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None dare call it racism

March 25, 2014

And maybe it isn’t. I have no reason to think that Paul Ryan or Jim Brown, a Congressional candidate in Arizona, have any more racial prejudice than most Americans. But what they do have is an ideological and cartoonish vision of America’s past. I doubt it is political calculation that causes Ryan to denigrate the urban poor rather than the rural poor, but instead an imaginary notion of who the poor are, and why they are poor. A similar cartoon history is why Jim Brown can say something as stupid as this:

Back in the day of slavery, slaves were kept in slavery by denying them education and opportunity while providing them with their basic needs .. Not by beating them and starving them. (Although there were isolated cases if course) Basically slave owners took pretty good care of their slaves and livestock and this kept business rolling along.

In historical reality, slave owners lived in worry about slave rebellion, slaves would take every opportunity to escape their bondage, regardless of their level of education, and slave patrols were used to capture runaways and enforce the “peculiar institution.” Beatings were common. Rebellions were put down with a vengeance. After the largest one, in the sugar plantations of Louisiana, hundreds of slaves were executed, and pikes skewering some of their heads were placed along the River Road to New Orleans. Admittedly, that was an isolated case.

So Ryan and Brown may not be overtly racist. But they carry around this fictional American past where the founding fathers thought like modern conservative preachers, labor did fine under the trusts and monopolies of the gilded age, the great depression was caused by FDR, slavery was benign, the southern states seceded over states’ rights, and blacks were doing fine until LBJ screwed things up. Not all of their fictional past is Lost Cause rhetoric and not all of it has to do with race. It’s just that the parts that do would make Jubal Early smile. Not that they would know who that is or where their fiction originates. Yet they might harbor no more overt racism than anyone.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 25, 2014 9:15 am

    Clearly, education is not just failing the poor. Also these politicians.
    BTW, I really enjoyed this historic fiction book: “The invention of wings.”

    Back then, they thought teaching slaves to read and write was “dangerous.” Today, I think not teaching everyone history is dangerous.

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