Slavery By Another Name

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 18:30

Last night, on Bill Moyers Journal, one of the topics was an amazing new book, Slavery By Another Name by Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal.  It's about the way in which virtual slavery was reimposed on the Southern black population, and lasted well into the lifetime of people still alive today.

This involved much, much more than legal segregation under Plessy, as Moyers describes, and Blackmon explains below. This is incredibly important not only in its own right, but because of the light it throws onto the strikingly similar way that drug laws and other punitive measures have been used in the last several decades to largely crush the promise of the Civil Rights movement for millions of poverty-struck black Americans, people who are, themselves, the descendents of generations who had their freedom stolen from them a second time after supposedly being freed by the Civil war.

Moyers begins:

BILL MOYERS: At one time there were thousands of slaves in our county. And after Richmond fell to Union troops, my home town became, briefly, the military headquarters of the Confederacy. But in twelve years of public schools I cannot remember one of the teachers I deeply cherished describe slavery for what it was. Nor did they, or anyone I knew, talk about how our town's dark and tortured past in restoring white supremacy after the Civil War, prevented the emancipated slaves from realizing the freedom they had been promised. Across the South, from Texas and Louisiana to the Carolinas, thousands of freed black Americans simply were arrested, often on trumped up charges, and coerced into forced labor. And that persisted right up into the 1940s, when I was still a boy.


This is truly the most remarkable piece of reporting I have read in a long time. I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough. What you report is that no sooner did the slave owners, businessmen of the South, lose the Civil War, then they turned around, and in complicity with state and local governments and industry, reinvented slavery by another name. And what was the result?

Blackmon responds on the flip.

Paul Rosenberg :: Slavery By Another Name
DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, the result was that by the time you got to the end of the 19th century, 25 or 30 years after the Civil War, the generation of slaves who'd been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and then the constitutional amendments that ended slavery legally this generation of people, who experienced authentic freedom in many respects tough life, difficult hard lives after the Civil War but real freedom, in which they voted, they participated in government.

BILL MOYERS: They farmed?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: They farmed. They carved out independent lives. But then, this terrible shadow began to fall back across black life in America, that effectively re-enslaved enormous numbers of people. And what that was all about, what that was rooted in, was that the southern economic, and in a way, the American economy, was addicted to slavery, was addicted to forced labor. And the South could not resurrect itself.

And so, there was this incredible economic imperative to bring back coerced labor. And they did, on a huge scale.

BILL MOYERS: You said they did it by criminalizing black life.

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Well, and that was that was a charade. But the way that happened was that, of course, before the Civil War, there were Slave Codes. There were laws that governed the behavior of slaves. And that was the basis of laws, for instance, that made it where a slave had to have a written pass to leave their plantation and travel on an open road.

Well, immediately after the Civil War, all the southern states adopted a new set of laws that were then called Black Codes. And they essentially attempted to recreate the Slave Codes. Well, those that was such an obvious effort to recreate slavery, that the Union military leadership that was still in the South, overruled all of that. Still, that didn't work. And by the time you get to the end of Reconstruction, all the southern legislatures have gone back and passed laws that aren't called Black Codes, but essentially criminalized a whole array of activities, that it was impossible for a poor black farmer to avoid encountering in some way.


DOUGLAS BLACKMON: Vagrancy. So, vagrancy was a law that essentially, it simply, you were breaking the law if you couldn't prove at any given moment that you were employed. Well, in a world in which there were no pay stubs, it was impossible to prove you were employed. The only way you could prove employment was if some man who owned land would vouch for you and say, he works for me. And of course, none of these laws said it only applies to black people. But overwhelmingly, they were only enforced against black people. And many times, thousands of times I believe, you had young black men who attempted to do that. They ended up being arrested and returned to the original farmer where they worked in chains, not even a free worker, but as a slave.

BILL MOYERS: And the result, as you write, thousands of black men were arrested, charged with whatever, jailed, and then sold to plantations, railroads, mills, lumber camps and factories in the deep South. And this went on, you say, right up to World War II?

DOUGLAS BLACKMON: And it was everywhere in the South. These forced labor camps were all over the place. The records that still survive, buried in courthouses all over the South, make it abundantly clear that thousands and thousands of African-Americans were arrested on completely specious claims, made up stuff, and then, purely because of this economic need and the ability of sheriffs and constables and others to make money off arresting them, and that providing them to these commercial enterprises, and being paid for that.

I have known the broad outlines of this story for a long, long time.  But listening to the telling of it in such specific detail, and knowing that there was an entire book of meticulously researched information on this system of de facto slavery, I could not help but be struck at how chillingly similar this system was to the current conditions under which the inner city black community lives today.  The wildly disproporationate arrest, trial and incarceration rates for black vs. white drug users is a very well-documented and long-established fact.

For example:

# "At midyear 2006 more black men (836,800) were in custody in State or Federal prison or local jail than white men (718,100) or Hispanic men (426,900) (table 13). Black men comprised 41% of the more than 2 million men in custody, and black men age 20 to 29 comprised 15.5% of all men in custody on June 30, 2006.
"Relative to their numbers in the general population, about 4.8% of all black men were in custody at midyear 2006, compared to about 0.7% of white men and 1.9% of Hispanic men. Overall, black men were incarcerated at 6.5 times the rate of white men. The incarceration rate for black men was highest among black men age 25 to 29. About 11.7% of black males in this age group were incarcerated on June 30, 2006. Across age groups black men were between 5.7 and 8.5 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated."

Source: Sabol, William J., PhD, Minton, Todd D., and Harrison, Paige M., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, June 2007), NCJ217675, p. 9.

And beyond the incarcerated, and even the formerly incarcertaed, there is an entire community--indeed, and entire race that is kept down.  As I noted in a diary back in March, "Two Long Recessions", the Black unemployment rate is double the white unemployment rate, in good times and bad.  As a result, there are no good times for the black community as a whole. Permanent recession is their lot:

As I noted in that diary:

Perhaps, you might think this is because blacks just aren't as good job prospects as whites--lower skill, or whatever.  Not so much...

In April, 2005, Princeton University sent out a press release :

Many New York employers discriminate against minorities, ex-offenders
by Steven M. Schultz · Posted April 1, 2005; 10:56 a.m.

Black applicants without criminal records are no more likely to get a job than white applicants just out of prison, according to a Princeton University study of nearly 1,500 private employers in New York City.

The study, "Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets," was conducted by sociology professors Devah Pager and Bruce Western . It is the largest and most comprehensive project of its kind to date.

The study, which investigated discrimination against young male minorities and ex-offenders by employers, also showed:

    • Young white high school graduates were about twice as likely to receive positive responses from New York employers as equally qualified black job seekers;

    • Ex-offenders face serious barriers to employment; a criminal record reduced positive responses from employers by about 35 percent for white applicants and 57 percent for black applicants.

Even without criminal records, however, black applicants had low rates of positive responses, about the same as the response rate for white applicants with criminal records. Hispanics also faced discrimination by employers, but were preferred relative to blacks.

Note that these ratios--"about twice" and a reduction of 35% compared to 57%--are quite in line with blacks having twice the unemployment rate of whites.

So, yes, the general shape of this history was not a surprise to me. Not a surprise at all. But Blackmon's book puts all this recent history into a bone-chilling, almost Lovecraftian perspective.  We live today in a system of organized evil that has not materially changed at its core since the era of slavery.

It's not just dark romantic poetry when Leonard Cohen sings:

Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old Black Joe is still picking cotton
For your ribbons and your bows.
Everybody knows."

It's the stone cold truth.

And electing a black man as President won't do a damn thing to change it.  If anything, it will be one more facile excuse for continuing to ignore the legacy of systemic evil that still lives in our midst.

Note: I will be out when this diary posts, so if you comment and I don't respond right away, please be patient. Thanks.  

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I watched it (4.00 / 1)
it was an amazing show.  The strange thing is that it conformed to what I expected in the post-slavery reconstruction age, but could never quite figure out why it didn't happen that way.  Turns out, it did happen that way.

Still there in the '60s (0.00 / 0)
As I recall, convict labor was still in use in the '40s and '50s, and I believe Senator Eastland of MS was involved and helped perpetuate it.  Parchman Farm was still there in the '60s and I believe some civil rights workers were sent there.  That allowed northerners to find out about the system.

Imprisonment of large numbers of people today is costing states like CA untold millions.  As budgets get tight it may come to be seen as uneconomical as convict labor.  

There is plenty to criticize about Bill Clinton, but his presidency was the last time that there were decent employment prospects for most African-Americans.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

You're Absolutely Right (0.00 / 0)
It's my understanding, however, that Parchman Farm was an exception at that time, a relic.  Not unique, to be sure, but nearly as commonplace as once the case.  A big reason for that was gradual mechanization of and increasede efficiency of Southern agriculture.  Of course, it still had a long, long ways to go.  But when you look at how many blacks left the South, starting in the post-WWI "Great Migration" era, then its obvious that the South really was getting a lot more done with fewer people.  

Plus, the welfare system was a "kinder, gentler" way to acheive similar results--pay people starvation wages when you need them during planting and harvesting time, and then let the government pay them for you when you don't need them.  Thus, the real beneficiaries of the  Southern welfare system were the large landowners like Eastland.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Convict Labor is Still Big (4.00 / 4)
Convict labor has had a revival in the 1990's especially in Alabama.  I'm no expert but NPR had a story about this a few years ago.  I've seen chained convict labor on the highways, I think when I drove to Destin, FL from New Orleans in 2000.

I rarely watch TV but I caught the Moyer's show too.  

It's great to see real scholarship like this in the media.  I'd also recommend a book, "Sundown Towns" about the racist roots of many towns & cities NOT just in the deep south.  For example, Chevy Chase, Maryland was formed to keep black folk out.

Great diary Paul and I really respect your work despite my lame snark at the height of the primary wars.

Yes, Sundown Towns Are Directly Related To This (4.00 / 1)
The first wave of creating sundown towns in the North and West happened fairly simultarnesously with the start of the era that is being described here.  They were two faces of the same process, a striking of a new inter-regional "white bargain."  The process of striking this bargain is the subject of yet another terrific book, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

I reviewed Sundown Towns for the paper I work for, Random Lengths News, when it first came out in 2006.  Here's the beginning of my review:

In the first few decades after the Civil War, African Americans settled widely throughout the North and West. But as the Civil War Era commitment to civil rights faded, around 1890, a vast wave of ethnic cleansing drove them out of many, if not most, places-the vast majority of towns in Illinois, for example.  While they might be tolerated passing through, many towns had signs at their borders to make their message clear: don't be caught here after sundown.  Hence the name: "sundown towns."  

A few decades later, as suburbs started spreading across the land, the vast majority of them were all white-with the active support of the federal government.  While Southern segregation is a relatively well-known aspect of our history, James Loewen's new book, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, is the first book on the subject, and every page holds a revelation.  While some sundown towns and suburbs have become integrated over the years, a surprising number remain all-white, even today, occasionally enforced with violence.

Loewen, best known as the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, casts a broad net in this book, covering everything from the history of their origins, the sociology of their formation and maintenance, and  their effect on whites, blacks and the social system, to their present, future and possible elimination.  

A simple one-page chart gives a quick sense of how vast the phenomena is. It lists the number of counties in 39 non-southern states with no or few (less than 10) blacks in 1890 and 1930.  Of these, Loewen writes, "not one showed greater dispersion of African Americans in 1930 than in 1890. In 31 of 39 states, African Americans lived in a narrower range of counties in 1930 than they did in 1890."  This doesn't even count counties where all towns but one were sundown towns.

I reviewed also reviewed the book I mentioned above, Race and Reunion, but for the Denver Post, when it came out in 2001.  An excerpt of my review:

In an interview with Southern Partisan magazine, Attorney General John Ashcroft said, "Your magazine also helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis. Traditionalists should do more. I've got to do more.

"We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect, or else we will be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."

These sentiments, only mildly challenged as lacking sensitivity in Ashcroft's confirmation hearings, reflect the conventional wisdom of 100 years ago and underscore the living significance of the cultural history traced by David Blight in "Race and Memory." How slavery managed to vanish from the core meaning of the Civil War, and the consequences of that disappearance, forms a key theme in Blight's disturbing examination of how the South won the Civil War in the 50 years after Gettysburg.

Slavery continued to be part of the story, of course. Faithful slaves defending plantations against invading Yankee troops were a staple of Southern lore, which came to dominate national memory in the process of sectional reconciliation that accompanied the resubjugation of Southern blacks. But the central story of the struggle became that of a sacred battle between brothers - white brothers - who mystically had to fight each other in order to eventually reconcile and unify as they could never have otherwise done.

You can read the whole review here.

I believe that these three books together go a long, long way to illuminating the processes by which the Civil War was reversed by the following generations--a process that has, in turn, been intensely echoed in our own time.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Outstanding piece. Thanks for posting. n/t (0.00 / 0)

your ending is too pessimistic (4.00 / 4)
Electing a black man as president will not, in itself, end the system that continues to oppress black Americans.  But it's going to damage the sense of resignation that allows it to go on.  If, after eight years ago, the same people who worshipped George W. Bush as "my commander in chief" have to face the prospect, day after day, that the person in charge is black, something's going to give.  Likewise, the people on the bottom, who've given up hope, are going to see someone who looks like them in charge.

These things, alone, won't end oppression.  But they will damage the foundation that the oppression rests on.

Well, That's Certainly The Hope That Many Have (0.00 / 0)
And I would be thrilled if things turned out that way.

But I'm not holding my breath.

It was, after all, the Southern White dude who made Obama promise to join him in cutting poverty in half.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I agree with Joe and I elaborated about it a little more in a comment below... (0.00 / 0)
Personally I would love to see Obama focus and champion and take up more of the issues that mostly effect and are most important to the black community but I understand why he does not. To be cynical, politics. He already has the black vote, focusing on things like the unfair war on drugs, unjust prion populations, and general systematic oppression of blacks by the system would only serve to scare the crap out of a bunch of whites. Whites who he could otherwise win their votes so long as they don't fear he is going to become "Mr. Black President" and only focus on the troubles of that community.

So here I am again giving Obama a pass and giving him the benefit of the doubt. I think he will do much more to champion these issues once he is elected. I sure hope so. This is the way I feel about Obama and a lot of these issues we wish he would speak more about. We are right, and I believe he knows we are right, but at least in his campaigns opinion speaking up about many of these issues simply isn't politically viable. Sure its cynical, but its reality.

I would rather Obama win while bending a bit than lose while remaining ideologically pure.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

[ Parent ]
As I See It (4.00 / 1)
Obama doesn't have to become a spokesman for these issues in order to take them on and certainly not during a presidential campaign.  I think it's an unfair burden to ask him to be a messianic figure who will address all issues equally and slay all the dragons. There's probably a lot that can be done through the executive branch without having to go through Congress and perhaps Obama should concentrate his efforts in this area on those aspects of the problem (or, perhaps, delegate these efforts).

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
It's not on that level. (0.00 / 0)
Paul, although I share your concerns about what will happen legislatively, I think the issue Joe is addressing is something else entirely.

What comes to mind is what happened with Gavin Newsom and gay marriage in 2004.  Fox news, in this instance, was the best thing to happen to LGBT rights -- over and over again, they played the clips of happy couples exchanging vows and hugs and kisses.  This was meant, no doubt, to enrage their viewers, and to some degree it probably did.  However, through sheer repetition, it also normalized these images for many people.

We're seeing the effects of this just four years later, where the wingnuts scream "GAY MARRIAGE!  BOOGITY BOOGITY!" and the middle, to a large extent, says, "Meh ..."

My personal opinion on this is that people fear what they don't know -- the biggest predictor about whether one supports LGBT rights or not is whether one has a LGBT family member or close friend.

Applying all this to Obama, I would say that the country's psyche is considering whether it can handle the new image of a black man in the ultimate role of leadership.  Although obviously a lot of people are not going to be comfortable with this -- many because of overtly racist reasons and many just because it "feels not quite right" -- over the 4 or 8 years, they will inevitably become desensitized to the idea of a black president, to the point where it feels more normal.

I think this is a far more profound change than any legislation has the potential to be.  Once people's heads get wrapped around a black person being in the ultimate "in charge" position in the world, it filters down into concepts of race at all levels, for people of all races.

That's the hope, anyway!

Republicans can't fix our country; they're too busy saddlebacking.

[ Parent ]
Great post (4.00 / 1)
you might be interested in the hunger strike / labor actions in general that migrant laborers and the organizations supporting them are undertaking in the post-katrina rebuilding.  it also illustrates how citizenship laws and real-world oppression by employers (and governments) can work in concert to disempower workers.  some global analysis here.

We are our own enemy (0.00 / 0)
This is human nature.  We are unjust and we take advantage of others. We have to change society or else this phenomenon will continue to cascade from here to beyond.  The Enlightenment was only a spark and we are still primitive barbarians. The Twentieth Century was a lurch forward. We need to lurch faster.  

I you want health care, work hard. If you want universal health care, vote for liberals.

Not Exactly (4.00 / 3)
"This is human nature" is a central aspect of conservative belief.  It is a half truth, at best, and to the extent that it is true, it illustrates William Blake's maxim, "a truth that's told with bad intent beats any lie you can invent."

The whole truth is that human nature is far more fundamentally oriented toward decency, which is why such elaborate ruses are necessary to justify such behavior.  Without conscience, without a fundamental orientation toward decency, society in virtually any form would be impossible, and humans would never have developed any sort of civilization at all.

In reality, only about 1% of people are effectively without conscience.  These are the people variously designated as psychopaths or sociopaths.  However, even they generally find it necessary to appear to have a conscience.  One thing is certain, however: such people could never create a society, much less a civilization by themselves.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
My emphasis (0.00 / 0)
I just tend to focus on how bad people are because I don't think many people realize it--that we collectively are pretty bad in many respects.

I you want health care, work hard. If you want universal health care, vote for liberals.

[ Parent ]
Easier To Attack Us As Humanz Than Amuricans, Is That It? (0.00 / 0)
But isn't it always easier to lie?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Just a reminder that the unemployment rates (4.00 / 3)
vastly underrepresent the problem.  The joblessness rate, which includes people without jobs who have simply given up, for black males in my city was over 40%.  

The following article ironically notes a slight drop in the jobless rate in 2005, and has some nice charts.  It's worse, today.

See also the reports by Mark Levine, here:

The average jobless rate across the nation in selected cities was about 40%

See here: scroll down.

--Aaron Schutz (Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing)

You're Absolutely Right (4.00 / 1)
The labor market participation rate for blacks is significantly depressed by black incarcertation.

What's more, of course, when they are employed, blacks earn less than whites with similar qualifications.  Then they turn around and have to pay more for everything--up to and including home loans (while depending on a smaller paycheck to do so).  Which is one reason why they are so much harder hit by the subprime mortgage crisis.  Every step of the way there's a built-in disadvantage to being black.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Paul, thank you for this post (4.00 / 3)
I need to start DVRing Bill Moyers. I am thrilled to buy this book. I am working my way through Taylor Branch's 3 book bio of MLK, and it is fascinating, exhilarating, and simultaneously saddening and encouraging.

I am just a middle class white dude that had a very lucky upbringing with two loving parents, great public schools, and given every benefit of the doubt by society. I didn't grow up with many black friends or much insight into the perniciousness of racism, but I have begun to understand just how bad things were before I was born in the mid-1970s. I find it quite amazing that so many black families were able to escape the shameful racism and structural discrimination that they were faced with to form such a large, vibrant black middle class.

Until people begin to understand how black communities were systematically discriminated against during the New Deal, how they were denied citizenship rights, equal educations, normal contracting rights, and were especially systematically ghettoized -- well, we'll figure out how to try and right the past wrongs.

Great post. I have been waiting to see more people tackle this issue. This issue is one of the ones that drives me insane. (0.00 / 0)
It is so important and so obvious, it drives me crazy that more people don't realize that truth about how badly minorities ahve been oppressed here. There are many good people who even think it is a perfectly reasonable position to be against affirmative action, they don't think its fair. Obviously the unfairness of AA comes nowhere close the unfairness of the historical oppression of black people in this country.

I agree 100% with almost every point made in this post, and I truly wish that more people would talk about this issue and educate more people about it. This issue is very dear to me and strikes right down into the values I hold as most important. It simply drives me crazy how many white people are completely oblivious to any of thise.

As I'm sure everyone expected, I've got one bone to pick.

And electing a black man as President won't do a damn thing to change it.  If anything, it will be one more facile excuse for continuing to ignore the legacy of systemic evil that still lives in our midst.

You may have a point about the facile excuse part, but I sincerely disagree about the notion that it won't help or change anything. The facile excuse part reminds of previous things in pop culture decades ago that served this same purpose. One example that comes to mind is "The Jefferson's" television show. I cannot remember where I read about it but they author was discussing how this show, one of the first sitcoms depicting a black family, served to help ease white guilt over past oppression and served to inject the facade that black families had obtained equal parity in middle-class status as white families. The theme songs: "we finally got a piece of the pie." More like the crumbs leftover just enough to appease the populace and prevent insurrection.

An Obama Presidency would do wonders for black Americans socially. I wrote a diary about how great of a role model he is for minority youth, and how these types of role models have been severely lacking and few and far between. I don't want to get into all the details but many of them are listed in my diary above. Obviously an Obama presidency won't magically cure or solve all those ills listed your post, but it would be naive/blind/foolish (not sure whats the correct word here) to underestimate the importance and significance of a black president to the black community. I would love to elaborate on all the ways this would be true but that would take a lot more space and I'd need to put a lot more thought into it. Perhaps in another diary sometimes.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

I Hope You're Right (4.00 / 1)
But even if you are, it won't be the electing of a black President that does those wonderful things. It's what people do with the fact that we have a black President that matters.

Let's put the agency where it belongs.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
This post inspired me to sign up so I could comment (4.00 / 4)
Some friends of mine were comparing the reaction of Iowans to flooding versus those in New Orleans and they were praising the Iowans for how the handled the disaster versus those in New Orleans.  IMO, there was implied racism in their critique but they would have bristled and denied being racist if I had called them out on it.  There's this unspoken racism against African-Americans and a real failure to understand the history of what African-Americans have gone through.  Douglas Blackmon's book is an important step in addressing our past and how it impacts us today.

You're Right (4.00 / 1)
It is racism.  But it's racism of the kind that's like water to a fish--completely invisible, because it's all-pervasive.

After all, when New Orleans blacks went out to find food for their families, they were automatically "looters."

Once you get a little amphibian action going, sticking your head up above water, maybe even walking around on the land a bit, it becomes very easy to start seeing the water.

The thing is, it's not about blaming people for being racists.  It's about helping them to see the water for themselves.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Any real world ideas on how to talk about this? (4.00 / 1)
I am at a loss as to how to talk about this with my friends in a way that doesn't make them defensive.  

[ Parent ]
Make it about class, not race (4.00 / 2)
The people who couldn't leave New Orleans and were stuck in the Superdome or their homes were primarily extremely poor people who didn't own cars or were able to afford the gas to leave, and who have lived lives of pervasive disempowerment, to the point were it becomes internalized. So the idea of organizing their own relief efforts, assuming that they could even afford it or had the material means to do so, was likely not one that easily came to mind to them.

Plus, they were let down by city, state and country. Literally abandoned.

Whereas the Iowans who are valiently trying to save what they have, while not necessarily well off let alone rich, are almost certainly not nearly as poor as these New Orleanians were. Plus they come from healthier, more cohesive and self-reliant communities and subcultures, probably feel more empowered and have a more "can do" spirit than did these New Orleanians, and, of course, they have been benefitting from far more local, state and even federal assistance.

New Orleans was a broken city, and these New Orleanians were a broken people. Unlike Iowa, and Iowans. It's obviously about race, to a large extent. But perhaps the class and culture angle will allow you to make more initial leeway with your friends. But I'd try to sneak in the race aspect eventually, since it is inseparable from these issues.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Here's a start (0.00 / 0)
New Orleans was an unexpected catastrophe beyond the worst-case scenarios of most. Iowa was something that was more predictable and not unprecedented, plus they had the specter of Katrina floating above them.  Will your friends concede that point, at least?  Then you can probe with questions to figure out why they believe what they believe.

I don't necessarily think they are racist, though.  They could be, but they don't have to be.  After all, I don't think that an American who thinks that hockey is the best sport is racist for preferring a sport with a whiter athlete base than hockey or football. Someone could make the case that people with closer ties to rural areas are more capable in the face of natural disaster than urban populations without being racist.  Maybe your friends just think that Midwesterners are superior to Southerners of any color.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
I Disagree (0.00 / 0)
And electing a black man as President won't do a damn thing to change it.  If anything, it will be one more facile excuse for continuing to ignore the legacy of systemic evil that still lives in our midst.

I disagree and here's why:

I think you're ignoring the cultural impact an Obama presidency will have. It may not have a deep immediate structural impact on the de facto apartheid we have in some parts of this country, particularly in the inner-cities, but it will have a tremendous impact on the world-view of coming generations of Americans.

It's difficult to make the racist argument that all African Americans are "welfare queens" when the President of the United States is a black man. And, for the generation that grows up and comes of age during an Obama presidency the cultural impact is that the old stereotypes will be destroyed. The lesson that will be deeply ingrained in them as they watch President Obama speaking to the interests of the American people from the highest office in the land on a daily basis on the news is that race is not the determining factor of a person, character is.

And that, my friend, is going to change a whole lot of things down the road.  

There Have ALWAYS Been "Exceptional" Blacks (0.00 / 0)
And there have been numerous ways they have been used to perpetuate keeping down black people as a whole.

I'm not saying that there won't be positive benefits.  I am saying that those benefits will have to be constructed and struggled for by people other than Obama--and I am saying that there will be powerful new forms of using his advancements against the interests of black people as a whole.

Mention has already been made of how the positive example of The Jeffersons was used against black people.  And that was nothing compared to Dr. Huxtable and his family.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
There Has Never Been a Black President of the United States (0.00 / 0)
You're talking about sitcom characters being analogous to the highest office in the land. I'm sorry, but that strikes me as a little bit preposterous. There's a big difference between a fictitious owner of drycleaning businesses living in a de-luxe apartment in the sky and the real-life leader of the free world.

[ Parent ]
Don't forget Michelle Obama (0.00 / 0)
I think she will also change the way our country look at African-American women.  I look forward to that.  

[ Parent ]
Um, ever heard of the expression "The exception proves the rule?" (4.00 / 1)
I can envision millions of racists saying "See, why can't they all be so well-mannered and upstanding like him? Him, I like.". In fact, I think that Joe Biden may already have.

And millions more who are not rabid racists, but more the "soft" kind, or not racists at all, but who just want to get past the issue of racism, because white guilt makes it so unpleasant for them to acknowledge and confront, will tell themselves that, having elected its first black president, we have finally overcome the final vestiges of racism.

It will help, of course, in empowering millions of black people to believe that things have changed--and they have. And in other ways, I'm sure. But it will also hurt in other ways. And it will certainly not end racism. That will almost certainly not end in any of our lifetimes.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
And the Reason Why They are "Soft Racists" (0.00 / 0)
And the reason is because we still live in a largely segregated country. We don't live in the same places. We don't work the same jobs. Our children don't go to the same schools.

When the "other" is an abstract, when you don't ever see them, it's easy to charicature them. When the "other" is on your TV screen every night leading the world's most powerful nation, all of a sudden it's not so easy to charicature people.

[ Parent ]
I'm not convinced that having a black president (0.00 / 0)
will change this substantially in and of itself. Like I said, if anything, it'll give people an excuse to tell themselves that race relations are vastly improved and there's not much left to do, and thus actually hurt race relations. And don't think for a moment that hard racists won't view every move by Obama that they don't like as having to do with his race.

I'm hoping, though, that AS president, Obama will find ways of using his power to actively help race relations improve, rather than passively, by merely being a black man who's president. The racial self-selection that we do in this country has got to be confronted. I have no idea how to do that, but I'm sure that smart and engaged people do.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
It's actually worse (4.00 / 2)
What Blackmon describes is a systemic subjugation that relied on facile applications of law. But there were actually many instances where white supremacy went outside any semblance of the rule of law to eradicate any advancement that black populations had been able to make due to their emancipation. The most glaring example that comes to mind is the massacre of the black community that occurred in Wilmington, NC in 1898. The history of this horrid event was virtually untold for over a hundred years. Maybe a sign of progress is that what occurred in Wilmington 110 years ago would be unthinkable today. So the "system of organized evil that" Blackmon describes really has "materially changed at its core" simply because it can't be as overt as what happened in Wilmington. Small steps I know, but steps nevertheless.  

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Unthinkable? (4.00 / 1)
What do you call Iraq, Afghanistan and Katrina? Perhaps these weren't intended as exercizes in ethnic cleansing. But Bush and the GOP didn't exactly fall over themselves to prevent it beforehand, or stop it when it happened. This was no oversight. It may not have been entirely deliberate, but it was certainly knowing. At the very least, they just didn't care, the people in question being too "other" to be worth caring about. More likely, though, there was some element of malice aforethought, and opportunistic motivations once these atrocities were well underway, at least in New Orleans, but likely in Iraq as well (the only reason that the violence has "gone down" in Iraq is because of all the ethnic cleansing).

I don't mean to go too off-topic, but the kind of attitude and behavior that we're seeing right now from the right is substantially no different from that which led to this second era and third eras of slavery. And, even more broadly, it applies to the way that they've allowed US society to bifurcate into a smaller and richer upper class, and a larger and poorer lower and middle class, a form of virtual serfdom as seen in the millions stuck in dead-end jobs and lives that only a herculean personal effort could possibly get them out of. Jim Crow, the War on Drugs, the Walmartization of the American economy, these are all symptomatic of conservative ideology and behavior. And it's not even just about money or power, but, I believe, a deep-seated sense of paranoia, hysteria, xenophobia and misanthropy. These people just don't like people unlike themselves, and are dedicated to proactively depriving them of any opportunity of taking what they feel is theirs away. And if it enrichens them in the process, all the better.

We're dealing with an ideology, mindset and culture of deep paranoia, xenophobia, moral corruption, misanthropy, and all too often outright sociopathology. It's been with us since well before the founding, and will be with us always, because there will always be such people. The key is to find ways of containing them perpetually. Hard to do, though, when the country falls asleep chasing after illusory material rainbows and ponies (Morning in America, see).

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
1921, Greenwood, OK: Whites flew bombing raids agains Black. (4.00 / 1)
Probably some thousands of b lacks were killed, their bodies unrecovered in the ruins.
Okies hate it when you remind 'em...
There are still Sundown Towns in Okie-dom, the most notorious is LaVerne, out near the panhandle.

[ Parent ]
Yes, But Terrorism Was Never Erased From Memory (4.00 / 1)
Specific examples have certainly been suppressed and forgotten, but the sheer mass of lynchings, for example, has never been forgotten.  So there was always an awareness of that.  What Blackmon has done is to ressurect a framework of economic history that then makes sense of all the rest.  And that really is the core of it all.  That is what has not changed.

Whole communities may not be wiped out all at once, but that was always a rare exception.  And what happened with New Orleans during and after Katrina was pretty damn close, besides.  

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
some comments (0.00 / 0)
And electing a black man as President won't do a damn thing to change it.  If anything, it will be one more facile excuse for continuing to ignore the legacy of systemic evil that still lives in our midst.

1. I agree that working class Black people and elites of color (who are rapidly joining the elite as a whole) face different situations.
2. I think this might have been an appropriate place to explore the complicated relationship between Obama, an overtly mixed-race person, and the many complications of Black communities.
3. I think, as some others have pointed out, you vastly understate the impact that electing "one of our own" could potentially have on the psychological and emotional aspects of disempowerment, as opposed to the economic aspects of it.  
4. That said, I agree with you that people who are not White and who are also interested in progressive or radical politics have taken a major risk in supporting someone who says nice things about Reagan.  but I think it's a bit different than the way you put it - it's not that racism won't get addressed-- it's that Black elites, Latino elites, East Asian elites, South Asian elites, etc. are all more and more getting assimilated into what used to be called "White" elite culture - which means that race is being reconfigured and class and citizenship are being elevated as categories to use to justify the disempowerment of people.  I think that this has been happening is a major reason why it's acceptable in the first place to nominate someone who's perceived as Black (and therefore is Black ;) or a Woman as a presidential candidate now; because they can reliably be trusted to be corporate-friendly.  This is also part of the reason why it seems to be so important on all sides to demonstrate that Obama is a "new" kind of Black politician - not a Jesse Jackson, not an Al Sharpton - i.e. not someone who will strongly and clearly articulate difference rather than a sense of American nationalism.

So racism will continue forward, because it's a social system that pervades Amerian society, but in a different guise.  But overt statements based solely on race are no longer politically acceptable - just predatory lending, double standards on preachers, and the like.

Gun Control (0.00 / 0)
I am reminded of a passing reference in Joe Bageant's book Deer Hunting with Jesus where he claims that the gun control movement has racist roots based on the desire to keep weapons out of the hands of blacks who were deemed as potentially dangerous.

I haven't bothered to do any research on this, so this seems as good a time as any to toss the idea out there and see if anyone has read anything or can point me in the right direction.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

Obama will be easier to lobby (0.00 / 0)
I also have to disagree with this:

And electing a black man as President won't do a damn thing to change it.  If anything, it will be one more facile excuse for continuing to ignore the legacy of systemic evil that still lives in our midst.

Electing Obama will not, by itself, end racism and oppression. As wiretap points out, Obama will have a difficult time focusing on racial issues for fear of being labelled "Mr. Black President". And some part of the population will say that a President Obama will demonstrate that there is no more racism. So it may be that Obama will be less effective in addressing racial issues than someone like Edwards might have been.

But electing Obama should reap myriad benefits. As several commenters have noted, it will drastically change our culture --  forcing many racists to reconsider their prejudices, showing young people another powerful role model, and giving hope to oppressed people of all stripes.

Also, it should be a lot easier to lobby Obama on these issues. From his own personal experience, Obama understands how pervasive racism and other forms of oppression are and understands how difficult it is for those oppressed to overcome the external and internalized oppression. Especially, in contrast to boy king Bush who never listens to anyone but his wacko advisors, Obama should be easy to pressure to do the right thing. If we can draw up good legislation and get Congress to carry it, then Obama will likely go along with it, even champion it, without us working very hard. Our focus can be on pressuring Congress, educating the American public, and building a movement to challenge the power elite instead of having to continually defend against a vicious president armed with bully pulpit and veto pen.

you can watch it online... (4.00 / 1)

thanks Paul for directing my attention to such an interesting topic that I have never learned much about and I majored in History.  

A related piece of little-known history (0.00 / 0)
from here in CA regarding the oppression of Black people, many of whom were, at least on paper, "free":

This week, San Franciscans will observe the 150th anniversary of an exodus of hundreds of free black Californians to Canada in order to escape an increasingly racist state government and fugitive slave laws that endangered their lives and to join a more welcoming community in Victoria, British Columbia.

That article also links to this, which gives greater detail on the story of the 1858 Black Exodus:

In 1858 about 800 free blacks left San Francisco and traveled to Vancouver Island as a result of an invitation from Governor James Douglas. They came to escape the racial conditions of the time in California with a promise that it would be better on Vancouver Island. Although they still faced problems once they landed, it was far less then the ones they had endured and allowed them to prosper in ways that they could not to the South. Many of them contributed to the development and growth of BC through their businesses, the starting of churches, and forming one of the earliest militia units on Vancouver Island.

They have a long history here in the Province and it continues today.


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