Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Debunking Black (and White) Conservatives’ Strange and Sick Obsession with the 'Slave Mentality'

During the Age of Obama, the primary purpose of black conservatives is to provide a shield and proxy for the racism of the Republican Party.

In that role, black conservatives such as Alan Keyes, Allen West, Jesse Peterson, Herman Cain, Benjamin Carson, Armstrong Williams, Niger Innis, and their ideological kin are enlisted to advance the agenda of the White Right.

They are human props, marionettes, and ventriloquist dummies for white conservatives that provide fuel for the naked bigotry of throwback racist caricatures like Cliven Bundy whose meditations on “The Negro” publicly surfaced several weeks ago.

Black conservatives also serve as human chaff and cover for the more “evolved” white supremacy of Paul Ryan and his concerns about “dysfunctional” “inner city” black people and their “bad culture”.

In all, black conservatives are expert performers in a type of political blackface routine that involves disparaging African-Americans in ways which would bring howls of condemnation if done so by a white person.

Like the gay or lesbian who is a professional homophobe, or a woman who is an anti-feminist, the black or brown person who publicly (and disingenuously) criticizes other people of color is viewed as some type of a noble truth-teller by many Americans.

Black conservative Angela McGlowan played that role perfectly during a recent appearance on Fox News, where like an automaton programmed with anti-black racism and self-hate, she claimed that “so we do have a problem with slavery today, as Lincoln did back in the day”.

Lincoln’s “slavery problem” was the involuntary servitude of millions of black people in the Southern United States.

Consequently, for McGlowan, poor people, i.e. black Americans, have a “slave mentality” and were “ruined” by President Johnson’s Great Society, welfare, and other federal programs that made them a “dependent” class.

Alas, there is something very tragic and surreal when a black person summons Lee Atwater’s racist Southern Strategy on national television.

By implication, the black community was better off during chattel slavery than following their emancipation. This is a bizarre and stunning suggestion—one that is neither new nor novel. It is also internally inconsistent (according to conservatives “black people” and “the black family” were clearly “better off” during slavery; however, slavery also made black people “lazy” and “dependent” on the government and this learned behavior continues centuries later in the present?)

These are typical Right-wing talking points in the Age of Obama. They are also ahistorical claims that collapse under a minimal amount of critical scrutiny.

Like so much of what masquerades as “political analysis” among the Right-wing media, Angela McGlowan’s argument is piss poor and facile; for the white conservatives who watch Fox News, her anti-black screeds resonate because they are white racism parroted by an African-American.

Nevertheless, the phrase “slave mentality” is potent: it is linguistic dynamite. If we were to “cut heads” like dueling jazz musicians in a jam session, or engaging in the verbal dart throwing and one-upmanship that often occurs in black barbershops, there are few counters to the charge that black people have “failed” in America because they have a “slave mentality”. It hangs in the atmosphere of American public discourse, unmoored and unchallenged, with qualifications or context neither provided nor demanded.

As such, the claim that blacks have a “slave mentality” is taken to be a commonsense type of foundational truth: it does not require proof or evidence. Like most matters of faith, it simply is.

Language does political work. It is also a claim on the truth and an effort to describe empirical reality. When conservatives use the phrase “slave mentality”, such language should be reconciled against the facts of the historical record, i.e. what is known and understood about the lived experiences of black bondsmen and bondswomen across the Black Atlantic during four centuries of human bondage?

McGlowan’s claim that black Americans have a “slave mentality” is built upon a highly simplistic and inaccurate understanding of history.

Slavery was a diverse system that existed across the Black Atlantic.

There was not just one experience of slavery. Instead, there were many millions of black people whose individual experiences of slavery collectively form the history (and present) of the Black Atlantic. Consequently, the idea of a “slave mentality” falls apart on its premise.

The iconic image of black slaves on an agrarian plantation dominates the West’s collective memory about that “peculiar institution” and the many millions of black bodies it consumed, quite literally, as the fuel for the creation of a racist, consumerist, capitalist, colonial and imperial empire.

Black human property worked as shipwrights, miners, merchants, blacksmiths, musicians, carpenters, pottery makers, and other types of artisans and skilled labor.

The experience of a semi-free bondsmen working in a small shop in Atlanta who sends home most of his wages to a white master living elsewhere is tied together with that of a slave suffering under the lash and other tortures, as he or she is worked to death harvesting sugar cane in Florida or the Caribbean, because they are both “owned” by another, suffer under interpersonal tyranny, and are in a perpetual state of war with the impositions put on their liberty and dignity by white society.

The use of the phrase “slave mentality” by the White Right and its black conservative enablers is prefaced on a belief that black people were happy, lazy, not civically minded, and content as human chattel.

This is a lie that is perforated and made flaccid by asking basic questions.

When black conservatives such as Angela McGlowan talk about a “slave mentality” among the black community is she including slave rebellions led by men such as Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prossner, Touissant Louverture, Charles Deslondes, Zumbi, and others who took up arms and fought for their freedom against white society?

Does a slave mentality include the many acts of day-to-day resistance such as poisonings, setting fires, breaking farm equipment, or destroying crops that were commonplace across the South and elsewhere?

White slave owners were so terrified of slave uprisings that in many areas it was mandated that whites must bring guns with them to church on Sunday (the day when a rebellion was most expected) and all able bodied white men serve on the slave patrol.

What of how slaves fought a guerrilla war against white slave patrollers, killed overseers, pushed back for basic human rights against their masters, and carved out their own spaces for community and dignity? Does this count as a “slave mentality”?

Black slaves coveted literacy, sought out ways to learn how to read and write under threat of torture and death, maintained a vibrant cultural and spiritual life, and internalized a spirit of liberty, freedom, and democracy, as they then used said energy to fuel their own liberation struggles. Is a yearning for freedom, human dignity, and forcing American democracy to live up to its full potential and creed, a “slave mentality”?

African-Americans self-manumitted, running away by the many, many thousands, participated in the Abolitionist movement, and then put on Union blue as they fought in the Civil War to tear down the Southern Slaveocracy and to liberate their own people. African-Americans made Emancipation a reality and moved it from rhetoric and political gamesmanship to a de facto state of affairs across the South.

During Reconstruction, black Americans, many of them former slaves, became Congressman and Senators on both the state and federal level where they helped to put in place some of the most forward thinking and progressive policies in American history. Here a “slave mentality” is one of civic responsibility, martial spirit, and a belief in the transformative power of democracy, freedom, and individual rights.

Conservatives use the language of “slavery” and a “slave mentality” as a way to slur Black Americans. In reality, a “slave mentality” consisted of resistance and struggle in the face of daunting white supremacy and racial tyranny.

The White Right and black conservatives use the language of a "slave mentality" to advance a neoliberal Austerity agenda which views the majority of Americans as “the takers” while “hard working” white people are “the makers”. The phrase “slave mentality” is a way of mobilizing white racial resentment against people of color, blacks in particular, in order to advance economic and social policies that hurt the poor, the working class, and the middle class across the colorline.

In that imaginary, there is a parallel question which is rarely if ever asked about the relationship between a paranoid and greedy “1 percent” and the American people. If black people are supposedly possessed by a “slave mentality” that makes them lazy, irresponsible, and stupid, is there such a thing as a “white slave owner mentality”? Does this “white slave owner mentality” continue to impact white Americans in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries?

White slave owners were paranoid and fearful that the wealth which they had amassed from exploiting and abusing others would be taken away from them. White slave owners also thought of themselves as a master class and master race that was destined to rule, and in some cases, divinely inspired in their power over black people.

The majority of white Southerners did not own slaves. However, they identified with the white slave owning class and aspired to be part of that elite group. White supremacy also paid the poor, working class, and aspiring white “middle class” in America a psychological wage, where Whiteness elevated them over all black people—regardless of the superior accomplishments, achievements, character, education, and intelligence of a given black person.

Historically, in the United States and the West, Whiteness was and remains a fundamental type of social, political, and economic privilege. Blackness was, and in many ways, remains a fundamental social, political, and economic liability.

The Republican Party in the post civil rights era has embraced the old Confederacy: this includes the language of “secession” and “nullification”, as well as symbols like the Confederate flag--what should more accurately be described as “the American Swastika”.

Research in political science suggests that there remains a strong relationship between those geographic regions which had the highest percentage of black slaves, their support for Republican candidates, as well as hostility to African-Americans.

Republican voters are extremely aspirational (read: delusional)—where despite the evidence on diminished social mobility, increasing income inequality, and the destruction of the American middle class—they continue to support policies that benefit the very richest Americans to their own detriment. And just like the former planter class, some of the very richest Americans are extremely paranoid, believing that they are “oppressed”, or are going to suffer some type of pogrom or persecution at the hands of the unwashed and jealous masses.

And while the language of a “slave mentality” is used against black Americans to stereotype them as a group of social and economic leeches on White America, it is in fact white people who are the largest recipients, both in absolute and per capita dollars, of federal aid.

Moreover, the Red State America, the heart of the old Confederacy, is extremely dependent on federal “handouts” and other supports. The “submerged state”—government contracts, mortgage and tax credits, and other monies—heavily subsidizes the white middle and upper classes in ways that are both invisible and taken for granted by its recipients.

Could it be that Americans have some type of “slave mentality”, as both “slave owners” and “slaves”, and it is white folks who are its biggest beneficiaries?

When black and white conservatives say that African-Americans have a “slave mentality” they are conjuring racist fictions of happy slaves, living on the wonderful plantation, eating watermelon all day, playing banjos, and supporting a kind and beneficent master. In reality, the plantation was a charnel house of rape, murder, torture, and exploitation. Such facts are inconvenient for a white washed view of history and the Right-wing’s post-fact news and political universe.

The suggestion that black Americans have a “slave mentality” is a way of connecting race and class. In the United States, discussions about class and poverty are almost invariably claims about personal morality.

Ronald Reagan’s images of the black “welfare queen” or “strapping young black buck” buying steaks with food stamps legitimates a belief that African-Americans are also moral failures who created their own predicament. Thus, the black and brown poor are made responsible for their own circumstances.

The newest version of this racist “dog whistle” fantasy is the Right-wing media’s effort to suggest that poor people in America are spoiled and live easy lives because they have refrigerators and access to cheap home electronic devices.

When Black conservatives condemn African-Americans as being sick with a “slave mentality” they are suggesting that the black community is a unique and special group of layabouts, drunk on the public dole, libidinous and hyper-sexual, unproductive, and who want to live off of white people’s resources.

In many ways, this is an act of psychological projection. The chattering class, talking head, black conservative has one of the easiest jobs in post civil rights era America. There is a whole apparatus that includes think tanks, the Right-wing media, and a niche lecture circuit, which rewards black conservatives for committing rhetorical violence against people of color in the service of white racism.

All they must do to earn those checks is to hungrily suckle at the teat of white supremacy and be a slave to its desires.


KissedByTheSun said...

I too used this term "slave mentality" and I stand corrected. I never took a step back to analyze what I was saying or what it means. It was just one of those "truthy" sounding things that all would nod in agreement to as a given. I guess I thought I was saying that some blacks experienced a sort of Stockholm syndrome where they identify with and defend their oppressor. And that that syndrome was passed down from generation to generation. In that way I guess the term "slave mentality" would apply more to today's black conservatives than any other. But even this application doesn't take into account the dynamic and varied experiences of the black American slave. CDV because of this post I will no longer use this term, and I will now teach against its use in future conversations.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

When will right wing media portray a kind, benevolent Obama and a contented white conservative?

The conservative dissonance is astounding. Their love of "traditional" America causes them to see slavery as necessary and not totally horrible. Abolishing slavery, however, was also necessary, because slavery was actually horrible.

"America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known." Pat Buchanan

All the Obamacare = slavery stuff and "you're enslaved to the federal government" crap is just so bizarre considering they like to think slavery was a benevolent institution.

mecklenburg said...

All you aspire to do to earn a check is to hungrily suckle at the teat of grievance because in deep in your heart you know yourself to be utterly incapable of invention, innovation, hard work, wealth and/or job creation. Might as well be a whiny parasite playing a scripted role stirring up a tiny little subset of the masses equally preoccupied with personal uselessness.

Courtney H. said...

Excellent, excellent essay, CDV! Here's another example of a conservative claiming that "slavery wasn't as bad as it has been portrayed." Sick!


rikyrah said...

You are on point absolutely.
You write so well. I almost get mad that you have to write so much to spell it out about these slave catching coons. But, it's good that you do.
Some folks just don't want to understand the level of contempt that the general Black community has for salve catching sambos. They want to dismiss it, but Black folks understand to the bottom of their souls the utter ridiculousness of putting forth these shucking and jiggling Kneegrows as anything other than the tapdancing Yassa Boss Sir Kneegrows that they are.

Lorenzo Jonas said...

Don't forget Faux News darlings Eric Rush and Juan Williams.
The public face of blackface.

Improbable Joe said...

I wonder... how much did the white slaveowner resent his slaves for needing him to provide even minimum food and shelter to survive?

joe manning said...

A most revealing dissection of the mass psychology of racism. The white right can more easily spread their ugly propaganda with the inoculation provided by its black front men. As economic desperation increases so does racism and the need for scapegoats. Note the connection between the slave mentality and the small business owner (CEO's too), dating back to the Jeffersonian scatter of small farms worked by slaves. This problem could be solved by public education; which explains why its being rapidly privatized and limited.

joe manning said...

Note the small business slave mentality.

chauncey devega said...

