YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 9, 2018

Ralph Ellison’s ambivalence re white racism

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Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was copyrighted in 1947, but the book was not published until 1952. It has become a classic of “Negro” literature. This blog is about his mixed message concerning black nationalism, for Ellison took care to separate himself from the separatist movement headed by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s. And yet he gave much testimony regarding the appalling degree of what would be called today “white racism.” Moreover the last one-third of the book is a round condemnation of betrayal by the Communist Party (of which, like Richard Wright and other blacks in the American branch of the CP, the invisible man was an ex-member).

And yet Ellison was heaped with honors by the literary establishment; similarly he always seemed to me to be the most level-headed analyst of the (unfulfilled) promise of American life as it pertained to black citizens. This blog is also about the Herman Melville declaration that “the Declaration of Independence makes a difference.” For Melville shared Ellison’s ambivalence about the future of American democracy and the rationalism advanced by the Enlightenment. The “Epilogue” to Invisible Man suggests that Ellison had backtracked on his initial mocking words about “social responsibility,” just as Melville separated himself from Captain Ahab in the Epilogue to Moby-Dick.

One review of Ellison’s masterpiece (and his single published novel) mentions that the author became more conservative in temperament as he got older. Such is the case with many ex-communists. Perhaps Ellison, like Melville, was always upwardly mobile, and yet his emphasis on (white racism), so persuasively presented in the novel Invisible Man, must ingratiate him with today’s liberals and other moderates who support such separatist movements as “Black Lives Matter.”

 

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April 30, 2014

Racism in America has disappeared? The Donald Sterling scandal

SterlingEver since the privately taped scandalous racist talk of billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, was revealed over the weekend of April 26-27, news media have been agog over the matter, each pundit or reporter proudly declaring her or his—even a regenerated America’s– freedom from racist sentiments, unlike the appalling Sterling. Some went so far as to declare that America has eliminated the national sin, even as they pinpointed billionaire Sterling as the retrograde outlier. (For the Wiki bio see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Sterling.For my own struggle with racism see https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/.)

Several commentators on Fox News (including Greg Gutfeld who should know better) went so far as to condemn the 80 year-old sports mogul as delinquent in his attitudes, since he was old enough during the 1960s to have repented and made reparations for the national sin—as opposed to mouthing anti-black opinions in his dotage.

The subject of this blog is to observe 1. That racism is not so easily obliterated, as even liberals indulge themselves in a subtly racialist discourse (i.e., multiculturalism), and 2. That liberal elites as early as 1968 promoted “cultural anthropology” as a curriculum item that would explain cultural relativism and presumably support affirmative action; and 3. Though it would be difficult to stop what we now call “hate speech”, in the privacy of one’s home or other sheltered venues, it would be okay to use the “N” word or other obnoxious put downs of non-whites “at the dinner table,” and “underground.” A conference at Martha’s Vineyard was called apparently to address the burning down of big cities after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

The suggestion that racist talk be driven underground and hence smothered was put forth by the up and coming black advisor to liberal elites, Christopher Edley (see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/).
Here is the money quote from Christopher Edley, affirmed by a son of FDR:

[Christopher Edley (Program Officer in charge of the Government and Law Program at the Ford Foundation):]…I’m convinced that the way you eliminate prejudice and racism in America is not by talking and education and explanation. I think you have to start with a simple cliché‚ like God, motherhood, or country. You have to have something that has a noble ring. And it seems to me that what this country needs is a movement, and I don’t know that this is the appropriate group to sponsor it. This country needs a movement. The way to eliminate prejudice is to smother it. If we could bring about a climate in this country where no one could express a prejuducial viewpoint without being challenged, we would begin to drive prejudice underground. And I submit to you that prejudice unexpressed and unacted upon dies–it doesn’t fester and grow–it dies. Now this is high sounding, and I don’t expect people to agree with such a simplistic solution. But I really believe that you can stamp it out. And if you look at our national figures today, there are certain people who cannot make a prejudicial remark. Many of our Governors, the President, many responsible Senators are precluded in their public lives from ever making a prejudiced public statement, and if they make a statement that sounds like it’s prejudicial, they’re called on it and the next day, as General de Gaulle found, it was necessary to recant. So we don’t allow them to get away with anything. But at the lower levels, over the dinner table…[ellipsis in original, Edley is an African-American now teaching at Harvard Law School.]

[Franklin Roosevelt (Former Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Congressman from the Twentieth Congressional District in New York during the eighty-first to the eight-third Congresses):] The citizen level…[ellipsis in orig.]

