Monday, May 15, 2006

Slavery: Backbone of America


Uncle Remus--Walt Disney's "Song of the South" 1946

Several years ago I suddenly came up with an idea that was so clear to me, I wrote a book about it. Pardon My Prejudice: America’s Excuse for Bigotry,* tells the tale through my eyes of how I see racism as the number one problem of American society.

Prejudice is an inborn human trait that somehow comes down to our civil frontal lobes from a primitive brain-stem need for protection. As higher forms of life on earth, we are capable of reading these primitive reflexes and subliminating them to our higher natures of tolerance and patience.

Bigotry is a learned expression of acting out on the base instincts of prejudice. When we stereotype the single trait of an individual as a generalized part of the character of a national or ethnic group, then we are lowering ourselves to our base makeup, and not rising to the superior level of our potential, which, while more difficult, yields better results.

We see the effects of racism in our common paths through every day, and we become inured to them. Remarks are made out of hand, overheard, actions are taken—it’s so pervasive we even make excuses for it. When an acquaintance once used the ubiquitous pejorative term for “African American” in my presence, not knowing that I would be offended, his wife shrugged her shoulders and simply said, “You’ll have to excuse him, he’s a bit of a racist.” I told the guy his language was out of line and he just shrugged it off as if I were expressing some sort of aberrant new idea—that using the “n” word in mixed company was as normal and appropriate as spilling water by accident so what’s my problem?

I was very pleased to read a review, in the New York Review of Books “They’ll Take Their Stand” in which George M. Fredrickson describes the delineation of the history of slavery in two new books. Pleased, in a horrific way, because not only am I on the right track about bigotry--I actually may have underestimated the importance of racial hatred in America:

Regarding the book, “Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World by David Brion Davis, Fredrickson writes

Davis convincingly demonstrates that slavery was central to the history of the New World. His chapter on the origins of the extensive enslavement of Africans and their transport across the Atlantic

Is meant to underscore the central truth that black slavery was basic and integral to the entire phenomenon we call “America.” This often hidden or disguised truth ultimately involves the profound contradiction of a free society that was made possible by black slave labor.

In case you think these are presumptuous conclusions from some whippersnappers showing off in college history 101--these authors have been writing about North American slavery and racism for decades. These thoughts are just the beginning of more profound ideas on slavery and its rationale for existence. In order for such a horrendous and inhumane activity, which was so big it is referred to as an “institution,” to continue unchallenged, Southern Americans had to believe Africans were inferior and righteously put into servitude, and Northern Americans had to agree to a great extent.

It’s fascinating to conjecture how this history affects contemporary daily society. It is more intensely urgent to find out how to “unlearn” future generations of this disgusting and destructive attitude.

I’m inclined to continue, but George W is about to deliver an East-Coast Prime Time speech on his proposal to appease his racist constituents who want better representation of armed defenders at the US Southern border. Never mind that the last batch of terrorists to wreak havoc within the US arrived in any of a number of ports of call other than scrambling across the US/Mexican desert in the middle of the night. Don’t pick at the details of from where the 5,000 National Guard troops are going to be squeezed to increase this border protection. Don’t laugh at the far right-wingers who think anything less than all-out war against Mexico is insufficient.

I don’t have the transcript from today’s Foxnews, but I will paraphrase a member of the Heritage Foundation which is a notorious right-wing data-bender. The quoted study proclaimed that, if the latest legislation proposed to help immigrants enter American society through assimilation and citizenship were passed, in the next 20 years there would be between 120 million to 193 million (Must be an accurate study because they aren’t rounding off 193 to 200) immigrants leeching into the good ole USA. This has to be a totally scary projection for the average American xenophobe who already could see it coming—the end of society as he (or she) knows it. More vague and more preposterous as a generality even I couldn’t dream up on the spot.

What you should be asking of your dear blogger is, of course, “What were you doing listening to Foxnews??”

I’m just glad Bush isn’t interrupting “prime time” on the West Coast, because “24” comes on at 9 PM and after a day filled with the reality of deception, immorality, incompetence, bad speech, I just want to relax and watch a TV show about a great fictional villain--Charles Logan--deceitful, duplicitous, immoral, incompetent--a really bad president.

*[My book hasn’t been published yet]

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