Taking Affirmative Action Against Crime and For Economic Reconstruction
June 21, 2008 1:12 AM   Subscribe

The black backs by and on which the fortunes of the New South were built:
On March 30, 1908, Green Cottenham was arrested by the sheriff of Shelby County, Alabama, and charged with “vagrancy.”... Cottenham’s offense was blackness.... [After a brief trial] Cottenham... was sold. Under a standing arrangement between the county and a vast subsidiary of the industrial titan of the North — U.S. Steel Corporation — the sheriff turned the young man over to the company for the duration of his sentence.... he was chained inside a long wooden barrack at night and required to spend nearly every waking hour digging and loading coal. His required daily “task” was to remove eight tons of coal from the mine. Cottenham was subject to the whip for failure to dig the requisite amount, at risk of physical torture for disobedience, and vulnerable to the sexual predations of other miners.... Forty-five years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing American slaves, Green Cottenham and more than a thousand other black men toiled under the lash at Slope 12.
— from the Introduction to Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II. The book's website includes reviews of the book, an excerpt of the Introduction, and an extensive photo gallery that includes disturbing images of enslaved and tortured prisoners.

For those unable to read the entire introductory excerpt, I've copied a few paragraphs, but you're better served reading the whole thing:
The camp had supplied tens of thousands of men over five decades to a succession of prison mines ultimately purchased by U.S. Steel in 1907. Hundreds of them had not survived. Nearly all were black men arrested and then “leased” by state and county governments to U.S. Steel or the companies it had acquired.3 Here and in scores of other similarly crude graveyards, the final chapter of American slavery had been buried. It was a form of bondage distinctly different from that of the antebellum South in that for most men, and the relatively few women drawn in, this slavery did not last a lifetime and did not automatically extend from one generation to the next. But it was nonetheless slavery—a system in which armies of free men, guilty of no crimes and entitled by law to freedom, were compelled to labor without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced to do the bidding of white masters through the regular application of extraordinary physical coercion.

Instead of thousands of true thieves and thugs drawn into the system over decades, the records demonstrate the capture and imprisonment of thousands of random indigent citizens, almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process. The total number of workers caught in this net had to have totaled more than a hundred thousand and perhaps more than twice that figure. Instead of evidence showing black crime waves, the original records of county jails indicated thousands of arrests for inconsequential charges or for violations of laws specifically written to intimidate blacks—changing employers without permission, vagrancy, riding freight cars without a ticket, engaging in sexual activity— or loud talk—with white women. Repeatedly, the timing and scale of surges in arrests appeared more attuned to rises and dips in the need for cheap labor than any demonstrable acts of crime. Hundreds of forced labor camps came to exist, scattered throughout the South—operated by state and county governments, large corporations, small-time entrepreneurs, and provincial farmers. These bulging slave centers became a primary weapon of suppression of black aspirations....

By 1900, the South’s judicial system had been wholly reconfigured to make one of its primary purposes the coercion of African Americans to comply with the social customs and labor demands of whites. It was not coincidental that 1901 also marked the final full disenfranchisement of nearly all blacks throughout the South. Sentences were handed down by provincial judges, local mayors, and justices of the peace—often men in the employ of the white business owners who relied on the forced labor produced by the judgments. Dockets and trial records were inconsistently maintained. Attorneys were rarely involved on the side of blacks. Revenues from the neo-slavery poured the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars into the treasuries of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina — where more than 75 percent of the black population in the United States then lived....

That the arc of Green Cottenham’s life led from a birth in the heady afterglow of emancipation to his degradation at Slope No. 12 in 1908 was testament to the pall progressing over American black life. But his voice, and that of millions of others, is almost entirely absent from the vast record of the era. Unlike the victims of the Jewish Holocaust, who were on the whole literate, comparatively wealthy, and positioned to record for history the horror that enveloped them, Cottenham and his peers had virtually no capacity to preserve their memories or document their destruction. The black population of the United States in 1900 was in the main destitute and illiterate. For the vast majority, no recordings, writings, images, or physical descriptions survive. There is no chronicle of girlfriends, hopes, or favorite songs of the dead in a Pratt Mines burial field. The entombed there are utterly mute, the fact of their existence as fragile as a scent in wind.
posted by orthogonality (94 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gosh, I'm not a weepy person, but this made me tear up. Some powerful photos.
posted by dawson at 2:13 AM on June 21, 2008


See also the heavily contested Sundown Towns
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:44 AM on June 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have read this book. It is filled with details, personal examples, follows the tribulations of specific individuals and their families and is a major contribution to our historical knowledge. Too many of us assume conventionally that the Civil War ended Slavery and that was that. In fact, the author notes, the North left the South alone as it developed this system of peonage, and only when Hitler and the Axis belittled FDR for its racism, did the federal govt begin to look into this abuse of blacks in the South.
posted by Postroad at 4:00 AM on June 21, 2008


I happened to see the author on Book TV a few weeks ago. You can watch it here. You won't be able to stop watching. It changes the way I understand Jim Crow, and US history. Thanks for the post.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:31 AM on June 21, 2008


How horrific. I had no idea that this took place.

The parallels to the current prison-industrial complex are pretty marked, although of course there are differences.
posted by miss tea at 5:01 AM on June 21, 2008


I came here to post this, but you did a better job than I would have. My wife and I were watching the author on Bill Moyers last night (did you see it too, and decide to post?), and we kept turning to each other and saying "How come I knew nothing about this?" Amazing that we're still piecing together the basic facts of life in a period within living memory. This was truly the American Gulag, and people should be ashamed to trot out that chestnut about how slavery ended many generations ago so how come the blacks still don't have their act together? I look forward to reading the book and learning the details.

Amazing how some people just have to be asshats in MeFi threads.
posted by languagehat at 6:53 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The "New South" was ugly. Reconstruction itself was ugly, cases like this were ugly, and the systems of industrial feudalism and sharecropping crushed the poor of both races. Part of this is the reason it really pisses me off when caricatures and stereotypes of Southerners are mocked in the media and the press.

It's always the poor Southerner who is mocked. You can see this applied to both races, where the "bumpkin black" (think Bubba from Forrest Gump) and the redneck coexist in a strange mockable pocket dimension. Some people, even progressives, find it terrible to mock the first but acceptable to mock the second--without understanding that it wasn't primarily the poor of either race who made the South's problems what they are today.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


If this was swept under the carpet back then, I'm curious to know if there's a fragment of this kind of forced labor continuing today in the U.S. that nobody's paying attention to.
posted by crapmatic at 7:55 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


More recommended reading:

Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter

Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David M. Oshinsky

Sloss Furnaces and the Rise of the Birmingham District: An Industrial Epic by W. David Lewis

Testing the New Deal: The General Textile Strike of 1934 in the American South, by Janet Irons

I haven't read Blackmon's book yet, though after watching the Moyers interview last night I plan to. One theme that runs through all these works that I didn't hear discussed in Moyers' interview (I missed the beginning, so perhaps it was mentioned) was the way that race was used as a wedge to stop unionizing attempts by coal miners & textile workers both black and white -- a policy that gets replicated in union-busting all over the Deep South to this day.

Reading about this ugly slice of US history has been a hobby of mine for years, so I was unfazed by Blackmon's narrative and somewhat dismayed that others seem so unaware of it. This system brutalized the southern poor, and though black men felt the brunt of it, there were plenty of poor white sharecroppers who worked those coal mines, too -- my father included, who worked in the mines from age 15 to 18.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:19 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember one summer, that I spent in West Palm Beach Florida, the poor black section. It was about 1970 and I was 10 years old.
We were homeless (in Washington,D.C.) at the time and had to spend it down South until my father could find a home for us. I was helping a friend deliver his morning papers. I noticed that there were some homes further down the road, by the railroad tracks, and asked him if they where his customers. He replied that those were white peoples' homes and if I crossed those tracks..I wouldn't come back. That was the last time I went with him to deliver papers.
posted by doctorschlock at 9:00 AM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


One theme that runs through all these works that I didn't hear discussed in Moyers' interview was the way that race was used as a wedge to stop unionizing attempts by coal miners & textile workers both black and white.

The Communist Party made a determined but mostly futile effort to create a genuinely biracial coalition of the working class in Alabama. Its efforts are detailed in Robin Kelley's Hammer and Hoe, which I can highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:04 AM on June 21, 2008


I can personally attest that Jim Crow was alive and heartlessly cruel as recently as 1960 in West Memphis Arkansas.
posted by notreally at 9:35 AM on June 21, 2008


http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0822/p14s02-wmgn.html

nothing ever changes... it's just that now they need a war on drugs, mandatory-minimum sentencing and immigration reform to keep the prison-labour spigot open. it used to be so easy.
posted by klanawa at 9:53 AM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Communist Party made a determined but mostly futile effort to create a genuinely biracial coalition of the working class

Yes, and one of the results (as pointed out in the Moyers interview) was that anyone who tried to describe and condemn the neoslavery system was smeared as a Communist.
posted by languagehat at 9:53 AM on June 21, 2008


And now they're using the drug war to take away their right to vote. Nothing has reallly changed.
posted by empath at 10:01 AM on June 21, 2008


I wonder if there's any recognition of this in the corporate histories of US Steel and Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company.

It would be interesting to get a look at their archives.
posted by fullerine at 10:38 AM on June 21, 2008


More recommended reading

I also like "The Trouble They Seen," by Dorothy Sterling. Among many other things, it tells the absolutely heartbreaking stories of freed slaves trying to find relatives who'd been sold off elsewhere. But the reassertion of control over freed blacks, the rise of Jim Crow laws, the murders appointed or elected black officials and the total lack of interest in the North of standing by the freedmen is horrible. The South doesn't need to rise again--it did almost immediately after the Civil War and our fellow black citizens paid the price.
posted by etaoin at 11:09 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people, even progressives, find it terrible to mock the first but acceptable to mock the second--without understanding that it wasn't primarily the poor of either race who made the South's problems what they are today.

