Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What Sort of White Person Do I Want to Be? A Conversation With Dr. Paul Breines, Veteran of the Freedom Rides and the Civil Rights Movement

History is made by people.

It is easy to forget that the past isn't really ever the past.

The United States has or soon will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the monumental legislative gains and victories of the Civil Rights Movement. It is poignant that five decades after the Great March on Washington, Freedom Summer, and the high point of the Black Freedom Struggle, that an African-American is President of the United States. The efforts and spent lives of the black, brown, and white warriors for the full civil rights of African-Americans (and by extension all Americans across the color line) radically transformed the United States. Much work remains to be done; their efforts are betrayed if the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement is viewed as something of the past and not of the living present.

In this new episode on the podcast for We Are Respectable Negroes I had the most fortunate and blessed opportunity to speak with Dr. Paul Breines, a Freedom Rider and activist in the Civil Rights Movement. 

He reminds us that the Civil Rights Movement was and is much more than documentaries such as the magisterial Eyes on the Prize or scenes in movies such as The Butler

Paul was so very generous and honest in our great conversation where he provides a first person account of the Freedom Rides, his coming of age as a political activist, experiences with the real, day-to-day folks who had to live under the white supremacist regime that was Jim and Jane Crow, and how he negotiated those experiences morally, ethically, and philosophically. Dr. Breines also connects his work as a political activist to his intellectual work and career as a professor of history at Boston College.

Dr. Breines asks a foundational question during the podcast: what sort of white person do I want to be? The struggle for justice along the colorline would be much improved if more white brothers and sisters were as reflective.

Paul does some great teaching and sharing during our conversation on the podcast. I know that you will learn a great deal from his wisdom and experiences. I most certainly did.

02:18 Given all of the important historical events you were involved in with the Civil Rights Movement, how do you remain humble?
04:25 The Civil Rights Movement was an insurgency. Meeting black men with guns who protected the Freedom Riders, reflecting on the black women and other warriors who supported the movement
07:00 Learning how to be a moral and ethical person from his mother
11:44 How did you decide to become involved with the Freedom Rides?
17:05 Massaging the memory, history, and public image of the Civil Rights Movement
22:20 What sort of white person do I want to be?
26:56 Why did you choose to get involved with the movement and other white folks did not? 
31:07 What did you feel like to be an enemy of the state? Did you think of your work with the Civil Rights Movement in those terms?
33:20 How did you manage your emotions--fear, anger, worry, etc.--in those moments? Some thoughts on being "brave" or "courageous"
37:39 Returning to Madison, Wisconsin after the Freedom Rides
39:30 Memory and reflecting on the Freedom Rides during the 1960s and in later years
43:00 What is it like talking to younger people about the Freedom Rides? What are some of the common questions that students and other young people have for you? How do you feel when you reflect upon the Civil Rights Movement and the Freedom Rides?
46:00 The absurdity of "the race card", white victimology, and racial resentment
54:00 Personal responsibility and signing their last wills and testaments for the Freedom Rides
56:31 How and why did you become a professor? Was your activist work related to your intellectual life? 
64:30 What was it like to be a witness to the Right-wing Culture Wars at Boston College during the 1980s and early 1990s? Some thoughts on life philosophy and life reflections
73:20 Have "we" won or lost with the election of Barack Obama?
81:00 Are young people more or less politically involved and aware than they were during the 1960s?
88:30 How can folks contact you? Concluding thoughts and observations about the Freedom Rides, the law, civil rights, and trying to effect social change


Myshkin the Idiot said...

haven't listened yet, just about to sit down to it.

Did you hear about this story of Reverend Charles Moore from Grand Saline, Texas who committed an act of self-immolation to raise awareness for social justice?


Myshkin the Idiot said...

I'm about two/thirds through, I'll have to finish tomorrow. It's a great conversation. I love his experiences and his interpretation of them.

One thing really stands out, when the young girl asked him if he's racist. It reminds me of your interview with COWS and Tim Wise's response. I've thought about it quite a lot since then and I think white people can and should say they are not racist, particularly if they have been thinking about what that means. Maybe it should come with an explanation, but I like what Dr. Breines said, "you decide for yourself if you think something I have said or done is racist."

chauncey devega said...

He was very generous and open with his sharing and time. I learned a great deal from him. I am glad you are enjoying the conversation.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

What an excellent conclusion! Glad I took the time to finish it up this morning. He sounds like a great person to have conversations with.

The issue of the distance between the citizen and policy is something I have been thinking about for a while. I think that is largely why conservatives feel so isolated when they are out of power. unfortunately for them, their party is in a very large way responsible for this. unfortunately for folks like us, they are assholes.

