Frrrreeeeeddoommmm?????

Jared Dillian wrote an article simply titled, Frrrreeeeeddoommmm. I think we are supposed to imagine the title being screamed by Mel Gibson as his Braveheart character, William Wallace, is tortured to death. The author compares two states, concluding that he prefers ‘freedom’:

“If you want someone from Connecticut to get all riled up, drive extra slow in the passing lane. Connecticutians are very particular about that. The right lane is for traveling, the left lane is for passing. If you’re in the left lane for any other reason than passing, you are a jerk.

“So if you really want to ruin someone’s day, drive in the left lane at about 50 miles per hour. They will be grumpy for three days straight, I assure you.

“I was telling this story to one of my South Carolina friends—how upset people from Connecticut get about this, and how people from South Carolina basically drive however the hell they want—and he said ruefully, “Freedom…”

“He’s a guy who perhaps likes lots of rules to organize society, and perhaps he’d rather live in a world where some law governs how you conduct yourself in every aspect of your life, including how you drive. I tell you what, after growing up in Connecticut and then spending the last six years in the South, I’m enjoying the freedom, even if it means I occasionally get stuck behind some idiot.”

Here is my response. Mine isn’t exactly a contrarian view. Rather, it’s more of a complexifying view.

I take seriously the freedom to act, even when others think it’s wrong, depending of course on other factors. But there is no such thing as absolute freedom, just trade-offs made between benefits and costs. There are always constraints upon our choices and, as social animals, most constraints involve a social element, whether or not laws are involved.

Freedom is complex. Freedom from what and/or toward what?

The driving example is perfect. Connecticut has one of the lowest rates of car accidents and fatalities in the country. And South Carolina has one of the highest. Comparing the most dangerous driving state to the safest, a driver is 10 times more likely to die in an accident.

Freedom from death is no small freedom. Yet there is more to life than just freedom from death. Authoritarian countries like Singapore probably have low car accident rates and fatalities, but I’d rather not live in an authoritarian country.

There needs to be a balance of freedoms. There is an individual’s freedom to act. And then there is the freedom to not suffer the consequences of the actions of others. There is nothing free in externalized costs or, to put it another way, all costs must be paid by someone. It’s related to the free rider problem and moral hazard.

That is supposed to be the purpose of well designed (i.e., fair and just) political, legal, and economic systems. Freedom doesn’t just happen. A free society is a creation of choices made by many people over many generations. Every law passed does have unintended consequences. But, then again, every law repealed or never passed in the first place also has unintended consequences. There is no escaping unintended consequences.

There is also a cultural component to this. Southern states like South Carolina have a different kind of culture than Northern states like Connecticut. Comparing the two regions, the South is accident prone in general with higher rates of not just car accidents but also such things as gun accidents. In the North, even in states with high gun ownership, there tends to be lower rates of gun accidents.

In Connecticut or Iowa, it’s not just lower rate of dying in accidents (car, gun, etc). These kinds of states have lower mortality rates in general and hence on average longer lifespans. Maybe it isn’t the different kinds of laws that are the significant causal factor. Instead, maybe it’s the cultural attitude that leads both to particular laws and particular behaviors. The laws don’t make Connecticut drivers more safe. It’s simply that safety-conscious Connecticut drivers want such laws, but they’d likely drive safer even without such laws.

I’m not sure ‘freedom’ is a central issue in examples like this. I doubt Connecticutians feel less free for having safer roads and more orderly driving behavior. It’s probably what they want. They are probably just valuing and emphasizing different freedoms than South Carolinians.

There is the popular saying that your freedom ends at my nose. Even that leaves much room for interpretation. If your factory is polluting the air I breathe, your freedom to pollute has fully entered not only my nose but also my lungs and bloodstream.

It’s no mere coincidence that states with high accident rates also tend to have high pollution rates. And no mere coinicidence that states with low accident rates tend to have low pollution rates. These are the kinds of factors that contribute to the disparity of mortality rates.

It also has to do with attitudes toward human life. The South, with its history of slavery, seems to view life as being cheap. Worker accident rates are also higher in the South. All of this does have to do with laws, regulations, and unionization (and laws that make union organization easier or harder). But that leaves the question of why life is perceived differently in some places. Why are Southerners more cavalier about life and death? And why do they explain this cavalier attitude as being an expression of liberty?

To many Northerners, this cavalier attitude would be perceived quite differently. It wouldn’t be placed in the frame of ‘liberty’. This relates to the North literally not being part of the Cavalier culture that became the mythos of the South. The Cavaliers fought on the losing side of the English Civil War and many of them escaped to Virginia where they helped establish a particular culture that was later embraced by many Southerners who never descended from Cavaliers*.

Cavalier culture was based on honor culture. It included, for example, dueling and violent fighting. Men had to prove themselves. Recent research shows that Southerners are still more aggressive today, compared to Northerners. This probably relates to higher rates of road rage and, of course, car accidents.

Our culture doesn’t just encourage or discourage freedom. It more importantly shapes our view of freedom.

(*The apparent origin of Dillian’s article is a bit ironic. William Wallace fought against England which was still ruled by a Norman king, which is to say ruled by those whose descendants would later be called Cavaliers in their defense of the king against the Roundheads. The French Normans had introduced such fine traditions as monarchy, aristocracy, and feudalism. But they also introduced a particular variety of honor culture that was based on class and caste, the very same tradition that became the partly fictionalized origin story of Southern culture.)

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On Teaching Well

I noticed that one of my older posts was linked to at another blog, U.S. History Ideas for Teachers. The author is Lauren Schreiber Brown and her piece was both detailed and thoughtful. The link in question is the second in this paragraph (from The 7 Things All Good Lessons Have in Common):

And realistically, that’s what a lot of us do. We know what we did last year, and yesterday, and so what comes next is comparing the North and South. But we should–every year–ask ourselves why do students need to know about the similarities and differences between the North and South? What is the point? How does this understanding help us better comprehend both the onset of the Civil War as well as its outcome? Do any of these differences still exist? In what way(s) does studying this topic improve the quality of our students’ lives?

I wanted to respond. But my response was too long for the character count at that blog. Plus, even the shorter comment I left there was never approved or else disappeared into the internet purgatory. So, I’ll make it a post, as I think it’s a worthy topic.

* * * *

I’m not a teacher, but I found this post interesting. I like how much thought you are putting into this. Education is important and teaching is a tough job. I’m glad to know teachers like you are out there are considering these kinds of issues and questions.

I noticed you linked to my blog, the post comparing the North and South. I spent my own grade school education initially in the Midwest and later in the Deep South. I never liked history, I must admit. I can’t say I had bad teachers, but they never quite found a way to make history seem to matter in my experience. In particular, I didn’t learn anything about the differences between the North and South.

I don’t even remember what I was taught in any history class. None of it ever stuck. I didn’t even know I enjoyed learning about history until I was well into adulthood. In recent years, I’ve taken history more seriously and have become fascinated about it, and not just about American history either.

I’m constantly coming across new data. It amazes me all the things I didn’t learn in school. History, if taught well, should be one of the most engaging topics for students. Yet so many people similar to me were bored silly by history classes. Why is that?

Early America was an interesting place. But before I started studying on my own, I didn’t realize that was the case. Most Americans, for example, are unaware that several colonies had non-British majorities. I was reminded again of this diversity recently:

“…from every part of Europe.”

At that post, I share a passage from The World in 1776 by Marshall B. Davidson. The part that most stood out to me is where he points out that, “One-third of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of non-English stock, eight being first-generation immigrants.” I never knew that.

That multicultural reality was a central point that Thomas Paine made in arguing for independence. He wrote that, “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”

I realize that is just info. But a good teacher should be able to make it relevant by connecting the diversity of the past to the diversity of the present. It’s not as if America only became an immigrant country in the 20th century. We are living in a continuity of what came before. An effective teacher would bring history alive and get students excited through the teacher’s own engagement with the subject matter.

I know one thing that helped for me was doing genealogical research. That made it personally real. But that goes off into a different kind of learning experience.

Contrast that to how I was taught history when I was younger. I remember in one class that I took 20 pages of notes for a single test. The teacher wasn’t horrible and he did try to get us to think about what we were learning, but I remember just feeling swamped by endless factoids. I wasn’t able to assimilate the info and no one taught me how to do so. That is the biggest failure of school in my experience, the lack of teaching students how to learn which goes hand in hand with teaching the love of learning.

I was a fairly smart kid. I had a learning disability and that made it difficult, but I was able to learn when I felt engaged enough. Still, the way I was so often taught made me hate school. It felt like a pointless struggle. In a sink or swim education system, I usually found myself sinking.

I had to learn how to learn mostly on my own and mostly as an adult. And I doubt I’m alone in that experience. That is a problem for the education system, and it isn’t a problem that can easily be dealt with by individual teachers. I imagine teachers are too busy just trying to teach to the test that anything more involved than the basics is asking for the near impossible.

It makes me sad that teachers get blamed. Teachers don’t have the time and resources to be effective. To focus on one thing means to sacrifice everything else. I couldn’t imagine the amount of planning it takes to try to make it all work.

Your emphasis on a conclusion probably is important. More than trying to shove info into students’ heads, a teacher should help them to understand the significance, ideally both in terms of personal relevance and real world application. A conclusion should drive home some central point or issue. What is learned needs to be connected and framed for otherwise it will quickly be forgotten.

* * * *

I should point out that some of my favorite classes were also my most demanding.

I had an awesome art teacher. He was a professional artist and taught me some serious skills. But his teaching went way beyond that. He is the only teacher I ever had who taught me how to think on my own.

Of course, art is far different from history. Maybe more similar to history is a topic like English, which was one of my other favorite classes. I had an English teacher who was English and he focused on the classics. He didn’t shy away from teaching difficult works. I suppose it was in 11th grade when I took his class and one book we read was Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, a daunting piece of writing even for an adult. He simply taught me the love of engagement with a text, as it was clear how much he enjoyed what he taught.

It’s hard to know what is the difference that makes a difference. I’m sure there were students who were bored and disengaged even in those classes that I loved so much. Not everything is going to work well for all students. That is the greatest challenge, especially the more students there are in a single class. It’s easy for students to get lost in a teacher’s focus on the entire class.

In the end, I think the most important thing a teacher does is to model a particular attitude and sets of behaviors. Students won’t likely care about what a teacher doesn’t care about. On the other hand, a love of learning can be contagious, even for a subject matter a student normally dislikes. I ultimately think there is no such thing as boring material, even if some subjects are harder to teach than others.

* * * *

By the way, I thought I’d share with you some cool facts. Combined, they are an example of how cool facts can help make larger points and show greater connections.

William Penn died in 1718. That was the year Benjamin Franklin was indentured as a printer’s apprentice. Some years later as an older teenager, Franklin made his way to Philadelphia where he began to do his own printing. Pennsylvania was one of those colonies that had a non-British majority, as Penn had traveled in Germany and intentionally invited Germans among others to settle in his colony (it’s interesting to note that more Americans today have German ancestry than any other, especially in the Northern states). Franklin complained about all the Germans for fear they wouldn’t assimilate (sounds familiar?). But as a businessman he was quick to take advantage by printing the first German language newspaper there.

When Franklin was in London, he met Thomas Paine, both having in common their being autodidacts. It was also in London where Paine first saw major political and labor union organizing, along with regular food riots. I might note that it was in London that the Palatine Germans (in the early 1700s) first immigrated before many headed to the American colonies, although these aren’t the same Germans that mostly populated Pennsylvania. This particular influx of Germans did happen in Franklin’s childhood and so it was a major social issue at the time. Anyway, by way of Franklin, Paine made his way to the American colonies and he ended up in Philadelphia, which is the location of Germantown where among the Germans the abolition movement began, and also where Paine helped found the first American abolition society. It was in Philadelphia that Paine first experienced the diversity of the American colonies and so was inspired to see them as something more than a mere extension of England.

It is interesting that the British used so many Hessian soldiers. This was related to Great Britain having alliances with German states. King George III being the Elector of Hanover (ethnically German and the first in his line to speak English as his first language). In the American Revolution, there were Germans fighting on both sides. Many of the descendants of those Germans would also fight each other in the world wars, although then with Americans and the Britains as allies.

Thomas Paine died in 1809. That was the year Abraham Lincolon was born. Lincoln, of course, was famous for ending slavery (after Lincoln’s winning the presidency with the support of German-Americans, the Civil War was partly won because of the mass immigrations to the North, including the often idealistic and socially liberal German Forty-Eighters, refugees of a failed revolution). Less well known is that Lincoln was influenced by Paine’s writings and, like Paine, wrote a deist tract (the only copy of which was burned up by a friend who thought it threatened LIncoln’s political career).

About a half century later, Theodore Roosevelt would call Paine “that dirty little atheist.” That is interesting when one considers that Roosevelt, like Lincoln before him, helped to promote Paine’s progressive vision of America. Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would push that progressivism to yet another level. Although in a different party from Lincoln, FDR also was heavily inspired by Paine. As a side note, the Roosevelt family’s ancestry goes back to the Dutch settlers of the Dutch colony that would become New York, yet another part of early American diversity, and also the place where young Franklin first ran away to and where Paine would spend his last years.

Let me shift back to Lincoln’s lifetime. Karl Marx, who was born in Germany and saw firsthand the social unrest that led to the revolutions of 1848, was forced to flee to England. From there, he later wrote a letter to Lincoln to show his support for the Union’s cause in fighting slave power. Marx probably felt an affinity because Lincoln, early on as president, openly argued that “Labor is the superior of capital.” Charles Dana was a socialist Republican who, before becoming Lincoln’s Undersecretary of War, was the managing editor of the New York Tribune where he published Marx’s writings. Lincoln regularly read that newspaper and Dana had introduced him Marx’s ideas on a labour theory of value.

Marx’s ideas would then be a major inspiration for the ideological conflict that erupted into the Cold War. There was always an ethnic element to this as well, whether the enemy was Germans or Russians, but Germans unlike Russians were always seen as a greater threat since that ancestry was so large in America. German-Americans were always mistrusted, from the colonial era to the world wars. Early twentieth century saw the cultural genocide and forced assimilation of German-Americans, which saw many being sent to internment camps. Until that time, German-Americans had continually maintained their own culture with newspapers written and even public schools taught in the German language. German-American culture was wiped from the collective memory and this heritage was lost for so many.

All of that then leads up to where we are now. The world wars sent even more Germans to the US. Waves of German immigrants have regularly occurred throughout American history. That is why there are today so many Americans of German ancestry, including many students who are not being taught this history about their own ancestors. Sadly, most Americans have forgotten or else never learned about both the early diversity of America and the early radicalism of the likes of Paine.

There ya go. From colonial era to revolution to civil war to the present. That is how one makes history interesting and it was accomplished in only about a page of text. But why this can never be taught is because it is neither politically correct nor ideologically neutral, even though it is all entirely true.

* * * *

I had some thoughts about the example of cool facts that I offered.

There are several reasons why it demonstrates effective communication of history. Besides offering cool facts, multiple connections are offered, a larger framing is made to give context, the development of issues and ideas is shown over time, and a conclusion is offered that explains the relevance. All of that is accomplished in a few paragraphs.

My brain works that way. I make connections and I look for the big picture. That is part of my “learning disability.” What doesn’t work for me is factoid rote learning. Then again, that is true for most people, even if more extremely true for my weirdly operating brain.

So, why don’t teachers teach this way? Because the education system isn’t set for it.

In those paragraphs, I covered material involving multiple countries, multiple centuries, multiple individuals, multiple conflicts, and multiple issues. That doesn’t conform to how students are tested and so the system disincentivizes teaching in a way that would be the most effective. No standardized test will ever have a question that covers such a large territory of knowledge, even though that is precisely what makes interesting history, how it all fits together.

Still, a great teacher would find a way to bring in that style of teaching, if only in those rare moments when time allows.

American Eyes On Cuba

Reading the below passage, I was reminded of the Cold War attitude and actions toward Cuba. This included the failed invasion and nuclear showdown during Kennedy’s administration.

There has been a longstanding antagonism between the US and Cuba. The US relationship to Cuba has involved paranoia, intrigue, and acquisitiveness. This has also involved conflict in both places, especially conflicts related to race and slavery, but also regional and partisan conflict in the US and class conflicts in Cuba.

The difference back then was that the feared superpower was the Spanish Empire, instead of the Soviet Union. Still, it was the same basic jostling for political power, imperial expansion, and military positioning.

* * *

The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War
By Leonard L. Richards
Kindle Locations 2109-2145

Upon arriving in Madrid, Soulé immediately alienated the Spanish government. He denounced the monarchy and cavorted openly with revolutionaries. He got into a duel with the French ambassador after one of the ambassador’s guests made a disparaging remark about Mrs. Soulé’s plunging neckline. For this affront the ambassador suffered a debilitating leg wound. From the outset, Soulé also made it clear that his mission was to acquire Cuba by hook or by crook. By this time, moreover, the Spanish, as well as every other European power, had heard that Quitman was raising troops to invade Cuba.

In September 1853, the Spanish government responded. It appointed the Marqués de la Pezuela captain general of Cuba, a post that put him in command of both the military and the government, with orders to take steps to defend Cuba. In December he issued decrees that among other things cracked down on those illegally engaged in the slave trade and gave citizenship rights to blacks illegally imported before 1835. At the same time, he recruited free blacks into the militia. Coming from a government that had no interest in abolishing either slavery or the African slave trade, Pezuela’s policy of “Africanization” made it clear that he was willing, if necessary, to use black troops against Quitman’s invaders and against any Cuban planter who sympathized with them.

Pezuela’s policy was also risky. It sparked fears of slave rebellion throughout the white South and calls for reprisals. It also aroused militants in the Mississippi Delta. They wanted action quickly. In response, the Louisiana legislature demanded “decisive and energetic measures.” Quitman, however, was unwilling to move until he had three thousand men, one armed steamer, and $220,000 at his disposal.11

Meanwhile, the Pierce administration decided that it might be possible to purchase Cuba if firebrands like Quitman were temporarily restrained. On April 3, Secretary of State William L. Marcy sent new instructions to Soulé, authorizing him to purchase Cuba for up to $130 million. If Spain refused, Soulé was then to concern himself with the problem of how to “detach” Cuba from Spain.12 Eight weeks later, the administration announced that it would prosecute all men who violated U.S. neutrality laws. The New Orleans grand jury then required Quitman to post a $3,000 bond guaranteeing his adherence to the neutrality laws for the next nine months. In the interim, in Cuba, Pezuela arrested more than a hundred pro-American planters and put some to death. Later that same year, Pierce called Quitman to Washington and showed him evidence that Cuba was strongly defended.13

Meanwhile, in Madrid, Soulé had no luck trying to buy Cuba. So the Pierce administration decided to let him confer privately with the other ministers in Europe—James Buchanan at London and John Y. Mason at Paris—and decide if it was feasible to persuade Spain to sell Cuba to the United States. Meeting in Ostend in October 1854, the three diplomats put their names to a dispatch that came to be known as the Ostend Manifesto.

