Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ten Things About Slavery You Won't Learn From Django

via Colorlines:
The South had long resisted Northern calls to leave the British Empire... But... [i]n 1775, a British court ruled that slaves could not be held in the United Kingdom against their will... Southern planters swung behind the Northern push for greater autonomy. In 1776, one year later, America left its former colonial master... Slave revolts and acts of sabotage were relatively common on Southern plantations... [T]he disruption in production was bad for business. Over time a system of oppression emerged... centered on singling out slaves for public torture who had either participated in acts of defiance or who tended towards noncompliance... Slavery’s most inhumane aspects were just another tool to guarantee the bottom line... The economic success of former slaves during Reconstruction led to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. In less than 10 years after the end of slavery, blacks created thriving communities and had gained political power -- including governorships and Senate seats... [B]lack economic empowerment had upset the old economic order. Former planters organized themselves into White Citizens Councils and created an armed wing -- the Ku Klux Klan -- to undermine black economic institutions and to force blacks into sharecropping on unfair terms... The desire to maintain economic oppression is why the South was one of the most anti-tax regions of the nation. Before the Civil War, the South routinely blocked national infrastructure pro[j]ects... The South worried that such investments would increase the power of the free-labor economy and hurt their own, which was based on slavery. Moreover, the South was vehemently opposed to taxes even to improve the lives of non-slaveholding white citizens... Investment in slavery was one of the most profitable economic activities throughout most of New York’s 350 year history. Much of the financing for the slave economy flowed through New York banks... JP Morgan Chase and New York Life all profited greatly from slavery. Lehman Brothers, one of Wall Street’s largest firms until 2008, got its start in the slave economy of Alabama... The wealth gap between whites and blacks, the result of slavery, has yet to be closed. The total value of [the] slave[-based economy]... was truly astronomical. Yet when slavery ended, the people that generated the wealth received nothing... [and] the economic difference has never been erased. Today, the wealth gap between whites and blacks is the largest recorded since records began to be kept three decades ago.
There's much more, follow the link. And see "Django" anyway.


Black guy from the future past said...

As a black man, this is truly heart wrenching. I am not even going to rationalize. All I feel when I see things like this is bitter anger. In particular for white folk. I will not mince about this. How can people, white people specifically, agree to antagonize an entire swath of peoples on the simple account of pigmentation?! I do not hate white people, I know that no white person living today had much, if anything to do with slavery, let alone segregation, but I can understand why there are some black folk who do hate and resent white folks. The seeds of hatred remain. Old wounds have not been healed. Poverty for a large group of black folk remain a fact of life, and they know that this is historically due to white privilege, and power.

Also I understand that all groups throughout history have been oppressed. Oppression is part and parcel mankind's history on this planet. Yet no act of subjugation, degradation and dehumanization has been so global, so profound, so indelible, so profitable, so impressed upon world culture utterly and truly, as this antagonism toward black people. This is the reason, why I fell for libertarianism and anarchism. The government had a role to play in slavery. They protected the practice, institution and profitability of slavery for centuries.

jimf said...

> How can people, white people specifically, agree to antagonize
> an entire swath of peoples on the simple account of pigmentation?!

Because the "simple account" -- antipathy toward petty differences
of the sort that civilized people can be taught to ignore -- was
backed up by enormous political and economic self-interest.

The history of all this is worse than you've probably ever
allowed yourself to imagine (unless you specialize in the
history of racism). Very, very respectable and
authoritative people (putting aside the Bible, of course --
these were **scientific** people) spouted "theories"
intended to justify and rationalize the mistreatment of
humans who were classified as not fully human on the basis
of race.

There's a Web site:
that has a collection of choice quotes from the past.

Here are a couple:

1801 Julien-Joseph Virey , a medical doctor,

"All the ugly peoples are more or less barbarians,
beauty is the inseparable companion of the most
civilized nations."

In an essay in the Dictionary of Medical Science (1819),
Virey wrote of the black woman developing a
"voluptuousness" and "degree of lascivity" unknown
to whites. In discussing the Hottentot female he
stressed the consonance between  the "hideous form"
of their physiognomy and this sexual lasciviousness.

"Among us [whites] the forehead is pushed forward, the
mouth is pulled back as if we were destined to think
rather than eat;  the Negro has a shortened forehead
and a mouth that is pushed forward as if he were made
to eat instead of to think." 

1812 Georges Cuvier:  (1769-1832) the Aristotle of
his age, the founder of geology, paleontology,
and comparative anatomy.  Stated Africans are

"the most degraded of human races, whose form
approaches that of the beast and whose intelligence
is nowhere great enough to arrive at regular government"
[Cuvier, 1812, p. 105 Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles. Vol. 1]

"The white race, with oval face, straight hair and nose,
to which the civilized peoples of Europe belong and
which appear to us the most beautiful of all, is also
superior to others by its genius, courage and  activity.
(And that there is a) cruel law which seems to have
condemned to an eternal inferiority the races of
depressed and compressed skulls. ...and experience
seems to confirm the theory that there is a relationship
between the perfection of the spirit and the beauty of
the face." 
[Tableau élémentaire de l'histoire naturelle des animaux
(Elementary Survey of the Natural History of Animals, 1798)]

jimf said...

This line of thought continues to the present, though in much
subtler and indirect form. We can consider it a step forward
in human civilization that at least nothing as blatant as the above
could ever be published today in a respectable scientific journal
or in a book from a respectable publisher.

Nevertheless, speaking of "scientifically-minded" people,
I stumbled across this in my e-mail archive while searching for
the above Web site:

I've noted with dismay the rancorous turn a
recent thread on the Extropians' has taken.
The discussion seems to have originated (this
time around) with a remark Harvey Newstrom
made in the "META: Our open list" thread
(which, I gather, E. Shaun Russell is likely to
terminate by fiat quite soon).

> I have complained about this before. Extropianism
> and Transhumanism have long been connected to the
> racist movement in the minds of many. That is why
> it is so scary to me to see racial profiling, group
> judgments, eugenics, selective child killing, and
> _The Bell Curve_ discussed on this list as if they are
> reasonable positions within our philosophy.

(That was from September, 2002; the current list archives at
don't go back that far.)

jollyspaniard said...

You're right to be pissed off. And there are plenty of white people who are proud and boastful of the empires their ancestors built.

A few years back an old lady who had been a good friend of mine told me that I should be proud of the mighty empire that Spain built. I'm not proud of it, nor am I ashamed because it had nothing to do with me (and my family didn't benefit they were poor as muck) but I find the attitude disgusting.

A lot of the history we're brought up with is bullshit. I'll pop another big myth. Russia won WW2. The Germans lost the war at the Battle of Stalingrad. By the time of the D Day invasion the Germans had already been retreating for nearly ten months. Eighty percent of Germany's military might including all their crack and veteran troops were deployed to the Eastern Front. The Russians fought 5x the forces, had longer to travel, had their country trashed and they still got to Berlin first. Operation Barbarossa was WW2, everything else was a sideshow.

Dale Carrico said...

While many take umbrage at the charge that they are active collaborators in ongoing white-racism (because they are truly fond of a coworker who is a person of color or whatever), it is crucial to grasp that one easily participants in structural racism and benefits from racial privilege whatever one's conscious or unconscious attitudes on racial questions -- indeed, the ready availability of naturalized racial categories already bespeaks this structural racism and privilege, inasmuch as the categories are altogether constructed by a pseudo-science that abetted slavery and colonial subjugation.

