Numerous times in our exchange, Jim has asked me to state my world view, my perspective, and other words that convey one’s point of view. Sorting out world view, perspective, point of view, opinion, and fact has been the motivator for me in engaging in this very long and arduous task of producing the Magnum Opus. Along with those words I would add paradigm, narrative, etc.
Let me state at the outset that everything I say here is in response to something that came over the transom in our exchange but I am able to trace it all back to specific posts. So if anyone reading this wants fuller context or to verify the accuracy of what I am responding to, I can provide that. All the posts are extant and my editing of them is extant. As I stated in the Methods segment, the editing process brought the number of pages down to 200 but usually I can find what I need in short order because I’ve gone over this material so many times and have annotated it.
As I go along, I will attempt to categorize my comments as stemming from or part of a word view versus a perspective. There are paradigms, frames and narratives we all partake of and they will enter into this as well.
I will start with the notion of Perspective. Jim asked* if when I said I had joined a Black family in marrying my wife in 1964, one could equally say she had joined a White family. That is the sort of turning a concept around and looking at it from different angles that I believe leads to deeper understanding. All things being equal, one could say just that, but when the context – HUGE WORD – is taken into account, no, she could not have married into a White family because she, at that time, could not participate fully in the society my family participated in whereas I could fully participate in her Black world. I anticipate objections to the use of “Black world”, but it is shorthand for all the contexts and connections experienced by African-Americans and at that time that world was shrunken by legal and social constraints. Another objection might be that my participation in that Black world would have been circumscribed by hostility so often ascribed to African-Americans*, something I did not encounter except as noted in funny attempts by self-designated militants who wanted to make a dubious point.*
More broadly speaking, a good deal of the disparities between Jim’s pov and mine seem to lie in a Conservative and Liberal frame of reference. Framing an issue in the first place allows the framer to control the discourse. Fancy language for the obvious: the Framers of the Constitution stated boldly that there just comes a time when you’ve got to rebel and this was it. So the discussion moved forward to how that was going to happen, not backing up to question whether or not rebellion was a good idea or one whose time had come. Framing. Keep that in mind.
Ian Haney Lopez exposes the conservative maneuver called colorblindness. “I don’t see color” is at the heart of their denial of injecting racial hostility into politics; as long as you make no overt reference to race and do not use a racial epithet, you are “colorblind” and cannot be accused of racism. (Lopez traces this back to a SCOTUS definition of racism as requiring either malice of intent or the use of a racially charged epithet). And thus the GOP leader OK’d a phony dollar bill with Obama’s picture on it surrounded by watermelon and fried chicken, a “Food Stamp Dollar” and declared the maneuver free of racist implications because to her watermelon and fried chicken were “just food”. One might excusably call her a lying sack of shit, but we will be genteel here and just say she was avoiding responsibility – one might say “personal responsibility” – for this outrageously racist attack by denying a deeply embedded symbol in American culture.
How is it that members of a culture pick up these tropes? Two of my favorite anecdotes illustrate this on a very small scale: the man who wonders why his wife insists he not throw guests’ coats on the bed as they arrive and, when she says her mother always forbad it, calls his mother-in-law to ask; when she refers him to her mother, the grandmother responds simply: you’ll crush the hats.
The same man wondered why his wife insisted on cutting off the tail of the turkey before putting it in the roasting pan. Calling her mother, he was told that the mother’s roasting pan was too small to fit the turkey in with its tail still on.
Thus we pick up practices and attitudes. This cultural transmission lies at the heart of my contention that much of our attitudes toward poverty, race, policing, individualism, and so forth can be traced in part to that past. The question I have posed before is just when and how did certain practices and attitudes cease?* That does not mean that they did not, but the onus is on the person who dismisses a putative source simply because it “was a long time ago”. Everything changes so we would not expect a practice, a precept, a perspective to remain the same as it was a hundred years ago; but to say it has all gone away demands an accounting.
Jim suggests world view and perspective might be the same thing or that one’s perspective derives in some way from one’s world view.* That latter point certainly must possess some validity but it begs the question if we assume an uncritical conduit from world view to perspective. I differentiate the two, world view and perspective, in this way: a perspective comes from experience. In this way, we can certainly say my experience in the Black community give me a perspective not shared by those who have not had such experiences. OTOH, my world view includes elements like careful examination of my perceptions and of the source of my perspectives. It includes a constant review and revision of my world view. An example: my world view has never had a religious basis and, in fact, I have always been wary of the tendency of religious people to impose their views and practices on others. And so it was with a degree of resignation that I recognized that churched children generally grow up more secure, better grounded, than unchurched children. Now that requires a lot of unpacking and I am only referring to very broad trends in society; I don’t think it is too hard to come up with non-supernatural reasons for the tendency of church-going children to do better in some ways and for this to follow them even if they drop out of religious practice. So I revised my world view to take this fact into account.