The dispatch was a bombshell. Written mainly by Soulé, it urged the United States to immediately buy Cuba at any price up to $120 million. It also proclaimed that if Spain refused to sell and if its possession of Cuba seriously endangered the “internal peace” of the slave states, then the United States would be justified in seizing Cuba “upon the very same principle that would justify an individual in tearing down the burning house of his neighbor if there were no other means of preventing the flames from destroying his own home.”14

News of this saber-rattling manifesto sent shock waves through the Northern wing of the Democratic Party. They had just suffered huge election losses that fall. They had entered the election holding ninety-three seats in the House. They now had only twenty-two.15 What, many asked, was the Pierce administration up to? Didn’t they realize that the “burning house” rhetoric would provide Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune with even more ammunition to attack the party faithful? One Democratic newspaper after another thus distanced itself from the manifesto, even branding its authors “brigands” and “highwaymen.”The Pierce administration also ran for cover, disavowing the proposal and letting “the three wise men of Ostend” fend for themselves.16

That December, enraged by the reaction, Soulé resigned as minister to Spain. Several months later, in April 1855, Quitman gave back to the Cuban junta the powers it had bestowed upon him. No longer did either warrior have much hope of acquiring “the pearl of the Antilles” to offset the addition of California as a free state.

What Is Kentucky?

I was looking into the data and history on Kentucky. My motivation was diverse. I was thinking about violence, but I was more generally considering what makes Kentucky such a unique state.

North of Kenutcky, there is Ohio and Indiana. That is the earliest settlement areas of the Midwest. These particular Lower Midwest states are as influenced by Southern culture as Kentucky is influenced by Midwestern culture. Hence, the hybrid name of Kentuckiana.

In my visit to Kentucky, I mostly saw the central part of the state. Traveling through rural areas, I was surprised how much it felt like the Midwest. It wasn’t all that different from nearby Indiana, where my own Kentucky ancestors moved to. The main difference is that the barns in Kentucky are painted black because many of them were originally built to dry tobacco, although these days much of the land is being used for grazing cattle, just like in the Midwest.

Many of my Kentucky ancestors were of German heritage, another commonality with Midwesterners. Near where they lived, there is a Shaker village. The Shakers are more commonly associated with the North. Here in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, there are many Quakers and Amish as well, two other religious groups that are also found in the Upper South but not the Deep South.

Furthermore, the limestone country straddles the border region of the Upper South and Lower Midwest. My Kentuckiana family worked in the limestone industry about a century ago. Limestone country is some of the most beautiful land in the country. The streams and rivers cut through the limestone in wondrous ways. All of this border region is defined by water, where it flows and where it gathers.

Western Kentucky is a narrow part of the state. This is where it touches the narrow part of Illinois. Abraham Lincoln’s early life began in Kentucky, involved years in Southern Indiana, and then later on as an adult his political career began in Illinois. That was a common path of westward movement for many families.

The whole state of Kentucky stretches westward, defined by that very movement of the population pushing the boundary of civilization. At that western edge, the state touches upon the Mississippi river, the last great boundary of the frontier. Just across that water is Missouri with a similar set of cultural, historical, and geographic issues as Kentucky. I’m not familiar with this part of Kentucky, but I’m sure there are some old river towns there and I’m sure more industrialization happened because of it.

To the South of Kentucky, Tennessee stretches lengthwise as the twin of Kentucky. They are like two children who were adopted by different parents. Both grew up in an early history of violence. Tennessee remains one of the most violent states in the country, and yet Kentucky has somehow become one of the least violent states in the country. However, the memory of Kentucky violence is not buried all that deep.

This brings me to Eastern Kentucky and especially the Southeast stretch. This is where Appalachia dominates. So, this is where is found the long history of the worst rural poverty, the most infamous violence and fueds, and of course mining and labor organizing.

Here the state borders Virginia and West Virginia. It is through these states that Kentucky had its strongest influence of what would later come to be thought of as Southern culture. Virginia was the earliest slave colony, where a completely different line of my family was part of the first generation of slaveholding aristocracy. A couple centuries after the colonial settlement, West Virginia broke away because of the Civil War, but that wasn’t just a political split but also a cultural split. West Virginia was more defined by Appalachia and the Scots-Irish settlers.

The struggle for control of Kentucky involved many divides. It was the birth state of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s family, like Daniel Boone and my own family, left for various overlapping reasons. There was a lot of legal conflict there and so it was a highly litigious society, because of the complications of the metes and bounds system in creating property boundaries (a British system that was used throughout the South and parts of the early Midwest, specifically Southern Ohio). There was also the slave issue that pushed many people further west toward the free territories and states.

Even after the Civil war, there was still a class war element to this. The Black Patch Tobacco War was an expression of this (the Black Patch is Western Kentucky where the soil grew a dark tobacco). There was the first developments of big agriculture. A monopoly had formed that was squeezing out small tobacco farmers, and they weren’t happy about it.

The pressure on small family farms was common throughout the Midwest as well, but the difference was the response. This is where Kentuckians showed their Southern side by organizing the Night Riders who were the strong arm of the small farmers’ association. These Night Riders terrorized anyone who didn’t join the Association. Property was destroyed and people killed. They didn’t wait for distant government, state or federal, to help them with oppressive big biz and a local plutocratic ruling class. They had a tradition of taking care of their own problems.

The dark side of this is that the Night Riders ended up being hard to distinguish from the Ku Klux Klan. Blacks joined the Association at higher rates than whites, because they were hurt the most by the suppression of tobacco prices. Still, none of this mattered to the racially-motivated opportunists. Some of the terrorism was directed at innocent black farmers. They were either killed or sent packing, and their land and property was stolen (or bought cheaply at the threat of violence).

This shows a weird mix of Southern and Northern social patterns.

The violent mob way of dealing with the problem was Southern. This was also seen in the Southern-tinted edge of the Lower Midwest — for example, the KKK was a big player in Southern Indiana. A similar thing was found with the Italian Black Hand and the later Mafia in Northern cities, but my point is that this wasn’t a common way of dealing with problems in places like the rural Upper Midwest or even the Northern parts of the rural Lower Midwest (Italian immigrants and their descendants have never been a majority in the Midwest and so that ethnic culture never defined the Midwest).

Yet the Kentucky history of sundown towns where blacks disappeared from entire communities and regions is more typical of the rural North than of the rural Deep South. As in the Lower Midwest states, the blacks in rural areas had been large in number and then disappeared. This is how blacks ended up in concentrated numbers in big cities, such as Lexington or Chicago.

There used to be many blacks in rural Kentucky. However, when I visited there, I didn’t see a single black person in the rural areas. Similarly, the first settlement in the Iowa town I live in (Iowa City) was a free black community and some nearby towns had a fair number of black families a century or so ago. Then most of the blacks disappeared from the area for most of the 20th century, until recent years when they’ve begun to return.

In the rural Deep South, there aren’t many sundown towns. People forget that the rural Deep South has a large black population, as it has had since it was first settled. However, the rural Upper South is more like the rural North in this aspect.

This difference is seen in the diverging trajectories of Kentucky and Tennessee. They were split during the Civil War. Lincoln understood the symbolic and strategic importance of Kentucky. This is why one of the early actions the Union army took was to secure a famous Kentucky racehorse because of its symbolic value. The Confederates took another good racing horse that was sired by it. However, it was the Union that won the state, for the same basic reason West Virginia split off, there was too much of the population that saw little personal benefit from being loyal to a slave owning aristocracy. Also, the Northern cultural influence was quite significant.

Tennessee is clearly Southern, but Kentucky is different. It isn’t part of a single region. Rather, it connects quite diverse regions. The Lexington metropolitan area is quite a different world from rural Appalachia. In 2002, an Eastern Kentucky sheriff was assassinated during a political rally. That is an area of all kinds of violence, once famous for moonshine and now famous for illegal drugs. It is what people think of as Kentucky, but it is just one part of the state.

Still, I don’t mean to even dismiss that small corner of Kentucky or the whole of Appalachia. I’ve written about how it is misleading to speak of blacks as having weak and broken families (see here and here). Black family ties and communities are surprisingly strong, when considering all that they have going against them. Stronger in many ways than what is found among middle-to-upper class whites.

The same goes for poor whites in Appalachia. They actually put a lot of value on family and religion, just like blacks. In some ways, it is because their values are so strong that they are so poor. They refuse to leave their families and their homes, their land and their communities just to chase dreams of wealth and social mobility. They are traditional conservatives, something mainstream American conservatives don’t understand with their obsession about some unbalanced notion of fiscal conservatism, economic well-being and success at nearly any cost.

That is something rural Appalachians do share with rural people all over the country. Many people see them as having been left behind. That might be the case for some of these people who feel trapped by circumstances, but I wouldn’t generalize. These poor people could move, but they’ve chosen not to. Besides, where are they going to move to? The entire country is economically hurting. Would being poor elsewhere be an improvement? Sure, in the big city, they could get better access to public services and maybe better education… but at what cost? They would lose everything and everyone they know. They would lose their roots and their cultural identity.

My family left that world behind. They chased the American Dream and slowly climbed the social ladder. My Indiana-born mother, descendant of poor Kentuckians, went to college and became an upper middle class professional. She assimilated into mainstream culture, including losing her Hoosier accent. Yet, for all the sacrifices made, the middle class is now under attack as has been happening a long time for the poor working class. Not unlike the Black Patch Tobacco War or the Appalachian mining strikes, big business is making life hard for so many people and so few feel that big government is on their side.

States like Kentucky are more representative of America than others may think. Kentucky isn’t just some backwater frozen in time. Kentuckians are a part of what it means to be American.