It is a nice turn of phrase that doesn't hold much water. Sure, there is the Uncle Tom figure--even that is very inaccurate in terms of the book and how it has been translated. There were also mentions of slaves who were beaten down or reasoned that they had to play the game to survive human bondage. Given what we know about human psychology there had to be a few that also had Stockholm syndrome. But what of the many many others, the majority I would assert, whose "slave mentality" was fighting back and resisting in ways small and large? That is what I was trying to get at.

I do appreciate how you are so reflective and considerate both in your comments and consideration of these matters.

chauncey devega said...

Sad thing too, how so many black fools sit back and clap at Buchanan's observations.

chauncey devega said...

They are an important part of the machine that is being used to destroy the American people. I wish more folks would understand that.

chauncey devega said...

It must have driven them mad. Again, we have answers for those questions, there have been some great books which contain the diaries and journals of white slave owners. There were also books and journals discussing the management of the plantation as a type of industrial factory that would likely have some of those answers. Many are online, the manuals are really fascinating because they show how matter of fact the business of slavery was.

chauncey devega said...

Your last point is so important. Privatize the schools, lower the standards, gut public education, keep the people stupid.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

The only reason I can think that is is that they think Africans really are a backward primitive group of people. Got to get it through Americans heads that this is not the case.

Stephen Kearse said...

Right on, right on. I've never used "slave mentality" because I have always thought that contemporary black life is just plain incomparable to slave life, but I never opposed it on your terms. I especially like the reminder that slavery was a variable experience. Damn, man. This was phenomenal.

E.C.2 said...

Those 2 coons, along with Auntie Deneen Jemima Borelli, Angela Jemima McGlowan, Charles Ruckus Pain-In-The-Ass, and Squarehead Sambo West.

Learning IS Eternal said...

If the confederate flag is amurr'KKKlans' swastika then the other banner must be racists/racism in plain clothes @its day job as police, attorneys, judges, presidents & titans of industry. Black folks have slaughtered w/o relent under both.

"As such, the claim that blacks have a “slave mentality” is taken to be a commonsense type of foundational truth: it does not require proof or evidence. Like most matters of faith, it simply is."

"and the many millions of black bodies it consumed, quite literally, as the fuel for the creation of a racist, consumerist, capitalist, colonial and imperial empire."

Bookmarking this piece.

CDV is definitely one of the Gods of journalism.

Learning IS Eternal said...

That push broom mustache (Juan). Yuck.

chauncey devega said...

Don't put me on the fainting couch. Just walking the Earth like a brother in a Shaw Brother movie trying to find my way.

chauncey devega said...

Just trying to speak some truth. Slavery was unified by interpersonal tyranny. There is so much complexity to how individual slaves experiences varied from owner to owner, region, plantation, trade, craft, etc.

chauncey devega said...

They sound like a lineup for a comic book or web series. Pretty funny actually.

Learning IS Eternal said...

You punching circles through paper w/ya' knuckle... Everybody ain't able. LOL.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I love the inverse of the conservative line: "In reality, a “slave mentality” consisted of resistance and struggle in the face of daunting white supremacy and racial tyranny."
And the connection of a reverberating "slave owner mentality." perfect

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

You can discern the truth of a situation by how much violence it takes to make it false. When I was an intelligence analyst observing and reporting on the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Bosnian Serbs would continuously propagandize about how Titoism (ethnic harmony) was fake and that B&H had always suffered from ethnic conflict and that the ethnic groups could not possibly live together. But, to actually get Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, and Bosniaks (Muslims) to actually kill each other, the Bosnian Serbs had to commit genocide against the Bosniaks; they had to bring criminal paramilitary gangs from Serbia to commit crimes against humanity. Thus, Titoism--thought to be weak--turned out to be much stronger than anyone believed. It took tremendous violence to make it weak and create long-lasting ethnic divisions that have yet to subside. I have read accounts of slavery from a neo-Confederate perspective and even there they note how terrified southerners were of slave revolts, of rebellions, of being murdered. They devoted enormous resources to the slave patrols, and they passed laws requiring strict and harsh punishments of owners who were lenient. Thus, the amount of violence they used, threatened to use, and the amount of resources they devoted to violence suggests that the "slave mentality" they feared was one of revolt and a thirst for freedom, rather than timidity and acceptance of one's fate. There is no human history I am aware of when people under slave conditions--whether called serfs or peasants or slaves or some other term--have not revolted. A "slave mentality" is not innate docility.

ken said...

A nice article, and good if everyone's historical perspective considers the term slave only talking of the white black slavery era. But you can be enslaved by many things, and conservatives many with religious upbringing grow up talking a lot about things that enslave them, take for instance here:


Now in this light when someone talks about being enslaved by the government to have more children out of wedlock, being funneled off to jail, Mcglowan didn't mention blacks, and certainly wasn't blaming them, but instead pointing at a government policy causing the issue.

