Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's not often I get to use my "miscegenation" tag with my "politics" tag

[Edit] Howdy, everyone from LG&M! Pull up a chair, enjoy the post, and maybe enjoy some others. Or don't.


But as Balloon Juice highlights, someone at the Corner, the National Review's blog, thinks that the fact that Obama's parents were an interracial couple is evidence that they were Commies.
Obama and I are roughly the same age. I grew up in liberal circles in New York City — a place to which people who wished to rebel against their upbringings had gravitated for generations. And yet, all of my mixed race, black/white classmates throughout my youth, some of whom I am still in contact with, were the product of very culturally specific unions. They were always the offspring of a white mother, (in my circles, she was usually Jewish, but elsewhere not necessarily) and usually a highly educated black father. And how had these two come together at a time when it was neither natural nor easy for such relationships to flourish? Always through politics. No, not the young Republicans. Usually the Communist Youth League. Or maybe a different arm of the CPUSA. But, for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics. (During the Clinton Administration we were all introduced to then U. of Pennsylvania Professor Lani Guinier — also a half black/half Jewish, red diaper baby.)

...

Political correctness was invented precisely to prevent the mainstream liberal media from persuing the questions which might arise about how Senator Obama's mother, from Kansas, came to marry an African graduate student. Love? Sure, why not? But what else was going on around them that made it feasible? Before readers level cheap accusations of racism — let's recall that the very question of interracial marriage only became a big issue later in the 1960s. The notion of a large group of mixed race Americans became an issue during and after the Vietnam War. Even the civil-rights movement kept this culturally explosive matter at arm's distance.

Excuse me while I choke to death laughing.

...

Okay, I'm better now.

As Too Sense highlights, this sort of crap ("miscegenation is a Communist plot") is old hat. In fact, here is just a small sampling of quotes I have to that effect:
  • There is the opening tirade in D.B. Red's "A Corrupt Tree Bringeth Forth Evil Fruit", from 1956

  • There's the pamphlet Jews Behind Race-Mixing in America, published in the late '60s, which had an entire section entitled "COMMUNIST PARTY FOUGHT FOR RACE MIXING"

  • In 1958, senator E.O. Eddins of Alabama denounced The Rabbits' Wedding for its miscegenetic message and declared "There are many other books of the same nature and others that are communistic which should be burned as well."

  • A 1945 FEPC report on an Indianapolis plant reported:
    Although its members have voiced very little opposition to the employment and upgrading of Negroes, and there has been surprisingly little racial friction in work situations, they have not yet reached the stage where they can face the social equality bugaboo with equanimity. They tend to feel that only people with communistic leanings openly favor such equality.

  • In 1954, Reverend G.T. Gillespie published a sermon entitled "A Christian View on Segregation" wherein by the third paragraph he rants about "the vigorous propaganda of Soviet Communism to bring about a world revolution and the breakdown of all national and racial distinctions and to effect the complete amalgamation of all races."

  • Tom Brady dedicated his booklet Black Monday--a screed attacking the Brown v. Board of Education decision--"to those Americans who firmly believe socialism and communism are lethal "messes of porridge" for which our sacred birthright shall not be sold."

  • In 1957 the Citizens' Council serialized a "Manual for Southerners" which included this bit of rhetoric:
    Our most famous Americans have believed in segregation. Do you think they did not go to heaven because Race-Mixers had not made them integrate? The people of the United States have always practiced Segregation. And their preachers did not believe they were sinful. Why is it suddenly sinful for us Americans to want to keep Segregation? If God believed in pure races, can't we believe in pure races, too? Or should we believe the Communist Race-Mixers? They do not believe in God at all.

  • In 1955, Zora Neale Hurston wrote "It was the come-on stuff. Join the [Communist] party and get yourself a white wife or husband."

  • And of course Theodore Bilbo wrote in Take Your Choice (1947),
    The destruction of all racial barriers is one of the chief aims of those in the United States who are branded as communists. They would abolish segregation and establish in its place the doctrine of social equality and intermarriage of the races.


This sort of attack goes back even further, though--all the way to the 1850s and before. Slaveholders would often insist that their slaves were content with being robbed of any human rights and treated as property; yet there was this undeniable reality of these content slaves--for whatever reason--running away. Or trying to organize a rebellion and murder their masters. Slaveholders would wave this away by insisting that, left alone, blacks really didn't mind being enslaved--it was only when outsiders came and filled their heads with evil thoughts that they might actually deserve their freedom. It was only when people from outside the South--northerners, abolitionists--came and whispered sweet lies into black ears that their loving (and beloved) slaves would ever get these radical ideas. Thomas Brown, in his article "The Miscegenation of Richard Mentor Johnson as an Issue in the National Election Campaign of 1835-1836", describes a typical example from 1835:
Also attuned to Southerners' anxieties was the argument that Johnson's behavior, if given public sanction by his election to the vice presidency, would encourage blacks to revolt for equality. This argument played upon a seeming inconsistency that plagued many whites in the South: while they argued--and wanted to believe--that African Americans were inherently subservient, they also worried that blacks shared whites' love of liberty and equality. The slightest blurring of racial lines might, they feared, prompt an insurrection of slaves and free blacks. Virginius thus wrote that nothing prevented the black man from becoming insubordinate but a consciousness that "nature has placed an impassable barrier between him and those higher objects, the hope of which might be worth a struggle." But what would happen, he asked, if blacks were to see "bevies of mulattoes" charioting along Pennsylvania Avenue, with "offices and honors" offered as their dowries, and ministers of state told that "the tenure of their office, depends on their acquiescence in a new code of fashion"? "There is a good precedent for this," Virginius added, alluding to the Peggy Eaton affair. But in the Eaton contretemps, all that was needed to dispel Peggy's purported "immorality" had been a display of feminine virtue by the wives of members of Jackson's cabinet. African Americans, however, were "waiting to be corrupted" by the hope or promise of equality, which was like a "firebrand to be hurled into a magazine of gunpowder." Lest his readers suspect that he had suggested that slaves had reason to be restive and dissatisfied, Virginius added a reassuring footnote to his letter. In it, he asserted that slaves were inherently loyal and supportive of the slave regime--far more devoted, in fact, than white working men. His fear, rather, was that slaves might be made rebellious by Northern "philanthropists" who loved them in the abstract, from a distance, and did not understand Southern society. How such abstractionists could succeed at agitating devoted slaves into rebellion he did not explain.

And after slavery, the theme continued. An article in the April, 1899 Arena wrote:
Dr. D. W. Culp thinks differently. He is a negro, lives in the south, and knows better. Such a fusion will never, for one moment, be thought of there, by either white or black. The decree against it has been entered and signed, as if by Almighty God, and no power on earth nor in heaven will ever change it. Centuries may come and centuries may go, and agitators may preach and fanatics may howl, but it will not be altered.

People who live in the south simply know that miscegenation won't happen, though unnamed "agitators may preach." Though it may not have been abolitionists or communists, someone from outside the South was bound to be stirring things up.

Historian I.A. Newby, in his book Jim Crow's Defense: Anti-Negro Thought in America, 1900-1930 described the same form of thinking:
If Negroes preferred segregation, if they had no desire to intermarry with whites, if thoughts of "mixing" never entered their minds unless planted by agitators, were social equality and promiscuous mingling really imminent? Although the premises of the question were correct, replied racists, the answer was "yes." Most Negroes, they explained, were naturally docile and readily accepted their place in society. But they also possessed a spark of animalism which was easily ignited by promises of equality. They were, in short, too easily aroused, and to relax social controls over them was to invite disaster. Years of bondage and subordination had made them contemptuous of their race, and they were strangers to the instinct of race purity. Their fondest desires were to marry white women and to reappear in a blended race with their kinks straightened, their odor dispelled, and their color bleached.

Thus, racists had things both ways. The Negro had no desire for social equality--but demagogues and agitators might create such a desire by exciting his baser animal instincts. In those instincts, they felt, was the potential for destroying racial purity, and to restrain them was the chief object of Southern race policy.

This insistence that, despite their sickeningly abysmal track record, if you just left the welfare of southern blacks to local people, people who "understood" the situation, then things would go fine. It was only when those blasted outsiders interfered that there was any trouble, which of course had to be put down violently. The idea that they ought to be left to do whatever they want, and anything else is meddling at best or tyranny at worst, lasts even today.

However, there actually is a smattering of reality in the Obama article. Many civil rights organizations avoided fighting against anti-miscegenation laws for a couple reasons: (1) It wasn't likely to work. Anti-miscegenation laws had been around since the 1600s and survived numerous court cases. It didn't really seem like the next court case would do the trick, and if it failed then that just left one more precedent for the next court to follow. (2) Many whites insisted that blacks' real goal was, in fact, intermarriage--and their desire to prevent that was why the fought so strongly to keep segregation intact. If civil rights organizations started actually going after anti-miscegenation laws, then that would only confirm the segregationists' greatest fears, possibly riling them to even greater levels of resistance. (3) They didn't really care. Blacks faced discrimination in transportation, in jobs, in cafes, in hotels, in buying houses, in buying cars, in every facet of American life. Interracial marriage just wasn't that big a priority for them.

So, it is true that most civil rights organizations didn't really fight too hard against anti-miscegenation laws. It is also true that the Communist party was a lot more permissive of such things than the rest of society. The Communist party actively courted blacks, and its platforms were dedicated to promoting racial equality--which helped the above accusations that miscegenation was all a communist plot.

However, the notion that "for a white woman to marry a black man in 1958, or 60, there was almost inevitably a connection to explicit Communist politics" is just fucking absurd. For one, by 1958 only 24 (of 48) states had anti-miscegenation laws left on the books, down from 30 ten years earlier. In 1960 (the actual year Obama's parents married) that number was 22 of 50. The opposition to miscegenation was decreasing by then. And second of all, it was never true that only Communists had interracial marriages. Interracial marriages happened whenever people of different races met and fell in love, and they had a lot more options of meeting places than just the local Communist party shindig (Obama's parents met at a college in Hawaii, which I should note never had an anti-miscegenation law). People got married even in spite of intense societal opposition--note that Obama's paternal grandfather didn't approve of the marriage, but they went ahead with it anyways.

But finally, I ought to say... who the fuck cares? Really, why did I waste all that time on this idiocy? Oh god, Obama's parents once read the Communist Manifesto in class! This affects his policies how, exactly? As Ed Brayton noted,
At some point, you'd think the right wing would put away this "communist" slur. Does it really work on anyone with an IQ over room temperature?

10 comments:

Greta Christina said...

"Before readers level cheap accusations of racism..."

Too late. I hereby accuse this jerk of racism. Gimme five cents.

Skemono said...

Only five cents? Man, that really is a cheap accusation of racism.

James Hanley said...

"The destruction of all racial barriers is one of the chief aims of those in the United States who are branded as communists."

Hilarious--Bilbo was right, but the key phrase is "branded as communists." Not, "are communists." Bilbo as much as admitted that it's just a case of labeling them communists because they oppose racial barriers.

Skemono said...

Bilbo as much as admitted that it's just a case of labeling them communists because they oppose racial barriers.
Pretty much. Of course, there was a small grain of truth to it--some blacks did join the communist party because, as I mentioned, it was the only party that was really reaching out to them. So he could also point to those and insist that any black person who wanted freedom was a Communist, or Communist-influenced.

Dan said...

"The Rabbits' Wedding"

Oooh, bunnies! I have to get a copy of that . . .

Re: the . . . special . . . header image: what's interesting is that it kinda echoes racist ideas both about Native American burial/temple mounds across the Eastern U.S. (in the mid to late 19th century, it was often believed that the 'Moundbuilders' had been ancient Europeans driven out by savage Indians, thus legitimizing (etc.) - modern archaeology shot this one down starting in 1894), and Great Zimbabwe in then-Rhodesia, with the white government insisted couldn't have been built by black people (which had been smacked down hard by Gertrude Caton-Thompson back in 1929).

One wonders when this theme will appear on the Corner?

Skemono said...

in the mid to late 19th century, it was often believed that the 'Moundbuilders' had been ancient Europeans driven out by savage Indians, thus legitimizing (etc.)
Really? That's not surprising, but I hadn't come across that before. Do you have any sources I could look at for that? It sounds fascinating.