It kind of depends what you mean by 'primarily', doesn't it? Did poor Southern whites benefit economically? Why yes they did. Did they mount any significant opposition to this injustice? Not in any significant numbers. Instead, they were often to be found donning the white sheet and planting the burning cross, spitting in the faces of black kids as they were bussed to mixed schools, or standing with tobacco drool dribbling down their chins as they watched a lynching like it was some sort of spectator sport.

This tendency isn't limited to the South. Most countries have had factions of the indigenous working class behaving abominably to those lower on the pecking order than they are -- generally immigrants or minorities. But rarely for so long, or in such an extreme manner. Most other places, the poor also have some honourable tradition of resistance and solidarity with the oppressed. Now, perhaps there's a huge reported literature on how poor white sharecroppers struggled in solidarity with their oppressed neighbours, but if there is, I'm not aware of it.

Perhaps there were some 'good Germans' in the Southern States, same as there were in Germany. As far as I'm aware though, most either stayed silent or were complicit in the face of bigotry and persecution. You can try and rescue their reputation all you want, but I suspect it's going to take more than a few bald assertions about how they 'primarily' weren't to blame for the many, many, terrible things that were done over centuries.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:00 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


languagehat writes "My wife and I were watching the author on Bill Moyers last night (did you see it too, and decide to post?), "

Yup. Though I was idly listening, not watching, so it wasn't until nea the end of the interview that I was paying attention.

Rangeboy writes "The Communist Party made a determined but mostly futile effort to create a genuinely biracial coalition of the working class in Alabama. "

And they weren't the first. Some time before the Civil War, a Southern pamphleteer proposed the same thing, asserting that slavery was a tool used by rich whites to keep poor whites down -- if you had slaves, you didn't need to offer decent wages to whites or blacks, and as long as only some whites had free labor, they'd continue to be on top economically. I can't recall the author or title. And, yes, historically the way the ruling class keeps on top is by creating or exacerbating divisions and inciting hatred of "inferiors", whether the target of that hate is black, Jew, Kulak, Hispanic, Muslim, or Emanuel Goldstein.

But why then, do we mock poor whites?

sonic meat machine writes "It's always the poor Southerner who is mocked.... Some people, even progressives, find it terrible to mock the first but acceptable to mock the second--without understanding that it wasn't primarily the poor of either race who made the South's problems what they are today."

Well, part of the reason is that Cletus swallowed the myth of Herrenvolk Democracy fed him by his social superiors, wiped his mouth, and asked for seconds.

That's the "beauty" of a race-based system, of Herrenvolk. As long as you're white, you're always intrinsically "better" than a nigger, and you can never lose that birthright and the black can never gain it. On the other hand, if race equality is achieved, you're at the bottom of the totem pole as a poor person. But as long as you support the your superiors, the rich whites, in their access to free labor, you too can exercise your superior social status by bullying, terrorizing, raping, or lynching a black whenever your self-esteem is threatened or your poverty is too depressing. And being white, there's always that distanct dream that you too (or your kids) can join the upper crust -- something no "nigger" can ever do.

So we mock Cletus, in part, because he enthusiastically fought against "Northern Aggression" and his own economic interests to try to protect a disgusting and dehumanizing system that didn't even economically benefit him (and indeed, hurt him economically and mired him in poverty for generations). We sneer at Cletus because he still today takes great pride in his ancestors' fight for the "Lost Cause". We sneer at Cletus because for decades he's reveled in his lack of education ansd ignorance, "'cause jus 'cause I ain't got no book-learnin', I's still better than any them niggers!"

We mock Cletus because decade after decade, when his ruling class has needed to hookwink and blind him to how he was being used, how his children's future was being robbed, Cletus could be distracted and whipped up into a frenzy by a simple "look, a nigger tryin' to get all uppity and use your water fountain!" or school or voting booth! (Not that Cletus voted all that much, poll taxes if not literacy tests applying as much to him as to any black.)

We mock Cletus because now once the ruling class had to allow blacks to vote, Cletus provided the essential counter-weight, a counter-weight that now drives the Republican Party's Southern Strategy, its overt racism masked by the efforts of Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater. And so even today, Cletus votes against his economic interests, content to live in squalor with his kids' teeth rotting out so long as he can clutch his Rebel flag and proudly announce that he don't abide with no niggers (or to make prejudice more socially acceptable today, no welfare, abortionists, and faggot marriage).

We mock Cletus, because he's happily traded his education, economic security, and his children's futures, and allowed himself to be used as a tool, all for the mess of pottage that allows him to sneer at (and maybe lynch) anyone, more matter how educated, wealthy, or competent, who has a black skin.
posted by orthogonality at 12:06 PM on June 21, 2008 [33 favorites]


PeterMcDermott writes "Perhaps there were some 'good Germans' in the Southern States, same as there were in Germany."

I'm pretty much in agreement with Peter's comment, except, "good German" is supposed to be used ironically: the German who never participated in atrocities himself, but who conveniently didn't notice when his neighbors were beaten by Nazis, disappeared into the camps, and who just happened to take over Kohn's shop and all of Kohn's inventory when Kohn "moved to the East".
posted by orthogonality at 12:13 PM on June 21, 2008


It's always the poor Southerner who is mocked. You can see this applied to both races, where the "bumpkin black" (think Bubba from Forrest Gump) and the redneck coexist in a strange mockable pocket dimension. Some people, even progressives, find it terrible to mock the first but acceptable to mock the second--without understanding that it wasn't primarily the poor of either race who made the South's problems what they are today.
I think that sort of mocking is less against the poor whites of the period, and more against the subset of white Southerners of today who seem to consider that period the South's Golden Age.
posted by Flunkie at 12:28 PM on June 21, 2008


We (USAians) truly are a monstrous nation. I'm not surprised by this at all, but am still shocked, somehow. It really explains why we need such a massive military presence, because any nation could easily invade us on human rights allegations.
posted by nevercalm at 12:34 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is the loophole in the text of the 13th Amendment that makes all of this possible: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." [emphasis added]
posted by Dr. Zira at 1:02 PM on June 21, 2008


I will now in part defend the ruling classes: in a good deal of the anti-this or that hatred I have found throughout the parts of the nation I have been in, the working classes do not need to be suckered into hatred. They have it from their early days. Sure. The owners of places used this hatred to their own economic advantage, but all too often various minorities turned against each other, as did the poor of different backgrounds, competing for jobs with others, ie, blacks against hispanics.

The communist party would have been ideal place for the blacks but the history of that movement indicates that blacks did not flock to the Party in significant numbers.
What really emeerges as a central theme in the book mentioned: the Civil War was at its most basic a fight for States Rights to assert what they wanted and the North implied that national mandates ought to apply (no slavery)...but after the war, the govt allowed the states to re-assert itself. Under Woodrow Wilson, a Southerner and a racist from Virginia, nothing was done about peonage. The govt finally took steops under FDR. But it was not till Truman that the govt ended segregation in govt places (military), and years later, the govt had to step in to end segregation.
States rights? sure. Now Bush says let the states determine if they want offshore drilling.
Staters rights stil an issue. gay marriage, medical marijuana etc
posted by Postroad at 1:17 PM on June 21, 2008


I'm sorry I don't mean offence but the way many people from the north still view the south both past and present says more about their own ignorance and willingness to scapegoat a group they don't bother to understand.

It's not so much the calling the south out for it's crimes that bothers me as much as the assumption that the people of the southern states are and were some how funamentally flawed human beings.

Most human subjects have the context of their actions and intentions weighed by the circumstance they find themselves in, the push and pull of economic, social, and religious etc.

Some people can see that the modern prison system is a tool to enslave minorities and more to the point to control their people through coercion. Some people see only that something must be wrong with the group that has an alarming rate of imprisonment for their numbers. Who is right? Are the first group torchering logic in an attempt to explain away the obvious, or are the second group just not looking close enough? I'm not sure, but what I do know is the first group is supposedly digging deeper, supposedly the first group is not satisfied with simply scapegoating a people.


From Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States : . . .
"Behind the secession of the South from the Union, after Lincoln was elected President in the fall of 1860 as candidate of the new Republican party, was a long series of policy clashes between South an North. Then clash was not over slavery as a moral institution-most northerners did not care enough about slavery to make sacrifices for it, certainly not the cacrifice of war. It was not a clash of peoples (most northern whites were not economically favored, not politically powerful; most southern whites were poor farmers, not decisionmakers) but of elites. The northern elite wanted economic expansion-free land, free labor, a free market, a high protective tariff for manufacturers, a bank of the United States. The salve interests opposed all that; the saw Lincoln and the Republicans as making continuation of their pleasant and prosperous way of life impossible in the future." . . .

(section from pages 188 and 189)
posted by nola at 1:31 PM on June 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


If this was swept under the carpet back then, I'm curious to know if there's a fragment of this kind of forced labor continuing today in the U.S. that nobody's paying attention to.

Mostly in the migrant farm worker & meat-packing industries, and the burden has shifted from the blacks to the illegal immigrants from our neighbors to the south. Not that I'm saying it's anything like that bad, but they're certainly exploited to a higher degree than in most industries.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:33 PM on June 21, 2008


We mock Cletus - for the same reason Cletus thought this was both a fair example and a funny one too. If you expect ol' Clet to know better why don't you?
posted by nola at 1:44 PM on June 21, 2008


After reading about this, and having recently done research on supplementary materials for Katrina Brown's Traces of the Trade, I am so thoroughly disgusted in not only our history, but in our refusal to teach it. I NEVER heard about this in school, I NEVER knew about the tightly-entertwined Industrial North and Slave South, I never even knew that freed blacks weren't even given the 40 acres and a mule. Any American actually looking at the situation has to realize, at a certain point, that our country was built not only on the forced removal and genocide of the Native American population but also on centuries of exploitation of both enslaved and free African Americans. At the very least, white Americans need to acknowledge this terrible history. What happens after that, I'm not sure, but at the very least I'm encouraged by the fact that this history is being discussed a lot more in America.
posted by 235w103 at 1:58 PM on June 21, 2008


As to who is to blame for slavery and its aftermath, uh, I think it's a bit of a moot point, simply because everyone involved is dead. All shit like this ends up being is a North-South pissing match. Regardless of who was more racist, both the Northern and Southern states saw benefits from slavery and re-enslavement, just as both Northern and Southern white Americans enjoy the benefits of white privilege (although, again, the degree to which you are constrained by your skin color varies wildly, not even just between North and South but depending on what state, region, city or even part of town you live in). Just because the people where you came from didn't have slaves doesn't mean that they didn't profit from slaves. My relatives came over from Ireland long after Emancipation, but, simply by dint of my skin color, I take advantage of a racist cultural system, and I am responsible for trying to correct that. I think every white person is, regardless of where they come from originally, and I don't think this should be that shocking.

*I'm writing this from a white perspective, obviously- I have no idea how, for instance, Asian Americans or Hispanic Americans do feel or should feel about this sort of stuff, except I get a feeling any minority group has a stake in fighting racism and inequality. But I'm just trying to come to grips with this stuff myself, I don't want to make any suggestions for anyone other than my group, and even those I'm trying to keep pretty loose.
posted by 235w103 at 2:11 PM on June 21, 2008


We mock Cletus...

What do you mean "we," white man? Don't include me in your idiot ahistorical bigotry.
posted by Snyder at 2:16 PM on June 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


orthogonality, your comment is interesting in that it demonstrates a quality of doublethink I find amazing. You say:
And, yes, historically the way the ruling class keeps on top is by creating or exacerbating divisions and inciting hatred of "inferiors", whether the target of that hate is black, Jew, Kulak, Hispanic, Muslim, or Emanuel Goldstein.

But why then, do we mock poor whites?
You then go on to say:
Well, part of the reason is that Cletus swallowed the myth of Herrenvolk Democracy fed him by his social superiors, wiped his mouth, and asked for seconds.
Of course, you could easily say we mock poor whites because of the myth fed to us by our social superiors: the idea that we are also part of the elite, but you don't. It's the nature of social aspirants to "swallow the myth" fed to them by their social superiors, and most people are social aspirants.
So we mock Cletus, in part, because he enthusiastically fought against "Northern Aggression" and his own economic interests to try to protect a disgusting and dehumanizing system that didn't even economically benefit him (and indeed, hurt him economically and mired him in poverty for generations). We sneer at Cletus because he still today takes great pride in his ancestors' fight for the "Lost Cause". We sneer at Cletus because for decades he's reveled in his lack of education ansd ignorance, "'cause jus 'cause I ain't got no book-learnin', I's still better than any them niggers!"
How many Southerners have you, personally, conversed with? How many Southerners who have been in the South for generations? How many Southerners who have been poor in the South for generations? Here's a hint: the vast majority of us aren't like the caricatures they paint. You see the idiot in the rebel flag tee at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert on TV? Most of us think he's an idiot too. He's also an outlier.

Seeing this idiotic stereotype held up as the Platonic ideal of a Southerner is as offensive to me as seeing gangbangers held up as "the normal black person" would be to a black person.

Of course, a lot of white Southerners aren't offended by it because they're convinced that they're part of the social elite by the unremitting propaganda of populist consumerism, never-you-mind that they live on $30k a year and drive a 1995 Corolla.

Furthermore, do you realize that this polarization of the U.S. has been the goal of the Republican party since the 1960s? This has been their plank: convince 49% of the country that the other 49% are having cocaine-fueled homosexual orgies while eating babies, and trust that the 2% of people who are non-partisan can be split 1.1 to .9 by some sensible point of economic doctrine. The other side of that is that "blue-staters" have been convinced that everybody outside the "blue states" (how I hate that term) is a gibbering subhuman zombie, voting only as his Christian Masters dictate.

Signed,
A Red-State Democrat
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:01 PM on June 21, 2008 [13 favorites]


orthogonality, you aren't justifying your prejudice. You're just flaunting it. If it had the time and willingness to get banned for trolling, I think I could transpose that into a diatribe about blacks, or jews, or any other group you could attach a prejudice to, and demonstrate just how hateful a speech that was. We could start with substituting the "Cletus" for a, say, "Joe" or "Yosef." We could take that tobacco dribbling comment and pretty directly bring in a slur about jutting lips and a Neanderthal forehead, or maybe shifting mistrustful eyes and twitching greedy hands.

Oh and the "They deserved it" part. Yeah, that's original to prejudice. Nobody has thought of say, the primitive nature of the negro race, and the need to subjugate them in order to contain and control their brutality. Nobody has thought that Jews need to be put down to keep them from stealing the money and usurping the power of a native people.

I mean, really, bravo sir for picking a type of hate that is socially acceptable at this period of history. Absolutely top marks for blatant, horrifying hypocrisy.
posted by SomeOneElse at 3:06 PM on June 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


orthogonality, I'd like to thank you for the post, and ignore that little rant of yours, which isn't really worthy of you. Looking at these images and reading these stories excites a powerful rage and frustration, and I think it's the kind of thing that can make a person say something they don't quite mean.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:29 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


During his interview with Bill Moyers, Douglas Blackmon, said something to the effect that at the end of the Reconstuction, whites north and south came to a consensus about the place of blacks in this country. And it was not talked about thereafter for decades. I was thinking of that when Glenn C. Loury and Ortland Patterson then came on:
Bill Moyers: Have we ever had a real conversation in this society about what to do about so large a number of people who have been deliberating assigned to the margins, so that it's virtually impossible for them to climb out on their own. That is, they only have a minimal possibility of getting themselves out of the hole into which history and policy and other considerations have placed them. Have we ever had that real conversation?

Glenn C. Loury: Well, you know, I'm thinking here about the speech that Lyndon Johnson gave, and I know you know it very well, Bill, in 1965 at Howard University. A commencement address. In which he said, in effect, that it wasn't enough for the civil rights statutes, which had only just been enacted, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it wasn't enough to level the playing field.

You don't hobble a man, he said, in a metaphor with hundreds of years of deprivation and unfairness and then bring him to the starting line and shoot off the gun and say it's a fair race.

Orlando Patterson: There are two aspects of the problems that blacks face from the horrendous past from slavery and Jim Crow. One is the public exclusion of blacks, the systematic public exclusion of people, black people, of not belonging to the society. Not being real citizens. Even though they've been here longer than most whites as a group.

And that exclusion is in politics, in civic life, in the economy. As late as the late '50s. I love to illustrate the point with my students. Pick up any of the major weekly journals, even The New Yorker, and flip through it. You wouldn't see a black face. I mean, black problems weren't even considered worthy of discussion. This is a white country.

And with the laws, Jim Crow and elsewhere, I mean, were reinforced that. The major objective of the civil rights movement was to, of course inclusion. To insist that blacks are an integral part of this society. In its laws, in its public life, in its civil life, in its culture. In its conception of itself. And in that, it succeeded mightily. Blacks-

Bill Moyers: So that now we see blacks in the public square. We-

Orlando Patterson: That's right. Absolutely. I mean, the most influential woman in America, the two most influential women in America are black. The Secretary of State and Oprah Winfrey.

In that sense, what was inconceivable in America, as late, I'd say, as '59, '60, is now, I mean, we are an integral part of this society. And I'd say for the typical white person, America's definition of itself is no longer a white society. It's recognized as that, however there's another side of what slavery which is exclusion from the private domain.

Blacks were people who lived separately. People we did not marry. People who were simply seen as apart. And that had major consequences because you're excluded from the cultural capital of the society.

Glenn C. Loury: I think this is exactly correct. I think it's a very important distinction, this distinction I call discrimination in contract, the formal exclusion, and the discrimination in contact, the informal exclusion. I think the emphasis on social capital is exactly right. The fundamental question is what are the resources available for human development for people?
Have we ever had a real conversation in this society about what to do about so large a number of people who have been deliberating assigned to the margins, so that it's virtually impossible for them to climb out on their own.

My experience here and elsewhere is that it is one many are still trying to avoid. In part, because we don't want to face the enormity of the crimes upon which we as a country prospered. Because it is very hard to look at them. I was thinking of this when Blackmon spoke of how you can walk into what are now woods growing around those abandoned mines and steel mills and, in a certain light, see the depressions of hundreds of graves in what once were those crude cemeteries where they buried those poor souls cold iron bound into that unspoken of slavery. Hundreds of graves from a holocaust some still can not bear to face. We speak of mass graves in Iraq and Bosnia--but what of those graves by those mills ? Oh, this is a conversation we have yet to face.

That was an amazing episode of Bill Moyer's Journal--I, too, would have posted about this had not orthogonality done so. I wonder if I would have posted as well about it.
posted by y2karl at 4:09 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thirty some years ago I was the little dog on a little mom and pop boiler-maker crew out of North Carolina. The next dog up was Hannibal Hayes, who had just got off the chain gang. He said that it beat hell out of being cooped up in a cell. He was always cool and collected in the bar fights in our minds. Then, after Hannibal, the next dog up was Cletus.

Cletus was tall and pudgy and he never missed a chance to lord it over me with his semi-literacy and two years seniority. Cletus’ big brother, Toby, was the meanest sheriff’s deputy asshole in the whole county.

Then he got mixed up with Danny, who we all knew from another job. Danny was the disreputable scion of local rest-home magnates. He stood five feet tall and had one brown eye and one green eye and, if his family hadn’t been rich, he would have done time for beating up the old woman in the rest home and his various other crimes and misdemeanors.

Danny had the first car in the county with electric windows. Those things could strangle a dog back then and Toby was notorious as a cop who liked to fuck people up. So when Toby pulled him for something or other Danny rolled the window up on his arm when he tried to drag him out of the car and floored it and dragged him down the road. He was never right after that.

As for Cletus... he’s an easy target, but he’s only a pawn in their game.
posted by Huplescat at 4:10 PM on June 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Glenn C. Loury: Well, you know, I'm thinking here about the speech that Lyndon Johnson gave, and I know you know it very well, Bill, in 1965 at Howard University. A commencement address. In which he said, in effect, that it wasn't enough for the civil rights statutes, which had only just been enacted, the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it wasn't enough to level the playing field.

You don't hobble a man, he said, in a metaphor with hundreds of years of deprivation and unfairness and then bring him to the starting line and shoot off the gun and say it's a fair race.