You correctly point out: "And while the language of a “slave mentality” is used against black Americans to stereotype them as a group of social and economic leeches on White America, it is in fact white people who are the largest recipients, both in absolute and per capita dollars, of federal aid."

This black woman knows this is true, anybody who knows anything about the general makeup of the population is knows this is true, so why if this woman didn't mention black, should we assume her point was directed at blacks?

When this woman is talking about poor policies that reap poor results for white people as well as black people, what problem do you have with people actually being able to discuss the actual policies that cause harm? Instead of allowing any discussion where anybody can see problems with just a casual look, you have to throw up misdirections, and racial distractions.

It should be clear isolating people from natural consequences from their poor decisions and even giving incentives for the same poor decisions is going to create a long term poor outcome. Why would you want to do everything you can to stamp out any talk that might open the door to a better system, and a way to encourage more people to contribute to the country, and feel a greater personal value than they do now?

chauncey devega said...

Stop playing.

Did you listen to McGlowan's interview?

Hmmm, Lincoln's problem w. slavery? Hmmm, was that space aliens, slavery to the gold standard, slavery to the mole people from Planet X?

Do stop playing--again.

Someone else can take on this stuff:

"It should be clear isolating people from natural consequences from their poor decisions and even giving incentives for the same poor decisions is going to create a long term poor outcome. Why would you want to do everything you can to stamp out any talk that might open the door to a better system, and a way to encourage more people to contribute to the country, and feel a greater personal value than they do now?"

Internalized black conservative white racism is a hell of a drug--and poison--for them and their defenders alike.

You can choose to be intellectually honest and comment on the article as written and the analysis as offered or move along.

chauncey devega said...

You must have some stories to share. Any insights into what is going in the Ukraine re: the "ethnic Russian" vs. "other Russians" angle.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

What we (my intel cell) found and based our intelligence analyses on was that the elite leadership of all three national groups (B Serb, B Croat, and Bosniak--with an extra emphasis on the first two) manipulated real economic grievances into ethnic grievances for political gain. The local ethnic elites manufactured and/or manipulated ethnic chauvinism--with a great deal of support from border states (Serbia and Croatia) and their scientific communities (esp historians) and religious leaders. Suddenly, maps from centuries past became operative as the two outside powers tried to justify their land grabs in B&H. It became an intellectual vogue in the West to claim that B&H was an "artificial" country. I am not an expert on Ukraine, but as I did intel analysis on Africa related to warlords, for example, we found (as well as the World Bank studies) that the conflicts were largely over the control of wealth and the sources of wealth with political-economic-religious-ethnic grievances advanced as a smokescreen for elite behaviors. Where there were African warlords fighting over diamonds or oil or timber, there were wealthy white corporate and banking accomplices consuming most of the wealth. Conflicts are almost always about power and wealth, with other excuses (religion, ethnicity, race) as a cover to sound benevolent and appear as the aggrieved party. A World Bank study found that none of the verbal reasons for a conflict withstood scrutiny once the resources at the heart of the conflict were taken into account.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Where have you been when conservatives have expounded upon black folk in America?

Phil Robertson: "I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Cliven Bundy: "“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro... in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do... because they were basically on government subsidy... I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?”

Paul Ryan: "this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of hard work... if you’re driving... downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can’t just say: I’m paying my taxes and government is going to fix that."

No, definitely not about race..

Bill O'Reilly: "after five years in office, President Obama has not really lifted the fortunes of African-Americans... The question is, why not? Talking Points believes it’s partially due to the culture."

nah, nuthin about race there..

Liver said...

This is a beautifully written essay.

gcarter said...

I loved this piece, especially the idea that if there is a "slave mentality" among black folks, there must be a corresponding "slave owner mentality" among white folks.

It seems to me that white supremacy means having it both ways: the 'slave mentality' is why black folks are in such bad shape today, but slavery was also a positive good for the Africans brought over here.

I often wonder what all the Confederate soldiers who did not own slaves were fighting for, but we can see the same mindset today, lower and middle class whites are led to believe by the 1% that black folks are going to rape their women and steal their money and live off the fat of the land without doing any work for it. Also, the non-slave owners and the white portion of the 99% all believe that they, too, would one day own slaves or be part of the 1% as unlikely as either eventuality was or is in reality.

Having it both ways means that blacks are both too lazy to work and too stupid to do well in school, but they are also taking all the good jobs and the slots in the good schools that are being denied to deserving whites.

jimbo57 said...

Lawn jockeys in front of the mansion that is movement conservatism.