Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Thursday, February 12, 2004  

News: Virginians reject neo-Confederate resolution

Something surprising has happened in the Virginia Senate. If you have read my previous entries about the neo-Confederate movement, you know that not only is the state the cradle of the traitorous secession that rended this country, it is ground zero for the movement. Many of the assaults on liberty the movement pursues are hatched in the exurbs of Richmond. But, this year a typical ploy of the neo-Confederates to legitimize the Confederacy and what it stood for has failed. The Associated Press has the story.

Virginia's Senate killed a resolution Wednesday recognizing April as Confederate History and Heritage Month after black lawmakers called the measure "repugnant" and a "slap in the face of African-Americans."

The measure, which Sen. Charles R. Hawkins said was meant to educate rather than offend, revisited an issue that has long-simmered in the Old Dominion, particularly following similar proclamations by two governors in recent years.

The resolution easily passed out of committee, but failed on a voice vote in the full Senate.

Richmond Sen. Henry L. Marsh, who is black, said passing a resolution celebrating the Confederacy would be akin to proclaiming the month of January "Third Reich History and Heritage Month."

Marsh called the measure "a slap in the face of African-Americans" and "repugnant, to say the least, because too many white people still view African- Americans as inherently inferior.

"Confederate history is nothing more than exultation of one of the most shameful episodes in this country's history."

Other senators agreed, touching off lengthy oratory on the floor.

To the uninitiated this response may sound like a no-brainer. Why should any part of the union celebrate secession and slavery? Among the proudly unreconstructed, the answer is 'because they were right.' And the government of Virginia has more than its share of people who think that way. Though resolutions are a dime a dozen in government, the stamp whatever they are commemorating as official, an event approved of by the state. It is that stamp of approval that legislators who are members of the neo-Confederate movement want.

Bragdon Bowling of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the organization was disappointed with Senate Republicans, who dominate the chamber.

"What I saw today was an emasculation of the Republican Party," Bowling said. "Sen. Hawkins did a lot. When he got up there he gave good reasons. But when he turned around, he was abandoned on the floor by his whole party."

Bowling, who believes 'the South was right' is telling the truth about being disappointed. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, League of the South, and Council of Conservative Citizens have had disproportionate impact in Virginia's and some other Southern legislatures. They expect to get what they want.

So, what does Hawkins, a member of the SCV, mean by saying commemorating the Confederacy is meant to "educate rather than offend"? He means that the consensus on why the Civil War was fought was wrong. The neo-Confederate position is that the war had nothing to do with ending slavery, which is an acceptable, Bible approved practice, but was an invasion of the South by the North to try to impose its values on the heroic Southern people. Movement member David Black, writing for the far Right publication, The Patriotist, offers a typical interpretation.

However, at no time did the South attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. The Southern states simply withdrew from what they correctly viewed as a voluntary union. It's clear that Lincoln didn't seek to preserve the union to end slavery. What Lincoln didn't want to lose was tax revenue generated by the South. In short, then, the 'Civil War' was fought because Northerners had announced they would no longer be bound by the United States Constitution. It was modern nationalism versus the original republic founded by Washington, Jefferson, et al. It was 'Washington' versus 'Richmond.'

That interpretation is woefully wrong. Not passing resolutions such as the one Hawkins introduced is a small, but necessary, step toward rebutting the neo-Confederates efforts to rewrite history.

It is also important to understand that for the hardcore neo-Confederates the Civil War, or as they prefer, War Between the States, is not over. They believe they are living in an occupied country, the Confederate States of America, that will again secede and form its own government someday. The LOS explicitly expresses its ultimate intention in the first paragraph of its mission statement.

The League of the South's goal is good government for the Southern people.  We believe secession is the best way to restore good government to the South. Since 1861 the republican system of government established by the Founders has been steadily eroded.  Today that government has become the cruel master rather than the obedient servant of the citizens of the several states.  We see no way of reforming the corruption within the present system; therefore, the League of the South shall seek to spread acceptance of the idea of secession among the people of the South.

Resolutions approving the Confederacy, Confederate flags flown on state property and acceptance of propaganda about the Civil War produced by a couple of neo-Confederate small presses are perceived as guerilla activity in the belly of the beast. In Richmond, the neo-Confederates have lost a skirmish.

posted by J. | 7:25 PM

Monday, February 09, 2004  

Analysis: Debunking the American Dream

Dirtgrain, whose blog has the same name, posting at Blogcritics, is asking that upper middle-class America get up off its thing. No, I don't mean dance. He wants them to get up off their other thing -- hoarding wealth, and therefore, opportunity. He believes differences in assets pretty much determine the outcomes of people's lives. And that, as a result, most poor children are doomed to remain poor as adults.

He is right. Most people remain in the same economic class they were born into. In the United States, the flux is less than 20 percent, and is as likely to be downward as upward. So, if someone has the requisite house in the suburbs, 9-to-5 job that doesn't force him to get dirty and an Individual Retirement Account, it is usually directly tied to his parents having been middle-class, and his grandparents, too. Does that mean that hard work has nothing to do with success? No. But, it does mean that being born into a middle-class family, with the advantages that provides, is a much more accurate predictor of success than 'hard work.' Poor people who work very hard for low wages or who can't afford educations do not become middle-class.

Dirtgrain has been influenced by law professor Lani Guinier's thoughts on the relationship between race and class.

Race still matters even as many more people of color, as individuals, are moving into the middle class. For example, those blacks who are now middle-class in terms of income do not enjoy access to the same wealth as whites who are middle-class. The average net financial assets of middle-class whites is nearly 55 times greater than middle-class blacks earning comparable income. Social mobility, in other words, does not compensate for what Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro call "asset poverty."

What this tells us is that race and racism are much more complex phenomena than individual prejudice, individual skin color or individual mobility. Race is more than what you look like and racism is more than what you, as an individual, think or feel about others. Racism is a political, social and economic phenomenon that is used to support a social and economic hierarchy constructed to keep some people "in their place" at the bottom and others on the top. Racism drives the narrative explaining and justifying the stratification of society and ensuing inequities in resource distribution. Unraveling this story involves linking race to power because those in power are telling the story. And the story they tell is designed to hide their power and privilege.

A typical response to remarks like these is to trot out American Dream mythology, along with up by their bootstraps platitudes, and tell them to take a bow. You know, the claim that anyone can achieve the upper middle-class lifestyle and that the successful are successful because they pulled themselves up with little or no help from society. But, reality, that the majority of Americans remain in the same economic class in which they are born, would not be true if the mythology was. So, why do millions of people believe the contemporary equivalent of Horatio Alger stories?

The American Dream mythology uses race as an explanation for the declining fortunes of middle-class, working-class and poor whites. People, especially politicians, have used race to shift the blame onto blacks or Latinos, or "illegal" immigrants. As beneficiaries of government largesse, these individuals have somehow hijacked the American Dream. But the story doesn't end there. Having less government means eliminating aid to the undeserving poor (read lazy, primarily people of color). This will reduce the tax-burden on the middleclass and other hard-working (read white) people, allowing them their birthright--getting rich. Thus the truth about our social and economic realities is disguised through a highly racialized account of the American Dream.

That mythology does two things, in my opinion:

1) Provides scapegoats, the poor and/or minority, for the declining economic fortunes of the middle-class, and

2) Convinces strivers who don't succeed against the odds there is something wrong with them, not the system.

Dirtgrain has some thoughts about how the societal mechanisms that keep people locked in poverty can reformed.

Ultimately, I would do away with privilege. I have always believed (felt? Sensed?) that we should all start off at the same level, with the same opportunity--a truly level playing field. It should not be that the wealth of one's parents and of one's community dictates one's future opportunities. Children, by race or by economic background, should not have their opportunities limited to becoming a drug dealer, going to prison, joining a gang, taking low-level jobs (yes there are exceptions in our current system, but it is obvious that poor children don't have the same opportunities--else they wouldn't be called exceptions, statistical anomalies, outliers, etc.). All of our schools should be equal in quality and funding. I don't think that parents should be able to pay more money (than poorer parents) so that their children get better educations--which just means that they get a better slot in the hierarchy. Better to have it so young people determine their own place in the hierarchy--without any privilege giving them an advantage. This by no means restricts the potential to have variety in our schools and in the development of our children. If anything, I would make changes to our education system to offer more variety. But the quality of the education provided from school to school should be relatively equal.

We should do away with inheritance. Let the money go to the state. Let each person, on achieving adulthood, after having had an education just as good as any other's, set out to make his or her own life/career/fortune. I know it's counter to that parental instinct to provide for one's children. We should strive to be good parents and provide our children with fulfilling childhoods and happy homes. This does not require money--at least, not in a society that does not allow poverty to exist.

I agree with Dirtgrain's proposals. But, we must be realistic. The rich and upper middle-class will use every trick in the book to hold on to privilege in most cases. They do it everyday. Special taxation to make schools in exclusive suburbs closer to their private counterparts in quality. Legacy admissions to colleges. The assault on affirmative action. And, sadly, the middle-class, mainly whites, but some minority bourgeosie, too, will join them in their fight to keep the poor "in their place." The only way progressives can hope to make inroads in reforming class stratification is to convince middle-class people who identify with the mythology of the American Dream that it isn't true. I do what I can to pierce that bubble, but it is a difficult task. Midldle-class people want to believe those platitudes because they reassure them of their own worth.

And, oh, by the way, having heard about the stories second-hand many people misunderstand Horatio Alger heroes. They do not just work their way out of poverty through elbow grease and initiative.

An adolescent boy with a rural back ground sets off to earn his livelihood in an urban setting.? He triumphs over circumstances and temptation and starts advancing in his career.? At some point, he will be betrayed or falsely accused by one of his peers.? Ultimately, the hero will be vindicated.? While pluck and hard work play a role in the success of an Alger hero, there is always an older male who takes on the hero as his prot?g?.? That mentor plays a critical role in the success of the Alger hero.?

So, the formula includes luck and an older, powerful mentor, as well. Need I even say that women and minorities, who would and still will face substantial obstacles just because of gender and race, were not even thought of? We, as a society, need to junk such banal thinking and get down to the hard work of creating equitable allocations of our country's assets.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM