YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

February 10, 2018

“Black supremacy?”

One thing I will say for W. J. Cash’s “famous classic” The Mind of the South (1941), though it had typical Leftist tropes (e.g, group mind, or what postmodernists would call a “collectivist discourse”). At least Cash did not glorify the consciousness of slaves and freedmen— unlike some black nationalists who, out of one side of their mouths stigmatize Amerikkka as incorrigibly corrupt (and Jewified) and out of the other side identify their group as the most likely antidote to “white supremacy.”

Witness the leftist offensive to take down the statues that commemorate Southern generals AND the Founders, or other miscreants (Columbus!) held to have turned the virgin land into a killing field.

Rather, Cash, unlike more recent liberals and radicals, took slavery seriously enough to blame it for a romantic, hedonistic, “individualistic” (but conforming) mind-set that was typical of the pseudo-aristocratic planter class and that permeated landowning white AND black folks to their detriment as the South became bourgeoisified after the Civil War.

Cash would like to have seen ex-slaves and poor whites join together to overthrow the “Babbittry” that many liberals today identify with Trump voters, for the Democratic name-calling reminds me of Cash’s list of horribles. Like H. L. Mencken, Cash viewed Southerners as “yokels”/”fundamentalist” fools.

The black nationalists have a point, for their antagonist, Martin Luther King, Jr., was not a Leftist (though the Communist Party did infiltrate the civil rights movement, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Party_USA_and_African_Americans), but the black nationalist separatism (and implied black supremacy) would not sit well with W. J. Cash, who looked to a coalition of labor activists black and white to improve their condition. (Cash reminds me of Ralph Bunche, during the late 1930s, an Asa Philip Randolph enthusiast, who advocated for a more humane capitalism.)


January 20, 2018

“White supremacy”

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Roy Moore/NBC News photo



There is no better way to track social democrats (liberals) than the usage of the term “white supremacy.” No respectable Marxist or conservative would be caught dead using this description to characterize the West or the history of the US. (See the anticapitalist analysis here: https://jacobinmag.com/2018/01/racecraft-racism-barbara-karen-fields). And yet the phrase “white supremacy” has tremendous currency on the so-called Left, owing to its coalition with liberals during the New Deal. https://clarespark.com/2015/04/17/the-ongoing-appeal-of-the-leftist-dominated-popular-front-against-fascism/.

I have been ploughing through Eric Foner’s prize-winning book RECONSTRUCTION (1988) and noted his constant usage of the term “white supremacy,” which was repeated by earlier textbook-writing liberal historians influenced by the 1960s movements. This bears some unpacking, as it recalls the shift from class politics to an emphasis on black nationalism, particularly on the increasing acceptance of Malcolm X’s use of “white devils” on the liberal “Left.”

And yet Foner condemns the “Gilded Age” for its turning the freedmen (ex-slaves) into wage slaves. Similarly he ignores the New Left emphasis on Southern and Western Populism because it is so lily-white (not because it scapegoated banks and finance capital). Foner’s confusion surely is derived from Pop-Front politics that could not fuse liberal anticommunism with class-struggle politics.

But even more significant than the move toward explicitly racial politics, is this Foner’s deployment of “slavery” and the (failed) Reconstruction to the cause of present-mindedness, i.e., reading current values into the past, which violates the conscientious historian’s task of reconstructing the context of whatever period s/her writes about.

Conservatives rightly protest the term “white supremacy” because it assumes that all white people share the same interests. But we do better to see how the term distorts the popular understanding of US history, including the more recent move toward black nationalism/multiculturalism by “liberals.” https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/.











November 14, 2015

No boundaries

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

It is difficult to wrench my focus away from the massacre in Paris, to concentrate on the ongoing turmoil in our most important universities, but try I must.

(First read this blog: https://clarespark.com/2014/11/27/what-black-community/.) By far the best course I took at UCLA while I pursued my doctorate was a seminar on slavery and Reconstruction taught by Margaret Washington (now at Cornell University but known as Maggie Creel when I studied with her).

Margaret Washington

We read histories written by Kenneth Stampp, Stanley Elkins, Herbert Gutman, Eugene Genovese, James Oakes, Peter H. Wood, Frank Owsley, and many more specialists on the history of the antebellum, Civil War, and postbellum South, looking often at opposing views regarding institutions and events. Dr. Creel was a strong feminist, and at least when I studied with her, she was no black nationalist. UCLA’s famously “Red” history department did not appreciate her many merits, and she left after receiving the offer from Cornell University.