* * * *

An additional thought:

I realized that I had left out one of my favorite things. Kentucky and some of the nearby states have something that defines the region more than anything else, at least in my mind. It is what defines this particular culture and how it manifests in communities and politics.

I became familiar with this type of culture through my experience of North Carolina, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains. North Carolina is another fascinating state with an unusual history. Some consider its early rebellious population as being the true starting point of the American Revolution.

Like Appalachia, all of North Carolina wasn’t as easily accessible. It formed an area of refuge between two great slave societies, Virginia and South Carolina. This laid the foundation for a different kind of political tradition, more progressive than its coastal neighbors.

This can be seen in the many diverse communities, communes, monasteries, retreats, and colleges. The reason I was in North Carolina was as an employee for several summers at the Black Mountain YMCA camp. It previously had been a well known alternative college that attracted some of the greatest thinkers at the time. That was my introduction to a different kind of Southern culture than I had grown familiar with from years living in South Carolina.

In the mountains, roads crisscrossed in such a way that I felt like I might come across almost anything around the next bend. There were hidden nooks everywhere and thick forests covered the land. There is a sense of freedom in this that people have sought for centuries.

Appalachia is similar the Upper South in general, specifically Kentucky. Even on the western side of Kentucky, there are rolling hillsides and winding roads. It’s not like the parts of the Deep South that have been heavily developed and it’s not like the flat farmlands to the horizon of much of the Midwest. It’s inferior soil and rocky landscape has protected it. A very different feel from Iowa, for example, which is the most developed state in the country. Big agriculture tried to rule Kentucky, but the conditions weren’t right for it. There just aren’t many massive farms in Kentucky, as found in the Midwest.

So, the land is cheaper. If you want to live on your own private mountain or start your own alternative community, a place like Kentucky is a good choice. The Upper South was less known for building infrastructure, but there are enough roads for travel purposes. For good and bad, there is a tradition of being against big government and high taxes. The live-and-let-live worldview allows a certain kind of freedom, even though in the poorest areas it also leads to some not so nice results. A fair number of rural Southerners still like to take care of their own problems, if we are to go by the data.

I wouldn’t want to go tromping through the poorest of Appalachia any more than I’d want to walk through the poorest of inner cities. Still, that has little to do with the average person living in these places. If we ended the War On Drugs, there probably would be great and positive changes seen in poor communities all over the country. There is a long history for why poor people, blacks and whites, have a lot less trust of outsiders and of government. There is a reason that so many poor people, rural and urban, learn to take care of their own problems, as best they can.

I wouldn’t be the first person to see a cultural connection between poor white Southerners and poor black Northerners. Those poor black Northerners mostly descend from poor Southern populations. It is a common culture. Many of the rural blacks who left Kentucky ended up in Northern inner cities. Even some of the rural whites who headed north also found themselves in similar circumstances, although like my family it was a bit easier for them to escape through upward mobility, not always though. The prejudice against Southern whites was strong among Northern whites because they were competing over the same jobs with the same white privilege.

Anyway, I was wanting to note that the Midwest did have some of the same community traditions as the Upper South. That is seen with the communities of Amish, Shakers, and Quakers. The Amish have been successful in refusing to fully assimilate to mainstream American society, not unlike certain populations of Appalachians. It was more challenging, however, in the more highly populated and developed Midwest to escape the forces of and demands for assimilation.

I find it comforting that there are still communities and populations that have managed to maintain some of their traditional cultures and ways of life. Outsiders may think that the self-isolated Amish and rural Appalachians are backwards, but that is being dismissive. Some people even think monks choosing a life of asceticism in a monastery is also backwards. Everyone who doesn’t perfectly assimilate is somehow wrong or strange. As an immigrant nation, the dominant society has become obsessed with assimilation, sometimes force entire populations to assimilate against their will or at least to destroy whatever culture they had before.

I’d like to see a revival of the American tradition of resistance to assimilation. I don’t mean simply assimilating to yet another monolithic culture, such as a blanket Southern identity. I’d like to see communities be more independent, not just culturally but also economically and most important politically. That is what a place like Kentucky reminds me of, a place where the forces of assimilation and resistance have been fighting it out for a long time.

I don’t mean to romanticize rural life or poor communities. I just see how the dominant society and how big biz has destroyed the independence that Americans once had. Independence has to be built on identity, on the sense of who you are in your immediate community and relationships.

* * * *

Possible Sundown Towns In Kentucky
by James W. Loewen, University of Illinois

General Info On Sundown Towns in Tennessee
by James W. Loewen, University of Illinois

Terror in the Night
by Ron Soodalter, Kentucky Monthly

Blacks, Gun Cultures, and Gun Control: T.R.M. Howard, Armed Self-Defense, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, Second Amendment Foundation

The Politics of Despair: Power and Resistance in the Tobacco Wars
by Tracy Campbell

Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power
by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito

Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America
by Elliot Jaspin

A History of Blacks in Kentucky: In pursuit of equality, 1890-1980
by George C Wright

Origins of the New South, 1877–1913: A History of the South
by C. Vann Woodward

Kentucky: Portrait in Paradox, 1900-1950
by James C. Klotter

Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century
edited by Mary Beth Pudup, Dwight B. Billings, Altina Laura Waller

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.

 

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.

Southern Multicultural Traditions

I’m so often picking on Southerners, especially the Scots-Irish. It makes me feel like a bully.

The Scots-Irish are such an easy target, like any other oppressed minority group. Looked down upon even by many other Southerners, they get called rednecks, hillbilies, crackers and white trash. I try to balance my criticisms with my love of Appalachia and my sympathetic knowledge of my own family.

It isn’t hard to find those sore points in Southern culture and history. That is the sad result of being the losers in a civil war of your own making, an unnecessary war at that and worse still fought for a less than noble cause. History hasn’t been entirely kind in its judgment.

Still, the South is as much part of America as anywhere else, even with its past attempt at secession. Maybe so many Southerners ethnically identify as American or even Native American because they feel a strong need to prove their patriotic loyalty with the shadow of the past falling upon them. It might be similar to how many Irish in the North became uber-patriots following the draft riots that besmirched their image in the public eye.

The South typically gets stereotyped. Then again, Southerners have played a large part in creating and spreading many of these stereotypes, including proudly embracing them. But I’ve never been one to be ultimately satisfied with stereotypes, although I try to reveal any kernels of truth that may lay hidden within caricatured generalizations.

My studies of Southern history and culture has shown me how complex is the region. This shouldn’t be surprising for why would we expect the South to be simplistic in a way no other region is. This complexity, however, does seem to surprise many people.

There many examples of Southern complexity: Union supporters and soldiers, slave owners turned abolitionists, white agrarian socialists and black communist party members, small town environmentalists, clannish labor organizers, self-governed black towns during Reconstruction, wealthy black communities, and on and on. Because of my last post, the example I have in mind is multiculturalism in the South.

Multiculturalism is understandably identified with the North and the West Coast, but there has always been multiculturalism in the South as well. The big cities, of course, have always been cosmopolitan places tht attracted people with more socially liberal attitudes. Early on, Charleston was aready an immensely diverse place because of all the international trade that occurred there. But I had in mind the sub-region that is at the southenmost edge of the Deep South.

From Florida to New Orleans to Texas, the Spanish Empire has left a permanent impact and the French Empire also. The mestizo and creole cultures are fundamentally a part of the South as a region and integrally a part of Southern culture.

There is a monocultural set of traditions throughout the South. There is he monocultural clannishness of the rural and upper South. Also, there is a Cavalier and Barbados equivalent to the Puritan socio-political system of oppressive assimilation. But other traditions always existed. A semi-tolerant cultural libertarianism has always persisted in Appalachia and the Southern aristcrats often wished to be perceived as cultured cosmopolitans.

I particularly want to emphasize the mestizo and creole angle. When I recently wrote of a Mestizo Midlands as a multicultural ideal and reality, I wasn’t articulating a value system in opposition to the South. Rather, I was seeking a way to include the South within the broader American experience. If we are to have cultural unity in this country, we need to recognize the shared history that unites us.

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, & the Issues Being Discussed

The political football of the moment is the case of Trayvon Martin having been followed/stalked, shot and killed by George Zimmerman. So, let me punt.

The issues surrounding the case interest me. The case itself less so. But if not for the case, these surrounding issues would unlikely see the light of day in the MSM. This is a rare opportunity for public discussion when nearly the entire nation is paying attention, not that the issues suddenly are any more important than they are at any other time.

It’s hard to know how to talk about this subject. There are so many angles one can consider.

I’ll focus on the angle that has been my focus lately in general: race, ethnicity, culture, regionalism, clannishness, violence, culture of honor, North vs South, etc. Well, it is the focus that has been on my mind for these past few years.

What has come up in the internet chatter and the talking head babble is a constellation of factors with varying degrees of relevance or irrelvance to the case at hand (depending on one’s perspective and emphasis): neighborhood watch groups, self-defense pleas, stand your ground laws, castle doctrine, vigilante justice, gun ownership rights, concealed carry, gun violence rates, crime, legally-sanctioned vs non-legally-sanctioned violence/homicides, racial profiling, gated communities, and I’m sure many other things as well.

From what I understand, the police inform neighborhood watch groups to not carry guns. Police also tell them not to follow and confront people. George Zimmerman basically did everything he shouldn’t have been doing from a genuine self-defense perspective, although following random strangers around at night while carrying a concealed weapon isn’t illegal however inadvisable the behavior and however questionable the intentions/ethics. Well, killing defenseless and innocent minors is generally frowned upon in our society.

Zimmerman was some combination of overzealous and paranoid, whether or not one sees this as justified (by whether one shares such a overzealous, paranoid worldview). He might have genuine reasons for his fears (everyone has reasons for everything they do, morally worthy reasons or not), but that is true for people with fears that don’t lead them to shooting and killing people. Fear and homicide don’t inevitably go hand in hand. In this case, it was more than just fear. Zimmerman was frustrated and angry as well.

He had been upset because he didn’t think the police were doing their job, but he felt better when the police helped him out with the neighborhood watch group. His original criticism of the police was so strong because of the tension in the local community with crime. As he explained to the police dispatcher shortly before shooting Trayvon, “These assholes they always get away.” And there are multiple witnesses to there being racist sentiments in his family which is evidence for how we should interpret statements like this combined with his having a history of calling the police to report suspicious people who were mostly black. Anyway, he made sure Trayvon didn’t get away, even when all Trayvon was trying to do was get back home to his family.

Stalking and killing innocent people in your neighborhood is hardly an effective method of making your community safer. Just speaking for myself, I’d feel less safe knowing a gun-carrying homocidal paranoiac like Zimmerman was living in my neighborhood freely walking about with a concealed weapon ready to shoot anyone he meets based on his subjective feelings of fear… but that is just me.

This is an obvious case of vigilante justice. When put in those terms, most people immediately think of it as a moral judgment. I, however, simply am using it as a description. Almost anyone could envision a scenario where they would deem vigilante justice to be justifiable, morally even if not legally; assassinating Hitler as a straightforward example; a wife shooting her life-threatening abusive husband is another example that most people could accept or at least understand. Those who support Zimmerman see his seeking vigilante justice as perfectly reasonable and even admirable, although among his supporters not all are completely willing to get on full board with the overzealousness of his application of vigilante justice.

Many gun rights proponents often argue that there would be less crime if there were more people with guns. So, in this case, if both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had guns, then they could have had a stand-your-ground shootout which would have been the ultimate form of justice; may the fastest draw win. From what I’ve recently read, it sounds like the stand your ground laws have many unintended consequences. They’ve been successfully used as a self-defense plea by gangsters involved in gang fights and by those who left the scene of a confrontation only to later return with a gun to kill the person.

I was also recently once again looking at violence rates and murder rates in the states which fits the typical North/South divide. I would point out that an act of violence that leads to death isn’t technically murder when it is legally sanctioned or doesn’t lead to criminal prosecution. I’m sure police violence isn’t even included in the stats on violence rates. Only if the police were brought to trial and prosecuted would that particular incident of police violence be included with all the rest of the violence. This is significant as particular places are known for having more violent police forces than other places.

Also, vigilante justice and violence in general is more condoned and more common in the South (whether the condoning makes it common or the commonness leads to it being condoned). As explained by Sheldon Hackney, “In the South, there’s just more folks who need killing.” I came across an example of this. Someone was explaining how, in Texas a half century ago, a standard argument for a defense lawyer wasn’t to claim that his client didn’t kill the person but that the murder victim was of low character and had it coming to them. This argument apparently was convincing to juries at the time and led to many innocent verdicts. Such a legal defense is based on a cultural expectation that vigilante justice should be upheld by the court of law.

One sees an echo of this older Southern legal tradition in how the Zimmerman case proceeded and concluded.

I see examples of this kind of thinking in my own family.

My mother quickly went to the defense of Zimmerman. Her family is of typical Appalachian stock.

My maternal uncle Bob owns and carries guns. The last time I saw him, he told of a situation where his gun came in handy. He lives out in the country and someone knocked on his door late at night asking for car help. He went out to help the guy, but made sure to bring along his gun concealed from view. He was met by a bunch of young guys who threatened to rob him and so he pulled out his gun. They left quickly. Even though he is a hardcore Christian, he openly admits that he wouldn’t think twice about killing someone who had it coming. The important point is that he is a hardcore Christian of the Southern fundamentalist variety.

Violence as a way of maintaining order was more normal for my mother’s family. Her father would beat her and her brother to punish them. My mother and uncles lived in fear of their father, but it did maintain order in an authoritarian paternalistic kind of way.

I don’t know what my father thinks of the Zimmerman case. His view might be similar to that of my mother, but his family is a more mixed background which is demonstrated by another incident.

My paternal grandmother was born and raised in the South and her family have been in the Deep South for centuries. She moved to the Midwest when she married my paternal grandfather who was a Northerner, born in New Jersey but raised on an estate on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. My father’s parents were arguing once when he was a child and my paternal grandmother ended up shooting a gun into a chair. My paternal grandfather could get angry and moody, but he never turned to violence. That is Southern meets Northern in a nutshell.

My father takes more after his own father and his father’s Northern attitude. My dad has considered buying a gun. My dad has some right-wing tendencies such as in fearing the breakdown in society. He realizes that if society were to breakdown there would be riots and looting. One might want to have a gun in this kind of situation, but then his Northern Christian sensibility kicks in. He realizes that he wouldn’t want to be responsible for killing his own neighbors merely to protect some food. It seems unChristian to him, but killing people is perfectly Christian to the Southern fundamentalist worldview.

Read or watch some of the End Times apocalyptic entertainment put out by fundies. I have and it is a scary world as seen through their eyes. If I saw the world that way, I’d carry a gun too.

My worldview leans toward pacifism which makes sense as I born in and lived most of my life in the Quaker-founded culture of the Midlands. It’s a live-and-let-live community-minded semi-libertarianism. Like the rural South, the rural Midwest has a majority white population that is religious, supportive of gun rights and do indeed own lots of guns. Unlike the rural South, the rural Midwest has low rates of gun violence in particular and violence in general. The rural South has the highest rate of violence in the entire country. It also has higher rates of suicides, ‘accidental’ deaths, wife beatings, child abuse, etc. The South is just a dangerous place all around, whether you wish to ascribe that to a culture of honor or to clannish genetics.

Here in Iowa, I have coworkers with guns, some for hunting and some for self-defense. I have one coworker who is in the National Guard and carries a gun with him. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’m a liberal-minded gun rights proponent, but like a good Midwesterner I also advocate for a peaceful, safe and orderly society. The high rate of violence in the South is a foreign mentality to me. I just don’t get it.

The problem isn’t necessarily the laws themselves for the laws merely are an expression of a culture. You could have a stand your ground law in Iowa and it probably wouldn’t lead to more violence as it seems to have in Southern states. So, maybe laws like this throw gas on the fire, but they didn’t start the fire.

What this recent case brings to public attention is how different the South is from the rest of the country. For a non-Southerner visiting the South, it is truly like visiting a foreign land. It isn’t dissimilar to visiting Mexico. In both cases, there is a higher chance you might get killed, even if you’re just walking down the street minding your own business.

Related to the North/South divide is the race issue.

Black culture is stigmatized as being inherently violent. This is the justification for racial profiling, as argued by those on the right. However, since white rural Southerners are the single most violent regional demographic in the US, why don’t they get profiled? If gangsta rap music is judged to promote violence, why don’t we judge redneck country music the same way? Country music is often about immoral behavior: extramarital affairs, drunkenness, fighting, etc. The older country music and mountain music can be extremely dark. So, why this racial double standard?

I was walking to my parents’ home the other night, not unlike what Trayvon Martin had been doing. It was getting a bit dark and I’m typically a bit scruffy looking. It’s an upper class neighborhood that has had some crime. The scenario was quite similar to what led to the Trayon killing, but the difference is that I’m white and I live in relatively peaceful Iowa. As a white person, I felt as safe as if I were sitting at home behind a locked door. I walked past kids and adults, none of whom knew me nor did I know them, yet no one looked at me suspiciously, followed me in a car or stalked me on foot.

Even in liberal Iowa City, racism takes its toll – as I’ve written about before: John Bior Deng: R.I.P. and John Bior Deng: Racism, Classism.

Obviously, it isn’t just about the Florida case. It is about the Southern culture that promotes vigilante justice and makes unjust violence inevitable. Maybe even more importantly, it’s about this country’s unresolved race issues which go hand in hand with this country’s unresolved regional issues. Even if the law was properly applied in this particular case, we obviously need to fix our legal system to ensure that it is a justice system. An unjust law fairly applied doesn’t a just society make.

We as a society still have a lot of soul-searching to do, if there is ever to be justice in this country. A truly just society isn’t defined by those who have it coming getting punished with death but rather is defined by the innocent not living in fear of those who think they have it coming.

* * * *

In researching this case and the issues involved, here are the interesting things I found:

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/news-analysis/trayvons-death-proves-race-still-a-factor-in-us-life-29429202.html

As it is, and in spite of his acquittal, George Zimmerman’s life has been changed for ever. He is in hiding, a marked man now a target for a hothead’s vigilante justice – what he was accused of meting out to Trayvon Martin.

http://variety.com/2013/tv/news/video-john-oliver-daily-show-rip-george-zimmerman-decision-1200563378/

“That we can get a verdict like this, not because the system has broken down, but the system worked exactly as it was designed,” Oliver said. “How does 2013 Florida have a law that seems cut and pasted from 1881 Tombstone? Because – let’s be clear here – according to current Florida law, you can get a gun, follow an unarmed minor, call the police, have them explicitly tell you to stop following him, then choose to ignore that, keep following the minor, get into a confrontation with him and if at any point during that process you get scared, you can shoot the minor to death and the state of Florida will say, ‘Well, look, you did what you could.’”

http://www.theonion.com/articles/in-our-defense-these-were-some-pretty-fuckedup-law,33126/

But thanks to these dumb-as-dog-shit laws, while the defense had to introduce some evidence that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense, they didn’t actually have to completely convince us of it. All they had to do, according to the undoubtedly moronic but explicitly written Florida statutes, was create a “reasonable doubt” as to whether he acted in self-defense.