In my experience, the reason the public’s perspective on Black/White marriage changed was through their own experience that the world did not come to an end when such marriages became more common (still the lowest number of interracial marriages, especially White male/Black female, but my wife and I see more and more all the time). We have a solid example in the wide-spread and sudden acceptance of gay marriage. My head is still spinning on that one. But I am also aware of the great struggle and courageous acts that led to giving gays the courage to “come out” so that the public could have the same experience with gays they had with interracial couples and it occurred faster because most families have at least one gay member who is now “out”.
– Breather note – this is going to be a lot longer than I thought. –
The world view of my wife and daughter referred to* as being based on framing everything in a Black/White perspective misses that that world view came from the education they received in public schools and not from any exposure to Black Lives Matter-type militant posture. Slave capture was always presented as an event initiated and pursued by White Europeans when in fact they only received slaves in sale on the coast. Therefore, a world view that White Europeans visited on innocent Africans the evils of slavery. That is wrong – back to facts. The slavers were Africans – they just were, as Megan Kelley would assert.
But now we have a clash – world view versus facts. It creates dissonance. But where is that to be corrected when attempts to inject satisfactorily factual versions of the slave trade are met with skepticism? Where I disagree thoroughly with Jim is in ascribing that world view to hostility toward Whites on the part of Blacks; I blame it on the reluctance of Whites (and Blacks) to engage in fact-based accounts of one of the biggest transfers of human populations in the history of the world along with its concomitant suffering and loss. And without that account, without that version, without that perspective, then my declaration that we must look to the roots of our current world views and perspectives in order to understand them so as to be able to correct them is without foundation, an empty rant.
A note on logical fallacies: of great interest to me since the time I got trounced in an argument by two guys using all those reductio ad absurdum and magna cum stupiditate terms of logic. In simple terms, to explain something is not to excuse it. I may explain that a student tripped another kid because he was anxious and angry over family problems but that is not saying it is OK for him to trip someone.
As I write this, the report on the Chicago judicial system: police, judges, prosecutors, attorneys, all of it, is permeated with the worst racism imaginable. Jim would attribute this, as I understand what he says, to a negative view or a Black/White prism, or to a world view that sees everything in terms of Black and White (different from a prism). The very fact I read about the report in the NYT may cause some people to discount it because they don’t trust such news sources. Here is where the selectivity Jim complains about comes in, although on the side of those who do not admit a serious “race problem” exists. That is part of the reason the Right vilifies universities: researchers come up with conclusions like those of the Chicago report which do not fit with their world view. So what do Liberals do in a similar way so that everything they take in conforms to their world view?
At this point, I must make it clear that I do base my opinions on what I take to be facts. Facts must always be examined and reexamined, but Jim’s charge that the facts we take up into our perspective are determined by our world view is discomforting, it implies an inability to grow, to change. I have always resented the aphorism, “A man who is not a liberal in his youth has no heart and a man who is not a conservative in old age has no brain.” We see people constantly bemoaning the younger generation and celebrating the past, a sickness seemingly endemic in the human population. What I take to be facts can be challenged; moreover the interpretation I place on facts can be challenged. But to say the facts do not exist is a bold claim that shifts the onus onto the claimer (I know that is not the proper word but the dictionary does say it means one who claims, but I think in the sense of baggage claim).
Another stage in this essay must be tackled: the definition of race, racism, racial, racialism, and racist. In my private discussions, I use the words in a very specific way at the start but then accede to others’ usage so as to keep the flow of conversation going. First of all, race is not a biological fact but a social construct. I could write a book on the silliness of race as a physical characteristic of people but this “essay” – my Magnum Opus – is already turning into a book. The other words, “racial”, “racist”, etc. all derive from the 19th century concept now labeled “scientific racism”. It must be borne in mind that a good deal of this concept, now eclipsed by science itself as well as common sense, seeps into discourse because few have studied the history of racism as a concept.
The term “racial” is very diffuse, referring to any context where the social construct is in play, e.g. racial discrimination means discrimination, usually against or negatively affecting, on the basis of a perceived race; racial discrepancy means a difference as measured between one race or another, e.g. test score discrepancies between Whites and Blacks.
“Racist” should refer to anyone who believes that people’s behavior and thoughts along with their appearance are all inherited and differ from other peoples’ [sic] on the basis of “race”, the biological concept. However, the meaning has inexorably changed to mean anyone who discriminates in thought or word or deed against another person on the basis of his presumed membership in a particular race. It has transmogrified unbelievably, to the point that a student recently exclaimed, when I clarified the no drinks in the classroom rule did not apply to teachers, “That’s racist!” Seriously.
David sent in this definition: they define racism as the specious categorization of people created for the purpose of giving white people privilege. (I would add for the ends of dividing working people). This definition is ad hoc but certainly is one most people would understand if not agree with.
Taking all this into account, I shall be using the terms race, racial and racist loosely, hoping my readers will understand that there is a minimalist definition of the terms in politics although those definitions will not stand up to scrutiny by a sociologist or other scientist.
I laid out my schema for how our racial caste system developed. It was difficult to send it so that it came out right although I just printed out another copy in landscape and it looks fine. The upshot of it was that while slavery proved economically workable, it entailed unintended consequences. We are still dealing with those consequences and painting them over with nostalgic gauze and minimizing them does not make them go away. I will reserve my take on the methods to promote racist practices while denying racism for my Parvum Opus.
But if we are still hearing what a terrible president Obama has been, what hope is there that the people saying that will look back at our history so that we can trace back to institutions the problems we face today? I could add into this Magnum Opus Obama’s accomplishments, but C/conservatives would engage in their usual “that-didn’t-happen” tactic, so there is no point. Jim would have it that whether or not you see Obama as effective is a matter of world view; I think we can count the number of executive orders he has issued and tally them against earlier presidents to see – as a matter of fact – how many more he has issued only to find he has issued less but that will not quiet the C/conservatives who will simply insist he has issued more than any other president…… a matter of faith, I guess.
Jim uses the terms “good” and “bad” as a valuation of various deeds and events, but that is bogus. What is good for you might be bad for me. What we have to do is judge by the effects, intended and otherwise. Is it good for police officers to shoot more Black people than White people – again, something we can tally? Lots of people will just see that as keeping people without proper values and behavior under control, so it’ll be good to them. But like the vendor in Tunisia, if it leads to social unrest so bad, it causes the mayor of Chicago to commission a report that finds the justice system replete with racism, then that report causes political shake ups that will certainly displease C/conservatives. Not a question of good or bad – Jim and I will never agree on that, but what is the outcome, the effect? Do both of us get something beneficial – a well-ordered society? That is the question, not good or bad.
The effect of a modern welfare state is beneficial. I know Jim does not agree; he has stated* that the Democratic Liberal policies have been failures. Given all the information that has been out there for years, if Jim can still believe that, then we are clearly dealing with the C/conservative world view. More on that in the What Conservatives Believe and Parvum Opus segments. The more support people receive, the better they do. Romney stated that one could just ask one’s parents for a loan to start a business – why not? At two minimum wage jobs…. or three or four… any family ought to be able to finance that……….. in Romney world. Now there is a world view, like Trump’s – his dad gave him a small loan of a million dollars to get him started.
Which brings me to Trump, a gift from the gods. Jim has insisted all along that, in Reagan’s words, only a trace of bigotry remains. And then along came Trump, ripping the mask off the face of American Exceptionalism. Many of his followers either laugh off his remarks or deny their effect in attracting support to Trump, but anyone buying that really must need bodies hanging from trees to get the idea that lots of Americans really despise people based on their race – and let’s not argue about “Mexican” being a race – to these people, it is. Freedom of religion? Gone. OK with Trump supporters. No surprise on my end – I’ve always known these people exist in droves; only Jim seems never to have heard them speak. Note to Jim: go to any column or article on any of these issues and read the comments. They will curl your hair – I hope. There you will see all the racism and bigotry you have missed all these years) But what they have done is put the GOP in a pickle. Maybe my addendum to this Magnum Opus will be titled, “I Told You So”.