It was obvious from all my graduate studies that the history of the “peculiar institution” was central to the study of US History, and in later reading, I read the major novels of Thomas Dixon, and caught up on the most recent thinking of such academic superstar historians as David Brion Davis, David Blight, Seymour Drescher, Eric Foner, and their contemporaries, all of whom were writing during the rise of black nationalism (the latter ideology a departure from Martin Luther King Jr.’s focus on integration).

I remain puzzled over their reluctance to study the transformation of the 1960s civil rights movement from integrationism to (divisive) nationalism, though I believe that the transformation of the leftist line against the very concept of “race” was central to their silence on a subject of central importance to their profession, not to speak of contemporary social movements that accept without demur separatist and “multicultural” “African-American” histories. (Do we really want to legitimate Pan-Africanism?) These eminent intellectuals accepted without protest the lack of boundaries between MLK Jr. (and his contemporary Ralph Bunche) and their most famous opponent, the now glorified Malcolm X.

In short, I believe that these prominent professors had gone with the flow. No boundaries, unlike the line drawn by Maggie Creel in 1984.

Prize-winning book by Margaret Washington on Sojourner Truth

Prize-winning book by Margaret Washington on Sojourner Truth

It was also in graduate school, that I witnessed an angry black student walking out on a lecture by Ira Berlin (by then, another prominent scholar of slavery, whose talk was focused on the creativity of many slaves, who planted their own vegetable gardens to supplement an inadequate diet furnished by their owners). This furious militant did not want to hear about slavery at all. He was obviously a warrior of the type presaging “Black Lives Matter.”

Turn now to Peter H. Wood’s major contribution, The Black Majority (on South Carolina), that I reread a short time ago. My major take away from that impressively researched work was the ongoing rivalry between black and white workers; i.e., bitter labor competition was the lingering effect of slavery. This focus on class was a welcome diversion from the now constant concentration on a supposed “institutional racism,” not to speak of the endless leftist attack on “American exceptionalism,” as if, for the protesters, blacks were still toiling on plantations. Labor competition also explains why some white policemen (themselves often of working class/urban ethnic origin) might be quick on the trigger.

Back to boundaries and the lack of them. The cry of black militants (and their lefty allies) against an obviously overstated “white supremacy” suggests that they too have no boundaries between past and present. It is clear that the fights over slavery shaped American history, but many Americans have given their lives to stop the racist practices of the past, not least in the Civil War and in the 1960s too..

One can only speculate on the parenting that misshaped today’s “social justice” warriors demanding reparations and revolution. Their liberal professors and various delinquent parents should take responsibility for their children’s deficient educations. In a misguided revolt against “puritanism” (New England is often blamed for the introduction of slavery) professors and parents alike have driven their students and children into primitivism and a misguided life that celebrates the escape into terror.

It is not only Islamo-fascists we should fear today.

More boundaries, please.

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

David K. Flowers blog, photo credit 123rf.com

May 2, 2015

Mosby, multiculturalism and the persistence of feudalism

A populist take on feudalism

A populist take on feudalism

I have been  reading both older and newer scholarship on European history from late antiquity to the late Middle Ages, and am struck by several features that persist in our political culture: obedience to “authority” (stable hierarchies); and the search for “leaders” reminiscent of the Good Kings of feudal times—the King who, unlike “the Jews,” was not money-mad or selfish. Populists from Left to Right yearn for his return, for he makes us feel safe in an unpredictable and hostile world.

It has occurred to me that the nostalgia for the Middle Ages that I have noted earlier (see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/22/materialist-history-and-the-idea-of-progress/ or https://clarespark.com/2013/05/30/nostalgia-for-the-middle-ages/), is not nostalgia at all, but a sign that capitalism, individual opportunity, self-reliance, and mass participation in politics as individuals weighing facts (as opposed to ethnic identification—the hyphenated Americans) has not yet been achieved, though such 19th century figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote about “self-reliance.” (http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm.)

How does multiculturalism undermine the virtues we attribute to market societies, and the rule of law for rich and poor alike, equality that is presumably built into our Constitution and the notion of “liberty”?

First, we might go back to the late 18th century and look at Herder and other German Romantics (all reactionaries fearful of “materialism” and the singularity of the rootless cosmopolitan).  For it was Herder and his followers who popularized the notions of ethnicity and national character—collectivist notions that would be institutionalized in the Aryan supremacist Nazi State (a time when Herder’s notions were revived, and in vogue, though the 19th century racists had already become popular).

But the major impetus to multiculturalism in the US was the fear of proletarian internationalism and a feisty new industrial working class (much of it immigrant), that seemed to be taking power after the American Civil War unleashed industrial development and then after the Soviets mounted their revolution in 1917, prefigured by socialist movements in the US and Europe. So such figures revered by liberals as Randolph Bourne and Horace Kallen stressed the long-standing idea of ethnicity as way more important than class conflict or even so an elastic concept as “class interest.”

What does this have to do with black nationalism and the future of the six black cops in Baltimore, charged by Marilyn Mosby in the death of Freddie Gray?


The most relevant feature of cultural nationalism is the belief that each “ethnicity” or “race” is incomprehensible to members of other designated groups. Out goes any potential agreement on “facts” in the upcoming trial of the black cops, for black nationalists will view the three black cops as “race traitors” who should have acknowledged that the forces of law and order are out to get them in the interests of “white supremacy.” All of a sudden, Marilyn Mosby, State’s Attorney for Baltimore, has no particular bias as an opportunist taking advantage of token reformism as a response to the condition of blacks in Democrat-run urban ghettoes, for all blacks, like all whites, share the same (class) interests in the argot of multiculturalism/racism.

Such is the deadly logic of multiculturalism with its outdated, but persistent, notion of “ethnic” tribalism, a leftover from pre-capitalist periods in history, periods notorious for their hostility to dissent, innovation, and agreement on universal facts (independent of “perspectivism”/“point of view”). Is it any wonder that we are polarized to the point of collapse of the rule of law, for decades and centuries of indoctrination and experience have convinced much of our black population that there is no justice and no peace.

Maoist conception of the vanguard

Maoist conception of the vanguard

March 26, 2011

“Race,” Class, and Gender

Alexander Saxton, ca. 1948

One Facebook friend (a neocon) has asked me to justify the current emphasis on “race, class, and gender” throughout the curriculum. He believes that the Battle of Gettysburg (i.e. military history) has been squashed in the general stampede toward relevancy. It happens that when I was program director of Pacifica’s Los Angeles radio station, KPFK-FM, I initiated a resolution that was adopted by all the other program directors and then ratified by the National Board of the Pacifica Foundation, that all programmers in our network should be responsible for educating themselves in the history of minorities, women, and labor, understanding that we were to attempt new syntheses that other, more constrained, journalists were not likely to emulate.  I did the same when I was in graduate school at UCLA, and encountered stubborn resistance to the identical resolution I proposed while representing all the graduate students in the University of California system. This blog is about what I meant, why I advanced this proposal, and how other academics and journalists have dealt with the issues I raised.

1. Why I did it in the first place. All in my generation and in the one following were deeply affected by the civil rights movement and by the turmoil on the campuses of the major universities in opposition to the Viet Nam war. Had I not been a science major, laden with mostly science classes, perhaps I would have learned something about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow in college, but I did not. Even in graduate school, academic study of race in America was mostly centered around two debates: First, did slavery pay? And two, did slavery destroy the black family and to what extent did slaves revolt, resist, or accommodate to their condition, with lingering effects into the present? Since then (the 1980s) a massive amount of work has been done in these fields, though I have complained about black nationalism as controlling these studies, and hold to that view today, as my prior blogs have demonstrated.

Moreover, the 60s movements and the feminist movement were intertwined. I had never thought that there was anything particularly odd about the socialization of women until I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in the early 1970s. I cannot count on any man to fully understand the subjugation of women unless he is particularly enlightened and has daughters (especially if he has no sons). The gay rights movement too has focused our attention on gender socialization and power between the sexes. My early socialization has not yet been repaired, to my sorrow.

2.  Race, class, and gender at UCLA Department of History in the 1980s onward.  As I have written previously on this website, the left-liberal professors with whom I studied often collapsed class into race, following the historian Edmund Morgan, who had been much affected by the 1960s movements for native American rights and civil rights in general.  With the exception of a Trotskyist professor, class struggle was no longer the engine of history, it was racial struggle that was front and center. The feminist professors were generally progressives (i.e., statists), which could mean straight-up communism or social democracy.  Even labor historians bought into the new social history, and attributed the failure of socialism in America to cultural reasons, mostly attributing its flaws to white working-class racism and/or embourgeoisment.  Although my dissertation director, Alexander Saxton, thought that “race,” unlike class, was “socially constructed,” he still wrote books about working-class racism and “the white republic.” Everyone was hostile to the “consumerism” that afflicted “mass culture.” Luckily for me, my dissertation topic was the revival of Herman Melville’s reputation between the world wars (thank you, Alex! a “proletarian novelist” in his pre-academic life), so that led me into European intellectual history and away from an obsession with heterosexual white male supremacy. I became extremely interested in the massive transformations in politics that followed the invention of the printing press and the gradual spread of mass literacy and numeracy. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/04/21/fascism-what-it-is-what-it-is-not/.) This focus emancipated me from reliance on class, race, and gender as the explanation for everything and, with a new alertness to the construction of the 20th century humanities curriculum, I soon found myself deep into the history of racial theory and the origins of multiculturalism. “Race” was indeed socially constructed, and a racialist discourse dominates cultural history today, blotting out conflicts of interest having to do with both class and gender, each of which is a material fact. (In this respect, Saxton and I were in complete agreement.)

3. Is class of any relevance? For communists and populists alike, class is everything, and whole upper-class lives may be darkened with fears of servile revolt or, in “the lower orders,” deep, roiling unfocused anger at such targets as Wall Street and the rich in general.  (Antisemitism can be found in rich and poor alike: for the wealthy, Jews are innovators and troublemakers, stirring up revolt and class hatred: Christian love is the antidote for “Jewish” hate. For the poor, Jews are often the agents of modernity that uprooted them from an idyllic, communal, agrarian past and abandoned them to the lonely crowd. )

However, no historian can ignore concrete class interests in describing continuity and change. My (male) reader who objected to “race, class, and gender” was worried about military history and diplomatic history, and I would add international relations in general. Very few individuals in any period of history are so brilliant and versatile as to be able to form a comprehensive history of even one significant event, taking all variables into account.  It is true that international relations and diplomatic history require intensive study and special training  (and even then, the fields are filled with factions that despise each other). But to deprive oneself of crucial analytic tools (i.e., class interest, views of race and national character, or gender roles and socialization in a given historical moment), is to etiolate one’s own grey matter as one undertakes the daunting task of writing history and constructing new and better syntheses. [This blog should be read in tandem with https://clarespark.com/2010/01/02/jottings-on-the-culture-wars-both-sides-are-wrong/.]

Alexander Saxton as I knew him

October 31, 2009

Was Martin Luther King Jr. ever a black nationalist?

Image (80)

Stanford U. demonstration, 1980s

During the presidential campaign of 2008, I wrote an essay for History News Network http://hnn.us/articles/48809.html. I am posting the unedited version, which is also slightly updated and retitled. Two recent events have prompted this move: 1. David Plouffe’s memoir of the campaign will be released on November 3, and 2. the Anti-Defamation League has conducted a poll concluding that antisemitism in America has declined. I am wondering about the veracity of Plouffe (could he not have been aware of how black politics have moved away from integrationist to nationalist tactics)? I also doubt that the ADL sampled enough of the black population (a powerful force in both local and national politics when it is unified), nor do I believe that the pollsters were sufficiently skeptical of the tendency to deny bigotry when persons are asked such loaded questions by pollsters. So I am presenting this blog to remind visitors that black liberation theology annexed Martin Luther King, Jr. in a frightening synthesis that is undoubtedly appealing to much of the anti-imperialist Left, long famous for its view on “internal colonialism” and also “multiculturalism” (in my view, a resegregation of minorities who either were moving into the middle-class, or who participated in urban riots in the 1960s, prompting their co-option by major universities).  (On multiculturalism and its origins, see http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html.) [added 8-27-13: for more on James Cone and the conception of the Black Jesus see https://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/.]

My article follows, with a quote from the Plouffe book as first item.

