Four Stages of Pathological Race-Relations—the Last Being Fatal (Part II)

In Part I, I didn’t actually get around to identifying the first of the four pathological stages of race relations.  It was implicit, however, in my definitions.  The touchpoint for the first stage is economic competition: too many people scrambling for too few jobs.  If the rivals break down into easily distinguishable groups—and especially if one of these groups has enjoyed a long run of full employment in a given sector, only to be “invaded” suddenly by Johnny-come-lately outsiders—then you have the recipe for major racial friction.

This scenario would fit handily under my definition of bigotry.  If little overt bigotry existed against freedmen in the Northern states before the Civil War (and I confess to having made no particular study of the matter), this is simply because the industrial North as yet drew few such freedmen into mills and factories.  What training the latter brought with them from the South had been acquired on the farm; and, in any case, a layer of genuine racism would have prevented blacks from working in such close proximity with whites.  Racism as pure ignorance of the Other doesn’t necessarily have a prognosis as lethal as bigotry’s, believe it or not—and here I must ask that you buy into my definitions rather than embrace the clamor of popular culture.  Racism of the, “Dear God, they eat dogs and wear nose rings!” type (in other words), tends to wear away with time and exposure.  The early Mormons thought the rarely seen African specimen of humanity to be the devil’s brood.  Quakers, whose denomination was rather densely embedded in border states like Kentucky, were dedicated abolitionists.

Hence I tend to suppose that, while the North was no haven for freedmen, their greatest disadvantage there in antebellum days was perhaps a high-risk kind of exoticism.  I have many times cited the complacent response of Pennsylvania residents to Alexis de Tocqueville that no black man voting in one of their local elections would have returned home alive; and I’ve also frequently related Richard Robert O’Madden’s experience of returning from Mass at a black church in 1830’s New York only to see his black Catholic friend almost stoned to death in the streets for daring such hospitality.  These were not insignificant matters.  My purpose here, however, is to trace how race relations have degenerated to a point where they now threaten our survival as a democratic republic.  I can discern no staircase of causes from the chatter of Tocqueville’s racist informants or the prickliness of New York’s apartheid to our present plight.  Those conditions and the sentiments behind them were, in fact, a source whose waters quickly petered out under no influence more profound than time and custom.

No, the dominant, red-hot bigotry one would have observed in a Northern industrial center around 1850 was directed at the Irish.  The Potato Famines of the mid- and late-Forties (the blight attacked the potato for more than one season) pried perhaps two million Irish peasants from their homeland.  Not a few had their passage paid—one-way—by landlords eager to shift from tenantry to some more progressive form of agriculture; the same “incentive” distracted the British government from any attempt to extend adequate relief.  The new immigrants, then, arrived with spite at their heels and spite in their faces.  They would do practically any work for any wage under any conditions.  To more settled Americans, they might as well have been animals—as, indeed, they were portrayed by the popular press.  The original “apeman” in our popular culture was not a black freedman but an Irish Paddy.  To be sure, he was genetically Caucasian; but his dress and grooming (or sad lack thereof) set him distinctly apart from third- or fourth-generation American laborers of English and German extraction still somewhat molded by a Puritan ethic, and his Gaelic gibberish leaked into a broken, thickly accented English that left him almost as identifiable as a dark epidermis would have done.

I see little evidence that the educational establishment spends much time laying before our children the complexities of bigotry in our national past.  On the contrary, the North is a beacon of justice and equality, while only in the South does one find one race despising another because of superficial traits.  This isn’t the occasion to analyze the various roles played by slaves in the lives of their owners; but the plantation owner with hundreds of wretched souls to grind beneath his autocratic boot is, of course, a further caricature that captures little of Southern reality.  And to the present point… even the most sadistic masters (they indeed existed, though in statistically tiny numbers) did not loathe their “possessions” as competitors after a livelihood.  They viewed them and treated them, in the worst cases, as sub-human—but were also capable of tending to their needs as they tended to their horses and hunting dogs.  A variety of cognitive consonance surely works within such inhumanity: you can’t treat people like animals and sleep at night, that is to say, unless you convince yourself that they are so.  Again, this sort of “philosophy”, hideous though it is, tends to have a brief shelf-life.  As an explanation for the rumbling racial powderkeg upon which we sit in the twenty-first century, it’s ludicrously inept; yet it receives endless attention in our classrooms in that very capacity, while the parallel racism of the North is airbrushed from the record.

