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Haiti’s Great White Hope? May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Caribbean, Foreign Policy, Haiti.
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John Maxwell

Jamaican Observer, May 24, 2009

History is littered with treachery. In the noisome Slough of Dishonour are mired thousands of reputations, most of those who betrayed their own countries, like Pierre Laval, Vidkun Quisling, Jonas Savimbi and Augusto Pinochet.

JOHN MAXWELL

The deepest pits, though, the most purulent sinks, are reserved for those who have ranged abroad to betray and sabotage strangers, to inflict unnecessary suffering on people who have never given them cause for complaint. People like Leopold of Belgium, Neville Chamberlain, Hitler, Ariel Sharon and George W Bush spring readily to mind. On Monday, former President Clinton announced that he would accept an invitation from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon of South Korea, to become the SG’s personal envoy in Haiti. It is an appointment that will end in disaster. I mention Ban Ki Moon’s nationality because I believe that the disaster that already exists in Haiti is the result of a culture clash which is entirely incomprehensible to most people outside the Western hemisphere and not easily understood by most people outside the international crime scene that has been created in Haiti.

Ground Zero for Modern Civilisation

It is my contention that the modern world was born in Haiti. When you understand that the modern rotary printing press is a direct descendant of mills made to grind sugar you may begin to get the drift of my argument. Since I am not a historian my arguments will not be subtle and nuanced. I am simply presenting a few crude facts which, however you interpret them, will lead inexorably, I believe, to the conclusion that modern ideas of liberty and freedom, modern capitalism and globalisation of production and exchange, would have spent much longer in gestation had it not been for the black slaves of Haiti who abolished slavery and the slave trade. In the process they defeated the armies of the leading world powers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, destroyed the French empire in the western hemisphere, doubled the size and power of the United States and incidentally promoted the European sugar beet industry and revolutionised European farming.

The problem with all this, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is that had the Haitians been ethnically European, their achievements would now suffuse the world narrative; conversely, had Spartacus been black, he would long ago have faded into the mists of barbarian myth. The Haitians and all the other blacks of the Western hemisphere were uprooted from their native grounds, their civilisations laid waste, and they themselves transported to unknown lands in which they were forced to create unexampled riches and luxury for their rapists and despoilers.

For reasons lost to history, the blacks in Haiti and Jamaica were, for most of their captivity, the most unwilling subjects and continued to fight for their freedom for more than three centuries. The Enlightenment and its prophets and philosophers popularised the ideas of freedom and liberty, the rights of man. Nowhere was freedom taken more seriously than by the Haitians, who, described as Frenchmen, fought valiantly for American freedom in that nation’s Revolutionary War of Independence. When Revolution convulsed France in turn, the Haitians threw their support to those they thought were fighting for freedom. When that proved a false trail, the Haitians continued to fight, defeating the French, British and Spanish armies sent to re-enslave them.

Although the Americans and the French said they believed in freedom, they formed an unholy combination to restrict Haiti’s liberty. The fact of Haitian freedom frightened the Americans and other world powers. Haiti promised freedom to any captive who set foot on her soil and armed, provisioned and supplied trained soldiers to Simon Bolivar for the liberation of South America. Nearly 200 years before the United Nations (and France and the USA), Haiti proclaimed Universal Human Rights, threatening the slave societies in America and the Caribbean. Haiti’s freedom was compromised by French and American financial blackmail, and as I’ve said before, what the Atlantic powers could not achieve by force of arms they achieved by compound interest. Haiti was the first heavily indebted poor country, and the United States, Canada, France and the multilateral financial organisations, the World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank and the IMF have worked hard to keep her in that bondage.

In this March 10, 2009 file photo, former US President Bill Clinton greets United Nations workers in Port-au-Prince. The United Nations recently named Clinton as its special envoy to Haiti, with a mission to help the impoverished nation achieve some measure of stability after devastating floods and other crises. (Photo: AP)

Eventually, 93 years ago, the Americans invaded Haiti, destroyed the constitution, the government and their social system. American Jim Crow segregation and injustice destroyed the Haitian middle class, enhanced and exacerbated class distinctions and antagonisms and left Haiti a ravaged, dysfunctional mess, ruled by a corrupt American-trained military in the interest of a small, corrupt gang of mainly expatriate or white capitalists, ready to support any and every murderous dictator who protected their interests.

Finally, 20 years ago, the Haitians rose up and overthrew the Duvaliers and the apprentice dictators who followed. In their first free election the Haitians elected a black parish priest of small stature, the man whose words and spirit had embodied their struggle. But the real rulers of Haiti, the corrupt, bloodthirsty capitalists with their American passports and their bulletproof SUVs, had no intention of letting Haitians exercise the universal human rights their leaders had proclaimed two centuries before.

When Jean Bertrand Aristide was deposed after a few months in office, it was with the help of the CIA, USAID, and other American entities. Then ensued one of the most disgraceful episodes in the long, unsavoury history of diplomacy. Bill Clinton – elected president promising to treat the Haitian refugees as human beings – elected instead to observe the same barbarous policies as George Bush I, and when the refugees became a flood, Clinton’s answer was more illegality. He parked two massive floating slave barracoons in Kingston Harbour where refugees picked up in Jamaican waters were, with the craven connivance of the Patterson government, denied asylum, captured and processed and 22 per cent of them selected for the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp while the rest were returned to their murderers in Haiti.

Eventually, largely due to pressure from black pressure groups in the US and crucially, a fast to the death begun by Randall Robinson, Clinton agreed to restore Aristide while General Colin Powell talked grandly of the soldier’s honour he shared with Haiti’s then murderer-in-chief, a scamp called Raoul Cedras. President Clinton made several pledges to Aristide and to Haiti, but history does not seem to record that any were kept. Had even a few been kept, Haiti may have been able to guarantee public security and to install some desperately needed infrastructure. Instead Haitians are still scooping water to drink from potholes in the street and stave off hunger with ‘fritters’ made from earth and cooking fat.

The Haitian Army, the most corrupt and evil public institution in the western hemisphere, was abolished by Aristide, to the displeasure of the North American powers. Now that the Americans have deposed Aristide for the second time, security is in the hands of a motley mercenary army, a UN peacekeeping force. Security in Haiti is so good that three years ago, the then head of this force, a Brazilian general, was found shot to death after a friendly chat with Haitian elites. The rapes, massacres, disappearances and kidnappings continue unabated and the only popular political force, the Fanmi Lavalas, has been effectively neutered. President Clinton “will aim to attract private and government investment and aid for the poor Caribbean island nation”, according to Clinton’s office and a senior UN official. “A UN official said that Clinton would act as a ‘cheerleader’ for the economically distressed country, cajoling government and business leaders into pouring fresh money into a place that is largely dependent on foreign assistance.”

It all sounds so nice and cozy, a poor, black ‘hapless’ nation under the tutelage of the rich and civilised of the earth. I am prepared to bet that neither Haitian democracy nor Bill Clinton’s reputation will survive this appointment. Democracy is impossible without popular participation and decision making. In Haiti, democracy is impossible without Lavalas and Aristide. If Haiti itself is to survive, the UN General Assembly needs to seize this baton from the spectacularly unqualified and ignorant Security Council and its very nice and affable secretary general, even less attuned to Haitian reality than the last SG, Kofi Annan and his accomplices, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, PJ Patterson and Patrick Manning.

Copyright -2009 John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

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Avoiding World Conference on Racism Shows Obama’s Disrespect For Blacks April 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Racism.
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durbanby BAR executive editor Glen Ford
President Obama’s “fawning, damn near servile behavior when accommodating Zionist demands” to boycott and sabotage the Durban II conference on racism “should have been a deal breaker” in his relations with African Americans. But what passes for Black leadership accepts any and all insults from Obama, who naturally treats them like the spineless creatures they are. Meanwhile, the White House keeps “Jewish leaders” up to date with conference calls on how Obama is protecting Israel from charges that it is an apartheid state, and also ensuring that the United States is not compelled to make amends for its racist past and present.

 

 

