Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Universities and Free Speech in Our Era of White Nationalism

There have been several instances where invitations to controversial personalities have generated protests at our universities designed to prevent that person from speaking.  One would be justified at being uncomfortable with such an occurrence.  It would, at first blush, appear that the fundamental right of freedom of speech has been nullified.  At second blush, however, one might be delighted that some obnoxious crank has been stopped from spewing objectionable nonsense in a public forum.

Can one argue that universities are not required to allow a public forum for just anyone?  News media have the right to decide what is newsworthy; not every person has an opinion worth publishing.  Do universities have the ability—and duty— to decide that some discussions of issues are inconsistent with the goals of an educational institution?

Ulrich Baer, “vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, and professor of comparative literature at New York University,” provides an answer in the affirmative.  His thoughts were presented in a New York Times article, What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech.  If you are unfamiliar with the term ‘snowflake,’ Wikipedia comes to your rescue.

“Generation Snowflake, or Snowflake Generation, is a term used to characterize people who became adults in the 2000s and 2010s as being more prone to taking offence and less resilient than previous generations, or as being too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own. The term is considered derogatory.”

“The term "snowflake" has been used to refer to children raised by their parents in ways that give them an inflated sense of their own uniqueness.  This usage of ‘snowflake’ may originate from Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel Fight Club, and its 1999 film adaptation. Both the novel and the film include the line ‘You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake’."

“The term ‘Generation Snowflake’, or its variant ‘Snowflake Generation’ probably originated in the United States and came into wider use in the United Kingdom in 2016 following the publication of Claire Fox's book I Find That Offensive!.”

Baer does not see the protesting students’ actions as necessarily offensive to fundamental rights, and suggests that the students may in fact be ahead of the general public in understanding what is at stake.

The student activism that has roiled campuses — at Auburn, Missouri, Yale, Berkeley, Middlebury and elsewhere — is an opportunity to take stock of free speech issues in a changed world. It is also an opportunity to take into account the past few decades of scholarship that has honed our understanding of the rights to expression in higher education, which maintains particularly high standards of what is worthy of debate.”

He reminds us that this behavior is not new and points out that the issue has been addressed previously.

“The recent controversies over the conflict between freedom of expression and granting everyone access to speech hark back to another telling moment. In 1963, Yale University had rescinded an invitation to Alabama’s segregationist governor, George C. Wallace. In 1974, after unruly protests prevented William Shockley from debating his recommendation for voluntary sterilization of people with low I.Q.s, and other related incidents, Yale issued a report on how best to uphold the value of free speech on campus that remains the gold standard for many other institutions.”

“Unlike today’s somewhat reflexive defenders of free speech, the Yale report situated the issue of free speech on campus within the context of an increasingly inclusive university and the changing demographics of society at large. While Yale bemoaned the occasional ‘paranoid intolerance’ of student protesters, the university also criticized the ‘arrogant insensitivity’ of free speech advocates who failed to acknowledge that requiring of someone in public debate to defend their human worth conflicts with the community’s obligation to assure all of its members equal access to public speech.”

What Baer and the Yale report are saying is that a university has a duty to generate debate on issues, but debate must be fair.  The incidents making headlines were not intended to be fair debates; they were occasions where people with defined views were to be allowed to promote those views.  If the purpose of the presentation was to promote the notion that a class or classes of students were in some way inferior or illegitimate as citizens, how does that further education in a multicultural society, and what mechanism do the referenced students have to respond?

“The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.”

“In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public. In today’s age, we also have a simple solution that should appease all those concerned that students are insufficiently exposed to controversial views. It is called the internet, where all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.”

If that seems like logic that is a bit weak, consider this example where the asymmetry in power between speaker and listeners is both overwhelming and grotesque.

“….[an] extreme example was Holocaust denial, where invidious but often well-publicized cranks confronted survivors with the absurd challenge to produce incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of their experience of the killing machines set up by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.”

Allowing a white nationalist to claim that blacks must prove that they are not inferior puts them in the same position as the Holocaust survivors.  Similar viewpoints about immigrants and refugees place them in equally disadvantageous positions.  How is that in any way part of the educational process in a multicultural nation?