[From David Plouffe’s upcoming book, as quoted by George Stephanopolous on his blog, 10-31- 09:] “The incident [the news about Reverend Wright and his parishioner BHO] should have prompted an immediate scouring of the Reverend Wright and all he has said over the years….it’s worth noting that our systemic failure to deal with this issue properly started the day before Obama’s announcement.  I still kick myself for how terribly we mishandled our internal Wright work.” [Added 11-5: Plouffe was queried about the Rev. Wright relationship by Terri Gross on NPR, 11-4, and stated flat out that Obama had joined Wright’s church not because of its leader but mostly because of the strong community it attracted. This was exactly the line during the campaign, during damage control time as Wright’s politics were revealed.]

Is Reverend Wright a Black Liberationist?
By Clare L. Spark

Ralph Luker, Atlanta Journal-Constitution 3-18-08

“The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, ‘I love you, Israel.’ He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: ‘Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power, and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.”

Those words sound like something by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s minister. He was much quoted over the weekend as having said: “God damn America.” But the quotation comes not from Wright, but from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 5, 1955. Both African-American preachers have understood prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Wright’s words. … ‘G-d damn, America,’ indeed. It should have more men like him.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 12-5-55

“The Almighty God himself is not only, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, “I love you, Israel.” He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: “Be still and know that I’m God (Yeah), that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.” (That’s right) Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we’ve come to see that we’ve got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation. (Yeah) [applause]”

It is puzzling to me that Ralph Luker can partially excerpt a speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. to link King’s prophetic voice to the pastor of black liberation theology who shouted “God damn America,” for it was the separatist black power movement (derived from black supremacist Pan-Africanism and Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, and later Christianized by James Cone) that saw “white supremacist” America as irrevocably damned, whereas the integrationist King, speaking at the inception of the Montgomery bus boycott movement, protested the failure of American democracy to live up to its stated ideals, and proposed legal, non-violent means to rectify a shameful lapse: moral suasion and legislation. King did not present a damned America, but one with promise if, as a Christian and democratic nation, its professed universal brotherhood, signifying equality before the law, was to be addressed: “And certainly, certainly, this is the glory of America, with all of its faults. (Yeah) This is the glory of our democracy. If we were incarcerated behind the iron curtains of a Communistic nation, we couldn’t do this. If we were dropped in the dungeon of a totalitarian regime, we couldn’t do this. (All right) But the great glory of American democracy is the right to protest for right. (That’s right) [applause].”

One of my areas of research is black history, particularly the ideas of Ralph Bunche, both before he collaborated with Gunnar Myrdal in the research for An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944) and during the years he worked for the United Nations. Bunche, despite his interest in the 1930s Left, was always an integrationist with a strong commitment to the welfare of “my people,” and who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, distanced himself from separatist movements until the end of his life, despite efforts of Malcolm X and others to enlist his participation in an “umbrella movement,” or, in the case of UC Berkeley professor Charles P. Henry, to claim Bunche for “black power” in a late-life conversion. Bunche’s biographer Sir Brian Urquhart put a special emphasis on Bunche’s as “an American life,” not the life of a hyphenated American, and that was Bunche’s line as well. It was most probably he who gave Myrdal the idea of “an American Creed” of rationalism, democracy, and egalitarianism, to which even Southern whites gave at least lip service. In a 1941 speech urging black participation in the resistance to Nazism, he reiterated the American Creed, and, referring to Southern white laggards, memorably concluded, “Democracy, to be realized, must be lived broadly.”

I can also say that the cultural nationalists who are now the primary black voices on the Pacifica Radio network are frequently just as paranoid as Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Bunche, in his memoranda to Myrdal, observed that ghettoes produce parochialism: the self-destructive suspicion of outsiders that cannot distinguish friends from enemies. Bunche’s analysis has been vindicated. Listening to Wright’s claim that government programs originated the AIDS virus to destroy blacks reminded me of “Afrikan Mental Liberation Weekend,” a notorious series of radio broadcasts on Los Angeles Pacifica station KPFK in the early 1990s, that virtually damned “the ice people.” The financial support emanating from black listeners was intense. Such irrationalism was not part of the American Creed as formulated by Bunche, who died in 1971; on the contrary he was ever wary of incendiary language and populist revolts that released pent-up hatred and resentment along with fantastic longings for an idealized past or utopian future. Unfortunately several trends in American life in the last several decades have marginalized Bunche’s vision of an imperfect America that was yet capable of equal treatment for minorities, especially the right of equal opportunity to “get ahead,” universally applied to all its citizens.