Avoiding World Conference on Racism Shows Obama’s Deep Disrespect For Blacks
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Blacks get nothing from Obama’s White House except permission to worship him as the ultimate role model.”
On Tuesday, April 14, according to the Huffington Post, the White House placed a conference call to American “Jewish leaders,” all but assuring them the U.S. would not show up for Durban II, the international conference on racism, in Geneva, Switzerland. President Obama’s close adviser Samantha Power, of the National Security Council, said the event’s revised draft document “met two of our four red lines frontally, in the sense that it went no further than reparations and it did drop all references to Israel and all anti-Semitic language. But it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I.”
Translation: although the document, under relentless U.S. pressure, has been watered down to the point of irrelevance, it remains unacceptable because it reaffirms declarations of the first World Conference Against Racism, in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. There is virtually no chance President Obama will reverse his decision to boycott Durban II, April 20-24.
We must first ask: Why is the White House reporting to “Jewish leaders” on an issue that is of interest to all Americans, most especially people of color? Has Obama arranged such briefings on Durban II for “Black leaders,” “Latino leaders,” or “Native American leaders” – representatives of constituencies that have suffered genocide, slavery, discrimination, forced displacement and all manner of racist assaults right here on American soil? No, he has not. Barack Obama knows full well that he risks nothing by disrespecting African Americans at will. Across the Black political spectrum, so-called leadership seems incapable of shame or of taking manly or womanly offense at even the most blatant insults to Black people when the source of the affront is Barack Hussein Obama.
Barack Obama knows full well that he risks nothing by disrespecting African Americans at will.”
Several weeks ago, popular Sirius Radio Black talk show host Mark Thompson (“Make It Plain”) wondered aloud if Obama’s threat to boycott Durban II should be a “deal breaker” – a “last straw” offense against Black interests and sensibilities. It should have been. The Obama administration’s fawning, damn near servile behavior when accommodating Zionist demands – and I use the word “demands” quite purposely – was a lesson in how Power responds to constituencies it favors, fears, or at least, respects. Blacks get nothing from Obama’s White House except permission to worship him as the ultimate role model. Less than nothing, as the unfolding Durban outrage demonstrates.
Obama has done more damage to the Durban process than George Bush, who pulled out of Durban I after the conference had begun. Important language survived the 2001 disruption, such as:
“We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity and should always have been so, especially the transatlantic slave trade and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and that Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian.”
Urges States to adopt the necessary measures, as provided by national law, to ensure the right of victims to seek just and adequate reparation and satisfaction to redress acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, and to design effective measures to prevent the repetition of such acts”
As University of Dayton, Ohio law professor Vernellia R. Randall has pointed out, pressures from the Obama White House caused revisions in the Durban II draft that
withdrew  language related to reparations;
removed  the proposed paragraph related to the transatlantic slave trade being a crime against humanity;
removed proposed paragraphs designed to strengthen the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; and, 
overall weakened the efforts related to people of African Descent.
And of course, language related to Palestinian rights and Israeli racism was totally eviscerated. (Samantha Power: “..it did drop all references to Israel and all anti-Semitic language.”) But none of that was enough to satisfy the Zionists, who hope to utterly destroy Durban II, and erase Durban I from the record. (Power, on remaining U.S. objections: “But it continued to reaffirm, in toto, Durban I.”)
Durbin II should have been a deal breaker.”
George Bush’s walkout at Durban I provided a sour ending for the event, but allowed participants to make some important statements and carry out additional work over the next eight years. The United States and other countries were to report to Durbin II on residential segregation, criminal justice, police brutality, felony disenfranchisement and Katrina displacement. That cannot happen if the official American delegation is not in Geneva. Samantha Power told her Jewish leadership friends, who don’t want Durban II to occur, at all, not to worry. “In order for us to participate in the negotiations, to sit behind the placard, to be involved in a frontal way, much more would need to be done. And all four of our red lines will need to be met.”
Israel and the White House speak of “red lines” that they will not tolerate being crossed in politics and diplomacy. But where are the “red lines” that so-called Black leaders will not allow to be breached? Where Barack Obama is concerned, such lines do not exist – which is why he is permitted to walk all over Black folks, with impunity.
Yes, Durbin II should have been a deal breaker. Instead, it was mostly cause for sniveling lamentation and words of “concern” or wishful predictions by Black notables that Obama would change his mind (after the damage had already been done!) and attend the conference.
The National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL), although initially registering “profound disappointment” (oh, my!) with Obama’s boycott of Durbin II, cheerily added, “we are confident that your Administration will be reversing its decision in time to participate in the conference and its remaining preparatory meetings….” That was on March 27, by which time Obama’s vandals had caused the shredding of almost every word of value in the documents. The Black lawyers’ “Open Letter to President Barack Obama” was signed by an impressive list of many scores of prominent organizations and individuals – but in its determined, concentrated meekness, should never have been expected to have any impact on the White House. And of course, it had none.
Where are the ‘red lines’ that so-called Black leaders will not tolerate being breached?”
The likes of the NCBL would be flattered to have Obama’s people string them along – any attention would do. But Samantha Power and her boss won’t even bother, understanding perfectly well that the meek inherent nothing but contempt. In her thorough and collegial report on Durban to Jewish leaders – who are anything but meek – Power said: “We will make our decision [to attend] up closer to the date of the conference, we want to show good faith to our allies and the people who are working hard to improve the text… But we are also not interested in being involved or associated with fool’s errands.”
Obama’s White House has not seen fit to show the slightest glimmer of good faith to Black people (at least, those not in his immediate family or employ), and seems to consider salvaging Durbin II a “fools errand.” You know what color the “fools” are.
TransAfrica chairman Danny Glover placed an article in the April 8 issue of The Nation magazine that read like a letter to President Obama. “This should be a moment for the United States to rejoin the global struggle against racism, the struggle that the Bush administration so arrogantly abandoned,” wrote Glover. “I hope President Obama will agree that the United States must participate with other nations in figuring out the tough issues of how to overcome racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance, and how to provide repair to victims.”
Let’s see if Glover calls Obama “arrogant” when the president finishes sabotaging Durbin II. My bet is, “disappointed” is about as strong as Glover will muster. Obama sucks the spine out of Black people.
And as long as Black notables (let’s drop the “leadership” charade) turn into invertebrates at the mere thought of Barack Obama, so long will he treat the entire group as inconsequential, harmless ciphers.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Where’s Rev. Wright When You Need Him? April 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Racism.
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by Chris Hedges

Israel and the United States, which could be charged under international law with crimes against humanity for actions in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan, will together boycott the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Geneva. Racism, an endemic feature of Israeli and American society, is not, we have decided, open for international inspection. Barack Obama may be president, but the United States has no intention of accepting responsibility or atoning for past crimes, including the use of torture, its illegal wars of aggression, slavery and the genocide on which the country was founded. We, like Israel, prefer to confuse lies we tell about ourselves with fact. 

The Obama administration’s decision not to prosecute CIA and Bush administration officials for the use of torture because it wants to look to the future is easy to accept if you were never tortured. The decision not to confront slavery and the continued discrimination against African-Americans is easy to accept if your ancestors were not kidnapped, crammed into slave ships, denied their religion and culture, deprived of their language, stripped of their names, severed from their families and forced into generations of economic misery. The decision not to discuss the genocide of Native Americans is easy if your lands were not stolen and your people driven into encampments and slaughtered. The doctrine of pre-emptive war and illegal foreign occupation is easy to accept if you are not a Palestinian, an Iraqi or an Afghan. 

“The Obama administration’s decision not to prosecute CIA and Bush administration officials for the use of torture because it wants to look to the future is easy to accept if you were never tortured.”

To victims of oppression, the past is never over. It is not even past. Trauma, suffering and discrimination do not afford them that luxury. Generations bear the scars of whips and chains. They carry heavy physical and psychological burdens. And these burdens do not disappear when someone glibly decides to look to the future. 

The conference in Geneva will discuss racism and continued segregation around the world, including in America, where African-Americans remain the nation’s underclass. In addressing slavery, it will raise the issue of reparations, something we deem appropriate for Jewish victims of the Holocaust but not for African-Americans. And it will seek to force all nations to confront injustices they would rather keep hidden. But we are not ready to look. 

The Obama administration at first refused to participate in the preliminary negotiations for the conference, chaired by Russia, Iran and Libya. It then agreed to attend for one week. It demanded the removal of references to Israel in the document outlining the goals of the conference. The references were removed. It also demanded other insidious changes, as Vernellia R. Randall, a University of Dayton Ohio law professor, pointed out. The Obama administration asked that the call for reparations for African-Americans be expunged. It insisted that the description of the transatlantic slave trade as “a crime against humanity” be cut. And it demanded the elimination of a call to strengthen the U.N. “Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent,” which deals with the African diaspora. 

The document, however, ratified “Durban I,” which was the concluding document of the first World Conference Against Racism, held in South Africa in 2001. The 2001 document included a harsh condemnation of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. And this, finally, proved too much for Washington. 

“Barack Obama knows full well that he risks nothing by disrespecting African Americans at will,” wrote Glen Ford, the executive editor of The Black Agenda Report. “Across the Black political spectrum, so-called leadership seems incapable of shame or of taking manly or womanly offense at even the most blatant insults to Black people when the source of the affront is Barack Hussein Obama.”

The United States, which has a museum to the Jewish Holocaust in Washington but has never found the moral courage to officially atone for its role in slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, perpetuates a disturbing historical amnesia. Our national myth and deification of the Founding Fathers studiously preclude an examination of the bloody conquest, open racism, misogyny, elitism and brutality that led to the country’s establishment and that fester like an open wound. 

We failed to fully participate in every world conference on racism, including those held in 1978, 1983 and 2001. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his delegation during the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, walked out because of what the Americans termed “Israel-bashing.” 

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, on April 13, 2003, gave a 40-minute sermon called “Confusing God and Government.” Only a clip from the sermon-the phrase “God Damn America”-made it onto the airwaves. It was repeated in endless loops on cable news channels and used to turn Wright into a pariah. Obama denounced his former pastor. The rest of the sermon, and especially the context in which the phrase was used, was ignored. Obama would be a better president if he listened to voices like Wright’s and listened less to his pollsters and advisers.

The sermon was a cry from those who cannot forget what white and privileged Americans-as well as, now, the Obama administration-want us to ignore. It was a reminder that there are two narratives of America. And until these narratives converge, until we all accept the truth of our past, justice will never be done. We will continue until then to speak in two irreconcilable languages, one that acknowledges the pain of the past and seeks atonement and one that does not. We will continue to be two Americas. 

“This government lied about their belief that all men were created equal,” Wright told his congregation. “The truth is they believed that all white men were created equal. The truth is they did not even believe that white women were created equal, in creation nor civilization. The government had to pass an amendment to the Constitution to get white women the vote. Then the government had to pass an equal rights amendment to get equal protection under the law for women. The government still thinks a woman has no rights over her own body, and between Uncle Clarence [Thomas], who sexually harassed Anita Hill, and a closeted Klan court that is a throwback to the 19th century, handpicked by Daddy Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, between Clarence and that stacked court, they are about to undo Roe vs. Wade, just like they are about to undo affirmative action. The government lied in its founding documents and the government is still lying today. Governments lie.”

” … When it came to treating the citizens of African descent fairly, America failed,” he said. “She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters. Put them on auction blocks. Put them in cotton fields. Put them in inferior schools. Put them in substandard housing. Put them in scientific experiments. Put them in the lowest-paying jobs. Put them outside the equal protection of the law. Kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education, and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. 

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ Naw, naw, naw. Not God Bless America. God Damn America! That’s in the Bible. For killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating us citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is Supreme.”

There will be no delegation from the United States at the U.N. conference on racism. Not this year. Maybe not for several years. But the day will come, I hope, when justice will finally conquer hate, when the truth will allow us to speak as one nation. We can, on that day, send a delegation led by the Rev. Wright as part of reconciliation.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

Dubois’s Revenge: Reinterrogating American Democratic Theory … or Why We Need a Revolutionary Black Research Agenda in the 21st Century March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Uncategorized.
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William (Bill) Strickland

www.blackcommentator.com, March 26, 2009

I.  PROLOGUE

In 1899, one year after completing what many consider to be the first real Black Study, his magisterial sociological analysis, The Philadelphia Negro, W.E.B. Du Bois addressed the American Academy in Philadelphia and proposed what might also be considered the first real Black Research Agenda.

To the white scholars gathered in Philadelphia, Du Bois proposed a path-breaking study of the Negro people:

The American Negro deserves study for the great end of advancing the cause of science in general. No such opportunity to watch and measure the history and development of a great race of people ever presented itself to the scholars of a modern nation.  If they miss this opportunity—if they do the work in a slipshod, unsystematic manner—if they dally with the truth to humor the whims of the day, they do far more than hurt the good name of the American people; they hurt the cause of scientific truth the world over. . .” (emphasis mine) [1]

However, persuaded that they were already in possession of ‘the truth’ about race, and perhaps equally unpersuaded that Negroes belonged to ‘a great race of people,’ the Academy declined to participate in Du Bois’s project.

 

Characteristically then, and largely unaided, Du Bois, for the next twenty years—first from Atlanta and later from New York—pursued the racial research we now know as the famous Atlanta University Studies; constructing virtually single-handedly, to all intents and purposes, what was the first Black Studies program in America.  (By celebrating Du Bois in this way, there is no intent to slight George Washington Williams, who Vincent Harding calls “the first substantial scholarly historian of Blacks in America,” [2] and whose 1883 opus, History Of The Negro Race In America From 1619-1880 V2: Negroes As Slaves, As Soldiers, And As Citizens , still stands as the original foundational text of black history.  Nor can one overlook Carter G. Woodson, generally regarded as the Father of Negro History.  Rather one wishes simply to call attention to the fact that in regard to Black Studies, Du Bois was, as in so much else, there “at the creation.”)