Great Zimbabwe in then-Rhodesia, with the white government insisted couldn't have been built by black people
Or the Empire of Kush, which people also insisted couldn't have been built by black people (see this post).

Enlightened Layperson said...

Antebellum Southerners believed, contradictorily, that their slaves were contented and liked slavery, and that the end of slavery would lead to an all-out race war like the one in Haiti, ending with one race exterminating the other. Huh? The end of slavery manifestly did not lead to an all-out race war. But for a long time Southerners insisted that it did lead to a black reign of terror, crime and rape against the hapless whites. I wonder if this view of the Reconstruction was sort of a toned-down version of their old fears.

I will also point out that pro-racism propaganda has a way of undermining itself. Racists argued that only Communists favor racial equality. So what are black people to conclude? Obvious that Communists must be good people; they are the only ones who favor racial equality. Racists argued that the whole system of racial oppression was necessary to prevent interracial sex. That makes interracial sex very attractive -- it can overturn the whole racial system.

Skemono said...

Antebellum Southerners believed, contradictorily, that their slaves were contented and liked slavery, and that the end of slavery would lead to an all-out race war like the one in Haiti, ending with one race exterminating the other.
Very true. Some tried to come up with ad hoc theories that would get rid of the contradiction--such as the outside agitators I mention, or that free blacks were much more violent than docile slaves--but it doesn't really work well.

But for a long time Southerners insisted that it did lead to a black reign of terror, crime and rape against the hapless whites.
Also true. See, for example, The Birth of a Nation.

I will also point out that pro-racism propaganda has a way of undermining itself. Racists argued that only Communists favor racial equality. So what are black people to conclude? Obvious that Communists must be good people; they are the only ones who favor racial equality.
Which I believe did happen. Many blacks did join the Communist party because they were apparently the only ones who gave a damn.

Racists argued that the whole system of racial oppression was necessary to prevent interracial sex. That makes interracial sex very attractive -- it can overturn the whole racial system.
Which was, after all, the entire point. Interracial sex can overturn the whole racial system imposed by whites, which is why it had to be defended so staunchly.

But as you astutely allude to, there were indeed some blacks who took the actions of sleeping with white women to be a kind of rebelliousness, a blow against the white establishment.

Leila said...

I just think that in this day and age, the "Muslim" slur is going to be more effective. Who gives a shit about commies anymore? But Islamofascists are going to destroy our way of life!

One of my Lebanese cousins, who married a kindly but reactionary Lebanese doctor and lost the tolerance she learned at home, told me just the other day that she doesn't trust Obama because his father was Muslim. He probably is part of a secret plot. You don't know what those Muslims might get up to, she said.

I was disappointed to hear this from her, but I did no more than remind her that Obama belongs to the United Church of Christ and attends Sunday services regularly.

I think the bald faced prejudice against his name will be a factor in a significant part of the population. I am an Arab-American Christian; my father's church is older than the church of Rome. But our family name is Abu-Saba. Even here in the supposedly enlightened Bay Area, I have had people tell me that my name sounds like a terrorist name. Doesn't matter that I'm a born-and-raised American, half-Wasp, liberal as anybody, married to a Jew - my name means I am associated with terrorists.

Peee-yew.

Skemono said...

I just think that in this day and age, the "Muslim" slur is going to be more effective. Who gives a shit about commies anymore? But Islamofascists are going to destroy our way of life!
Probably true. I mean, it's certainly true that the Red Scare doesn't really scare people so much anymore (at least not the youngsters). But also, there's the fact that the "Obama is a Muslim" fantasy has already become a media truth, whereas the "Obama is a Communist" fantasy is so far restricted to blog posts. I think.

You don't know what those Muslims might get up to, she said.
I have found numerous people on-line who point to a random verse plucked from the Qu'ran and insist that means that all Muslims are terrorists--and the ones that are "nice" or "moderate" are just being secretive, incognito, undercover, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. They're completely insane.

I think the bald faced prejudice against his name will be a factor in a significant part of the population.
I wish that weren't true, but you're probably right.

Doesn't matter that I'm a born-and-raised American, half-Wasp, liberal as anybody, married to a Jew - my name means I am associated with terrorists.
Oh dear. That's terrible.