Friday, July 3, 2015

Types of Racism: Hate

I feel a little like I shouldn't wade into the whole issue of racism on this blog.  After all, I'm not terribly well-schooled in the whole thing.  But this seems to be the summer when both Canada and the USA have to deal with racism, because of the shootings in South Carolina and the report on the Residential School system. But one particular element has occurred to me that none of the coverage I've seen of these events. And it is such an important issue that I think it needs to be carefully isolated and spelled out in clear language for all to see.

Some folks might wonder what this has to do with Daoism.  Well, not much, per ce. But I follow Daoism as a school of practical philosophy, not as a revealed religion. The difference is that I see the teachings of books like the Laozi, the Zhuangzi, the Liezi, and so on as important "rules of thumb" in how to live our lives. And, I think that they ground their understanding on the basis of both reason and experience, which connects them to the broader tradition of philosophy as-a-whole. And as someone who has been trained in that tradition, I feel free to use my training to understand the world around me. This blog is an attempt to share that process with the general public.  These thoughts have been in my mind recently, so I am sharing them with the World Wide Web.


We need to remember that there are different types of racism.  As near as I can tell, there is racism based on hate, racism based on fear, racism based on indifference and mental laziness, and, racism based on opportunism. It's important to understand the difference between them, because if we mash them all together we miss the opportunity to understand exactly what is fueling a specific behavior. And if we raise a fuss about one particular type of racism when what we are facing is another, we run the risk of discrediting the whole exercise of opposing it. This raises the credibility of those who are pushing the racist narrative and sets back the project of changing society.

The first type of racism is based on what seems to be a crazed, blind hatred of people who have a different skin color, etc.  It manifests itself in weird, collective behavior.  Check out this short video from the BBC.

There are a few things that I'd like to point out from this short video.  First of all, this wasn't the act of a small group of individuals like the KKK or Skin Heads, done in a dark alley.  Instead, it was done in broad daylight in front of all the authorities and thousands of citizens. What this means is that the police, judges, the Mayor and Council, the Congressman, etc, all knew what had happened and who participated in the event. This was a collective act by the white citizens of that community. Nor was it a brief act of collective insanity which people felt guilty about after the fact. If that had been the case, why were people selling postcards and saving pictures in scrap books for future generations to ponder over?

So the first thing to understand and ponder is the fact that lynchings were not the act of a small group of ignorant, back country rednecks who got all "liquored-up" and then went out to murder someone. Instead, it was a conspiracy that involved a very large number of citizens and involved the leading lights of the community who if they didn't actively conspire to commit murder were willing to sit passively by and let it happen.

It's important to understand that this took place in a specific context, which is the "Jim Crow" South.  The phrase "Jim Crow" is a code word for black people which means that the "Jim Crow laws" were, in effect, the "anti-negro laws".  Take a look at this clip from the movie "Dumbo". It works on the trope that black people are "crows".  Remember that at the time that this movie was made, the only way that a person of color could be in show business is if they played up to the stereotype.  So, that meant that in an animated film with characters who were animals, the crows had to be black.

(Incidentally, there is a caption under this clip that says "PLZ NO COMMENTS ABOUT RACISM CUZ ITS NOT!!"  Alas, I beg to differ. But why I disagree is the subject of this post.)

The point of Jim Crow was to deny people of color any influence in society and to ensure that they remained a compliant work force. This was necessary because in a post-civil war era it was impossible to use simple brute force to get them to work as poorly paid field hands. And the rural South's economy was based on exploiting this labor to produce cotton. This second class status was enforced by a broad range of laws that constantly reminded blacks that they were second class people.

Who were only allowed to work at certain jobs

And who were considered dirty and "unclean". These laws conspired to force blacks to only work at a very small number of very menial jobs---primarily agricultural in nature.  Basically, blacks were only fit for planting, weeding, and picking cotton, tobacco, and so on.

The history of cotton production is interesting because it seems to have been the foundation of the development of both world wide capitalism and the industrial revolution.  Take a look at this quote from an "Atlantic" excerpt of the book "Empire of Cotton".

Slavery stood at the center of the most dynamic and far-reaching production complex in human history. Too often, we prefer to erase the realities of slavery, expropriation, and colonialism from the history of capitalism, craving a nobler, cleaner capitalism. Nineteenth-century observers, in contrast, were cognizant of cotton's role in reshaping the world. Herman Merivale, British colonial bureaucrat, noted that Manchester’s and Liverpool’s “opulence is as really owing to the toil and suffering of the negro, as if his hands had excavated their docks and fabricated their steam-engines.” Capital accumulation in peripheral commodity production, according to Merivale, was necessary for metropolitan economic expansion, and access to labor, if necessary by coercion, was a precondition for turning abundant lands into productive suppliers of raw materials.

Now one big problem with attempts to keep black people compliant workers is that this only serves a very small percentage of the white population.  If you own a large cotton plantation, it is a good thing.  But if you are a poor white trying to make a living on your own small plot or as a working man, it is a terrible thing to have a huge population of officially designated "subhumans" who are willing to do the same work as you for starvation wages. Blacks and poor whites have real, objective interests in common. So the big task of the white ownership class was to get poor whites to think that it was in their best interests to keep the black population "in their place", even though a moment's reflection will show that it clearly isn't.

The solution was to create stereotypes that could whip the whites into frenzies of hate. The way this was done through a massive campaign created by wealthy whites to convince poor whites that blacks were subhuman brutes that were inherently stupid, over-sexed, and incapable of managing their own affairs. This propaganda effort manifested itself in a large number of ways and continues to this day. One element that was tremendously successful was the 1915 silent film Birth of a Nation, which portrayed the creation of the Ku Klux Klan as a popular revolt against the excesses of negro emancipation after the Civil War.  Take a look at a few of the following scenes from that film that show blacks as being subhumans.

Blacks are incapable of participating in a democratic society.

They are dangerously over-sexed.

When given weapons and authority, they act like total brutes.

Jesus himself supports the Southern cause.  (Please note that heaven has no blacks present, but there are lots and lots of Confederate officers on hand---. Also note that there are no real blacks in the movie, every black part is played by a white in "black-face" makeup.)

One of the insidious things about propaganda is that if is successful enough, it becomes self-replicating. People believe it to the point where they start furthering the ideas without even understanding that they are creating propaganda at all. This makes it tremendously difficult to begin to find out where it began and who was behind it. I won't try to identify where this river of racist crap began, but stopping it once it takes on a life of its own is a tremendously difficult task. And the racist tropes that a century of propaganda in the form of books, plays, (the movie "birth of a nation" was based on a tremendously popular novel titled The Klansman, which had been made in plays and toured the South for years) created a wave of hate aimed against blacks that fueled the sorts of lynch mob mentality that resulted in the events mentioned in the first clip I posted.

This is exactly the sort of thing that seems to have fueled Dylann Roof, the person who killed the nine people in the church in South Carolina, only instead of being whipped into a frenzy by a silent film, he seems to have been goaded into action through what he'd read on the Internet.  In particular, people are pointing towards a group called the "Council of Conservative Citizens", which grew out of the old Citizen Councils of America, which in turn was an attempt to create a more sophisticated face of Southern Racism to replace the "uncouth" KKK.  (The acronym of the Council is the "CCC", replaces the "KKK"----hmmm.)
So we start with the Ku Klux Klan 

Which morphs into the Citizens Councils of America

Which becomes the Council of Conservative Citizens

And just as the movie, "Birth of a Nation" was based on a book titled The Klansman, which was propaganda that resulted in the lynchings mentioned in the first part of this blog post, so the Council of Conservative Citizens has been promoting a book titled White Girl Bleed a Lot.  It promotes the idea that black on white crime is totally out of control.  And like the clips that I showed from "Birth of a Nation" that showed how the tropes of black inhumanity to our grandparents generation, so YouTube clips are being used nowadays to whip people into a frenzy.

Dylann Roof---the latest in a line of racist killers
And the result is a pretty screwed-up young white guy walking into a church and killing nine people that he knows absolutely nothing at all about.  

Please note, that there has been progress.  Dylann Roof was an individual who acted on his own. The nine people killed were murdered in secret and the police hunted Roof down and arrested him. In the old South they would have been lynched in the town square, watched by thousands of people, the local police and elected officials would have been there as either active participants or passive observers. And, people would have felt totally at ease to take photographic evidence which they could sell as souvenirs. It is hard to feel that progress has been made, but it has.


I plan on my next post dealing with fear racism.

1 comment:

lkeke35 said...

Very well thought out break down of the different kinds of racism. I think it's important to parse this subject in order to successfully fight against it. Racism is insidious. It takes many forms and the display of it changes from decade to decade, even if the underlying motivation doesn't.