But Du Bois’s work in pursuit of the truth about the race’s past and present increasingly led him into a collision with America’s self-definition as a “democratic land” which, despite its negligible “negro problem,” still saw and proclaimed itself, in the classical Panglossian sense, “the best of all possible worlds.”

Du Bois vs. the Historical Establishment

Du Bois’s confrontation with the American historiography that had not changed its opinion of the essential unworthiness of the Negro in the three plus decades since Philadelphia, came to a head in 1935 when he published his seminal reinterpretation of the Reconstruction era, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.

 

Concluding the volume with a chapter entitled, “The Propaganda of History,” Du Bois charged that “the facts of American history have in the last half century been falsified because the nation was ashamed.  The South was ashamed because it fought to perpetuate human slavery, the North was ashamed because it had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and establish democracy” (emphasis mine). [3]

This critique was both revolutionary and heretical since it not only attributed what we now routinely describe as “agency” to black people but it also struck a Joe Louis-like blow against white supremacy by asserting that black people had been the Salvationists of the Civil War Republic!  Therefore what Du Bois’s perspective represented and what it called for, implicitly, was a new history of America.

Du Bois made that implication explicit on the global level as well in a 1943 letter to Will Alexander, a special assistant in the office of the War Manpower Commission who had written Du Bois from Washington that “there is a small group of scholars here, men of wide experience in international matters, who feel that there is need of a universal history of racism as it has appeared in various places around the world.” [4]

Two weeks after receiving Alexander’s November letter, Du Bois responded from Atlanta “that a universal history of racism would be an excellent undertaking but . . . if you are going to take the wide definition of race including nationalism, minorities, status, slavery, etc., it would be attempting a new universal history on a vast scale” (emphasis mine). [5]

Du Bois’s view that applying a “wide” definition of race to world  history would, ipso facto, produce a new historical paradigm, a virtual reformulation of the way that one thought about the past and present world, is what I want to suggest is also both true and necessary for American political history and theory; that the need to reinterrogate the various ways that race and racism have impacted upon and, indeed, shaped the American nation state is also a history that must be reconceptualized “on a vast scale” if we wish to take up Du Bois’s crusade for “scientific truth.”

At bottom, the question that underlies such an enquiry is quite simple: Since public policy and constitutional law in America have sanctioned slavery, segregation, discrimination and institutional racism, how is it possible to reconcile the democratic theory of the state with the black civic experience?  For example, the state may be conceptualized as an autonomous actor, a neutral arbiter, a gendarme, or an instrument of race, class and gender oppression.  But whichever way the state is conceived, it unquestionably performs a certain role in allocating wealth, status, privilege and resources to some while withholding those perquisites from others.  Moreover, although a taboo subject in conventional American appraisals, the chief means employed by the state and society to maintain and perpetuate the racial social order has been the resort to violence. 

 

Slavery was violent and was only overthrown by violence.  Reconstruction was dismantled by violence.  The system of Jim Crow rested upon the theory and praxis of violence and the resistance to the freedom movement was, at its core, violent.  The challenge, therefore, is to look longitudinally at American political history to try and gain a more accurate understanding of how the Republic has related actually, rather than mythically, to the black presence in its midst.   Consider this example both of one problem unexamined and the kind of research needed to bring it to light.

The Southern Question

In 1944, Adam Clayton Powell was elected to Congress from Harlem and arrived in Washington in 1945, the last year of World War II’s fight against fascism. [6]

But what did Adam have to contend with once he had taken his seat?  He had to contend with the racist rantings of Southern Congressmen like John Rankin of Mississippi who were still freely indulging the epithet “nigger” on the House floor.  (Rankin was an equal opportunity bigot since he also assailed columnist Walter Winchell as “a little kike.”) [7]

To his credit, and despite the expectation that freshmen Congressmen were to be seen and not heard, Adam rose after another Rankin outburst to say that “the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party.” [8]

So how do we theorize about this incident?  Were Rankin’s fulminations simply an individual expression of racist sentiment or symptomatic of something more organic to American political life?  What, for example, did the apparent tolerance of the behavior signify?  And how far back did this normative racism go?  All the way back to 1790?  Or was it only a twentieth century phenomenon?  That is, did racial insults abate in Congress during the thirty years, from 1871 to 1901, when black men sat in the Congress?  In fine, what is the historical record of racist discourse—and the advancement of racist interests–in the House and Senate of the United States?  Researching that question in the Congressional Record, the Congressional Globe, et al., would be a massive undertaking—and aside from William Lee Miller’s Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress (Knopf, 1995) which details the 1830’s Congressional fight over petitions against slavery–so far as I know no one has yet done it.  But questions such as these need to be answered if we are ever to truly fathom the nature of the American racial state.

Also one might raise many other questions about Dixiecrat power for one’s research agenda, like the political side of the reparations question.  For while the subject of reparations for unpaid slave labor has generated heated political discussion for decades, there has been no similar effort to systematically appraise the cost of federal programs and public policy which the South steered to itself on the backs of the expropriated political power of disenfranchised Blacks.

We know, for example, that the Freedmen’s Bank was burgled by government-affiliated speculators after the Civil War.  We know that many black veterans of World War I were never given their pensions.   We know that the Union army paid its black soldiers only half of what they paid white soldiers until black soldier protest and war exigencies forced the government to relent in the last year of the war.  And we know that the funds of the New Deal programs were discriminatorily disbursed during the Depression.  But we can’t put a dollar figure on these serial betrayals by the national government nor on the spin-off benefits which the South enjoyed because of its stolen political power.  How many public projects and military bases were sited in the former Confederacy, one wonders?  And government subsidies?  And tax breaks?

