Thursday, November 14, 2013

White Supremacy, Madison Grant, and Richard Cohen's Anxieties About Race Mongrelization


I was meditating some more on Richard Cohen's column in The Washington Post where he described interracial couples in the following terms:
People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York—a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts—but not all—of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
One of my favorite basement party college songs was "Memories" by Beenie Man. There is so much wisdom in its chorus:
Memories don't live like people do
They always 'member you
Whether things are good or bad
It's just the memories that you have
America is a racist society. The United States was founded on white supremacy. It is part of our society's cultural fabric, ether, and living memory.

The Constitution of the United States is a white supremacist document. The land was stolen from First Nations people who were then subjected to genocide and put in concentration camps. Black Americans died by the millions during chattel slavery, had tens of trillions of dollars of labor and wealth stolen from them, as they quite literally built America. Decades of Jim and Jane Crow were their reward after taking freedom during the Civil War. And as we expand our view of the colorline beyond the black white binary, it is clear that white supremacy impacted all people of color--and also created a deep rot in the heart, mind, and spirit of White America.

The United States has also made amazing progress in correcting a democracy, one that was and remains a work in progress, to ensure that the bounties and rights of full-citizenship are expanded to all peoples. White supremacy and racism are poltergeists that haunt American political and social life.

America has many of these disturbed spirits. They manifest themselves in the Tea Party GOP's overt bigotry, Confederate flag waving neo-secessionist trash outside of the White House, Birtherism, as well as Richard Cohen's hostility towards "race mixing" and concerns about a threat to "conventional views"--read "white", "conservative", and "reactionary"--in the post civil rights era.

Richard Cohen is a white supremacist. Of course, such a label conjures up caricaturized images of mouth frothing neo-Nazis, KKK lynching parties, and police who beat down black and brown people with batons in the street while spewing racial epithets.

White supremacy is so much more complex and nuanced than such ironically comforting images. The latter does the practical work of colorblind racism in the post civil rights era by framing white supremacy as something absurd, anachronistic, and an outlier. This is a wonderfully comforting thought for white folks and others. An acceptance of the fact that white supremacy is quotidian, common, and manifests itself in America's social and political institutions, collective psyche, and a deep sense of white entitlement and white privilege, is verboten for a country which wants to embrace a public narrative of racial progress while denying how far it has yet to go.

In all, for post civil rights America, the "nice" and "polite" racists are a much greater threat, in mass, than the "mean" and "vicious" ones.

Richard Cohen may not know the root or intellectual origins of his public career as an editorial writer who is a master painter in the metaphorical color pallet that is the white racial frame and white supremacy. Thus, the power of memories and ideas in a white supremacist society. Racism is part of the ether. To varying degrees, those of us who are American (and those others who consume its popular culture) understand and have internalized racist cultural scripts, tropes, and rules as a type of "common sense".

Richard Cohen may not know that his concerns about "traditional" American values and miscegenation mirror those of nativist race scientists such as Madison Grant.

The latter famously wrote in 1918 that:
...These new immigrants were no longer exclusively members of the Nordic race as were the earlier ones who came of their own impulse to improve their social conditions. The transportation lines ad­vertised America as a land flowing with milk and honey and the European govern­ments took the opportunity to unload upon careless, wealthy and hospitable America the sweepings of their jails and asylums. 
The result was that the new im­migration . . . contained a large and in-creasing number of the weak, the broken and the mentally crippled of all races drawn from the lowest stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the Balkans, to­gether with hordes of the wretched, sub-merged populations of the Polish ghettos. Our jails, insane asylums and almshouses are filled with their human flotsam and the whole tone of American life, social, moral and 'political has been lowered and vulgarized by them. 
With a pathetic and fatuous belief in the efficacy of American institutions and environment to reverse or obliterate im­memorial hereditary tendencies, these new-comers were welcomed and given a share in our land and prosperity. The American taxed himself to sanitate and educate these poor helots and as soon as they could speak English, encouraged, them to enter into the political life, first of municipalities and then of the nation.... 
These immigrants adopt the language of the native American, they wear his clothes, they steal his name and they are beginning to take his women, but they seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals and while he is being elbowed out of his own home the American looks calmly abroad and urges on others the suicidal ethics which are exterminating his own race....
It is evident that in large sections of the country the native American will en­tirely disappear. 
He will not intermarry with inferior races and he cannot compete in the sweat shop and in the street trench with the newcomers. Large cities from the days of Rome, Alexandria, and Byzantium have always been gathering points of diverse races, but New York . . .will produce many amazing racial hybrids and some ethnic horrors that will be beyond the powers of future anthropologists to unravel... 
Cohen was also not thinking about the deep connections between American race scientists, eugenicists, and the architects of the mass horrors which became the Nazi race project in Germany.

Memories don't live like people do. White supremacy and racism are part of the American cultural creed. Richard Cohen is simply a part of that long tradition.  


KissedByTheSun said...

Unfortunately by Obama admitting that he made mistakes on Obamacare he's all but proven the mongrelization claims in the minds of Cohen and the like. Obama might as well said "you're right, black people are inferior!"
(sigh)...I wonder what it's like to have the luxury to be an individual.

chauncey devega said...

