Uncommon Sense

April 20, 2021

The Invention of Whiteness

Filed under: Culture,Economics,History,Race — Steve Ruis @ 10:02 am
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This is an excerpt from The Invention of Whiteness: The Long History of a Dangerous Idea in today’s The Guardian that renders the idea that religion is harmless a lie.

If you asked an Englishman in the early part of the 17th century what colour skin he had, he might very well have called it white. But the whiteness of his skin would have suggested no more suitable basis for a collective identity than the roundness of his nose or the baldness of his head. If you asked him to situate himself within the rapidly expanding borders of the known world, he would probably identify himself, first and most naturally, as an Englishman. If that category proved too narrow – if, say, he needed to describe what it was he had in common with the French and the Dutch that he did not share with Ottomans or Africans – he would almost certainly call himself a Christian instead.

That religious identity was crucial for the development of the English slave trade – and eventually for the development of racial whiteness. In the early 17th century, plantation owners in the West Indies and in the American colonies largely depended on the labour of European indentured servants. These servants were considered chattel and were often treated brutally – the conditions on Barbados, England’s wealthiest colony, were notorious – but they were fortunate in at least one respect: because they were Christian, by law they could not be held in lifetime captivity unless they were criminals or prisoners of war.

Africans enjoyed no such privilege. They were understood to be infidels, and thus the “perpetual enemies” of Christian nations, which made it legal to hold them as slaves. By 1640 or so, the rough treatment of indentured servants had started to diminish the supply of Europeans willing to work on the sugar and tobacco plantations, and so the colonists looked increasingly to slavery, and the Atlantic-sized loophole that enabled it, to keep their fantastically profitable operations supplied with labour.

The plantation owners understood very well that their cruel treatment of indentured Europeans, and their even crueler treatment of enslaved Africans, might lead to thoughts – or worse – of vengeance. Significantly outnumbered, they lived in constant fear of uprisings. They were particularly afraid of incidents such as Bacon’s Rebellion, in 1676, which saw indentured Europeans fighting side-by-side with free and enslaved Africans against Virginia’s colonial government.

To ward off such events, the plantation owners initially sought to protect themselves by giving their “Christian” servants legal privileges not available to their enslaved “Negroes”. The idea was to buy off the allegiance of indentured Europeans with a set of entitlements that, however meagre, set them above enslaved Africans. Toward the end of the 17th century, this scheme witnessed a significant shift: many of the laws that regulated slave and servant behaviour – the 1681 Servant Act in Jamaica, for example, which was later copied for use in South Carolina – began to describe the privileged class as “whites” and not as “Christians”.

One of the more plausible explanations for this change, made by Rugemer and the historian Katharine Gerbner, among others, is that the establishment of whiteness as a legal category solved a religious dilemma. By the 1670s, Christian missionaries, including the Quaker George Fox, were insisting that enslaved Africans should be inducted into the Christian faith. The problem this posed for the planters was obvious: if their African labourers became Christians, and no longer “perpetual enemies” of Christendom, then on what legal grounds could they be enslaved? And what about the colonial laws that gave special privileges to Christians, laws whose authors apparently never contemplated the possibility that Africans might someday join the faith?

The planters tried to resolve the former dilemma by blocking the conversion of enslaved Africans, on the grounds, as the Barbados Assembly put it in 1680, that such conversion would “endanger the island, inasmuch as converted negroes grow more perverse and intractable than others”. When that didn’t work (the Bishop of London objected) they instead passed laws guaranteeing that baptism could not be invoked as grounds for seeking freedom.

But the latter question, about privileges for Christians, required the colonialists to think in a new way. No longer could their religious identity separate them and their servants from enslaved Africans. Henceforth they would need what Morgan called “a screen of racial contempt”. Henceforth, they would need to start thinking of themselves as white.

April 11, 2021

Cancel Culture, Just What Is It?

Filed under: Culture,Race — Steve Ruis @ 8:34 am
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I used to pay no attention to this as I thought it another form of conservative made up nonsense, which it is partly but I had a realization of why it is not.

I have mentioned before that we were well on our way, as a society, to removing overt racist comments from general conversation. It was becoming less and less acceptable for people to make racist jokes, or racist comments of any kind because of the social backlash that those would trigger. And then along came the Internet, with anonymity for “commenters” built in, and the ability to build almost private spaces for groups of any kind and overt racism made a strong comeback, so strong that some people of weaker character, e.g. Congressmen, would blurt out racist comments while being videoed.

