Saturday, June 6, 2020

When a Facebook reply is a short essay

Maybe I've had too much beer and wine this afternoon to judge properly, for a quick piece of writing I suspect this came out well (and better than the last bit I posted here):

...of course the white soldiers heavily supported Jim Crow and other segregationist policies.

They were drawn from the American population as a whole, a population that the invisible hand of institutions has long used race to divide the poor and working class from politically uniting.

It's not to say that all elite institutions were for segregation -- it was an ongoing battle by many in Washington during the war to desegregate the military, and the military during WWII also rarely (and even more rarely for long) tolerated any symbols of the Confederacy on U.S. Government property despite otherwise being pretty liberal with what was allowed to be drawn or written on them.

We're almost as far from 1968 today as WWII was from the campaign of populist (i.e. anti-elitist) William Jennings Bryant which was a turning point when the Republican Party began to turn away from blacks in order to prevent the formation of a coalition between poor populist whites and poor blacks -- they tolerated southern Democrats capturing the populist whites in that section of the country in order to prevent the populists from threatening business interests nationwide. Southern Democrats did so churning up racial tensions. "Separate but Equal" decision was handed down by the Supreme Court the same year Bryant was a serious presidential candidate.

(After '68 the Republicans would pivot to their southern strategy that captured those populist, poor southern Democrats who once were known as yellow dogs into the Republican fold and achieved decades of political success with that coalition. It combined the populist anti-elitism sentiment of that section of voters with business interests which wanted the undermine regulation by other elitists they disagreed with. This process was completed in the first Bush presidency when former CIA directory George H. W. ran with a campaign plank on climate change -- that his staff in the 1970s at the CIA had identified as a major threat -- which was well left of Dukakis, and by the end of his administration had Sununu turning the Republicans into the anti-science party.)

You calling this cross section of the nation and their attitudes an "elephant" in the room is simply perpetuating that invisible hand of culture (often invisible and unconscious to the institutions themselves) that formed their attitudes in order to create division and keep the institutions of power in power. It continues the words that divide rather than unite us.

Over the last 40, 50 years those institutions of power have largely shifted language from one that elevated whites over people of color in order to divide to one that instead divides the nation by making working class whites feel put down by the elite institutions -- that today's problems are because they and their fathers and grandfathers were bigots and that is the cause of the problems. White privilege is a very difficult concept to be "woke" too when in your struggles with daily life you don't see the economic gains that, say, folks with graduate degrees from top universities see.

The populism of today on both the left (Sanders) and right (Trump) rail, as always, against institutional elites. It probably isn't coincidental we have reached a boiling point at a time of this Covid-19 crisis that those elites are exercising unprecedented control.

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