 

The questions are endless but the answers will help us illuminate the suppressed dimension of the American racial state.

So where might we begin?  At the beginning, of course, with the sacrosanct foundation myths of American exceptionalism.

II.   ON THE POLITICS OF MISREPRESENTATION

“The United States was the land of captivity, of slavery rather than liberty, and the discovery of the New World represented not the founding of a shining city on a hill but the start of the crime against Africans.” [9]   –Manisha Sinha

The problem of reinterpreting America’s history and politics is only partly a problem of new discovery since much of the actual history is known.  It exists in records, documents, oral history and in books, both old and new.

The problem is that non-mainstream history is an embarrassment to the national myths that make up America’s identity so it is banished from the national memory; hidden from national view; concealed behind what Du Bois called The Veil.  What we are left with is invented history, abetted by various “masking devices” such as historical patterns that go uncommented upon; euphemistic language such as “landed gentry” instead of slave-owners; “racial riots” instead of pogroms; “violence” instead of murder; “harassment and intimidation” instead of racial terror, ad infinitum. (emphasis mine)  Another ploy is the examination of the “thoughts” and “minds” of Great White Men while shying away from their deeds.

But the most persistent disguising tradition has been simply to ignore the messenger. . . the fate of most black critical voices over the ages.  Indeed, Manisha Sinha, in the January 2007 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, points out that “Historians have yet to fully appreciate the alternative and radical nature of black abolitionist ideology. . . [that] not only pointed to the shortcomings of American revolutionary ideals but also exposed their complicity in upholding racial slavery.” [10]   And, if ignoring the messenger did not suffice, then the reaction was to professionally slay the renegade scholar.  That was the fate meted out to the late Fawn Brodie whose 1974 volume, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, dared to suggest an “intimate relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. . .”   Her reward was to be almost unanimously pilloried by the academic establishment.  So what, at bottom, are we dealing with?

Is America just another case of national vanity run amok since nearly all societies, like nearly all religions, tend to think of themselves as special and adhere to creation myths which attest to their uniqueness?   Or is something more at stake?  Something like America’s aspiration to world leadership based on its self-image of being specially favored and specially blessed?  It is to answer that question that one turns to the past because it is the past which best contextualizes today’s diabolical policies of preemptive war, international kidnappings, secret prisons, sanctioned torture, the gulag of Guantanamo, the excesses of the FBI and the administration’s scornful disregard of the Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the right of habeas corpus.

 

The past conceptualizes these practices because, although chronologically new, they are remarkably akin to deeds which Du Bois deplored some fifty years ago:

There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible.  Today we are lying, stealing and killing.  We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense.  But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done.  No nation threatens us.  We threaten the world. [11] (emphasis mine.)

Seem familiar?

The significance of Du Bois’s critique is that he saw America not as most Americans see it but through his own racial lens; utilizing the second sight he had gained as a lifelong racial outsider in the land of his birth:

Had it not been for the race problem early thrust upon me and enveloping me, I should have probably been an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine of the established social order and of the economic development into which I was born. But just that part of this order which seemed to most of my fellows nearest perfection, seemed to me most inequitable and wrong; and starting from that critique I, gradually, as the years went by, found other things to question in my environment. [12]   (emphasis mine)

So Fawn Brodie questioned an icon while Du Bois questioned the “social order.”  Both interrogations suggest new interpretative spaces where the meaning of America can be remapped in order to investigate the line of historical continuity from the international slave trade to the multi-national corporation, from the Indian “wars” of yesterday to the Iraqi occupation of today, from America’s oft-invoked democratic claims to its oft-enacted undemocratic actions.

III. ON RACIAL (AND OTHER) CONTRADICTIONS
OF AMERICA’S FOUNDING HISTORY

To review American political history from top to bottom is obviously beyond the scope of this paper.  What it seeks to do is reanalyze America’s founding years by piggy-backing on some of the excellent works written both recently and in past years, which have significantly contributed to our understanding of non-mythical American history.

 

In that connection James Loewen’s pioneering, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Revised and Updated Edition (New Press, NY, 1995) must be mentioned as well as THINKING AND RETHINKING U.S. HISTORY , edited by Gerald Horne and published by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1988.  (In fact, Horne has been exemplary in resurrecting neglected history as in his Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 (American History and Culture Series) (NYU Press, 2005). [13]   He has also provided us with a critically new perspective on the role of race in World War II in his Race War!: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (NYU, 2004) which “delves into forgotten history to reveal how European racism and colonialism were deftly exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of color.” [14] )

The methodology of inquiry will be to carry on a dialogue with these books; outlining what new historical hypotheses they seem to represent and what new questions and issues arising from them might deservedly constitute a research agenda of the future.

IV.  THE FOUNDING UNROMATICIZED: COLONIALISM, CAPITALISM, AND CITIZENSHIP BEFORE THE MAYFLOWER

In 1964, Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner published their book Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Black-Americans (hereafter G&E) which painted quite a different picture of American settlers from the archetypical image of freedom-seeking Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620.   They wrote that. . . “of the several million persons who reached Great Britain’s North American colonies before 1776, it is conservatively estimated that close to 80 percent arrived under some form of servitude.” [15]   (emphasis mine)

Since we are accustomed to think of servitude and/or slavery as being the lot only of Africans and their descendants and also know that, as of the first official census in America in 1790, these persons comprised approximately 20 percent of the American population, we are left to wonder about the status of this majority of  unknown white settlers.  Who were they, these non-Pilgrims? 

