Saturday, April 18, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2015, April 18: White racism as a method of domination

Paul Krugman has been saying for a while that these days, the way to get new ideas in economics is to read old books. He uses that to refer to the fact that basic Keynesian macroeconomics, which was founded on a solid theoretical and empirical basis, was abandoned by many policymakers, respectable economists and financial commentators during the ascendancy of neoliberalism.

And the neglect of those old books and their still-valid ideas inflicted a terrible toll in the real world when applied to economic policy in the wake of the crash of 2007-8.

It may not be the same with history. But sometimes it is. This article is an example: William Best Hesseltine, Some New Aspects of the Pro-Slavery Argument, The Journal of Negro History 21:1 (Jan 1936). Even during that period when a neo-Confederate Lost Cause/Gone With the Wind viewpoint was the dominant narrative from this history profession to textbooks to public memory ceremonies to popular culture, there were still people telling a realistic story about the Civil War and its implication.

Hesseltine's article is an example of this. He talks about the conscious usage of white racism as a means of social control in a more blunt way that we normally see it stated:

The pro-slavery argument carried but little promise to the lower classes, yet it sufficed to draw a line of demarkation between the exploited groups of the South. Playing upon the race prejudice which the argument inculcated, the planter aristocrat and his Bourbon successor have been able to remain in control. When the Civil War began, the non-slaveholders of the South did battle to maintain the Southern system of life. Following the war, there was imminent danger that the lower orders might forget race and unite, but the Ku Klux Klan saved the day for the Bourbons. In the nineties, the Populist movement brought whites and blacks of the oppressed classes together, but again the heritage of the pro-slavery argument brought division and eventuated in new constitutions which effectually disfranchised both the Negroes and their potential allies among the poor whites. Occasional lynchings have sufficed to keep burning the flames first kindled by the pro-slavery argument. Only in recent months has depression-born necessity brought tenant farmers of both races to stand shoulder to shoulder against their oppressors. For more than a century, the pro-slavery argument has enabled the planting aristocrats to dominate Southern society.
Now, those are some broad generalizations about complex processes, of course. But it's also an accurate broad description.

Most of his article is about developments in proslavery arguments during slavery times. As he explains, the theory of racism that the planter class used to justify slavery was also used in modified form, without the slavery part, to justify the suppression of African-American citizens after the war.

In addition to combating Northern Abolitionists, the active pro-slavery arguments were always also consciously directed at nonslaveholding whites of the South:

Despite this [contemptuous] attitude [of planters] toward the lower classes, the planters were obliged to appeal to them in the pro-slavery argument. The primary purpose of this exposition was to convince the non-slaveholding whites of the superiority of white over Negro blood. An analysis of the literature of the Southern "defense" will indicate that the fundamental premise of the slaveholders was that Negroes were inferior to whites. Throughout the era of the sectional conflict ministers of the Southern churches searched the Scriptures and compared Hebrew texts to show that God had made the Negroes a subordinate race and ordained them for slavery. In addition, a pseudo-anthropology demonstrated the biological inferiority of the Negro race. In the field of politics, the planters abandoned the principles of democracy, and frankly proclaimed that the Declaration of Independence was designed for white men alone.
Racism, either theoretical or practical, is not compatible with democracy. Even without the institutional of chattel slavery.

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