He keeps throwing the sharks blood does he not?

Annoyed said...

Unless Chauncey DeVega is willing to donate all of his wealth to "First Nations" tribes, keeping just enough to relocate back to West Africa (or whichever branch of his family tree he identifies with), he's benefitting from these historic "crimes" just as much as anyone else here today. He's also quite schizophrenic in his moral logic: he laments the destruction of indigenous people, then boasts (falsely) of how blacks "literally built" this country. Furthermore, anyone that tires of living under "white supremacy" is free to move to one of the utopias created in in the ashes of a white supremacist system: Haiti, Zimbabwe, South Africa, or (closer to home) one of the liberated municipalities right here in the USA: e.g. Detroit, Camden, Flint, Jackson, etc. Liberated from the rot of this evil they've surely built equitable, fair and just societies...right? The fact that people flee these places and are literally dying to enter the "white supremacist" (parts at least) USA indicates something important I think. This is the wealthiest and most advanced country ever seen on this planet. We've made incomparable contributions to human civilization. All of these achievements arose from the efforts of those who came before. It's grotesque to benefit from them while also maligning them, as does DeVega.

Bryan Ortez said...


Bryan Ortez said...

I just want to thank Chauncey DeVega for helping me feel welcome to add my comments to his blog.

I'm listening to that podcast on white supremacy and white anti-racism, it's very great.

I was also looking up the 'white guilt' deflection and found sources from Shelby Steele's 2006 work as well as from a KKK forum.

KissedByTheSun said...

No no no Bryan this guy is right. White supremacy has been a blessing to us all and we should either kneel in submission or go back to Africa if we don't like it.
How could I be so blind? I live in a utopia of whiteness that bestows it's riches upon upon all.
CDV you have been corrected. Now let us all strip naked, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya.

Bryan Ortez said...

I felt bad over my comment for a moment. perhaps this annoyed person is from one of the First Nations people that had their way of life co-opted by various European conquerors...

gladtohearit said...

I can't believe this juicy morsel of truthiness hasn't been expunged already. Well said annoyed.

Bryan Ortez said...

Why you guys don't like when people talk about the formation of the American nation in the context of the supremacy of whiteness?

It is true and for the majority of our shared histories it has been at the expense of people of color.

chauncey devega said...

Thank you for being a very enthusiastic reader and supporter. We aren't an amen corner and you always have something smart and insightful to offer. I enjoy doing the podcast series and have some other great guests coming up soon. I learn alot from those conversations and I enjoy sharing them.

OldPolarBear said...

An excellent commentary on this awful columnist, as have been the other ones you did. Cohen is appalling, and so is the Washington Post for keeping him on. Of course, he is whining that HE is the real victim. He is trying to say he really meant something else, but he has been writing for 40 years. His excuses would embarrass a freshman comp student who just struggled through writing his first five-paragraph essay.

There was also that column about 12 Years a Slave, where he expressed surprise that slavery was bad. I grew up in a small, lily-white town of 1200 people in the middle of Iowa. I was taught early in grade school, in the early-mid sixties, that slavery was bad and cruel. There was a lot of casual racism around, even from the teachers sometimes, and the lessons were usually in the context of Lincoln hagiography, but at least it was formally covered. Yes, Cohen came along maybe 15 years earlier, so maybe it was different, but still ...

Sometimes, I do think that people stay in their jobs too long. Cohen has been writing that column since forever, and it has been syndicated since 1981. He is 71 or 72 years old. People can start having cognitive issues. Way back when, he used to seem somewhat passably liberal. Whether he was just masking his racism and now his filtering social inhibitions are failing, or what, who knows? Or maybe "liberalism" is also racist, like white anti-racism. I'm not trying to make excuses for him, just thinking of possible reasons.

I would also like to echo Bryan Ortez about the welcoming attitude you have toward comments. I feel like I am going on too long sometimes, but I guess people can skip them if I get too long-winded.

SabrinaBee said...

Some would argue that America hasn't come a log way at all, but, that is has shifted it's attention elsewhere. Were it not for Communism and the Cold War, I shudder to think what might have become of us by now. Now that Americans are becoming, international war weary, the focus may very well, and seems to be, shifting back on everybody's favorite group to hate. Unique in being the only groups of people that have had a consensus of nations complicit and actively engaged in demonizing them to justify exploiting their native (ancestrial) land resources.

mauser 98 said...

mmmmm my homeys.............
"The country's leading African American historian, Duke University
professor John Hope Franklin, records that in 1860 New Orleans over 3,000
free Negroes owned slaves, or 28 percent of the free Negroes in that
"The fact is large numbers of free Negroes owned black slaves; in fact,
in numbers disproportionate to their representation in society at large."

"In 1860 there
were at least six Negroes in Louisiana who owned 65 or more slaves The
largest number, 152 slaves, were owned by the widow C. Richards."

" The statistics show that, when free, blacks disproportionately became slave masters."

s.b. said...

Please check out my take on Cohen's racism at: