Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging from the LPS (Left Paw Society)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Yes, Master. Yes.

As you've probably noticed during your daily scroll through the headlines, the House failed to renew the Voting Rights Act yesterday because a few Republicans objected to the act's "singling out" Southern states who have a history of racism. No doubt, these Republicans feel the South does not have a history of racism but rather a heritage:
"The amendment's backers say the requirement unfairly singles out and holds accountable nine states that practiced racist voting policies decades ago, based on 1964 voter turnout data: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia." [Source]
A Republican, either oblivious or opposed to history added,
"I don't think we have racial bias in Texas anymore." [Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.]
That's right. It's the "End of History." Those things aren't happening anymore.

Well, actually, they are. Take for example Georgia's on-going push to get a voter ID for which the courts handslapped them last year (from the WaPo: "Voter ID law overturned, Georgia can no longer charge for access to Nov. 8 election..."). Everyone knows about the inaccurate list of "felons" that prevented many people without any previous convictions from voting in 2000. Similarly, in 2004, the RNC came up with a brilliant plan to keep African American votes from counting in the last election. Greg Palast explains:

"Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, “Do not forward”, to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as “undeliverable.”

The lists of soldiers of “undeliverable” letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted." [Source]

And, of course, I'm not even going into Ohio.

This should be our national shame. We should be outraged. Yet the VRA, like affirmative action, like good public schools, like tax breaks for the wealthy--like so many things--is one of America's many blind spots to its own racial and classist history. Here's a picture I took at the Atlanta airport a few weeks ago (yes, June 2006). What do you think?

Is it racist? Think it's funny? I think it is sad, and, well, it pretty much sums up where we are to me: we have this system, it's racist, yet we stare at it with a sense of irony which allow us to process it and move on. That's too bad, because it goes much deeper than all of this, back to the core of our "national character." And this brings me to something Digby wrote (and I responded to) a few months ago.

We seem to have a little glitch in our national psyche that won't go away. It isn't just southern anymore. The misadventure of the last five years has been run by a southern dominant political party, but its architects were elite, cosmopolitan intellectuals. This is an American problem and we are going to have to get rid of it if this country is going to survive.

I responded to Digby's post this way:

I couldn't agree more. We are still paying the price for the Missouri Compromise and for the failed Reconstruction period after the Civil War. This is true for race relations, as Katrina and its aftermath amply prove, and, just as importantly, it is true for class relations.

I am not a Civil War historian, but I am from the South and lived in the South for a long time before coming to L.A. One thing I know about red states is that they are a model of colonialism and extraction, seeking to suck out the fruits of natural resources and human labor where they can.

If the most efficient means of labor/resource extraction means classifying a group of people as sub-human, then that is the obvious path. If that becomes socially or politically unacceptable, then other means become necessary. The South's loss in the civil war was as much a social conversion as it was a resource failure. In fact, it is a myth to think that the South lost because it did not have industry. The South lost because people gave up. If the average Southerner in 1864 really believed in slavery and that the slave-owner society was really helping the average citizen, then the South, in 1866 or 1867, would have resembled Iraq in 2006--there would have been widespread rebellion, uprising, guerilla war. This did not happen. Why? The answer if of course complicated, but, in part, it is because many, many white people were oppressed by the upper-class land owners. These whites, while having many more benefits than slaves, obviously, understood that the system was working against them. It was not their war to begin with. How else does one explain the huge desertion rates in the Southern army? (I know, I'm generalizing.)

To get back to my point, and perhaps yours, something changed during reconstruction. As soon as Blacks had "equal" status, they could become the boogeyman for Whites. White Elites exploited this to their full advantage and began to mythologize racism and the "Golden Age of the Old South" through groups such as the KKK --and the Southern Democrats.

