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Things I’ve Learned So Far

Things I’ve Learned So Far

What started as a writing project on white supremacist mythology quickly bogged down into a research slog. It’s been interesting, though. Here are a few of the more surprising things I’ve discovered.

Walt Whitman was a racist. He wasn’t just a racist in that way that practically every white guy born before 1980 or so was a racist, but an enthusiast, practically a professional bigot. Smoke from Booth’s pistol had barely cleared when Whitman went to work on “reconciliation” with his “Southern brothers.” He built his career uniting whites against the menace of the lower races, who he said were doomed to elimination by evolution. Whitman may have been the most important US architect of white supremacy in the post Civil War period.

Britain played a much larger role in the development of our white supremacist mythology than I realized. That role emerged mostly after the crown pushed the East India Company aside and took on direct governance of India. Before the Seven Years War in the 18th century Britain governed few people who weren’t of British descent. After that war the empire gained a few small colonies in Africa and the Far East, but they were mostly trading and logistics posts. Only after Britain assumed direct rule of India did the question of their relationship to a non-white population much larger than their own become an ideological (and hence mythological) question of real importance. That’s when they began to construct the outline of white supremacy that largely dominated the US as well.

It’s interesting how Americans (including this one) fail to appreciate how powerful the British Empire was before World War I. British law, politics, art, science, writing and culture dominated this country up to the middle of the 20th century. Our white supremacy is a slightly tawdrier knock-off of their more nuanced original.

DW Griffith’s 1915 film, Birth of a Nation is perhaps the most perfect propaganda film ever made, easily a rival to Battleship Potemkin or Triumph of the Will. Almost every racist lie modern white folk believe can be traced back to that film. It’s the white supremacist New Testament.

Differences between the original Klan, founded during Reconstruction, and the cosplay fanboi Klan founded in 1915, inspired by Birth of a Nation, were much more pronounced than I realized. Klassic Klan was a traditional guerilla insurgency, organized by demobilized officers, with clear political objectives, an authority structure and an ideology derived from the old elite Cavalier mythology. As a military organization under military occupation, it was also bloodier than the later group. New Klan was basically the Y’allQaida Social Club, a rattletrap white trash terror fraternity, whose objectives were consistently undermined by its leaders’ tawdry grifting. It borrowed the old Anglo-Saxonist mythology of the North and lower-class Southerners, which ended up blunting its reach by making it hard to spread in the more Catholic (but still wildly racist) North. New Klan was kept at arm’s length by wealthy Southerners, who at times seemed unsure whether its usefulness was worth the threat posed by an organized, violent mob of poor whites.

Abolitionist activity in the colonial US and Britain was far more pronounced and successful than I expected. Resistance to slavery, particularly in New England, is as old as the institution itself. While Virginia in the late 17th century was moving toward the creation of permanent race-based slavery, authorities in Massachusetts in 1645 forced an owner to give up an African slave because he couldn’t prove that the slave had been captured in war. Rhode Island took steps to limit all servitude to 10 years. A lawyer named Benjamin Kent began a legal campaign in 1752 to earn manumission of slaves in court. Similar efforts began in Scotland and England in the 1760s. All were successful. By 1783, Massachusetts courts had effectively ended the practice without the need for legislation. There were no slaves listed in the state in the 1790 census. By the 1780s it was settled law in Britain that any slaves brought to the island were free. Britain ended the Atlantic slave trade in 1809 and ended slavery in the empire in 1833. They then began global naval patrols that effectively ended the Atlantic slave trade entirely.

One of America’s forgotten heroes is Major Lewis Merrill, a cavalry officer who led a bloody campaign against the Klan in South Carolina in 1871. That campaign was undermined less by Southern bigots than by Northern railroad interests who, for mostly unrelated reasons, forced President Grant to fire the honest Attorney General who had given Merrill his authority. Replacing a few Confederate monuments with statues of Merrill would be a step in the right direction.

As powerful as our white supremacist mythology has been, we have always had potent alternative mythologies at the ready. A few times they have even broken through to take a dominant role in our affairs. Americans don’t have to invent a new mythology out of whole cloth to replace white supremacy. All the materials we ever needed have been with us from the beginning.