And in the matter of suppressed history, it is perhaps worth a passing mention that the Spanish ruling class adopted this superior posture toward African slaves in the Caribbean—with a vengeance.  (O’Madden’s commentary upon the flagrantly illegal, fabulously profitable slave market in Havana during his ambassadorship turns the stomach.)  Yet Spain is excoriated in academe only for her treatment of native populations in Central and South America; and when the genetic and intellectual heirs of the conquistadors nesting in plush Cuernavaca send their racially mingled masses northward to release pressure from a disastrous economy, we who protest are branded “racist against Hispanics”.  If such a thing as an “Hispanic race” exists, it certainly wouldn’t be represented genetically by most of the migrants, refugees, and adventurers straying into our territory!

Back to bigotry and Stage One: African Americans would “graduate” to being recipients of genuine bigotry after Emancipation, when white manual laborers were now locked in a mortal struggle with them for very limited employ throughout the ravaged South.  It was the more benign sort of racist aristocrat (exemplified in Part I by my beloved but thoroughly Southern grandmother) who sought to intervene between the two groups.  Legendary Confederate guerilla leader John Mosby (my grandmother’s distant cousin) even campaigned on behalf of Ulysses S. Grant’s presidential bid shortly after the surrender, realizing that the alternative to making peace with the Union was a descent into base anarchy.  Many of those statues being hauled down by mobs of semi-literate, self-righteous vandals today were dedicated to just such mediators.  The rioters have in fact reduced themselves to the temperamental level of the Ku Klux Klan, a force whose influence would eventually strangle that of the peacemakers by the century’s turn.

And as the tormented twentieth century grew from a homicidal infancy to a genocidal adolescence, blacks naturally decided to stream from the South into Northern industrial cities like Chicago and Detroit—where they were treated to the reception given to the Irish masses about a century earlier.  How many young college graduates today have heard of Detroit’s white-on-black race riots—not those of 1967, but those of 1943, when northward-shifted blacks eager to participate in the ramped-up war economy were beaten down by 6,000 National Guard troops? How many college graduates have heard of those times? One in a thousand?  Of course not.  One in a hundred thousand?  Just maybe… but not likely.

Such is Stage One.  You hate anyone who makes your survival more difficult (the way, for instance, that I hate my nation’s government as I try to live in retirement: a story for another day).  You can grow paranoid hating everyone who casts a shadow at either elbow, however: misery loves company, and we have a natural attraction to those suffering through a similar predicament.  If we can therefore find neighbors who share in our affliction and dress, speak, and look as we do, we feel that we have allies in the cause.  It’s “us versus them”; and if “they” happen to have red hair or dark skin to go with their odd accent or patois, so much the easier to rally round the flag.

Of course, the minority thus targeted seems bound to sense and respond to the same self-preservative pressures.  One can well imagine how black people would come do dislike white people in such an economic melee… yet, historically, I haven’t found that to happen at this point.  I don’t entirely understand why.  Perhaps direct experience of being on the bottom makes one more sympathetic to the panic of those who feel themselves slipping to the bottom.  In any case, the whipping up of minority antagonism against the oppressive majority appears actually to occur somewhat after—even long after—the majority has ceased to be significantly oppressive.  We’ll observe that toxic fruit starting to blossom at a later stage.

Forbidden History: Excerpts from Tocqueville That You’ll Read Nowhere But Here

The second volume of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was published in 1840.  Reading that volume’s initial overview of the plight of a Native Americans and of African slaves should be required of every high school history student.  I can see the former section about the clash of European and Indian cultures finding its place in today’s curriculum (with plenty of vitriol stirred in by the instructor, who will no doubt ignore Tocqueville’s stress upon the situation’s tragic complexity and opt, instead, for self-righteous denunciation).  The latter section—about the agonizingly durable practice of slavery—would likely be airbrushed from the record as racist, simply because the complexities here are too many to reduce to academe’s cartoonish Manichaeism.

My title above is a little pretentious: you can, of course, read Tocqueville readily in many formats.  But you wouldn’t read these particular passages on most college campuses.  They elicit too much thinking and indict too much hypocrisy: all we do in the Ivory Tower nowadays is gin up support for “protests”.  I’ll have much more to say about the excerpts (my personal translations) later, I hope.  For now, I need to stand back and let them speak for themselves.  Even as excerpts, they form quite a little mass of material.

