YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

August 17, 2014

Improving “race relations”: Left, Right, and Middle

racerelationsThe race riot in Ferguson, Missouri (August 10, 2014 onward), is a reminder that we have made little progress in resolving the vexed question of “race relations” in America. This blog suggests that neither Leftists, Rightists, nor Moderates have a clue as to how to proceed in ameliorating what are called “race relations.”

I became interested in this subject while researching my book on the so-called “revival” of Herman Melville, universally lauded for his allegedly advanced position on prejudice and “race.” So I read a book published during WW2, by Gunnar Myrdal, assisted by Ralph Bunche: An  American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (Harper, 1944), a massive research project funded by the Carnegie Corporation in order to fend off the depression-instigated race riots that were anticipated at the end of the looming conflict with Nazism and other fascisms.  Immersion in the Bunche Papers at UCLA and related materials alerted me to this volatile, incendiary, and unresolved subject.

First, an outline of the positions as put forth by American political factions and organizations:

The New Left: Unlike old Lefties (who viewed the bourgeoisie as developing the productive forces, but doomed) American history is essentially racist and destructive; propertied white males have abused indigenous peoples, blacks, Nature, immigrants, and women. There is no solution to the race problem short of revolutionary transformation achieved through [inter-racial] class struggle directed against finance capital (the master puppeteers). After the revolution, all particularisms (e.g. “identity politics”) will disappear in an internationalist commitment to communism and true individuality.

Liberals and other anticommunist social democrats: It must be noted that Bunche and Myrdal were at odds over prior strategies to solve “the Negro problem.” Bunche was infuriated by the liberal solution of “better communication” between whites and blacks. At that time, Bunche was writing from the left of Myrdal (a Swedish social democrat), and urging that blacks join unions to overthrow autocratic union bosses and all other bureaucrats toward the objective of worker’s control. At times, he (or more likely Myrdal) called for a more effective welfare state. Myrdal’s responses to Bunche’s militant memoranda resulted in mischaracterizing Bunche as an “economic determinist,” while leaning on him to separate troublemaking black “betterment organizations” from the harmless ones. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/08/04/carnegie-corp-and-the-negro-problem/.) Bunche correctly identified the Marcus Garvey movement and its offshoots as fascist and escapist, while criticizing such venerable organizations as the NAACP and Urban League as indifferent to the cause of Labor.

[But during and after WW2, Bunche was successfully co-opted by the liberal establishment and became an ally of the State Department and its British counterparts in his mediation of the “insoluble” Jewish problem (see https://clarespark.com/2014/06/18/how-ralph-bunche-sold-out-and-failed-in-palestine/.)]

Since the acceleration of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the repertoire of non-solutions has been added to by liberals: affirmative action, separatist curricula in academe, multiculturalism, whiteness studies (the latter adopted by the far left since it damns Amerikkka and the West). Through dwelling on the errors of the  past, while ignoring present-day education and other practical solutions, black rage has probably accelerated, though prominent black writers were angry enough (e.g., James Baldwin, Chester Himes). Since writing this blog, I have reviewed the Johnson administration recommendations now known as The Moynihan Report. See https://clarespark.com/2015/08/08/the-moynihan-report-march-1965-and-instability-in-the-black-family/. This might upset those conservatives who see the reconstituted nuclear family as the solution to black poverty and illegitimacy.

The Right: There is no cohesive conservative movement on this subject, but the most persistent call for relief from race riots, a threatening black underclass, incomplete transition to middle class status by American blacks, and female headed households (with excessive illegitimacy in “the black community”) has been a call for the rehabilitation of the patriarchal black family along with a religious revival, presumably headed by strong father figures willing to discipline and inspire children to study, to renounce gang membership, and to adhere to traditional religious principles. (The latter is expressed in support of school vouchers that would include sectarian religious schools, hence this strategy implicitly rejects “secular” solutions to group antagonisms.)

Given the sharp disagreements over strategy within the fighting factions of American politics, it is not surprising that Masters of Sex delivered a muddled episode on August 10, 2014 (see https://clarespark.com/2014/08/16/ferguson-mi-masters-of-sex-and-the-dilemma-of-the-white-liberal/).

Clare’s advice: Had the phrase “move on” not been sullied by the ultra-liberal George Soros forces, I would advise concerned Americans to stop dwelling on past failures and errors, but to focus on a quality education for all children, neither idealizing nor demonizing those aspects of the Western past that are irrefutably “racist” and demeaning to non-whites. There is a heated debate right now regarding whether or not “race” even exists as it is currently imagined; a revival of Lamarckianism may be in the works, thanks to epigenetics. As for the father-led family, that mostly conservative strategy seems utopian to me, and would take to long to demonstrate results, unlike potential changes in school curricula and in the media. [Update 8-29-14: it has been objected on Facebook that women may be inadequate parents too. This is true, but it is one feature of conservative ideology to drastically separate male and female roles in the family: men are the disciplinarians, while women offer unconditional love. Why should parenting be taught in the schools to prepare youngsters for the likely road ahead? Both parents should be setting boundaries and educating their kids for real life which is always a struggle, whatever the period in which kids must function.]

One thing is for certain: Eva Moskowitz’s charter schools in Harlem have established that black and brown children can “succeed” beyond our wildest dreams if there is strong cooperation between school staff and parents, and a challenging curriculum.

Hope looms on the horizon, but we are all responsible, white and non-white alike, for pushing Eva Moskowitz’s agenda forward, notwithstanding opposition from entrenched interests such as teachers unions (see comments below).

racerelations2

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June 18, 2014

“Feminized” and “jewified” modernity, and my breakup with Ralph Bunche

palestinetugofwarI recently went through my notes from the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA, some of which had been already posted: https://clarespark.com/2014/05/17/miracle-man-ralph-bunche-saves-the-un/. You may remember that he became Acting Mediator for the Arab-Israeli conflict after the Stern Gang assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte, September 17, 1948; the [pseudo] settlement of this conflict was a test case for the efficacy of the new United Nations after WW2. Indeed, Bunche won the Nobel Peace Prize for his ‘successful’ mediation that resulted in the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and her neighbors.

Earlier, in the 1930s, Bunche was a leftist, possibly a member of the CPUSA, though that is hard to pin down, as he was all over the various left factions that fought with each other during the Great Depression. Some will see him as solely as a follower of Norman Thomas or A. Philip Randolph. But he wrote to Alger Hiss in support of his struggle with the anticommunists, and he was also on the editorial board of the communist publication Science and Society (though he later resigned). I made a photocopy of a strongly anti-imperialist, anti-racist declaration of W. E. B. Dubois from the mid-1930s, and find little in Bunche that deviated from the DuBois anti-capitalist positions. Indeed, Bunche’s pamphlet A World View of Race, autographed by DuBois, is an anti-racist, anti-imperialist classic of the genre.

Bunche was effectively co-opted during and after his stint as Gunnar Myrdal’s chief research associate while the latter was writing about An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy ) published 1944. By then, Bunche had proven his usefulness to the liberal elite by identifying those “Negro betterment organizations” that were likely to get out of hand and effectively upset the status quo. His next job was with the OSS, where he downplayed US influence in Africa, then he was hired by the State Department, to which he remained loyal during his time with the UN. During the summer of 1948, he addressed the top dogs in that department to warn them that Israel was inevitably “expansionist” [and trouble owing to increased immigration], a warning he later repeated to upper-class Americans in private meetings. [Added 6-24-14: this “expansionist” line would come to duplicate radical jihadist propaganda that Israel and its Western allies were seeking to destroy Palestinians and other Muslims through “expansion” into territories once held by Islam, including Muslim penetration into the Europe that the Arab world had ostensibly civilized.]

By that, I mean that he aligned with those State Department figures who wished to cooperate with Arabs (whose oil was crucial), and who were also eager to maintain an increasingly shaky alliance with Great Britain against the Soviet threat. But perhaps the most important point to take away from this brief summary of Bunche’s politics is this: RB entirely accepted the UN and State Department line that the question of a Jewish state must be framed as two victimized peoples fighting over a small strip of land, strategically located for the failing British Empire. Nearly all the scholarship that followed takes this identical, incorrect line.

What is modernity? To its reactionary enemies, modernity signifies economic development along with the rise of banks and financiers, political democracy, the emancipation of the inquiring mind, a free quality education for all children, urbanization, secularism and pluralism, but above all, equality under the law for rich and poor alike. But for the Muslim world, the emancipation of women was probably one of the most painful developments as it was a symptom of reduced paternal authority in the family. I remember reading a book from the late 1940s that registered the indignation that Israel’s enemies expressed at the sight of sabra women going about, unaccompanied, wearing shorts and sandals.

1922 antimodern image

1922 antimodern image

Even my most erudite friends fail to see this distinction between fighting over land and borders and the “Pan-Arab” resistance to modernity. An incorrect analysis leads to bad strategy, destructive school curricula, and worse journalism that more often than not, concludes in some form of moral equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian atrocities: an ideological analysis based on irrational antagonism toward “the Other.” (see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/11/the-other/).

What neither Bunche nor pundits in our own time saw with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict was as follows: It was never about land and borders or “Otherness.” The “question of Palestine” was always about Muslim resistance to modernity. And Jews along with emancipated women signified a rupture in human history that was intolerable. Modern machines, modernist skyscrapers, and technology, along with other common antimodern tropes, had nothing to do with their animus against a Jewish state. Most disturbingly, Bunche made it his mission to preserve the legend of Count Bernadotte’s greatness; agreeing with him that the displaced “Palestinians” should enjoy the “right of return”, and carefully editing out of Bernadotte’s memoir all evidence of hostility to the Jewish leaders they encountered during their “peace” efforts in 1948.

Modernity

It is astonishing that Bunche, a very astute person, did not see that at the time; perhaps it was a leftover from his days on the anti-imperialist Left. Moreover, his lack of understanding (the Palestine problem is insoluble), suggests that though he was a highly educated person and very liberal and systematic in his notes on Africa, he was morally compromised by his alliance with more powerful men. Bunche’s disgust with antisemitism, the main subject of my article on his relations with Myrdal, probably reflected 1. The communist line at the time, and 2. The Jews he praised were probably communists supportive of the labor movement; his anti-antisemitism probably did not reflect his deeply held beliefs. I find it painful to acknowledge this. His diaries are not free from disdain at Jews who fawned over him.

Bunche Nobel

February 27, 2011

Remembering Ralph Bunche, American

Ralph Bunche at UCLA, 1926

Dr. Ralph Bunche, political scientist and Acting Mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948-49, did not want to remembered as an African-American or an African American. Bunche wrote that his ancestors had helped build this country, and wanted no insinuation that he should be racially identified, though there was no doubt that he was a tireless defender of “my people.”

In the last few blogs, I have been complaining about a powerful group of white cultural historians who believe they are accurate in describing American descendants of slaves as African-Americans or African Americans without the hyphen. These include such luminaries as David Brion Davis, David Blight, Seymour Drescher, Steven Mintz, and John Stauffer. They are all hard working and productive scholars, good men all, who have done much to remind Americans that the sectional reconciliation that followed the Civil War did not fulfill the emancipatory promise of that momentous conflict. I do not depart from their general view that white supremacy still lingers; see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/.

But I do not understand why they persist in a racialist discourse. Africa, a huge continent, was the site of numerous, distinct societies that were too various to be gathered under the umbrella of pan-Africanism. As cultural historians, they would argue that African survivals created a cohesive community of blacks in America that share a common culture. But such a category, however fluid it may be imagined, covers over class differences and other conflicting interests. These scholars follow W. E. B. Dubois, not Ralph Bunche. They also frequently cite Gunnar Myrdal, who knew nothing about race relations in America, and was chosen by the Carnegie Corporation for precisely that reason, lest their mammoth study of “the Negro problem” be seen as one-sided. So Ralph Bunche, who had been outlining a big study on this very subject, but could not proceed for lack of powerful fundors, was hired as Myrdal’s lead collaborator, and Bunche was not to be intimidated by Myrdal or his sponsors. His voluminous memoranda and correspondence, housed at UCLA Special Collections, were a revelation to me, for the internal debates in the making of An American Dilemma (1944) that were never published told me a lot about “liberal” sponsorship of American history projects with their emphasis on intercultural communication and understanding. For examples, see https://clarespark.com/2011/06/16/the-antiquated-melting-pot/.

Bunche and his close friend and mentor at Howard University, Abram L. Harris, had great hopes for integrated industrial unions, but recognized that union bosses (the bureaucratic layer) were a menace to the interests of the rank-and-file, white as well as the black workers who were to unite with their working brethren to lift all workers out of the mire of the Great Depression. Bunche was a radical during the 1930s, hence he was no acolyte to those I have called elsewhere “socially responsible capitalists” or “corporatist liberals.” All this is worth remembering as the nation argues about public sector unions and unions in general.

Though Myrdal attacked Bunche and his colleagues as “economic determinists” Bunche never neglected culture and ideology. But what may have made him unacceptable to high society was his plain spoken condemnation of all black nationalist tendencies, seen by him as escapist and often antisemitic. Bunche’s constant reminders to Myrdal that Jews were the only pro-labor members of Negro Betterment Organizations (such as the Urban League) could not have sat well with those who read his memoranda. But it is worth remembering that Bunche spoke out against antisemitism when it was not fashionable to do so.

Although Sir Brian Urquhart has written a commendable biography of Bunche, no one can write a complete biography as long as his voluminous  letters to his wife are sealed until the death of his children, Ralph Jr. and Joan. I would like to have been the one to have written that biography, but it cannot be. Still, the many months I have spent in his papers are a highlight of my years in research, and did much to dispel the lingering racism that was my unfortunate inheritance as a student in the 1940s and 1950s. One more memory before Black History Month disappears: the professors I mentioned above are disturbed by the lingering effects of racism into the present, though they are vague about precisely what that entails beyond “race inequality.” Bunche had no doubt on that score: 19th century job competition between black and white workers bred bitterness, he thought, and it would take work to overcome that cultural inheritance. But that kind of talk is forgotten in the age of liberal guilt and “reparations” that do not, and cannot, repair. See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/23/the-origins-of-political-correctness/.

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