Archive for April, 2011


Pervasive Racism

Thomas Sugrue’s Sweet Land of Liberty shows readers that racism is a very insidious “system” that affects primarily African Americans, economically, socially, and politically. The racism of the South was legitimatized with the Jim Crow laws. The North did not have such blatant discrimination, as it was not shrouded under Jim Crow laws. Yet, as millions of African Americans headed North starting in the 1920s, Northerners seemingly were in support of these new migrants by passing civil rights laws, theoretically prohibiting discrimination and protecting voting rights, long before the national laws were passed in the 1960s.

Martin Luther King once stated that the Southerners needed to learn about hate from the North, after a non-violent march in Chicago. During this march, bricks were thrown at the heads of King, nuns, and other non-violent marchers. Hatred is an extreme emotion in which rational thought does not enter. Hate can be channeled into economic, political and social realms to suppress others, specifically the African Americans. Other minorities such as Asians, have been more fully integrated and assimilated into American culture, which is surprising in that it has only been seventy years since they were imprisoned and their property, savings, and lives taken away from them in the name of national security. African Americans have been a part of American culture for over three hundred years, yet their status has improved on a much lesser extent than other demographics living within the United States.

The Emancipation Proclamation freed the American slaves but functioning safety nets were not in place to help the African Americans adjust or thrive in this post- Civil War reality. Political, economic, and social barriers, already in place by the nature of slavery and the plantation system, were blatantly placed in front of these new “citizens”. Economically, the sharecroppers were just on the other side of slavery. The Communist Party targeted this demographic group, “the nearly enslaved laborers whose toil was essential to the southern economy,” (p. 24) With the various migrations of the Southern African-Americans to the North looking for a better way of life, many, especially women, became entrapped in low paying jobs “that their enslaved mothers and grandmothers had performed.” (p. 27) Activists such as Anna Arnold Hedgeman felt that good jobs and adequate welfare was the only way to help the African American women of New York City. The labor market in the 1930s was flooded with workers for minimal, low paying jobs.
During the 1930’s and 40s, different ideological groups were banning together, creating a stronger voice in politics and public opinion. Some groups, such as the YWCA advocated uplift, education, and training, as tactics while other more militant groups utilized protests and pickets. These various groups and supporters laid the foundation of protest and boycotts that were picked up by the non-violent protesters of the south, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.

Thomas Sugrue reiterates that although changes have been made in such arenas as education and successfully integrating schools in the south, the trend is starting to change and go back towards segregation. This leads me to wonder if the latest tornado, and the devastation that it caused to communities, when these communities are rebuilt, how will the social, economic, and political factors fall, for African Americans? Will the latest trends towards segregation continue? Will African Americans end up being better off with new homes and neighborhoods? Or, will the end result be as Sugrue insinuates, and the cycle of racism will continue through nuance, affecting basic building blocks of the American Dream – a quality, equal education, home ownership to build up the family assets that so many other American families depend on for generational survival, and a political voice in city, county, state, and governments.

3 MLK writings

Martin Luther King’s speeches, “I Have a Dream” (August, 1963) and “I See the Promised Land” (April, 1968) and his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” ( April, 1963) were written at different points of his philosophical and racial journey. I feel that his early pieces are more conservative in nature but that his philosophy and words become fierier and harder, more liberal (radical) as time moves forward and change is not happening with regards to the Civil Rights movement.

The late 1950s showed Martin Luther King setting the groundwork for a nonviolent struggle against segregation by focusing on religion and love. Gandhi’s success through love and nonviolence toppled and empire’s rule in India was a beacon of hope and success that King held high. American Christianity was the background for Martin Luther King and his use of the Bible and love – the agape, Christ-like love, was another strategy incorporated into the non-violent methods of King’s master plan to end segregation. His political ideals were based on the Founding Fathers of the United States – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In the early 1960s, King begins to take on and share a more global perspective and becomes more reflective of the movement. Church bombings are happening in the South. John F. Kennedy is elected, appointing Robert Kennedy as his Attorney General. Freedom Riders, black and white, Christian and Jew, are coming down from the North to aid in the nonviolent demonstrations in the South. The Cold War is amping up, The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs occupies a lot of the Executive Branch’s focus.