[Christopher Edley:] At the citizen level, we say it’s perfectly all right for a bigot to express his bigoted thoughts. If you’re anti-Negro you can speak out against the Negro at supper. The simplicity of the idea I submit to you is the thing that gives it some national potential for changing the climate (145). [Identifications as published, xiii-xv].

The National Basketball Association has ostensibly put the scandal to rest through various punitive measures, but that will not stop the chatter about Sterling’s venality; nor will the smugness stop in the media. For not only are these ostensibly unbigoted journalists lacking in self-criticism, they lack curiosity about the competing attempts to combat racism in the 1960s and even before that. I refer to the integrationist strategy versus the separatist black power approach, that kept blacks and other minorities and women at bay in the academy and elsewhere. That controversy has also disappeared down the collective memory hole. One wonders how long and how widely the legacy of self-proclaimed “fascist” Marcus Garvey has lingered, or how many “African-Americans” follow the Nation of Islam, and for whom Louis Farrakhan is a revered figure.

Detroit race riot, 1967

Detroit race riot, 1967

June 23, 2013

The origins of political correctness

Glitterati crushing The People

Glitterati crushing The People

I asked Facebook friends where they thought “political correctness” came from, and I was referred to three authors: William Lind, Roger Kimball, and Diana West. I am in sharp disagreement with their work, which is all too reminiscent of the John Birch Society, “paleoconservatism,”  and the most paranoid populism. (The second in this sequence is https://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/. A must-read on the origins of “cultural Marxism” is found here: https://clarespark.com/2013/07/31/the-nefarious-cultural-marxists/.)

In fact, it was the moderate conservatives, who then called themselves the Progressives, who imposed speech rules in academe. Their sources were the Counter-Enlightenment German Romantics, who invented the fields of cultural anthropology, comparative literature, and popularized the notions of national and racial character, also Zeitgeist (the mythical “spirit of the age”). These were all collectivist, organicist notions directed against the “atomizing” forces of modernity, including “capitalism,” science and technology, mass literacy and mass numeracy, the emancipation of Western European Jewry, the rise of the modern woman, the self-organizing of former slaves in America, and the growing labor movement. Ultimately, the pseudo-progressive target was equality under the rule of law, most importantly as embodied in the American Constitution, including its Amendments.

It should not be surprising that modern conspiracy theorists, emboldened by the internet and social media, have pinned rules forbidding “hate speech” on powerful, omnipotent ‘Jews’ on the lam from Hitler (i.e., “cultural Marxism” as brought by the Frankfurt School critical theorists). What these refugees accomplished was continuous with the German Enlightenment and its mystical, German Idealist notions that were demonstrably protofascist, and indebted the Hegelian notion of “the ethical state.”. The importance of language and images in the constituting of a deceptive “reality” (to be “deconstructed”)  stems from German Idealism.

Before the bad demonic Frankfurters arrived, moderate conservatives everywhere during the Industrial Revolution had already figured out that religion could keep the working masses in line, hence such movements as Christian Socialism (in Britain) or the Social Gospel (in America) were in place, and formed the matrix of the progressive movement, which was always elitist, manipulative, and “pragmatic” whether it was in its initial anticommunist phase, or its anti-imperialist New Left phase. Voltaire, while preaching freethought in his anonymous works, advocated religion to keep the lower orders in line. He didn’t like Jews either. Religion, for Voltaire and for his successors, was purely instrumental: i.e., it was not grounded in a system of ethics, but as a means to an end: social cohesion and political stability. The search for truth, the Head and Heart of the Enlightenment, was off limits to these “freethinkers.”

https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/

https://clarespark.com/2009/06/04/modernity-and-mass-death/

https://clarespark.com/2010/07/18/white-elite-enabling-of-black-power/ (this quotes conferences from 1968, showing the buying off of black power advocates with separatist black studies programs)

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/ (This is about the “culturalist” turn in history ca. 1939, before the “cultural Marxists” established themselves in academe. It was carried out by social psychologists close to the New Deal.)

https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/ (especially https://clarespark.com/2010/10/18/the-dialectic-of-multiculturalism-helvetius-herder-fichte/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/.)

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/21/the-persistence-of-white-racism/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/18/blogs-on-mental-health/

https://clarespark.com/2013/03/18/babel-vs-sinai/ (mentions political correctness as the mode preferred by “Babel” not “Sinai”)

(to be continued)

January 21, 2012

The persistence of white racism

Willie Horton

[This is a  companion piece to https://clarespark.com/2011/05/26/who-is-a-racist-now/ and https://clarespark.com/2012/12/01/petit-bourgeois-radicalism-and-obama/.]