  1. You know, Chris, of course I think racism is a driver in all this. Even more seminal, though, I think, is an emotional attitude, which indeed drives racism–and that is the zero sum game. Folks who live predominantly by this attitude tend to view life as a competition, w/only 1 winner. They feel they have to look out for #1 first & foremost, & that just about everyone is a threat. The result is they tend to demonize others based on visible characteristics, ie, race, apparel, residence, & the list goes on ad nausium, ad infinitum. They feel their lifestyle, beliefs, etc, are the only way, & those who don’t conform &/or feel differently are just plain bad, which justifies anything untoward that happens to them. They tend to feel that they’ve gotten where they are by their own efforts (which of course is not entirely true), & they view others who are less fortunate as being lazy unmotivated bums. I think the attitude is predominant among caucasians because that tends to be the way we’ve been raised, but it crosses all racial & ethnic lines. I think those of us who try to teach our kids to be compassionate global citizens are vastly outnumbered. Until that tide turns, the situation is likely going to remain pretty static. Just my O, & likely worth exactly what yall paid for it. :).

  2. So, I wake up this morning to read the governor of florida, one of the bastions of the truly nuts, is going to have flags flown at half-mast in honor of that slime that died recently from cancer. Previously this week we read about his plans to set up a rich white people vaccination site.

    I am starting to think he is going to be the president in 2024, not the resurgent tyrant. Is he not a natural fit for the fascist party and death cult? Or the moron in texas that blamed the blackouts on wind turbines freezing?

    1. It’ll all depend. My money is that if Trump runs again he will be the nominee again, all these others are just pale imitations of him and that will come through.

      If trump doesn’t run again though, then things get really interesting. you will essentially have 3 groups which run for president in that case:

      The “dignity” Republicans – basically think Mitt Romney, John Kasich, Jeff Flake etc. all of them will run to “restore the dignity of the republican party” basically trying to “reclaim” the image of the respectable republican politician. smallest group they will all be crushed.

      The grifters – think Ted Cruz, Ron De Santis, Josh Hawley etc. these people will be distinguished by the use of all of Trump’s rhetoric/ positions without ever talking about or mentioning Trump in any way. They are trying to appropriate his movement and will avoid mentioning him at all costs acting like all of this is their idea. Slightly larger and they will do ok.

      The Crazies – Marjorie Taylor Green, Louis Gohmert, Alex Jones, David Duke, etc. this will be the largest group. What will distinguish them is there framing they will couch every argument in the idea that the Democrats the the intervention of an international Communist conspiracy stole the election from Trump. this group will spend all of their time trying to out crazy each other. introducing ever more ridiculous conspiracy theories. one of them will be the nominee.

      If Trump doesn’t run again I fully expect the field to top 30 candidates on the republican side.

  3. As an Indian American, I’m heartened to see some light being shown on Britain’s colonial effects around the world. But I do have a question. As best as I can tell, and you seem to be agreeing with this, Britain’s racist mythology was formed as a response to its South Asian colonies. IOW, it was against brown people. How did this get transferred to a racism against Black people in America?

    I understand the need to do so: India was Britain’s Jewel In the Crown, by far its largest and most important. And so the most pressing question was, as you mention, how to devise a mythology that justifies ruling over them when they clearly didn’t want it. And in America, the same need arose when trying to justify subjugating black slaves.

    So I get why. My question is how? Rudyard Kipling (himself an Anglo-Indian born in India), wrote books about naked Indian kids being raised by wolves. His poem about The White Man’s Burden was an exhortation to the US to not withdraw from its colonies in the Philippines. How did this become translated to Africans as the unifying “other”?

    The easy answer is that early racists saw just white and non-white. But that’s not true. Today, Asians in the US are often considered honorary whites (with plenty of white supremacists having Asian wives), while blacks are still considered uncivilized. And in Britain, I have heard from friends (correct me if I’m wrong as I don’t live there), that it’s the reverse: immigrants from South Asian former colonies, especially from Pakistan, are treated far worse than immigrants from former African colonies. In essence, in Britain, South Asians are ghettoized and marginalized, while Africans find it easier to assimilate.

    And I would argue that such distinctions held even in previous times, for the simple fact that Asians were never enslaved the way Africans were, even though there were plenty of Chinese immigrants on the west coast, particularly SF. Heck, Americans didn’t even enslave the Native American population the way they did Africans.

    So if your theory is right, that America’s white supremacist beliefs were a transatlantic import from Britain, then the question remains how it got transferred from South Asians to Africans.

    FWIW, Britain at the time didn’t really respect Africans either. You mention the Sepoy Mutiny as galvanizing the notion of Indians as being the “other”. But the Mau Mau Rebellion was at least as brutal, if not much more so. In it, the British painted themselves as noble colonialists being terrorized by uncivilized, brutish Kenyans. And it ended with the British equivalent of concentration camps, forced relocation sites where tens of thousands of Kenyans died from starvation, torture, and forced labor:

    I realize investigating the origins of Britain’s racist myths is delving far away from America, but if you do decide to pursue it, their myths I suspect are much more complex, if only because their empire was far larger than ours (and also, as little work as white Americans have done to come to grips with the country’s slave-holding and genocidal past, Brits have done even less. Many to this day still believe the colonies would be better off under British rule and think their presence there was a net positive. Which means any real historical analysis and reckoning of Britain’s past is typically done by outsiders.)

    1. This is great stuff. Also reminds me of the benefits of writing here instead of places like the former Forbes blog. This blog gets enough attention from bright, curious people to generate helpful feedback without the mass reach that requires me have things better nailed down. Some of the ideas I’m running across I just couldn’t afford to float there.

      It hadn’t occurred to me at the outset to even look at Britain. I landed there because all of the best considered, most eloquent and influential formulations of white supremacy in the 19th century were British. In particular, the vast body of “imperial adventure” entertainment, the original great works of scientific racism, and almost all of the most influential white supremacist art in the 19th century came from Britain. Which led to the realization, which I suppose ought to have been obvious, that the US prior to WW1 was merely a junior (and slightly unruly) partner in a global Anglophone empire.

      In cultural, academic, engineering and scientific circles, you were nothing in the 19th century Anglophone world until you’d made it in London. Our most important innovation was to take that white supremacist material and turn it into what many commentators politely call “herrenvolk democracy,” or more bluntly, an early, poorly-formed Fascism.

      Regarding your questions:

      How did Britain’s need to dominate South Asians translate to the US obsession with Africans?

      I think there are two elements here.

      Is it still “white supremacy” if the target is fluid?
      How (mechanically, specifically) does a British social phenomenon become an American social phenomenon?


      Can these two national mythologies be considered part of the same phenomenon when they treat different targets (Indians, Africans, Chinese, etc) in such divergent ways?


      Why is the Sepoy Mutiny (and the subsequent Crown annexation of India) a more galvanizing event for the British than other imperial conflicts, like the ones in Africa?

      1) Is it still white supremacy, or is it the same white supremacy, if it’s more concerned with Indians than with Africans?

      At the heart of this theory of a unifying mythology is an “us” and a “them.” The us is more powerful if the them is more precisely defined, but any cultural artifact will be fluid. Even in the US, where white supremacy coalesced largely as a reaction against fears of millions of freedmen of African-descent, there was a wealth of racial animosity directed at others. The “other” need not be black people for the concept of the inherent superiority of the white race to take hold, just as it’s still Nazism if the targets are Roma and homosexuals.

      As late as the 1920’s, the reborn Klan was still railing at Catholics. In 1922, Klan activism got a state law passed in Oregon to ban Catholic schools, thereby “Americanizing” the educational system. From its earliest history, white supremacist activists imagined a hierarchy of races. As that hierarchy was invented out of imagination, it could be rearranged like a box of legos to address whatever threat seemed most immediate at a given moment. In San Francisco in the 1870’s-80’s, that threat was the Chinese. In Alabama it was Blacks. In much of the North at the time it was Jews, with some lingering animosity toward the Irish. Whatever the target, this mythology imagined “whiteness” as a form of racial purity, degraded by exposure to these less developed races.

      2) How does a British social phenomenon become an American social phenomenon?

      Money, control over media, and general cultural heft. If you want to reach the largest possible English-speaking audience in 1880, you need to be published in London. If you’re contending for scientific influence, you need to gain the approval of one of the scientific societies in London. New York was an important place, and steadily gaining ground, but until WW1 London governed the world. America was beginning to produce some quality, mass artistic content that was entirely its own, thanks to figures like Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, but without support from and access to British markets no cultural products of real scope had a shot. Whatever went into wide cultural circulation in the Anglophone world was first filtered through British tastes.

      This comes into stark relief when looking at the history of scientific racism. Its first innovators were Americans, like Samuel Morton. But Morton, like other Americans who dabbled in these ideas pre-Darwin, was little more than a provincial crank. His data collection was laughable, even at the time. He was a man of little real distinction apart from being one of the few British-educated figures in Philadelphia medicine. Basically a weirdo with a reasonable education promoting an idea a lot of people wanted to believe. It wasn’t until one of Darwin’s peers in England, Thomas Huxley, got hold of the idea, that it was packaged up in some cloak of respectability. From Britain it returned to the US with the imprimatur of the imperial scientific establishment. That’s when it started to circulate in the North and take hold, establishing the notion that white supremacy was a scientific fact. I think that cycle explains the cultural influence of Britain over the development of white supremacy.

      3) Why does the same unifying mythology, white supremacy, have different “most hated” targets in Britain and the US?

      Who attracts the greatest ire at any given time or place relates less to the ideological details of white supremacy than to the “other” they see as most threatening in the moment. British loathing of South Asian immigrants is a rich topic of its own, very different from the feelings of American whites for Black Americans. I don’t think the British ever completely lost their sense of inferiority in the face of Indian and Chinese culture. Much of the content of Anglophone white supremacy was a reaction to British awe at contact with the East. Orientalism was built on insecurity.

      Compare the Taj Mahal to anything being built in England at the time and the challenge faced by those seeking to justify colonialism becomes clear. Absent advanced navigation and gunpowder, innovations imported via the Arabs from the East, and in the 17th/18th century world Britain would be a tiny, freezing, backwater in a world dominated by the wealth and cultural power of China and India.

      Much of the content of white supremacy was drummed up to explain why these pasty, ill-fed adventurers should have any right to dictate terms to far older, richer and more sophisticated cultures. I don’t believe that insecurity ever went away. And I don’t think the British ever felt that way about Africa.

      India left them enthralled, which left them feeling a bit small despite the power of their empire. And now that their imperial power is lost, those South Asian immigrants are terrifying. In much the same way that you hear Americans talk about whites being “replaced,” with all the weird, sometimes sexual imagery they conjure for that fear, I think the British are terrified that these much larger, more culturally rich, and increasingly more prosperous places will turn the tables on them, making England a relatively dull jewel in someone else’s crown.

      4) Let’s talk about Asians as the “model immigrant” in the US.

      No immigrant group to the US, apart from Africans, was more hated and feared than the Chinese, not even the Irish. To this day, they are the only immigrant group targeted by a specific, legislative ban on their immigration. America’s charming Chinatowns in San Francisco and New York, with their outstanding restaurants and so on, have a dark, violent history. They were the only place Chinese immigrants could protect themselves, and they vigorously defended that turf.

      The US banned Chinese immigration in 1882, and enacted legislation that basically stripped the existing immigrants of almost all basic rights. Between the 1880s and WW2 immigration from China was almost completely shut down, and Japanese and Indian immigration was very limited. After 1924, all Asian immigration was shut down. In 1946, the US started admitting 100 Indian immigrants a year, though they were still banned from naturalization.

