News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Thursday, July 03, 2003
Kingsblood Royal: Sinclair Lewis fisks racism
I have been reading Sinclair Lewis, one of the American writers I idolize, again. The novel is something special even coming from one of the most observant voices ever to see print in this country. Kingsblood Royal, published in 1945, is one of the first novels by a white writer to take an honest look at race relations between whites and African-Americans in the United States.
The novel adopts one of the typical literary devices of early writing about race -- passing. It resembles James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man (1912) in that regard. The main character, Neil Kingsblood, physically resembles Walter White, the famous leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during that era. Lewis knew both Johnson and White. However, the novel is original in both its writing and its secondary theme -- the banality of much of white middle-class life. Though that life is held up as a standard the world over, Lewis dares ask if it deserves emulation.
Neil Kingsblood discovers he has a smidgen of West African ancestry through a black ancestor from Martinique while researching his family's genealogy in hope of supporting his father's belief the Kingbloods are the real heirs to the British throne. To his surprise, Xavier Pic is everything a person would want in an ancestor -- intelligent, resourceful and brave -- but he is also a Negro. Kingsblood is the kind of person who can't just hold information in his head, he feels compelled to act on it. So, he begins a series of acts that will result in the white friends and family he has never questioned the values of before ostracizing him by the end of the novel. Along with the ostracism comes joblessness, humilation and ultimately, a violent effort to deprive him of home and hearth. The first step on that journey? Kingsblood claims his black ancestry.
There are compensations for the protagonist. In his peregrination toward becoming a person instead of just a white man, he meets people who truly impress him for the first time in his life -- on the 'wrong' side of the color line. Kingsblood also discovers strengths in himself and his wife he would not have known existed otherwise. No one, including hypocritical white liberals , escapes his new ability to probe deeply and analyze correctly.
The question I find myself asking over and over again is: How did Lewis know all of this? Yes, he was a notorious researcher and historian of any topic he wrote about. And, the author of more than a score of complex, literary novels, most written in a year or less, he was obviously brilliant. But, how does a person of relative privilege come to know as much about human nature and the lies our country is built-on as those born on the outside looking in?
Lewis wrote about the genesis of Kingsblood Royal in an essay in 1953.
I am not saying Kingsblood Royal is not a flawed novel. As critics have noted, it is polemical, barely able to contain its disdain for racism. But, in my opinion, the author makes good use of polemics. Sinclair Lewis is not one to pull his punches, and the subject matter benefits from that.
Another stumbling block a reader may encounter in deciding to read a novel on a 'topical' matter published before most of us were born is the thought it will be dated. Don't even think it. Racial bigotry is a topic that, unfortunately, has not become passe. You will recognize the characters in Kingsblood Royal despite the passage of time. They are still very much with us.
If you consider yourself a person sincerely interested in race relations and the growing multiracial reality of this country, this is a novel you must read.posted by J. | 7:07 AM
Tuesday, July 01, 2003
Sailer's big lie demolished
Bill L.has discovered the perfidious Steve Sailer, whom I have alluded to here at Silver Rights from time to time. I usually mention him in regard to being the Great White Father behind the racist blog Gene Expression. However, Sailer has had an iron in just about every fire in racial bigotry movements for a couple decades.
Bill encountered Sailer in regard to the falsified reportage Sailer filed for United Press International on the 2000 census and interracial marriage. Contrary to Sailer's claims, Bill's analysis of the census data reveals that Asian men are not the rejected suitors Sailer and other racists claim they are to bolster their belief that only white men are really men.
Why would someone want to claim some groups of people, according to Sailer, African-American women and Asian men, are so degraded they are incapable of finding mates?
For these reasons, all of which are based in belief in white supremacy.
1) The alleged incompetence of non-whites can be supported by claims minorities are incapable of achieving basics such as relationships and employment. Sailer, whose major 'academic' source is disgraced eugenicist J. Phillipe Rushton,* believes non-whites, especially people of African descent, are not truly human, but some kind of missing link. A claim such people live an animal existence fits right in.
2) The alleged unatrractiveness of non-whites (a big part of Sailer's act) can be supported by claiming even people of the same race/ethnicity prefer whites. (There is much support for that position at Gene Expression's entry 'Black = Ugly," if you choose to go there. I don't.)
3) Encouraging conflict among non-whites. Part of the 'model minority' game is to urge some non-whites to believe they are better than other people of color by suggesting more adherence to middle-class American standards makes that so. As Bill observes, it is necessary to ignore the historic discrimination against larger, longterm American minorities, such as African-Americans and Mexican-Americans, to make that claim palatable. Emphasizing the slightly greater likelihood of Asians to marry whites serves that purpose by suggesting African-Americans are 'beneath' them. However, after controlling for military and mail-order brides, the difference in interracial marriage is negligible.
Read the rest of Bill's entry to understand just how Sailer perpetrated the fraud in regard to Asian-American men and interracial marriage.
Other commentators have examined issues of race and the 2000 census as well. Jonathan Tilove finds the interracial marriage and other aspects of mingling to be much more complex than you would guess from the likes of Sailer. Respected demographer Reynolds Farley of the University of Michigan has reached similar conclusions.
I have gone easy on Steve Sailer in the past despite having discussed his role as a liason between 'scientific' and traditional racists with other bloggers, including Atrios and Roger Ailes. My thinking was that Sailer and his ilk desperately want attention, so we should avoid giving it to them. However, Bill's interest has led me to reconsider whether I have taken the right course in regard to Sailer and his compatriots.
Note: Rushton's career has been in decline since the cited article was written. Most people who are aware of who he is consider him laughable. But, I think it is important to see how someone with his lack of training in biology and ludicrous claims managed to buy himself a voice in academic discourse with the aid of far Right foundations.posted by J. | 9:06 AM