The racist mythology allowed poor Whites and rich Whites to find a common ground at the beginning of the 20th century, and at the present. The Republican party, as everyone knows, constantly summons this racist mythology through hint and allusion by nominating racist judges on MLK's birthday, by avoiding speaking to the NAACP, through talk radio and TV pundits. And this is where it gets dangerous, as D. Dneiwert, among others in the blogosphere, points out. The racist myth is so pervasive, so easy to tap into, and so powerful (because its fallacies seem to explain so many things), that a word here, an image there, and our Mass Media has fed into and propagated a racist creed. It is a creed that is false, but powerful because it imbues the believer with power, with an impression of superiority, and this "superiority" crosses class lines, and that is the ultimate scam.

So it isn't just Southern (it never was, it was just more so), and it isn't just race. I have lived abroad, and I will say that America is one of the most racist places I know. Racsim is a huge, huge problem. That said, I feel that it is the ability of the myth, through racism, to elide over class issues that is causing us problems today. It isn't that the "South" has taken over; it is that the extractors, those adept at mining the land and its humans, have come into power. Their belief system in 1860, like now, was exploitation (of blacks and whites), elitism, and expansion. The extractors, now as then, are constantly seeking new territories and peoples at the lowest cost. It is their way of hiding the true cost of their (and our) wealth.

They know that the weath of the here and now almost always comes at the price of people and land. They just don't care.

Look at how the Republican leadership frolics in New York and L.A., supposedly speaking for the "common man", while, in reality, the red-states they represent are among the poorest regions of the country. Though to a lesser degree, Kansas and South Dakota are to America what Africa and South America are to the "developed" world.

This is the Brand America they have created; its purveyors are Fox News and Malkin and Bush. They are all racists, they are all elitists, and they just don't care. The only hope is not it some PC version of eliminating racism, but in re-forming the instutions that purvey the racism and exploitation of Americans, namely government, big business and the media.

Whoever the next president may be, the only real hope is in "demolishing" large swaths of the federal government, and by that, I don't mean getting rid of it, but re-doing it. The Republican party has infiltrated every nook and cranny of government and will hold on to those positions no matter what. The only way to get rid of them is to litterally re-invent the departments from the ground up, removing, where possible, the revolving doors, promoting career officers, etc. Re-organize is perhaps the best term, but there will need to be some creative destruction before the demons of the Republican party, which are overwhelmingly the demons of the Civil War and the Reconstruction, are sufficiently reduced, removed, or whatever.

I do not want to absolve the Democrats in this. They carry a huge blame historically in promoting racsim and exploitation, but, presently, they are simply a weak, rudderless party. The Republicans are, and they know it, up to something far more dangerous and corrupt. It will take an earnest Reconstruction of government to repair what the Republicans have done and continue to do and to make progress in alleviating the burdens of our national demons.
So ended my diatribe and I apologize for quoting myself at such length, but, until there is some sort of reconstruction of government and the social order so as to actually understand and create solidarity with people rather than the interchangeable poles of disdain and pity, then we should be taking note. The VRA is about understanding that voting is not as easy for some as it is for others. Yet even the Voting Rights Act is only a palliative, an advil offered in lieu of real medical intervention: Heck, in most countries people vote on a Saturday or a Sunday, or they make it a national holiday. Now that would be fair to working people of every race and class. That would be an attempt to put all citizens on a more equal footing.

For good and bad (mostly bad), part of the American dream is a dream of isolation. Isolation from religious persecution, isolation in our cars, isolation in our suburbs. Part of us has thrived on being separate and our economy has grown out of this, our physical and social space has grown out of this. We're partially blind to it, and, yes, Southerners can be even more blind, as the above picture shows. And if Southerners are not somewhat blinded by their own history, why do they continue to portray themselves (oops--ourselves--I am from Georgia) as heroes rather than insurrectionists? Take a look at this tribute to American Insurgents below:

I suppose it is OK to dedicate a plaque to the POW of the Civil War, but perhaps they should mention all those other millions of prisoners that tilled the fields, picked the cotten, ironed the clothes, washed the dishes, and got whipped because they said they thought they were as good as Whites.

So it is racist to say "Blacks" are inferior or "Mexicans are inferior." And it is just as racist to say that racism is over and done with because it purposefully removes the debate about race and class in the U.S. Until there are no more memorials like this then I will assume that the South still has a few "issues."