Let me add that I do not offer Tocqueville as an inerrant source: no human being is that.  Yet not all sources are equal just because none lacks bias.  Tocqueville is a brilliantly shrewd observer with an admirable sense of fairness and a profound respect for the facts.  He has, perhaps, a tad too much of that French taste for irony and antithesis: the age of La Bruyère and La Rochefoucauld has not passed entirely out of sight in his writing.  For instance, I find his characterizing the South as averse to physical labor due to the link between sweat and slavery a bit absurd, given that a huge majority of Southerners had no slaves and a huge majority of those few slaveholders had but two or three.

Please do not indulge the snobby bigotry of our own time, furthermore, so far as to misjudge the final excerpts as racist.  The terror of race war was extremely electric in 1840, and the brooding sense that it was inevitable clung to the seeming impossibility of the two races ever mixing significantly.  Tocqueville by no means believes that a mulatto child would be somehow “degenerate”: he merely doesn’t see white society—either Northern or Southern white society—as capable of surmounting ingrained prejudices in a vast movement.  Let us remember that Lincoln very actively sought to interest free blacks in an expense-paid deportation to Panama (lest they eventually interbreed with whites).  Let us honestly ask ourselves, too, why those who most readily shout “racism” among us today appear most eager to induce something like a race war.  Time has not yet proved that a critical mass of good people exists to lay this hellish ghost to rest.

EXCERPTS

Racial prejudice seems to me stronger in states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere does it appear more intolerant than in the states where servitude has always been unknown.

It is true that in the north of the Union, the law permits blacks and whites to contract legitimate alliances; but public opinion would decry as infamous the white who would unite himself with a black, and it would be difficult to cite an example of such a deed.

In almost all the states where slavery has been abolished, electoral rights have been bestowed upon the black; but if he presents himself at a polling place, he risks his life.  He can seek legal redress if denied such rights, but he will find only whites among his judges.  The law, of course, opens a path for him to sit on juries, but prejudice pushes him back out.  His son is excluded from the school where the descendant of Europeans goes to be educated.  In theaters, he could not buy with solid gold the right to seat himself beside the man who was once his master; in hospitals, he lies in a separate quarter.  He is permitted to pray for the aid of the same God as do the whites, but not to pray at the same altar.  He has his own priests and sanctuaries.  The doors of heaven are not shut against him, yet inequality scarcely ceases at the brink of the other world.  When a black man lives this life no longer, his bones are cast to one side: differing conditions appear even in the equality of death.

Thus the black is free, but he can share neither the rights, nor the pleasures, nor the labors, nor the sorrows, nor even the tomb of him whose equal he has been declared.  He can nowhere manage to place himself in the same scene with this other, either in life or in death.

In the South, where slavery still exists, blacks are kept less punctiliously to one side; they sometimes share in the chores and amusements of the whites; a certain amount of mingling with them is allowed; legislation is harsher where it pertains to them—but customs are more tolerant and gentle.

In the South, the master doesn’t fear to elevate the slave to his level because he knows that he can always, should he so wish, cast him back down into the dust.  In the North, the white no longer clearly perceives the barrier that separates him from a degraded race, and he distances himself from the black with all the more care in that he fears integration with him some day.

But if the position of the two races that inhabit the United States is such as I have just described it, why have the Americans abolished slavery in the North of the Union, why do they preserve it in the South, and on what account are they aggravating its abusive qualities?

The answer is simple.  Where citizens of the United States are destroying slavery, they do so not in the interest of blacks, but in the interest of whites.

Note 78: … In 1740, the legislature of the state of New York declared that the importation of slaves should be encouraged as much as possible and that contraband should be punished severely, as tending to discourage honest commerce.

The colonies had been founded.  A century had already elapsed, and an extraordinary truth began to attract attention.  The districts that possessed practically no slaves were increasing in population, in wealth, and in quality of life more rapidly than those where they abounded.

Yet in the former places, the settler had been obliged to cultivate his own soil or to rent the services of another; in the latter places, he would find at his disposition workers whose labor he need not remunerate.  On the one hand, then, were hard work and expense, and on the other leisure and savings… but the advantage remained with the former.

The result seemed the more difficult to explain in that the emigrants, belonging all to the same European race, had the same customs, the same civilization, the same laws, and differed only in scarcely perceptible ways.

Time continued to advance.  Forsaking the shores of the Atlantic, the Anglo-Americans thrust themselves ever farther into the solitudes of the West.  There they encountered new terrain and climate; there they had to vanquish obstacles of a diverse nature.  Their communities mingled, Southerners veering to the North and Northerners descending into the South.  Amid all of these factors, the same phenomenon reproduced itself at every step: in general, a colony where slaves were very scarce became more populated and prosperous than one where slavery was thriving.

