The Clare Spark Blog

June 24, 2015

Hate speech, revisited

John Gast: American Progress, 1872

John Gast: American Progress, 1872

I have written many times about “hate speech” tracing its origins to the liberal establishment which had several big reasons to institutionalize the demand for politeness: 1. The ideological impulse to explain the rise of Nazism/race riots to rabble-rousing new mass media (; 2. The belief that speech creates reality (derived from Plato and the social democrats who suppressed material explanations for social conflict; 3. The notion originating with internationalists that conflicts can be resolved with better communication (and the warring parties subjected to “neutral” mediation on behalf of the ethical state/UN, of course).

It is a common error on the Right to attribute the notion of hate speech (a.k.a. political correctness) to communists hiding under every bed and in every college classroom. What most fail to do is to face squarely the history of expansion in the United States, performed at the expense of Amerindians, slaves and Mexicans. Patriotism in the interests of national unity or Manifest Destiny is the preferred alternative, even if, in some quarters, the Civil War is still raging, with some Midwestern and Southern whites holding on  to the symbols associated with the good old lost cause.

Here is the irony of attributing hate speech and PC to the Reds. It was mostly New Leftist professors who, with anti-imperialist zeal inspired by the 60s-70s antiwar movement, invented “whiteness studies,” in the process failing to follow the lead of the Old Left that made class the category that mattered most to the revolution. You would think that such careful analysts writing in the tradition of Marx would have foregrounded the objective study of class, but no, they followed Lenin and Woodrow Wilson in the spirit of internationalism, ignoring the fictional categories of “race” and “ethnicity.” (See and, but even Alexander Saxton, my dissertation director, a proudly unreconstructed Stalinist, yielded to his contemporaries in promoting “whiteness studies,” as if all white people either all had the identical economic interests, or were hopelessly and permanently racist. (Saxton was especially disappointed in the white working class, apparently.)


This has put me, the director of the Yankee Doodle Society, in a quandary. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the composer Joseph Byrd and I reconstructed antebellum American popular music in the sentimental tradition, using the original lyrics, without expunging the N word. We produced one recording for a local company (Takoma), focusing mostly on Stephen Foster, Henry Clay Work, and George Root, but then got a corporate and then several government grants to produce not only the music of these and other composers agreeable to the middle class, but also we reconstructed the cultural context of such music. We ended up with a set of six-sided LPs and a mammoth 10 and a half-hour documentary played on Pacifica Radio in Los Angeles three times, all unexpurgated, unlike recent reconstructions of Stephen Foster that simply erase the “hate speech.”

The music by itself was distributed by Musical Heritage Society for ten years, and during that time, I got an offer from a Neo-Confederate distributor who would have been willing to cut us in on the profits. I never answered his letter.

The fact is that further distribution of these materials, which are unique and brilliantly performed by top musicians and actors, could lead to abuse by racist groups. As long as I can’t control the context, I hesitate to release them, for minority groups in this country have enough to contend with, without further insults dredged up from the American past.


What would you do in my place? I am sitting on several boxes of recordings that should be heard, but not by irredentists of any stripe or locale.



  1. How about donating your masters to the Library of Congress, Clare? National Jukebox, the Library’s online archive of recordings from the acoustic era ( is wonderful — and yes (as a disclaimer on the site says), lots of the material there is racist.

    Comment by jonathanmorse — June 25, 2015 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

    • I had something like that in mind, Jonathan Morse. But the cultural context part will be buried there. And it was the most important achievement of my life, all 10 and a half hours of it. It took many years to research and produce. I have found nothing like it even in liberal or left academe.

      Comment by clarelspark — June 25, 2015 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

  2. I’d sit on them for the foreseeable future, or possibly release them only to known and trusted confidants. There are newly powerful social and legal mechanisms that will destroy not only reputation but income and property for transgressing contemporary taboo. Unless you’re a registered and visible Democrat, that is. Apparently you can say nearly anything you want and be forgiven if you support the “correct” issues. President Obama’s use of the “n-word” (oh, how I despise that evasive construction) is a great example. In most corners of the “progressive” party, he’s heroic or “professorial” for using it. Conversely, I have no doubt what would happen to me if I started using the term. . . . My own take is that the word is used primarily by persons of low character and enough said. I’m hoping to retire someday and then, when my family is no longer dependent on my income stream, maybe venture out into the wilds of the culture wars.

    Comment by Terbreugghen — June 24, 2015 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

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