Unfortunately for Conservatives, Americans, including the base of the GOP, have grown used to socialism and the welfare state. The Constitution states taxes are to be levied in order to provide for the common defense and general welfare. Over the years, the public has become used to the idea of general welfare along the lines of what Woodard dubs Yankeedom, a religiously inspired devotion to the common good, including education, health care, aid to the needy, and so on. The Social Darwinism embraced by leaders of society around the turn of the last century argues for leaving everyone to shift for themselves, in the face of the history of human institutions, which have never taken that approach, and certainly religions, which have always urged care for our brother. We must apprehend that Conservatism in the form of Movement Conservatism is about repealing the New Deal; its descendents, the conservatives, have grown dependent on it, only believing the lion’s share is going to undeserving minorities. But they are not about to give up their share.
In my World View segment I quoted Rehnquist’s majority rule rule* – if the majority does not like you, you are screwed. Fukuyama pretty much says this is what happens, either the majority or, more often, the most powerful, the elites, grab all the power leaving nothing for anyone else until the anyone else can hang them from lamp posts and take their women á la Genghis Khan. (I know that is a bit sexist but the torch and pitch fork crowd does not tend toward niceties). Fukuyama does give some examples of peaceful turnovers, but they are rare. Why must it be always thus? Because, as Fukuyama says, the elites manage to make whatever suits their needs sound like a universal truth.* Jim puts it as we are losing the mainspring of human progress, i.e. the individual and his freedom, and that is how Rome fell. Rome??!! Rome had the mainspring? And I do not believe the Swedes or the Japanese are dying to get to America; rather it is the societies dominated by elites with no interest in cultivating a decent society. This, I am sure you understand, is exactly what this is all about: do we continue funneling all the wealth to an elite and making up stories about how it is all the fault of bad family structure and an overweening federal government? Or do we juggle our vast resources to give every child an equal start? That is, do we fund all of our public schools, the bedrock of Yankeedom, balancing funding based on the particular needs of the particular school district, or do we offer up our children to private contractors and investors to make as much as they can in the name of the Free Market? When I heard that private contractors instead of U.S. military personnel were guarding our embassy in Iraq, that was my other Sarah Palin moment. Talk about Ancient Rome!! Let’s hire Chinese mercenaries to guard our nukes, the whole operation run by Haliburton.
Now for the coup de grace. Starting out as a White Liberal, I became skeptical of the value of racial integration. I saw more value in the Black community developing its own resources. I have not spoken much about problems, even pathologies, in the Black community; they certainly exist but the history of opening them up to scrutiny is just what we see with Moynihan: Oh, Blacks screw up? Oh, well then, that’s why they are not succeeding in society; it’s their own fault. (Wait until you see what Moynihan said) So people have been understandably reluctant to talk about problems so as not to have them turned on the people with the problems, but even the mention of cultural differences has been grist for the discrimination mill. It seemed to me that Blacks were wasting a lot of energy trying to fit into a society that was not interested in building community with them. That was one weakness I saw, that Blacks saw their path to success via entry into White society and fitting in. Lots of jokes about that among Black people, especially about hair. The division between the White middle class and non-Whites and the poor really came home to me in the mid-80s when I worked for Child Protective Services. I saw how the social workers had little understanding of what was going on in the lives of their clients; my successes in working with families in distress occasioned numerous conversations about how to work with people in poverty and in non-Norwegian cultures. (If I haven’t defined “Norwegian culture” yet, let me say I came up with the term as I studied the Norwegian language and recalled Garrison Keillor’s characterization of the Upper Midwest culture with its Scandinavian roots; this is a general American culture thought of by many people as emblematic of the good values of America, so it is not a specific reference to the culture of Norway). As I thought about this, I watched the conservative backlash of the 90s grow and wondered if it would be possible to separate from the Sixties cultural revolution. And then I remembered the Confederacy because survey after survey showed the marrow of conservatism ran through the Slave States. Why not redo the Constitution so that they could have their own country with the customs about religion and sex and race that so consume them? The New Confederacy would not be hampered by the Ten Amendments but would go by the Ten Commandments. If Blacks were wasting energy trying to fit into Norwegian culture, weren’t a lot of Whites (and others) wasting energy trying to conform to SCOTUS decisions on segregation, abortion, and sexual freedoms? Those Blacks who would prefer living in the New Confederacy – and I guarantee many would – could always get across the border into the U.S., but they would have to deal with all those non-Christian laws and customs. Up to them.
Let’s say the country stays together. And let’s say we live to be 120. Our great-grandchildren’s children might ask us some questions, like:
How did we manage to incarcerate 70% of the world’s prisoners with only 5% of the world’s population?