As the nation expended, one could not fail to notice that servitude, so cruel for the slave, was lethal to the master.

Note 79: Not only does Ohio not allow slavery—it prohibits the entry of freedmen into its territory and denies them the right to acquire property.

The free worker is paid, but he works more quickly than the slave, and speed of execution is one of the major determinants of an economy.  The white sells his services, but they are not bought except when they are useful.  The black can claim nothing by way of payment for services rendered, but he must be nourished at all times; he must be sustained in his old age as in his prime, in his unproductive childhood as during the fertile years of his youth, in sickness as in health.  Hence in the case of both men, work is obtained only by paying: the free man receives a salary, and the slave receives an upbringing, food, medical attention, clothing.  The money that a master spends to maintain a slave trickles out little by little in minutiae: it is hardly noticed.  The salary that the worker draws is delivered all at once, and it seems to enrich only its recipient—but in reality the slave has cost more than the free man, while his labor has turned out less productive.

Almost everyone in the southernmost States who devotes himself to commercial enterprises and makes use of slavery has come from the North.  Every day, Northerners circulate in this part of the American territory where the combination of practices has less to fear for them.  They discover ways of exploiting the collaboration that the more settled inhabitants haven’t noticed: adapting themselves to a system of which they disapprove, they manage to derive from it greater advantages than those who defend it after having founded it.

From the time when a northern state prohibits in this manner the importation of slaves, it draws no more blacks up from the South to transport into its midst.

From the moment when a northern state forbids the sale of Negroes, the slave [there], not being eligible for any local transfer of ownership, becomes an inconvenient property, and an incentive is created to transport him to the South.

On the day when a northern state declares that the child of a slave shall be born free, the slave loses a great deal of commercial value; for his posterity can no more be trafficked on the market, and—once again—an incentive is created to transport him to the South.

The abolition of slavery therefore does not cause the slave to reach a state of freedom; it only causes a change in his masters.  From the North, he passes to the South.

Note 84: The states where slavery has been abolished ordinarily apply themselves to dissuading freed blacks from residency in their territory through harassment; and since a kind of rivalry in this effort emerges among the various states, the tormented blacks can only choose among different miseries.

Note 85: A great difference exists between the death rate of whites and that of blacks in states where slavery has been abolished.  From 1820 to 1831, Philadelphia saw only one white die for every 42 belonging to the white race, while one black died for every 21 belonging to the black race.  The mortality rate is considerably less exaggerated among enslaved blacks.

Tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane grow only in the South; they represent the principle source of that area’s wealth.  In destroying slavery, Southerners would find themselves facing one of two alternatives: either they would have to change their system of cultivation—and then they would enter into competition with Northerners more vigorous and practiced in these new methods; or they would have to cultivate the same products without slaves—and then they would be forced to compete with other Southerners who still used slaves.

Thus the South has peculiar reasons for preserving slavery unknown in the North.

Here, however, is another motive force more powerful than all the others.  The South could certainly abolish slavery with sufficient determination; but how would it save itself from its black population?  In the North, slaves are chased out in the same motion as slavery.  In the South, one couldn’t hope to obtain this duel result at the same time.

When one announces that, starting at a certain date, the Negro’s child will be free, one introduces the principle and idea of freedom into the very soul of servitude.  The blacks kept in servitude by such legislation, seeing their children escape from it, would stand shocked by the inequity of the two destinies.  They would grow restless and irritable.  From that moment, slavery would lose in their eyes the kind of moral power that time and custom had bestowed upon it; it would be reduced to nothing more than a visible abuse of force.  The North would have nothing to fear from so shocking a contrast, because there the number of blacks is very small and that of whites quite large.  But if this dawn of liberty were to shed its light over two million people, their oppressors could only tremble.

These two factors [the deportation of slaves and the influx of European immigrants] cannot operate in the same manner among the Southern states.  On the one hand, the mass of slaves is too great for one to hope that they might be evacuated from the country; and on the other, Europeans and Anglo-Americans are loath to immigrate to a region where labor remains identified with vile servitude.  Besides, they rightly regard the states where the number of blacks equals or surpasses that of whites as under threat of grievous calamity, and they avoid transplanting their enterprises to such places.

As soon as one envisions whites and emancipated blacks being placed in the same position as two peoples alien to each other, one will easily grasp that the future offers only two choices: blacks and whites must either fuse racially or separate completely.

