Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Challenge of Racism in America

“We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”
— Barack Obama speaking in Selma on March 7 2015 at the fifth anniversary of the famous march


"I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with their pain."
— James Baldwin

“We were eight years in power. We had built schoolhouses, established charitable institutions, built and maintained the penitentiary system, provided for the education of the deaf and dumb, rebuilt the ferries. In short, we had reconstructed the State and placed it upon the road to prosperity.”

W.E.B. Du Bois
— Thomas Miller, South Carolina Congressman, 1895



“If  there was one thing that  South Carolina feared more than bad Negro government, it was good Negro  government."

—W.E.B. Du Bois

“Yet, the harsh fact is that in many places in this country, men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes. Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right.”

— Lyndon Johnson,Voting Rights Act Address, 1965


Joe Biden launched his presidential bid in April with a bold defense of the principle that “all men are created equal,” a principle he rightly argued that, from Thomas Jefferson on, “we haven’t always lived up to.” But, Mr. Biden added, this is something “we have never before walked away from,” and that’s where he went wrong. Like most Americans, the former vice president forgets the period ironically known as Redemption, the movement that followed the abolition of slavery and ended 12 years of America’s first experiment in interracial democracy — Reconstruction — with a systematic, multitiered, terrorist-backed rollback, when the defeated Confederate South, as the saying went, “rose again.”

The Redeemer base consisted primarily of white Southern Democrats whose most urgent intention was to neutralize the black vote, which under the protection of United States troops during Reconstruction had shown astonishing power in sending Republican majorities to Southern statehouses. (It is worth remembering that Democrats and Republicans occupied positions opposite to those of today’s parties with regard to “states’ rights” until around 1964.)

— Henry Louis Gates, "The 'Lost Cause' that Jim Crow Built" from the New York Times


"HISTORY as docudrama revisits television on Saturday in the HBO presentation Miss Evers' Boys.  The film, based on a Pulitzer Prize-nominated play of the same name, is an examination of one of modern America's darkest chapters of medical research and racial exploitation.
The movie, its producers say, is a fictionalized interpretation of the true story of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, a 40-year project in which the United States Government tracked the deadly course of the venereal disease in hundreds of infected poor black men living in or around Tuskegee, Ala. Essential to the study, which was started by the United States Public Health Service, was to withhold treatment -- even penicillin when it proved a cure in the 1940's -- to the diseased men, all in the late and most devastating stages of syphilis.
Brushing aside ethical questions, researchers hoped, according to letters and articles detailing the study, that science would learn the precise nature of how the disease ravishes the body by examining the men over time. Death, autopsies and funerals were routine features of the program, which ran from 1932 to 1972."
— Michael Marriot, The New York Times February 16, 1997
Now that Chris and his girlfriend, Rose, have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family's overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter's interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he could have never imagined. 
— See my review of Get Out  

James Baldwin
"Whatever you think about the past and future of what used to be called “race relations” — white supremacy and the resistance to it, in plainer English — this movie, I Am Not Your Negro, will make you think again, and may even change your mind. Though its principal figure, the novelist, playwright and essayist James Baldwin, is a man who has been dead for nearly 30 years, you would be hard-pressed to find a movie that speaks to the present moment with greater clarity and force, insisting on uncomfortable truths and drawing stark lessons from the shadows of history....
Baldwin could not have known about Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, about the presidency of Barack Obama and the recrudescence of white nationalism in its wake, but in a sense he explained it all in advance. He understood the deep, contradictory patterns of our history, and articulated, with a passion and clarity that few others have matched, the psychological dimensions of racial conflict: the suppression of black humanity under slavery and Jim Crow and the insistence on it in African-American politics and art; the dialectic of guilt and rage, forgiveness and denial that distorts relations between black and white citizens in the North as well as the South; the lengths that white people will go to wash themselves clean of their complicity in oppression."

— A.O. Scott, The New York Times, February, 2, 2017


"Heads up: Spike Lee is coming at you with his greatest and most galvanizing movie in years. BlacKkKlansman is right up there with Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X in the Spike’s Joint pantheon of game-changers. For starters, it gets your blood up about the toxic and enduring power of racism. Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American cop on the Colorado Springs police force, the film shows how Ron managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan and righteously screw with it from the inside. The time is the 1970s, but the filmmaker is not content with dusting off the past. His incendiary movie uses the alt-right cry of 'America first!' to rocket his film into the festering, rancid race hatred of the Trump era."

Peter Travers, RollingStone  August 6, 2018


1915

 2008 campaign "Why Do They Hate Us"

Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Trump truly is something new – the first president whose entire political existence  hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become President. He must be called by his correct name and rightly honorific – America’s first white president....
 Every Trump voter is most certainly not a white supremacist, But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.” 
— Ta–Nehisi  Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, 2017 reviewed in The New York Times

See my review of two monographs by Carol Anderson White Rage Part One and White Rage Part Two  

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton from Loving
"In a film as subtle and low-key as Jeff Nichols’s Loving, it’s not surprising that the first thing you notice are the performances. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton play Mildred and Richard Loving, the real-life interracial couple whose marriage in 1958 placed them in the crosshairs of the vindictive Virginia anti-miscegenation laws. Negga is up for an Oscar and both received Golden Globe nominations. And rightly so – it’s wonderful, delicate work, which fills out not just each character but the space between them. Their bond is palpable. It’s in the way her eyes flit back to catch his one last time before she leaves a room; the way his slab of a hand, battered from building work and tinkering with cars, encloses hers as they drive, silently but companionably. The uncomplicated easy naturalness of their relationship stands in stark contrast to the impossible situation in which the couple find themselves."

— Wendy Ide, The Guardian February 5, 2017

Two important novels by Colson Whitehead:


"While The Underground Railroad shatters any lingering illusions about the benevolence of slavery and allows the reader to bear witness to some of the lesser known episodes throughout American history, his readers will likely know something about that subject matter. The same cannot be said for Whitehead's latest novel, Nickel Boys (Double Day 2019) that is based on a so-called reform school that few would have known about. As Whitehead writes in his acknowledgements, he never heard about the reign of terror at the Dozier School for Boys in Florida that operated for over one hundred years and only closed in 2011 until he read about in The Tampa Times in 2014. According to the article, archeology students at a Florida university were digging up and trying to identify the remains of students at Dozier who had been mutilated, murdered and buried in a secret graveyard "erased from history."
— Robert Douglas, review

"The book takes its title from an actual historical document: the British Navy’s list of 3,000 blacks who served on the British side during the American Revolutionary War and who, at its end in 1783, fled Manhattan for Nova Scotia. As Hill notes, unless you were in the Book of Negroes, you could not escape to Canada.  Through an intimate portrait of the life of one remarkable woman, Aminata Diallo, Hill shines a light on this forgotten chapter of Canadian history in the context of a sweeping story that encompasses three continents. It is a telling story that helps to illuminate how Canada was implicated in the history of slavery and its aftermath in North America.
The story begins in the second half of the 18th century, during what, in an entirely different context, is called “The Age of Enlightenment.” Eleven-year-old Aminata Diallo is separated from her mother, a midwife, and abducted from her West African village. After having been marched to the coast, she is stowed on a ship like cargo and taken on the notorious Middle Passage. On arrival in America, Aminata is sold into slavery on a plantation in South Carolina. She is abused, then sold away from husband and child, and taken to Manhattan by a new master. There, during the confusing early days of the American Revolution, she escapes to freedom, supporting herself with her skills as a midwife and by her closely guarded ability to read and write. Taking ship for Canada with the British at the end of the war, she discovers life for freed Loyalist slaves in Nova Scotia to be harsh and oppressive. She returns to Africa with a group of other freed slaves, in what turns out to be a harrowing failure to build a new life of liberty in the new town—Freetown, Sierra Leone—that the free blacks from Nova Scotia establish.  Abandoning Africa, she accepts passage for London, where she is taken up by the British abolitionist movement, for whom she becomes a powerful spokesperson."

— Grace Westcott, Literary Review of Canada, the full review

"When Neiman moved to Berlin in 1982 to study the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, she was “often the first Jew many Germans had met.”

At the time, Germans had just begun the painful process of Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung, or “working off the past.” Since then, more than a billion dollars has been spent on monuments to victims of the Holocaust; Berlin alone is home to 423 such memorials. When Neiman walks the streets of Berlin, she is as likely as a tourist to trip over stolpersteine, the stumbling stones that mark the places where Jews were snatched from their homes during the Nazi reign. Displaying Nazi symbols and denying the Holocaust are outlawed in Germany, and hate speech is strictly proscribed. The lessons of the 1930s are larded through school curricula, plays, books and films. Incidents of anti-Semitism are condemned from the top, and the popularity of the far-right Alternative For Germany party is a subject of national hand-wringing.

For three years, Neiman travelled through Germany and the U.S. South, primarily Mississippi, to study the ways the two countries had grappled with historical atrocities that resonate to this day. The very short answer is that one country has done a lot and the other has barely begun. The very centre of Berlin has a Holocaust memorial, she notes, but the United States has no national slavery museum, no prominent memorial to the Middle Passage.
As Neiman points out in her book, African-Americans have made pointed connections between the Holocaust and slavery, from James Baldwin to Medgar Evers to Bryan Stevenson, the author of the memoir Just Mercy and founder of the National Lynching Memorial. Stevenson tells her that Americans need to feel the same sense of national shame about the post-Reconstruction “age of racial terror” that Germans do about the Nazi era: “Without shame, you don’t actually correct. You don’t do things differently. You don’t acknowledge.”

1 comment:

  1. I think its as predominant now as it was in the civil war, the only difference is that its not so overt and in your face, its more subtle. Wiki Creators INC

    ReplyDelete