Amazing that Johnson was so dedicated to equality and did so many good things domestically, yet was so flawed in other ways. Just goes to show that people, and history, are complex, no matter how much we may want to reduce them to stereotypes.

As for Cletus... he’s an easy target, but he’s only a pawn in their game.
I was thinking of that song, too.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:26 PM on June 21, 2008


I think I could transpose that into a diatribe about blacks, or jews, or any other group you could attach a prejudice to, and demonstrate just how hateful a speech that was.
It would be just as right. Calling a rhetorical point hateful does not disprove it. Lots of people deserve lots of hate. The charges orthogonality levels at the poor white Southerners of 1880's to 1970's are valid: yes, Cletus did swallow down the Herrenvolk myth and did ask for seconds. Do you think the white Southerners in lynching photos were photoshopped in? Who do you think tied up and stood over the black boy in the second picture? Who the hell do you think does this shit? Cletus, pretty much. Poor, white, hateful Cletus.

The point that you're missing in your Pollyannaish rush to defend poor, poor white southerners from wicked, wicked orthogonality and his cruel stereotyping is that almost all humans, almost everywhere, are guilty of Cletus's ignorance and cruelty. Blacks? Who sold the white men the slaves? Ever heard of Tutsis and Hutus? Taken a good look at Zimbabwe lately? Asians? Heard of the Ainu? How great are things in Burma? How about Jews? The Jews can show us a perfectly good example of the eagerness of humanity to embrace the darkness: freed from horrendous racist oppression at the hands of the Nazis ('tho WWII being about saving the Jews from the Nazis is even less true than the US Civil War being about saving the Blacks from the Southerners), given a nation of their very own for reasons that turned out to be a mixture of Christian apocalypticism, the racist desire to separate Jews, and the humanitarian desire to actually give the Jews a good deal for once, though of course only the third of those was mentioned much ... what did they go and do to the Palestinians? What's Jewish Cletus doing these days?

The Shoah itself was the worst, but by no means the only, expression of a common attitude in Christian nations for the last fifteen centuries. Advancing technology enabled the Shoah, not any particular brutality in the human character that was unique to Germans born between 1870 and 1910. The Cletus of 1363, when he felt all oppressed and angry, went to lynch Jews and burn down synagogues. Why? Because he was told, by the wealthy conservatives of 1363, that it was Jews, and not themselves, who kept Cletus's hovel small and his diet unsatisfying. (Stuffing Cletus full of liar loans and corn sugar is a novel trend, I'll acknowledge that.)

There's a segment of conservatives that, in the hope of defending "dead white men" from all the crimes they are accused of, like to jeer at the "black armband" view of history. I'll jeer at it too, but from the other side: the armband of history is not black with empty sorrow and mourning for victims and weepy apologies, it is red, red with the blood of our fellow human beings, human beings just like us in every way that counts. We, human beings as a species, prosper upon the enormity of the crimes we inflict upon each other.

Does that mean we all deserve death and pain, and so we might as well crack each other's heads and feast on the goo inside right now, rather than later? Well, no. There are some ways out, some exit strategies if you like, that are saving us from the indignities and ugliness of being plains apes with nuclear missiles. More of us are aware that Cletus lurks within our hearts, his rope and shotgun at the ready. Despite conservatives' efforts to reassure us that no, we wouldn't do that, they were special white people who kept slaves, special in their badness which we do not share, history is taught in schools with an increasing level of honesty. Sure, overly focussing on the suffering of the victims (who are just like us), rather than the guilt and cruelty of the perpetrators (who are just like us), but the inference is there for an intelligent child to draw.

There have been huge advances in sociology and psychology over a mere fifty years or so. The fields barely existed, last century: which implies, we had no clue, except for self-serving bullshit we made up about how we are good and they are bad and that is why "they hate our freedoms!", about why people do the things we do. Now we have clues, we can do better. Furthermore, we have the means and inclination to spread all of this knowledge widely. Notable experiments and discoveries not only make the scientific journals, they make the blogs and the papers. Ordinary people like us find out about volition experiments, and the mechanism by which the influence of authority works, and so on. We, as a worldwide human society, are more aware today of who and what we are, than we were yesterday, and will be more aware tomorrow.

I live in hope that in forty years or so, when most of us are old, we could look back and tell our grandchildren how in 2008 it was horrible how we treated each other, we even had jails back in those days, and schools were peon factories to feed the corporations, and isn't it great that we live so much better now ... and in 2088, our grandchildren will say the same to their own. Or, inasmuch as we are Cletus, we'll complain about soft treatment of criminals and how kids are disobedient and how "moral standards have declined" (about which we could not be more wrong). But maybe that's just my own Pollyanna-ism.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:51 PM on June 21, 2008 [15 favorites]


yet was so flawed in other ways

I've been on a major Vietnam War self-study kick ever since the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon piqued my interest.

I advise judging LBJ outside the Vietnam conflict dynamic he became entangled in. His words, "that bitch of a war", is about most accurate summation of it one can say. Intervention looked so straight-forward going in, and disengagement so puzzling once in. cf. OIF.

posted by tachikaze at 4:52 PM on June 21, 2008


It really isn't historically accurate to describe USian slavery as a southern thing. There were slaves, both Native American and black, in the northern states, too. And in Canada, although the Peculiar Institution was a bit different up there.
posted by QIbHom at 5:09 PM on June 21, 2008


Amazing that Johnson was so dedicated to equality and did so many good things domestically, yet was so flawed in other ways.

Had he not been saddled with Viet Nam, his face would be on a coin or dollar bill of one denomination or another.
posted by y2karl at 5:18 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


aeschenkarnos, I didn't miss that point. Humanity can be a distasteful and disgusting species. It's just that I don't particularly like stereotypes, and I feel that this hateful self-separation that orthogonality has exercised is the source of rather than the solution to the crimes you enumerate.

"Damn the evil Papists!"
"Damn the evil Jew!"
"Damn the evil Muslims!"
"Damn the evil blacks!"
"Damn the evil southerners!"
"Damn the evil gays!"

A whole lot of bad happens because people feel self-righteous and attribute bad qualities to the "other." It'd just be nice if we could minimize the (media-exacerbated) class prejudice in the U.S. a little bit.

Except for the prejudice against Liechtensteiners. Shifty-eyed sneaks. Can't trust 'em.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:43 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


A:Boy it's a shame what happened to those Black people, what with the slavery and the second class citizenship and whatnot...

B:Yeah...but what about those poor southern whites...they get MOCKED all the time....

...and then I just laugh.

Seriously though... my biggest hope is that the more people learn about this history the closer we'll get to realizing that this is not something that one group of people did to another group of people. This is something horrible that Our society did to itself. The brutal legacy of slavery, genocide and racism ensnares us all in a way that it's impossible to separate out "us" from "them", or even victim from oppressor. A racist justice system makes everyone less safe, racist hiring practices hurt all workers, racist media fucks up everybody's self esteem.

I'm glad this sort of thig is reaching more eyes.And I hope it wakes more people up to just how much American History is hidden from them. I hope it opens more eyes as to how telling ourselves the truth about the sins of our shared past is so much more patriotic that pretending like nothing's ever gone wrong.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:43 PM on June 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


his face would be on a coin or dollar bill of one denomination or another.

'course, you sorta gotta die in office these days to get that honor. LBJ did happen to make it, by a couple of days, passed when his second full term would have ended.
posted by tachikaze at 6:10 PM on June 21, 2008


billyfleetwood, you're right. So far, America has done much worse things to African Americans than to any other group except, perhaps, Native Americans. The thing is, though, racism continues in the U.S. primarily in the camouflaged form of "classism," which extends to the poor of all races.

Maybe I'm phrasing it badly.

The poor got shat on in the antebellum South: blacks were enslaved and whites were marginalized.

The poor got shat on in Reconstruction: race hatreds were stirred up to quell populist movements among workers within the new industrial system.

The poor got shat on in the 20th Century South: the poor of both races were denied the vote and existed in feudalistic "mill villages" and quasi-slavery conditions of sharecropping.

The poor continue to be the recipients of a lot of fertilizer. Inner cities (mostly black and Latino) are shattered, gang-ridden ghettos. Our hinterland (mostly white) is broken, empty of jobs and opportunities.

When we have stories of historical racism, one of the most convenient places to put the blame is the Southerner. God knows that we do it ourselves; there's no more self-hating group than the educated Southerners. (That's part of the reason alcoholism is so common.) The danger in this is that it ignores present dangers. It wasn't poor whites running the 20th Century slave mines. The poor whites were just fed some propaganda and paid a nice wage. It wasn't poor whites setting up segregation, or running the plantations.

In the same way, it's not poor people of any color setting up the torture-camps at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. It's not poor people conceiving of broad civil liberties violations. It's not poor people getting rich because it costs seven cents to have some poor half-starved Thai kid sew a $149 pair of sneakers together.

The modern Southerner can manage some piss-poor embarrassments of dignity--the Confederate flag over the SC state house, for example, and Liberty University--but the things which are most disgusting about our history are systemic. Can we just stop pretending it's ignorant country bumpkins who did all of this and admit that it's coldly calculated actions by the same sorts of people who run our country today?
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:11 PM on June 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


It'd just be nice if we could minimize the (media-exacerbated) class prejudice in the U.S. a little bit.

vs.

a nation of idiots
posted by tachikaze at 6:19 PM on June 21, 2008


tachikaze, I prefer this one.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:26 PM on June 21, 2008


This is a very interesting thread, as slavery and Civil War (US) threads tend to be on Metafilter. I am slightly disturbed however by the argument - or perhaps it is fairer to say the makings of an argument - that USian slavery was not that big a deal, or that shocking, or was equivalent to slavery elsewhere, and so on. Tied in with this, the argument that racism is endemic to humanity, and therefore that USians need not do much soul-searching in regards to racism. It is just the way we all are, after all.

I don't buy that. I would daresay there isn't a country in the Western world with as much cultural baggage surrounding slavery (and its legacy of racism) as the US. In large part, as has been suggested upthread, this is because that all-important national conversation has never really taken place; the scars are still very raw, the effects still resonating. As an aside, the coming months will be a very interesting time in the US, as Barack Obama forces some of these issues to the surface.