What led you to allow college costs to skyrocket out of sight even as you assured every young person they absolutely had to have a college degree and then allowing predatory banks to loan them college money, making them indentured servants? (back to Colonial America – see?)
What was in your collective minds when you let millions of poverty-stricken people into the country illegally just so you could have $5 hamburgers and get your yard mowed cheap? In England, curry is now the national dish; tacos for us?
Why in the world did you not let the U.N. inspectors linger a while in Iraq before invading, just to make sure the WMD were there? Over 4000 dead Americans, a 100,000 number at the least on Iraqi dead, a massive pile-up of veterans needing medical care, an unpaid for war shooting the national debt …… oh, sorry, that was Obama’s fault. Wasn’t there a Lyndon Johnson president guy who did the guns and butter thing? – that didn’t go well either. What was wrong with you people?
And why did Americans think back then that the Vietnamese would not fight for their country, or that the Iraqis wouldn’t….. even as you watched movies like Red Dawn showing American teenagers fighting as guerrillas against invading Russians. Did you think the Iraqis were any less than us?
Did anyone notice that school performance tracked family income?
Just what made people think that this country was for White Christians only?
To what extent were you willing to allow the police a free hand in shooting down unarmed Black men for the crime of being sassy? or just being Black?
While you were deploring Islamic terrorists, why did you not recognize your own home-grown terrorism in the form of the oldest continuous terrorist organization in the world – the KKK?
Why did Black Americans vote almost exclusively for Democrats when only a generation earlier they had voted in large numbers for Republicans, especially when Blacks fell right in line with the Republican/conservative social agenda on gay rights, military ventures, abortion, religion, on and on, on everything except one…. civil rights? After all, the Liberals’ nightmare is a faceoff between Black church ladies and gay rights activists.
They might ask, “What were you thinking?” Well, what were you?
Jim asked my thoughts on Thomas Jefferson – a great man who started having sex with his 15 year old slave girl who was the half sister of his wife. A great man – no irony intended. Recall Robert Cooper.
On Iraq I would say someone should have paid attention to the Iraqi expatriate who exited a meeting with George W. Bush just before the invasion, all wide-eyed, saying, “He knows nothing of Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds!”
So why do so many people support this elite? The Republican rank and file, the libertarians, the independents, the disaffected, and on and on? They support the elite because the elite throws red meat to them. They ignore the approaching hunter in favor of the meat. Lillian Smith wrote her allegory of the elite rich man driving a cart with two poor men in the back, one White and one Black. She showed in the ensuing dialogue how the rich man split the two poor men so their combined power could not wrest control from him..
When we come to the conservatives, there are so many contradictions I will have a hard time in the segment on What Conservatives Think delineating their thinking. An example comes to mind: the Bundy Ranch. Cliven Bundy grazed his cattle on our land – first point of departure: it is our land, the public’s land but conservatives recognize only privately held property. We charged him a nominal fee, which he refused to pay. Eventually, glacier-like, the federal government came to collect. Suddenly this became Bundy’s land. OK. So now we have a guy who says it’s his land and he won’t pay despite signing an agreement. In normal people’s eyes, that is a contract, but not to conservatives; they are ideological: they hate the federal government and so no contract with it is valid unless it is for military service (I’m not saying any of this gratuitously – I will explain what I mean if you ask).
Then the government officials in the form of federal marshals came to collect or get his cattle off of government land aka public land aka our land and people showed up with all sorts of weapons; one guy even was sighting in on marshals with a sniper scope. I assumed they were all Black Panthers or a contingent of ISIS, but it turns out they were just good old boys out protesting. But they weren’t protesting like Black people, with signs and prayer circles – they were armed, like real Americans. As far as I’m concerned, they all should have been fired on until they surrendered to serve long jail terms. Since that didn’t happen, they went on to do it again and one of them wound up being killed. He was armed. If he hadn’t been, he might not have been shot. But I guess in that world, if you are not armed you are neither a man nor an American.
If people want smaller government, just stop asking the government for things. But what I will not permit is the sort of conservative nonsense where someone says, “I worked my way through college and paid my own way, not like these minorities” when he went to a state school and paid only a fraction of what it really cost to educate him. People do not know what the government spends or why, they only listen to commentators who tell them this and the commentators may go one way or the other, Right or Left, and it is up to the listener, the citizen, to choose which to listen to. Both are good, but you still must decide. If not, you wind up with people who think one third of GNP goes to foreign aid.
The direction a lot of people would like to go in was made obvious as soon as SCOTUS gutted the Voting Rights Act: states immediately passed voting restriction laws aimed at voters likely to vote Democratic. We knew that would happen just like conservatives knew it because they wanted to go back to the practices of the Slave States; they were just waiting.
We know all this because it has happened before. Without regulation, the country will go back to outright discrimination. Right now, the Right has to be cool and adopt the dog whistle politics Lopez describes so well in his book of that name. Rule of law, not rule by law, as Fukuyama clarifies, is what makes our country great. C/conservatives want to return to rule by custom. One thing I never understood was the Conservative emphasis on labeling our system a republic rather than a democracy. Then I learned that a republic is rule by an elite. Conservatives regard a democracy as mob rule where we lesser beings with our bad taste and questionable lineage do not have a voice. Regulations are for us, not for our betters. My wife could not figure out why she kept getting phone calls to refinance but the callers would try to get her into a subprime mortgage. Our income is top notch, our credit score is in the 800s, our record is one of home ownership almost 50 years straight – why subprime? Then she, with her finely honed Black sense of injustice, realized they were getting her race off the loan papers that ask for your race and promise never to use it except for statistics. Why are people like this not in prison? Let’s empty our prisons of marijuana smokers and fill them with these bastards. But we will never get a law against them because they write the laws. That’s a republic.
So much for morals.
Which brings me back to the quotes from Sugar in the Blood: these slave holders did not see themselves as participating in an evil anymore than those of us old enough to have lived during segregation saw ourselves as bad people. Our grandchildren might ask us what we did about it, and we might have to say, “Not much”, but even that would not make us feel bad about ourselves. A lot has been written about White guilt, something I see little of. Now I do have one example: my wife’s friend, Char. An older woman who took my wife as a friend when my wife integrated a local high school as a counselor, she and Letha became friends for many years after my wife left that school. They had lunch together and went shopping. Char was a White lady with a honey accent from the South. But one day at lunch, she broke down and cried, telling my wife that she had always felt so bad because her grandfather had owned slaves. (for those who think slavery is long in the past, think about it: this woman’s grandfather had owned slaves) My wife consoled her and said it was ridiculous to take responsibility for what her grandfather had done but wonderful of her to be so aware of how recent it was that her grandfather and my wife’s great-grandfather may have been owner and owned, that stepping back two generations, my wife’s friend might have owned my wife as a piece of property, ending my marriage to her and her ties to her children out of financial necessity or just on a whim.
This, I realize, is far outside the vision of Conservatives and especially of conservatives. In fact, conservatives insist that it is not they who are the racists but the Liberals; conservatives are colorblind, something we will discuss later.
But this certainly illustrates the vast gulf separating people who are aware of the racial gap in this country and those who, while perhaps aware, choose to ignore the gap as an inconvenient truth.
Another inconvenient truth is the gross discrepancies in every area of life based on the colonial basis of our social structure. Again, I reiterate, there are several ways of interpreting American history and mine is only one; I would say they are all valid except ones based on dogma rather than fact. American exceptionalism has been asked about and here I will just note that indeed America is exceptional, but there are three types of exceptionalism as outlined in the Wikipedia article:
Second is the idea that America has a unique mission to transform the world
Third is the sense that its history and its mission give the United States a superiority over other nations.
My belief, my opinion, is that the first one fits me the best, although laissez-faire was not acceptable even to Adam Smith. Jim may find this definition closer to his belief/opinion in this matter:
Parts of American exceptionalism can be traced to American Puritan roots. Many Puritans with Arminian leanings embraced a middle ground between strict Calvinist predestination and a less restricting theology of Divine Providence. They believed God had made a covenant with their people and had chosen them to provide a model for the other nations of the Earth. One Puritan leader, John Winthrop, metaphorically expressed this idea as a “City upon a Hill“—that the Puritan community of New England should serve as a model community for the rest of the world. This metaphor is often used by proponents of exceptionalism. The Puritans’ deep moralistic values remained part of the national identity of the United States for centuries, remaining influential to the present day.
