American Exceptionalism (White Exceptionalism by a nicer name)


American Exceptionalism has been described by historians since the mid-1800s. Definitions fall basically into three camps.

  1. Because of its unique origins, born from revolution, America is unique from all other nations. Never having Kings and Queens it had always been ruled by the people thru its elected representatives.
  2. America has a unique mission to transform the world and has the responsibility to ensure that its form of government always exists.
  3. America’s mission, resources, and history make it superior to all other nations.

The first premise makes the case on its own that American Exceptionalism is simply a metaphor for White Exceptionalism in that it assumes the “origin” of America begins when white people arrived. Some history books pay a bit more attention to the inhabitants already present when European’s got here. Generations of Americans, however, were taught from American History books whose first chapters began in Europe with religious freedom being the main reason for their migration.

What you might not know is that a high percentage of colonists were criminals. Beginning in 1615 British courts started sending their convicts to the colonies to alleviate their own large criminal populations. It took until 1697 before colonial ports began refusing “convict ships”. In 1917 British Parliament passed the Transportation Act revising the method by which convicts were sent to America. Between 1700 and 1775, over 50,000 more convicts were sent to America with over 20,000 settling in Virginia. Donald Trump speaks of Mexico sending “not their best” and claiming “they’re rapists” in his popular claims with no evidentiary basis. England formally and systemically sent America its convicted criminals who could be had for a lower rate than the indentured servants who also helped build America. And then, of course, there were the slaves who were cheaper still.

Making America’s unique history the basis for a claim of exceptionalism requires we ignore its reliance on slave labor, indentured servants and criminals, all of whom were exploited for the benefit of the white landowners and politicians who benefited from their abuse. We haven’t even mentioned taking the land from the remaining existing inhabitants that had managed to survive being killed off by European diseases.

The second part of the initial premise is that America has since the Revolution engaged in self-rule by duly elected representatives of “the People” when the reverse is often true. Examination of the current Presidential Election has revealed that the Political parties often have more control than the people whether it be thru the obscure rules that select delegates to party conventions, the electoral college and the combination of redistricting and gerrymandering. Our elections often give the people a chance to offer an opinion, but one that can be taken away should the desire be great enough. We may never have had a King or Queen but true power rests in the hands of such a small number of people that we do have an Oligarchy and Citizen’s United has set that in stone.

The next premise is about America’s unique status in the world and its mission to ensure its form of government always exists. It speaks volumes that America presumes it has the right to dictate to the world and to superimpose its values on other countries. If one pays special attention, there is a pattern as to when and where America usurps control of the decisions of others.

Routinely America has overthrown leaders and promoted insurgencies in countries where the populations are other than white. While suggesting our goal is to preserve or promote Democracy. We’ve never had a problem supporting dictatorships or monarchies when we had favorable access to their resources or they provided a strategic alliance in their part of the world. Our status as “The World’s Policeman” is actually correct as long as we know that protect and serve only applies to America and even then primarily to the institutions primarily under the control of our white power brokers. Unfortunately, their needs also rely upon the revenue generated from the sale of arms across the world and depend on the continued instability caused by the wars they promote.

However one might feel about the first two false premises. It is the third that makes America the most dangerous, even to many of its own citizens. The conservative right is reviving the idea of American Exceptionalism and the way they use it is proof of the prejudice that is its foundation. They say our history, mission, and resources make us superior to all other nations. Efforts are underway in Texas and other places to incorporate the teaching of American Exceptionalism in history books. Ensuring the propaganda of superiority is entrenched for future generations. They feared our actual history wasn’t “patriotic enough”.

Make no mistake, when politicians speak of American Exceptionalism it is much more likely to apply to Mexico, Iraq or Iran, China, Japan, Venezuela or any country where the inhabitants are primarily brown, black or yellow. America cares deeply about the human rights abuses or terrorist attacks in France, Brussels or England but not so much in Sierra Leonne or Kenya. Israeli lives matter much more than Palestinian ones. American Exceptionalism has always been about the preservation of white interests and it is the demographic march of America into a majority-minority nation that provokes its revival.

It is American Exceptionalism which allows the country to engage in voter suppression, gerrymandering to ensure state governments are controlled by giving more power to rural white areas, disenfranchising the more “urban” large cities. We worry about the southern border dividing us from our brown neighbors while the northern Canadian border elicits no fear. American Exceptionalism is but the polite name by which those white Americans so inclined can promote their ideals.

America Has a Big Race Problem: It Can’t Acknowledge It Has One

 

Not only is America incapable of admitting to its race problems. It has developed a whole new language of discussing race in a kindler gentler way so as not to offend those who would prefer not to think of themselves as racist. America used to at least recognize it had horrible history regarding race. That too is changing as history books in some cases refer to “immigrant labor” as opposed to slavery. Bill O’Reilly, an alleged historian refers to how “well-fed” the slaves were that built the White House. Slavery itself is being rewritten as a mere labor arrangement where the “workers” were provided free housing, food, and health-care. America is finding it harder to admit it even had a race problem.

For those willing to concede America once “had” a race problem. They consider it a thing of the past. Solved by the Emancipation Proclamation, or Brown vs The Board of Education, or this Civil Rights Act or that Voting Rights Bill. America has never solved its race problem or rid itself of systemic racism. It has only given it different names.Slavery was replaced by “The Black Codes”, which was replaced by “Jim Crow” which was replaced by redistricting and gerrymandering and voter suppression.

History meanwhile has ignored or forgotten the most heinous acts committed against people of color. We all know about “Custer’s Last Stand”.How many know about the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” in Natchez, MS where 20,000 Black men, women, and children died. Imprisoned by Union troops in a concentration camp after the Civil War ended. History doesn’t mention “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma  where a thriving community was attacked on the ground and from the air. Over 35 blocks of property were burned and destroyed. Over 300 Black citizens killed and 800 hospitalized. 10,000 Black people were left homeless. Over 6,000 were arrested for up to 8 days. Despite the carnage, the official death toll was listed as “39” by the Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Orange County, Florida including Orlando, was claimed to have suffered the “largest mass shooting in American history” at the Pulse Nightclub shooting with 49 innocent people killed. As horrible as that was, it wasn’t even the worst mass shooting in the County as hundreds of Black people were killed and the rest of the Black population driven out of Ocoee, FL when some tried to vote in the 1920 Presidential Election. Ocoee stayed all-white for over 40 years afterward. America omits the inconvenient mass shootings in Elaine, Arkansas or E. St. Louis, Missouri or Mountain Meadows, Utah where Mormon’s dressed as Indians and killed 140 unarmed men and women. This is the history America doesn’t teach you when the victims are of color. It has redefined mass shooting to exclude more than a couple shooters or apparently, race-motivated murder.  It allows them to forget it had a race problem.

The problem that continues today stems from demographics. Those that wish to, “Make America Great Again” really mean to re-establish White control which is quickly fading. The reason they forcefully claim “Barack Obama is the worst President in history” is not based on empirical data. They ignore the fact he saved an economy that was hemorrhaging jobs when  he took office. He saved the auto industry. He serves in grace despite the hate leveled against him. He established health care benefits for over 20 Million additional Americans. They conspired against him on his first day in office. For those who hate him, he has one inherent flaw. He is Black.

The secret to maintaining White control, even as White’s will soon be a minority in this country, is to control the vote. The tactics now closely resemble those used after reconstruction. Impose voter restrictions, enact poll taxes (although we now give them another name). Position polling places where it will be harder for some to vote than others. Provide limited access to minority voters hoping to dissuade them with long lines. America can deny the inherent racism in policies designed to disparately affect minorities; as long as we can claim it’s for another reason. We all know the almost non-existent voter fraud isn’t the real reason for these laws. What America can’t acknowledge is, that it’s all about race.

America has long not wanted to appear racist. Now I find that it no longer cares about keeping up the facade. Putting aside for a moment the racist background of Presidential candidate Donald J Trump, and his father Fred who was once arrested at a Klan rally. His Campaign CEO Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, is proof that racism has gone mainstream. That he is racist is beyond dispute. His personal comments and those he approved of in the media outlet he controlled; showed his hatred of Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Catholics, Women and more. When Hillary Clinton discussed the specifics in a nationally televised speech, surely America would say this was too much. A man with his background cannot stand. After a couple days of being a story, the storm faded as the media preferred to chase Trump’s evolving immigration policy and Hillary’s Emails. One Trump campaign manager was lambasted for an assault on a woman, another ousted because of his close ties to Putin. These apparently were terrible offenses. A racist heading up the Trump campaign, not a problem.

The list of things America won’t address because it can’t acknowledge its race problem is long. Unequal funding for schools. Disproportionate suspensions and expulsions of minority students. Voter suppression. Mass incarceration. Inequitable policing. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America, you have a race problem and it’s time you acknowledge it.

Reflections of a New Blogger (Part Two)

 

 

Coming up on two months now and I have new observations:

 

  1. Still haven’t figured out a way to stop obsessing about the stats. I can instantly see how many people are viewing each post, whether they are exploring and reading other posts while visiting my blog, which ones connect and those that don’t. I suppose it could lead to my tailoring my posts to give the public what they want to read but instead it clarifies what I always suspected in that I pretty much write about what I feel like writing about which leads to the second point.

“Life, my ass, motherfucker! This is a business, and you ain’t too far gone to see that yet! I told you before, you’re not packin’ them in like you used to. No one digs your music but yourself.” Billy Sparks – Purple Rain

Billy Sparks

  1. I’m writing a particular thing that to this point almost nobody digs but me. It’s an online book, “The History of American (White) Exceptionalism” and I’m posting approximately one chapter a week, according to the stats, almost nobody is reading it. It’s long, it requires a lot of research, so far its about history which some people find boring. I’ve seen data about blog length and at what point readers lose interest, but I write on. I’ve learned so much about American history and the continuing narrative about how it was built literally on the backs of slave labor and indentured servants. While slavery officially ended after the Civil War, there has been something in its place ever since then to guarantee a perpetual lower class of minorities and poor whites to provide an economic advantage for the country and to enrich the already wealthy. Whether it was the Black Codes, Jim Crow or the current system of redistricting, gerrymandering and voter suppression. The system is rigged and people need to know. I will continue to write this until it’s conclusion in about 14 more chapters because I am learning so much. I’ve found that for every Civil Rights Act (of which there were many) or “Brown vs. The Board of Education” or Voting Rights Act, there has been a Supreme Court or Congress that whittled away all these rights until their impact was minimal. When I’m finished I’ll edit it and put it out in book form, even if self-published because I’m stubborn like that.
  2. People that think they’re smart, myself included, tend to think people will be swayed by their brilliance when what they’re looking for is a personal connection. I typically write about stuff and don’t always write about me hence the “Enigma” in the blog name. I’m working on that I promise. The things that have resonated the most were ones that were less facts and more feelings. I hear you.
  3. Send in the clowns. In some of my blog posts, I’m saying some fairly provocative things yet no one has disagreed… not once. On my Facebook page, I have trolls I can count on to liven up the discussion but they haven’t found their way to my blog. I encourage opposing views; it may sharpen my argument or I might even change my view. Test me in this!