Wikipedia: Historian Marcel Trudel has recorded 4,092 slaves throughout Canadian history, of which 2,692 were aboriginal people, owned mostly by the French, and 1400 blacks owned mostly by the British, together owned by approximately 1400 masters.

And, to be a little defensive of Canada for a moment, yes slavery existed in what is now Canada, but to compare it to the US is kind of disingenuous; slavery was never a major part of the economy the way it was south of the border. The French brought slaves with them, and the English after them as well, but the single greatest influx of African* slaves into the colonies was when the Loyalists fled the US after the Revolutionary War, bringing their slaves with them.

*as opposed to the more common indigenous Indian slaves
posted by stinkycheese at 6:37 PM on June 21, 2008


thanks for this. i was well aware of this portion of our history, but nothing brings it home like pictures. look at them closely, and you'll see that a whole lot of those prisoner-slaves were clearly children or barely into their teens. the sheer terrorism being perpetrated against black men in particular and black communities in general during the period between 1890-1930 is mind-blowing the further knowledge of it is acquired. it's so complete, so devastating--it's a wonder that the Black Power movement didn't involve more revenge than it did. those who showed restraint during the sixties are better humans than i'd have been.

heavily contested Sundown Towns...

? i've not been aware of anyone seriously challenging Loewen's claims. i am, however, acquainted with a group of UMD students who confirmed his thesis in Minnesota. [.DOC link]
posted by RedEmma at 6:41 PM on June 21, 2008


Perhaps there were some 'good Germans' in the Southern States, same as there were in Germany. As far as I'm aware though, most either stayed silent or were complicit in the face of bigotry and persecution.

Early on, there was a large population of Quakers in the south who found slavery--the idea of one man owning another--completely abhorrent and tried to stop it. Economy won out over morality, as it often does, and most of the Quakers left the south in disgust. Some stayed, and many were an important part of the Underground Railroad that got slaves to freedom.
posted by eye of newt at 7:55 PM on June 21, 2008


The first link I found has some of the stories of Quakers and the Underground Railroad.

I learned something here. We've all heard of Chain Gangs and even Gone With the Wind had scenes of the abuse of prisoners as cheap labor for factories.

But it never occured to me that the judicial system would be part of the 'recruitment' effort for these 'workers'. More things to have nightmares about! It is amazing the expanse of organization and depths of immorality that greed will take a 'civilization'.
posted by eye of newt at 8:10 PM on June 21, 2008


So far, America has done much worse things to African Americans than to any other group except, perhaps, Native Americans.

Perhaps.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:47 PM on June 21, 2008


stinkycheese Tied in with this, the argument that racism is endemic to humanity, and therefore that USians need not do much soul-searching in regards to racism. It is just the way we all are, after all.

But there is no "therefore" there. For example, Christianity, as often preached and sometimes practiced, has the position that we, human beings, are inherently sinful. It does not then say "we need not do much soul-searching". Quite the opposite, it says that, because we are sinners, and because redemption is possible, we must acknowledge ourselves as sinners, and strive all the harder for redemption.

Acknowledging a flaw, whether it be inherent to you, to your gender, to your your race, to your social class, to your culture, to your species - is not the same as excusing the flaw. I'd argue that the flaw can't even be addressed properly without acknowledging it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:00 AM on June 22, 2008


In my opinion, this story hasn't completely ended. I have read most of this thread, and I'm chagrined that at some point it turned into whether or not the southern poor whites have shirked culpability. When we are still seeking to reach justice in some 50s and 60s civil rights cases, it's obvious that it's still not over.

I think it's pointless to mock anyone in this. Behind the most vicious racist acts of the ant-Civil Rights position stood the full faith and credit of the United States Government. Scratch the surface of any of these cases and the FBI is not far from the surface.

And the north is far from exempt in its complicity. That northern whites hold themselves above southern whites is where I think the southerners can object, because the northerners did not object when Daley constructed the Chicago Housing Authority to segregate and continue the marginalization of the African American, and the "projects" style of housing was not limited to my home town.

I see it even today in my current state, where we "ended" the racial preference practices known as affirmmative action. But what has surprised me in talking to people of all races around here is the fiction that a magic wand was waived in 1964 and miraculously, we not only no longer have racial or ethnic or economic prejudice, but that everyone has equal opportunity in America's Shining Meritocracy.

I've been in corporate America and seen how the token Negro is treated (not me, I'm usually the token lunatic white) and if you think the opportunities are equal, that the treatment is equal, or that anti-African American prejudice is ended, you're living in a pollyanna world.

My own family openly mocked the Southerner when I talked to them about a planned move to the South. Northerners have proven by deed and by word that they can be every bit as nasty as Southerners. We just pat ourselves on the back for never having actually owned anyone personally. But nothing is achieved by mocking each other.

Instead, I've used history books such as Zinn's to expose some of our hidden past to students who didn't get this in school (I know I damn sure didn't) and I'll be glad to add some of this material above to my classes as well. Not as polemics; but when I get students who insist that equality has already been achieved and they are the ones who lose their chance to go to "X" school and found themselves in "Y" school because "some black kid took their spot" I simply ask them to read a little American History.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:00 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would like to suggest that firstly, referring to entire populations with an endearing nick like "Cletus" is not productive.

My job takes me all over both rural and urban Louisiana and Mississippi, and I have to deal directly with both the rich and powerful business owners and managers and the poor workers.

Yes, there is a subset of the population who conform to the Cletus stereotype. In the great 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial clusterfuck I pegged it at 35%, and turned out to be right within a few percentage points. I also predicted that the rest of the population would turn out and stomp David Duke's candidacy into dust even if it meant a lot of them would have to vote for someone they hated to do it, and I was right about that too.

The attitude that some northerners seem to have that southerners en masse love slavery and that's why we fought the Civil War is stunningly stupid. A quick glance at the map of Civil War battlegrounds will tell you why Southerners fought. And the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the toleration of bullshit like this gives the lie to the idea that the war was ever about slavery on either side. The Civil War was half a million people being murdered so that one group of rich elites could cement their control over another group of rich elites. The rest was just propaganda.

And Cletus mostly still exists because of those same rich elites encouraging him. Most such people only act out when they think they're among comrades, and shut up about it in a hurry when you let them know you're not buying their drivel.

I have noticed that in even the most racially charged areas of the south the races get along a lot better than they do in large parts of the north because we haven't adopted the northern solution of staking out an entire neighborhood and populating it only with Italians, Jews, blacks, etc. and threatening anyone else who comes around with casual violence. We have mostly at least mastered the art of pretending not to be racist fuckwits in social situations. No matter what race you are you can pretty much walk through any neighborhood in New Orleans or Jackson, MS without fear that you will be jumped because of your race.

When the same thing is true of Chicago or New York, give me a call.
posted by localroger at 7:17 AM on June 22, 2008 [5 favorites]


Bill Moyers: What was slope number 12?

Douglas Blackmon: Slope number 12 was a huge mine on the outskirts of Birmingham, part of a maze of mines. Birmingham is the fastest growing city in the country. Huge amounts of wealth and investment are pouring into the place.

But there's this again, this need for forced labor. And the very men, the very entrepreneurs who, just before the Civil War, were experimenting with a kind of industrial slavery, using slaves in factories and foundries, and had begun to realize, hey, this works just as well as slaves out on the farm.

The very same men who were doing that in the 1850s, come back in the 1870s and begin to reinstitute the same form of slavery. And Green Cottenham is one of the men, one of the many thousands of men who were sucked into the process, and then lived under these terribly brutalizing circumstances, this place that was filled with disease and malnutrition. And he dies there under terrible, terrible circumstances.

Bill Moyers: And you found the sunken graves five miles from downtown Birmingham?

Douglas Blackmon: It's just miles away. In fact there are just two places there, because all of these mines now are abandoned. Everything is overgrown. There are almost no signs of human activity, except that if you dig deep into the woods, grown over there, you begin to see, if you get the light just right, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of depressions where these bodies were buried.

Bill Moyers: You say that Atlanta, where you live now, which used to proclaim itself the finest city in the South, was built on the broken backs of re-enslaved black men.

Douglas Blackmon: That's right. When I started off writing the book, I began to realize the degree to which this form of enslavement had metastasized across the South, and that Atlanta was one of many places where the economy that created the modern city, was one that relied very significantly on this form of coerced labor. And some of the most prominent families and individuals in the in the creation of the modern Atlanta, their fortunes originated from the use of this practice. And the most dramatic example of that was a brick factory on the outskirts of town that, at the turn of the century, was producing hundreds of thousands of bricks every day.The city of Atlanta bought millions and millions of those bricks. The factory was operated entirely with forced workers. And almost 100 percent black forced workers. There were even times that on Sunday afternoons, a kind of old-fashioned slave auction would happen, where a white man who controlled black workers would go out to Chattahoochee Brick and horse trade with the guards at Chattahoochee Brick, trading one man for another, or two men. And-

Bill Moyers: And yet, slavery was illegal?

Douglas Blackmon: It had been illegal for 40 years. And this is a really important thing to me. I was stunned when I realized that because the city of Atlanta bought these millions and millions of bricks, well, those are the bricks that paved the downtown streets of Atlanta. And those bricks are still there. And so these are the bricks that we stand on.

Bill Moyers: Didn't this economic machine that was built upon forced labor, didn't these Black Codes, the way that black life was criminalized, didn't this put African-Americans at a terrific economic disadvantage then and now?

Douglas Blackmon: Absolutely. The results of those laws and the results of particularly enforcing them with such brutality through this forced labor system, the result of that was that African-Americans thousands and thousands of them worked for years and years of their lives with no compensation whatsoever, no ability to end up buying property and enjoying the mechanisms of accumulating wealth in the way that white Americans did. This was a part of denying black Americans access to education, denying black Americans access to basic infrastructure, like paved roads, the sorts of things that made it possible for white farmers to become successful.

And so, yes, this whole regime of the Black Codes, the way that they were enforced, the physical intimidation and racial violence that went on, all of these were facets of the same coin that made it incredibly less likely that African-Americans would emerge out of poverty in the way that millions of white Americans did at the same time.

