Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chris Rock, Melissa Harris-Perry, Conservatives, Racism and Patriotism



You may have missed it but Chris Rock had a tweet on the Fourth of July that sent some easily and perpetually outraged conservatives off the deep end.

Happy white peoples Independence Day the slaves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed fireworks.

Additionally Professor Melissa Harris-Perry had a piece about what the Fourth of July meant to her. 

This also sent many of the same (mostly white) conservatives into fits of rage. Actually the points made by Chris Rock and Professor Melissa Harris-Perry weren't really all that different from the points made by our very own Janitor in his Independence Day post.

One thing which is important to remember is that the people who define themselves as Black and/or are defined by others as Black in the American context generally have ancestors that arrived on these shores before 1820 and in many cases as early as the 1700's or before. And even if they don't have those particular ancestors, as long as they LOOK like they do, they will be treated as if they do. So even if you're a recent Somalian or Malian immigrant who just got off the boat or plane, even if you lack certain cultural heritages shared by other Black Americans you're gonna get the same treatment.

Now I just want you to imagine something. Let's say that Black people had deliberately and despite everyone begging them not to do so, started the bloodiest and most destructive war this country had ever seen, one that divided families and pitted fathers against their sons, brothers against brothers. Let's say that Black people specifically and proudly rejected the United States government and said they wanted a nation based on the age old principles of Black supremacy, which should be obvious to anyone who is intelligent, by which they primarily meant other Black people. Now imagine that even after Black people badly lost this war, they never really admitted to themselves that they lost or that their cause was wrong. Instead they worked overtime to alter the historical record so that the cause of the war was not actually their ownership of a despised minority and their eagerness to split the nation, but instead the war was all a tragic misunderstanding caused by among other things big government racial egalitarians.  And let's say that over time this attitude seeped into the Black media, which did all it could to portray the fighters as noble though tragically outnumbered warriors. And finally let's stipulate that far from reaching some sort of understanding that the revolt was wrong, Black people put up statues and monuments to those who led the revolt, spoke fondly of the revolt and every chance they could waved revolt battle flags. Do you think that if Black people had done and were doing this, that they would be accepted as patriots by conservatives or shunned as single minded bigots with dangerous revanchist fantasies?

Well we know the answers to that don't we?  Conservatism has many strains but since the sixties or so, conservatism has increasingly worn a Southern racist face. Think about this. The same people who are attempting to chastise Chris Rock or Professor Perry as insufficiently patriotic or horribly ungrateful never ever ever have an unkind word to say about Confederate memorials, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Daughters of the Confederacy, Southern Partisan, Secession Memorial balls and parties, and any other host of mainstream organizations, events, literature, parties, books and other media designed to remember and celebrate the people who started the ugliest and bloodiest war in American history, primarily because they believed in white supremacy and wanted to ensure their right to hold slaves and expand slavery. No that's all ok.
But let a Black person point out that prior to 1865 most Black people were slaves and those that weren't were often at a very real risk of becoming a slave and suddenly that's the crime of the century. No, apparently Black people, alone among humans, should have a memory that eliminates all the bad things. In fact some conservatives, such as Michael Medved, think that slavery wasn't that bad and Black Americans are better off for it  while others, such as Mark Krikorian argue that Haiti would have been better off with more, not less, colonialism and slavery.

Again, let's try this argument out in some different historical contexts. The modern state of Israel would probably not have come to exist without Hitler. His genocide of six million Jews and weakening of the British Empire gave the Jewish groups in Palestine both moral suasion over the Western powers as well an opportunity to create facts on the ground. Does anyone in their right mind really think that Israelis should weigh the lives of their ancestors against their modern state and say, "Yes, too bad about them but what the heck it was worth it?". Uh no.

Similarly does anyone go to the Lakota Sioux and say "Why don't you stop talking about Wounded Knee. After all some of you people got casinos out of it?" Probably not.

Finally if you went to Germany and everywhere you looked you saw Nazi flags, Iron Crosses, streets and monuments named after prominent Nazis and local "Nazi Veterans Day celebrations" wouldn't you think that some Germans had some issues on which they needed help?
People remember. They remember the good and the bad. And it is pointless to try to make them do otherwise. And frankly it is somewhat insulting. Many people on this planet organize their lives on what some people consider to be completely mythical events that happened 2000-4000 years ago. So it is rather silly to suggest that people forget about things that happened just a mere 200-300 years ago or in some cases in living memory.  America is a great country. But it also has committed multiple sins. America is the freedom to live as you want AND it is also the rubbing of salt into a slave's wounds after whipping for purely sadistic reasons.
Jackson begins his narrative with several instances of harsh treatment he received and witnessed during his time as a slave, including the role of women in the horrors of slavery.  He says of the slave owner’s wife, “The sight which most delighted her eyes was to see a slave whipped,” and one of her daughters grew up to murder Jackson’s sister by having her whipped to death.
If we intend to tell the truth and be honest we have to remember both sides. We should remember for example that some Black people fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War. Why? Because the British offered freedom and some of the would be Americans did not. Were they bad people? No they weren't. They were doing what it took to secure their freedom.

We have got to stop whitewashing things. Tell the truth and let people make up their own minds. The controversy over statements by Professor Perry and Rock show that history is not really about happened. It's more about how we intend to shape the story of what happened for current day political reasons. It's often propaganda.
h/t Harvey's Global Politics

Thoughts?
Should black people just forget the uglier parts of history?
Do conservatives secretly feel guilty about the American history of slavery? After all it wasn't conservatives who were agitating for abolition.

Why do conservatives freak out anytime someone mentions the bad parts of American history?

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