Sunday, December 7, 2008

Double standards becoming a two-edged sword

Or something like that.

I have occasionally mused that a working definition of homophobia would be "pretending that every word you just said does not apply equally well to straight people." Double standards, of course, are not unique to homophobia. Racists were full of them: if whites didn't cry from pain, they were stoic, whereas if blacks didn't cry from pain, they didn't actually feel pain; if blacks committed suicide, they would be declared insane, but if whites commit suicide they're just curious; if whites slaughter people, they're bold and noble conquerors, but if blacks kill other people, they're barbaric savages; etc.

So it was with relish that I read part of the book Challenge to the Court: Social Scientists and the Defense of Segregation, 1954-1966 by historian I. A. Newby. Here Newby is discussing the book Race and Reason, A Yankee View by Carleton Putnam, which was widely and enthusiastically received by racists and segregationists (and is in fact still being sold by such organizations as American Renaissance). Newby's book was published originally in 1967, six years after Race and Reason.
One test of the cogency of Putnam's logic is to take his admonitions concerning Negroes and apply them to segregationists in Mississippi, among whom Race and Reason was well received. "The capacity for a free civilization involves many attributes," Putnam wrote, "self-control (which, among other things, includes resistance to emotionalism), self-reliance, self-responsibility, willingness to bear the burdens of others without casting upon others the burdens on should bear one's self, willingness both to accept the verdict of majorities and to concede the rights of minorities, willingness to obey the law even when it hurts, willingness to support rather than to raid a treasury, emphasis upon the importance of the individual." Judging by the recent history of race relations in Mississippi, most Mississippi segregationists are not notable for "self-control" or "resistance to emotionalism." Nor is "self-reliance, self-responsibility, [and] willingness to bear the burdens of others without casting upon others the burdens one should bear one's self" the best way to describe their exploitation of Negroes. The reference to a "willingness . . . to accept the verdict of majorities and to concede the rights of minorities" is even more to the point. Mississippi segregationists have shown little concern for the rights of the Negro minority in their midst, nor are they willing to accept "the verdict of majorities" in those areas of the state where Negroes outnumber whites. Like John C. Calhoun before him, Putnam forgot that there are several kinds of majorities and minorities, and to be valid a defense of majority rights must be applicable to all majorities and consistent with the rights of all minorities. The admonition to Negroes "to obey the law even when it hurts" is particularly ironic in view of Putnam's defense of Mississippi, a state which has systematically subverted or ignored not only the Brown decision but the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and the civil rights acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1965. Finally, it should be noted (according to the Library of Congress Legislative Reference Service) that for every $218 paid by Mississippians in federal taxes, the federal government spent $327 in the state in 1959-61. And of every $1,000 in Mississippi income, $286 came from the federal government. It would seem that Mississippians do not always live up to Putnam's admonitions to support rather than raid the public treasury.

A great take-down.

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