That’s all for now. I’m thankful for those who’ve given tremendous amounts of support and encouragement.

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Eleven

World War 1

 

White Exceptionalism was not unique to America. During World War One, it was on full display throughout the world. It is impossible to understand the impact of the war on minorities in America without knowing the thought process of America and European countries in the rest of the world. First the world:

World War One pitted the Allies (Great Britain, France, Russia, Japan and the United States) against the Central Powers (Germany, the Ottoman Empire, and Austria-Hungary). This doesn’t include troops from Canada, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Australia and others. It also doesn’t show how European “colonies” were stripped of their resources and people to fight on both sides of the war. France for example, had a small population in comparison to Germany. It recruited over 200,000 people from its colonies to work in war industries and over 500,000 fought on its behalf along the Western Front wearing French Uniforms. France “recruited” soldiers from Madagascar, Indochina, and other West African colonies. More often recruitment meant “conscription” meaning France was able to take able-bodied men and force them to enlist in a war not their own. Between 1915 and 1916 out of 53,000 recruits from West Africa, only 7,000 were volunteers. When Britain recruited Indian troops, they only accepted the upper-level castes, propagating prejudice even as they selected those that would fight and die on their behalf.

On the other side, Germans tried to convince captured Muslim soldiers to resist their colonial masters. They were allied with the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan had asked all Muslims to fight Ottomans enemies. The “Half moon” concentration camp was designed to use propaganda efforts to sway Muslims. Their efforts mostly failed but they made a serious effort. It may have influenced in part the failure of the Ottomans to agree to the post-war accords and they continued fighting until they gained their own independence in 1923 as the state of Turkey. The service of Africans, Indians, Arabs and Polynesians in the war could be described as serving the needs of Europeans and Americans when needed. And then neglected after the war was won. In France and England, the foreign workers recruited to those countries to aid in fighting the war were now seen as competition for scarce jobs. Where once welcomed they were  discriminated against and forced into substandard housing areas. Ghettos were common in Europe long before America created theirs.

America changed greatly as a result of World War One. In civilian life, a shortage of white males created opportunities for women in factories and when they weren’t enough, the industrial north recruited Southern blacks to work in factories as well. This triggered the great migration which changed the landscape of the nation. Southern blacks were suffering the oppression of Jim Crow and having little or no ability to vote to make legal change. Comparing the job opportunities in the North and West to their problems in the South compounded with a boll weevil infestation destroying Southern crops made leaving the obvious choice for many. Black and Hispanic women were still relegated to primarily domestic work. Men however, were given access to higher paying jobs that transformed families and lives. Progress was dictated by need and not enlightenment.

On the battlefield, in April 1917, President Wilson stated, “The world must be made safe for democracy,”  framing the war effort as a crusade to secure the rights of democracy and self-determination on a global scale.

This pronouncement was met different ways in the black community. Many saw an opportunity to bring about true democracy in the US. The black press challenged America to achieve true equality at home as they fought for freedom from oppression abroad. Many black Americans saw their chance to demonstrate patriotism in the hopes it would be rewarded after the war. Others were either apathetic and had no fervor for a war they perceived to be not their own. Some like A. Phillip Randolph vocally opposed the war and encouraged blacks to resist which got them monitored by the Federal government.

Throughout the war, most blacks were relegated to segregated units. Most served in behind the lines support efforts but several units did serve at the front lines including the 369th Infantry Regiment known as “Harlem’s Hellfighters” which had 171 members receive the Legion of Merit. Corporal Freddie Stowers of the 371st Infantry Regiment was nominated for the Medal of Honor for bravery while being killed in action but his recommendation was “lost” only to be finally approved 73 years after he was killed.

When the war ended and the troops returned home the promises made to the black soldiers went mostly unfulfilled. In Russia, their equivalent of organized labor staged a revolution which American leaders greatly feared would spread. Competition for jobs not that the white men were home contributed to race riots across the country along with the growing resistance to Jim Crow by those who had fought a war to achieve freedoms abroad they didn’t find when returning home. Military service had exposed hundreds of thousands of black soldiers, even while serving in segregated units, to more accepting cultures than the place they called home.

Much change was initiated as a result of America’s participation in World War One. For all the differences in the country. The constant was that was minorities in America would be used and given opportunity when needed, and when the need was diminished so were their rights.

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Ten

“American Imperialism internationally is the same thing as White Privilege domestically. Many lawmakers know their ability to remain in office is based upon their support of white policies. This is how we get the Tea Party. This is how we get Trump. “

American Imperialism

 

“And now that the U.S. has embarked in imperial enterprises, … the Republican Party … is learning every day by valuable experiences that there are vast differences in political capacity between the races, and that it is the white man’s mission, his duty and his right, to hold the reins of political power in his own hands for the civilization of the world and the welfare of mankind.” John Burgess

“No greater calamity could now befall the United States than to have the Pacific slope fill up with a Mongolian population.” President Theodore Roosevelt

“Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. … We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.”  Charles Darwin

The origins of American Imperialism can be found in multiple places. Interestingly, the word Imperialism was rarely raised when “Americans” marched west across the North American continent as part of Manifest Destiny. Imperialism didn’t apply until we went further west into Hawaii and the Philippines. The term generally had a negative connotation when applied to non-white nations. When Japan attacked Russia it was considered a good thing and American troops extended into the Philippines purportedly to support Japan but also to make sure they didn’t venture into China. One might think America would have supported Russia but because they had mixed with the Mongolians they were no longer pure enough to command white support. Also of concern was the victory of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia which set a horrible example that there was another alternative to Capitalism and foreshadowed the possibilities that workers might gain greater control at the economic expense of the business class that would see their profits reduce. It could very well be that the fear of Communism has less to do with ideology than profitability.

In addition to the support of Capitalism, there was another philosophy that gave support to the idea that America could use its power and influence wherever it liked which was, “Social Darwinism”. This belief was not unique to America, it was unique to white nations including Britain and Western Europe that believed that evolution and natural selection had bestowed upon white people the superior capacity to lead and reason. Those with the greater capacity should see their power increase while the rest should see theirs decrease. In simpler terms. White peoples could and should do whatever they like because… white.

It is this reasoning that would allow for the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan because it would be for the greater good of white people and send a message to Russia at the same time. It is that logic that would see the West built up by the Mexicans and Chinese while paying them wages they could barely exist on under slave-like conditions. It is that type of thought that justifies voter restrictions designed to limit the voting strength of those who didn’t have the capacity to use it correctly anyway. It is why race-based redistricting and gerrymandering and even the Electoral College as opposed to the popular vote is the law of our land.

American Imperialism internationally is the same thing as White Privilege domestically. Many lawmakers know their ability to remain in office is based upon their support of white policies. This is how we get the Tea Party. This is how we get Trump. The alleged impartial arbiter is the court which overall is just as white and judge’s appointments on the Federal and Supreme Court levels depend on confirmation in the almost all-white Senate that has done a fine job of ensuring candidates hold the proper views. The whole system is designed and maintained to support that which I now call White Exceptionalism, but has existed under other names since the nation’s founding.

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Nine

” A movie was made about the destruction of Rosewood, FL. No movie has yet been made about the bombing, machine gun fire, and air attacks that destroyed “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, OK. 10,000 black people left homeless. 35 blocks destroyed by fire, 1,256 residences destroyed. Hundreds murdered and dumped into mass graves and as usual… no justice.”

The Great Migration

 

“Our Negro problem, therefore, is not of the Negro’s making. No group in our population is less responsible for its existence. But every group is responsible for its continuance…. Both races need to understand that their rights and duties are mutual and equal and their interests in the common good are idential…. There is no help or healing in apparaising past responsibilities or in present apportioning of praise or blame. The past is of value only as it aids in understanding the present; and an understanding of the facts of the problem–a magnanimous understanding by both races–is the first step toward its solution.”
― Isabel WilkersonThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

 

After the Civil War ended, slaves were freed in several states with literally nowhere to go. While there were institutions like the Freedmen’s Bureau and various Christian groups that attempted to help the newly freed, unemployed, poor former slaves with little inkling of how to make a fresh start. The newly implement “Black Codes” required that blacks be contractually employed at substandard wages, not congregate except for religious purposes without white people present, not vote, not own land in most cases and in most cases still denied a good education. Many followed the call to head North, or West in search of better opportunities. It was only later that they discovered that free blacks were as unwelcome elsewhere in America as they were at home. As always it was an economic need that caused change, in this case, World War One.

Blacks have served in some capacity in all America’s wars including on both sides in the Revolutionary War, the Indian Wars, and the Civil War. In all cases, their service was related to shortages and need as they were hardly welcome members of any force. Although there were over 300,000 black volunteers that served in World War One. Most blacks did not serve and as a result of shortages of white males in Northern industrial cities. Blacks were for the first time actively recruited to move North and receive wages often three times or more than their wages in the South. Often transportation costs were paid and the choice didn’t seem hard whether to stay under purposely slave-like conditions or go to what not long ago had been referred to as “the promised land”.

Between 1915 and 1960 between five and six million blacks moved out of the South to the North and West. The North represented a more predictable opportunity, the West the promise of more freedom and land in some cases. There were black sections within large Northern cities where there were some of the indicators of self-government although that claim would be too strong. Black churches and black schools provided the next generation of black leaders. Black cities sprung up in Kansas, New York, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Some flourished for a time until they were no longer permitted to do so.

Not only did the great migration change forever the landscape of Northern cities. The South lost millions of low paid workers not easily replaced. The South experienced higher wages and therefore lower profit margins and the South which once was the engine of the U.S. economy, was solidly entrenched in the North’s rear. In the West, white and black migrants left Arkansas and Oklahoma for the fields of California. Some Mexicans came north to work the fields to work some of what had once been Mexico but were met with the same fear and resistance then that they are today. It was World War Two that created a shortage of white males and an additional need for laborers. Over four million Mexican migrants were invited to the U.S. under the Bracero Program with the hopes they would go home after the crops were harvested. As you might imagine, many of the Mexican migrant workers had children while in America who were automatically American citizens with no obligation to go with their families to Mexico. Of course, they like other migrant workers and minorities in general, had unequal access to education, health care, were paid poor wages and couldn’t vote.

Migration did not mean acceptance. I don’t know what period Donald Trump has in mind when he says, “Make America Great Again” but there was almost no time in our whole history without race riots. That term is somewhat misleading as one might think it meant racial minorities rising up against their local communities. It more likely meant their communities turning on them. Go to any major city and the dividing line between the black and white sections of town were railroad tracks. This is not a coincidence, but by design so that the army or National Guard could have easy access to the community to quickly blockade the black sections and secondarily protect white property.

If you look at the locations of race riots since the Civil War, it shouldn’t be surprising that they migrated North as well. The first riots even before the war were in Detroit and New York as white people took out their resentment on free black men in retaliation for the implementation of the draft of white men in preparation for the Civil War. After war’s end violence was seen first in Southern cities like Memphis, New Orleans and Pulaski, TN where the KKK was founded. Called riots by those who wrote the history, they were attacks on black citizens for sometimes desiring the right to vote and sometimes protesting the murder of unarmed black citizens. Black lives didn’t matter then either.

Besides the “riots” in larger cities. There were events like the Opelousas Massacre where a dozen blacks in Opelousas, LA tried to leave the Republican Party and become Democrats. It was the Democrats and the Knights of the White Camellia met black protesters with gunfire (blacks were not allowed to own guns). Republicans estimated the number of blacks killed at between 200-300 while Democrats insist it was “only” 25-35. There was general agreement that between 30-50 white people were killed. An investigation by the Freedmen’s Bureau placed the numbed of black people killed at 5.

In 1876, almost the entire state of South Carolina was involved in unrest related to efforts of the Democratic Party to keep blacks from voting. What they couldn’t accomplish through lynching and fear tactics they accomplished by outright fraud. To be fair, race-based attacks were not limited to attacks on black people but also included the Chinese, Irish, and Greek. By naming some of the “race riots” I do a disservice by not mentioning the literally hundreds of race-based mass murders not mentioned, not even considering individual lynching.

After the great migration, riots moved to Philadelphia and Houston and E. St Louis. A movie was made about the destruction of Rosewood, FL. No movie has yet been made about the bombing, machine gun fire, and air attacks that destroyed “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, OK. 10,000 black people left homeless. 35 blocks destroyed by fire, 1,256 residences destroyed. Hundreds murdered and dumped into mass graves and as usual… no justice.

Harlem, Detroit, Harlem again. All these before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voter Rights Act of 1965, much of which has been undone by the Roberts Court. Going North and West was not the path to the promised land but the realization that for black people in America. Life would be no crystal stair.

Note: A “Black Wall Street” movie is now in production, written and directed by Dennis Delemar. Expected to be released in 2018

The Supreme Court: The Ultimate Protector of White Exceptionalism

” The Supreme Court has never met a Civil Rights Act it didn’t ultimately weaken or reject.”

 

 

In the last few days, we’ve seen a Federal Judge uphold the highly restrictive Voter ID laws in North Carolina and the Supreme Court let stand (for now) the restrictive Texas laws that were implemented the day after the Supreme Court gutted the Voter Rights Act of 1965.

I’m in the process of writing a book on-line about “The History of American (White) Exceptionalism” and what I learned that I didn’t know before was that the courts and most importantly the Supreme Court, has always done its best to protect white privilege at the expense of minorities. Congress passed a Civil Rights Act in 1866 which the Supreme Court later found unconstitutional. Another Civil Rights Act in 1871, again gutted by the Supreme Court. The Civil Rights Act of 1875… partially unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court. During 100 years of Jim Crow, the Supreme Court said nothing. They tempered Brown vs. the Board of Education with requiring implementation, “at all deliberate speed”. Meaning states could take as long as they want, which most of them did. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had no enforcement teeth but did provide the framework for the Voter Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Supreme Court gutted the preventative portions of the 1965 Act and instead will wait until several elections are influenced by restrictive laws and perhaps then take a second look. The Supreme Court has never met a Civil Rights Act it didn’t ultimately weaken or reject.

The Supreme Court gave us Citizens United allowing unlimited anonymous corporate donations to influence our elections. Reworded, white businessmen will be able to influence elections far beyond their individual votes possibly could. Add to this redistricting and gerrymandering designed to give white people greater representation and control of state government and we have a mechanism for the white power structure to continue to reign long past its demographic decline would suggest.

It’s clear that the Supreme Court does not protect the interests of all Americans. Until its membership reflects the citizenry it will continue to mainly serve those that placed them there. The Court’s reliance on precedent gives them liberty to continue to do what they have always done which is to serve white people, with corporations and the rich at the top of the hierarchy. It’s time to consider televised proceedings, term and/or age limits and a selection process where approval is not dependent on the almost all-white Senate.

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Eight

The period of Jim Crow was neither brief nor just a phase. It was how White Exceptionalism manifested itself between 1865 and 1964. Before that, it was called something else and afterwards new names have not yet stuck but it exists all the same. The Supreme Court has recently done what the Supreme Court has always done which is to weaken the rights of blacks and other minorities to preserve the power of white America despite its decreasing representation in the population.

Chapter Eight: The History of American (White) Exceptionalism

“As a southerner born after the epic events of the civil rights movement, I’ve always wondered how on earth people of good will could have conceivably lived with Jim Crow – with the daily degradations, the lynchings in plain sight, and, as the movement gathered force, with the fire hoses and the police dogs and the billy clubs”.  Jon Meacham

Jim Crow laws existed as a means to come as close to maintaining the status of blacks in America as slaves as could be done both legally, and outside the law. To be clear, Jim Crow has not been eliminated, it has merely adapted so as to be more palatable to the part of society that needs that system in place to maintain its own status. Michelle Alexander wrote a heavily acclaimed book, “The New Jim Crow” in which she describes how systemic are the policies destructive to black people.

The doors were initially opened when the Supreme Court found the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was not Constitutional. The act forbade discrimination in hotels, trains, and other public places. When it was struck down, it guaranteed discrimination could and would take place and the law would say nothing. The efforts of the current Roberts court to water down Civil Rights is but another cycle of white protectionism that the Court has always moved toward “with all deliberate speed” despite occasional lapses where it did the right thing.

Jim Crow did not begin immediately after the end of the Civil War. The end of slavery begat the Black Codes which begat Jim Crow which begat the current system which includes redistricting designed to maintain white strongholds, gerrymandering, mass incarceration and voter suppression. Throughout history as one system was outlawed it was replaced by one that accomplished as much of the same as before as it could, just sounding better. The Black Codes were simply revisions of the Slave Codes. Establishing protections for the masters and defining the lack of rights of the slaves. The Black Codes prohibited free black people from voting, compelled them to work for low wages. Black people could not bear arms and were sometimes prohibited from pursuing an education. The true intent of the Black Codes was to duplicate slavery and limit the influence of black people, particularly in areas where they were in the majority. The forces that during the war supported black people were the very enforcers of the “new” codes that maintained the old status quo. The U.S. Army enforced the rules and the Freedman’s Bureau helped implement them. The white agenda was to get the Southern economy jump started and to maintain the cheap labor that gave them an advantage in the first place. The war was all about slavery and the inherent economic advantages enjoyed by the South but was never about freeing the slaves.

The Republican Congress reacted to the Black Codes with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, ratification of the 14th Amendment and a Second Freedmen’s Bureau Bill. While blacks were still subject to all manner of persecution. There were also gains. During Reconstruction, blacks were elected to Congress and Mississippi sent a Senator to Washington as well. There was the hope of steady progress until The Compromise of 1877 which led to Federal troops withdrawing from the South. Southern states immediately began implementing new laws, designed to protect white interests by limiting black ones.

You could easily be confused by references to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which was destroyed by the Supreme Court. The Civil Rights Act of 1871 which protected blacks from the violence of the KKK  became unenforceable when the troops left in 1877 and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which was ruled partially unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. All you need to know is that for every law protecting the lives and rights of black people, the Supreme Court has been there to void them. This is as true today as in the period just after slavery. Another thing to know is that Jim Crow laws were not merely the immediate byproduct of the end of Reconstruction but were the laws that governed black people in the South until 1964 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Civil Rights Act was in some ways an attempt to restore rights granted in previous Acts that the Supreme Court ultimately wiped away. It would not be unreasonable at all to state that historically, the Supreme Court has done more to preserve white privilege than any other institution in America.

The period of Jim Crow was neither brief nor just a phase. It was how White Exceptionalism manifested itself between 1865 and 1964. Before that, it was called something else and afterwards new names have not yet stuck but it exists all the same. The Supreme Court has recently done what the Supreme Court has always done which is to weaken the rights of blacks and other minorities to preserve the power of white America despite its decreasing representation in the population.

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Seven

“Right now I’m thinking a good deal about emancipation. One of our sins was slavery, another was emancipation. It’s a paradox. In theory, emancipation was one of the glories of our democracy – and it was. But the way it was done led to tragedy, turning four million people loose with no jobs or trades or learning. And then in 1877 for a few electoral votes, just abandoning them entirely. A huge amount of pain and trouble resulted. Everybody in America is still paying for it.”

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Seven

 

“Right now I’m thinking a good deal about emancipation. One of our sins was slavery, another was emancipation. It’s a paradox. In theory, emancipation was one of the glories of our democracy – and it was. But the way it was done led to tragedy, turning four million people loose with no jobs or trades or learning. And then in 1877 for a few electoral votes, just abandoning them entirely. A huge amount of pain and trouble resulted. Everybody in America is still paying for it.”
― Shelby Foote

 Emancipation loosely translated means Freedom. In terms of how emancipation of American slaves was arrived at and implemented things are less clear. Emancipation was a strategy. Its purpose was to keep France and England out of the war and from establishing direct ties to the Confederate States of America. It was a plan to reduce the strength of the South and its economy by enticing the people that were literally feeding the Southern troops to escape to the North and even take up arms against their former masters. It was a direct attack on the economic advantage which gave the South its strength. All the moral arguments that the war was fought to free the slaves are dismissed when we note that no slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation outside of the rebellious states.

Emancipation was about politics. Lincoln had to maintain an alliance between his Republican Party  (not to be confused with the Republican Party of the present) and Democrats (again not to be confused with Democrats today) who generally had no issue with or strongly supported slavery. Once the war ended there was the real possibility that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which was only an unchallenged Executive Order, would be reversed either by the Courts or by Congress which created the push to pass the 13th Amendment. It is interesting to note that Lincoln paid reparations to Washington D.C. slave owners of $300 per freed slave for their loyalty to the Union and offered $100 for each slave emigrating outside the United States. The 13th Amendment although easily passed by the Senate had trouble in the House and only thru selective pressures and enticements were enough Democrats persuaded to either abstain or vote for the measure and allow for passage just before the end of the Civil War. After the war, Southern states had to accept the 13th Amendment as a condition of re-admittance to the Union. The Union states that had to end slavery were Kentucky and Delaware finally ending slavery and most indentured servitude in the United States. Three years later came the 14th Amendment whose purpose was to ensure the Civil Rights of the former slaves. It took another twelve years for passage of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing the right of blacks to vote. That guarantee has shown great flexibility from its passage in 1870 until the present when literacy tests and poll taxes and lynchings have been replaced by redistricting, gerrymandering, different poll taxes, unequal access to polling locations and selectively restrictive voter suppression laws. Progress was being made however and we entered the age of Reconstruction.

There were two forces conspiring to help the freed slaves once denied the right to read under penalty of death in some cases, to get an education. In 1862, prior to the war, the Morrill Act was passed granting land to colleges which they could sell to finance educational activities. The early recipients of this funding were primarily state schools although Yale once held that designation. The schools were focused on practical skills like agriculture and military science as opposed to liberal arts. In 1890, a second Morrill Act was passed aimed at the former Confederate State which required then to demonstrate that race was not a criterion for admission. It was this act which gave us some of the larger predominantly black state schools in the South like Tennessee State (formerly Tennessee A&I), Alabama A&M and Florida Agricultural & Mechanical (FAMU) as legislators preferred to establish separate black institutions rather than integrate.

Well before the war in 1846, the American Missionary Association was formed with the purpose of abolishing slavery, educating blacks, promoting Christian values and promoting racial equality. They began forming camps in the South even prior to the war which included teachers and after war’s end formed over 500 schools and colleges for the freedmen including Fisk University, Hampton Institute, Lemoyne-Owen College, Dillard University and Howard University. The AMA has been mostly absorbed by the United Church of Christ which maintains some ties to those institutions until today.

On the political front. After the war, Lincoln was interested in reintegrating the South into the Union as quickly as possible. His moderate view would have left the South much as it was before the war but it was radical Republicans who insisted on rights for the freedmen and harsher punishments for the slave-holders and Confederate leaders. Lincoln’s assassination led to the ascension of Andrew Johnson who continued Lincoln’s moderate policies. The next Congressional elections saw a takeover by the radical Republicans (think of the Tea Party if they were motivated for good) who took over policy, removed former Confederates from power and enfranchised the freedmen. They were backed up by the U.S. Army and the Freedmen’s Bureau to assist the freedmen with their assimilation. Thousands of northerner’s, including teachers and missionaries, came South to assist in the effort. Named “carpetbaggers” they soon found the resistance to change from their Southern neighbors. Meanwhile, Congress passed bills to lengthen the term of the Freedmen’s Bureau and establish Civil Rights which Andrew Johnson vetoed. Congress overrode the veto making the bills law. They also impeached Johnson and the vote to remove him failed by one vote in the Senate. The relationship between the President and Congress was never repaired.

The next President, Ulysses Grant was in favor of the radical reconstruction policies and real change was being made. Most of the Confederate governments in the CFA states were dissolved and new districts formed and elections held. Many of these districts had majority black populations and in alliance with the Republican Party, there were numerous blacks elected to the House and Mississippi was the first state to elect a black Senator to represent them. In the North, support for reconstruction was dwindling as they thought the war over and the slaves free. In the South, the backlash was building and we saw significant growth of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and implementation of literacy tests, poll taxes and violence as a way to limit the power of the black vote to influence elections. Then came the Presidential Election of 1876.

Think Bush v. Gore on steroids. Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York won the popular election and over 50% of the vote. There was a dispute however in the Electoral College which Tilden led 184 to 165 over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes with 20 disputed outstanding votes. In three Southern states, both parties claimed their candidate had won. After negotiations between Republican and Democratic factions, all 20 outstanding votes were awarded to Hayes giving him the Electoral College victory and the Presidency by a single vote. You might ask why Democrats would cede the Presidency given they had the clear advantage of having the better claim having won the popular vote? It’s because they got perhaps more in negotiation than they could ever have gotten thru Congress. In the Compromise of 1877, all Federal troops were removed from the South with President Hayes completing the process shortly after the election. The South was given economic assistance to pick itself back up from the war and sympathetic Northerners soon made their way back home with no military support. Black voters were discouraged by a number of means up to and including violence. Black legislators felt betrayed and in the next elections they were relegated to things of the past. Democrats took control of the South. This would last until the 1960’s when with the passage of The Civil Rights Act of 1965, sent whites scurrying to the Republican Party and as Lyndon Johnson famously quoted about hid Democratic Party, “We have lost the South for a generation”. Thus began the transformation of the Republican Party from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Trump and Cruz.

Just as Emancipation was in reality a matter of practicality and expediency. The era of black political freedom was negotiated away when convenient. For every law passed to provide rights, another was passed to dilute them. America has always been about the needs of powerful white men who as the victors were allowed to write the history to their own liking.

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Six

“Lincoln did everything he could to avoid war. He had no intention of invading the South, nor did he intend to end slavery where it existed. He ignored the fact that the South had confiscated gold bullion from mints in Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana. His one sticking point was that the Union would cede no further Federal lands to the South and would fight to defend them (except when they didn’t). On April 12, 1861, the Union garrison holding Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate forces and the war was on in earnest.”

The History of American (White) Exceptionalism: Chapter Six

 

There are many purported reasons, typically advanced by white Southerners as to why the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. When you examine any of them, it comes down to slavery directly or the economic advantages possessed in the South because of guess what??? Slavery!

One of the primary causes clung to is State’s Rights. In an argument initially made by South Carolina, every state had the right to secede from the Union. It seems only southern states had any interest in breaking away and many of them were on the record saying what their reasons were. It came down to their right to keep slaves to keep ahead of the North whose industrialization had not yet caught up to the South’s cheap labor.  The South wanted the ability to sell its cotton-based goods directly to Europe whereas the North imposed tariffs to make up for their more expensive production costs. The other item which concerned southern states was the expansion west and the ability for new states to have slaves. They saw a future where Congress would be controlled by non-slave states and the Presidency as well. In their eyes, they would always be under the thumb of the North (and West) and unable to reap the benefits of their low-cost goods, a direct result of slave labor.

In addition to State’s Rights, there was Sectionalism referring to the different economies of the North and South but the basis of the South’s economic system was slavery so no discussion of Sectionalism can discount it. Protectionism has its fans, the claim is that the South bristled under tariff’s which protected the fledgling northern industries, unable to compete favorably yet against primarily the more established European nations. This theory cannot stand exclusive of slavery because again slavery is the entire basis for the South’s economic advantage. There can be no question that the final blow was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President. He was a Northerner who was elected with no Southern support and was the proof some Southern leaders needed that they would be part of a Union that would forever control them. On Dec 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede. In the next two months, they were followed by Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana. On Feb 4, 1861, they formed the Confederate States of America while lame duck President Buchanan did nothing. President Lincoln assumed office on March 4, 1861, inheriting a divided Union. By 1863, there were 11 Confederate states and they also claimed Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma which were Union states permitting slavery.

Lincoln did everything he could to avoid war. He had no intention of invading the South, nor did he intend to end slavery where it existed. He ignored the fact that the South had confiscated gold bullion from mints in Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana. His one sticking point was that the Union would cede no further Federal lands to the South and would fight to defend them (except when they didn’t). On April 12, 1861, the Union garrison holding Fort Sumter was attacked by Confederate forces and the war was on in earnest.

Both sides started recruiting for war. Each initially raised hundreds of thousands of troops. The North highly underestimated the capacity of the South to wage war and initially told recruits that their term of service would be about 90 days. The South had perhaps more enthusiastic recruits, many who believed they were fighting for honor and their “way of life”. Southern leaders felt they would soon be able to complete negotiations to sell their goods directly to Europe, avoiding the tariff’s that had previously plagued them. In this instance, they were outsmarted by the North.

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued an executive order called The Emancipation Proclamation. It is important to note what that proclamation was not as much as what it was. It freed some slaves, those in ten of the eleven Confederate States (excluding Tennessee). It did not free the slaves in the Union states permitting slavery and in all provisionally freed about 75% of slaves, provided they could reach Union safe haven. It served another purpose as it allowed the North to tell Europe that is was fighting to eliminate slavery, making it hard for them politically to reach trade agreements with the Confederate States of America. It created a good vs. evil narrative which eventually kept any European nation from ever reaching an agreement with the South. The Emancipation Proclamation was never challenged in court and ultimately most of its provisions were contained in the 13th Amendment which Lincoln pushed for and was ratified by the states on December 6, 1865, just after the war’s end. This included ratification by some of the former slave states, more or less as a condition of rejoining the Union. This technically freed all the nations slaves although the majority of slaves continued to work for the same plantations under the same owners with no real protections or rights under the law. The slave codes had now been replaced by the Black Codes and one could make the case that while the name had changed. Conditions for many were exactly the same. One thing that did change under the 13th Amendment was the elimination of the three-fifth’s of a person definition of slaves in the Constitution which ironically gave the South more congressional seats and theoretically more political power than they had before the war once black people were counted as whole persons.

After the Civil War, blacks had been freed and now had the right to vote. Steps were immediately taken then, much in the same way as current redistricting plans, gerrymandering and voter suppression laws are now intended to restrict minority voting. Although over 1,000,000 Americans died in the war. The thing they fought about and in some cases even for, has never been resolved. The one thing not in dispute is that the needs of white people superseded those of black at every turn. Slavery was only abolished as a means to prevent the intervention of England and France. Even then it was initially only in the slave states that left the Union. Once the war was over, substitute slavery was implemented and much of what went on before still remained. The Civil War was not fought to free the slaves but to manage the South and its economy, freeing the slaves was a late arrived at means to an end.