America. The unreasonable attitude is that because the whites do not have these things in their schools the Negroes must not have them in theirs. The Catholics and Jews, therefore, are wrong in establishing special schools to teach their principles of religion, and the Germans in America are unwise in having their children taught their mother tongue.

The author is discussing “Negro colleges”. At that time, apparently many of them were managed and operated by whites. Some of these whites were consdescendingly paternalistic and some were indifferent to the the plight of the students in their schools. For many of them, working at a Negro college was probably the last place they hoped their career would bring them. They didn’t want to be there and they certainly didn’t want to help African-Americans to better themselves, much less strive for equality.

That isn’t, however, what dates this passage. Dr. Woodson argues that African-Americans should have the right to teach about their own culture and accomplishments. As a comparison and contrast, he references as one example German-Americans who in many cases still used German in their German-American majority schools, including public schools in German-American majority cities.

Sadly, that world was quickly changing. What the author didn’t realize was that the following decades would become the most culturally oppressive era in all of American history. German culture wouldn’t continue to be celebrated. The German voice in America would be nearly silenced and teaching in German would be outlawed. Nearly all references to the German language and culture would be obliterated, from street names being changed to newspapers being closed down.

The oppression in America has never just been about African-Americans. But back in 1933 maybe that was harder to discern from the perspective of an African-American.

Southern Blacks: From Old World to Americanized

I’ve been listening to the audio version of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. I recommend the book and the audio version in particular.

I’ve had a longtime interest in migration patterns, both to the U.S. and between regions. Reading this book is companion to my reading about the migrations of Southern whites to the same regions Southern blacks headed, mostly the industrial Midwest and California. My previous posts on Southern white migration can be found here and here.

This touches on one of my most favorite blogging themes, the Midwest. I have even more posts about that which I won’t even try to list or link. Where this book touched on the Midwest theme is in contrasting the Northern and Southern cultures. In quoting immigrants, Southern blacks spoke of moving to the North (and other regions of the non-South) as becoming “Americanized”. Others spoke of the South as the “Old World”, as if they had immigrated to the North from a foreign country in some far off continent.

The following are four passages from Wilkerson’s book, the fourth and longest one is Wilkerson speaking of her own experience as the Northern child of Southern black immigrants.

* * * *

It turned out that the old-timers were harder on the new people than most anyone else. “Well, their English was pretty bad,” a colored businessman said of the migrants who flooded Oakland and San Francisco in the forties, as if from a foreign country. To his way of looking at it, they needed eight or nine years “before they seemed to get Americanized.”

As the migrants arrived in the receiving stations of the North and West, the old-timers wrestled with what the influx meant for them, how it would affect the way others saw colored people, and how the flood of black southerners was a reminder of the Jim Crow world they all sought to escape. In the days before Emancipation, as long as slavery existed, no freed black was truly free. Now, as long as Jim Crow and the supremacy behind it existed, no blacks could ever be sure they were beyond its reach.

One day a white friend went up to a longtime Oakland resident named Eleanor Watkins to ask her what she thought about all the newcomers.

“Eleanor,” the woman said , “you colored people must be very disgusted with some of the people who have come here from the South and the way they act.”

“Well, Mrs. S.,” Eleanor Watkins replied. “Yes, some colored people are very disgusted, but as far as I’m concerned, the first thing I give them credit for is getting out of the situation they were in.… Maybe they don’t know how to dress or comb their hair or anything , but their children will and their children will.”

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 5285-5297). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

Both men start to lament the changes all around them, the sadder effects of the big city of the North on the people of the South. George waxes on about the days when “people would come down to 135th Street with their house chairs, and they would baptize people in the Harlem River.

“We used to have a boat ride off 125th Street in the Dyckman section,” he says.

“Spread the blankets out. Midsummer, people didn’t have air-conditioning. People would stay up there all night and play card games.

“Things were so much different,” he says. “Drugs wasn’t heard of where I came from. When I came to New York, I didn’t know what a reefer was.”

“We got to being Americanized,” Reverend Harrison is saying. “It got to where we don’t help each other.”

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 8481-8487). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 * * * *

The hierarchy in the North “ called for blacks to remain in their station,” Lieberson wrote, while immigrants were rewarded for “their ability to leave their old world traits” and become American as quickly as possible . Society urged them to leave Poland and Latvia behind and enter the mainstream white world. Not so with their black counterparts like Ida Mae, Robert, and George.

“Although many blacks sought initially to reach an assimilated position in the same way as did the new European immigrants,” Lieberson noted, “the former’s efforts were apt to be interpreted as getting out of their place or were likely to be viewed with mockery.” Ambitious black migrants found that they were not able to get ahead just by following the course taken by immigrants and had to find other routes to survival and hoped-for success.

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 7605-7612). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

* * * *

The seeds of this project were sown within me years ago, growing up with parents who had migrated from the South and who sent me to an affluent white grade school that they themselves could never have dreamed of attending. There, classmates told of ancestors coming from Ireland or Scandinavia with little in their pockets and making something of themselves in the New World. Over time , I came to realize that the same could be said of my family and of millions of other black Americans who had journeyed north during the Great Migration.

I gravitated to the children of recent immigrants from Argentina, Nepal, Ecuador, El Salvador, with whom I had so much in common as the children of newcomers: the accents and folkways of overprotective parents suspicious of the libertine mores of the New World and our childish embarrassment at their nervous hovering; the exotic , out-of-step delicacies from the Old Country that our mothers lovingly prepared for our lunchboxes; the visits to my parents’ fellow “immigrant” friends— all just happening to be from the South and exchanging the latest about the people from back home; the gentle attempts at instilling Old World values from their homelands, my father going so far as to nudge me away from city boys and toward potential suitors whose parents he knew from back home in Petersburg, Virginia , who were, to him, upstanding boys by definition and who would make a fine match in his view, which all but guaranteed that I’d have little interest in them.

Thus I grew up the daughter of immigrants, “a southerner once removed,” as the Mississippi-born poet Natasha Trethewey once called me. My parents bore the subtle hallmarks of the immigrant psyche, except they were Americans who had taken part in an internal migration whose reach and nuances are still little understood.

Wilkerson, Isabel (2010-09-07). The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Kindle Locations 9802-9815). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.