I have already expressed above my estimate of the first option’s occurring [i.e., that the obstacles it faces are too great].  I do not think that the white and black races will manage to exist on equal footing anywhere.

The danger, more or less distant yet inevitable, of conflict between the blacks and white who populate the south of the Union unceasingly haunts the American imagination like a painful nightmare.  Northerners discuss these perils every day, although they have nothing directly to fear from them.  In vain do they search for some means of conjuring away the catastrophe that they foresee.

In the Southern states, everybody stays mum.  One doesn’t speak of the future with strangers; one avoids trying to unravel it with one’s friends; everyone hides it from himself, so to speak.  The silence of the South has something more frightening about it than the clarioned fears of the North.

Tocqueville, the Pilgrims… and ISIS: Enough to Make You Squirm

When I recently began rereading Alexis de Tocqueville’s De la Démocratie en Amérique, my objective was less to garner information (as it had been previously) than simply to enjoy the scenery.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The first chapter, at least, is so fluidly, lyrically written that it deserves a place in literature textbooks, whatever one may think of Tocqueville’s formidable chronicling abilities. You could read these pages aloud in French and understand why the Académie Française used to get so worked up about defending the mother tongue. (That’s probably a thing of the distant past.)

What has me more than a little distracted from style in the second chapter, however, is the restless ghost of ISIS that keeps flitting between and behind the lines.  Yes, ISIS.  The author is describing the devout (we would say fanatical) penal codes promulgated by the Pilgrims in founding their utopian society.  Here are a few examples.

A certain Margaret Bedford was condemned to the lash for “reprehensible acts”, then forced to marry her co-offender, Nicolas Jemmings. These acts may have consisted of no more than exchanging an indiscreet kiss or laughing at an unseemly joke. They almost surely did not include actual adultery, which—as of about 1650—was punishable by execution, along with blasphemy and witchcraft. Laziness and drunkenness were also severely (though not capitally) targeted by the Puritan penal code.

Note 44 remarks that Anabaptists were banished from Massachusetts in 1644. As for Quakers, any ship’s captain who delivered one such to the colony was severely fined. Furthermore, “Quakers who manage to enter will be whipped and submitted to hard labor in prison. Those who persist in their opinions will first be subjected to a fine, then condemned to prison and subsequently banished from the province.”

Note 45: “In the penal law of Massachusetts, a Catholic priest who sets foot in the colony after having been expelled from it is punished with death.”

Tocqueville is naturally dismayed by the despotic tendencies of New England’s communal governments.  “Such erratic acts assuredly bring shame upon the human spirit,” he laments.  “They testify to the weakness of our nature, which, being incapable of clinging firmly to truth and justice, is most often reduced to choosing between two excesses.”

Yet Tocqueville seems oddly swept up in Yankee enthusiasm when he comes to the subject of public education.  He not only remarks, but stresses, that the first duty of such education in the eyes of Massachusetts lawmakers is to serve God.  Retrograde citizens who refuse to submit their children to the regimen of the officially sanctioned schoolhouse may see those children permanently taken from them.  (Still no protest registered by the author: the comments fall within the framework of how far ahead of Europe’s medieval customs is New England.)

By the time Tocqueville is transcribing a speech of Governor Winthrop’s, he appears ready to leap from his chair and applaud along with the assembled legislators.  Yet the Governor’s words, to my ear, draw a faintly disturbing distinction between liberty that will accept no authority and liberty practiced within the dictates of the commune.  Couldn’t James Jones have said the same thing? Was it not Tocqueville himself who wrote a mere few pages earlier that we pitiful humans can only lurch from one extreme to the other?

I’m not trying to build a case based upon that “moral equivalency” so deplored by right-wing bloggers and talking heads. Puritans are not ISIS warriors. At their worst, they executed the “desperate sinner” with a certain solemnity… or at least burning witches were not uploaded to YouTube as they writhed and as their tormentors did victory laps around the stake. Most of these laws were also soon repealed, or else so seldom invoked in all their horror that they became fossilized relics in the civil code.

Nevertheless, the obvious needs to be said. The butcher-boys of ISIS are as bad as they come—were I commander-in-chief, I would order my troops not to take any prisoners unless they were plainly under the age of consent; but the crusading “saints” who founded much of our early nation had moments when they looked darned near as insane as a bunch of decapitating thugs waving a holy book. People have an ugly side. All of us have it. The first stage to surrendering self-control to that side is forgetting its poisonous presence. Do not expect purity of anything human… and while you’re at it, don’t let yourself off the hook.