Does that make sense to me? Absolutely not. But I was put in the position to decide whether the prosecution was able to present a case that proved that George Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. And based on the guidelines, which all of us thought were pretty ludicrous and sort of made us question the entire U.S. justice system, the prosecution didn’t do it.

I know it’s easier for all of you who are enraged at us to look past the details. After all, putting yourselves in our position would force you to try to understand how brutally complex, and legitimately dysfunctional, the legal system truly is. And why do that when you can just call us unsympathetic monsters?

Look, I’m not an idiot. I know George Zimmerman shot an unarmed teenager to death—he admitted to it, for Christ’s sake. Zimmerman followed an innocent 17-year-old (we couldn’t take into consideration whether or not Martin was racially profiled, by the way, which was yet another little legal gem that was handed our way), called 911, was told by the operator not to pursue him, but instead began a physical altercation that ended in the young man’s death. And the state of Florida stipulated that, from a strict legal standpoint, George Zimmerman did nothing wrong.

Pretty fucking dumb, right? Trust me, we tried looking at this thing from every angle while we were in deliberation for 16 hours. There’s no way around it.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2013/07/16/the-broader-lesson-of-the-zimmerman-verdict/#comment-255328

The “Zimmerman mindset,” as Alexander calls it, is composed of more parts than mere racism. Another part of it — equally dangerous, if not more so — is the paranoid, self-important vigilante mindset that drove Zimmerman to completely ignore the advice of authorities, forget the local cops even existed, and go off on his own tear and get himself into a lot of totally unnecessary trouble, just because everyone has told him, and he’s told himself, that a man has to “stand his ground” and “retreat” of any sort is bad, even when basic common sense demands it and there’s really nothing to gain by fighting.

This wan’t just a triumph of racism, it was a triumph of juvenile libertarianism over sensible use of state power, brittle macho belligerence over prudent choice of where to make a stand and when to step back for safety’s sake. It was a triumph of childish, selfish emotion over any sort of adult reason or responsibility.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2013/07/16/the-broader-lesson-of-the-zimmerman-verdict/#comment-255330

Funny how you don’t hear the Second Amendment fetishists saying that this tragedy could have been averted if only Martin had been armed and able to defend himself!

http://newtrajectory.blogspot.com/2012/03/dangers-of-vigilante-justice.html

By now, if you’re even slightly in tune with issues of guns and gun violence, you also have heard a lot about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year old boy who was innocently walking through his gated neighborhood when a self-appointed neighborhood watch man, George Zimmerman, armed with a concealed weapon and feeling empowered by Florida’s “shoot first” law, took it upon himself to trail and then accost Trayvon, against the advice of 911. When the boy put up a fight, armed with nothing more than a can of tea and a bag of Skittles, Zimmerman shot Trayvon dead.

There are so many red flags with this case that it boggles the mind, such as the fact that Zimmerman had a violent past but was allowed to carry a concealed weapon anyway, the way Zimmerman ignored the 911 operator and felt obliged to get into an armed confrontation with the boy despite the fact that police were on their way, the assumption by the police of Zimmerman’s innocence, the assumption by the police of Trayvon’s guilt, the apparent stereotypes that Zimmerman had of Trayvon based on the boy’s clothing and skin color, and the lack of an arrest of the shooter.

But at least as disturbing to me as any of those things is the root of the issue, the one thing that led to the confrontation in the first place: the desire by a man with a concealed weapon to play “Wyatt Earp” and be a freelance policeman. People carry concealed handguns for two main reasons: fear of others, and a sense of self-empowerment. Fear of others can quickly become paranoia, and a feeling of self-empowerment can sometimes push people over the edge into irrational behavior in a crisis situation. Both of these things likely happened in Trayvon’s situation. Add to this the recent study that people who hold guns are more likely to imagine others being armed with guns. This, too, apparently happened in Trayvon’s shooting, where Zimmerman is heard on the 911 call saying that he thought Trayvon was holding something suspicious, like a gun.

There is an irrefutable fact: the average citizen with a conceal carry license is not even remotely trained like a policeman. They aren’t as versed in the laws, they haven’t been trained in crisis intervention, negotiation tactics, or how to remain rational or steady in a shootout, and they likely haven’t had as much practice with their weapon. Training requirements are little to none nearly anywhere in America for them, and they are less accountable to anyone for their potentially lethal decisions than law enforcement professionals. So the pro-gun daydream of saving the day with their guns is a potentially lethal one, not just for the criminal or the gun owner, but also for anyone who happens to be around them when the shootout happens.

I can understand the frustration felt by the citizens of Dorena. They just want to feel safe. Sadly, bond measures intended to fund law enforcement in this area almost always fail, and they are particularly voted against by rural voters like those in Dorena. If they want to improve their safety, arming everyone around and forming posses to come to the rescue of a victim isn’t the answer, as Trayvon’s family can now attest. The answer is better funding to improve the number of deputy patrols, as well as the many non-armed options to hardening their homes against invaders.

There are very good reasons why we have police forces instead of relying on vigilantes to protect our communities.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/21/1225435/-The-Racism-of-the-Zimmerman-Family

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2013/05/28/george-zimmermans-relevant-past/

But thanks to Florida’s incredible sunshine laws, we know a few relevant things about Zimmerman.

In July 2005, he was arrested for “resisting officer with violence.” The neighborhood watch volunteer who wanted to be a cop got into a scuffle with cops who were questioning a friend for alleged underage drinking. The charges were reduced and then waived after he entered an alcohol education program. Then in August 2005, Zimmerman’s former fiance sought a restraining order against him because of domestic violence. Zimmerman sought a restraining order against her in return. Both were granted. Meanwhile, over the course of eight years, Zimmerman made at least 46 calls to the Sanford (Fla.) Police Department reporting suspicious activity involving black males.
We also know that Witness No. 9 accused Zimmerman of molesting her when they were children. The relative’s revelation is appalling but irrelevant. What most folks don’t know is that Witness No. 9 made an explosive allegation against her cousin. “I know George. And I know that he does not like black people,” she told a Sanford police officer during a telephone call in which she pleaded for anonymity. “He would start something. He’s a very confrontational person. It’s in his blood. Let’s just say that. I don’t want this poor kid and his family to just be overlooked.” At the end of the call, Witness No. 9 urged the officer to “get character reports from other people and see if he’s ever said anything about black people, about being racist or anything like that because I guarantee you there’s somebody out there who will say it.”
That phone call was significant because it was placed two days after Zimmerman killed Trayvon and a couple of weeks before the case drew national attention. Witness No. 9 wasn’t seeking attention. “I’m a mom,” she told police. “I can’t stand seeing that some kid got shot and killed over a stupid fight, especially one that my [redacted] … because I know who he is.”
George Zimmerman is the one who stands accused of second-degree murder. He, not Trayvon Martin, is the one on trial starting June 10. And who Zimmerman is more relevant to the proceedings than who Trayvon was.

http://www.chicagodefender.com/index.php/culture/21008-killing-in-self-defense

A 2012 study by PBS’s Frontline is getting a second look post-Zimmerman’s exoneration, and it reveals that if you’re going to kill in self-defense in America, you’d better be white. By analyzing data from a study by John Roman, senior analyst at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, Frontline found that in “Stand your ground” states, white people who kill black people are 354 percent more likely to be found justified in their killings. And it doesn’t get much better in non-“Stand your ground” states, where that number goes down only to 250 percent.

But even when it comes to black-on-black crime or black-on-white crime, a black defendant is unlikely to get a self-defense ruling in his or her favor, whether or not the state has “Stand your ground” laws on the books

http://themonkeycage.org/2012/06/27/stand-your-ground-laws-and-homicides/

Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males.According to our estimates, between 4.4 and 7.4 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws.We find no evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks.

http://themonkeycage.org/2012/06/27/stand-your-ground-laws-and-homicides/#comment-29074

What’s more striking in these data than the pre-/post-comparison is the sharp contrast between SYG and non-SYG states. Could it be that the SYG states are more inclined to pass such laws because they’re inured to a relatively high level of violence already?

http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/florida-stand-your-ground-law-yields-some-shocking-outcomes-depending-on/1233133

• Those who invoke “stand your ground” to avoid prosecution have been extremely successful. Nearly 70 percent have gone free.

• Defendants claiming “stand your ground” are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.

• The number of cases is increasing, largely because defense attorneys are using “stand your ground” in ways state legislators never envisioned. The defense has been invoked in dozens of cases with minor or no injuries. It has also been used by a self-described “vampire” in Pinellas County, a Miami man arrested with a single marijuana cigarette, a Fort Myers homeowner who shot a bear and a West Palm Beach jogger who beat a Jack Russell terrier.

• People often go free under “stand your ground” in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended. One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.

• Similar cases can have opposite outcomes. Depending on who decided their cases, some drug dealers claiming self-defense have gone to prison while others have been set free. The same holds true for killers who left a fight, only to arm themselves and return. Shoot someone from your doorway? Fire on a fleeing burglar? Your case can swing on different interpretations of the law by prosecutors, judge or jury.

• A comprehensive analysis of “stand your ground” decisions is all but impossible. When police and prosecutors decide not to press charges, they don’t always keep records showing how they reached their decisions. And no one keeps track of how many “stand your ground” motions have been filed or their outcomes.

Comments Section – InsiderMyself wrote:

AH BUT THIS JUROR DOES ADMIT STAND YOUR GROUND WAS FACTOR:

“Because of the heat of the moment and stand your ground, he had a right to defend himself.”

Look what happened. Even the Times is now writing “stories” about how this law was not used here. “It’s not about stand your ground”. Bullhockey! The judges instructions to the jury are based on the LAW. And a juror said it did matter.

