Sunday, June 6, 2010

best article on race in the USA that I've read in a long time

How do they get to be that way? - Roger Ebert's Journal

via dancinghorse


  1. I expect the people driving by yelling racial slurs were what I call Shriekers. They don't always limit themselves to being racists. Sometimes they scream "Dyke!" or "Slut!" or "Faggot!" or "How much do you charge?" or "Get a haircut!".* Sometimes they throw things at you. Sometimes they just make really loud noises in the hopes of scaring you so that you'll drop your groceries or ruin your mural.

    There's no point in trying to reason with them because their only purpose in life is to make it nearly impossible for anyone else to do anything outside.

    My mother used to attract flocks of Shriekers. Then somebody accidently ran her over and suddenly the Shriekers decided to go someplace else. Now she mostly attracts flocks of religious people, but I think she scared them away by declaring that she fully intended to go to Hell.

    I really don't love humans.

    *Well, those are the things they've yelled at me and various people I've been walking with. I'm sure other people get other adjectives.

  2. Yeah. I wonder how many incidents that look like racism were simply shriekers who used racism to get a reaction.

    Try to remember we're not all Shriekers. Alas, sometimes, an awfully high percentage of us are.

  3. Oh, I think this incident looks like racism because it is racism. It's just that the Shriekers don't limit themselves to hating one group. They'll target anybody who looks vulnerable.

    I like to imagine that some of them grow out of it and feel ashamed later in life. (Even if they are already adults.) But I'm not laying any bets.

    (I do love individual humans. I just don't think much of the race. Call it a prejudice if you like. Heh.)

  4. Maybe not the best article I've read, but certainly a good one and I'm glad you pointed me to it. It makes a point that I found that in my conversations with hardcore committed anti-racists back in college they simply couldn't fathom: I don't get racism. I never have, it is something that has consciously puzzled me since I first became an adult. While people were busy damning me for not understanding the black experience (and insisting at precisely the same time that I was racially incapable of understanding it), all I could think about was how I didn't understand the white racist perspective: how it made no sense to me and seemed absurdly preposterous on its face. I couldn't understand the hate, or the fear, and I didn't think the "it's all ignorance" easy way out was sufficient explanation either. It just seemed like a puzzle that had no solution. And it was especially captured in my reflections about my own heritage: my family were slaveowners, and no matter how much I read and thought about it (a lot), I simply could not comprehend how anyone, _anyone_, could treat someone that way. Total non-comprehension. I went around bugging my professors to explain the history of racism to me (not what happened, but how people could be like that), and no one ever gave me a satisfying answer.

    This is probably why the "all white people are racist" thing just couldn't ring true for me: I don't claim to be totally free of social conditioning, but I've seen real racism and it is simply foreign to me, like Urdu or gravy on french fries. It's like insisting that I am English because I speak the language and my ancestors came from there 3+ centuries ago. You can make the intellectual argument but no matter how convincing it sounds, I just will not ever be able to feel English. It's not that I don't want to be English, it's that I look at the English and think "what's up with them?"

    I see the same thing in Ebert's article. He can resist the racists in the car, he can vote against them, he can point out their mistakes, and he can feel some hypothetical empathy for what he imagines must be a very painful way of living, but he just cannot understand what the hell would drive someone to be that way. It's beyond his ability to comprehend in anything other than an intellectual, abstract manner.

    By the way, I read Tara McPherson's "Reconstructing Dixie" this week. A nice meaty section in there on Captain Confederacy, as you're well aware.

  5. transientandpermanent, agreed it's not best ever--I meant "best in weeks," not months or years, but I'm glad to boost the signal and glad you liked it.

    A data point you probably know, but I think it's useful for anyone who might be troubled by having slave-owning ancestors: there were black slaveowners in the CSA too.

    As for the English analogy, when I was 19, I went to Europe. To my amazement, the Germans seemed much more American than the British. When I learned more American history, I understood part of the reason why. The other part may be that the Germans got rid of their monarchy a good while ago.

    And, yeah, I was delighted when McPherson included Captain Confederacy. How did you come across the book?

  6. On those black slaveowners: many (most?) of them owned their own spouses or kin for strategic purposes. For example, freedmen had to leave Virginia within six months unless they got an exemption from the legislature. So free black men or women with permission to stay would buy their slave spouses and maintain legal ownership of them, thus shielding them from being forced out of the state away from their families. Not quite the same thing as blacks owning slaves for economic exploitation, though that did sometimes occur too. Not a very widespread practice, though. Of course, some Native Americans had slaves (black, white, and native), though outside the legal framework of the USA/CSA, and more than a million Europeans and white North Americans were enslaved by the Barbary States. Definitely not cool, but still all the black and Native American slaveowners and all the white Barbary slaves added together are a drop in the bucket compared to the number of Africans transported to the New World.

    I've been to London but never to Germany (my dad spent a summer there back in the 60s). I'll have to ask him how he compares them in terms of Americaness.

    On McPherson: I'm finishing a book for UNC Press on Buddhism in the South, it's topic that's never been tackled. McPherson's one of the texts I looked at for theoretical perspectives on how to approach the South and the creation of Southern identity in contemporary society. My project doesn't have a strong gender angle so I may not use much of her stuff, but I appreciated her ideas nonetheless.

    I guess Captain Confederacy has run its course, but I've always thought it could be the basis of a very cool novel. The comics medium served it well but a novel or set of novels would allow for deeper exploration and I believe there'd be a market for it. It might retell the basic plots of the comics in greater detail, or take the alternate history in a different direction. Either way, I'd read it.

  7. Thanks for the links: I'm locked in my garret writing at the moment, but I'll come back and check them out later. My research and writing is more contemporary than the pre-Civil War South, but it's good to know the background as well as possible.