Made possible by Europe’s advantages in military and social technology, the slavery started by Europeans in the fifteenth century was different, because it became the enslavement of one race by another.
(Excerpt from Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen)
White supremacy and racism were the causes, rather than the symptoms, of slavery in our country. The enslavement of Africans was justified, in part, because of the presumed superiority of whiteness. In short, without racism, we have no slavery or defense of its existence. In the past ten days, we’ve had memes and discussions of our racist history popping up everywhere, and all too often, they’re either incomplete, distorted by bias, or inaccurate. Today I’m going to let some of these historical figures speak for themselves. This post is subject to my own bias by virtue of which figures and quotes I choose to highlight, but I will try to include a representative sampling.
“The toes of Miss Liberty found a home on American soil.”
The comments of Stephen Miller and the restrictive immigration standards of the proposed RAISE Act have caused me to think a lot about immigration lately. I’m in the privileged position as a white woman to have been able to trace my family tree back many generations; in some cases, that translates to many centuries too. I am 100% a child of immigrants, and of the seven lines I’ve been able to trace back beyond my maternal and paternal great-grandparents, only two lines spoke English as their primary language. It troubles me deeply that people, especially those in my own family, see no problem with a condition that would require English-language ability before allowing immigration. The claim that learning English is now more accessible than it was in my great-grandparents’ day falls short for me, because it presumes access to a type of education that is still more available for the privileged, the white, and the western European. But then, I suppose that’s the point.
Today, I’m taking a break from our platform, healthcare legislation, and all things Twitter. This choice is not because our resistance is over or because we can take our eyes off the ball, but because things in DC are still very fluid, making “current events” hard to cover, especially since I write these posts a day in advance. Instead, I’m asking you to join me in exploring newspaper stories from 31 July 1917; my commentary will be minimal since the stories speak for themselves. This post was prompted by this tweet from last week, and my awareness of how much of our history is lost or forgotten.
“May the foundation of our new constitution, be justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or tempests will overthrow it.” — Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, July 13, 1776
“Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants?” — Benjamin Rush
“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.” — Frederick Douglass
“Let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.” — Thomas Jefferson
President Obama travels to the College of Charleston in South Carolina to deliver a eulogy for Reverend Clement Pinckney and 8 other congregation members of Emanuel AME who were killed on June 17, 2015. June 26, 2015.
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah — rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart — and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church.
That’s what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate. When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel — a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes.
On the Confederate flag and its removal:
For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. […]
For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.
On the work ahead:
… it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual — that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change — that’s how we lose our way again.
Sisters and probably my maternal 2x great aunts; one of those unsolved genealogical mysteries.
Be forewarned; rambling, stream-of-consciousness post ahead…
The most recent pronouncement by 45* (about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War) once again illustrates his complete lack of historical knowledge, and coming as it did on the heels of an unexpected interaction in my own life, it has me again thinking about grand themes like, “What is history?” and “What is family?” On Saturday, I received a Facebook friend request from someone I’ve never met; I did, however, recognize the name, because he shares the name of the husband of a great aunt (both of whom I also never met). Before accepting his request, I perused his FB page (why on earth do people not keep their pages locked down?) and was able to immediately discern that he is a full-blown Republican and Hillary hater. I’m not certain he is a T***p supporter, but he certainly isn’t shy about broadcasting his disdain for Dems. Given that I’ve limited my interaction with my own sister because of her vote for the Orange Shitgibbon, I had to think awhile on whether to accept this friend request. I finally did and don’t regret it; he’s a second cousin who searched for me on the recommendation of another recently-discovered second cousin. We had an amiable and lengthy chat, and signed off with the promise to stay in touch.
Today’s post is a response to two different, but converging, prompts. First, as I mentioned in a comment yesterday, is my reading of Eric Foner’s Reconstruction Updated Edition: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, a massive history (that I’m less than one-third of the way through) of an era that continues to reverberate today. The second is the continuing criticism by Sen. Sanders of the Democratic Party, and the inevitable response on Twitter by Bros who continue to argue for “economics uber Alles.” The inability to recognize and address white supremacy with any coherence is an issue for more than just white supremacists; it becomes a problem for those of us who understand that the base of the Democratic Party is women and persons of color. In general, the Base (and allies) understand the problems associated with patriarchy and white supremacy, because it is our lived experience. We further understand that systems of prejudice don’t go away with a wave of the economic wand, and our history demonstrates that. The thoroughly ahistorical arguments of BoBers are troubling, but I am convinced that for some, the absence of historically-grounded awareness is a matter of ignorance, rather than malice. Today’s post is a compilation of quotes from Foner’s book (whether his own words or drawn from commenters during Reconstruction) (with a few tweets to add “color.”)
Once again, I’m continuing with my theme of historical political cartoons and what they can show us about our history, taught and untaught. This week, I’m focusing on unions and made the discovery that during the Gilded Age and beyond, the unions had a more mixed perception than I anticipated. There was still suspicion and distrust, largely because of the associations made between socialism and violent anarchists. Strikes were often portrayed as anti-American. However, the oligarchs of the time were increasingly viewed as a threat, and unions were often represented as a bulwark against them. Additionally, there was a rising independent, alternative (often socialist or union) media with their own political cartoons, which often countered that found in the general circulation media. (Socialist Newspapers by Circulation) Today, union membership is dropping just as their popularity is increasing (Unions More Popular), and how effectively the unions and voters respond to the anti-union efforts will determine their future.
I have to admit that preparing last week’s post on immigration depressed the hell out of me. When I do these posts, my goal is to take an unblinking look at our history, but with the awareness that while the “wars” may not have been won, battles have. While looking at our past attitudes on immigration, I had a hard time seeing our progress. So this week, I wanted something a bit more uplifting. One would think that imperialism would be the last topic I would choose, but this is one area where, as individuals, we’ve become marginally more aware, more sensitive, and occasionally more cautious. Whether or what we’ve learned as a country is an open question.
A postcard from about 1910; imagine receiving this in the mail!
I’ve decided to continue the exploration of the unspoken history of our country as seen through political cartoons and messaging. I’m not doing this as an exercise in hopelessness. It’s easy to fall into that trap when seeing so many of the same themes over and over. But along with the recurring issues, I see the battles that have been won, even when the “war” is ongoing. For me, remembering the past gives me courage to fight for our future. I hope it will do the same for our Village.
This week, I wanted to focus on the misogyny in our history, but the topic was so broad, it became unmanageable. Since I have no desire to do a dissertation, I chose the suffrage movement as the exemplar of the patriarchy in our midst. The images today are mostly postcards from the early 1900s, as well as political cartoons.