      Our notion of Indian or Chinese immigrants as the “model immigrants” is a recent adaptation, shaped in large part by the consequences of the 1965 immigration reform. What if the only Americans you ever met had been graduates of Harvard, Yale or Stanford? What would you think of America? After ’65 the US started admitting Asian immigrants again, but quotas were still tight and the emphasis was on skilled immigration. Overwhelmingly, immigrants from India to the US were high-caste and relatively affluent, otherwise they were extraordinarily talented top-graduates of the country’s most elite schools. The US was peeling away much of the most-talented, most-ambitious 1% of a country five times our size. A similar dynamic shaped immigration from China (mostly Taiwan at first) and later Vietnam. These people didn’t fit the mold of the Mexican campesinos trudging across the Southern border. Chinese or Indian peasants had almost no way to get here.

      Americans who had contact with a Chinese or Indian person in, say, the 1980’s, were probably looking at a doctor, engineer, scientist, or an independent business owner. All of whom were probably still badly under-employed for their talents and achievements.

      This was not the pattern of immigration from India to Britain. Indian (and West-Indian) immigrants to Britain in the post-war period were closer to the model of Central American immigration to the US. They were not the “model immigrant,” and they were not annexed into whiteness in the way many Asian immigrants have experienced in the US.

      On a related note, here’s a excerpt from a coming piece on the artistic development of white supremacy, and white nationalism, after Birth of a Nation inspired the rebirth of the Klan:


      “Just a decade after its rebirth, the Klan could muster 50,000 people for a march on Washington DC. Its members, somewhere between 2 and 5 millions, were stretched nationwide. Klan support would get a referendum passed in Oregon in 1922 to outlaw Catholic schools. Almost half of its membership came from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

      “As Congress debated a sweeping new ban on most immigration, the leader of the Indiana Klan laid out his organization’s position in a 1923 speech to coal miners.

      ““There is no assimilation to American standards and ideals, in the case of the great majority of the newer immigrants. Masses of human beings of inferior races, ignorant of all the ideals which Americans hold dear, are poured into our factories as so much raw material – and they are not ‘digested.’ The new immigrant comes here as a foreigner and he remains a foreigner – a citizen of a lower class, who, just as the negro, is a constant menace to the standards of civilization which Americans hold dear.”

      “Does any of this sound familiar? Don’t miss the fact that his speech was delivered to coal miners. New Klan was a populist mass movement aiming to divert working class frustrations away from capital owners, into largely useless displays of racial hatred. As a movement of the lower castes, its language is plainer than would be tolerated in elite settings, but that single paragraph captures a century of white nationalist politics. Just add the phrase “build the wall” and that statement would swell the hearts of Republican voters this afternoon. White supremacy had found its voice and its speakers.”

      1. “In particular, the vast body of “imperial adventure” entertainment, the original great works of scientific racism, and almost all of the most influential white supremacist art in the 19th century came from Britain.”

        I remember reading Robinson Crusoe in college (on my own, not as an assignment) and being blown away at how horribly, directly, not even a little bit hidden it was purely colonialist propaganda. And college statement aside, this was back when I was the whitesplaining “c’mon not every white person is racist” obnoxious “devil’s advocate” in classes. I didn’t get these sorts of things back then, and even I was like, “We read this shit to children?”

      2. Thanks for that detailed reply! This is really fascinating stuff. I would add some additional food for thought:

        1) Be careful about ascribing all of this to (only) Britain. That might only be because (I’m assuming) you can’t read French or German. Undoubtedly, Britain was the center of the universe pre-WWI. But Germany was well respected as a source for scientific authority. And “serious” scientists of that day were expected to be fluent in English, German, and Latin (For some reason, the French were not as well respected in the sciences, but were tremendously important in the humanities such as history, philosophy, sociology, etc). Given the rise of Nazism so soon afterwards, is it possible that the theories of racial superiority were a European-wide phenomenon, much of which remains undiscovered by us Americans because we only read English?

        2) Apropos to that, it seems that what you’re saying is white supremacy came about as a way to justify empire. Without the need to subjugate a foreign people, people were content hating their neighbors or some other local group. If Britain’s white supremacy coalesced around the time that it took control of India, and expanded its colonies in Africa, then could it be that America’s white supremacy similarly was driven by our empire-building (Philippines, Latin America — which the Monroe Doctrine basically asserts is our back yard — the concept of “manifest destiny” that powered our push to expand the country to the Pacific Ocean, Texas fighting Mexico, etc.) and only after being formed by the powers-that-be to justify empire, did the localfolk adapt it to various sundry internal threats like black slaves, Irish, Chinese, etc? This could explain why, even to this day, Native Americans aren’t hated as much as blacks: by the time America got serious about empire building, the threat from Native Americans was long gone.

        3) Brits had a peculiar, and very successful, way of formulating racial mythology in service of their empire. While busy devising scientific reasons why a particular race-du-jour was inferior to British stock, they would single out a small minority within that race as an exception, and build that small minority as “the smart ones”, or some sort of proto-model minority, and then build up that minority with education, authority, etc. to rule the much larger majority. Dividing a colony in this way ensured that much of the majority’s hatred could be dissipated toward the “traitorous” minority within, rather than the Brits themselves, while also cultivating a loyal class of local managers to help administer the colony.

        It was not as simple as saying all non-Brits suck. So for example, while Indians were supposedly inferior, Brahmin pandits were supposedly smart, and the brightest of them were educated in England and sent back to India to administer the colony. Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, for example, was a Kashmiri Pandit who was educated at Cambridge. He was famously more comfortable around Englishmen than Indian commoners. Many of India’s well-known divisions, such as caste, culture, religion, etc. existed for centures, but were hardened and essentially weaponized by the British using a divide-and-conquer policy to make sure Indians would hate each other and not the Brits.

        They did this in almost all their colonies, creating a mythology of overall inferiority compared to Brits, but bringing the weight of their scientific and cultural establishment to elevate specific groups as being more equal than others. Imagine if America devised an ideology that all Africans are scientifically inferior, but due to the shape of their heads, Nigerians were better than the rest of them. Then, we proceeded to only allow Nigerians to be house slaves and field foreman. The rest of the slaves would likely hate Nigerians almost as much and perhaps more than they hated their white masters. As the Brits would say, Mission Accomplished…

        I won’t detour too much into British colonial practices. That’s an enormous topic (one still being written today). My only point is that British racial myths surrounding the people they ruled over in their colonies was more nuanced than it might initially seem (of course, it was still driven by the needs of the empire).

        For a less nuanced (and more gallows-humor’ish) look at British colonial practices, you might enjoy reading the War Nerd’s rants about the Brits: (the first in particular is about the authors and literature that was used / co-opted to legitimize British-caused famines in their colonies)

        (NB: John Dolan, the man behind the pen name, is Irish. So you know what he thinks of the British already 🙂

        4) Regarding South Asians specifically. Yeah, I see your point that Asian immigration in the last 40 years or so is materially different than Asian immigration 100 years ago. The Japanese Internment, the restriction of Chinese immigration, all point to Asians being considered a real threat to the country. My question is why it didn’t go all the way to enslaving them?

        5) Your point about South Asian immigration posing more of an existential threat to Britain is well taken. Most of the Right’s fear of immigration in America is overblown: our culture is ascendant and still dominant throughout the world. Hollywood movies still rule the roost, and America has replaced London/Britain as the place that filters and legitimizes the world’s scientific and cultural movements.

        But it’s not so overblown in England. Already India has surpassed the UK’s GDP. The largest English-speaking population is in India, and increasingly, British culture (even high culture) is driven by Indian English authors. Talk about the tail wagging the dog: some of the most well known English authors are Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul; India’s movie industry dwarfs British cinema, cricket teams from the former colonies routinely beat Britain’s team, and more Chicken Tikka Masala is consumed in Britain than Fish & Chips. Just like Brazil now sets the tone for Portuguese culture worldwide, India and other former colonies are starting to do the same for the Commonwealth. The sense that the Brits are losing control of their culture is not just a paranoid delusion, as it is in America.

      3. I have more to say about French racism another time.

        Great links. This bit stands out. Helps explain what I was seeing with Walt Whitman.

        “Tennyson makes a good start here. Anybody associate Tennyson with genocide? Didn’t think so. He never mentioned it — in his canonical writings. He and Victoria were neighbors, chums, and he won every honor the Empire could bestow, despite being by general consent the stupidest “major” poet in the canon.

