YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 5, 2013

Kerry Washington, SCANDAL, and miscegenation

Kerry W in “Olivia Pope” mode

This blog is about actress Kerry Washington’s confusion about the primary fear of segregationists in both the antebellum North and South and then in the post-60s age of multiculturalism. The host of SNL November 2, 2013, complained that she was paired with a white president. Ms. Washington seems not to have understood that her sexual liaison with the white President was the scandal of SCANDAL.

On Monday November 4, the bean counters of NPR noted Ms. Washington’s appearance on SNL, noting that she was funny, and that it was scandalous that there was no regular African-American female cast member.  (See the “diversity” issue brought up here also: http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/11/03/snl-recap-kerry-washington-eminem/.)

It is indisputable that the fear of miscegenation was the great fear of Americans before bohemianism and bogus ‘anti-racism’ overtook American culture,  recent developments that have screwed up the formulators of affirmative action, who relied on blood and soil definitions of identity, as had their German Romantic forebears. What box to check when the applicant has “mixed blood”?

What follows is an excerpt from my book ms. that lays out the overpowering importance of “amalgamation” that infused even so advanced a city as antebellum Boston, home of abolitionism and such luminaries as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Charles Sumner.  By radical Enlightenment, I refer solely to intellectual freedom and human rights as limned in the Declaration of Independence and the First  Amendment to the US Constitution. (I call the Progressives conservative enlighteners, because they co-opted ‘science’ in the service of political stability and social cohesion, discarding the search for truth: although they gave lip service to it.)

[excerpt Hunting Captain Ahab, chapter 2:] One distinguished proto-Progressive was Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the State of Massachusetts (1830-60), Herman Melville’s father-in-law and patron until his death. I have joined two of Shaw’s major decisions to suggest a leitmotif for the Melville Revival: the paradoxical Progressive gesture of simultaneous incorporation and encysting; we will see this process repeated as ambivalent Melville scholars elevate/reject Melville as Ahab, charismatic transmitter of radical Enlightenment.

[Proto-Progressive]Judge Shaw had decriminalized labor unions in his landmark decision of 1842, Commonwealth v. Hunt.[i] In Sarah C. Roberts v. City of Boston, 1849, however, Judge Shaw created the precedent for Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, the “separate-but-equal” doctrine that was not overturned until Brown v. Board of Education removed the legal basis for school segregation in 1954. Concluding the Roberts case, Shaw announced a unanimous decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court upholding the right of the Boston Primary School Committee to exclude black children from white schools as long as blacks were educated elsewhere. The Chief Justice explained, “The law had not created, and could not alter the deep-rooted prejudice which sanctioned segregation.” Undaunted, Charles Sumner, advocate for five-year-old Sarah Roberts and her father Benjamin, pressed on, accompanied by fellow abolitionists and integrationists, white and black. With the added support of sympathetic opinion in the towns, school segregation was outlawed by the state legislature and signed into law April 28, 1855. Prayed the New York Herald May 4,

“Now the blood of the Winthrops, the Otises, the Lymans, the Endicotts, and the Eliots, is in a fair way to be amalgamated with the Sambos, the Catos, and the Pompeys. The North is to be Africanized. Amalgamation has commenced. New England heads the column. God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!” [ii]

Propinquity alone must overwhelm blue blood; ring the tocsin! Not so for Captain Ahab as he took “Bell-boy,” the black child Pip, into his cabin: “Come! I feel prouder leading thee by thy black hand, than though I grasped an Emperor’s!” Melville and his revivers often diverged in their approaches to independent labor organization and its multifarious amalgamations; the labor question, in turn, is entwined with epistemology in an Age of Revolution. In the venerable centrist discourse (in use since the English Civil War) agreeable folks possessed qualities hitherto associated with race or ethnicity: moderates were good (Tory) Anglo-Saxons; extremists were bad (Hebraic) Anglo-Saxons, overtaken and infiltrated by radical puritanism–the source of all obdurate, selfish, polarizing and deceptive materialist influences. As introduced above, I use the term “corporatist” and “organic conservative” to characterize the triumphant ideology of postwar businessmen, federal bureaucrats and union leaders, the moderate men of “the vital center,” viny humanists all. Emulating the gradualism advocated by the eighteenth-century politician Edmund Burke, the corporatist ideologues presented their scientific socio-economic theory as progressive, i.e., updated and rectified liberalism. The claims of individuals would be balanced against the claims of community and tradition. A weak social democracy was the outcome, with the stipulation that the doctrine of abstract rights, a Jacobin innovation, was out of bounds.

The holistic “vital” vision would unify warring fragments. Spiritualized but fact-loving moderates were at odds both with materialists to their Left (such as the IWW and the Socialist Party, later the Communist Party and the anti-Stalinist liberal Left) and with materialists to their Right. During the Depression, the Left wanted independent labor unions, extensive government regulation of industry, and all forms of social security (including health insurance) to emanate directly from the federal bureaucracy; the market-oriented Right opposed all labor unions and all state regulation. (For the latter, “inefficient” national social security programs would undermine self-reliance, choice, and local control. At that time, some Progressives classified National Socialism as a racist movement of the Left, not the Right; indeed, during the 1930s Gerard Swope’s social democratic proposals, more extensive than Roosevelt’s, were greeted by Herbert Hoover as “fascistic.”)

Kerry femme fatale mode

Kerry femme fatale mode


                [i]  10. See Philip Foner, History of the Labor Movement In The United States, Vol.1 (New York: International Publishers, 1947), 163-64. Foner was discussing the Whig pretense that their party served the interests of independent workingmen using suffrage to remedy their grievances. Shaw’s decision had made it legal “to organize and bargain collectively” (but with “enough leeway” to be gutted by “reactionary judges”). In 1839-40, seven leaders of the Boston Journeymen Bootmaker’s Society had been indicted and found guilty for conspiracy, the bootmakers having made rules that would have excluded non-members from the craft. It was argued that they maliciously intended to destroy the plaintiff’s business; Shaw was reversing a Municipal Court decision that had held the Bootmakers’ regulations a conspiracy, enforced or not. Foner quoted Shaw’s opinion: associations could “adopt measures ‘that may have a tendency to impoverish another, that is, to diminish his gains and profits, and yet so far from being criminal and unlawful, the object may be highly meritorious and public spirited. The legality of such an association will therefore depend upon the means to be used for its accomplishment. If it is carried into effect by fair or honorable and lawful means, it is to say the least, innocent, if by falsehood or force, it may be stamped with the character of conspiracy.’ ” Shaw had drawn a clean boundary between honorable and dishonorable social action; Melville would be interrogating Shaw’s distinction in his most disputed texts: what if the fair and honorable were always punished, while the rascals were deemed “innocent”?

                [ii] 11. See Leo Litwack, North of Slavery (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961), Chapter 4 for a full discussion of the conflict. The Roberts case was argued by Charles Sumner before Shaw’s court, Dec. 4, 1849. Melville began writing Moby-Dick in 1850.

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January 3, 2012

The Race Card

Sumner bio paperback cover art

This blog responds to the playing of “the race card” by such politicians as Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson, plus a cast of thousands of militant black nationalists, along with academic allies who favor ethnic studies. Their separatism and taxonomy of “African-Americans” suggests not only an underlying loyalty to (racist) Pan-Africanism, but a fashionable version of US history as unmarked by moral and political outrage at the institution of slavery or horror at the failed struggle for Reconstruction after the supposed ending of the Civil War. At bottom, this blog suggests that the President’s continued popularity may be partly attributed to white liberal guilt (as suggested early on by Shelby Steele and others), and certainly not to powerful “liberal” blows against the racism that permeates our society, with some exceptions.

I will try to contrast two important books on race and class in the 19th century; one by the late David Montgomery, writing from the Left, and another by the late David Herbert Donald, writing from the moderate middle.  As I have shown in other blogs on the website, such success as the ex-slaves and their descendants have achieved in America is explained by the overt or subtextual racism of primitivism and  multiculturalism. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/05/12/the-great-common-goes-to-the-white-house/.

I.    After having faulted upper-class antebellum and post-bellum Radical reformers (through 1868) for their obliviousness to structural class conflict, the late labor historian David Montgomery concluded that “the Radicals” (including Charles Sumner), nevertheless exerted a positive influence on American politics. In Beyond Equality, (1967) the book that established him as a leading historian, Montgomery ended with this paragraph:  “…though their moment in power was brief and their response to the dilemmas of that moment confused, the Radicals left America a legacy that was both rich and various. To Negroes they bequeathed the promise of equality, enshrined in the organic law of the land. To Liberals they imparted faith that an educated and propertied elite might shepherd the nation through the morass of democratic ignorance toward an increasingly prosperous, harmonious, and rational life. Upon the Sentimental Reformers, and through them, on the working classes, they bestowed the ideal of popular use of governmental machinery to promote the common good, and a conception of that good as something nobler than a larger gross national product. Henry Carey’s sense of revulsion toward the consecration of “selfishness and individualism as the prime feature of society,” and Thaddeus Stevens’s aspiration for a community ‘freed from every vestige of human oppression,’ jettisoned by a nation in frantic pursuit of wealth, were left in trust to its labor movement.”

(For David Montgomery’s views on his membership in the Communist Party see http://rhr.dukejournals.org/content/1980/23/37.full.pdf+html.)

II.   I have quoted from Montgomery’s first book, not because I sympathize with his Marxist analysis of the future of the labor movement, but because Montgomery’s positive view of the abolitionists and antislavery men (including Senator Charles Sumner, 1811-1874) stands in such sharp contrast with that of his Ivy League colleague David Herbert Donald, author of a much lauded two-volume biography of Sumner, that leaves out the labor question altogether, focusing rather on Sumner (a catalyst for Civil War) as a pain in the neck (perhaps with Jewish, Negro, or Indian blood), deserving of endless psychological analysis. But even more importantly, Donald sees the race problem as one of “prejudice,” without consideration of labor competition, in Ralph Bunche’s view, the lingering cause of white racism (see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/10/ralph-bunche-and-the-jewish-problem/) .

Here are some passages that illustrate my point:

David Herbert Donald

[From Donald, Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (1960), footnote: pp.4-5:] “…Barry [1853] asserted that Sumner’s mother was ‘probably of Jewish descent’; this allegation led…Stearns [1905]…to identify ‘the Hebrew element in Sumner’s nature; the inflexibility of purpose, the absolute self-devotion, and even the prophetic forecast.’ Such a theory of inherited racial traits is, of course, highly unscientific. But, in any case, the Jewish strain in Sumner’s ancestry is dubious. At no point in his career, when virtually every other possible weapon was used against him, were anti-Semitic charges raised.” In the text on p. 5, Donald reports that “Boston maiden aunts speculated—without any evidence whatever—that the mysterious [Esther Holmes, Sumner’s paternal grandmother, never married to Major Sumner] had been ‘partly of Negro or Indian blood.’” But then, Donald hints that there may be something to these speculations seeking to account for Sumner’s passion for Negro human rights: “Prudently the new senator preferred to draw the veil over the whole subject of his genealogy (referring to CS’s autobiography): “It seems to me better to leave it all unsaid.”

In Charles  Sumner and the Rights of Man (1970), Donald takes a slightly more positive view of his subject, but no sooner does he declare Sumner’s belief in the brotherhood of humanity, than he finds a quote that attributes distinct racial qualities to Negroes (though this typical 19th century view of national or racial character never affects Sumner’s view of such crucial matters as freeing the slaves immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter, or endowing the freedmen with some of the land that they had worked, plus a full panoply of civil rights, including desegregated quality education, male suffrage, the right to testify in trials, desegregated public space, etc.

[Donald, V.2, p. 422, referring to Sumner’s anti-segregation speech “The Question of Caste”:]  “Invoking the new prestige of evolutionary science, he declared that ethnology and anthropology proved the ‘overruling Unity’ among the races of man, ‘by which they are constituted one and the same cosmopolitan species, endowed with speech, reason, conscience, and the hope of immortality, knitting all together in a common Humanity.’… [The Switch:] When the bars of caste were lifted, the Negroes would exhibit their basic racial traits of ‘simplicity, amenity, good-nature, generousity, fidelity,’ and these, when added to the ‘more precocious and harder’ characteristics of white Americans, would result in a civilization where ‘men will not only know and do, but they will feel also.”….

Near the end of Vol. 2, Donald reveals his affinity with Gunnar Myrdal, the white liberal foundations who funded and controlled the production of An American Dilemma (1944), and other cultural historians who hoped that reduction of “prejudice” and interracial understanding (or the constant reiteration of “white guilt”) will alleviate every kind of racism, through a change of heart:

[Donald, p. 533, referring to Sumner’s proposed civil rights bill:] “The subordination of the Negroes was less a matter of economics than of prejudice, deep-seated and ineradicable so long as black men legally were marked as belonging to an inferior caste. Only by securing equal rights to all citizens could the United States live up to its promise and become a land where even-handed justice ruled.”

This rejection of economic considerations (e.g. labor competition) is precisely what Myrdal’s associate Ralph Bunche or his mentor Abram L. Harris, were repudiating in the late 1930s.

What to take away from this dip into the conflicted mind of the late David Herbert Donald, a Mississippian with a Vermont ancestor who fought for the Union? How did he climb the academic ladder to become one of the most honored historians in the field? Why should we pay attention to his Sumner obsession?

I have two primary reasons for writing this blog:

  1. Having reread the two-volume Donald  bio of Sumner, I am more convinced than ever that Melville modeled his character Captain Ahab after Sumner. Just as “Ahab” was a “fighting Quaker”,  Sumner’s first scandalous public oration– on the Fourth of July 1845, in Faneuil Hall, Boston, to an elite assemblage that included military brass sitting in the first row—denounced all wars and pledged his life to peace.  The “fighting Quaker” moniker, plus the compassion that Ahab feels for the black boy Pip, going so far as to take “crazy” Pip into his cabin and promising never to abandon him, clinches the deal for me. For Sumner’s writing completed as Melville was writing Moby-Dick see https://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/. Or see https://clarespark.com/2008/05/03/margoth-vs-robert-e-lee/.

2. The notion that a career such as Sumner’s, passionately averse to slavery, that then fights for reconstruction of an American post-Civil War Union, could be the sign of a mental disorder or even tainted blood, is so bizarre as to be a sign of mental  incompetence and perhaps outright hostility in Sumner’s biographer. It was noted in one obituary (the New York Times) that Volumes one and two of  Donald’s major work were different in tone, owing to the growing civil rights movement. Clearly, that writer did not read the new, improved model with sufficient care.  Donald never relinquishes his characterization of a foppish, somewhat gay, anti-social, supremely arrogant and Negro-fixated Charles Sumner. His complexion may have been olive-tinted in Volume 1, but he goes out in Vol. 2 with “So White a Soul” (referring to Emerson’s characterization of Sumner’s moral  purity, but with a suggestion of underlying racism).

TO BE CONTINUED.

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