Well, they’re right most white people didn’t own slaves. HOWEVER, MOST white people, in both Colonial and Ante-Bellum America, DID benefit from the labor of slaves. That includes white people in the non-slave owning states (where do you think the cotton for northern factories came from?). The truth is, the Southern Economy was not built on slavery… no, the economy of the entire country was built on slavery.
And I do believe that we should not judge the actions of ancient people (ancient meaning whatever you want it to mean) on our own standards – that is anachronistic thinking, and it is a trap. Because the issues, all issues, not just the issue of slavery, are complex.
We have the advantage of hindsight, which, with the right knowledge, is 20/20 (or close to it). The people involved also are complex. Is Benjamin Franklin evil? He was a slave owner. Right up until he emancipated his slaves and started one of, if not the first Abolitionist Societies in the United States. Was Thomas Jefferson evil because he owned slaves (and, arguably, used his female slaves as sexual servants)? I mean, unlike Franklin, he only freed two in his lifetime (three others escaped and were not pursued – but does “benign neglect” really count?). But Jefferson also signed a law – even if it was toothless ultimately – that legally ended the Middle Passage Trade in the United States. I’m of the opinion, and it is just my opinion, that Jefferson was a hypocrite, claiming to believe something, and then not acting on it out of fear of social reprisal (which was a real thing in the period for slave owners who freed their slaves).
But I AM going to disagree with your assertion that White People are cowards. By simply saying white people, you imply that all white people are cowards and do nothing to move the world towards equality and justice. That sir is simply wrong. Many white people do fight actively against racism. Shall I start with Andrew Goodman (white)? Or Michael Henry Schwerner (white)? Who, along with James Earl Chaney (black) were murdered by Klansmen in cahoots with the local sheriff in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964? Your essay dishonors their memory, sir.
But we can go back even further than that. The 3rd Vice-President of the United States, Aaron Burr, a former slave owner who not only emancipated his slaves but turned fervently against the idea of slavery. Burr was also a notorious scoundrel (or a hero of the Republic depending on who you ask), the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in an illegal duel. However, before his social downfall in a field in New Jersey, Burr became a known according to some, a zealous abolitionist when being a known, much less zealous abolitionist and a politician was nearly political suicide. Slave owners despised the man for his plans for both economic and racial equality in the, still embryonic, United States. Even his own president, the man mentioned above, Thomas Jefferson, severely disliked him, probably because Burr was unequivocally anti-slavery (there may have been other reasons, but that is certainly one).
Additionally, if I may return to the Nadir era south, there were, in fact, many southern whites who rejected the entire concept of racial inferiority. Dorothy Tilly, daughter of a Methodist minister, fought vehemently against lynching and faced real treats from the Ku Klux Klan. Clarence Jordan and his wife Florence founded Koinonia Farm in 1942, an interracial teaching farm. The Jordans were attacked, boycotted, and eventually voted out of the Rehobeth Baptist Church…good “christians,” one and all. Will Campbell was one of the first pro-integration voices in the south after the Brown decision. He brought pro-integration ministers to Ole’ Miss at a time when doing so subjected him to harassment, violence, and ultimately, losing his job of Religious Life Director at the college.
These are just a few examples, there were and are many brave and active white people from the very beginnings of this country to today that are allies of all people and enemies of racial prejudice.
Viola Liuzzo was a white woman murdered for her stance. Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, James Reeb, Jonathan Daniels, Jim Letherer, Anne Braden, Peter Norman, Juliette Morgan and William Moore and many, many more fought against bigotry and ignorance. What about Bill and Melinda Gates? George Soros (uh oh, the Conservatives just lost it! Now we’re all evil)? How about Jimmy Carter who wrote Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (not all racism is American after all – though American policies certainly support the racial genocide that is ongoing in Israel and Palestine)?
To lump all white people in the same category as the monsters who hold the reins of power today? Sounds an awful lot like bigotry to me, sir. Akin to all black people are criminals or all Mexicans (which, of course, means anyone with brown skin whether they’re from Mexico, Guatemala, India…. Sigh) are lazy, or all Jews are stingy. Stereotypes, as you may know, are generally a poor foundation for an argument.
To be clear, no one in their right mind will argue that many, or even MOST southerners of the era, and maybe even today, were progressives on the issue of race. As someone who grew up in a Klan town where the boys in sheets openly practiced their trade, I don’t have such illusions (Be a Man! Join the Klan! Was a sign I saw on a regular basis). No, that would be living in a fantasy world.
Anyone who argues that we don’t have a cultural problem that extends from the bottom of society to the top is living with their head in the sand. Anyone who thinks that African Amer…no… not African Americans…Black people, from any place, are not in danger any time a person with a badge confronts them, is a damned fool. Anyone who thinks that people of color have the same opportunities as whites – well, you get the idea, and as a black man, I’m sure you live it. You and I have different reactions when a cop pulls us over. That is an advantage of my birth and a disadvantage of yours (it feels wrong to say it that way, but tell me it isn’t true… )
Even so, today, there is a very large cadre of white people here trying to make a difference, some of us, well, we aren’t marchers. We’re writers, or researchers – both important activities. Some of us are teachers, teaching the truth about racism in the United States, despite the best efforts of certain states (*cough – Texas – cough*) to whitewash (if you’ll excuse the phrase) the past. No, Texas, Africans did not decide to come here as workers…. SMDH. Some of us simply don’t know what to do.
Now, as to today. I’m not sure why “This is some Gestapo shit, man.” Would make liberals have heart palpitations. This IS some Gestapo shit. And it’s getting worse. Of course, I’ve been having heart palpitations and the shakes and crying spells because it angers me so much. In all honesty, Michael, I’ve felt nothing but anger for the past … how many days has it been since this evil started??? I know I wrote my first anti-fascist blog article on February 23, 2016. Additionally, I know of no one who feels any different, and it is a nearly universal sentiment in my history class of 28 students (I’m pretty damned proud of them, we have one more lecture before we get to the topic of the South’s Peculiar Institution and the mythology surrounding that).
Now, if you want to call every single person working for Trump and every single Republican in Washington cowards, on that beratna, we can agree. I have personally called my own representatives, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn multiple times this week demanding that they quit being sycophants to Mussolini Orange and act like the checks and balances they are supposed to be. Of course, you never actually talk to them – I mean, I’m not some deep-pocket donor, right? And I’m equally sure it all fell on deaf ears. But, John Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, Sarah Sanders, Paul Ryan and the rest of the Trumpsters? They absolutely are cowards. Sycophants sucking at their master’s orange, flabby teats.
And I agree with you, 100% about what to do. DO SOMETHING. Though I have to admit, this last week or so, I’ve been completely at a loss, I’ve literally been paralyzed in the face of the evil that this administration has committed – I have spent most of this week wanting to hit something, break something, destroy something – that is the nature I must overcome. I have managed to call my reps, to make some videos, and to write. I have also managed to teach my students as much as possible about how they also must fight this evil…and that is about all, possibly because if I’d done something more than that, the results would not have been …. Well, I’m an old soldier…and that’s what I know – and that’s what we want to avoid.
However, Michael, even if most white people live in their own little-isolated worlds and do nothing to make things better in this world, I’d argue that condition extends well beyond white people and is a sin that most people in general commit. The average person wants just three things, to sleep indoors, eat on a regular basis, and get laid once in a while. And of course, be entertained enough to remain numb to the world outside.
As such, you, sir, paint with a brush that is far too wide and throw insult at some VERY courageous white people, some of whom were and are very active, some so active that they have died in the fight for racial equality and justice. I think it is a shame you discount them.
In closing, I just want to say the following;
Alderney, Amersfoort, Arbeitsdorf, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Banjica, Bardufoss, Bełżec, Berga, Thuringia, Bergen-Belsen, Berlin-Marzahn, Bernburg, Bogdanovka, Bolzano, Bredtvet, Breendonk, Breitenau, Buchenwald, Chełmno, Kulmhof, Crveni krst, Dachau, Drancy, Falstad, Flößberg, Flossenbürg, Fort de Romainville, Fort VII (Poznań), Fossoli, Grini, Gross-Rosen, Herzogenbusch, Vught, Hinzert, Jägala, Janowska, Lwów, Jasenovac, Kaiserwald, Mežaparks, Kaufering/Landsberg, Kauen, Kaunas, Kemna, Klooga, Koldichevo, Langenstein-Zwieberge, Le Vernet, Majdanek, KZ Lublin, Malchow, Maly Trostenets, Mauthausen-Gusen, Mechelen, Mittelbau-Dora, Mittelsteine, Natzweiler-Struthof (Struthof), Neuengamme, Niederhagen, Oberer Kuhberg, Ohrdruf, Oranienburg, Osthofen, Płaszów, Ravensbrück, Risiera di San Sabba, Trieste, Sachsenhausen, Sajmište, Salaspils (Kirchholm), Skrochowitz, Skrochovice, Sobibór, Soldau, Stutthof, Theresienstadt, Terezín, Treblinka, Vaivara, Warsaw, Westerbork.
Belzoni, Brookhaven, Money, Mayflower, Montgomery, Poplarville, Liberty, Taylorsville, Oxford, Attalla, Jackson, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Meadville, Philadelphia, Colbert, Marion, Selma, Bogalusa, Anniston, Hayneville, Tuskegee, Hattisburg, Natchez, Orangeburg, Memphis, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few…
Dallas, Don Hutto, El Paso, Houston, Johnson County, Laredo, Polk County, Port Isabel, Rolling Plains, South Texas, and West Texas – and who knows how many others.
Anywhere there is injustice, all good people must resist it to the best of their ability.
Camps lead to railcars. Railcars lead to ovens. Bigotry leads to death. NEVER FORGET.
I am at your service,
Todd D. Rainer
North Houston White Rose Society
We Will Not Be Silent