        “You’d never link Tennyson to genocide, until you look at his private letters and his friends’ memoirs. Then you see the perfect melding of silence and violent hatred, as in Kingsley, as in case after case after case that you never hear about — and if you do dare to mention one of the cases, will get you a grumpy, “Oh yes, we know about all that, they held some pretty objectionable opinions, as was common at the time…” (I wish I could do the inflection on “pretty objectionable.” It’s one you hear often among Commonweath academics, especially after the second drink.)”

      4. Chris
        You may be well past this point in your research by now but you may find some additional insights or support here:

        This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy
        Author James Alfred Aho
        Publisher University of Washington Press, 1994
        ISBN 0295973552, 9780295973555
        Length 224 pages

        Sharing is caring…

    1. That really is the hard part, isn’t it?

      I keep coming back to the Declaration of Independence. Lots of potential there, at it didn’t spring out of nowhere. There was a rich thread of similar thinking in the colonies (and in England) that it leaned on. That thread continued, inspiring the Civil War and the Civil Rights Acts. It may not seem like it, but America has a powerful egalitarian heritage. We’ve just been very reluctant to tap that heritage, largely because of our racial fears.

  4. This story describes how the post-civil war politics of a Texas county evolved.

    Freed slaves made Fort Bend county majority black.

    The story tracks what we read about elected African Americans being ousted during Reconstruction. Future generations had to fight for the right to vote.

    Fort Bend abuts Houston/Harris County on the southeast.

    1. That story about Willie Melton led me off on a thread about Reconstruction era Fort Bend. That led me to this Rice PhD thesis paper about the Jaybird/Woodpecker war in the county, which is fascinating stuff. It fills in a gap that’s been frustrating me – what happened to the potential post-war alliances between freedmen and certain whites? Well, those alliance did take shape, but they were systematically repressed, by violence where necessary. And this thesis fills in a lot of those details.

      Thank you very much.

      1. I hope you’ll address the concept of meanness. Is it cruelty? Is meanness a form of violence?

        My 90 year old neighbor (Her grandfather was a slave owner. His slaves stayed with him after emancipation. After reading that Rice thesis paper, I have a better understanding of how that might have occurred.) and I have been talking about this.

        Growing up, she didn’t understand the whites only drinking fountain thing, especially when there was no water fountain for black people in Texas’ hot climate.

        She also didn’t understand how the black woman who cleaned her family’s house could wash their dishes but the dishes she used for her lunch had to be washed separately.

        So, meanness.

  5. I look forward to your work Chris. I imagine we will be reading many pieces over an extended time.

    But what can be done, today, tomorrow, in 2022, and 2024, to deal with the fascists and death cult? The trial has proven the tyrant’s hold of that party is absolute. The senators are clearly more afraid of the actual death cult members than the leader of that cult, but the tyrant certainly directs that base, and that is not changing with any master work of yours.

    I watched Steve Schmidt on Bill Maher last night. (That show would be 10 times better if Maher just shut up and let his guests talk). Schmidt was being taken to task about Schmidt not talking policy for the past 5 years, and Schmidt pointed out there has been only one issue that matters the past 5 years: fascism and the tyrant that leads the group.

      1. Did that create a sense of mythic unity among whites, on which is was now possible to build a white nationalist republic? Maybe it did. I’m not a historian so I’m treading cautiously here, but I can’t find it. What I’m finding is an evolving series of unifying myths, split between north and south, evolving in very different directions, with different interests and fears, eventually coming into violent conflict in the Civil War.

        It looks very much like modern notions of a brotherhood of the white man, or even of the existence of a white race in any form we would recognize, started taking shape after the Civil War. It also looks like most of the heavy cultural and intellectual work that went into defining that new whiteness was done by the British.

    1. The state never had many slaves. Almost all of them slaves were in Boston, or the little towns around it (which are now just Boston). MA’s largest ever slaveholder, Isaac Royall in the 1750’s had only 12 slaves. He was in Medford.

      All the way through MA’s slave history it was rare for a family to own more than one slave. There was just no space for the plantation-style agriculture that made mass slaveholding practical.

      It’s interesting to look at the evolutionary forces at work here. With relatively little available profit, few people grew hyper-powerful from slave ownership (though slave-shipping was a whole different business, pun-intended). Slavery was always seen as ugly and sordid, so it took a lot of political power to hold it in place. Wherever there weren’t a lot of people making massive $$ from the practice, it was squeezed out pretty quickly as a nasty, intolerable practice. But where there was money to be made, politics would bend.

      It’s also worth pointing out that hostility to slavery did not translate into a willingness to accept black people. Some of the most violent and implacable racism African-Americans faced was in places with few or no slaves. Boston stands out there.

      1. Michael Che wasn’t kidding when he called Boston the most racist city he’s ever been to (though I wonder if he visited non-North-Side Milwaukee if he’d change his mind?).

        I was imagining futher-away from Boston, but I’m guessing the legacy I see is more from white-flight than from colonial slavery.

      2. And the Irish.

        Most Irish arrived in the US as staunch abolitionists. Then they were pitted against freedmen in the North in politics and labor relations to prevent either group from gaining too much heft. It didn’t take long for the Irish to become the nastiest racists in the North.

        One example of this rivalry stands out. In Rhode Island in the 1840’s there was still a large property ownership requirement for voting. A reform group spearheaded by a large contingent of Irish immigrants fought to change that in what came to be known as Dorr’s Rebellion.

        Originally, the organizers of the rebellion sought to extend voting rights to all adult men. They decided that including the freedmen would create too much resistance, so they tried to change their demand to all white men.

        The wealthy property owners recognized their opening and created a compromise offer – voting rights would be extended to all *native-born* men, including the freedmen, with a small poll tax. The freedmen promptly switched sides and the rebellion lost its momentum.

        Rhode Island then extended the vote to its black residents while locking out anyone born abroad – most importantly in this case, born in Ireland. The Marxist critique of race as tool for dividing the proletariat isn’t universally accurate, but it works in certain settings. And this rivalry explains the uniquely bitter Irish/Black relations in this country, which explains a lot of the ugliest racism in Northern cities.

        There were very similar riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s. And of course this all culminated with an Irish-led rebellion in New York City in 1863 which, if it had begun just a few days earlier, might have cost the Union the Battle of Gettysburg.

  6. My father is a Russian Jewish immigrant. My grandparents’ families fled the USSR after the 1917 Revolution and settled in a Russian Jewish community in Shanghai, China. They met and married there and my father was born in Shanghai in 1943. The family then left China in 1955 and spent time in Hong Kong, Italy and Ecuador before they were able to immigrate to the US in 1963.

    This is important background for what I was taught as I grew up. My father always reminded me that having lived in various countries and continents, he knew never to believe that “America was the greatest country on Earth”. He taught me based on his lived experience, there were pros and cons to every country on Earth. The pros of living in the US? Freedoms such as freedom of speech and assembly and an economic system and tax code geared toward growing wealth. The biggest con by far? The US was the only country he had ever been in where he experienced any anti-Semitism. He had been drafted and served during the Vietnam War and the racism and bigotry he saw in the ranks (particularly from Southern soldiers) was unbelievable and nothing like he saw in Ecuador for example.

    Racism, bigoty and anti-Semitism is everywhere, but as Chris notes, its in America’s blood. It’s beyond shameful. Perhaps we will get past it but I am not hopeful. Its in the DNA of this country.

      1. Masterless Men has inspired much of what you’ve read over the past few years. It shed a valuable light on my own family’s past. There was a lot of Merritt’s voice in my Hillbilly Elegy review.

        I haven’t read Foner’s account of Reconstruction, though I keep finding references to it. That may end up being a troublesome gap in this project.

  7. I have Civil War Veteran ancestors on both sides of my family. Dad’s Confederate and Mom’s Union. The ancestor on mom’s side was according to her was an abolitionist and a underground railroad conductor. Both men were from the south.

    White supremacy was never the only thought or philosophy going on in our country. Even in the south. We are still fighting that demon today. But it looks like demographic shift will finally defeat the Confederacy. Hard to hurt family and your friends. For those under 30 already it is a minority majority country. It is only a matter of time till it shifts our politics.

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