Dr. Martin Luther King gave this speech in September 1960 at the Golden Anniversary conference of the National Urban League. In this speech, King discusses the growing self-respect and a new sense of dignity that African Americans were feeling. He attributed the following as factors in this new sense of self for African Americans: 1) a population shift from rural to urban life due to the rise of the automobile, two World Wars, the Great Depression and new communication methods. 2) Due to the rapid advancements in education, literacy rates increased from only 5% at Emancipation versus 95% in 1960, allowing African Americans to see a larger view of themselves and of the world. 3) A gradual improvement in the economic status of African Americans. 4) The Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in schools. And 5) the awareness of the worldwide struggle for dignity by lots of people – African Americans are not alone in their struggles. (145-46)

King continues to explain that African Americans “would rather suffer in dignity than accept segregation in humiliation.” (146) He forewarned that America’s price for continuing oppression is her own destruction if people keep using old arguments based on social and cultural grounds to continue the oppression of African Americans. Half-truths and twisted arguments can no longer work in keeping segregation on the books. King reminded that racial discrimination is morally wrong, comparing discrimination to a cancerous disease that was a national problem. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (147)

Concluding this speech, King discusses that two fronts need to be attacked in order to for African Americans to have first-class citizenship and that African Americans must assume the responsibility for making it happen. The first front is breaking down the barrier of segregation and racial discrimination. This needs to be accomplished with nonviolence, passive resistance, or plain old Christian love, ultimately winning the white man’s understanding and friendship, allowing the broken community to be reformed. King sums up the message with “we will take direct action against injustice without waiting for other agencies to act.” (149) The second front that African Americans need to deal with is increasing their personal standards; the need to back away from the conditioning of segregation. Folks need to regain their initiative and rise above mediocrity.

While I enjoyed the message and reading the various speeches, I felt this one clearly explained the steps that need to be followed in order to rise above segregation and open the doors for full citizenship and economic status. No where does King mention that the path will be easy but that with perseverance, love, and support, first-class citizenship for African Americans will happen.

Consumer culture in the United States between the voting citizens, both working and non-working, creates the engine of socio-economic and political activity. Thomas Frank’s thesis in What’s the Matter with Kansas, explores the economic bamboozlement of the right in Kansas and provides a prismatic, holographic insight within the boundaries of Kim Phillips-Fein’s Invisible Hands, Bethany Moreton’s To serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise, and Lizabeth Cohen’s Consumer’s Republic. The above authors demonstrate how cultural manipulation of citizens and economics has impacted the America’s political and socio-economic landscape.

Consumer culture is simplistically described as the massive push, by the government and business, for American citizens to participate in the “democratic” process by spending their money, buying products, and subsequently helping to invigorate the economy. This consumer culture has been prevalent in our society since World War II and continues today, in 2011. How we, as citizens feel, reflects in how we spend our hard-earned money. John F. Kennedy “asserted that ‘consumers include us all’ when embracing the concept of the citizen consumer of the New Deal era.

Voting constituents are made up of both working and non-working citizens; both white and blue collar workers. Non-working citizens would be those members of society who have retired and are no longer working full time, yet still consume and still exercise their right to vote. Women and minority citizens never achieved the status of the white, male worker in terms of job opportunity and equivalent wages for equivalent work.

Wealthy citizens and business owners chafed at the lack of letting Social Darwinism, private enterprise, and the free enterprise system work without government interference and the policies enacted during the New Deal era that threatened their bottom lines. These conservative business men were concerned that minimum wages and labor unions would usher in a new era of political enslavement and that “dismantling the welfare state was a crusade for freedom.” These upper crust, influential men, during the 1930s-1950s, put into motion the conservative movement of the last thirty years, by laying the foundation for different organizations, as Kim Phillips-Fein’s Invisible Hands guides the reader into understanding. The conservative, laissez-faire organizations had a strong Christian base that wanted to preserve their way of life and see their values and political beliefs spread throughout the country. “Money could, after all, support ideas, print legislative analyses, and hire scholars far more easily than it could create a mass following in support of conservative economic policies.”

Thomas Frank’s, What’s the Matter with Kansas, analyzes the political changes that have occurred in Kansas during the last twenty years and how these changes are a hologram of the country as a whole. The terms “Democrat” and “Republican” have been changing and no longer denote the values and issues that they each once stood for. Politics has become muddled in social issues, rather than the focus on economic problems that exist. Historically, agrarian Kansas had been a hotbed of leftist, populist movements, starting in the 1890s. Farmers were driven to financial “ruin by years of bad prices, debt, and deflation…” By today’s standards, “the populist demands were not so far-fetched – farm programs, state ownership of railroads, a graduated income tax to pay for it all, and a silver or even a paper currency”. At this early stage of politics, Kansans felt that both political parties were attempting to distract the general population from the “real problem -corporate capitalism”.

