Monday, April 13, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 13: ideology of the non-ending white backlash (2 of 2)

I'm continuing here with looking some vintage "white backlash" arguments from Jim Sleeper's 1990 book The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York.

Like today's FOX News and hate radio talk about race-related issues, the villains of Sleeper's piece are consistently the Bad Negroes and Mean Libruls.

Here are some of the still-familiar tropes that he enunciates.

From the “Rights and Reciprocity” chapter:

As their demands [those of the “radical” activists] for immediate school and neighborhood integration engendered fierce resistance, they were drawn into courtroom battles over the law’s ability to shape American society in defiance of the popular will. (p. 159)
This is a favorite segregationist argument, that the evil integrationist Left is going to court to make sure the law and the Constitution is enforced are being anti-democratic in doing so.

Whether the conservative movement that is now also clearly segregationist actually believes in judicial restraint and opposes activist judgments can be reflected upon in light of several major Supreme Court cases such as Bush v. Gore (2000), Citizens United (2010), and Hobby Lobby (2014).

From the “Black Militants’ New End Game” chapter:

What really bothered me was that so many black ministers and civil rights movement veterans had gone along with these obvious offenses against the most elementary principles of morality and good political organizing. (p. 185)
Short version: those Bad Negroes just have no morals and are totally dishonest in politics.

That quote comes from Sleeper's account of the Howard Beach controversy over a racial incident in 1986., the History Channel’s website, summarizes the incident this way (n/d; accessed 04/09/2015):

On this day [December 20] in 1986, three black men are attacked by a group of white teenagers yelling racial slurs in Howard Beach, a predominately white, middle-class, Italian-American neighborhood in Queens, New York. Earlier that night, the men were driving from Brooklyn to Queens, when their car broke down near Howard Beach. They walked several miles to a pizza parlor in Howard Beach, where they asked to use a phone to call for assistance. After being told there was no phone available, they ordered some pizza. When the men left the pizzeria, they were confronted by the gang of teens. One of the men, Michael Griffith, 23, was chased into traffic on the Belt Parkway and died after being hit by a car. A second man, Cedric Sandiford, was severely beaten, while the third man, Timothy Grimes, outran the assailants and escaped without serious injury.

The attack stoked racial tensions in New York City and garnered national headlines. The two surviving victims, distrustful of police in Queens who they believed were treating them like perpetrators, refused to cooperate further with investigators and the district attorney’s office. Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton led a large group of demonstrators on a protest march through Howard Beach and was met by a smaller band of counter-demonstrators who shouted abuse. Sharpton and other black leaders believed the Queens District Attorney’s office was mishandling the case and called for the appointment of a special state prosecutor. New York Governor Mario Cuomo named Charles Hynes to the position. Sharpton was later accused of using the case to further his own political agenda and increase his national profile. In December 1987, after 12 days of jury deliberations, three teens were convicted of manslaughter in the death of Griffith.
As we’ve seen more recently in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin and Darren Wilson/Michael Brown cases, passions can run high and precise details on the incident in question may be disputed. And humans being who we are, pure pursuit of Truth and Justice may not be driving everyone involved. But Sleeper structures his account in such a way as to leave the impression that African-American activists concerned with the case were largely acting in cynical bad faith.

On the case, see also:

Joseph Friend, Youth Gets 5 to 15 Years For Howard Beach Attack New York Times 02/12/1988

Howard Beach; Not So Simple As A Lynching New York Times 12/28/2015 (This article deals with a controversy over the culpability of Dominick Blum, the driver of the car that actually killed Michael Griffith, which is what Sleeper tries to use to paint advocates for the victims as irresponsible and acting in bad faith.

Danielle Wright, Howard Beach Still Synonymous With Hate Crime 25 Years Later BET 12/19/2011

The chapter title of “Militants, ‘Professional Blacks,’ and the Culture of Schools” gives a very good idea of the tone and content. “Professional Blacks” refers to what conservatives also call names like “poverty pimps” or “race hustlers,” the latter a favorite of rightwing columnist Michelle Malkin. It’s basically a pejorative name for civil rights and antiracism activists.

In that chapter, Sleeper focuses on some controversial black-studies claims. “Principled or not, the [black] militants seem to have a mesmerizing effect not only on many blacks who are angry and afraid of being called system tools and Toms but also on guilt-ridden whites ...” (p. 221)

Translated into WhiteManSpeak: Ethnic studies is a plot by Bad Negroes and white race traitors to undermine the White Man.

A good faith and professional discussion of some of the issues around “Afrocentrism” in education from the same period can be found in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Disuniting of America: Reflections On A Multicultural Society (1991), where he wrote:

The dean of black historians in America today is John Hope Franklin. "While a black scholar," Franklin writes, "has a clear responsibility to join in improving the society in which he lives, he must understand the difference between hard-hitting advocacy on the one hand and the highest standards of scholarship on the other." Serious black scholars like Henry Louis Gates of Duke regard Afrocentricity with skepticism. "I don't see any of those things as being peculiar to African-Americans. They sound like very vague attributes to me, and all kinds of cultures and societies have those same values .... I am certainly not in the same camp as Molefi Asante and all these guys."

"These guys" are advocates not of cultural pluralism but of black ethnocentrism. Nor do they make much effort to disguise political motives. Asa Hilliard deals with scholarly critics not by responding to their criticisms but by calling any attack on the Afrocentric curriculum "an attack on the study of African people generally."
But here again, Sleeper’s account seems less focused on clarifying real issues than on picturing African-American advocates for a position and their supporters as acting dishonestly and in bad faith.

The “Folly on the Left” chapter is basically a polemic against any efforts from the 1930s on to defend African-American civil rights or address economic injustices affecting them as dubious maneuvering by sinister characters. This gives a good idea of the tone: “Neither the left nor the black community has been quite able to let go of the other, then, but, oh, what a bruiser this marriage of class and color, of Marxism and black nationalism, has been, its noisy basement fights sending tremors through the edifice above!” (p. 240, my italics)

Because you know how Those People are.

White backlish, it seems, we have with us always.

And its intensity today is even greater than in 1990.

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