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Friday, 01 April 2011 07:42

Ongoing Supremacy of White Supremacy

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STEVEN JONAS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

In a BuzzFlash commentary dated Aug. 25, 2009. (See here)

I pointed out that the South had six principal war aims in the Civil War:

1. The preservation of the institution of African and African-American (courtesy of the slave owners and slave masters) slavery and its uninhibited expansion into the Territories of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Southwest.

2. The acceptance by the whole United States of the Theory of White Supremacy on which the institution of slavery was established.

3. The establishment and strong prosecution of American Imperialism (a position much more strongly held in the South than in the North).

4. The South strongly supported the theory of "States Rights," primarily to maintain the institution of slavery, of course, the principal cause of the Civil War, but for other reasons as well.  A major one of the latter was to provide for the control of the Congress, through the control of the Senate, by a minority of the national population.

5. The South strongly supported low tariffs on foreign manufactured goods while the North wanted high tariffs to protect domestic industrial development.

6. A major element of Southern politics was the use of the Big Lie Technique. First that Africans and African-Americans were inferior beings, not "human." Second that the Civil War, initiated in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, was most ironically about "Southern Freedom," that is the freedom to keep an element of the population enslaved.  Third that it was not a rebellion, but rather a "War Between the States," as Pat Buchanan (who had relatives from Mississippi who fought for the CSA) still refers to it.

Alexander Stephens was Vice-President of the Confederate States of America (CSA) and following the death of John C. Calhoun in 1850, its principal theoretician.  (At the same, time almost to the time when the guns of South Carolina were fired upon Fort Sumter, he was a Unionist.)  At the beginning of the Civil War, Stephens said this about Southern slavery: "Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery --- subordination to the superior race --- is his natural condition."

Thus slavery as a general institution was immoral, according to Stephens. But for "Negroes" it was permitted, because they are inferior beings.  Abraham Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, was a "War Democrat" who firmly believed in the preservation of the Union and who literally risked his life to defend and uphold that position in his native state throughout the Civil War. That is why Lincoln, in serious trouble for re-election in the campaign of 1864 until Sherman's victory at Atlanta at the end of August, chose him as his running mate.  But Johnson was also a virulent white supremacist (Gordon-Reed, Andrew Johnson, "The American Presidents" series, Times Books, Henry Holt, 2011).  It was that belief that led Johnson to the series of acts as Presidents which virtually assured that Reconstruction would not work to the benefit of the freedmen, but rather to their former masters.  As Gordon-Reed says: "Though he had remained loyal to the Union, President Johnson was white southerner to the core."  One might say: "white supremacy uber alles."

Slavery was officially abolished by the 13th Amendment.  (One wonders if the Tea Party Republicans, now lighting out after the second most important post-civil war Amendment, the 14th, may be going after that one next.  After all it does violate "states' rights.")  But if you read through the list of the other Southern Civil War aims, they won them all.  In terms of the maintenance of White Supremacy, because of the early actions under Reconstruction of President Johnson, which President Grant and the "Radical Republicans" in Congress tried, but ultimately failed to undo, African-Americans in the South were returned to what could be described as virtual slavery, that is share-cropping.  For most, land ownership was out of the question and they certainly did not have the vote.  And while education was prohibited for slaves (wonder why?) after Reconstruction in the South it was never "equal" and in many parts of the country to this day is still not.

Major advances have been made since the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1860s, but above all, the Theory of White Supremacy is still pervasive throughout the nation, indeed as it was before the Civil War.  While before the Civil War a majority of the population did not want to see slavery expanded on an unlimited basis to the Territories, only a tiny minority wanted to see full civil rights, including voting rights, granted to any freed African-Americans, even those living in the North.  And that included Abraham Lincoln who, well into the Civil War was an advocate of gradual emancipation and then "colonization," that is, the forced emigration of freed slaves.

At the present time, politically, white supremacy focuses on the person of the President.  "He wasn't born here" - he isn't one of us.  "He is a Muslim" - he isn't one of us.  "He is a socialist/communist/fascist" - he isn't one of us.  However it is put by his constant critics, "he isn't one of us."  And what is the main message there?  Why "isn't he one of us?"  Because he is "one of them (and you know what I mean)."  Whites know best, always have always will.  Oh yes, there are always Blacks echoing the white themes (and you know who I mean) but then again there were black slaveholders in the Old South.

Because of the Civil Rights movement and the real political advances of the 1960s, the White Supremacists have to be careful about how they put it.  When one of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's staffers comes out to praise the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who went on to found the Ku Klux Klan as the most well-organized, most violent force for the repression of freed blacks in the South as early as 1868, he is forced to resign.  But that's only symbolic.  "We know what the truth is, don't we."

Nixon's "Southern Strategy" was designed to replace the Democratic Party, which after a post-Civil War century of championing the repression of African-Americans had come to be the champion of civil rights, with the Republican Party in that region.  In one of the great ironies of American history that strategy, ultimately based on the Theory of White Supremacy, has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its original inventors.  The South has become the solid base of the Republican Party in the Congress and in the State Houses, but its essential racism has become national for the GOP.  Nevertheless, because there are certain political risks in using the very alive-and-well Theory of White Supremacy too openly Republicans have been forced to develop other hatreds for political purposes as well, such as homophobia (http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/206).

However, it is Islamophobia (http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/203) that is the current "let's hate 'em" leader for the GOP and it is scary, folks.  The talk, from the rabble rousers like Laura Schlesinger to the more "reasonable" sounding ones like Bill Bennett, is always about "The Muslims."  That's as if they all came from one country (they don't), came from a religion that does not have its share of sects that are sometimes at each other's throats (it does), did not have as many different interpretations of its holy book as does the Bible (it does), speak the same language (they don't, hardly), do not have as wide a range of political views, from monarchism to Marxism (they do).   And so on and so forth.  But "they" are all lumped together as "The Muslims," and we must fear them.  What was that similarly, monolithically, characterized international grouping of the last century?  "The Jews," wasn't it?  But that's for another time.

Islamophobia will work for the GOP in certain sectors of the US population.  But if it doesn't, believe me they will always be able to fall back on the good old theory of White Supremacy, the most pernicious legacy of the institution of US slavery and of the Confederate states of America.

This is Dr. Jonas' Commentary No. 171 for BuzzFlash, now at Truthout.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash/Truthout (http://www.buzzflash.com, http://www.truth-out.org/), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine (http://tpjmagazine.us/); a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad (http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/); a Senior Columnist for The Greanville Post (http://www.greanvillepost.com/); a Contributor to The Planetary Movement (http://www.planetarymovement.org/); a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com (http://www.opednews.com/), and a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter.