BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
Subscribe

In Defense of the South

January 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification

Tour gathered outside African American history museum at Harper's Ferry WVThere were a couple of interesting pieces out in the last week. One was an outsider’s view of  southern plantation tourism, where slavery is never mentioned and everyone wants to be Scarlett O’hara. The other article was written by a southern woman who pushes back on the usual northern/western/coastal take on the South.

Reading the articles made me think of how many times I find myself defending the South from people who “hate” it, despite the fact that many of those haters have spent little or no time there.

Technically, I’m from the South. But South Floridians don’t really think of themselves as southern. Southern people are those backwards, redneck, white supremacist, country bumpkins. South Florida is urban, suburban, diverse, Latino, Caribbean… Right?

Except that Florida is the South. You can find all of the southern stereotypes in Florida, even South Florida, if you know where to look. I mean I grew up in a suburb called Plantation for Pete’s sake. But you can also find pretty much everything else in Florida. I think maybe I thought Florida was the southern exception, but it isn’t. The South is much more complicated than movies, television, and pundits would have us believe.

Not every person who lives in the South is a white supremacist. Even if every white southerner was a white supremacist, not every person in the South is white. Damn near 40% of the state of Mississippi is black.  Damn near 40% of the state of Texas is Latino. There are indigenous communities and immigrant communities. There are incredibly rich people and incredibly poor people – with all kinds of backgrounds.

I’ve run into a cafe full of Guatemalans in the middle of Arkansas. I’ve seen the former cronies of Papa Doc throwing their cash around in New Orleans. I’ve learned Spanish colonial history at a Seminole reservation. And I’ve watched an Asian family learn about John Brown at Harpers Ferry. All of it in the South.

When people talk about The South as though the only people that exist are the KKK, they dismiss so many people who live there. It is amazing to me that the same people who hold up the civil rights movement as the pinnacle of justice and exemplary non-violent action could turn right around and dismiss the very people who took part in it. MLK, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Ella Baker – all from the South.

When people dismiss the South as being backwards and racist, they imply that where they are from isn’t.  They are implying that it is only low class people who think like that, not them. It is a way for people to define racism as solely the kind of violent white supremacy you see in Mississippi burning – rather than the institutional discrimination and economic exploitation that is, and has always been, found in every state.

California and New York prisons are filled with POC that have been targeted by some of the worst drug laws and police departments in the country. The North and West have plenty of police brutality, housing discrimination, job discrimination, profiling, hate crimes… I’ve lived in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Santa Cruz, and DC. Of all those places, the one where I saw the most discrimination and closed-mindedness was Santa Cruz, CA.

I liked both of the articles that inspired this post. I’m certainly not suggesting that the writer who criticized those horrible plantation tours was wrong. But we need to examine truthfully all the many layers of fuckedupedness, past and present, all over this country. It isn’t just a southern thing.

On Jewish “Success”

February 18, 2011 By: Mel Category: Religion, Stratification

It’s hard to have a reasonable conversation about the apparent “success” of the Jewish community. For one thing, we Jews have an understandably defensive gut reaction to accusations of success.  And they are often accusations.  To quote the Illinois Holocaust Museum,

Adolf Hitler and the Nazis augmented this (Middle Ages idea of Jews as Jesus killers and userers) with a 19th century myth that emerged as a backlash to European Jewry’s emancipation and consequent involvement in and numerous contributions to European cultural, social, economic and political life in numbers disproportionate to its numeric presence in the general population. This myth stressed the existence of a “secret” Jewish plot to dominate the world through economic and political control.

So when people start saying that Jews have a lot of money or control the media, the hairs start raising on the backs of our necks.

But that doesn’t mean we can deny the statistics.  Jews in America are better off than other groups.  Only Hindus come close to having as many people making over $100,000 a year.  Forbes 100 richest people included 30 Jews.  That’s a third of the top 100 for a group that makes up less than 2% of the population.  And while FAIR has thoroughly debunked the whole Jews own the media bullshit, there are a lot of Jews who work in media.  In 2009, the Atlantic came out with a list of the top 50 bloggers.  By my count, 27 of the 50 bloggers are Jewish.  That’s more than half.  That’s a hell of a lot.*

When confronted with Jewish “success” (and I put that in quotes because I don’t believe getting on the Forbes list is something to be proud of), many people will tell you that it is because our culture values education or because Jewish people take care of each other.  The implication being, of course, that less “successful” minorities don’t look out for one another or value education.

It is complete bullshit, of course.

How do you measure how much a culture values education?  How do you measure whether it is that they value education or simply don’t question the socialization?  How do you know it is not that another culture faces more obstacles to obtaining an eduction?  Besides, are only those people who have alphabet soup at the end of their name deserving of a living wage?

And isn’t it convenient how the education narrative conveniently ignores all the radical Jews who protested, picketed, boycotted, and otherwise scrapped in the streets?  Isn’t it convenient how that narrative ignores that Jews in America aren’t a target of the authorities like other minorities are, or like they themselves were in other places and other times.  It’s a lot easier to “take care of your own” when the prison industrial complex isn’t breathing down your neck.  How many Jewish women do you know who had to take in their incarcerated relatives kids?

Nobody knows I am Jewish unless I tell them.  People might not like Jews, but I’m a lot more likely to get past a prejudice.  More importantly, while Jews weren’t always considered white, most of us are white now – at least, white enough.  And if you don’t believe that privilege has anything to do with who gets to be a “success,” if you think that it is all hard work and commitment to education, let me ask you something.  Why is that entire list of Jewish gazillionares on Forbes all white men?  Maybe you can brush off the white part. There aren’t that many Black, Latino, Arab, or Asian Jews in the U.S.  But last I checked, about half of us are women.  Are women somehow immune to these supposed cultural proclivities that make Jews so “successful?”

So why am I writing this?

One of the bloggers I follow has now twice been accused of antisemitism.  Once, she was accused for daring to include a Jewish category in a post where she breaks down minority representation in the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.  And now recently she was accused of antisemitism for calling out the hypocrisy of Dan Snyder suing City Paper for a picture that supposedly depicts a prejudiced stereotype – when he owns the fucking REDSKINS!

And that really pisses me off.

It isn’t just that the accusers are wrong, or that people shouldn’t spew knee jerk accusations.  It isn’t even about how those accusations can shut off conversations.  Ultimately this is not really about Jewishness.  It is about privilege, white supremacy, male supremacy, the illusion of equal opportunity, and the American mythology that weaves it all together.

Jewish success fits in nicely with America’s ideas about itself.  Here you have an immigrant group who came here fleeing persecution.  And while they faced prejudice, they were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

What’s more, America’s embracing of Jews is in direct opposition to the Nazis – the enemy of all enemies. World War II was the good war, the war used to justify all other wars.  And despite the fact that many Americans supported the Nazis, despite the fact that the U.S. didn’t even max out its immigration quotas in the war years, we like to think of ourselves as the anti-Nazi.  We are the saviors of the Jews and of the world.

So this Jewish success narrative buttresses all our myths about heroic Americans, good wars, equal opportunity and all that crap.  It is a minority mythology that does not challenge white supremacy or male supremacy.  In fact, it actually provides cover for it. We Jews are used as a silent indictment of other groups, as cover for people who don’t want to change the power structures and hierarchies that privilege them.

Our inability to discuss Jewish “success” is an inability to challenge the hierarchies, prejudices, and myths that need to be challenged.  I don’t want to provide cover for white supremacists.  I don’t want to provide cover for greedy bastards who use accusations of antisemitism to deflect from their douchebaggery.

That doesn’t mean that antisemitism isn’t alive and well.  (I’ve seen Glenn Beck’s list of Jews who have ruined the world.)  It means that we have to be honest about the fact that this supposed “success” is really just a measure of how thoroughly a person has bought into and benefited from the American lies.

_____________________________

*Even more common than a Jewish background was attendance at Harvard, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, or University of Chicago.  At least 30 of the 50 attended one or more of those schools.

White America’s Existential Crisis

December 14, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Stratification

People have, apparently, lost their minds.  There seems to be a panic that we have lost the fabric of our society and I’m having trouble getting a handle on what has happened that is so drastic that people would think its tyranny or fascism or hitleresque or stalinesque (Jon Stewart)

That quote is from Stewart’s interview with Lou Dobbs (video below).  Dobbs never really answered Jon’s question, so I’m going to try.

There is a certain segment of the American population that really believes in the American foundational myths.  They identify with them.  They believe that America was built by a handful of white, Christian, men with exceptional morals.  Their America is the country that showed the world democracy, saved the Jews in World War II, and tore down the Berlin wall.

These people have always fought changes to their mythology.  They have always resented those of us who pushed to complicate those myths with the realities of slavery, Native American genocide, imperial war in the Philippines, invasions of Latin American countries, and secret arms deals.

And we have been so busy fighting them to have our stories and histories included in the American story that we sometimes forget why the myths were invented in the first place.

No myth illustrates the sleight of hand behind our national mythology quite like the myth of the cowboy.  In the mythology, the cowboy is a white man.  He is a crusty frontiersman taming the west and paving the way for civilization.   He is the good guy fighting the dangerous Indian.  He is free and independent.  He is in charge of his own destiny.

Read Richard Slatta’s Cowboys of the Americas and you will get a very different picture.  In reality, the first American cowboys were indigenous people trained by the Spanish missionaries.  In reality, more than 30% of the cowboys on Texas trail drives were African American, Mexican, or Mexican-American.

And cowboys were not so free.

Cowboys were itinerant workers who, while paid fairly well when they had work, spent much of the year begging for odd jobs.  Many did not even own the horse they rode.  Frequently, they worked for large cattle companies owned by stockholders from the Northeast and Europe, not for small family operations (a la Bonanza).  The few times cowboys tried to organize, they were brutally oppressed by ranchers.

So what does all this have to do with Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, teabaggers and white panic?

Marginalization and myths have always been about economic exploitation.  White supremacy is not simply personal bigotry.  It is the systematic exclusion, dehumanization, and erasure of the majority in order to preserve economic dominance for the wealthy minority.  And while white men may be in most positions of wealth and power to this day, only a very few of them really benefit from our current economic system.  White supremacy helped distract poor and working class whites from targeting their economic exploiters.  White supremacy helped mask the lie of equal opportunity.

When you know the real history of the cowboy, it makes the selling of Reagan and Bush as cowboys seem like an inside joke.   The mythological cowboy is the heroic figure that many Americans wish they were.  The fact that the cowboy was actually an exploited worker is virtually unknown.

When Americans vote for a president, they want to see that heroic version of themselves looking back at them.  They want to see that free cowboy of the mythology.  No matter how poor or exploited white people were, they could always take subconscious comfort in the fact that, when they looked at the highest power in the land, they saw an idealized version of themselves.

And then came Barack Obama.

Pop.

It’s a powerful thing to be able to identify with the people who are your leaders, to feel like they are one of you.  It’s a feeling that many people in the United States felt for the first time when Barack Obama was elected.  It’s equally powerful when your elected leaders are clearly not like you, when the fact that they do not represent you is glaringly obvious.

I had my whole life to get used to the idea that the government was never made to really represent my interests.  Many of these angry people are the very white, Christian, men that this country was supposedly built by and for.  And this is the first time the myth of America has been unmasked for them.

Undoubtedly, there are some bigots out there who are just angry that they have a black president.  Clearly, even for those who don’t feel motivated by personal bigotry, there is a healthy dose of racism underlying the fact that it took a black president for them to realize that their government is as dysfunctional as it is.  But I doubt the people we are talking about have an understanding of the difference between bigotry and racism.

And I don’t believe it is just blackness that makes Barack Obama different and symbolic.  It is also his intellectual cosmopolitanism.  He is a symbol of the privilege that is replacing whiteness – the educated professional/managerial class.  And there is a significant amount of animosity directed towards those people who justify their privilege by virtue of their intellect.

And so these people who have lost their foundational myths are out in the streets.  They are using all the synonyms for “bad” that our pathetic school system and media have taught them – communist, fascist, totalitarian, socialist, nazi.  All the words are interchangeable.  They all mean not American.  They all mean not them.