The Populist movement was agrarian based and part of the Granger movement of the 1880s and 1890s that was taking root in the mid-west area of the United States. Industrialists at this point began their stranglehold on products and production, as they controlled the majority of resources and the means of production. The United States, by the 1880s had started feeding much of the world as well as producing products for national and international consumption. Populists also fought and pushed for a universal and equitable means to exchange their goods for money, in light of the predatory banking practices of the 1880s. This is how the United States Post Office began selling Money Orders – a guaranteed, easily locatable means of currency that would ensure the farmers received payment for their goods. The Republican and Democratic parties of the 1920s and 30s began incorporating many of the ideas after the Populist Party faded away, ideas such as labor reform and trust busting. As Phillips-Fein quotes Cohen in agreement, “The New Deal, was in large part “made” by the people across the country who responded to the constraints of the Depression by taking part in strikes, in protests, and in politics more generally in ways that previously they would never have believed possible.” The Democrats provided something to the working class – New Deal legislation and social programs to help the lower classes that had been devastatingly hit during the Great Depression.

The traditional Democratic Party started morphing and via the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), “has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting, affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues.” (Frank 243) The blue-collar workers who were the “backbone” of the Democrats started moving into the ranks of the Republican party of Kansas and other areas of the country. There are “radical” conservatives who tend to comprise the poorer demographics of the state. These folks have been struggling financially yet support deregulation and tax cuts, which only hurts their economic causes, jobs and families.

The “liberal” conservatives of the Republican Party became the big winners with local and state politics as they benefited from the voting reactions of the “radical” conservatives who keep supporting tax -cuts, which only benefit the wealthy and does not benefit the poor conservatives. These “radical” folks started chasing red herrings in the form of social issues and let their beliefs run their economic issues. Hot topics like Christianity, abortion, gun control, and gay marriage/rights sucked in the poor “radical” conservatives. These topics sidetracked the poor conservatives into not thinking about their own livelihoods and how tax cuts affect their own economic well being while benefitting the wealthy upper classes.

Ultimately, many business and religious leaders began to realize that in order to garner support and strength for their causes of free-enterprise and Christian based values, a network of conservative think tans were necessary to counter the ideas of the liberal university system, with the ultimate goal to undermine the defenses of liberalism. Another example of tools utilized by the conservative movement is the funding of media outlets as a literal marketplace of ideas in order to bring ideas to the broad consumer public.

Examples of the associations that were started by and for the very wealthy included the Chamber of Commerce, Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), American Enterprise Association (AEA) morphed into the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for Public Policy Research. The Business Roundtable branched off into two groups, the Labor Law Study group focusing on industrial grants and the March Group which focused on world trade. Getting into the university system happened with various Christian organizations such as Campus Crusades for Christ and Students for Free Enterprise (SIFE), in order to help teach and influence the next generation of business students.

Cohen reminds us that “the government buttressed a male-directed family economy by disproportionately giving men access to career training, property ownership, capital, and credit, as well as control over family finances, making them the embodiment of the postwar ideal of purchaser as citizen and limiting their wives’ claim to full economic and social citizenship.” Cohen’s observation ties in well with the premise of the Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise for two simple reasons 1) the origins of its’ populist roots and 2) because of Christianity’s patriarchal component upon which the stores were based on. Sam Walton strove to recreate a family-like atmosphere in which consumer citizens felt comfortable and that they belonged to an extended family when shopping at his stores. At the core of this comfortable, cozy feeling were women. Wal-Mart’s origins draw on its’ populist roots.

The company germinated in the Ozarks of Arkansas, with a discount format that is now pervasive throughout the country. As the company grew, the targeted demographics of lower income, hard-working and fixed income agrarian folk and the location of stores in county seats or near military bases appealed to the common, more rural people. Customers were greeted by smiling, friendly employees while being treated to country music bands and bar-b-q’s on the weekends, when most rural folk would come to town for shopping, social, and business needs. The company was family oriented, comfortable, and homey; a place where people knew their neighbors.

Women were recruited to work in stores, providing some of that nurturing feel – servicing customers was seen as an extension of tending to their own families. This also reinforced the paternalistic, evangelical Christian model that the store’s founders, Sam and Helen Walton supported. Further, the Walton family supported and encouraged the education of white-collar workers from the Sun Belt for the “family” business of stores through support of Christian higher education facilities such as the University (formerly College) of the Ozarks. This helped pave the way for the United States to become a nation of consumers rather than producers. “…the Earth shall wax old like a garment…” (Isaiah 51:6)

The Wal-Mart style, paternalistic, benevolent boss theory was how many big companies (US Steel, General Electric) presented themselves. This cosmology helped middle management reorganize union workers into a market place type structure. Market pressures in the early 1970s were a driving force in this wake up call (1971 first year of American trade deficit). Once again, corporate culture (fearing for it’s future) moved working people away from their common self-interest.

In conclusion, Thomas Frank’s thesis concerning the befuddlement of the conservative right in Kansas is well supported by the observations of Moreton and Phillips-Fein under the larger umbrella of Cohen’s consumer definition. Bethany Moreton’s linkage of religion and political allegiance supports Thomas Frank’s conclusions in an unequivocal manner. The rise of the conservative, evangelical political participation has driven the franchise away from rational thought and into religious consumerism. “…thou be increased, and inherit the land.” (Exodus 23:30) Consumer citizens who believe can be more easily controlled and manipulated. The rapture mentality teaches that it is righteous to take advantage of the planet and her resources, because all Christians will be saved. The planet’s wealth is provided by the Almighty to be utilized, even to the point of depletion because that would be God’s will. Lower and middle class citizens looked towards the wealthy as a model in how to live and how to consume, just as they looked to God for answers in life.

Malcolm X

1. Keeping X’s advice in mind, how would you assess the changes in his attitudes towards white people over the course of his entire life.

Malcolm X’s viewpoints on the “blue-eyed devils: changed over the course of his lifetime, from a viewpoint of disdain to one of better understanding. As a child, Malcolm’s father died under mysterious circumstances by the purported Black Legion, a branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Michigan. Once the welfare system disbanded his family, Malcolm’s intelligence and natural abilities found alliances with white people such as the Swerlin’s who ran the detention home and sent him to public school, his teachers at school, and other students. He enjoyed his teachers but when a well-liked teacher ridiculed his dream of becoming a lawyer and encouraged him to be a carpenter, Malcolm began to change and chaff in that environment. Later, living in Boston with his sister Ella, Malcolm begins a relationship with a white woman, Sophia but she, along with most women, was degraded and abused by Malcolm who viewed them as inferior and a means to an end – a tool for sex, for getting money, helping with whatever he may have requested of them. It was not until later in life, when he began traveling to Africa and the Middle East and after his pilgrimage to Mecca that his viewpoints on white people changed. Malcolm realized that all white people were not devils, as he meets many unprejudiced Muslims of light complexion, and he brings back to the United States his new viewpoints and understanding.

2. How would you assess the changes in his attitudes toward other African Americans over the course of his entire life.

Malcolm X was raised to be independent and have pride within him. His father, Reverend Earl Little, was a follower and disciple of Marcus Garvey, who moved his family frequently to preach the teachings of Garvey, encouraging African Americans to become “independent of the white man” (3). Malcolm took after his mother, being very light complexted, with reddish hair, while his father had a very dark complexion. Interestingly, as the lightest of Reverend Little’s children, he was the favorite; but to his mother Louise Little, Malcolm was the least favorite, preferring her darker children. The Littles lived in a house out of the “Negro” area of Lansing, built by Earl’s hands. The family had a garden and raised chicken and rabbits in order to feed itself, as well as make a little bit of extra money. This way of life showed the children that they did not have to depend on the handouts of white people to survive. Yet with the death of Reverend Little, life for his family changed forever. Malcolm preferred to associate with the African Americans of the slums and ghettos because he understood that way of life – he had been there, involved with drugs and alcohol, making a living from number rackets and pimping. He did not care for the pretense and airs that middle class African Americans carried. Ella, Malcolm’s sister introduced him to people in these classes but he found know use for such people who got their esteem and prestige from the people they worked for, because, generally speaking, these middle class African Americans were still subservient to the white man.

3. Was Malcolm X a racist? [You are allowed to pick any answer you like, as long as you cite evidence from the book to back it up.]

