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A Letter To The North
July 27, 2012 11:02 AM   Subscribe

"From the beginning of this present phase of the race problem in the South, I have been on record as opposing the forces in my native country which would keep the condition out of which this present evil and trouble has grown. Now I must go on record as opposing the forces outside the South which would use legal or police compulsion to eradicate that evil overnight. I was against compulsory segregation. I am just as strongly against compulsory integration."

"A Letter to the North," William Faulkner, LIFE Magazine, March 5th, 1956.
posted by griphus (70 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't believe compulsion will work

I'm satisfied with the results so far.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:18 AM on July 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


From the conclusion of Faulkner's letter:

"Stop now for a moment. You have shown the Southerner what you can do and what you will do if necessary; give him a space in which to get his breath and assimilate that knowledge;"

Martin Luther King, Letter From Birmingham City Jail:

Frankly I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was "well timed," according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "wait" has almost always meant "never." We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2012 [70 favorites]


We've all done stupid things when we were shitfaced.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 11:24 AM on July 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


He claims that the South had known since 1860 that it was in the wrong, but asks for more time. Did he want another 100 years?
posted by Area Man at 11:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Judging from this and that other recent thread on SciFi writers' predictions for the future, I'm close to reaching the conclusion that novelists in general should probably leave the prophesying to the religious cranks.

Faulkner's work practically oozes with "Essence of Fallen Southern Gentility," so this shouldn't come as much surprise, though it does tarnish my view of the man himself a little all the same.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:28 AM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, this seems to be fairly banal anti-integration argumentation from the era, except that it's by Faulkner, so some are going to be inclined to give it undue weight. I mean, he wants us to think that the NAACP is the 'topdog' in 1956? That the reason the North fought the civil war was due to a human propensity to root for the underdog? The hell?
posted by axiom at 11:30 AM on July 27, 2012


It's better if you read it in the voice of the Hyper-Chicken, which is about as much seriousness as it deserves.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 11:35 AM on July 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


This was interesting. There is a long Q&A session with Faulkner and students from Virginia in 1958 here that touches on these issues. It is clear that he is, in modern terms, a racist (of sorts, though not a supremacist) and proud of the South, but also believes that integration is necessary and inevitable.

An interesting essay on race in his books, from the NY Times.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:38 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"But who are the Chefs?": It's better if you read it in the voice of the Hyper-Chicken, which is about as much seriousness as it deserves.
Annnd... we're done here.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:38 AM on July 27, 2012


novelists in general should probably leave the prophesying to the religious cranks.

L Ron Hubbard for the win!
posted by TedW at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"give him a space in which to get his breath and assimilate that knowledge; to look about and see that (1) Nobody is going to force integration on him from the outside..."

I much prefer the 1957 approach of letting him stare down the barrels of the 101st Airborne and assimilate that fucking knowledge.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:40 AM on July 27, 2012 [29 favorites]


One hundred years late and still wrong.
posted by tommasz at 11:42 AM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Being a good writer is not equivalent to being a clear thinker in all instances. Faulkner seemed to understand the pain his fellow white southerners would face, but failed to understand the enormity of the pain that was being relieved.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:51 AM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's better if you read it in the voice of the Hyper-Chicken, which is about as much seriousness as it deserves.

Well, at least you didn't suggest Foghorn Leghorn.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:52 AM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe, thanks for the reminder that it actually took the 101st Airborne -- the same division that was dropped into Nazi occupied France before D-Day -- to desegregate the Little Rock public schools.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 11:54 AM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of a tea party acquaintance of mine who said (with a straight face) that the southern states had a plan to phase out slavery eventually, but the Big Bad Government went and wrecked everything by forcing the issue.
posted by usonian at 12:00 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a transplanted northern kid growing up among, but never feeling a real sense of belonging among, poor, rural southern whites, I found this bit from blahblahblah's link telling.

Unidentified participant: Sir, before you made the statement that the northerners were afraid of the Negro. What are your reasons for that?