So why is the Times saying otherwise?

http://www.ibtimes.com/george-zimmerman-stand-your-ground-authors-say-trayvon-martins-shooter-has-no-protection-under-law

Former Sen. Durell Peaden and Rep. Dennis Baxley, two of the authors of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, are arguing that George Zimmerman lost the right to claim protection by way of self-defense the moment he went after Trayvon Martin, and insist that the legislation itself isn’t to blame for Martin’s death.

He has no protection under my law, Peaden told the Miami Herald.

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/07/14/it-is-about-race-study-finds-significant-racial-bias-in-stand-your-ground-laws/

Clarification: The PBS/Frontline study referenced above was conducted over a year ago; at the time, lawyers for George Zimmerman were relying on SYG for their defense, hence, John Roman’s quote above. By the time of the trial, the defense strategy had been changed to the standard “self-defense.” However… as stated in the article linked below on the issue of race and SYG:

George Zimmerman killed a 17-year-old boy he’d stalked for being ‘suspicious’ (a black teenager in a neighborhood where there’d been some problems… also known as “racial profiling”), provoked an altercation, shot the boy to death and then got off scott-free based on the parameters of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Yes, Zimmerman’s lawyer dropped that particular defense and went with plain old “self defense” instead (getting out of your car and following someone is, by definition, not “standing” your ground) but the very existence of the law pollutes the way people view murder “unavoidable” shootings. Particularly when a black person is the victim.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/five-years-since-florida-enacted-stand-your-ground-law-justifiable/1128317

The Times searched major Florida newspapers and found at least 93 cases in the past five years in which the new law was a factor. Those are just the confrontations that made the papers.

In 57 of them, those who used force were either not charged with a crime or the charges were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge before trial. Seven other defendants were acquitted.

Some people fought off intruders in their homes or businesses, which would have been allowed even before the “stand your ground” law.

The use of force resulted in 65 deaths.

Did the law empower the users of force to shoot? Could the tables have been turned on the shooters? If not for the law, would any of those 65 people still be alive?

How can anyone know?

What is known: Reports of justifiable homicides in Florida have spiked.

For the first half of this decade, the state counted an average of 34 justifiable homicides a year, as few as 31 and as many as 43.

That continued in 2006, the law’s first full year.

But the next three years brought these numbers:

2007: 102.

2008: 93.

2009: 105.

The first six months of 2010: 44.

http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/floridas-stand-your-ground-law-was-born-of-2004-case-but-story-has-been/1225164

They still wonder. What was wrong with Rodney that evening? Why was he acting out of character? The autopsy showed that his skull was fractured. Had he been beaten? Did he run into the trailer in fear for his life?

“It came close to killing my parents,” said Cox’s sister, Terri Cox Lavery, 44, who still combs through the police reports seven years later, looking for answers. “My mom, just this year, has gotten some of herself back.”

Her family, many of them former military, owns guns. Her husband has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. They believe in the right to bear arms and to protect your property.

“But if someone seems disoriented,” she said, “I’d like to think that we would, at a distance, first attempt to give some kind of aid and set some boundaries and call for help.”

They all agree that it’s especially insulting and hurtful that Rodney’s death is used by politicians as an example.

“The people who used this incident to pass that law, they’re not even on course,” said Autry, Cox’s uncle. “They’re not even close.”

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/19/3460399/fred-grimm-vigilante-justice-its.html

Yet his lawyer could argue, invoking Stand Your Ground, that his client, outside the home, in the dark, waiting in ambush, “had the absolute right to defend himself inside his own home.” Before 2005, such an inside-out defense would have been dismissed as absurd. No longer.

Of course, this was just some a petty criminal, shot and killed in the act. An ex-con on probation working his way to his next conviction. Not a very sympathetic victim. But there was a time when one measure of a civil society had to do with the value it assigned to the life of even a common thief. When civil society restricted the use of deadly force to extreme, fearful, unavoidable circumstances.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/19/3460399/fred-grimm-vigilante-justice-its.html#storylink=cpy

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/02/02/1184177/-Guns-Its-a-Guy-Thing-and-a-Southern-Guy-Thing-especially#

However, where the results get really interesting is when we look at the male population of gun owners. Here’s the results that should interest you about the rate of gun ownership among me. The two highest rated sub-populations regarding gun ownership are:

Married southern men : 64%
Non-Hispanic southern white men: 61%

By contrast:

Non-southern married men: 48%
Non-Hispanic, non-southern white men: 45%

Further more, no other region of the country comes close to the South in terms of guns ownerhip. Here are the rates of gun ownership, which combine both male and female gun owners, among the various regions of the country:

Southern residents: 38%
Midwestern residents: 29%

Western residents: 27%

Eastern residents: 21%

That’s a big difference. It may reflect a cultural difference among the various regions, or it might reflect that many states outside the South have stricter gun laws. There’s no way to know, unfortunately, just based on Gallup’s raw data. However, Gallup’s data does show that women, married or not are more likely to own guns if they reside in the South versus other regions of the country.

http://kasamaproject.org/en/race-liberation/3936-68profiling-in-america-the-suspicious-face-of-trayvon-martin#kmt-40847

I’ve driven through Sanford a number of times, when I was living in Jacksonville, FL. Don’t know much about it, specifically. I had a friend who lived in the town just to the north, Deltona. This part of Florida is called North Florida, and snarky comments from the rest of the South aside, it is very much part of the old South.

I have gone to the beach on the Fourth of July and seen Confederate battle flags. I have seen them on people’s trucks in Orlando, the urban center which is near Sanford. Driving North on 75 towards the Georgia border is the largest flag I’ve ever seen, fluttering over the freeway. Another Confederate flag (the first time I saw it, it froze my blood and my wife asked me where I’d taken her–she’s Black).

This is a part of Florida where, about a decade ago, a farmer was convicted of driving in to Jacksonville and offering jobs to homeless men, then keeping them imprisoned on his farm, charging them more for room and board than he paid them, and not letting them leave until their debts were paid.

In Florida, we have a “stand your ground” law. That is, you are not required to attempt to escape before you use deadly force against another. The Sanford police are attempting to say it applies, though Zimmerman is the pursuer, not the pursuee. He was the one with the gun. And I have little doubt that if it had been me walking through that neighborhood, not only would I still be alive, Zimmerman wouldn’t have bothered with me nor called the police.

But the murder of Black men by white authorities is not a crime in Florida. Not even in South Florida, the supposedly liberal part. Not even when, like ‘BG’ Beaugris, they are executed while lying on the ground.

http://thegloomyhistorian.blogspot.com/2012/03/first-shots-of-civil-war.html

Dumb kids are gonna be dumb kids no matter where or when, but does being a dumbass warrant a death sentence by private individuals, “just because?” Zimmerman, Martin’s murderer, hasn’t exactly won much public support. But “the homeowner” who gunned down Morrisson in the middle of the night for being on his porch? Holy Moly has there been an outpouring of support for him. A simple smell test can tell you a lot about what these murders were about. Imagine it was a white kid gunned down on a black homeowner’s porch. Perhaps some of the emminantly reasonable objections to this scenario would go like this: “Did the homeowner really have to kill this kid?” “This is not what the castle doctrine was intended for?” “Couldn’t the homeowner have retreated inside his house behind a locked door and called the cops?” Unfortunately, this is not what happened.

http://socialistworker.org/2012/04/05/the-many-other-trayvons

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/opinion/sunday/a-native-caste-society.html

A study released in 2006 by Duke University on attitudes on race in Durham, N.C., a city with one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country, found that an overwhelming majority of Latinos — 78 percent — felt they had the most in common with whites, while 53 percent of them felt they had the least in common with blacks. So it would make sense for those respondents to act with the same assumptions about blacks that they perceive are held by native whites. In fact the Latino respondents, many of them immigrants from Mexico and Central America, actually reported higher negative feelings toward blacks than most native-born whites. Nearly 60 percent reported feeling that few or almost no blacks were hard-working or could be trusted, while only 10 percent of whites held that view.

On the other hand, almost three-quarters of blacks felt that Latinos were hard-working or could be trusted. Black Americans appear to view Latinos as more like themselves. “Blacks are not as negative toward Latinos as Latinos are toward blacks because blacks see them as another nonwhite group that will be treated as they have been,” said Paula D. McClain, the lead author on the study. Even as blacks worry about losing jobs to new immigrants, they are less supportive of harsh anti-immigration laws, she said, “because they know what laws have done to them.”

[ .  . . ]

In this atmosphere, blacks are the target of the highest number of hate crimes in the United States, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — higher by a wide margin than any another group of Americans by race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability. While blacks make up 12.6 percent of the country’s population, they were 70 percent of the victims of racial hate crimes in 2010.

WHATEVER role caste may have played in the Trayvon Martin case is unknowable, and it is far too early to tell whether Mr. Zimmerman will be arrested, tried or convicted. But that encounter unfolded in Seminole County, where Latinos have overtaken African-Americans as the dominant minority group, rising to 17 percent from 11 percent in the last decade. Blacks now make up 11 percent and whites, 66 percent. The area had a history of vigilante justice long before the new arrivals, dating back to 1920, when blacks in the nearby town of Ocoee were burned out of their homes after two black men tried to vote.

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2013/jul/17/andre-canty-i-was-trayvon-martin-2002/

The murder and the verdict proved that Black males were born suspicious. Black masculinity is what some fear the most. Fear is why we have to go way out our way to be as approachable and as safe as possible. A flawed society and system are reasons why I have to appear safe. Black masculinity is why there are systems in place to bring us down, which is why Trayvon was doomed before he was born.