I do feel that Malcolm X was a racist for much of his adult life until his pilgrimage to Mecca. He saw no value in white people, aside from the fact that money could be made off of them, or that they could be used to obtain things. The roots of this began in childhood, with the harassment that his family faced in every place that they lived in. How the welfare system, community and businesses in Lansing, Michigan treated his mother, siblings, and other African Americans. Malcolm also began to notice that the majority of African Americans around him “were either on Welfare, or W.P.A., or they starved”. (6)

Intro beginnings:

Consumer culture in the United States between the voting citizens, working and non-working, creates the engine of socio-economic and political activity.  Thomas Frank’s thesis about the economic bamboozlement of the right in Kansas provides a prismatic, holographic insight within the boundaries of Phillips-Fein’s Invisible Hands and Lizabeth Cohen’s Consumer’s Republic.  The above authors demonstrate how cultural manipulation of citizens and economics has impacted the America’s political and socio-economic landscape.

 

Conservative ideas that were once at the fringes of political discourse moved into the center of American politics by the end of the century due to many factors.  Factors included the rise of union power, a perceived threat on the way of life for the wealthy industrialists, and the embracement by the general population of the New Deal “welfare” policies rather than laissez-faire economics.

At the conclusion of World War II, the United States stepped into the industrial vacuum caused by the demise of Japanese and European factories and production of goods.  This allowed the rise of unions and negotiating power, after decades of the job sites being ruled by this new type of “aristocracy” that industrialists had become.  Economically, these aristocrats saw the socialistic tendencies of the New Deal, which did not allow survival of the fittest (Social Darwinism), but rather a helping hand to those who were down and out, in need of assistance.  This premise attacked the basis of a laissez-faire economic system that the industrialists supported.

In order to combat this perceived threat, many successful businessmen began looking at ways to help preserve their way of life.  Several organizations were formed Mont Pelerin Society, or strengthened, such as the Chamber of Commerce.

 

Walmart’s origins draw on its’ populist roots.  The company germinated and grew in the Ozarks area of Arkansas.  The company started out on funding, not from the Eastern banking and loans, but rather from local folk and a little help from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which helped to fund clean, high tech jobs, military installations, and service industries in the Sun Belt region, post World War II, subsequently bringing jobs and a population base to the rural areas.  As the company grew, the targeted demographics (hard-working, no frills, agrarian, salt of the earth folk) and store locations (county seats, near military bases) appealed to the common people.

Country music bands and bar-b-q’s on the weekends, when most country folk would come to town for shopping, social, and business needs.  The company was family oriented, comfortable, and homey; a place where people knew their neighbors.  No matter which store a person visited, the feeling and ambience of each store made you feel welcome, like you were back visiting an old friend.  Women were recruited to work in stores, providing some of that nurturing feel – servicing customers was just an extension of tending to their own families.  This also reinforced the paternalistic, evangelical Christian model that the store’s founders, Sam and Helen Walton supported.  Further, the Walton family supported and encouraged the education of white-collar workers from the Sun Belt for the “family” business of stores through support of Christian higher education facilities such as the University (College) of the Ozarks.

The “modern” version of Wal-Mart is a multi-national company with a tad bit of the “hometown” atmosphere within the stores still left.  If Wal-Mart was a country, it would rank 6th in China’s export market and it’s economy would rank 30th in the world, right behind Saudi Arabia (Moreton 6).  A far cry from the “down home” attitudes of supporting small businessmen, the retail giant still comes into rural communities, ousting many mom and pop stores, ending family businesses, and creating a monopoly on shopping options.  Yet the giant is not satisfied with the small areas and readily moves into big cities, often with enough business to support several stores in the cities but some mom and pop stores are still able to hold onto their customer base despite the competition.

 

I don’t believe that Thomas Frank feels that poor conservatives are stupid, but rather these folks were a bit hoodwinked and mislead as political parties started migrating on their core beliefs, stances, and values.  The traditional Democratic Party started morphing and via the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), “has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting, affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues.” (Moreton 243) The blue collar workers who were the “backbone” of the Democrats started moving into the ranks of  the Republican party of Kansas and other areas of the country.  There are “radical” conservatives who tend to comprise the poorer demographics of the state.  These folks have been struggling financially yet support deregulation and tax cuts, which only hurts their cause, jobs and families.  The “liberal” conservatives of the Republican Party are the big winners with local and state politics as they benefit from the voting reactions of the “radical” conservatives who keep supporting tax cuts which only benefit the wealthy and does not benefit the poor conservatives.  These  “radical” folks started chasing red herrings in the form of social issues and let their beliefs run their economic issues.  Hot topics like Christianity, abortion, gun control, and gay marriage/rights sucked in the poor “radical” conservatives.  These topics sidetracked the poor conservatives into not thinking about their own jobs and how tax cuts affect their own economic well-being.