Bill Moyers: How is it, you and I both Southerners, how is it we could grow up right after this era, and be so unaware of what had just happened to our part of the country?

Douglas Blackmon: Well, I think there are a lot of explanations for that. The biggest one is simply that this is a history that we haven't wanted to know as a country. We've engaged in a in a kind of collective amnesia about this, particularly about the severity of it.
Transcript

There are almost no signs of human activity, except that if you dig deep into the woods, grown over there, you begin to see, if you get the light just right, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of depressions where these bodies were buried.
posted by y2karl at 7:45 AM on June 22, 2008


I think it's pointless to mock anyone in this.

Bingo. Mocking is always fun, and it's a MeFi tradition, but it really doesn't help anything. If we're ever going to solve this mess, we have to set aside the fun stuff and accept that we're all a bunch of selfish fuckups and see how we can get past that and make progress anyway.
posted by languagehat at 8:13 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Individual soldiers may have fought or joined up because "the yankees are down here." The Southern states seceded to keep their slaves, the North invaded the South to make them stay in the Union. Saying the Civil War was not about slavery is ignorant at best and white supremacist racist bullshit at worst.

Thanks for the original post ortho, it is sad a lot of Americans don't know about this.
posted by marxchivist at 9:20 AM on June 22, 2008


Funny thing marxchivist, that right wing fascist asshole Howard Zinn doesn't seem to agree with you.
posted by localroger at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2008


I thought Zinn was more left-wing, perhaps you are being sarcastic. I have no problem with Zinn being added to the list of people who disagree with me. He has such an obvious agenda I trust very little of what he says. He's got a lot of the facts right but his interpretation and emphasis is very unbalanced.

He (and various neo-Condederate groups) can go on the list of people who disagree with me and who disagree with pretty much any serious historian who has taken a look at the Civil War and its causes.

I am so tired of everyone saying "States' rights, states' rights." Yes, the states right to own slaves. It's all cloaked up now in talk of Northern aggression, tariffs, etc. Yes, the North was culpable concerning, lord knows the whole country made money off that heinous institution.

Anyone who has spent any time reading antebellum (southern) newspapers, the proceedings of the secession debates, knows it is all about slavery.
posted by marxchivist at 12:05 PM on June 22, 2008


A more salient point against the States' Rights argument is that the states advocating it were also the same states that demanded federal laws to force non-slave states to allow slave hunters to operate in them. States' rights my arse.

What I find most intriguing in this is that, from an outside-the-US perspective, much of this still seems to be happening. Business uses prison labour in the States in a way that simply doesn't happen in most English-speaking nations, and the people most sent to prison seem to be the people who, in other countries, would be doing the same work as a minimum-wage job outside prison.
posted by rodgerd at 12:34 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Saying the Civil War was not about slavery is ignorant at best and white supremacist racist bullshit at worst.

Ridiculous. No one is saying it wasn't about slavery; they're saying it wasn't only about slavery, which is true. The war is often painted as a glorious crusade where the noble North was forced to liberate the dark and evil South from the terrible institution of slavery. This has no basis in history; no one was pure. Being accurate is not "white supremacy" and ignorance about the reality of historical situations helps no one and only hinders the ability to address and correct the problems of society that still exist today.

As others have pointed out, the current behavior of some people here, and in the "progressive" side of US politics and society in general, is saddening. orthogonality, this post was very interesting and I thank you for it, but your comments here regarding southern whites have been, frankly, disgusting, as have commenters like billyfleetwood who come to back you up.

Somehow, pointing out and rejecting bigotry against Southern whites hits a sort of bizarre crazy spot for some people. It somehow gets translated into saying that their suffering is greater than that of blacks, that Southern whites in the past and today aren't culpable for what happened, that it wasn't a big deal, etc. It's very strange how the logic train just shuts down when this subject comes up.

The proposition is simple: no one should be mocked merely for membership in a group, even a group that has done bad things in the past. The people who did do bad things (or allowed them to happen) rightly deserve what they get. But just being a poor Southerner. or a Southerner, does not mean you are automatically a bigoted, ignorant racist worthy of scorn, no matter the history. If a Southern person, or any person, says or does something racist, then by all means treat him as one, but don't just assume it of everyone from the South. No person should have to "earn" the privilege of not being insulted just for what they are. A black person is not a criminal until he shows otherwise; he or she is a person until he or she shows otherwise, nor is a Southern person is not a "Cletus" until he or she shows otherwise.

Honestly, this is so basic to being a decent human being that it boggles the mind that some people resist this and point to history to justify their bigotry.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think we agree Sangermaine on most of the points here. Not sure how much of your comment was really about me anyways. I'm certainly not saying that slavery as a cause of the Civil War gives anyone license to mock or discriminate against poor Southern whites.

I kind of jumped on the "cause of the Civil War" bit here, the main thrust of this thread seems to be about whether it is ok to mock white southerners. Maybe I'm making my argument in the wrong thread.

On the plus side, I haven't had a cigarette for five fucking days and I love every single one of you.
posted by marxchivist at 1:05 PM on June 22, 2008


Posts and discussions like this one are the reason I read Metafilter.
posted by xod at 1:20 PM on June 22, 2008


marxchivist, I was indeed being sarcastic about Zinn; I frankly find the idea that anybody could find in his writing a pro-slavery or pro-southern bias amazing and ridiculous. His bias is clearly toward the poor and common people of all races and he shows great compassion for them in his writing. And he most emphatically says that slavery was a relatively minor driving force in the War Between the States.

Here's proof:

First engagement of the war at Fort Sumter: April 12, 1861
Emancipation Proclamation issued: September 22, 1862

If it was about slavery, those dates would be the other way around. Don't even get me started on the fact that the magnificent EP didn't free slaves in Northern states.

It was widely agreed in 1860 that slavery was on the way out not because it was evil (which it was), but because it was not very efficient (which was slowly being realized at the time). Robert E. Lee himself voiced the opinion that it wouldn't last 20 more years. And it had already lasted 80, in a country deeply split by the institution.

The North did not enter the war to free the slaves. (I won't get into the picking of nits about who fired first at Sumter, though it seems most of the fighting ended up happening south of the Mason-Dixon line) They entered the war to finish off an economic competitor that was, at the time, dependent on slavery. The results may have been good in a sense but the motives were far from pure, and the methods were IMHO just as evil as the institution of slavery itself.

As we are learning in Iraq today, you can't attack a people, starve them, rape their women and burn their homes, and expect them to welcome you as liberators. If you find Cletus offensive you might consider how he got that way.
posted by localroger at 1:26 PM on June 22, 2008


I have noticed that in even the most racially charged areas of the south the races get along a lot better than they do in large parts of the north because we haven't adopted the northern solution of staking out an entire neighborhood and populating it only with Italians, Jews, blacks, etc. and threatening anyone else who comes around with casual violence. We have mostly at least mastered the art of pretending not to be racist fuckwits in social situations. No matter what race you are you can pretty much walk through any neighborhood in New Orleans or Jackson, MS without fear that you will be jumped because of your race.

When the same thing is true of Chicago or New York, give me a call.
What's your number? I've traveled this entire country with the exception of a few pockets that might prove an exception (Maine & Washington State being the only two I can think of off hand). If you are arguing that the south is not/ has not (for some time) been segregated, you just don't get out much do you?

Seems to me that some kid came up to the wrong door in the wrong neighborhood in what? Baton Rouge? on halloween and got shot for his trouble. The ensuing court case found roughly, he should'n'a been in that neighborhood. IIRC, he was Asian.

I know of neighborhoods (although this is 10 years ago admittedly) in Atlanta where being the wrong color after dark would get you seriously fucked up. White or Black.

What I'm saying is the situation is the same no matter where you go. Give me a call when we truly do accept each other's right to coexist. Not just pretend to.
posted by beelzbubba at 1:37 PM on June 22, 2008


The South seceded to preserve their "way of life," "economic system" aka slavery.
Lincoln invaded, declared war on, what have you, the South because he believed they did not have the right to secede. Lincoln is on record as seeing he would do whatever was necessary to preserving the Union, even if that included not freeing a single slave. By late 1862, Lincoln determined the best way to preserve the Union was to free the slaves, hence the EP.

My main point, and what I'm trying to say is the South seceded to preserve the institution of slavery. Yes, the firing on Ft. Sumter preceded the Emancipation Proclamation. The firing on Sumter was preceded in 1849 by the debate on the Wilmot Proviso with William Yancey of Alabama proposing a very pro-slavery platform for the state Democratic Convention ticket. There was a lot of talk of secession that year. Hell, then the Nashville Convention in 1850.

Alexander Stephens, VP of the Confederacy, said in Savannah GA on March 21, 1861 (couple of weeks before Sumter): "our new government was founded, its foundations are laid, [and] its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man. That slavery, submission to a superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This is our new government."

When the first three deep south states seceded in Dec. 1860 and early 1861, they sent representatives around the other slaveholding states basically saying "Join us, or the Yankees will take away your slaves." That is well-documented, in the commissioners' own words in Charles Dew's Apostles of Disunion.

The Confederate Constitution had a provision preserving slavery. These guys all hang themselves and their cause with their own words. Here's a nice little essay on this question.
posted by marxchivist at 1:57 PM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


beelzbubba, I lived for several years in a mostly black neighborhood in Kenner, LA. The previous occupant of my rental unit had been a crack dealer, and for my first few months there I got regular knocks on the door from would-be customers. I learned not to trust the police. And among my neighbors I felt perfectly safe. There were a few other whites around, maybe 10 families in a few square miles. And I felt perfectly safe walking to the convenience store at 3:00 AM. At least as far as violence. I quickly learned to duck into the shadows when the cops were around.

There is no neighborhood in the New Orleans area that is so white or so black that persons of the other race have any reason to feel unsafe simply driving or walking around. The stories told to me by people from up north are markedly different.

The idiot who killed the Japanese student in Baton Rouge has lost everything he owned in the civil lawsuit, to pretty much universal approval. There is no institutional approval of that kind of behavior and no expectation that justice will look the other way. There is no mass silence of would-be witnesses because it's that entrenched.