William Faulkner: That conclusion['s] drawn from—from the experience I've had with the northerners. They—they—they love the Negro in theory, but they don't want much to do with him. I've noticed that the southerner, he—he don't love the Negro in quantities, but he will defend some particular Negro. It may be the nigger just owes him money—but anyway, [audience laughter] whatever the reason is, he will defend him.


He's not wrong. Telling for a couple reasons. One is that northern... culture for lack of a better word, seemed just as racist in its way to me as southern culture did. There was also a line I heard among blacks in Virginia that went "In the south they don't care how close you get as long as you don't get too big. In the north they don't care how big you get as long as you don't get too close." That fit my (admittedly fairly limited) experience.

Also, the racism of southern whites, at least the poor ones I knew, was more nuanced than a lot of people recognized. These were people who lived and worked and struggled alongside blacks, and they were smart enough to realize that they all faced a lot of the same challenges. And the black people that they personally knew, were recognized as good people. Hard working, generous, honest. My stepfather's black friends were routinely invited into our home and were a part of our lives and were, I believe, truly respected in a way that horrified my upstate New York born and bred grandmother. (She was just as horribly racist as any southern good ole boy caricature. Her euphemism for donating anything to Goodwill was "giving it to the niggers." )

At the same time, my stepfather wasn't above fretting that it was all the other ones, the ones he didn't know, who did things that unfortunately harmed the reputation of the good people he knew who happened to be black.

These people certainly weren't radical reformers. They recognized that whites and blacks faced very different social realities, and that was the way it was and there wasn't anything that could be done about it. But they weren't the simple, foaming mouthed, hateful bastards so often portrayed. Well, not all of them were. Those people with the firehoses and standing outside the school doors were really there.

But there is also the story told of my stepfather around the time Douglas Wilder ran for governor in Virginia. (He would become the nation's first black governor.) My stepfather was among a group of white farmer types bemoaning what the world had come to, and one of them asked him, Russell, you aren't going to vote for that nigger, are you? And my stepfather allowed as how he thought yeah, he was probably going to vote for him. He said something to the effect of "we've had white guys in charge all this time and you see what they've done. Let's see what the nigger can do."

Decades later, I still don't know how to react to those attitudes. I certainly can't approve of them. But I have to recognize that they were more complex and human than a lot of people realize. I certainly have more respect for my stepfather's approach to race than my grandmother's.
posted by Naberius at 12:04 PM on July 27, 2012 [48 favorites]


I guess this is a surprise only if for some reason you thought Faulkner thought the way your heroes did about civil rights. Which as Mental Wimp points out is a fallacious thing to assume about a writer just because you find him admirable in other ways.

The disconnect can be a shock. For a contemporary example I was a massive fan of Dan Simmons' fiction, which among other things I found humane and seemingly inherently inclusive (for all that it includes horror and bloodshed), so stumbling on the frothing birther teabaggery of his website was a really unwelcome wakeup call to this phenomenon.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2012


William Faulkner is a fish.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the interview linked by blahblahblah, Faulkner says:
I think it will be at least fifty years. I—I meant that—that the Negro is now in motion toward more equality, and he's got a lot of white folks and government bureaus and courts behind him. I didn't mean that he's going to—going to either blow the country up or change it tomorrow. I meant that—that now he has got pressure, outside forces, helping him move forward, and that is what I think we've got to—got to cope with. Either use it, direct it, or let it run over us. But it will be fifty years before, at least, before the integration as the NAACP talks about it, if that ever does come.
It was exactly fifty years and one month after this interview that Obama was inaugurated, so perhaps Faulkner was a better predictor of the future than the first link would suggest.
posted by Forktine at 12:07 PM on July 27, 2012


This was interesting. There is a long Q&A session with Faulkner and students from Virginia in 1958 here that touches on these issues. It is clear that he is, in modern terms, a racist (of sorts, though not a supremacist) and proud of the South, but also believes that integration is necessary and inevitable.