Perhaps it is this frame of reference that caused some of us in the grouplet to say Jim has puritan attitudes (NB: not the same as puritanical)
Part of that Puritan heritage works for me, the Yankeedom Woodard talks about in American Nations. State legislators looting pension plans does not fit with the Puritan ideal of society. Even our conservative – well, less so with the demise of Scalia – SCOTUS recognized that harm done is harm done as in the decision on housing policy where if the effect is discriminatory the intent does not enter. That is a reversal of the earlier decisions where either malice or racial epithets must be recorded for a racially discriminatory policy to be struck down. Even under that heavenly high bar, the voter restriction law in the state where Asif Mandvi of The Daily Show, a comedy show!!! got a GOP official in N.C. to say on camera (http://www.cc.com/video-clips/dxhtvk/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-suppressing-the-vote)* that “if a few lazy Blacks didn’t get to vote…… oh well”!! That is Bollick’s rule: never mention color or race so you can declare yourself colorblind and you can then discriminate with a free hand. The official broke the rule and the segment “went viral”. But he knew he was attacking the Democratic vote.
So if this GOP official sees the connection between voter suppression laws and suppressing the Democratic turnout, why would someone not get the connection between poverty and low educational outcomes? And what is unclear about the connection between poverty and the racial dynamics of the U.S.? Apparently, a lot isn’t clear and will probably remain unclear despite all evidence. All evidence is simply the result of one’s world view. That seems to be the upshot of the arguments in the exchange. Narrative, framing, paradigms, perspective, pov, and all that fall under “world view” and those with differing world view are tasked with figuring out a way to work together. Tough assignment.
Baby Boomers grew up under an expanding economy and the social and cultural explosion of the sixties. As the 90s flowed on, the strands of social and political tendencies began to harden. Sometimes it is hard for me to realize that so much of what has inundated us over the last 20 years did not exist in such rigid forms before. Horrified by the Bush administration, we nevertheless carried on only to find a President elected by a wide margin, twice, rejected by a significant portion of the electorate, primarily in the slave states. Trump, the current GOP pick, ran a campaign to delegitimize the President, something never done before. As Jon Stewart used to say on his show, rubbing his chin in thought, “Gee, what could the difference be.” Well, I can tell you it wasn’t because conservatives were prejudiced against a Black man because they are COLORBLIND!
OK, one line of sarcasm…… let me be.
In truth, a good many people were knocked off kilter by the rapidity, depth, and breadth of the changes. Jim alluded to this in mentioning he return from Germany and even that was very early in this process. By the 90s, a topsy-turvy environment had existed for some time. I have always seen the precursors to these changes and, as I mentioned before, someone even labeled my childhood Dickensian when it was actually quite nice, but I picked up on pathologies I saw and I can provide anyone with a litany of them should they want to see them. The changes in society provoked anxiety and fear – not the least of which was the depletion of the financial stability of the middle class – and those provoke anger. This has led some to dub what I call conservatives reactionaries.
Here I would like to enter a matter of perspective, one on culture. I noted in an exchange with Jim on the listserv once, having nothing to do with the topics of this essay/exchange, that he was surprised that an FSI survey found that for officers using a second language, the toughest environment to operate in was cocktail party chatter. Jim’s surprise, I would guess, comes from a couple of paradigms: one, that language is more difficult the higher the cultural content of the text is, and two, that cocktail party chatter must not be complex linguistically because the content of the speech is casual and not scientific. A similar attitude is found among people who believe academic language is harder than colloquial speech because for native speakers colloquial speech is natural and quotidian while academic speech contains words they have never encountered. In fact, academic speech, aside from specialized vocabulary, is quite predictable in its structure and regular in its cadence. Colloquial speech, OTOH, is loaded with false starts, digressions in the middle of a syntactic structure, slang and idioms and particularly heavy with idiomaticity with many inside cultural references. In addition, the acoustic environment is difficult with overlapping speech and interruptions and the clinking of ice cubes and blaring of music. Make sense?
An example of cultural change came to me recently as I was vacuuming around my drum set. Decades ago I saw a cartoon which is obsolete now: a young man sat at a drum kit, telling a young girl, “I composed this for you.” Funny at a time when drums were merely monotonous accompaniment to vapid dance music or occasional punctuation in orchestral music. But after a half century of exposure to “world music” wherein the intricacies of percussion are explored though many cultures, a drum solo and just that is perfectly to be expected. A culture change.
Now to comment on Black culture: just a story.