Whatever one's feeling in the matter, the facts are -- in the US -- African-Americans are the most economically devastated population and at once the most policed, imprisoned, and yet socially underserved population. Confronted with that reality, you can either offer up a rationalization proposes some kind of constitutive inferiority in that population to account for this palpable difference -- in which case you would not only be empirically wrong, but also objectively racist, whether you admit it or not -- or you have to assume that a profound injustice is being carried out.

If you sensibly assume the latter, it is hard not to assume that this ongoing injustice was shaped by a deep history of slavery but also including the painfully recent history of a segregation lingering on in more than the attitudes of some picturesque Southerners. To offer just one example, segregation kept the benefits of the New Deal -- which created the American middle-class -- from benefiting many African-Americans (a condition of Southern Support was that the New Deal would not extent to migrant workers and domestics), and a key reason the US did not get a national health service in the aftermath of WW2 when Europe did (with US assistance) was because the South feared it would undermine Jim Crow.

Dale Carrico said...

Now, to review, if one doesn't erroneously think the disproportionate poverty and policing of African-Americans bespeaks their inferiority (an outright racist view, however "nice" its proponent), but one recognizes these outcomes are the result of institutions and policies that exacerbate historical inequities in an ongoing way, one can either care about this and work to change those institutions and policies, or one can decide this is just the way things are, or it's too hard to think about, or just try to be a "good person" on terms circumscribed by these institutional and policy realities like most people do. Making the latter choice, like it or not, is also racist.

Indifference to the structural injustice disproportionately subordinating people of color in this country -- especially if one is white and a proportionate beneficiary of this structural dynamic, whatever one's distressed circumstances -- is as racist in my view as would be the false rationalization that these inequities are not so much injustice but bespeak inferiority. And this is true even if the person acting -- or refraining from acting -- on the basis of these attitudes does not have any conscious animus toward people of color in the least.

And what I have said about the state of affairs in the US, also stands when one contemplates the relation of Western/North Atlantic civilization in its relation to the overexploited regions of the postcolonial world. It is not a desire for "restitution" for past ills that should compel a civilization whose wealth and accomplishment is based in a history of enslavement and colonial violence to offer vast aid, support and investment (and I don't mean neoliberal "investment" that re-enacts colonial exploitation through "developmental" indenture and IP wealth-capture), but the simple recognition that the inequity of global poverty is a crime against human potential from which we all suffer a greater loss in opportunity than some elite-incumbents gain in ongoing wealth-concentration.

Returning for a moment to your point about government, do take note that I mentioned the New Deal created a white middle class that excluded African-Americans and hence perpetuated their subordination. So too market libertarian rhetoric in the mouths of Republicans to this day paralyses an economic recovery from which people of color disproportionately suffer, at the heart of right-wing attacks against the Post Office is the reality of black mail carriers, against the Affordable Care act unprecedented medical support for African-Americans, against the Jobs Bill and stimulus investments in infrastructure a host of public sector jobs from which African-Americans have historically benefited enormously (teachers, social workers, administrators, construction workers, etc.). AQnti-government rhetoric is a proxy for racist outcomes, even if the simpleton "theorists" of libertopia happen to have no racial animus in their souls at all. Always pay attention to outcomes. Without Jim Crow holding it back, the New Deal would have fulfilled the abolitionist's vision of Reconstruction -- instead, LBJ's Great Society made the attempt a generation later and prompted the Southern Strategy that shaped another generation, fueled Movement Republicanism and is dying only now in the age of Obama with the rise of the new democratic coalition for a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing people.

Mike Hunte said...

The 'wealth gap' between poor whites and blacks is nil. Always has been, back to the days of the Irish indentured servant who because he was not owned was treated like the proverbial "rented mule", and often worked to death as she had no resale value when her contract expired.

jollyspaniard said...

Classic false equivalency argument. Sure there's some white people who are treated worse than some black people.

I can cherry pick London temperatures and produce examples where London had an air temperature on date x that exceeded the temperature in Madrid on date y. Therefore London is just as hot as Madrid and I've got the examples to prove it.