Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"The haughtiness of domination combines with the spirit of freedom..."

Over the long weekend, I had time to read Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations. Don't miss it. Take the time.

I have no trouble with Coates' call for discussion of reparations owed to African American citizens. Having lived inside California's fight over affirmative action -- the white majority outlawed it by popular vote in 1996 -- I know well that African Americans don't get a fair start in life from schools, from neighborhoods or from the criminal justice system. White supremacy is in the very air we breathe -- far more foully polluted in black neighborhoods than in white ones.

These days I'm reading the early history of the Republic, something I skated over in university, too much of an intellectual snob to care much about my own story when I could immerse myself in European and world stories. One of the conundrums of U.S. history has been how the founding fathers could so ringingly assert that "all men are created equal" and concurrently write a Constitution that embedded chattel slavery defined by race in the fabric of their new nation.

The first section of The Founding Fathers (American Presidents), consisting of historians James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn writing about George Washington, pointed me to this explanation from the English conservative Edmund Burke when he tried to explain to Parliament in 1775 why it would serve no purpose to try to coerce their uppity colonists.

... in Virginia and the Carolinas they have a vast multitude of slaves. Where this is the case in any part of the world, those who are free, are by far the most proud and jealous of their freedom. Freedom is to them not only an enjoyment, but a kind of rank and privilege.

Not seeing there, that freedom, as in countries where it is a common blessing, and as broad and general as the air, may be united with much abject toil, with great misery, with all the exterior of servitude, liberty looks, amongst them, like something that is more noble and liberal. I do not mean, Sir, to commend the superior morality of this sentiment, which has at least as much pride as virtue in it; but I cannot alter the nature of man. The fact is so; and these people of the southern colonies are much more strongly, and with a higher and more stubborn spirit, attached to liberty.... Such were all the ancient commonwealths; such were our Gothic ancestors; such in our days were the Poles; and such will be all masters of slaves, who are not slaves themselves.

In such a people, the haughtiness of domination combines with the spirit of freedom, fortifies it, and renders it invincible.

Burke concluded that pride in liberty created by living at the apex of a slave system would make the colonists too expensive to subdue. That a slave-owning class would feel a particular devotion to its own liberty as reinforcing its own privileged status seemed only natural to this insightful 18th century political thinker.

Overcoming this white supremacy stuff has never been simple.


Rain Trueax said...

regarding reparations, I have commented on this other places after hearing the discussion on Chris Hayes. While I also agree racism is still here, that blacks have a harder time, more apt to get stiffer punishments for any law they break, I think he left a lot of holes in his debate. He didn't want to get into what reparations would mean and yet without how it'd be done, the whole argument seems futile.

Sadly as a nation, we have gone backward on making the situation right for blacks with laws that would stop their voting and those on the Supreme Court saying racism is over-- which is patently ridiculous. When you see the high rate of incarceration for blacks, it's obvious our for profit prison system is contributing to the problem-- as well as unrealistic and even cruel drug laws.

We built those housing projects with often inferior materials and then left the people there to fare for themselves and end up creating situations like Chicago where walking down a street can get you shot, where the schools are failing partly due to fear keeping out top teachers, and where kids join gangs with it seeming their only hope. We should have never had housing developments where all the people are poor and they become basically separated like apartheid.

So if there would be reparations that I as a moderate would favor, they would not go to individuals as that ends up only a boon to the businesses that prey on them to get that money. It should be building smaller housing projects in neighborhoods of regular folk or even amongst the rich. Get the kids into schools with those of all sorts. Knock down those monster buildings that have bred hopelessness and violence.

As it stands a lot of Americans don't even know someone who doesn't think or have the same economic levels as they do. So if we do reparations, use it to undo the damage we did. Destroy those ghettos that we created and get the people out with everybody else by rebuilding them in suburbia, fancy developments, etc. And don't put them all one place. Put them so the kids go to school with children different than themselves.

Then deal with schools to teach and take into account the problems minority kids have in competing. By college, it's often too late. We should have free, quality education from pre-school through 12 and then make university very affordable for everybody. We are failing all our kids with the expensive university system we have now.

Anybody who is asked to sign a contract that says they won't sell to a minority, should throw it down and walk off. I could not believe it when I read someone saying that they experienced that in Carmel in 1997 when they bought their home. I'd not want to live anywhere that people would think that way.

If our government really cheated home buyers strictly on their race, then I'd be all for those families being given reparations for that (it is one of the accusations).

The guy spoke well and said he was more concerned with what happened after slavery actually. Well, it's true. Oregon, a supposed Northern state had a law on its books until it went into the Union (1912) that no black could buy property.

We are divided by economics (unless we live in the country). Most people don't even intimately know the working poor. This isn't new either. When I was in education in the '60s, we worked for part of our teaching in the class in four different classes of schools-- based on economics. All in the city of Portland.

The sad part of this is with the Supremes as they are, they are taking this all the other way. We do still need affirmative action. It is being undermined along with plots to take away minority votes. It all comes down to November -- donate and work for progressive candidates or see it be a lot worse than no meaningful reparations.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain: I agree with a lot you say. White supremacy really is this country's "original sin" -- the bad seed whose ramifications poison so much else. Slavery and extermination of the native population set our context. We are such a new country that their echoes can still be discerned, giving us more opportunity than most people in most places to disentangle some strands ...

Classof65 said...

While I agree with Rain on many of his/her points, I am afraid we are being faced with another class of poverty, the former middle-class whose jobs have flown the country.

We must acknowledge the fact that the Supremes have done a huge amount of damage against campaign finance reform than I ever dreamed possible. It goes back to that old saying, "it's not who votes, but who counts the votes," and the other, "whoever has the gold rules." Until we can reverse those rulings by constitutional amendment we are stuck with a system that can no longer be called a democracy -- it is an oligarchy.

Talking about what we could or should do about affirmative action for blacks is a pipe-dream until we have been able to restore jobs for both blacks and whites and everybody else. No one can live on minimum wages paid by jobs that used to be performed by high-school teenagers -- how could you raise a family on the money I used to earn to buy a few 45 rpm records and pay my way into a Friday-night football game every week?

I'm afraid that many Americans have lost the will to even vote in the coming elections. They see people like the Koch brothers buying elections all over the country, spending billions, when most of the average voters can't even pay their electric bills easily.

I demonstrated and marched for Civil Rights in the 60s and I see that the small progress we made is being pushed back every day and I cringe at what our country is becoming, but we need to worry about all our citizens right now. What you see has happened to black youngsters and gangs may well be happening to the white youngsters in poverty as well.

We all need to unite in changing this country, black and white.

Classof65 said...

I apologize wholeheartedly for my stupid comment of 27 May. I was totally uninformed on the subject of reparations and should have educated myself on the subject before writing such an idiotic comment.

Since that date I did read a lengthy article (I think it was in the Atlantic)that spelled out many of the injustices perpetrated on black Americans throughout this country's history. Although I had heard about a few of the actions of Southerners after the Civil War, I was unaware of many of the actions of the Northerners and Westerners to segregate and deny blacks not only education, but also home ownership.

I apologize to you and to your readers -- and to all black Americans as well. I promise that I will keep my mouth shut hereafter on subjects that I know little about and will try to educate myself better on the issues before I spout off on-line.

Thank you for your interesting and informative blog.

janinsanfran said...

Dear Class of 65: I too an "class of 65" -- a damn good year to depart high school!

I think what we all need to do is learn as much as we can about the entrenched injustices around us and do what we can. I recently read a remark by Fr. Dan Berrigan which catches an elder's approach to this: "About practically everything in the world, there's nothing you can do. This is Socratic wisdom. However, about of few things you can do something. Do it, with a good heart."

And we're always right to be angry about systems and people who oppress others. Always.

Thanks for the kind words re the blog.