Our son invited us to hear a speaker at the Black Republicans of Arizona dinner. Weeping, I wrote a check to the Arizona Republican Party and ordered my dinner. Steak and something else was on the menu and my wife ordered something else while my son and I gratefully ordered steak. The steaks started coming out to this room full of people and when my wife saw ours, she told the waiter, “You know you’re going to be taking these back. Just my son and my husband like their steak this way. Black folk like their meat dead.” The waiter was a bit nonplused but went about his business. Soon waiters were scurrying back and forth, carrying those medium steaks back to the kitchen. The waiter came back and said, “You know, you were right. They’re all asking for the steaks to be cooked more.” So we laughed. (BTW, a moment a lot of people who think Blacks are so touchy about race ought to think about – the waiter himself was at first taken aback when my wife referred outright to race).
Then the speaker, Tony Brown, got up to the lectern and started with a story about a dinner in San Francisco where it was a room full of Black people, like this one. He noticed a guy scurrying from table to table as people called his name – Willy, Willy. So Brown said he asked his tablemate who this guy was, he was so popular. “Oh, that’s Willy. He’s got the hot sauce.” Brown then added over the laughter, “And I’ll bet you wished you had some hot sauce tonight.” I was reminded of that when the story about Hillary carrying hot sauce in her purse came out. But it represents the way cultural facts cannot be denied. You could probably tell the same story about White Southerners, too. Taste in food is a matter of culture and there’s nothing more cultural than food.
Perhaps it is culture, perhaps something else, what turned me so totally off to conservatives. I am not blinded by my world view. When John McCain told the lady at his rally who had said Obama was an Arab that no, he was a good family man he disagreed with, I noted the crowd of Republicans laughed at the woman. Good for McCain, good for those people who seemed, at the time, to divorce Obama the person from his policies. But then Sarah Palin came along and ridiculed Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago, as if it were not real work.
I thought about the horrible conditions in the South that had driven those people North, the loss of jobs throughout the Rust Belt, the slow start at trying to help people trapped in urban ghettos created by not only rapacious landlords and developers but government policies at all levels, the open prejudice and bigotry directed at Blacks in Chicago, even in my own family, and the vicious abuse of the image of the Black Chicagoan by Reagan with his evocation of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen with 10 social security numbers and as many kids…. and on and on. Such hostility directed against a whole people, worthy of the caste systems of India or Latin-America, and here Obama had worked to alleviate those pathologies that had grown in the area Blacks were restricted to, and here was Palin, an utter empty suit, deriding him to the ferocious applause of her audiences. THERE was the rise of the Tea Party, the heritors of Southern resistance.
Where will all this put us? Republicans will continue to work to reverse the New Deal and use immigrants and minorities as scapegoats; the GOP base will continue to fret over people’s sex lives and terrorists thousands of miles away while the top of the wealth heap will continue to siphon off the wealth of their nation; and Democrats will continue pretending they do not face an implacable enemy in the GOP. Clinton will be better than Obama at taking these people on and the Black community may have to face stark facts: there is nothing the federal government can do that won’t be undone in red states, so they will have to set up their own parallel systems of government, including education, health, and justice. Waiting for the police force to turn in their own officers is a non-starter. The Right will continue to besmirch the reputation of the many professional police officers by upholding the right of the rogues to shoot down minorities and the helpless. While the only Blacks I know who condemn all police are those who are criminals themselves, and even most of them praise good police work because their families need protection just like anyone’s, the free hand the Right wants to give police will gradually turn the force into a repressive one and the repression will not stop with minorities. It never does.
What can happen? This scenario seems apocalyptic, until we look at the Rust Belt, at the megafarms in California now running out of water, at the inner cities hemmed in by riot squads, at the rural areas dotted with meth labs, and at swaths of the country deserted by young people. Pretty soon those young people will head overseas as European youth are already taking jobs in India and anywhere where growth in jobs promises a decent way of life. As regions in the U.S. lose economic power, the government will abandon them, leading to unrest among the desperate unlike any urban riots seen in the last century. Post-apocalyptic novels are a booming market, perhaps foretelling a foreboding. My own pessimism increases when I look at how my son works in urban schools with teachers who have little incentive to deal effectively with youth so different from themselves. The training teachers receive does not match the challenges they face and the education system has been undermined by business people who believe high pay is why people became teachers. The next politician who walks into a classroom with that big shit-eatin’ grin on his face for the photo op should be handed the class to run…….. for the rest of day. “Alice, cancel my appointments for the rest of the day. I have to teach 39 fifth graders fractions and they don’t give a shit.” Oh, teachers do that every day but let’s cut their salaries and their retirement because if they had wanted a decent life, they would have started their own insurance company. I am reprinting Laurie Clarcq’s post on poverty because there is no way I could match it. (separate segment)