There always has to be some reason why a Black male dies at a young age. If a Black male dies, you often see gangs or drugs as the main factors to their demise as if he provoked his own death. The same has been said against Trayvon. By his appearance alone, he was destined to die? He only defended himself against a man stalking him, but since Trayvon chose to fight, he somehow chose his fate.

If you take a look at his supposed drug use, remember that the last three of our U.S. Presidents smoked weed AND cocaine. President George W. Bush was arrested for a DUI. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger smoked weed. Using drugs is not a factor; it’s a Black male using drugs that’s the problem. Even with Trayvon’s not so squeaky clean record in school, it was impossible for Zimmerman to be aware of that on that day. What Zimmerman perceived is what many perceived: a walking monster.

The fact is that teenagers often do dumb things. We’ve all done it; however, those dumb things should not be cause for murder. Teenagers do dumb things, and then they grow up, and start to do less dumb things.

Trayvon did what you’re taught to do and that was self-defense. The case also proves that Black males cannot engage in self-defense because it will always be their fault.

A Black death is always arguable. Thus is why there are so many reasons as to why he and many like him should’ve died. It is why I know that if I were killed in the same manner some would believe that it was my destiny because of the body I’m in and where I come from. When Emmitt Till’s killers were acquitted, one of the jurors said “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.” There isn’t much difference with Emmitt and Trayvon. No matter how Black males strive to be a productive member in society, that same society will strive to condemn you, so what can we possibly do to not seem like a threat?

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/01/the-psychogeography-of-gun-violence/69353/

The classic study of the subject is by Richard Nisbett, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan. In his paper “Violence and Regional Culture,” published in the American Psychologist in 1993, Nisbett examined the higher rate of violence in the U.S. south, which he notes has been established since the time of revolution. After considering possible explanations having to do with poverty, slavery, and even the region’s hotter climate, he found a different answer in a cultural vestige of pastoralism: a deep “culture of honor” in which residents place an extraordinary value on personal reputation, family, and property. Threats to these things provoke aggressive reactions, leading to higher rates of murder and domestic violence. Here is how Nisbett himself explains it:

Southerners do not endorse violence in the abstract more than do Northerners, nor do they endorse violence in all specific forms of circumstances. Rather, they are more likely to endorse violence as an appropriate response to insults, as a means of self protection, and as a socialization tool in training children. This is the characteristic cultural pattern of herding societies the world over. Consistent with the culture-of-honor interpretation, it is argument-related and not felony-related homicide that is more common in the South…

There is another sense in which the culture of honor might turn out to be self-sustaining or even capable of expanding into mainstream culture. The culture is a variant of warrior culture the world over, and its independent invention countless times (Gilmore, 1990), combined with the regularities in its themes having to do with glorification of masculine attributes, suggests that it may be a particularly alluring stance that may be capable of becoming functionally autonomous. Many observers (e.g., Naipaul, 1989; Shattuck, 1989) have noted that contemporary Southern backcountry culture, including music, dress, and social stance, is spreading beyond its original geographical confines and becoming a part of the fabric of rural, and even urban, working-class America.

Perhaps for the young males who adopt it, this culture provides a romantic veneer to everyday existence. If so, it is distinctly possible that the violence characteristic of this culture is also spreading beyond its confines. An understanding of the culture and its darker side would thus remain important for the foreseeable future.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/23/1225851/-The-One-Simple-Graphic-that-Sums-Up-the-Whole-Problem-with-the-Trayvon-Martin-Case

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Southern Pre-Capitalism (& Anti-Capitalism)

I was this past week reading from The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders’ Worldview by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese.

Several chapters caught my attention, but it will be long before I read more from it. The book is massive and very dense. I wasn’t planning on reading it at all for the time being, until I checked out some of the chapter titles, one of which is Chapter 21 – Between Individualism and Corporatism: From the Reformation to the War for Southern Independence,  pp. 649-679.

Corporatism is being used in a different way than most people are used to from discussions of politics and economics. The authors are speaking in terms of earlier American society. Corporations as we now know them didn’t exist in centuries past. The pre-capitalist tendencies of Southern society led them to hold onto this earlier corporatism.

A slave plantation wasn’t just a or even primarily a business. It was a social order and a way of life. Many plantation owners didn’t even have any capital (i.e., fungible wealth) for they were entirely invested in their land and slaves (i.e, non-fungible wealth) and this wealth was inherited. This life of inheritance was inseparable from indebtedness, both monetary indebtedness and social indebtedness.

It’s easy for us to judge slaveholders as the bad guys. They are certainly worthy of our criticism.

The arguments against slavery were well known since before the American Revolution. Abolitionism was a major force that led up to the revolution. Slaveholders like Jefferson and Washington had plenty of opportunity during their lifetimes to free their slaves and both spoke of doing so, but neither did so. Nonetheless, there was a case of a slaveholder who freed  around 500 slaves. The problem is freeing all your slaves suddenly made you relatively poor.

For most slaveholders, though, it was a very complex issue. Ending slavery meant the collapse of their entire society. They envisioned total chaos and horrific violence. I’m sure there was some guilty conscience involved. However, they weren’t entirely wrong. The end of slavery did end the world as they knew it.

The authors attempt to show that not everything about that society was bad. The South was a pre-capitalist society and Southerners were among the strongest critics of capitalism. They genuinely believed a different way of organizing society was possible. It’s ironic that they criticized capitalism because they saw it as enslaving whites which indicates they knew slavery was a bad thing. It’s equally ironic that the South has since so unquestioningly embraced the laissez-faire capitalism of their Civil War enemy and in doing so forsaken their own traditional values.

This pre-capitalist view of Southern society fascinates me.

I did some web searches on Eugene D. Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. They made for an unique couple.

Earlier in their lives, Eugene was a Marxist and Elizabeth was a feminist. Later, they both became strongly conservative. I’m not sure either ever entirely denounced those labels following their right-ward shift. I get the sense that he simply became a Marxist conservative, probably from formerly being a conservative Marxist. He certainly was anti-capitalist or mistrusting of it which is why he became attracted to Southern traditionalism as he understood it. I’m less clear about Elizabeth’s beliefs other than her shifting toward the Catholic version of traditional family values.

I can see what is appealing in the traditionally conservative Southern worldview as presented by these scholars. There is that element of corporatism which I think is the same thing as what I’ve been calling classical conservatism, but there is also that lost conservative tradition from earlier centuries that was highly critical of capitalism. Classical conservatives valued social order over all else. The paired values of capitalism and individualism was the line in the sand beyond which classical conservatism could not go. That line, however, was crossed which is why modern conservatives tend to be classical liberals instead.

In my web searches, I found some articles that are neutral and some from both sides of the political spectrum. I like to look at the diverse perspectives on two people who had diverse and non-standard ideological tendencies.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Fox-Genovese

http://reason.com/archives/2007/01/09/the-evolution-of-an-antifemini

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/severing-ties-that-bind-women-family/#more-438

http://www.wf-f.org/04-3-Feminism.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_D._Genovese#Shift_to_the_right

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/108044/radical-right-wing-the-legacy-eugene-genovese#

http://networks.h-net.org/node/512/reviews/774/harvey-genovese-and-fox-genovese-mind-master-class-history-and-faith

http://thehuffingtonriposte.blogspot.com/2011/11/it-takes-one-or-former-one-to-know-one.html

https://mises.org/misesreview_detail.aspx?control=57

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/10/003-conservatisms-in-conflict-49

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/10/001-the-remaking-of-a-marxist-35

http://nova.wpunj.edu/newpolitics/issue23/lichte23.htm

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-conservative-mind

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/eugene-genovese-and-dissent

http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/2974

Regional Stereotypes For Fun and Profit

Further data showing regions to more or less conform to their cultural stereotypes. For the fun of it, I’ll oversimplify and exaggerate the conclusions:

  • Upper Midwesterners are conservative-minded progressives and socialists who are healthy in mind and body.
  • Appalachians are rightwing-minded regressives and corporatists who are unhealthy in mind and body.

Where Are the Country’s Least Happy and Healthy Americans? New Studies Reveal America’s “Sadness Belt”
By Melanie Foley

Gallup and Healthways recently released their annual Well-Being Index for 2012, and Appalachia was found once again to be home to some of the least healthy and happy Americans. The most striking result of last year’s Well-Being Index is that while the happiest states are spread throughout the country, the lowest ranking states are all clustered in Central and Southern Appalachia, and the region’s neighboring states.

Why Is Socialism Doing So Darn Well in Deep-Red North Dakota?
By Les Leopold

North Dakota is the very definition of a red state. It voted 58 percent to 39 percent for Romney over Obama, and its statehouse and senate have a total of 104 Republicans and only 47 Democrats. The Republican super-majority is so conservative it recently passed the nation’s most severe anti-abortion resolution – a measure that declares a fertilized human egg has the same right to life as a fully formed person.

But North Dakota is also red in another sense: it fully supports its state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND), a socialist relic that exists nowhere else in America. Why is financial socialism still alive in North Dakota? Why haven’t the North Dakotan free-market crusaders slain it dead?

Because it works.

In 1919, the Non-Partisan League, a vibrant populist organization, won a majority in the legislature and voted the bank into existence. The goal was to free North Dakota farmers from impoverishing debt dependence on the big banks in the Twin Cities, Chicago and New York. More than 90 years later, this state-owned bank is thriving as it helps the state’s community banks, businesses, consumers and students obtain loans at reasonable rates. It also delivers a handsome profit to its owners — the 700,000 residents of North Dakota. In 2011, the BND provided more than $70 million to the state’s coffers. Extrapolate that profit-per-person to a big state like California and you’re looking at an extra $3.8 billion a year in state revenues that could be used to fund education and infrastructure.