Baer suggests that these student protestors are not coddled “snowflakes” but prescient observers of dangerous changes taking place in our society.

“When Yale issued its guidelines about free speech, it did so to account for a new reality, in the early 1970s, when increasing numbers of minority students and women enrolled at elite college campuses. We live in a new reality as well. We should recognize that the current generation of students, roundly ridiculed by an unholy alliance of so-called alt-right demagogues and campus liberals as coddled snowflakes, realized something important about this country before the pundits and professors figured it out.”

“What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech, are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse. The snowflakes sensed, a good year before the election of President Trump, that insults and direct threats could once again become sanctioned by the most powerful office in the land. They grasped that racial and sexual equality is not so deep in the DNA of the American public that even some of its legal safeguards could not be undone.”

“The issues to which the students are so sensitive might be benign when they occur within the ivory tower. Coming from the campaign trail and now the White House, the threats are not meant to merely offend. Like President Trump’s attacks on the liberal media as the ‘enemies of the American people,’ his insults are meant to discredit and delegitimize whole groups as less worthy of participation in the public exchange of ideas.”

So, universities have the right to take away the privilege of a public forum on their site, and this does not limit anyone’s ability to promote their views.

Furthermore, if one feels threatened by a person’s views, one has the right to a response that is commensurate with that threat.  Long live the resistance!

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Strangers in Their Own Land: Republican Voters in the South

Arlie Russell Hochschild has produced a fascinating and enlightening volume evaluating the differences between liberals and what might be generalized as Tea Party conservatives in Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.  She is a sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley who was disturbed and puzzled by the increasing political polarization within the nation.

“In 1960, when a survey asked American adults whether it would ‘disturb’ them if their child married a member of the other political party, no more than 5 percent of either party answered ‘yes.’  But in 2010, 33 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans answered ‘yes.’  In fact, partyism, as some call it, now beats race as the source of divisive prejudice.”

“According to a 2014 Pew study of over 10,000 Americans, the most politically engaged on each side see those in the ‘other party’ not just as wrong, but as ‘so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being’.”

Being comfortably imbedded in the liberal enclave of Berkeley, Hochschild had little opportunity to interact with the engaged members of the other party, and assumed that those with opposing political views would be equally isolated from contrary opinions.  Her sociological training sent out warning signals.

“Our polarization, and the increasing reality that we simply don’t know each other, makes it too easy to settle for dislike and contempt.”

Hochschild was interested in understanding the cause of the “great paradox:” why people would support policies that would cause them great harm.  In particular, why would people oppose environmental policies that would limit the pollution that put their very lives at risk?

“Across the country, red states are poorer and have more teen mothers, more divorce, worse health, more obesity, more trauma-related deaths, more low-birth-weight babies, and lower school enrollment.  On average, people in red states die five years earlier than people in blue states.  Indeed, the gap in life expectancy between Louisiana (75.7) and Connecticut (80.8) is the same as that between the United States and Nicaragua.  Red states suffer more in another highly important but little-known way, one that speaks to the very biological self-interest in health and life: industrial pollution.”

Louisiana is a home for the oil industry and the many associated chemical processing plants.  Sections of it merit the label of “sacrifice zone:” a region so important to industry that people are willing to harm the inhabitants and the ecology there in order to produce their product.  Yet the state is also the home of people virulently opposed to government regulation of industry.

Hochschild would choose to study the people of Louisiana, not only because they were an obvious example of the great paradox, but also because it was the home of self-proclaimed Tea Party sympathizers.

“In the 2012 election, in the nation as a whole, 39 percent of the white voters voted for Barack Obama.  In the South, 29 percent did.  And in Louisiana, it was 14 percent—a smaller proportion than in the south as a whole.  According to one 2011 poll, half of the Louisianans support the Tea Party.”

She set up shop in Lake Charles, Louisiana and set about meeting and talking to people.  She would come back a number of times to re-interview Louisianans over a period of about five years.  She was interested more in the why of their attitudes than the what of their political beliefs.  Others had tried to explain the mindset of the conservative voter, but Hochschild thought they had missed an important component.

“While all these works greatly helped me, I found one thing missing in them all—a full understanding of emotion in politics.  What, I wanted to know, do people want to feel, what do they think they should or shouldn’t feel, and what do they feel about a range of issues?  When we listen to a political leader, we don’t simply hear words; we listen predisposed to want to feel certain things”

Approaching the people she encountered with this perspective was very fruitful.

“At play are ‘feeling rules,’ the right seeks release from liberal notions of what they should feel—happy for the gay newlywed, sad at the plight of the Syrian refugee, unresentful about paying taxes.  The left sees prejudice.  Such rules challenge the emotional core of right-wing belief.  And it is to this core that a free-wheeling candidate such as the billionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump….can appeal….”

Hochschild digested what she was learning and managed to assemble a description that captures and illustrates the perspective shared by those she encountered in Louisiana.  She refers to it as a “deep story,” a concept that is a bit hard to describe, but is clear once an example is provided.

“The deep story here, that of the Tea Party, focuses on relationships between social groups within our national borders.  I constructed this deep story to represent—in metaphorical form—the hopes, fears, pride, shame, resentment, and anxiety in the lives of those I talked with.  Then I tried it out on my Tea Party friends to see if they thought it fit their experience.  They did.”

This is Hochschild’s deep story.

“You are patiently standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage.  You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominately male, some with college degrees, some not.”

“Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line.  Many in the back of the line are people of color—poor, young and old, mainly without college degrees.  It’s scary to look back; there are so many behind you, and in principle you wish them well.  Still, you’ve waited a long time, worked hard, and the line is barely moving.  You deserve to move forward a little faster.  You’re patient but weary.  You focus ahead, especially on those at the very top of the hill.”

“The sun is hot and the line unmoving.  In fact, is it moving backward?”

“Look!  You see people cutting in line ahead of you!  You’re following the rules.  They aren’t.  As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back.  How can they just do that?  Who are they?  Some are black.  Through affirmative action plans, pushed by the federal government, they are being given preference for places in colleges and universities, apprenticeships, jobs, welfare payments, and free lunches, and they hold a certain secret place in people’s minds….Women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers—where will it end?”

“Then you become suspicious.  If people are cutting in line ahead of you, someone must be helping them.  Who?  A man is monitoring the line, walking up and down it, ensuring that the line is orderly and that access to the Dream is fair.  His name is President Barack Hussein Obama.  But—hey—you see him waving to the line cutters.  He’s helping them.  He feels extra sympathy for them that he does not feel for you.  He’s on their side.  He’s telling you that these line cutters deserve special treatment and that they’ve had a harder time than you’ve had.”

The many people that have cut in line if front of you generates an enormous resentment—a resentment that is fed by the similar feelings of the people around you and by your source of news about the world.

“You resent them, and you feel that it’s right that you do.  So do your friends.  Fox commentators reflect your feelings, for your deep story is also the Fox News deep story.”

This story that Hochschild constructed—and that was endorsed by her Louisianans—is built on a blatantly racist concept.  The southerners who continually complained about the political correctness imposed on them by liberals, actually hide behind political correctness in order to try to shield themselves from being labeled as the racists they are.

“Curiously, the people of the right that I came to know spoke freely about Mexicans (4 percent of Louisianans were Hispanic in 2011) and Muslims (who accounted for 1 percent) but were generally silent about blacks, who, at 26 percent, were the state’s largest minority.  When the topic of blacks did arise, many explained that they felt accused by ‘the North’ of being racist—which, by their own definition, they clearly were not.  They defined as racist a person who used the ‘N’ word, or who ‘hates’ blacks.”

“As I and others use the term, however, racism refers to the belief in a natural hierarchy that places blacks at the bottom, and the tendency of whites to judge their own worth by distance from that bottom.  By that definition, many Americans, north and south, are racist.  And racism appears not simply in personal attitudes but in structural arrangements—as when polluting industries move closer to black neighborhoods than to white.”