Hollywood liberals along with other liberal elites take great pride in their rectified conduct regarding minorities, especially blacks. It is amazing how quickly an overwhelmingly “white supremacist” country overcame its racism. A few assassinations, a few urban riots, a few token reforms, positive images of “African Americans” in the movies and television, a national holiday for the martyred MLK Jr. and the problem disappeared from view. The media, academic multiculturalists, and the Democratic Party (with the selection of Barack Obama) did their part in maintaining the fiction that white people were, or were about to be, cleansed of the national sin. Even the South was redeemed, thanks to those politicians who, overnight it appears, became Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens, Wendell Phillips, and Frederick Douglass. (This last contention is refuted by many of my Southern Facebook friends.)

During my youth I never saw blacks as authority figures, nor did any of my teachers at two Ivy League institutions (Cornell and Harvard) fret about the race problem (nor were there black or female faculty). Nor did I have Communist relations who would have told me I was a racist, or otherwise educated me about race relations in the country of my birth. I can still recall my revulsion at the sight of a black male arm in arm with a white woman in Greenwich Village during the late 1950s. And was not miscegenation the linchpin in the racialist repertoire? That, coupled with scary images of angry, murderous black men. (Lee Atwater knew what he was doing when he summoned the image of Willie Horton to defeat Dukakis in 1988. It was my horror at that move that led me to ask the question “How Do We Know When We Are Not Fascists?” in a new series on KPFK. For a detailed account of the ad and its behind-the-scenes politics, see http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1990-11-11/features/1990315149_1_willie-horton-fournier-michael-dukakis.)

It was only during the civil rights movement as transmitted on Pacifica Radio in the 1960s that I had ever heard a black intellectual, and I heard plenty. That led me to James Baldwin’s Another Country, from which I gleaned the lesson that women were so boring that it was understandable that any sensitive male might prefer the company of other men, even in bed.

My education in race and gender only began in the 1960s, and it shook my psyche to its foundations. In my own defense, I remember thinking about my own negative views of black people that perhaps I was a bigot, that were these not humans like myself, with only one life to live? Were we not all in the same boat? During the years at Pacifica radio, I began producing programs about the development of American culture, focusing on such matters as artistic freedom from censorship, and the ecology of artists and the institutions that interpreted their work. By now it was the 1970s, and middle-class blacks were organizing themselves (as were women) to demand more space in galleries and museums for black and women artists. I remember the story of one art world Waspy socialite on the museum board, overheard by a friend, complaining on a telephone call, “Now we are going to have to show all that crappy art.” I also remember the pugnacity and defensiveness of the current director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, referring to these black and female outcasts as “my people.” Because I had given them air time, I was now similarly a pariah in the world of the haute bourgeoisie. It was good for my character to be thrown out with the trash.

During that period of radio production, I remember the first demands by media reformers from minority communities that Pacifica and all other media outlets must dispense with “negative images” of their groups in order to provide “role models” of strength to the children, who presumably would remedy their self-esteem deficits. (This demand was in sync with prior rules in the movies that entertainment should neither be offensive to any group nor propagandistic.) Nobody was demanding an entirely reoriented education from early childhood on, with the exception of a few visionaries. Nothing has changed since then, except that the visionaries (see Eva Moskowitz’s chain of charter schools in Harlem) are proving their claims that urban minorities, properly educated in the basic skills of literacy, numeracy, science, and such, are indeed not mentally or morally deficient, as racist propaganda would have it; nor were their self-images to be confined to white America’s most potent racist and sexist images: the Willie Horton rapist/murderer/star athlete/rapper, the blackface minstrel entertainer with a populist message, the femme fatale (Medusa, Gorgon, the “despicable” hag/witch Marianne Gingrich, disposable ex-spouse out for revenge, hence lacking in credibility), or her antitype: Mammy a.k.a. “Nigger Jim” in Huckleberry Finn. Cross-dressing may be cool, but it does not rectify the condition of women.

I would love to believe that all the white supremacists, North, South, and West, had not only had a change of heart, but were, more importantly, rectifying their own education with studies of black history, women’s history, and especially labor history, for competition between black, brown and white workers is a crucial element in our politics, past and present. Just as the competition between women for the favor of protective and powerful men is the engine that keeps many women focused on sex and appearance above their abilities to function either as healthy individuals, or as effective parents, or as proper citizens in a republic; i.e. women (including minorities of either gender) who are not averse to the study of military history, economics, accounting, political maneuvering, and the deciphering of all forms of authoritarian propaganda.

I am aware that many Americans in all sections of the country are working to change inherited attitudes toward “race” and gender. This blog is mainly about a public complacency that I find intolerable. Complacency and a distressing turn toward social relations that are not only irrational, but sadomasochistic. See https://yankeedoodlesoc.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/huck-finn-and-the-well-whipped-child/.

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