A partial answer can be found in G&E and also in Gary Nash’s classic work of colonial history, Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (5th Edition).   Both direct our attention to the Jamestown Landing of 1607 where the two constituent elements of American exceptionalism first came into being, i.e., the awarding of “free” land to the settlers and their gaining of the right to vote.  However, both of these bestowals by the architects of the Jamestown project, the Virginia Company of London, arose out of the financial imperatives of settlement not out of any sentiments of democratic idealism.  More importantly these concessions were made by the London businessmen whose desperate hope was to turn Jamestown into a successful profit-making enterprise as the Spaniards had done in Mexico and Peru. 

Witness Gary Nash:

The English founded their first permanent settlement in the Americas at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.  But it was not a colony at all. . . Rather it was a business enterprise, the property of the Virginia Company of London, made up of stockholders and a governing board of directors who answered directly to James 1.” [16] (emphasis mine)

Thus America was birthed by capitalism, not by freedom.  Indeed the Jamestown Project’s partnership between the corporation and the state was to serve as a useful model later in the century when the Royal African Company was granted a monopoly of the English slave trade with West Africa in 1672 by King Charles II.

Not Colonists But Conquistadors

We have come to think of slavery and the slave trade as the prime incubators and instigators of American racism with the American South as its birthplace.  Except. . . the first racial slaves in America were not Africans but Indians and the first state to legally sanction slavery was not Virginia in 1661 but Massachusetts in 1641. [17]

 

Moreover Massachusetts’s involvement in the slave trade antedates even their first slave law, e.g., “The first definitely authenticated American-built vessel to carry slaves was the Desire built in Marblehead [Massachusetts] and sailing out of Salem in 1638 [carrying] a cargo, among other things, of seventeen Pequot Indians, whom she sold in the West Indies.” [18] (emphasis mine)   What this neglected history of Indian slavery suggests is that we must see the Indian as well as the African as the original racial “other,” the negation of whose humanity was the dialectical affirmation of white superiority in America; that slavery and the slave trade tie Massachusetts and Virginia together and demonstrate the North-South national pattern of racial exploitation that evolves so seamlessly into racism.

Any new research agenda thus needs to reconceptualize white–Indian along with white-African relations to gain a fuller understanding of the role of race in shaping both the racial and cultural identity of America and in making possible its political and economic development.  Volumes such as Almon Lauber’s Indian Slavery in Colonial Times (Amsterdam, NY, 1969 but originally published in 1913), Allan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade, 1670-1717 (Yale, New Haven, 2002), and others like Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Cornell, NY, 2000) and her most recent book, The Jamestown Project (Harvard, Cambridge, MA, 2007) tell the more inclusive story of how considerations of race dominate early American relations. . .  As we can see by returning to the saga of Virginia:

“In the autumn of 1607. . . when food supplies were running perilously low and all but a handful of Jamestown settlers had fallen too ill to work, the colony was saved by Powhatan, whose men brought sufficient food to keep the struggling settlement alive until the sick recovered and the relief ship arrived.” [19]   (emphasis mine)  So Powhatan, more famous in the white-washed history as the father of Pocahontas, saves the Jamestown settlers in 1607, years before the Pilgrims landing and years before the holiday we now celebrate as Thanksgiving.  But Powhatan’s life-saving graciousness has gone unlearned, unappreciated, unspoken of—even this year, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s Founding.  Perhaps that is because, as Du Bois wrote about the black contribution to the Civil War, the settlers were ashamed of being indebted to those whom they considered their inferiors. Or maybe it’s the historians who should be held accountable. Whatever….  In the historical scheme of things, this oversight does not seem to have mattered because the new settlers soon re-righted their racial world at the behest of their superiors; to wit:

In 1609, the royal governor of Jamestown was ordered by the Virginia Company “to effect a military occupation of the region . . . to make all tribes tributary to him rather than to Powhatan, to extract corn, furs, dyes, and labor from each tribe and, if possible, to mold the natives into an agricultural labor force as the Spanish had done in their colonies.” [20]   (emphasis mine)

“As the Spanish had done in their colonies” meant, of course, that the settlers, told to emulate the Spanish conquistadors, were to subjugate the Indians to their will, establish racial rule over them, divide and conquer where possible, appropriate anything of value the Indians might possess—from food provisions to trade goods—and, first and foremost, enslave them . . . or as the company delicately put it—“mold them into an agricultural labor force.”

But the 30,000 Indians of the Chesapeake would not be “molded.”  They perished from the white man’s diseases.  They fought back.  So the Company had to try a new business plan of luring settlers to Virginia by promising them free land at the end of seven years labor.  But after five years the strategy of trying to turn a profit from these white indentured servants had also not succeeded so the company again raised the inducements for settlement:  “This time 100 acres of land was offered outright to anyone in England who would journey to the colony. . . [Thus] Instead of pledging limited servitude for the chance to become sole possessor of the land, an Englishman trapped at the lower rungs of society at home could now become an independent landowner in no more time than it took to reach the Chesapeake.” [21] (emphasis mine)

It is in this fashion that American exceptionalism is born via the gift of land which in Europe is owned by the monarchy, the church and the aristocracy.  But in America it is made available in a transaction of profit-making speculation.  Englishmen “trapped at the lower rungs of society” can then rise to become “independent landowners.”

But there was still one more “gift” to come: “In 1619 the resident governor was ordered to allow the election of a representative assembly, which would participate in governing the colony and thus bind the colonists emotionally to the land.” [22] (emphasis mine)

 

The pillar of democracy, the right to vote, was conferred upon the settlers not by the Goddess of Liberty but by the Goddess of Capitalism, as was the means of social and economic uplift, the land of the Indian.  And all of this occurred, we are reminded once again, by 1619—and before the fantasy-ennobling year of 1620.  Two other momentous things, whose significance, historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. reminds us, cannot be overstated, also took place in 1619.

Speaking of the first Africans to arrive in British America whom he calls the Jamestown Twenty, Lerone sums up the contradictions of Jamestown which were to become America’s own:

“In the months preceding the arrival [of the Africans], the colony had installed the new House of Burgesses [i.e., House of Citizens], formalized a new system of white servitude, shipped its first load of tobacco to England, inaugurated a new system of private property, and welcomed a shipload of brides, who were promptly purchased at the going rate of 120 pounds of tobacco eachThus, white servitude, black servitude, private property, ‘representative democracy,’ and bride purchase were inaugurated in America at roughly the same time.” [23] (emphasis mine)

Or to put it another way, the Jamestown Experiment codified the race, class, gender and political identity of America.  It also demolishes the myth of American exceptionalism because it establishes America as simply one of a number of white settler states like the former Rhodesia, South Africa and French Algeria, and those like New Zealand, Australia, et al. who have  morphed from those origins to the “civilizations” we see today.  Speaking of Australia, we can now answer the question that we posed pages ago about who these non-Pilgrim white colonists were.

 

Some were servants, and some were indentures and redemptioners as we have seen.  Others were  slaves like the white women sold at Jamestown, and many were the victims of kidnappings because:

Exporting white indentured servants became a big business… and closely resembled the African slave trade.  Drunkards were carried on shipboard.  Children were lured away with promises of candy and officials were bribed to turn over convicted criminals to the procurers. . . called ‘spirits’ because their victims were spirited away. . . [24]

But many of these “settlers” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were criminals .  Between 1718 and 1785 Britain banished 50,000 convicts to America, a fact rarely cited in American textbooks. [25]   In fact, it seems a matter of some historical discomfort to reveal the fact that America was Britain’s first penal colony.  Australia only assumed that role after the American Revolution when America’s shores were closed to that traffic.  Indeed the whole subject of white servitude and convict labor has received scant historical attention.  But the evidence is there.  It just is not permitted to confront or alter the tenets of mainstream history.

Again, Gary Nash:

“The colony had been initiated not by men seeking political or religious freedom but by profit-hungry investors in England and fortune-hunting adventurers and common riffraff from the back alleys and prisons.” [26]   The truth about Jamestown’s history, like the truth about American history itself, is gagged, shunted away in the closet to protect the myth of American perfection.  One re-engages with that history not simply to expose unflattering and suppressed truths but because so long as the myth of American perfection reigns, there will be no momentum for change in America.  And look at the world around us today.  Does it not suggest that change, more than likely, is the only hope that we have left?

“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over.”  — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1935

his commentary also appears in Souls.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member William L. (Bill) Strickland Teaches political science in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is also the Director of the Du Bois Papers Collection. The Du Bois Papers are housed at the University of Massachusetts library, which is named in honor of this prominent African American intellectual and Massachusetts native. Professor Strickland is a founding member of the independent black think tank in Atlanta the Institute of the Black World (IBW), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Strickland was a consultant to both series of the prize-winning documentary on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set), and the senior consultant on the PBS documentary, The American Experience: Malcolm X: Make It Plain.  He also wrote the companion book Malcolm X: Make It Plain. Most recently, Professor Strickland was a consultant on the Louis Massiah film on W.E.B. Du Bois – W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices. Click here to contact Mr. Strickland.


[1] Du Bois, W.E.B., Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 200.

[2] Vincent Harding, “Beyond Chaos: Black History and the Search for New Land,” in Amistad I: Writings on Black History and Culture, ed. John A. Williams and Charles F. Harris (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), p. 271.

[3] Du Bois, W.E.B.  Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Athenaeum, NY, 1983, p. 711.

[4] Aptheker, Herbert. Correspondence of the W.E.B. Du Bois, 1934-1944, vol. 2, UMass Press, 1978, p. 369.

[5] Ibid., p. 370.

[6] The irony of Amerca’s fighting fascism abroad while segregating Blacks in the military and permitting lynching at home inspired the black community in those war years to launch “the double V” campaign: Victory over the enemies without and within.

[7] Haygood,  Wil. King of the Cats. Houghton Mifflin, NY. 1993, p. 118.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sinha, Manisha.  “To ‘cast just obloquy’ on oppressors: Black radicalism in the age of revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 64, #1, January 2007, p. 153.

[10] Ibid., p. 160.

[11] Du Bois, W.E.B. Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 415.

[12] Ibid., p. 155.

[14] Horne, Gerald, Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, New York University Press, 2004, book jacket.

[15] Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans, New Jersey, p. 11.

[16] Nash, Gary.  Red White and Black: The People of Early North America, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1974, p. 46.

[17] G&E, p. 16.

[18] Mannix & Cowley, Black Cargoes, Viking, New York, 1962, p. 6.

[19] Nash, p. 56.

[20] Ibid., p. 59.

[21] Ibid., p. 52.

[22] Ibid., p.52.

[23] Johnson, The Shaping of Black America, Chicago, 1975, p. 8.

[24] Mannix & Cowley, p. 56.

[25] A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The transportation of British convicts to America, 1718-1785, (Clarendon, Oxford, 1990).

[26] Nash, ibid., p. 52.