I think his answer to a question a bit further down from where you linked is worth reproducing here:
William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, this is just a simple question. I wondered if you could tell us if there's any particular class or economic group in the South which the Klan draws its members from, or whether they come from all walks of life in the South.

William Faulkner: By and large, they come from the—the poor unsuccessful white man. He has—has worked hard by his lights, and, of course, he has worked hard. He never gets very far ahead, and he knows that he never will. He sees the Negro with the same sort of land he's got, with poorer tools and not as much credit as he's got, make a better job of it, to—to raise his family, and they seem to be happier than he does. And he—he doesn't like that. He's envious. He hates the Negro because the Negro is beating him at his own poor game, which is—is to make a living on forty acres of poor land. His only superiority over that Negro is—is not economic any longer. It's because he's white, and that Negro's not white, and so he's going to do everything he can to keep that Negro black, because it makes him feel good. That's the only thing, the only edge he has.
Which, I think, is still very relevant to understanding racism and xenophobia in America today.

The piece linked in the FPP is execrable, but by 1956 Faulkner was quite old and not coping well with a long addiction to alcohol. Not that that excuses him. But he addresses Southern racism in a much more thoughtful way in his novels of the 20s and 30s.
posted by junco at 12:10 PM on July 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Forkline: Because if there's one thing three years of Obama has taught us, it's that retrograde racial attitudes are gone from the South nation.
posted by absalom at 12:15 PM on July 27, 2012


This reminds me of a tea party acquaintance of mine who said (with a straight face) that the southern states had a plan to phase out slavery eventually, but the Big Bad Government went and wrecked everything by forcing the issue.
How absurd.

Up to virtually the last minute, they were attempting to enshrine slavery further. In fact they proposed a set of Constitutional amendments ensuring slavery not only in the South but in places where it wasn't already the law. These proposed amendments would themselves say that they could not be repealed or amended in the future. "Slavery is permanent and cannot ever legally be repealed" squares with "planning to phase out slavery eventually" how?

They called these proposed amendments a "compromise".
posted by Flunkie at 12:17 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really don't understandFaulkner's argument. In the beginning, he charges the North with not understanding the South:
The rest of the United States knows nothing about the South. The present idea and picture which they hold of a people decadent and even obsolete through illteracy and inbreeding ... as to be a kind of species of juvenile delinquents with a folklore of blood and violence, yet who, like juvenile delinquents, can be controlled by firmness once they are brought to believe the police mean business, is as basless and illusory as that one a generation ago ... of columned porticoes and magnolias
But his justification for slowing down, waiting, and restraint on behalf of the North is:
'Stop now for a moment. You have shown the Southerner what you can do and what you will do if necessary; give him a space in which to get his breath and and assimilate that knowledge.'
Is this not the approach he describes as incorrect? Is it not founded on what he calls the 'baseless and illusory' understanding of the South as 'delinquents' who need to know the 'police mean business?'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:24 PM on July 27, 2012


It is surprising that an upper class white male, born in the South and fed stories of the heroic Confederacy, believes black people should have had to wait for basic human rights.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:38 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, the racism of southern whites, at least the poor ones I knew, was more nuanced than a lot of people recognized.

Southern racism: racists mostly don't care where black people live, as long as they know their place.

Northern racism: racists mostly don't care if black people aren't subservient, as long as they stay where they belong.

(exceptions abound)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:39 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really don't understandFaulkner's argument.

I think you've left the key bit out of the first excerpt: The rest of the United States assumes that this condition is so simple and so uncomplex that it can be changed tomorrow by the simple will of the national majority backed by legal edict. Faulkner was worried (ostensibly; as people have pointed out in this thread there are far less charitable ways to read this and similar arguments) that desegregation by force would end up hurting the progressive cause by driving moderates to defend the status quo, as they would see it as another round of "the North vs. the South", or even a recapitulation of the War. He wanted (again, ostensibly) for race equality to come to the South organically and on its own terms, and he saw this as incipient, but fragile. So, I think what he meant to say in the second excerpt is more along the lines of "given that we now know you (the Federal government) are prepared to integrate the South by force Right Now, let us (i.e. progressive moderates like himself) have some time to convince everyone that this is something we have to do on our own as soon as possible, rather than on somebody else's terms, which will drive conservatives to resist even more vehemently, to the detriment of those we should be helping".
posted by junco at 12:42 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