Some months ago, a prominent libertarian commentator predicted that the 2008 presidential campaign could profitably facilitate a national discussion on the appropriate role of the state in the economy, a prediction based on the assumption that Republicans and libertarians generally favor free markets and limited government, while Democrats and leftists look to statist remedies conferring “social justice” in order to correct a bogus and skewed “free market”:  For some “progressives” Adam Smith was dead wrong: free trade and market economies do not promote peace or create wealth and an ever rising standard of living for ordinary people, but rather imperialist war, accelerating inequality, and the destruction of nature. This could be a productive conversation for all Americans, and would engage such books as Jonah Goldberg’s popular polemic Liberal Fascism (2008) and the more nuanced, historically grounded examination of the role of the state in a market economy, Jerry Z. Muller’s The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought (2002). Sadly, that debate is not the one we are having, although it may underlie the current controversy regarding Obama’s true beliefs with respect to “black liberation theology.” On the surface the political class wonders, does Barack Obama silently agree while he publicly disagrees with his ex-pastor and mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Moreover, there are questions about Wright’s place within American black history: is he a separatist in the tradition of Malcolm X and other cultural nationalists, or are his Afro-centric “jeremiads” and his “African Christianity” a legitimate offspring of the postwar civil rights movement, peacefully opposing “segregation, separatism, sectarianism and superiority” as Martin Marty has argued in The Chronicle of Higher Education (4-11-08)?

What I find shocking is the erasure of historical memory and analytic precision that seems to exist inside those ostensibly liberal institutions that affect public opinion.  The vague and undefined buzz words—not just “change” or “hope” but “the black community,” “diversity,” “social justice”– that pervade media commentary were partly produced or ratified by leading universities as their administrations incorporated and co-opted 1960s social movements. Writing in the late 1930s, Bunche and his colleagues had demanded an integrated political, social, and economic history of blacks in America with investigators approaching the problem from diverse antiracist perspectives, but cooperatively developing a scientifically collected knowledge base of use to all reformers. By contrast, in response to the urban riots of the middle and late 1960s, college administrators shoved the often class-based grievances of blacks and other protestors, for instance, women and Latinos, into separate departments defined by gender or race/ethnicity, and eventually taught by members of their racial or gender group. Simultaneously, fields of study bloomed in departments of English and cultural studies that disavowed [WASP-Jewish] Euro-centric white male supremacy and racism, while, oddly, perpetuating a racial and communitarian discourse of “diversity.” “Educational” (tax-exempt) public media, supported by the federal government, the liberal foundations, and listener-sponsors quickly followed suit. Disappeared was the concept of American society as a collection of free-standing individuals whose civil rights were (or should be) guaranteed by the liberal state; taking its place were autonomous racial or ethnic communities whose distinctive “cultures” (each with its own particular Zeitgeist and heroes, unrecognized or indecipherable to other races or ethnicities) would be celebrated as the antidote to debilitating “negative images” supposedly dispensed by rich white males and their white  supremacist lackeys. Also deseparecido was the 18th century concept of the melting pot, which was now seen as a conspiracy against the regnant “cultural pluralism.” Israel Zangwill had explicated “The Melting Pot” in his popular play of 1908; his was a syncretic view of the unprecedented enriched and enriching American culture-in-formation that would leave European blood feuds behind, but such clarifications were soon viewed as apologetics for a manipulative pseudo-objective “science” that dissolved precious ancestral ties, leaving deracinated immigrants and ex-slaves victims of either [Jewishly-inspired] proletarian internationalism, or of urban anomie, hence newly susceptible to a debasing jewified mass culture, and consigned to slugging it out in the war of all against all that was the legacy of Locke, Hobbes, and their atomizing doctrines of “possessive individualism.”  That “identity politics” retains its salience is demonstrated by The New York Times in its report of Obama’s speech on race, 3-19-08: “Mr. Obama stayed up well into the night writing much of the speech himself, aides said. His words carried familiar strains of the biography he wrote more than a decade ago about his search for racial identity.”