Did you catch the New York Times piece about Stormfront users? The majority of new users sign up at age 19 and over 50% of their users are under 30. 100 of their members have been involved in violent crimes.

how long are we going to have to wait until these violent racists die and take their ideology with them?

chauncey devega said...

I missed that Times piece, when did it run? Thank you for listening to the show and Paul is good folks. I have the remainder of the shows done for this Season and some good folks lined up for the next.

I am also upgrading the tech on my end. For the next Season the audio should sound much more like the intro and outro. Did you notice a discernible difference?

chauncey devega said...

Paul was on point. Now that I am back w. Season 2.5 I hope that more folks listen, download, and share his wisdom.

What do you make of the White Right and their media's response to the "illegal alien" children from Latin America in California?

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

The rhetoric used currently is very similar to the rhetoric prevalent when the Minuteman Project took off in April 2005. That initial project, contrary to many analysts who studied it, was highly tied to the Christian Right through a known white nationalist intermediary, John Tanton. There was only one degree of association between Tanton and the highest levels of the Council for National Policy, and a direct link between Tanton and the architect of the Christian Right and the seminal strategist of Fourth Generation Warfare.

I found two levels of rhetoric in the militant anti-immigration movement: mainstream "soft" ethnic cleansing promotion and "hard" ethnic cleansing rhetoric from extremist nativist groups and explicit white supremacist groups. Both groups shared common ideas about an "invasion" and existential threats to American "lives," "values," "culture," "way of life."

And, they shared a common language of describing undocumented immigrants. Where the "soft" and "hard" versions differed was that the "hard" ethnic cleansers took the next step and advocated or promoted the idea of actually violently expelling the "invaders" or engaging in a "race war" to save the "white race." Though they did not initiate violent combat operations on a large-scale, eventually there was some murders on the border.

The "soft" ethnic cleansing rhetoric was brought to the mainstream in the mid-2000s onward by Lou Dobbs at CNN, Glenn Beck (then on HNN), and Fox News. This rhetoric is now the mainstream view of the Christian Right and its Tea Party wing. The "hard" ethnic cleansing is still with the white nationalists and explicit white supremacists.

Even in the mid-2000s, the business wing of the party, especially in industries dependent upon migrant workers, documented and undocumented, as well as by the Wall Street Journal and big corporations, were on the pro-immigration reform side.

But, as with virtually all major problems, the mainstream media (and even many progressives) do not see the larger causes of this refugee crisis: a failed War on Drugs, our undermining social democratic governments in Central America, our deportation of criminal gangs to Central America, and our military training of death squads in Central America.

What I fear is that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party will not stand up for these refugee children/mothers and stand firm on international law (treaties we incorporated into the "supreme law of the land") and federal law. Refugees are treated very differently under international law. They are protected--and then their status is determined.

And, just to add a little spice to this, since the mid-2000s, Tanton has worked to change our understanding of the Christian tradition of welcoming the stranger. He has long worked with Christian Right leaders to redefine biblical views on that.

To me, as an atheist, I find it amusing that the strongest proponents of America as a "Christian nation" are the most un-Christian people of all.

To turn away mothers with young children and return them to a country reeking with murders, you have to have a hard cruel heart.

joe manning said...

Its understandable that us 60 something Catholic atheists are more humane (human) than large swaths of the xtian right in view of the fact they're classically fascistic.

As you intimate, insensitivity toward the immigrant children increases our demoralization so that we ourselves become rightists.

I'd like to think that the media is missing the US culpability in the crisis but its an 800 lb gorilla that's hard to miss.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I was having a conversation on here about a week ago about the overseer mentality of conservatives. My mom shared a video of a woman at a Wal-Mart talking about a busload of Obama's kids with EBT cards being unloaded to get supplies in transit to a new detention facility.

This person interrogated one of the people while they were in line and learned very little about them, but was convinced they were here illegally and getting things for free from the government. The video has been widely shared, except the fact is they were migrant farm workers and either US citizens or legal migrants. The audacity and assumptions the white right operates on...

Then there is the Kwasman guy who left a rally to hunt down a bus of suppose migrant children in transit. He gave a whole "we're the compassionate conservative" speech, but the kids were headed to a YMCA camp. He said something like "this isn't compassion, these kids looked terrified" and couldn't effectively back track once he learned they weren't actually the illegal immigrants he was hoping they were.

Of course it isn't compassion! This is what happens to people detained at the border while crossing illegally because of our poor system of immigration and neoliberal international politics. It's compassionate to blockade their destination and try to send them back to Mexico which isn't even necessarily their home country? Sheesh.