That seems to be the default response of the southern though whenever they're confronted with how racist it still is, that the north is racist too. Perhaps, but as bad and on such a scale as the south?
posted by MartinWisse at 12:45 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the beginning of this present phase of the race problem in the South, I have been on record as opposing the forces in my native country which would keep the condition out of which this present evil and trouble has grown.

All else aside for a moment, the man can't construct a sentence to save his life.
posted by duffell at 12:52 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, look at that glorious golden MACARONI LOAF!
posted by steef at 12:56 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't actually read this, it's too tiny and hard to scroll. Is this text anywhere else just as plaintext?
posted by corb at 1:03 PM on July 27, 2012


For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This "wait" has almost always meant "never." We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

King's statement has the weight of moral authority, as did the civil rights movement as a whole, including the cooperation of those who at some points used state power in concert with it.

On the other hand, that doesn't necessarily mean Faulkner's position came from a bad place. Timing and means *can* matter quite to how calm a fault line is after things move.

Historical counterfactuals are always a bit difficult to navigate -- there's no way of knowing for sure how things might have otherwise played out -- but to consider another fault line, Justice Ginsburg wrote an essay where she opined that the supreme court kindof messed up with Roe vs Wade, and that if the court had been a bit more circumspect with the opinion they issued, it's likely that there would have been less bitter argument and that state legislatures would probably have continued on a path of liberalization they were arguably already on (albeit not in Texas). What if we might have had the liberties Roe afforded without having abortion become the political touchstone it's been over the last 30-40 years?

One could reasonably take issue with Ginsburg's assessment (or my reading of it, for that matter), but I think it'd be foolish to attribute the opinion she expressed to some hidden backwards agenda.

Maybe Faulkner deserves some similar respect.
posted by weston at 1:06 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


*can* matter quite to how calm a fault line is after things move

Sigh. "matter *quite a bit* to how calm"
posted by weston at 1:07 PM on July 27, 2012


Perhaps, but as bad and on such a scale as the south?

The South tends to be used as an exculpatory scapegoat for the rest of the nation's racial problems. Outliers of overt, highly-visible, crazy white-supremacy type racism in the South dominate the discourse while less-visible but more pervasive racism continues in locations thought of as more progressive.

e.g.:
States with the highest black-to-white ratio are disproportionately
located in the Northeast and Midwest, including the leading
states of Iowa, Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and
Wisconsin. This geographic concentration is true as well for the
Hispanic-to-white ratio, with the most disproportionate states
being Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire,
and New Jersey; and,
States exhibiting high Black or Hispanic ratios of incarceration
compared to whites fall into two categories: 1) those such as
Wisconsin and Vermont which have high rates of black
incarceration and average rates of white incarceration; and, 2) states
such as New Jersey and Connecticut which have average rates of
black incarceration and below-average rates of white incarceration.
In both cases, the ratio of incarceration by race is higher than
average.
posted by junco at 1:07 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The South tends to be used as an exculpatory scapegoat for the rest of the nation's racial problems.

They did try to secede from the Union and then cheerfully went to war for the right to own slaves. When defeated, they then proceeded to institute official and unofficial laws to keep blacks "in their place".

The South worked very hard to be the scapegoat of American's racial problems and they are reaping what they sowed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:17 PM on July 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


Easy enough to belittle in the present views held not just in the South but in our nation "back then." In fact, given Faulkners views of state's rights, he said if he had to choose between
what the nation called for and what his state wanted he would defend his state (Mississippi)...as for the issue of slavery, he knew it was a stain on our nation that would never ever go away. Of the past, he said:
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.
William Faulkner

After all, we fought Hitler's racial notions with segregated outfits! When, then, did we integrate the nation itself and how well is it integrated today?
posted by Postroad at 1:24 PM on July 27, 2012


As W.E.B DuBois wrote over 100 years ago: "The present generation of Southerners are not responsible for the past, and they should not be blindly hated or blamed for it. Furthermore, to no class is the indiscriminate endorsement of the recent course of the South toward Negroes more nauseating than to the best thought of the South."
posted by Longtime Listener at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


They did try to secede from the Union and then cheerfully went to war for the right to own slaves. When defeated, they then proceeded to institute official and unofficial laws to keep blacks "in their place".

The South worked very hard to be the scapegoat of American's racial problems and they are reaping what they sowed.


Do you really think anybody here doesn't know that?
posted by junco at 1:27 PM on July 27, 2012


The fact that most of those states still fly the Confederate flag over their capitols indicates that their black residents still have no political power whatsoever.
posted by miyabo at 1:33 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, you needed a reminder.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:34 PM on July 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


A misogynist AND a racist... well, color me surprised!
posted by BlueHorse at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess this is a surprise only if for some reason you thought Faulkner thought the way your heroes did about civil rights.

William Faulkner drunk and depressed...
posted by 2N2222 at 1:38 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, you needed a reminder.

Well, thanks for coming in here and trolling the thread, and then making weird, veiled accusations that I'm a racist.
posted by junco at 1:48 PM on July 27, 2012


That seems to be the default response of the southern though whenever they're confronted with how racist it still is, that the north is racist too. Perhaps, but as bad and on such a scale as the south?

The default response from southerners is that northerners are racist too, and your response to that is to say "hmm, but the southerners are, um, bigger racists, yeah!"?
posted by palbo at 1:54 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


The default response from southerners is that northerners are racist too, and your response to that is to say "hmm, but the southerners are, um, bigger racists, yeah!"?

Well, it smacks of deflection, is the thing.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:58 PM on July 27, 2012


Well, thanks for coming in here and trolling the thread, and then making weird, veiled accusations that I'm a racist.

What makes you think you've been accused of being a racist or that the thread has been trolled?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2012


"Slavery is permanent and cannot ever legally be repealed" squares with "planning to phase out slavery eventually" how?
BECAUSE OF REASONS
posted by usonian at 2:25 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's because he's white, and that Negro's not white, and so he's going to do everything he can to keep that Negro black, because it makes him feel good. That's the only thing, the only edge he has.
posted by infini at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2012


"The fact that most of those states still fly the Confederate flag over their capitols indicates that their black residents still have no political power whatsoever."

Slaves were legal in the United States too, should we tear down the american flag?

Also the folks posting itt should know better than to talk bad about our glorious northern overlords.
posted by Cyclopsis Raptor at 4:37 PM on July 27, 2012


I almost feel sorry for Faulkner. He was an old man facing a future and powers much greater than him that further threatened his status as a Southern White Man. I almost feel sorry for him because he could do nothing better than cling to the past, a past in which his South had already been brutally beaten in a war that was at least in part based on morality.

Probably much more relevant when this letter was written than now, is the shame and stigma resulting from the war. Things a very proud and dignified South could barely, if at all, tolerate or accept.

His "stop now for a moment" spiel sounds to me like, "Ok, we've had our wrists slapped, can we please move on now?" Total denial and fear of change.
posted by snsranch at 4:45 PM on July 27, 2012


Slaves were legal in the United States too, should we tear down the american flag?
Maybe that makes some sense on the surface, but the fact is that one and only one of the two existed for essentially no purpose other than slavery.

Any Southerners who object based upon the "states' rights" propaganda that they were force-fed when young are hereby preemptively referred to a side-by-side comparison of the Constitutions of the United States and the Confederate States.
posted by Flunkie at 4:54 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


The flag of the Confederacy is the flag of armed insurrection to preserve the ability of southern slaveholders to have human chattel.

The U.S. flag does not have that specific a meaning.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:57 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Slaves were legal in the United States too, should we tear down the american flag?

I think its worth pointing out how far ahead of its time Benjamin Franklin's abolitionism was in contrast to Faulkner. After visiting an African American school in 1763:

This is chiefly to acquaint you, that I have visited the Negro school here ... Their apprehension seems as quick, their memory as strong, and their docility in every respect equal to that of white children. You will wonder perhaps that I should ever doubt it, and I will not undertake to justify all my prejudices, not to account for them.
Benjamin Franklin

During the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin had wanted to introduce a statement of principle in the Constitution condemning slavery and the slave trade to commit the government to eventual emancipation.

On February 12, 1790, a petition from Benjamin Franklin and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society was presented to the House of Representatives calling for the federal government to take steps for the gradual abolition of slavery and end the slave trade. The petition stated that slavery and the slave trade were incompatible with the values of freedom of the American Revolution ... (arguing that) the "general welfare clause" (Article 1, Section 8) allowed the Congress to eliminate the slave trade and abolish slavery....In the middle of the debate in Congress, Franklin died on April 17, 1790.


Somewhere I came across a plan Franklin wrote for abolishing slavery that detailed the training of former slaves and integration into society, but I can't find it now. Anyway, maybe there is something to be said for being on the right side of history, even if it means holding unpopular positions. I think it must be considered that probably the biggest reason there was so much resistance to abolishing slavery is that it was so profitable to plantation owners and the nation as a whole. It is the extreme case of capitalist exploitation.
posted by Golden Eternity at 6:31 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's complicated. Rationalizations suck all the air from the room. You can see the results: intransigence, temporization, vaccilation, impatience, cowardice.

Sometimes you just have to come down off the fence and quite being part of the problem.

Or not.

Ambrose Bierce said that war is untying with the teeth a knot that couldn't be undone with the tongue.

Maybe so. Then maybe laws attempt to employ justice where fairness won't abide. Yeah, we can just pass a few laws and hunky-dory the situation up just fine. Let the cesspool fester for a century or so until the national moral compass gets a bit dizzy, then it's Cops and SWAT teams, and pretty soon you have the Airborne guys walking down your street with live ammo.

Then, just when you get to thinking all those assholes are finally getting the message BANG, here we go again with the revisionists who think Adoph had a cute mustache, and all them nigra didn't have it so bad, and the STARS and BARS was all about individual freedom and the AMERICAN way.

Yeah, my grandparents called them niggers, but they worked right beside them in the fields. Some are okay, they told me, but still, they need to stay over on the other side of the tracks--this of course was a euphemism for "nigger town." My folk's family remained in Oklahoma and Arkansas, mostly. They weren't in the Klan, and didn't support their theory. I was born in Arizona, though. A few of my relatives settled in California. I heard what they told me, but I grew up in quite a different cultural stew than they did. I'd be lying if I tried to tell you that I have levered myself out of bigotry because of my stable moral compass. I got the way I am from growing up in a poly-racial world. White superiority? Hah! Not when you work in the fields before you are old enough to go to school. Inw

Faulker was a product of his times. It's fair to judge him as a man that didn't transcend his culture. Why blame him for what most of us have never done?

I'm not sure humans are actually on a survival track, evolutionarily speaking.
posted by mule98J at 7:04 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


oooops. Cat on keyboard. Maybe it's just as well.
posted by mule98J at 7:04 PM on July 27, 2012


J.B.D. Debow was a southerner and published DeBow's Review. From an article by Debow in July 1860 on the origin of the "Northern hostility to the South":

“We think – though it is suggested as a mere individual opinion – that this antagonism originated, at least, begun to act, in the revolution which temporarily changed the face of Great Britain something more than two hundred years ago. The cavaliers and puritans of that age were undoubtedly the ancestors, and, to a great extent, the prototypes of this. That the puritan was unfit for rational freedom, civil or religious, was sufficiently proved by the wild extremity of his principles going to the subversion of all society; by the fierce fanatic intolerance of his opinions; and by the short duration of his power when attained; that the Northern Yankee now is unfit for rational liberty, civil or religious, is even yet more abundantly verified in the still wilder extremes of his social, moral, and political heresies, tending to a yet more complete subversion of society and overthrow of the moral government of God.”

Those Puritans were obviously barely human. What did DeBow have to say about the Cavaliers?

“The cavaliers had many human failings; they were, indeed, of the earth, earthy; they fought, they drank, they swore, and they loved, as better men will neither fight, nor drink, nor swear, nor love – but they made no pretence to unusual sanctity, and they were gallant, high-spirited, chivalrous, and generous race, of the pure Anglo-Saxon blood; and to this day their descendants compose the only really free portion of the English people.”


It seems that DeBow saw this as a white supremacy issue. By that I mean that he saw the southern whites (cavaliers) as racially superior to the northern whites (puritians). I thought this was an interesting look at the antebellum attitudes of some in the south.
posted by whatever at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any Southerners who object based upon the 'states' rights' propaganda that they were force-fed when young are hereby preemptively referred to a side-by-side comparison of the Constitutions of the United States and the Confederate States.

And the Fugitive Slave Act. The Southern states had no problem with the federal government going into free states to capture escaped slaves and return them to the South, despite some of the free states' having passed personal liberty laws. IN fact, bitching about the federal government's not enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act strongly enough for their liking was one of the explicit reasons given for secession. "States rights" as a defense of the Confederacy and flying the "Confederate flag" is and always has been bullshit.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:42 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one can stamp out racism, It's in our genes and we must try to overcome it on a personal level. But we can demand that it be excluded from the public common.
posted by shnarg at 7:42 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Racism is in our genes? Eugenics will solve this problem.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2012


Naberius: "In the south they don't care how close you get as long as you don't get too big. In the north they don't care how big you get as long as you don't get too close."

I liked that phrase so I googled it. It seems to be attributed to comedian Dick Gregory, who I'd never heard of but seems to be a pretty interesting guy. He performed at the Playboy Club, ran for President, accidently counterfeited US currency, and is a vocal feminist, a conspiracy theorist, and raw foodist. He sure gets around.
posted by that's how you get ants at 7:57 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one can stamp out racism, It's in our genes and we must try to overcome it on a personal level.

It may be there is some genetic predisposition for delineating in-groups and out-groups, but, I assure, racism as we now know it is a specific, culturally manufactured version of this predisposition, and what we can do culturally, we can undo culturally.

Let's flush this hateful genetic activity into something harmless, like hating neanderthals.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:15 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think Faulkner is dead wrong, but his wrongness is understandable. I am forced to admit, as a result of my moderate temperament, I probably would have been on the same (wrong) side back in those days. Living in today's hyper-partisan world, I am well aware of the fact that you don't win history by waiting for the other guy to become reasonable, but hindsight is 20/20.
posted by Edgewise at 9:20 PM on July 27, 2012


It may be there is some genetic predisposition for delineating in-groups and out-groups, but, I assure, racism as we now know it is a specific, culturally manufactured version of this predisposition, and what we can do culturally, we can undo culturally.

I'm not so sure. Yes, the specifics are rooted in history, but I don't believe that this manifestation (i.e. American white-on black racism) is biologically arbitrary. It's not only a matter of in vs. out, but physical appearance has a lot to do with it. Research reflects the fact that people are positively predisposed towards people who look like themselves, which makes sense on both a theoretical and an intuitive level.
posted by Edgewise at 9:26 PM on July 27, 2012


I don't believe that this manifestation (i.e. American white-on black racism) is biologically arbitrary. It's not only a matter of in vs. out, but physical appearance has a lot to do with it. Research reflects the fact that people are positively predisposed towards people who look like themselves, which makes sense on both a theoretical and an intuitive level.

There is a lot of historical research that documents the ways white/European people found to inure themselves to and justify their abuse of black/African people in the New World. White people resolved the cognitive dissonance between the abhorrent practices involved in slavery and the great profits slavery allowed by convincing themselves that slaves, who were black, deserved their treatment. In America that process took more than 150 years- from the late 17th and early 18th century, when slavery was a less important part of the New World economy, to the mid-19th century, when the South was willing to go to war to maintain the institution. Even then, one of the most popular justifications for continuing the institution wasn't that black people somehow deserved to be enslaved- it was that enslaving black people was so unjust that if black people were freed en masse, they would surely revolt and kill their former masters.

In other words, racism didn't cause slavery; slavery caused racism.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not so sure.

Well, perhaps before we decide that racism can never be addressed, one should be sure.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:02 PM on July 27, 2012


Research reflects the fact that people are positively predisposed towards people who look like themselves, which makes sense on both a theoretical and an intuitive level.

Which research? The research by people which people theoretically and intuitively confirm their bias?
posted by mistersquid at 11:16 PM on July 27, 2012


it was that enslaving black people was so unjust that if black people were freed en masse, they would surely revolt and kill their former masters.

Sort of like if the occupying army pulled out, there'd be a failed state type of thing I might have heard in recent years?
posted by infini at 12:27 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Another passage from King's letter from a Birmingham jail:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
It was fairly striking to see a lot of our bad American rhetorical habits of today manifest in Faulkner, particularly the false equivalence he makes where he condemns "both sides" of the White Citizens' Councils and the NAACP. There are some people whose identity is so tied up in being "the reasonable moderate" that they'll seek the middle ground between an arsonist and a firefighter.
posted by deanc at 6:26 AM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Excellent thread. I'm reminded of how the lost history of slavery and Reconstruction hurts the United States today. "The South" won history. I imagine the "go slow" arguments have some cultural roots in the war, but also the later conflicts and failures of "the North" to follow through with Reconstruction--the part of history that is often left out of the war, out of shame or confusion or both. Reconstruction does not fall into anyone's easy categories. Freedmen won the war by following freedom to their deaths. The United States collectively failed to see them through.

To be generous, perhaps people like Faulkner in "the South" felt that integration would fail in the ways that Reconstruction failed and was allowed to fail. But that movement should not have been denied.

There is no question that justice should come swiftly, that we should hail the heroes of slave rebellions like the 1811 German coast uprising in the same way we hail heroes of the U.S. revolutionary war--despite the uprising's failure and the barbarically violent treatment of those rebels. No question that the ambitions of the 1866 congress in the Mechanic's Institute should be hailed as heroic leaders, and their massacre a national tragedy.

There's a reason, a common national reason, that these things are forgotten. These were people that were great examples of what US americans think of themselves being, but they were defeated by fellow americans because they were black, and forgotten for the same reason.

For the record, PBS Pinchback of Louisiana was, in fact, the first black Governor in the United States, although not elected to that specific position. He was the son of a former slave and the slave master, and a Union officer. But lord, Patterson of New York is only number four. Four in one hundred and fifty years.
posted by eustatic at 12:37 PM on July 28, 2012


First, replying to snark with snark...

Well, perhaps before we decide that racism can never be addressed, one should be sure.

And, perhaps before we decide that I was saying that, one should read my comment a little more carefully. Just because people may have a tendency towards racism doesn't mean that racism can never be addressed.

Which research? The research by people which people theoretically and intuitively confirm their bias?

Well, since you clearly haven't made your mind up, I suppose you're a lot less biased than the research I'm referring to. After all, what I'm talking about is probably impossible, and I'm sure you must have some good unbiased reasons to believe otherwise.

Finally, some substance...

In other words, racism didn't cause slavery; slavery caused racism.

There's a lot of truth to your the rest of your comment, but it doesn't really exclude the possibility that I'm talking about, or prove that slavery begat racism. I do not doubt, and am in fact aware, of the kind of rationalizations of which you speak. There's no doubt that slavery was driven primarily by profit. But racism is something bigger than slavery, and certainly occurred in history before Europeans enslaved Africans, and outside the context of slavery, in general. Please excuse me if I'm misunderstanding your point, because it seems like a stretch to say that slavery is the cause of racism.
posted by Edgewise at 1:39 PM on July 30, 2012


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