If these people represent the Tea Party, then it is no accident that the Tea Party arose with the election of Barack Obama as president.  Hochschild places Obama prominently in the deep story as the most visible and most outrageous of those butting in line.  Here she describes the sentiments of her Louisianans.

“And President Obama: how did he rise so high?  The biracial son of a low-income single mother becomes president of the most powerful country of the world; you didn’t see that coming.  And if he’s there, what kind of a slouch does his rise make you feel like, you who are supposed to be so much more privileged?  Or did Obama get there fairly?  How did he get into an expensive place like Columbia University?  How did Michelle Obama get enough money to go to Princeton?  And then Harvard Law School, with a father who was a city water plant employee?  You’ve never seen anything like it, not up close.  The federal government must have given them money.  And Michelle should feel grateful for all she has but sometimes she seems mad.  She has no right to feel mad.”

One should note that among those butting ahead of the mostly white men are women.  These people focus on the feelings of their men.  Their religion and their traditions place men first.

“Gender, too, lay behind the disorientation, fear, and resentment evoked by the deep story.  All the women I talked to worked, used to work, or were about to return to work.  But their political feelings seemed based on their role as wives and mothers—and they wanted to be wives to high-earning men and to enjoy the luxury, as one woman put it, of being a homemaker.”

If the attitudes of the women seemed those of a bygone era, those of the men were more so.

“….the federal government was not on the side of men being manly.  Liberals were certainly on the wrong side of that one.  It wasn’t easy being a man.  It was an era of numerous subtle challenges to masculinity, it seemed.  These days a woman didn’t need a man for financial support, for procreation, even for the status of being married.  And now with talk of transgender people, what, really, was a man?  It was unsettling, wrong.  At the core, to be a man you had to be willing to lose your life in battle, willing to use your strength to protect the weak.  Who today was remembering all that?  Marriage was truly between a man and a woman….Clarity about one’s identity was a good thing, and the military had offered that clarity….even as it offered gifted men of modest backgrounds a pathway to honor.  Meanwhile, the nearly all-male areas of life—the police, the fire department, parts of the U.S. military, and the oil rigs—needed defending against this cultural erosion of manhood.”

Part of the answer to Hochschild’s great paradox was that men considered environmental regulations as being unmanly.  She provided this anecdote as an example.

“….a man hired as a corporate industrial hygienist, tasked with sampling acid mist in the battery charging area in a Ford battery plant recounted this: ‘To set up the air monitors, I had to wear a respirator.  Staff asked me to take it off since it might make workers who saw me with it on worry about the ill effect of the air on them.  But they needn’t have worried.  Some of the guys started to taunt me, the corporate sissy who couldn’t tough it out like they [did].  But when they laughed at me, I could see their teeth were visibly eroded by exposure to sulfuric acid mist’.”

Hochschild has sympathy and affection for many of the people she has met.  She describes them as friendly and generous.  However, most of their generosity seems to be reserved for their own communities and their social equals.  Embedded in her deep story is the notion that the poor and unfortunate should take care of themselves and not bother them as they look towards reaching their American Dream. 

Whereas people on the left see conflict between a tiny wealthy elite and the rest of the nation, the right admires the elite and wishes they could join them.  For the right, the conflict is between the middle class and the poor.

“For the right today, the main theater of conflict is neither a factory floor nor an Occupy protest.  The theater of conflict—at the heart of the deep story—is the local welfare office and the mailbox where undeserved disability checks and SNAP stamps arrive.  Government checks for the listless and idle—this seems most unfair.  If unfairness in Occupy is expressed in the moral vocabulary of a ‘fair share’ of resources and a properly proportioned society, unfairness in the right’s deep story is found in the language of ‘makers’ and ‘takers.’  For the left, the flashpoint is up the class ladder (between the very top and the rest); for the right it is down between the middle class and the poor.  For the left, the flashpoint is centered in the private sector; for the right, in the public sector.”

Hochschild sees the Tea Party as an emergence of southern attitudes that has taken hold in conservative minds in the North as well.  She provides this assessment of what that means for our nation and its future.