And from down here by the Gulf of Mexico, modern Atlanta looks less like a Southern city than like some weird growth sprogged off of the Eastern Seabord megalopolis. Houston too, FWIW.
posted by localroger at 1:58 PM on June 22, 2008


Yes marxchivist, the elites running the South in 1860 knew that if slavery were suddenly pulled out from under them, what little was left of their economic empire would finish collapsing. That's why they seceded, and that's why the Union went after slavery.

The Union didn't go after slavery because it was wrong; Lincoln himself said so. It was Robert E. Lee who said slavery was on its way out regardless. The war, with all its cruelty and butchery, was one group of elites' way of sticking it to another. The common people on both sides thought it a foolish waste.
posted by localroger at 2:08 PM on June 22, 2008


well sangermaine, since you bolded me, and called me disgusting...

I'm sorry if you were offended by what I said, because I really do mean it when I say that the legacy of American racism hurts us all.

But I also find it it humorous when a post about this topic becomes a referendum on discrimination against southern whites. The massive writhing irony of it all drives logic running from the room at times.

I understand and agree with what you're saying. I also agree and understand with what orthogonality said just a tiny bit more, due to the the context of the discussion.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:32 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is interesting to me how our textbooks (even in the South) only mention in passing the—in my opinion—much greater driver for the divide that caused the Civil War of economics. They happily lay on very thick how it was all done to free the slaves, and then go on to completely ignore how a black person was much better off just after the Civil War than he was by the turn of the century in nearly every respect, but most prominently in his societal status.

Maybe that's why our own citizenry thinks that things such as the Iraq debacle could possibly turn out well.

Given that things were getting better for the slaveholding states, at least in terms of law, not worse, it does not follow that slavery would have been the main reason for secession. When you consider that around the same time there were many tariff and trade issues working against the south, it seems to make more sense that the rich southerners thought they were being sold out by the northern rich. The southerners did not want high tariffs on their exports, but they wanted high tariffs on textile imports of the north. Things in Washington were going the other way.

That is where economics come mainly into play, not that the northerners were trying to take away the southerner's slaves. That simply isn't true, in the main. There were some abolitionists agitating, but they were not a large enough force to be any threat to the south, at least in the early 1860s.

Now, once the war started, what better way to drum up support than to say inflammatory things like "they're trying to take our slaves away." Many people act as if that sort of rabble rousing is an invention of modern times.

I know this view doesn't fit into the common good vs. evil narrative that everything seems to devolve into in high school history books, but the world is almost never that way, despite the wishes of some posters.
posted by wierdo at 3:45 PM on June 22, 2008


But I also find it it humorous when a post about this topic becomes a referendum on discrimination against southern whites. The massive writhing irony of it all drives logic running from the room at times.

It looks to me that PeterMcDermott, the poster himself, and you are responsible for turning this into a referendum on poor white Southerners. sonic meat machine's brief comment could have easily been ignored or accepted as a true claim about the tendency to blame the poor of both races for the systemic and class-based oppressions. But Metafilter likes to argue about the south and poverty, so y'all had to pull out the derogatory sterotypes and the troubling monickers and this excellent, excellent post was derailed. Here's an idea: let's talk about the topic some more.

This passage from the NYTimes review caught my eye:

the case of John Clarke, convicted of “gaming” on April 11, 1903, a 10-day stint in the Sloss-Sheffield mine in Coalburg, Ala., could erase his fine. But it would take an additional 104 days for him to pay fees to the sheriff, county clerk and witnesses who appeared at his trial.

The practice of charging court fees to defendents when they're convicted is extremely troubling in any context, but doubly so in cases like this. I wonder if we could make a connection to the restitution movement.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:47 PM on June 22, 2008


anotherpanacea, those fees are commonplace even today. About ten years ago I got a ticket driving to work. It was bogus; I was driving an old pickup truck and it was an obvious case of prejudice on the officer's part, and he couldn't even be bothered to get the make and color of the vehicle right on the ticket. Nevertheless, I was blackmailed into pleading "no contest." (Plead not guilty, you got to come back for another hearing, and if you lose it's $hundreds in stead of $35, and no shield for your insurance rates.) So I swallowed hard and paid $115 -- yep, $35 plus a bunch of court fees. Before my case came up I saw one poor sap who was obviously destitute come before the judge and for his inability to pay those fees he was given several months of incarceration at labor. Oh, the guy was white, so I guess it was all right.
posted by localroger at 4:09 PM on June 22, 2008


The proposition is simple: no one should be mocked merely for membership in a group, even a group that has done bad things in the past. The people who did do bad things (or allowed them to happen) rightly deserve what they get. But just being a poor Southerner. or a Southerner, does not mean you are automatically a bigoted, ignorant racist worthy of scorn, no matter the history. If a Southern person, or any person, says or does something racist, then by all means treat him as one, but don't just assume it of everyone from the South. No person should have to "earn" the privilege of not being insulted just for what they are.

Quoted for goddam truth. (This is one of those times I miss davy.)

To localroger and marxchivist: I'm glad you guys are keeping it civil and sensible; we've had the "was the Civil War about slavery?" discussion several times, and it hasn't gone well. I don't know why it's so hard for people to accept these truths simultaneously:

1) The Civil War was absolutely about slavery: the South seceded for its sake and was fighting to keep it.

2) The North didn't give a damn about southern blacks and was not fighting to end slavery. (If anyone needs proof of this obvious proposition, they must not have read the post and links. As soon as the war was over, northern and southern whites got back together, shook hands, and reestablished previous economic bonds over the bodies of the southern blacks, who had quasi-slavery forced back upon them with basically no pushback from anyone.)
posted by languagehat at 5:35 PM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


localroger: I think I'm pretty much in agreement with you last comment above. Not to sure about the Lee thing though...I'd like to see the quote of him saying slavery was on its way out. There's a lot of mythology around Lee, his feelings on slavery, and his decision to resign the U.S. Army.

I agree most of the common people or poor farmers in the South were sold a crock of shit during the Civil War, "rich man's war, poor man's fight" and all that. The 20 Slave law too. There's some recent scholarship showing most of the early enlistees in the Confederate Army were of the middle to upper class, people with more at stake in a slave-owning society. Then in 1862 and conscription you get your poorer folks with no slaves being put in the army.

...then go on to completely ignore how a black person was much better off just after the Civil War than he was by the turn of the century in nearly every respect, but most prominently in his societal status.

Ya think the Jim Crow laws passed around 1900 had anything to do with that? And I know the North sat by and watched that happen. Nobody's clean when it comes to this country's record on race.

Maybe that's why our own citizenry thinks that things such as the Iraq debacle could possibly turn out well.

That's a pretty big leap of logic and a bit of an insult. I know slavery caused the sectional divide that led to Civil War and I called bullshit on Bush's Iraq adventure long ago. Him and other members of his admin belong at hard labor for the rest of their lives.
posted by marxchivist at 6:13 PM on June 22, 2008


localroger, my reason for posting was because I thought you were doing pretty good until you generalized about the north after complining about being "generalized" upon. So, ok, not Atlanta if you will ignore its geographical location. I feel completely safe in my neighborhood, too. No crack dealers that I know of, but 30% of us here are below 50% of the local median income.

I don't doubt that your anecdotal evidence can stack up with mine, but it wasn't all that long ago that the NoLa police department was one of the most corrupt race baiting departments outside Philadelphia (PA I mean, not MS). And for the record, it has always been my experience that it's easier for whites to be "out of place" in a black neighborhood than the other way around.

I'm not trying to make a big point or argue with you; you seem to be fairly sensible. I just didn't think it was productive to fictionalize race relations in the south at the expense of the north. We both suck at it, but we're getting better. We shouldn't think we've finished the task.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:46 PM on June 22, 2008


languagehat: The very first thread I entered here after membership was opened and I ponied up my USD$5 was of this nature and I still have charcoal on my butt from it. I am amazed at the vigor with which some people seem to feel compelled to dump everything on the Confederacy, and insisting that normal things like recognizing our own war dead are somehow sick and evil.

marxchivist, I don't think there is much really separating us. In a modern sense my politics are pretty progressive. But living here I see that there is a history that is not about slavery, it is about sacrifice and to say that it is such a simple thing is to dishonor the men who died fighting not for slavery but because their homes were threatened.

I find this especially sick because southerners in general are, today, more inclined to see military service for the current USA as a good and necessary thing which young men should do as a matter of course. We are disproportionately represented in TODAY'S military. And that's not a draft, that's our sense of service and duty.

It was not to stop slavery that Sherman burned crops and homes on his march to the sea. My own stake in this is pretty light. I'm not Cletus and I don't like him, but living here has given me an understanding of what makes him tick and where he comes from. It's not slavery, it's territoriality. There are still old people here who call it the War of Northern Aggression for reasons they consider perfectly valid.

FYI the vast majority of Southerners never owned slaves or cared one way or the other whether slavery was legal. A slave was a high maintenance expensive luxury, the kind of extravagance only a rich person could afford. For most Southerners in the 1860's outlawing slavery would be like outlawing teraflop spercomputers today. Yeah, like I'm gonna have one of those too.

But those are the people who fought the war and did most of the dying, and whose crops and homes were burned as the North advanced toward the end of the war. Those memories are not about slavery, but they are deep.
posted by localroger at 6:52 PM on June 22, 2008


beelzbubba, NOLA's cop problem isn't about race, it's about the "class of '84." In one of those big anti-crime drives we hired a bunch of people and didn't train them or vet them real well and some of them turned out to be real bad apples. I don't think the bitch that knocked over her own morning donut shop or the asshat who contracted a hit on the woman who reported him for brutality were motivated by race. They were motivated by an out of control power trip.

I've seen that a lot, which is why even though I'm a pretty center normal middle class white guy in RL I give the police a wide berth to this day.
posted by localroger at 6:57 PM on June 22, 2008


I'm not sure if enjoyed is the right word but I found this post very interesting. I'm sorry for my part the thread got derailed on to the topic of southern guilt, but something always sticks in my craw about posts on mefi that touch on the south; its not the comments on the evil shit that has happened in the south, or the idea that slavery wasn't a southern crime, no the thing that gets my goat is the assumption that the north was a knight in white armor standing for all that is right and good. With that assumption those born up north have some how inherited all that is right in this country, while everyone born down south inherited all that is wrong with it.

I just really wish that one time a thread that has something to do with the south could be discussed and learned from without tarring all southerners for the crimes not all southerners had a hand in or support. It really sucks that this post got pulled away from an important topic (mea culpa, but I had help from all sides)
posted by nola at 7:00 PM on June 22, 2008


or the idea that slavery was a southern crime
posted by nola at 7:00 PM on June 22, 2008


Also I'm sorry that I write like a 6 yearold, even I can't understand half of what I just done wrote. I mean well.
posted by nola at 7:07 PM on June 22, 2008


I work with an old man from Wilder TN. his name is Ray and I think he may be in his 70s. He uses the word Nigger the way you and I would us a word like man or woman or train, its a descriptor. I told him once that I couldn't help but think less of him for using that word, and he looked puzzled at me. Most people my age blanch at that word and would never us it.

He grew up knowing what he was and what black folk were and what cows and chickens and lawmen were. Everything had its place.
He seems to have a sense of himself and his place in the pecking order, and from talking to him I've gatherd he doesn't think he's better than anyone, but he knows the pecking order and that means he don't count for much as a person and nether do black folk. That the people that count call the shots and thats all there is to it.

I've heard him tell stories about his life that would make any one of you tear up against your best efforts, and never show a hint of self pity.
His time was different from mine and I'll never bridge that gap, but I'm intrigued. You can't teach an old dog new tricks the saying goes but what can an old dog teach you about the past if you listen? I like to listen, cause I wonder how things take the shape they do.

How can I in a few key strokes share with you what I've seen? All the contradictions all the things that I can't sum up, and all the things the flat facts leave out.

Down here in what is the blue collar south we know our place we know the pecking order none of us pick it but we know what it is. Some of us rail against it, mostly the young, some of us are to old to worry about the way the world is and just accept it as it comes. No one asked us our opinion, they just asked us to show up on time and do the work.
For Ray I don't think he worries about it being fair, god knows life has not been fair to him but I'd bet on him being fair with your no matter you skin. How do I know that? Just a hunch.
posted by nola at 7:52 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


localroger: I agree we're not that far apart. I don't want to take away from anyone's gggrandfather who didn't own any slaves and joined the army because everybody else did and got his leg shot off and his crops burned while he was off doing what he thought was right. I can get a little hot on this subject because I deal almost everyday with people who use that argument to dismiss the importance of slavery on this country's history and the Civil War while at the same time believing a white supremacist view of the world with a thinly veiled belief in the fact that the slaves were better off with the white folks taking care of them. You certainly don't come across as taking that view, and my apologies if I tarred you with that brush with my arguments.

I'm a transplanted yankee and I love the south and my adopted state and I too can get pretty riled about the fact some people think it is okay to malign white southerners.

This has been an interesting thread. And yeah, slavery was a national crime, not a regional one.

If I remember correctly from reading The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas, the Portuguese probably profited more than anyone from slavery in the western hemisphere. Let's gang up on the Portuguese, maybe Migs will show up to defend his countrymen! :)
posted by marxchivist at 7:54 PM on June 22, 2008


marxchivist: 'k peace then :-) And maybe not such a good idea to beat up on the Portugese. 200 years from now their descendants might get ideas.
posted by localroger at 8:02 PM on June 22, 2008


"Bill Moyers: Have we ever had a real conversation in this society about what to do about so large a number of people women who have been deliberating assigned to the margins sex-class, so that it's virtually impossible for them to climb out on their own. That is, they only have a minimal possibility of getting themselves out of the hole into which history and policy and other considerations have placed them. Have we ever had that real conversation?"


Just so you know, I find it offensive when folks attempt to change the subject from one oppressed group to another, but I did it anyway; not to talk about sexism but to highlight something else.

Women are supposed to ignore centuries of oppression and just move on as if it never happened, while blacks are supposed to wallow in it. What are the results of that difference today? Women and men actually get along without too much animosity, but the different ethnicities are still quite touchy.

I think there's something to be said for letting sleeping dogs snore their brains out when the situation isn't likely to be repeated, as opposed to a situation which is based upon porntastic reproduction.

Besides that, it's not white people who are teaching black children to EXPECT racism everywhere, and to automatically assume every bad thing that happens to them is because of unexamined white privilege. It's my opinion that some black people haven't figured out that racism is not generally bad enough anymore to be the thing which is holding back african-americans, especially the ones who have been born in the last decade. Hell, are they freaking blind? Most white people are bending over backwards to avoid any hint of impropriety. You do actually have to be doing something wrong in order to get snatched into the industrial-prison complex in the first place nowadays: while there's undoubtedly still some unfairness in the sentencing which needs attention, the jury can't convict thousands of young black men if no crime at all took place.

So while this is really interesting from an historical perspective, and I'm not intending to minimize either that hellacious period or resulting generational poverty, it's important to remember that all that terribly ugly history is over. It's in the past. Let it go. Tomorrow is a new day

...for those of us not in the porntastic reproduction class, anyway. Yes I'm bitter.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 9:47 PM on June 22, 2008


Women are supposed to ignore centuries of oppression and just move on as if it never happened, while blacks are supposed to wallow in it. What are the results of that difference today? Women and men actually get along without too much animosity, but the different ethnicities are still quite touchy.

That's a whole lot of stupid in one short paragraph.
posted by empath at 10:21 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Robert E. Lee himself voiced the opinion that it wouldn't last 20 more years. And it had already lasted 80, in a country deeply split by the institution.

Eighty years is correct in that the United States had existed for about 80 years by the time of the Civil War, but slavery had been in North America since 1619.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:42 PM on June 22, 2008


bravelittletoaster: I'm not intending to minimize either that hellacious period or resulting generational poverty, it's important to remember that all that terribly ugly history is over. It's in the past.


How much have you looked into the topic? There are plenty of studies showing that discriminatory policies are from over.

For example, the first (or possibly second) chapter of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness gives a good overview of a wide range of studies showing multifaceted ways in which Afr-Am (and others) have historically been and are still discriminated against, not through any policies that explicitly say "Whites get this, but blacks get that," but that in subtler ways advantage primarily whites. Eg, current mortgage interest and property tax write-offs that (on top of redlining) benefit homeowners financially, the majority of whom in the US are white, which gives them a huge advantage in being able to preserve enough wealth to pass on to their kids.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:55 PM on June 22, 2008


bravelittletoaster,

I'll let others deal with the feminism and the race-relations. But the incarceration rates are not something to bring up either. Most of that difference in incarceration rates is due to drugs, and the evidence is fairly clear that (if you don't simply look at criminal records) drug use rates are about the same between different races. On the other hand police only get to do a basic search if (a) they have probable cause or (b) they feel threatened. And the police feel much more threatened by a black man than by anything else.

Which means that if they are pulled over (disproportionately black) they are much more likely to have their drugs found if they are black men than if they are white men or women. Hence a much higher proportion of black men get imprisoned this way, and if they are arrested for drugs possession this often points to those who they know or got it off, which are more likely to be of their own ethnic background.
posted by Francis at 4:59 AM on June 23, 2008


racism is not generally bad enough anymore to be the thing which is holding back african-americans

Let me guess: you're a white person.

You do actually have to be doing something wrong in order to get snatched into the industrial-prison complex in the first place nowadays

Whoa, you really don't know very much, do you? Thanks for derailing this interesting conversation into Looney Tunes territory.
posted by languagehat at 6:24 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, bravelittletoaster. Just... wow. That whole comment is so screwy I don't know how to begin to address it.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:11 AM on June 23, 2008


note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.


One could insert 'crackpot comments by' before 'other members' as well when the aforesaid comments so beggar the imagination that any response is a default to shooting dead fish mounted in varathane in a barrel. Some comments merit no response no matter how long or how ridiculous they were.
posted by y2karl at 11:24 AM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


marxchivist wrote: Ya think the Jim Crow laws passed around 1900 had anything to do with that? And I know the North sat by and watched that happen. Nobody's clean when it comes to this country's record on race.

...

That's a pretty big leap of logic and a bit of an insult. I know slavery caused the sectional divide that led to Civil War and I called bullshit on Bush's Iraq adventure long ago. Him and other members of his admin belong at hard labor for the rest of their lives.


My main point was that if people were educated on how we often go to war for one reason while using another to drum up support for it in the public eye, perhaps they wouldn't (mostly, there are obviously people who never believed the bullshit; you and I both, for two examples) believe everything they're told regarding a need for war. The Civil War is a shining example and one that people can relate to well. After all, if people are willing to mislead regarding going to war against our own, who in their right mind could believe there's not a damn good chance it's happening when we are trying to drum up support for a war against 'the other.'

Obviously, not everyone falls for the ruse, but many—if not most—do.
posted by wierdo at 2:21 PM on June 23, 2008


thanks for posting this, orthogonality - I've read it & it's a great book. Blackmon did an excellent job.

more on the subject: The Convict Lease System by Frederick Douglass.
posted by jammy at 5:18 AM on July 7, 2008


The proposition is simple: no one should be mocked merely for membership in a group, even a group that has done bad things in the past. The people who did do bad things (or allowed them to happen) rightly deserve what they get. But just being a poor Southerner. or a Southerner, does not mean you are automatically a bigoted, ignorant racist worthy of scorn, no matter the history. If a Southern person, or any person, says or does something racist, then by all means treat him as one, but don't just assume it of everyone from the South. No person should have to "earn" the privilege of not being insulted just for what they are. A black person is not a criminal until he shows otherwise; he or she is a person until he or she shows otherwise, nor is a Southern person is not a "Cletus" until he or she shows otherwise.

If I could favorite this more than once I would.

Honestly, it's a shame that such an interesting link is marred by orthogonality's bigotry. While the multitude of favorites for his hatred is disheartening, it's nice to see an increasing acknowledgement of blatant hypocrisy from others.
posted by justgary at 10:45 AM on July 8, 2008


« Older I will try not to sing on a Kia   |   Time in a bottleneck Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments