Monday, October 14, 2013

Concern troll or defender of segregation? Sometimes it's hard to decide. Sometimes not.

Being a native Mississippian, I'm very familiar with anti-Southern stereotypes. Most of them fairly harmless, I'd have to say.

However, the association of white Southerners with white racism isn't quite so harmless. But neither is it easy to self-righteously dismiss if you know anything about the history of segregation in the South. Current and former Southerners can complain all we might want about the unfairness of it. But the attitudes and practices of white supremacy were and are still stronger in the South than in other states, with perhaps Arizona and Alaska as dishonorable exceptions.

So it's reasonable for Southern whites to minimize irrational stereotypes - pretty much by definition. But in any given case, we have to think about the defender's ends in doing so.

Karen Cox takes on the task in Southern progressives could learn a lesson from Julia Sugarbaker Pop South 10/11/2013. She references an outstanding moment from the TV series Designing Women, in which outspoken character Julia Sugarbaker in which "he lashed out at a writer from the New York Times for printing an article about dirt eating in the South."

I enjoyed that particular moment, because I've seen those references to dirt eating and thought they were pretty strange. I've encountered some weird things in the South. But never that!

Still, Cox is fretting about the many recent references to the prominent role of Southern Republicans in the Tea Party and in the current Republican effort to, uh, crash the world economy by forcing the United States into default so they can have an excuse to impeach President Obama:

Sometimes I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness when I write essays in an effort to counter some of negative images of the South that permeate popular culture or to contest the drivel that national journalists churn up in order to take swipes at a region they've never visited, much less know.

With the government shutdown, writers from The Nation to Salon to the Washington Post have all pointed their fingers at the South, especially conservative Republicans from the region, the most intransigent of which are members of the Tea Party caucus. Here, they say, the Civil War has not ended. Here, they say, are nothing but a bunch of "Neo-Confederates." I'm not suggesting that these journalists don’t have a point to make, but in making it, they are using a fairly broad brush that hits me and other southern progressives like a slap in the face.
That link in the original is to a Wikipedia entry on the Tea Party.

I posted a comment there saying that it's pretty much impossible to know without more specific references to which particular articles in The Nation and Salon she is objecting. Or why. The star pundits on TV may not chat about it regularly, but “neo-Confederate” ideology is a significant force in Republican Party politics today. Prominent Republicans politicians like Rick Perry have been talking up ideas about nullification of federal laws. The Southern states are the most secure strongholds for the Republican Party today, just as they were during the Solid South period for the Democrats. It would be remarkable if observers of politics were not talking about those facts of American politics today.

Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby is still maintaining his liberal concern troll stance, though he wore it pretty thin years ago.

From reading his blog, I doubt that he has any criterion by which one could legitimately say that someone was a white racist or practicing or espousing white racism. If someone got in the news for saying, "Ah'm a white racist and ah'm proud of it," I'm not sure even that were be enough for the Howler to accept the person's own self-characterization. At best, he would defer drawing judgment on the speaker's statement, and explain that some mean liberal was showing their own bigotry by criticizing him.

Joan Walsh has been writing quite a bit recently about white racism in American politics, including numerous articles in Salon and in her partially autobiographical book, What's the Matter with White People?: Finding Our Way in the Next America (2012, with a new introduction to the 2013 paperback edition). Somerby has been addressing particular articles and media appearances by her, saying of oneof her recent TV appearance, "On Hardball, we liberals were being trained in the hate that dare not speak its own name. It's the hate that says the other guy hates, the hate that says it hates to hate." (GONNA STUDY WAR LOTS MORE: Dr. King tries a little tenderness! The Daily Howler 10/11/2013)

Addressing white racism, white racial hatred against blacks and Latinos, and its political implications, is "hate" to Somerby. The kind of hate expressed by the Tea Party loudmouths doesn't seem to generate much concern on his part.

What inspired this comment by Somerby was a comment on the Tea Party by Walsh, "But you know, you asked what these people believe in. I wanted to be mean and say 'secession.' I mean, there are these people who have been crusading against the government going that far back." Somerby found this cause for scorn, directed at her, "She wanted to be mean and say those things. But she made herself stop!" And he concluded the comment quoted above about "the hate that says it hates to hate" this way, "The hate that says it bit its tongue a moment ago, even as it blurts now."

Joan's comment, of course, was a very common verbal device to somewhat soften the pointed criticism, much like a Southerner might use "bless his heart." As in, "He's a nice guy and as sweet as he can be, but he's dumb as a rock, bless his heart!" Somerby took it as evidence of sinister bile spilling out of her Joan's mouth.

And he proceeds to quote several passages from Martin Luther King, Jr., using them as evidence of the alleged hatefulness of Joan Walsh. This is a common tactic of the more literate Republicans today's, quoting MLK as though he were someone who would have lay down and died rather than challenge white racism or white racists directly. The boundary between Somerby's liberal concern troll act, especially when it comes to white racism in America, is near-impossible to distinguish from conservative polemics.

What do the two pieces quoted here have in common? Both make a vague defense of the Tea Party against those who criticize them for their ideological affinity for segregationism and white supremacist ideology, an ideology with a long and continuing history in the United States. I've talked here at this about some of the continuities between the "massive resistance" of white segregationists to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. And also about the long-lasting influence of pre-civil war Calhounian political thinking on present conflicts. Both Cox and Somerby in those criticize others for making similar comparisons, without bothering to engage with the substance of their arguments.

White racism isn't the only element of the hard right ideology of today's Republican Party. Nor was it for the Southern "massive resistance" activists of earlier decades, for that matter. But it is a major factor. And people who care about democracy have to pay attention to it. If some white Southerners get their feelings hurt by hearing people make reference to anti-democratic elements in the South's past, well, too bad. If some white people feel persecuted by hearing white racists criticized as white racists, what else is new?

No one should through around charges of racism carelessly. In my own limited experience, many white people are very willing to through charges of racism at those people. How to talk about race and politics without careless or thoughtless stereotyping can be a challenge. But I would point to Joan Walsh's What's the Matter with White People? as a good example of how to do that.

I wonder what Somerby would do with Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher's post America Needs a White Republican President, at his JoeforAmerica website (10/10/2013). Is this famous Real American supporter of John "the Bold Maverick" McCain and Sarah "the White Princess" Palin from 2008 being racist in this post?

At the end of the post, we get "Read the rest at" with a link that takes us to a longer version of the same post, this one signed by Kevin Jackson, an African-American whose views on race apparently align closely with friends of white supremacy like Glenn Beck.

I've got an idea how the fictional Julia Sugarbaker would deal with that.

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