News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Saturday, April 03, 2004
Commentary: Mencken and the inferior man
A neo-Confederate sympathizer recently posted a blog entry extolling the virtue of writer H.L. Mencken, who died in 1956. He claimed he was saluting progress in race relations. Al Barger admits the only books he has ever read are those of Ayn Rand. It shows. If he had an even middling understanding of American history, the distorted views of it he expresses would not occur. But, of more interest for this entry, is why Barger is attracted to Mencken.
First, let's consider who the writer was. Henry Louis Mencken was born in Baltimore 15 years after the end of the Civil War. The core belief of the Old South, that some people are better than others, would influence him his entire life. He would embrace the myth of the genteel Southern aristocracy while dismissing most Americans as 'boobs' for decades. An irony of Mencken's career was that the petit bourgeoisie that championed him did not realize he looked down on it.
Mencken began working as a newspaper columnist in his teens. His most prominent role was as founder and editor of the American Mercury, from 1925 to 1933. The magazine reflected Mencken's romantic delusions about the South.
To have a gentry, one must have riffraff. Mencken considered everyone inferior to his "superior men." But, he believed Jews and blacks to be most inferior of all.
Much of the biography about Mencken has been lightweight, focusing on the humor of his writing and admiring his idiocyncracies. However, reporter Terry Teachout has produced a book that takes a more critical look at the Sage of Baltimore.
But, the best source on Mencken and racism is Mencken himself.
Mencken believed that people of African descent were inherently inferior. He would be considered a 'scientific' racist by today's standards. Furthermore, he opposed efforts to remove the Negro from what he considered the race's natural, savage state.
He did not change his mind, despite efforts of several African-American intellectuals to influence him.
Mencken's explicit racism is still papered over in some quarters..
Why would Al Barger embrace H.L. Mencken? Having known my share of conservative white men with king-sized egos and limited ability over the years, I believe I understand him. Though Mencken's literary reputation has not held up particularly well, he used to be considered the superior man he thought himself to be by his peers. Barger is not a person of achievement. His blog entries, which are replete with 'because I said sos' and bereft of any research or analysis, reflect that. They would embarrass a person able to realize how lacking in any redeeming quality they are. But, if a much more intelligent man of letters, H.L. Mencken, held the same belief in the inferiority of African-Americans he does, that elevates the belief. . .in his opinion. In reality, Mencken's belief in white supremacy just confirms he was a racist. It does not make racism "the truth," as Barger asserts.
Barger's attempt to rationalize his warped viewpoint by associating it with a famous writer is not uncommon behavior in these times. Increasingly, the far Right is attempting to rewrite history to support racial divisions in our society. It declares Abraham Lincoln a tyrant, says the Civil War was not fought over slavery and asserts there is nothing wrong with racism. But, as is true here, such conclusions are little more than pretexts for deeply held prejudices.
Al Barger previously:
Claimed slavery was not the cause of the Civil War.
Attacked Abraham Lincoln as a tyrant who harmed the country.posted by J. | 5:15 PM
Friday, April 02, 2004
Law: Gay student's tee shirt was inappropriate
Some people are lauding a teenager who says she is gay for virtually blackmailing the school district where she lives. I am not.
I must disagree with the school system's decision. Any clothing that might result in disrupting the learning environment can be forbidden by a school district. If any disruption occurred or was threatened, the young lady should have been told to return without the shirt on. The school's response seems to have been impeccable.
Unfortunately, the lawyers representing the school shirked their duty. Giving in to this kind of blackmail may lead to students wearing extremely offensive clothing to school. I have regularly blogged the activities of Kirk Lyons, a neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate leader. His favorite way to raise money is to send groups of students to public schools attired in tee shirts depicting black people picking cotton and a Confederate flag. He then tries to blackmail the schools to settle lawsuits he has filed when the students are disciplined. This kind of behavior is something we don't want to open the door wider to.
I've read comments from gay persons saying Natalie deserves the money because of her status as a minority. Again, I must disagree. I don't believe any child should be advertising his or her sexual interest in school. I would be just as opposed to a straight kid wearing a tee shirt reading: "I love 69." Clothing that is disruptive has no place in school. That is the law. When I see a school system shelling out thousands of dollars over a frivolous lawsuit, it is clear the settlement was reached for nonlegal reasons. A form of blackmail -- give me money or suffer bad publicity -- has been used.
As for gay people who support this kind of chicanery because the perpetrator is homosexual, they do themselves no favors. This is the kind of situation that makes the claim gays want special rights appear true. Children are sent home to change inappropriate clothing every day. Natalie should have been treated the same as others are. Her claim of special status should have been ignored. The school system had a good case. Under the caselaw, it is settled that any clothing that is potentially disruptive or disruptive can be excluded. I believe Natalie's shirt was potentially disruptive.posted by J. | 11:25 PM
Thursday, April 01, 2004
News: Race problems fester at n-word school
Sometimes a bad situation improves. I had hoped that would be the outcome in regard to the white teacher who called an African-American student a "nigger" in class. As veteran readers of Silver Rights know, Brian Emanuels (pictured) of Seattle said he was resigning from predominately minority Cleveland High School. Unfortunately, he lied. Apparently, the mainly white administration of the school kept Emanuels on staff in a different position while claiming he had left. But, the bad situation did not stop there. In the ensuing months, life at Cleveland has gotten worse. Three teachers have now ended up in trouble for verbally abusing African-American pupils. Parents and students are furious. Little learning appears to be occurring.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has talked to students, parents and administrators.
When I wrote about Brian Emanuels I said I believed he should be dismissed. It is my opinion his behavior and the subsequent snubbing of minority students and their parents were evidence of deeper problems at the school. Some bloggers responded by posting entries supporting Emanuels. According to them, African-Americans are the problem. They students at schools like Cleveland need to be 'disciplined' by people like Emanuels. Well, the 'disciplining' has continued.
The episode involving Jones followed two others, including Emanuels' displays in two separate classes.
Meanwhile, the administrators have continued to do nothing to solve the problems. Harwood, the prinicipal, seems to be ignoring the crises. Nor does he appear to be providing leadership in regard to education. According to sources, the school has become more disorganized and students are performing poorly on achievement tests. I will confer with people who know more about education than I do about the situation at Cleveland High School. For now, I will just say 'I told you so.'
•Emanuels' behavior became an issue.
•Emanuels struck twice.
•Emanuels remained at Cleveland after resigning.posted by J. | 11:30 PM
Monday, March 29, 2004
Reading: African immigrant's story confounds
Is it possible to write a contemporary book that is combination autobiography and analysis of society? Two recent reads make me wonder. I described Debra Dickerson's An American Life in entries here and here. Her effort led me to think it might be a better idea to write a separate autobiography, while devoting essays or books to analysis of society. I finished Manthia Diawara's We Won't Budge yesterday. It also left me thinking the author would have fared better by writing two books instead of one.
Diawara is a Malian who immigrated to France, and then the United States, during the 1970s. He attempts to describe his journey as an individual and the challenges facing African immigrants from former French colonies in the same volume. He falls short of doing either. To the extent the book works at all, it is as an autobiography.
Diawara grew up mainly in Bamako, Mali, too poor to afford more than a single set of clothes much of the time. During his teens, he and his friends developed a superficial interest in American music. That became his inspiration to become an American someday. But first, he traveled to France, the typical goal of Francophone Africans. He went on a student visa, but received little education in the three years he lived in Paris. His immigration occurred at the same time France's Right Wing political parties were passing laws to dissuade immigrants from their former African colonies. Like most people in his position, Diawara was continually harassed by the police and immigration officials. Though he was not sans papiers, i.e., without documentation, he found himself ensnared in the same web as the thousands of Africans in France who are.
In the mid-1970s, Diawara obtained a student visa to attend American University in Washington, D.C. Again, his poverty was problemmatic. The young men coming to the U.S. from Africa invariably told the Immigration and Naturalization Service that their parents would support them. Usually, they were lying. Their relatives were too poor to send them money. So, they worked off the books and in constant fear of 'Migra.' Diawara began as a dishwasher at French restaurants. He eventually became a pantryman, preparing salads and desserts such as chocolate mousse and creme caramel. The sojourns at the restaurants were trying because the French owners brought their racist attitudes with them. It was not unusual for the immigrant workers to be referred to as monkeys or worse. The tension and raids by the INS were the backdrop against which Diawara studied for his degree.
Diawara arrived in Washington during its emergence as the premier Chocolate City. The political and cultural clout of African-Americans was experiencing a renaiisance. For the first time, he became enthralled with his African origin, instead of ashamed of it. He found himself moving away from his Muslim, conservative upbringing to more closely resemble the African-Americans he increasingly spent time with. At the same time, he felt the skepticism of black Americans who believed Africans were preferred over them by white people.
Though the chronology is not clear, Diawara eventually obtained not just a bachelor's degree, but a doctorate in literature. He now teaches at New York University. He also had two children during the 30 years he has lived in the U.S.
Diawara's effort to put immigration to France in some kind of analytical framework is less successful. He believes the tension between tradition and modernity prevents Francophone Africans from being assimilated. However, he is ambivalent about actually condeming practices such as polygamy and female genital mutilation, which keep Malians and other African immigrants at odds with their adopted country. He believes France owes its former colonies because of its past and continuing exploitation of their resources and people. However, Diawara never describes what form fair treatment of African immigrants would take. Should they be allowed to vote despite a low literacy rate? Should there be some kind of affirmative action so that African immigrants will not continue to be trapped in menial jobs such as cleaning streets and clerking in stores? Should the government fund their education? Diawara doesn't say.
The killing of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo by New York City police reminds Diawara that conditions in France and America are not so different when it comes to racial discrimination.
Diawara resolves to write a book of protest about the treatment of black immigrants in both countries. We Won't Budge is that book. The title echoes that of "Nous Pas Bouger," a protest song written and sang by Malian Salif Keita.
Though the goal is a good one, Diawara does not achieve it. Instead, a reader finishes the book somewhat frustrated. I wonder about the many holes in his autobiography and his inability to articulate his vision of a France where African immigrants are treated right. We Won't Budge is acceptable as a primer volume for learning about the immigration of Francophone Africans. However, it will be necessary to read more thorough works to understand the issues involved in that type of immigration.posted by J. | 7:35 PM