This is our new reality.

Recently, this “thing” called “Cancel Culture” has been bandied about. I think the name came from speakers who were invited to speak at places, like college campuses, but when their views became known would result in protests, which would result in speaking engagements being canceled. Currently however, this new form of societal interaction has been pumped up on steroids. Someone who blurts out something racist, and anti-Semitic, or misogynistic can find themselves punished with fines, public humiliations, redemption/apology tours, and even loss of jobs.

The right-wing elements in our society blame this “new” element of our society on the left and those on the left point out that the right has engaged in this activity for decades if not centuries (burning books, rock ‘n’ roll recordings, Colin Kaepernick, etc.). Ignore them, they always blame the others and neither is correct in this case.

My realization is that Cancel Culture is our culture’s “The Empire Strikes Back” moment. Since we no longer are within earshot of those social miscreants to chastise and shame them in person, we do it through Twitter, Instagram, and other social media. We “flame” them and defame them through their employers, advertisers, and other financial supporters. This can result in, for example, professional athletes groveling in front of cameras for making anti-Semitic slurs, people packing their things and looking for another job, people leaving public office, and even people leaving a community in disgrace.

Here’s the problem. Yes, our society has recovered its ability to shame members toward better behavior, but because we are doing it remotely, we have lost a major channel of communication: mostly affect. When a mother is upbraiding a wayward son, she can sense whether his contrition is sincere and can tailor a “punishment” to the degree of the infraction and the observed sincerity. If no sincerity is detected, things escalate (“Make that two weeks of being grounded” or “I’m not done with you, yet” or “Wait until your father gets home.”) If the miscreant is actually sincere, a lesser punishment can be applied in the form of a corrective, apology tour, etc.

Since remotely we do not have this connection and the feedback it provides, things can go overboard, quickly. Piling on can be extreme. Parents have to take turns reaming out a child done wrong, otherwise they won’t get the message, but hundreds if not thousands of complaints can be sent to someone’s social media account or, worse, someone’s employer’s social media account in minutes.

This social check can morph into forms that are more restrained, but are their forces in society to make that happen? I wonder.

Someone calling the police regarding black people in a park barbecuing can only do so because of mobile phones. In my youth you would have to find a phone booth or wait until you got home. Anyone behaving as a Karen back then would soon be ostracized by our small community. Technology has altered all of this things.

Some say that we are evolving socially faster now than biologically. I’ll believe that when it happens. Cancel Culture is old wine in a new bottle, something we have done for a very long time, but which seems new. In thinking about it, why would we have “emotions” like shame, embarrassment, and whatnot unless they played a positive role in our social species? Do these things exist in species that are not social? I don’t think so. So, we have evolved these mental states because they help us correct one another without killing one another, the goal being to survive long enough to reproduce (which is why we have the stereotype of grouchy old people who say what they think and let others be damned).

March 20, 2021

The Massage Parlor Shootings

Filed under: Culture,History,Morality,Race,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 8:16 am
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It seems that everyone has some kind of opinion about why these killings were made. Waiting for the shooter to be interviewed and the investigation to be complete is apparently too much to ask. By the time we find out what his motivations were, we will have moved on to some new atrocity or other.

I am placing my bet right now, however. I am betting that that young man’s training occurred at the toxic intersection of white privilege and evangelical Christianity. Both “communities” prey on young men, distorting whatever values that might have had. One pushes hard on white supremacy, the other on male supremacy. Both blame others for any problems they experience. Both demonize “others” matter-of-factly.

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves and then protect the right to do so as something near sacred?

March 9, 2021

Reparations

Filed under: History,Morality,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:55 am
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It is called America’s original sin: slavery. People in this country created a market for human slaves. We paid others to steal people and ruin their lives. We bought people and then stripped them of their families, their family ties, their cultures, their history, and any chance of getting an education.

Recently I have seen a documentary or two lauding Black churches and I wondered if people knew that white people used Christianity as an excuse for slavery, that by giving Black people the Baby Jesus, it was a gift so great that they had to give back their lives in recompense. I am glad many people found some joy in those churches but at the same time, I view them as a manifestation of white oppression.

So, today, the question is “should we make reparations for all of the pain, misery, and stolen labor.” Some argue that the people who deserve the reparations are all dead and the people who created the problem are all dead, so we should just move on. This attitude neglects the repercussions of slavery in this country. Even when slavery was abolished, the misery continued. We had innumerable laws to prevent Black people from living as whites were living. These Jim Crow laws eventually became illegal and were replaced by the New Jim Crow in which we demonize Black people, especially young Black men so much that we filled prisons with them and frightened police officers still gun them down for holding a toy gun in a toy store while talking on a phone (Any real threat there . . . I don’t think so). Police officers are indemnified from killing Black people so they never have to suffer consequences from doing so. In other words, the effects of slavery and the attitudes of the people that created that system exist still.

Reparations are not only warranted, but necessary.

The form of the reparations is debatable. A straight cash payout for anyone today who is a descendant of slaves is one possibility, but I suspect that is merely a symbolic “throwing of money at a problem.” It would probably only assuage the egos of white people.

A better solution is to attempt to undo the damage. We could start by repairing the damage done to primarily Black schools from underfunding and neglect. We could provide scholarships for descendants of slaves who wish to go to college, a la the GI Bill. We could invest in Black communities to repair their infrastructures, which have suffered from neglect and abuse, e.g. Flint, Michigan’s water system. We could provide Black communities with Wi-Fi service. We could create jobs in Black communities with the expectation that Black people would be majority hires, either through government service delivery or, better, incentives for private investment. We could eliminate food deserts in primarily Black communities. We could make small business loans more available to Black entrepreneurs who will invest in their communities.

It is payback time and how could we not do this in ways that benefit Black communities more than a single check might do.

I coach athletes and one of the wisest things I have ever been taught was from Lanny Bassham, a World and Olympic Champion rifle shooter. He said that to achieve such a level of performance there must be sacrifices made . . . by one’s family and loved ones. These are not small sacrifices as the athlete is spending so much time on training, they can’t be at family gatherings, meals, holidays, and even hold a job while training for a major event. Lanny said “There must be payback.” There must be payback for all that one’s “support team” does for them. Athletes who neglect this payback, end up with bad relationships, broken marriages, and bitter feelings.

If this is true for an athlete’s family, how much more true is it for people whose lives we stole and then ruined?

It is payback time now. We need to make it effective for the descendants of those we wronged. If you don’t think that you were a beneficiary of slavery, think again. Every white person in this country benefitted greatly from slavery. Our entire economy for the first almost 100 years of our existence as a country was a slavery economy.

February 19, 2021

Ding Dong the Rush is Dead

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:49 am
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The not so sad news came yesterday that Rush Limbaugh had died. Many people were asking today whether it is appropriate to celebrate that event.

I was actually a fan of his radio show quite some time ago, until a particular story came up. It involved a mountain lion attack on a hiker in the California wilderness. Mr. Limbaugh couched this story as another liberal tree hugger getting her just desserts. I then read a story in the newspaper that the forest ranger who found the body stated that Mr. Limbaugh got the story quite wrong. The ranger even called the show and spoke to a Limbaugh flunky to explain how wrong he had got the story. Mr. Limbaugh continued to spin the story his way for many days thereafter, after learning from someone who was there that he had got it wrong. He never “corrected” his story.

At that point I concluded that anyone having such a disregard for the truth could not be trusted and so stopped listening. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Limbaugh became a full-time shill for the Republican Party. (Remember the “America Held Hostage, Day XYZ” campaign?)

At that point it was clear that Mr. Limbaugh was not taking an ideological stance, but a financial stance. In politics, one must follow the money, but also the access. Mr. Limbaugh sucked up to the rich and the powerful conservatives and got paid really well and he got to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. GOP pols sucked up to him obsequiously.

The financial haul lasted a long time, until the Dump Rush campaign cut into his sponsorships a great deal. All in all, he was an embarrassment in American Radio broadcasting history.

So, “Ding, dong, the dick is dead, the wicked old dick, the dick is dead . . .” Celebrate away!

January 15, 2021

Yeah, Now Is the Time to Organize

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:50 am
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After seeing the almost all-white insurrectionists attempting a coup at the Capitol building ushered in by bowing and scraping capitol cops (descendants of the Keystone Kops?) it is clear that the organizing of all of the white power and white supremacy groups is justified. Clearly white privileges are being eroded.

Some of the miscreants are even being arrested and put in jail! No matter, Trump will probably pardon them . . . won’t he?

Also clearly, black people asking to be treated the same way as white people infringes upon the rights white people have cherished for oh, so many years. This actually doesn’t affect white privileges at all, but the Totem Pole Principle applies here (The Only Way to Know You are Not on the Bottom of the Pole is to be Standing On Top of Another). Why if blacks were treated the same way as whites, then whites would be treated the same way as blacks, a definite loss of status.

So, white supremacy groups are organizing and growing support. That this is happening at the same time Christian nationalists are doing the same thing is no accident. This is due to the fact that Jesus was white and spoke English as his first language (he wrote his Bible in English after all). Facts do matter!

January 7, 2021

Worth a Thousand Words

Filed under: Race,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 12:45 pm
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A picture is …

Imagine . . .

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 10:39 am
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Take a look at the photos of the goons milling around inside the Capitol building yesterday.

Here’s an example:

Now, imagine if they had been black.

Now you understand one of the pillars of white privilege. If those people had been black they would have been thrown to the ground, knelt upon, or shot or threatened with bayoneted rifles. But, they were white, so the kid gloves were issued to the capitol police.

As one commenter put it “When Black people protest in front of a Target in Minneapolis, police arm themselves for war. When White people storm government buildings they are met with selfies and a meager police force.”

Or as the title of a piece in The Onion put it “D.C. Police Lose Control Of Rioting Trump Supporters After Hundreds Of Officers Called Away To Deal With Black Jaywalker.”

December 16, 2020

Why, Why, Why, Why, Why?

Filed under: Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:06 am
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Over and over again people are asking the question why white evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump. This is not a mystery. White people, in toto, voted for Mr. Trump. In fact, since we started keeping track of how people of no color vote, white people have never voted in a majority for a Democrat candidate.

And even this is not a mystery.

Who benefits most from the status quo? Who has the most privileges? Who has the most status? If you didn’t answer “white people” you haven’t been paying attention. Okay, now, which of the two main political parties is more strongly associated with the status quo? Which wants to change things more and which less, the de facto champion of the status quo? If you didn’t come up with the GOP, you haven’t been paying attention. Which party, would you say, is the party of white people?

So, is it a surprise that privileged white people vote for the party that most staunchly defends the status quo?

No.

What is a surprise is that the party that supported our institutions the most (the GOP) and has argued for more personal responsibility the most (the GOP) and blames society’s ills on the victims the most (the GOP) has entirely abandoned the concept of personal responsibility. Lose a court battle? The Deep State was against you; you were cheated! Lose a local election? Voter fraud was the cause; you were cheated! Lose the presidential election by gazillions of votes? We were cheated . . . we didn’t lose . . . we won . . . we’re going to court to fix this immense wrong doing!

Mr. Trump lives by a couple of simple rules. Yes, “if you are not for me, you are against me” is one but another is “I never lose.” If he wins it is because of his brilliance. If he loses, it is because the game was rigged against him or he was cheated. He has shared these rules with many in his GOP base and we can expect them to carry on these lessons into the future.

The future does not look bright, manned by losers who never lose. Playing by the rules is a time-honored practice. So is changing the rules of the game while playing it.

November 20, 2020

Really? Trump Really “Connected” with Rural Folks?

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
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The Guardian and a whole slew of other news agencies are expressing increasing confusion about how President Trump performed so much better than expected on election day.

Here is an excerpt from one article: “But on election day, rural Iowa turned out in force for Trump. He not only beat Joe Biden decisively in a state that opinion polls consistently predicted would be close, but the president significantly increased his vote in counties that put Barack Obama into the White House and which then flipped to Trump.”

Oh, the title of that article? It was “‘He made a connection’: how did Trump manage to boost his support among rural Americans?”

He made a connection? Really?

Iowa turned out for Barack Obama . . . twice. Do you consider Iowa a state free of racial prejudice? What got them to vote for a black man for the first time in any presidential election?

I will repeat. This quite racist country voted for a black man for president, twice, because they were fed up with the status quo. People in rural communities are seeing their way of life being plowed under, to use a farming metaphor.

But Barack Obama was a disappointment. He ran a campaign based upon “hope” and “change” and what did we get? More of the same. The bankers, the Wall Street types, the corporate fat cats, and the rich were still in charge.

Well, if electing a black man didn’t send the message they wanted, they need a bigger message, so . . . Trump!

Is there any mystery that an icon of the old status quo, Joe Biden, lost big in a rural state?

No.

They voted against the old status quo represented by the corporate Democrats and there was no hiding the fact that Joe Biden is a corporate democrat, and the rich will be continued to be served . . . before everyone else.

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