There were other casualties in the post-60s process of co-opting the movements of women and minorities as they had existed since the entwined Protestant-led reform movements of the antebellum period, including abolitionism and feminism. I have mentioned above the denigration of the Enlightenment concept of individuality and universal civil rights as the individual, dissenting or otherwise, was melted into “community” (das Volk or “integral nationalism” as understood by German Romantics). The postmodern revolt against science (science as just another “story”) jettisoned the notion of free speech also central to the Enlightenment: Free speech was not an excuse for slander and libel or loose talk in general, but that which enabled the no-holds-barred search for truth, that is, a search that would ultimately yield a working consensus on social policy and reform, arrived at through collective deliberation based on universally observable facts, not site-specific group facts.  But there are no universally observable facts, nor are there objective histories of conflict, according to those literary theorists who have annexed history and anthropology to their projects of advancing moral and cultural relativism, God or Goddess damning the bigoted imperialist, patriarchal, and ecocidal “Amerika”/“the hypocritical West,” and justifying “terror” as a legitimate weapon against predatory Eurocentric scientific method as wielded by mad scientists and Romantic Wandering Jews. Hence, James Cone, originator of “black liberation theology” could state in 1971 with conviction (and future support): “If the oppressed are to attain their freedom, they must begin to create a new style of communication which is consistent with their struggle for liberation. In part they must deny the accepted canons of logic, allowing the liberation struggle alone to be the logical test for meaningful discourse. Logical consistency, as defined by the oppressors, is irrelevant.”  

Without understanding the recent submergence of the rational argumentation that sustains productive democratic participation in our “progressive” institutions, it is difficult to see the scandal of the Obama-Wright controversy and the shallow analysis in some quarters that has accompanied the dissemination of Wright’s sermons and Obama’s speech on race. Think of the learned political debates of the 1930s or the pre-60s postwar civil rights movement that, in retrospect, were oases of scholarship and empiricism. The very concept of “racial diversity” as currently deployed was dissected by anti-Nazis, for example Julian Huxley in We Europeans (1936), or by such proponents of an educated and unified industrial union movement as political scientist Bunche and his mentor and colleague at Howard University, the economist Abram L. Harris. Throw in their friend, the anthropologist Melville Herskovits who challenged “the myth of the Negro past” (i.e., that there were no African survivals in the U.S.) by arguing for cultural syncretism. These materialists were keenly aware of clashing interests and strategies among blacks, and Bunche, for one, not only challenged the concept of “race” tout court in his well-known pamphlet A World View of Race (1936) but lamented the fiasco of the 1935 National Negro Congress that he and his mentor Abram L. Harris had helped to organize, for he understood that no agreement over tactics could be achieved where black integrationists and black nationalists, or capitalists and labor union bureaucrats oblivious to the needs of rank and file workers, sat at the same table. As he bitterly noted in his memoranda, “There is no such thing as “the Negro.” For Bunche at that time, there could be no institutional change without independent organization by participants in the labor market, educated through the experience of unified (black-white) class action how best to defend their individual and group interests. But taking his writings as a whole, “integration” for Bunche signified equal rights; i.e., equal opportunity to pursue the American dream, a goal that was unlikely to be realized without the elimination of ghettoes.

Whether or not Marxist postulations of irreconcilable structural antagonisms between capital and labor are still relevant and helpful, the Bunche cohort’s disdain for the toothless strategies of upper-class white foundations who were advocating interracial understanding and enhanced communication, i.e., [Christian] love not [Jewish] hate, as the primary solution to black poverty and political powerlessness, remains apposite. (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/.) So much for “the black community” as posited by today’s pundits, dutifully echoing the histrionic cultural nationalists who dominate the public square, claiming to speak for all members of their “race”, while hoping to mobilize mass (and liberal upper-class) support for the advancement of their own very particular careers. As long as we allow color and an antiquated discourse of the organic [black] community to define the political divisions that matter, we ignore the urgent question that begs to be addressed: In an era of globalization, what role should government intervention and regulation play in an advanced market economy, and how well have prior interventions and regulations served their purported objectives? The “civil rights movements” (feminism, gay rights, etc.) that piggy-backed on the black movement (one that was always internally divided between integrationist and separatist strategies) may have exacerbated already existing divisions in the democratic polity, diverting attention from the bigger picture, which is the long-standing polarization over the role of the state in regulating a free market economy. Questions of remedies for exclusion—of women, minorities, and gays– are properly subsumed under this larger problem of government, especially since we are federalists in an enormous nation with diverse and often conflicting belief systems. Barack Obama, former president of the Harvard Law Review, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., could and should have made that the focus of “the ferocious urgency of now.”

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