“So in the Tea Party idea, North and South would unite, but a new cleavage would open wide; the rich would divorce the poor—for so many of them were ‘cutting in line.’  In the 1970s there was much talk of President Richard Nixon’s ‘Southern strategy,’ which appealed to white fear of black rise, and drove whites from the Democratic Party to the Republican.  But in the twenty-first century, a ‘Northern strategy’ has unfolded, one in which conservatives of the North are following those of the South—in a movement of the rich and those associated with them, to lift off the burden of help for the underprivileged.  Across the whole land, the idea is, handouts should stop.  The richer around the nation will become free of the poorer.”

So the Democrats, the left, had the temerity to put forward a black candidate for president, and then follow that with a female candidate.  The female was defeated.  The left has been criticized for pandering to the multiple minorities who are continually put at risk by the white-dominated right.  The left has also been criticized for not doing more to pander to the lower middle class whites who were so angry about their status.  It is difficult to see how one could win the hearts of these angry whites and still save one’s political soul.  Not all dissatisfied whites are racists and misogynists, but enough of them voted for a candidate who did pander to those sentiments to elect him president.

So stay the course, liberals!  History is still on your side.

If reinforcement of your beliefs is necessary, consider Hochschild’s version of the deep story shared by liberals.

“In it, people stand around a large public square inside of which are creative science museums for kids, public art and theater programs, libraries, schools—a state-of-the-art public infrastructure available for use by all.  They are fiercely proud of it.  Some of them built it.  Outsiders can join those standing around the square, since a lot of people who are insiders now were outsiders in the past; incorporation and acceptance of difference feel like American values represented in the Statue of Liberty.  But in the liberal deep story, an alarming event occurs; marauders invade the public square, recklessly dismantle it, and selfishly steal away bricks and concrete chunks from the public buildings at its center.  Seeing insult added to injury, those guarding the public square watch helplessly as those who’ve dismantled it construct private McMansions with the same bricks and pieces of concrete, privatizing the public realm.  That’s the gist of the liberal deep story, and the right can’t understand the deep pride liberals take in their creatively designed, hard-won public sphere as a powerful integrative force in American life.”

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Race and Politics in the United States: White Racial Dominance as Policy

Many of the world’s nations have at one time approved of slavery within its borders.  Many have also participated in slavery as a commercial activity by selling or buying slaves for use in enterprises in what might generically be referred to as colonies.  The United States was unique in the extent to which it based its political structure and its economy on the institution of slavery.  In so doing, it created a situation that it has struggled to deal with for the last 150 years.  The inevitable end to enslavement for millions of black African Americans left a white-dominated society with a need to incorporate all of these new citizens.

From a current perspective, it looks as though little progress has been made given the 150 years.  Although legal discrimination has been mostly eliminated, discrimination in practice does continue.  It may be difficult for those under the age of about 50 to appreciate the progress that has been made because it might be difficult for them to realize how bad things were for the first 100 years of black “freedom.” 

People who enslave others must produce a moral justification for themselves.  If one chooses to make slaves of members of a race, then that race must consist of people who are deserving of subjugation.  If whites are humans, then blacks must be subhuman in some way or another.  It was as simple as that.  And that belief, imprinted over centuries, did not disappear with the end of the institution of slavery.  In fact, it persisted throughout much of the twentieth century.

Several recent books have shed light on the beliefs and political machinations that have defined this history.  In Race and Politics in the United States: The Revolutionary War, we discussed how our founding fathers decided that the British were not a sufficiently frightening enemy to compel the various colonies to join together against them.  Consequently, our founders chose to scapegoat black slaves and Native Americans.  Even though free blacks and Indians fought with the Revolutionary Army, they were portrayed as savages who would willingly join the British in murdering white men, women, and children.  This produced an augmented enemy worth defeating, but did not contribute to the consideration of either of the two races as “men created equal.”

David S. Reynolds produced an article for the New York Review of Books, Our Ruinous Betrayal of Indians and Black Americans, which reviewed a book by Nicholas Guyatt: Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation.  The point of Guyatt’s book is that while white citizens had long experience with blacks as both free and slave and may be adamantly opposed to the institution of slavery, that did not mean they considered blacks as their equivalent in society.  The feelings that the races, both black and Native American, would not be tolerated by whites led to the continual suggestions that racial separation was the only path forward.

“Guyatt provides much evidence of what Edmund S. Morgan called ‘the American paradox’—the conflict between the nation’s egalitarian ideals and its unjust treatment of ethnic minorities.”

“Guyatt reveals new dimensions of this paradox by tracing early efforts by politicians, reformers, and clergymen to remove free blacks and Native Americans to areas distant from white Americans.”

In fact, those we hold in great respect for their roles in our nation’s history were firmly committed to the goal of permanently segregating the separate races.

“Indeed, as Guyatt makes clear, the founders themselves were among the strongest supporters of racial separation. Only a few years after he wrote the nation-defining words ‘all men are created equal,’ Thomas Jefferson proposed that the gradual emancipation of slaves should be accompanied by the deportation of blacks because of deep-rooted prejudice, innate racial differences, and the probable ‘extermination of the one or the other race’ that, he said, integration would cause. Later, as president, Jefferson explored relocating African-Americans to various places, including the Caribbean, South America, Louisiana, the American West, and the African country of Sierra Leone. James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, proposed sending blacks to the ‘interior wilderness of America’—a scheme, Guyatt tells us, that had wide acceptance among colonizationists.”

“The most dogged advocate of colonization among the founders was James Monroe. As the governor of Virginia from 1799 to 1802, he tried to persuade both state and federal officials to carry out programs of racial separation. When he succeeded Madison as president in 1817, Monroe supported the American Colonization Society. He was a principal backer of the expedition in 1821 that led that year to the establishment of Liberia, the name of whose capital, Monrovia, paid homage to his contributions to the cause.”

Even Abraham Lincoln was a firm believer in the need for segregation.

“….in a speech of 1854, Lincoln said that ‘if all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do’ about slavery. His first impulse, he continued, ‘would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land.’ But high costs and limited shipping made such a plan impracticable in the short run. The alternative, freeing the slaves and making them ‘politically and socially, our equals,’ was also impossible, for ‘the great mass of white people will not [admit of this]’.”

“Guyatt writes that Lincoln, ‘in the first years of his presidency, did more to secure government support for black emigration than any politician since James Monroe.’ Lincoln saw Central America as the optimal place for black relocation. Although after 1862 abolition and emancipation replaced colonization as his highest priorities, much of his popular appeal lay in the moderation of his antislavery arguments, which initially called for separation of the races in order to avoid the problems of an integrated society.”

By modern standards, whites in the United States were deeply racist.

“Racism was visible everywhere in pre–Civil War America—so much so that the black reformer William J. Watkins insisted that the ‘prejudice at the North is much more virulent than at the South,’ an observation seconded by the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who declared, ‘The prejudices of the North are stronger than those of the South’.”

Rather than gradually acquiescing to the newcomers in their society, work continued on the justifications for the inequality of the races and the need for separation.

“…..the racist arguments of antebellum American figures like the surgeon Josiah Nott and the Egyptologist George Gliddon….prepared the way for later American ethnographic science, which predicted the extinction of supposedly inferior races and was among the causes that led to lynchings, KKK raids, and other ethnically driven atrocities of the 1880–1950 period.”

We tend to think of history as a collection of facts, but history is really a story being told by people who use their understanding of the present to interpret what happened in the past.  History is a malleable thing that can be used as a powerful force in political disputes.  Nowhere in our history has historical bias been more important than it has been in defining the path we have taken in our racial history.  E. J. Dionne visits this topic in his book Our Divided Political Heart.

During the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, the Republicans, then the party of Lincoln, essentially occupied the South and imposed equal rights for the blacks. The Democratic Party, then the home of the southern racists, fought back politically, and the southern whites fought back by instituting a reign of terror aimed at disarming blacks so they could not defend themselves and ignoring any voting rights the blacks had been granted.  Eventually, the federal authorities withdrew and left the field to the southerners to do as they wished.

The historians who told the story of Reconstruction in the first decades of the twentieth century had been captured by notions about the superiority of whites.  Any attempt to raise blacks to the same level could then only be viewed as a misguided or corrupt political maneuver.  Dionne reminds us that these were respected historians working out of some of our most highly-regarded universities.

“It is strange to our ears now, but the whites who overthrew the Reconstruction governments, imposed a color line, and stripped African Americans of their rights were known, proudly, as ‘redeemers’.”

“The scholars who wrote the history of Reconstruction from the turn of the last century into the 1920s saw the foes of Reconstruction just that way in accounts offered when the nation’s inclinations turned conservative (one could also fairly say racist) on matters of civil rights.  Works by James Ford Rhodes, William Dunning, John W. Burgess, and their students painted Reconstruction as a disastrous interlude.  They described the Reconstruction governments as dominated by corrupt ‘carpetbaggers’ and ‘scalawags’ and accused them of imposing misrule on the South, partly by granting power to ‘ignorant’ freed slaves.  Southern whites who used violence and fraud at the polls to overthrow the Reconstruction governments were defended, not condemned.  Burgess called Reconstruction ‘the most soul-sickening spectacle that Americans had ever been called upon to behold.’  Rhodes called the work of the Radical Republicans ‘repressive’ and ‘uncivilized’ and cast them as politicians who ‘pandered to the ignorant negroes, the knavish white natives and the vulturous adventurers who flocked from the north’.”

Dionne recalls encountering this picture of Reconstruction as an elementary school student.  I also heard the same tale as a child and can still recall an image provided of a rather nasty looking individual carrying a carpetbag and meant to represent the “carpetbaggers and scalawags.”

“Their accounts became the conventional wisdom of American history—and they were still affecting the presentation of the period in American history textbooks I first encountered in elementary school in the 1950s and early 1960s.  These approaches to Reconstruction, in turn, reinforced racial attitudes that undergirded southern segregation.”

Another era, and a century of learning that blacks were quite capable of determining their own future, led to the issuance of books and articles reconstructing Reconstruction and placing it in the context of well-meant, if not always wise, attempts to both rebuild the southern economy and to provide civil rights to blacks who were demanding them. 

Dionne refers to a massive study by Eric Foner, Reconstruction, issued in 1988 as being representative of these efforts.  Ironically, Foner produced his history at Columbia University which had been at the forefront in producing the original picture of Reconstruction.  Dionne quotes Foner’s description of the power of (bad) history.

“For it was at Columbia at the turn of the century that William A. Dunning and John W. Burgess had established the traditional school of Reconstruction politics, teaching that blacks were ‘children’ incapable of appreciating the freedom that had been thrust upon them, and that the North did a ‘monstrous’ thing in granting them suffrage.  There is no better illustration than Reconstruction of how historical interpretation both reflects and helps to shape current policies.  The views of the Dunning School helped freeze the white South for generations in unalterable opposition to any change in race relations, and justified decades of Northern indifference to southern nullification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments”

The racial beliefs propagated by nineteenth century historians carried over well into the twentieth century as the need for arguments for subjugation of inferior races became critical during the period of colonization by wealthy white nations of African and Asian regions.  Robert Vitalis provides us some perspective on events during this era in his book White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations.  Vitalis is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.  His main interest is in forcing the high-minded practitioners of “international relations” today to recognize that their field began as an intellectual effort designed to maintain the racial and economic supremacy of the white nations as they subjugated darker-skinned natives of various regions to the modern form of slavery known as colonialism.

“In the first decades of the twentieth century in the United States, international relations meant race relations.  This sentence is bound to strike many readers as both strange and wrong, just as it once did me.  The problem of empire or imperialism, sometimes referred to as ‘race subjugation,’ was what preoccupied the first self-identified professors of international relations.  They wrestled with the prospect that a race war might lead to the end of the world hegemony of whites, a future that appeared to many to be in the offing.”

We are here more interested in the racial beliefs being bandied about rather than any internal arguments between political scientists.

“As far as I have been able to determine….in the 1920s and 1930s no white international relations scholar argued on either principled or pragmatic grounds for the restoration of black citizenship rights, the dismantling of Jim Crow in the United States, and self governance, let alone independence, for the colonies.”

The emergence of the United States as a colonial power meant that its experience as a “subjugator of races” enmeshed domestic and international racial policies.  If blacks in the United States were deemed unworthy of full citizenship, then blacks worldwide were then unworthy of self rule.  If colonial blacks were deemed unworthy of self rule then domestic blacks must also be so considered.

“….on the Negro question in the U.S. South, where the proven unfitness of African Americans for the ballot was a key reason for believing that all the other less civilized races that were now American dependents would likewise be unable to govern themselves.”

The nineteenth century racism described by Guyatt had not subsided in the twentieth.

“The white social scientists who offered their expertise to the new imperial state and the handful of critics of the new expansionist wave all assumed that hierarchy was natural, and that it was biologically rooted, and that it could be made sense of best by drawing on concepts such as higher and lower races, natural and historic races, savagery and civilization, and the like.”

“All accounts of the winning side in the scramble to build an impregnable biological fortress around the native Americans (meaning the Teutonic, or Nordic, or Anglo-Saxon ‘race’ or ‘blood’ or ‘stock,’ depending on the particular analytical framework used) recognize the influence of Madison Grant, author of the best-selling Passing of the Great Race (1916) and his protégé, T. Lothrop Stoddard.  Grant wrote the introduction to Stoddard’s own most famous book, The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World Supremacy (1920), which made him the leading apostle of Nordic racial supremacy in the United States.”

Whites were outnumbered, and if they did not defend themselves they would be overwhelmed by the lesser races.  These were not ideas from an extremist fringe; they circulated freely in mainstream media.

“The largest circulation magazine in the country, The Saturday Evening Post, had exposed millions to Grant and Stoddard’s ideas.  Many other influential publications and specialists in world politics lauded The Rising Tide of Color.”

“When newly elected President Warren G Harding told a crowd of 100,000 ‘whites and colored people’ in Birmingham in October 1921 that ‘our race problem here in the United States is only a phase of the race issue that the whole world confronts,’ he cited Stoddard’s study.  He also evoked a second authority on the world race problem, Lord Lugard, the onetime governor general of Nigeria…..Lugard’s ideas about Africa held lessons for the South, Harding said, where political and economic rights might gradually be extended but ‘social equality’ was clearly impossible given the ‘fundamental, eternal, inescapable difference’ between the races.”

Stoddard would eventually become more optimistic about maintaining white supremacy and developed a concept of “biracialism” that was presented in Re-Forging America (1927).

“….defense of ‘white integrity’ or the color line drove Stoddard to propose the ‘experiment’ that he called biracialism.  In essence, he wanted to deepen, regularize, ostensibly upgrade, and extend the South’s ‘separate but equal’ Jim Crow order to the country as a whole.  ‘Under a perfected bi-racial system, the line separating the races would be straight and logical,’ he argued.  So, for example, all sexual contact across all racial groups would be outlawed everywhere instead of the piecemeal fashion found in the laws of dozens of cities and states.”

“Future Supreme Court justice and Alabama Klan member Hugo Black, who had just won a U.S. senate seat, said that every loyal American ought to support Stoddard’s white unity program.”

The presumed incompatibility of the races, meaning the fear of losing power by whites, perhaps in a racial war, was not an issue of long ago.  It continued to be prominent until the colonial era finally came to an end—about the time U.S. blacks demanded and obtained their civil rights. 

“Issues of Foreign Affairs in the 1950s and 1960s include matter-of-fact descriptions of the hatred for whites that drives decolonization and the psychological impairments that communists so masterfully exploit.”

“In the New York Times, foreign affairs columnist C. L. Sulzberger wrote repeatedly about race wars that were allegedly already underway, for example in Algeria, and were on the horizon throughout the 1960s.”

 It seems that U.S. blacks could not be granted civil rights until blacks under colonial subjugation gained political freedom.  Or, perhaps, it was the other way around.

One lesson from this long and sorry racial history is that gains in civil rights for subjugated races are generally not granted—they are demanded, and if necessary, taken.

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

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