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On Learning Not To See The Other

One of the great things about the Christmas season is how we use these days to visit with old friends. I mentioned yesterday how I had spent an hour Facetiming with a friend in Holland. Today I had the chance to get caught up with a friend who is a native of rural Louisiana. Thanks to his Christian faith, “Bob,” my friend, works in a ministry of racial reconciliation (he is white). He is what you would consider a liberal on racial issues. We talked briefly about the Phil Robertson controversy. Robertson is of the same generation as Bob; Bob grew up in similar circumstances. Bob told me that strange as it seems, if you asked him what his memories of that historical period were, he would probably say the same thing as Phil Robertson.

Let’s be clear: Bob wasn’t saying that Phil accurately described what conditions were like for black Southerners then. Bob was saying, rather, that he lived through that same period as a young white man in the rural South, and that’s how he experienced that time and place. Bob’s was a remark about how memory works — and fails to work.

In his great 1995 book The Lost City, about Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s, Alan Ehrenhalt observes that our official memories of an era often come down to us from the dissenters — those who pointed out hypocrisies and failings of a place and culture during that time. (Read the last two paragraphs of this essay for the entirety of his remarks [1].) What we don’t encounter are those memories of those whose experiences were different in ways that contradict the historical narrative that triumphed. When many people today hear an older white man like Phil Robertson say that he remembers a more peaceable time, before the civil rights era, they hear the voice of an unreconstructed racist trying to justify his racism. But what would they make of someone like Bob, a white Southerner who has done and is doing a lot of practical things to heal the chasm between the races? He doesn’t fit into their neat ideological categories. (Neither, I suspect, does Phil Robertson, but I don’t know that for a fact.)

The interesting question in the Robertson case is not what his racial views are, but why it is that a white man who lived through that time would genuinely have memories that erased black suffering. Why would a white man not see what is right in front of him? One reason I keep coming back to this story on this blog is because of my own experiences in the past decade with the unreliability of human perception and judgment, in light of our all-too-human tendency toward epistemic closure. A white Southern man growing up in the South of the 1950s and 1960s would not have seen these things because he was culturally and psychologically conditioned not to see them. As Andrew Sullivan likes to say, quoting Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Most people don’t have it in them to struggle in that way, consistently. I know I don’t. You don’t either, and if you think you do, you are almost certainly lying to yourself.

There is something happening right now in your city, in your state, in your community, and maybe even in your family. There is some terrible injustice, or crime, or manifestation of inhumanity, and it is happening right in front of your nose. You don’t see it, because you are emotionally and psychologically unable to see it. To see it would require acting on that information, and it’s not something you are prepared to do. Your mind shields its eye.

Years from now, they will reproach you for this. How could you have let that happen? they will say. Why didn’t you do anything? Why did you keep your mouth shut? What will you say then? How will you justify yourself? The truth is, you didn’t know. You should have known, but you did not perceive the truth of things at the time. Are you guilty of moral failure? Maybe. Probably. But you are telling the truth when you say that you don’t remember things the way they say they happened.

I have this friend I’ll call Geraldine. She was raised in an abusive home, by a father who was a child-beating ragemonkey. Her much younger relative, whom I’ll call Kim, was raised in the same home, by the same man. She was never beaten by him, and in fact remembers the old man as a source of stability and support. Whose memories are correct? I’ve heard their stories, and believe they are both telling the truth, as they experienced it. The emotional politics of the story, however, are potentially combustible, if Geraldine and Kim wanted to fight about it. To Geraldine, Kim’s narrative could be interpreted as diminishing or denying the pain she (Geraldine) suffered at her father’s hands. To Kim, Geraldine’s narrative could be interpreted as denying the goodness of this man, who helped her in a time when she had no one else to give her a sense of stability, and who did not mistreat her.

Fortunately, they aren’t fighting about it, but it’s easy to see how they could, if they chose to. Because I first heard this story from Geraldine, I was highly sympathetic to her account, which I believe. Later, after I got to know Kim and heard her story, I believed it too. I struggled with it, because I was so naturally sympathetic to Geraldine, and because I am emotionally predisposed to side with abused children in any situation. Yet I had to admit that Kim’s story was true too, and that the man here was complicated, as are most people. Plus, Geraldine and Kim needed very different things from their father and guardian, and presented different challenges to him. I say this not, of course, to diminish the evil the old man (now dead) worked in the life of Geraldine, but rather to point out that these things are rarely black and white. Had I not met Kim and spent time with her getting her perspective, the narrative that I would have accepted as the whole truth was actually a partial truth (which is not the same thing as a lie).

In the Phil Robertson case, I think it is far more interesting to think about why a man like him (and like Bob) would have been blind to things happening around them. This is one reason I get so sore about official “diversity” initiatives in the workplace. In my experience, they are not at all about diversity, but about imposing a certain narrative. In one newsroom I worked in, there was a huge diversity push, but there was no interest in class diversity or religious diversity, even though those were both important components of our readership. As far as I could tell, aside from myself, about the only religiously engaged people in that newsroom were the black women who were secretaries. Nobody saw them as religious believers; they only saw them as black. The narrative that the newsroom managers chose to impose devalued one aspect of their identity and experience, and valorized another.

This happens all the time. We choose the narrative that suits our needs — emotional, political, cultural — and stigmatize narratives that challenge it. You can tell a lot about who has the power in a particular culture by what you are not allowed to talk about without drawing harsh censure. And in turn, the thoughts you are not allowed to have become internalized, such that you train yourself not to see things that violate those taboos. In the 1950s rural South, a white man was not allowed to speak out against the injustices inflicted on blacks; is it any wonder that he wouldn’t “see” them? There are people in our country today on whose behalf one is not allowed to speak without risking condemnation; is it any wonder that young people being raised in this culture are learning not to “see” those Others, much less consider whether or not they are being fairly and humanely treated?

Again: 50 years from now, the world will look a lot different. Evils that surround us today, but are hiding in plain sight, will be obvious. You and I will be judged. Be merciful today.

89 Comments (Open | Close)

89 Comments To "On Learning Not To See The Other"

#1 Comment By BillWAF On December 28, 2013 @ 1:15 am

@ William Dalton

“It should not be surprising that white Southerners found a way to reassert their control over former slaves and building a segregated society when slavery was abolished. It is they who had to live with a situation created by Yankees who did not follow through on their pre-war promises to return them to Africa.”

Just which Yankees “promised” to return “them”(presumably the freedmen) to Africa? To whom had that promise been made?

Colonization was never an abolitionist position. Clearly, the vast majority of African Americans viewed themselves as Americans and had no desire to leave the country that they had been born in.

Although Lincoln supported voluntary colonization, it is clear that he abandoned the idea by 1864. Colonization was never the position of the Republican party during the Civil War, though some moderate and conservative Republicans supported it. Early in the war, Congress appropriated funds to support voluntary colonization. In 1864, Congress froze those appropriations.

Frankly, Lincoln’s abandonment of colonization is a key element of his growth in office.

#2 Comment By DeepSouthPopulist On December 28, 2013 @ 1:52 am

Regarding Robertson’s racial quote, the GQ writer did not share the question that Robertson answered. Thus, we don’t have the full context.

What’s morally questionable, or at a minimum an error in reasoning, is this bizzare rush to deem Robertson guilty of a moral offense without all the facts. This is wrong.

Using what context we do have, we know that Robertson did NOT mention Jim Crow or Civil Rights. Using the quote itself and ONLY the quote, we have evidence that Robertson was speaking only to what he saw. People with an agenda subsequently interpreted Robertson’s remark as a broad commentary on the era without evidence that’s how he meant it.

There is a lot of reflexive jerking of knees going on here. Such power stale cultural left narratives have over your minds.

#3 Comment By DeepSouthPopulist On December 28, 2013 @ 2:18 am

Mont D Law,

Like it or not the Western would is becoming less christian, less white and less straight. The Robertson’s are done. Their retrograde opinions on the non-white, non-christian, non-straight are going to keep coming and with each revelation A&E’s position becomes less tenable. Like the John and Kate mess the tension between reality and the reality show has just become to great.

It’s becoming less white and less Christian because a a small number of very powerful white people (mostly but not entirely) want it that way.

They have state power at their disposal, mass media, and the backing of plenty of self-hating white cannon fodder. The small number will greatly profit from “less white, less Christian,” and clearing a path for greater profits is all they care about.

They don’t care that they are destroying the West’s historic ethnic core and demolishing 1000 years of Christian culture in the process. And the guilt-wracked, white self-haters self hatred is so intense and all consuming they can’t recognize a plutocratic scam when they see one. The plutocrats understand that as long as the outcome is “less white, less Christian” many white folks will jump on board and stay there.

#4 Comment By charles cosimano On December 28, 2013 @ 2:21 am

I’m an optimist. I believe that maybe not fifty years from now but maybe one hundred, people will have set aside the idea of justice altogether as wildly unworkable and just laugh at our time and things people get worked up over.

#5 Comment By delagar On December 28, 2013 @ 3:35 am

Buzz is also factually wrong when he claims that “many” of the ex-slaves recorded by the workers with the FWP say they were happy under slavery.

I teach selections from these narratives frequently, and I often have (white) students make the same claim. That is, they will claim that the ex-slaves have said they were happy as slaves, or that slave times were better.

Show me that in the narrative, I say, and they will point to a line that says something like Our master wasn’t as mean as the other masters; he only beat us when we did wrong. Or I had two dresses when I was young. Or we got fed plenty on the plantation.

They will read right past the children sold away from their parents and the field hands slaughtered for drinking and the rapes and whippings and say, see? She had two dresses and plenty to eat. She was happy!

And yes, in nine or ten out of ten thousand narratives, someone will say they were happy with their old master. But as has been stated above, these are very old black people talking (most) to young white people.

One famous story that goes along with these narratives is of an old woman telling an interviewer that her master ha been good to her. Then her granddaughter interrupted and said, Show him you back, Grandma. Just do it.

Even after all that time, she still had the scars from the whippings she had gotten as a ten year old child.

So no, Buzz. Not so much.

#6 Comment By M_Young On December 28, 2013 @ 3:44 am

“Like it or not, the Western world is becoming less christian, less white and less straight”

Or perhaps those of us who don’t like it will lay the foundations for reversing these trends.

Besides, white people are the West. One only has to look at Detroit, Camden, East London, or the Rio Grande valley to realize that.

#7 Comment By M_Young On December 28, 2013 @ 4:00 am

The real ‘problem’ with Robertson’s recollections is that they don’t accurately reflect the limited scope of his personal experience. The ‘problem’ is that they counteract the dominant narrative which organizes US, and indeed much of Western, society for the time being. That narrative is centered around the cruelty of whites towards blacks, and to a much lesser extend towards other ‘people of color’. To see the hegemony of this narrative, one only has to look at surveys of who high school students think are the most famous Americans (non-presidents). Blacks are far overrepresented, both in terms of proportion to population and in terms of actual accomplishments. So a Sojourner Truth rates above a Frémont, a Lewis and Clark, a MacArthur or Marshall or Pershing. Though it is simply undeniable that those old white dudes contributed incomparably more to our prosperity as a polity that the black woman, however admirable her activities.

So we have this Narrative, and anything that contradicts it is vilified, along with the persons uttering such heresy. But this merely shows its weakness. Truth wouldn’t fear a somewhat clownish redneck opining on race relations in the late segregated south. But a fragile Narrative, one that has had fifty years of evidence accumulating that undermine its fundamental assumptions, must — as one commentator here put it — bring down the maximum social censure on the heretic.

#8 Comment By M_Young On December 28, 2013 @ 4:01 am

“The real ‘problem’ with Robertson’s recollections is that they don’t accurately reflect the limited scope of his personal experience.”

The real ‘problem’ with Robertson’s recollections isn’t that they don’t accurately reflect the limited scope of his personal experience.

#9 Comment By Andrea On December 28, 2013 @ 5:18 am

I think it’s entirely possible that both the good, happy times and the bad times recounted by the freed slaves were true, just like the old man you knew beat one daughter and had changed and repented and was a wonderful father figure to the younger girl. People are complex and contradictory. We do history and our ancestors a disservice by trying to see them as otherwise.

#10 Comment By Elijah On December 28, 2013 @ 6:59 am

I agree with the point of your post, Rod, but the example of Geralsine and Kim is not, in my view, a very good one. Abusive men like their father often try to cover that abuse with other siblings. The father may have seemed like a source of stability to Kim, but I doubt he ever really was, at least when the chips were down or he was facing accusation. Just an observation about these types of men.

#11 Comment By L617 On December 28, 2013 @ 7:45 am

The difference between Phil and Bob is that it sounds like Bob has grown. It sounds like he knows now that his memory is a gauzy reflection based on limited exposure to facts and that, in truth, things for African Americans prior to the 1960’s were probably fairly awful. On the contrary, it sounds to me like Phil is still clinging to the notion that all was OK until those damn libruls and uppity blacks wrecked the country.

#12 Comment By Netzach On December 28, 2013 @ 7:50 am

David T,

“But no, I’m obviously showing my “political correctness” by suggesting such a thing. The Deep South in the 1930′s was a place where black people could speak their minds about past injustices without the slightest fear of retaliation, right?”

Apparently so, considering that plenty of them did precisely that. The archive’s contents don’t seem to fit into any simple narratives, either “Happy Negro” or “The horror! The horror!”.

It’s not surprising in the slightest. Man can be unhappy about his station in life, and bitter about its injustice, yet still find contentment in many things. Obviously people can be treated so badly that enjoying life becomes practically impossible, but Southern plantations weren’t Siberian gulags. Slaves were highly expensive investment, which it would have been idiotic to treat too badly. Some masters were cruel fools, certainly, but others had fairly serious paternalist attitude. Slave’s life was frequently cruel and always hard, but rarely an unrelenting misery.

Of course all this is damning with the faintest of praise, since the whole system was fundamentally wrong. No question of that.

#13 Comment By Mont D. Law On December 28, 2013 @ 8:58 am

(Perhaps so, but at the same time — like it or not — the world as a whole is becoming less Western.)

So what. The parts of the world that watch A&E are pretty much exclusively western, as are the corporations that buy ads on the channel. Those sponsors want customers, not controversy. This time saying the following about gays:

“They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

and suggesting black people:

“Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

was survivable. The next outburst may be too and the one after that. But eventually there will be a bridge to far.

As for the state of the world – what you’re watching is the collapse of the nation-state over a considerable area. I recommend THE COMING ANARCHY by Robert D. Kaplan in the February 1994 Atlantic.


Some of his specifics haven’t panned out, particularly in the application to the west, but his premise is sound.

#14 Comment By JonF On December 28, 2013 @ 10:02 am

Re: It’s becoming less white and less Christian because a a small number of very powerful white people (mostly but not entirely) want it that way.

You can’t blame the less Christian part on the elite. That is due to millions of people ceasing to pay lip service to Christianity and ceasing their church attendance (if they ever went at all). That’s a free choice, even if we think it a bad one. No one is imposing it on anyone from on high.

#15 Comment By OliviaC On December 28, 2013 @ 10:05 am

NY Daily News wondered if the Tweet of a AA ESPN host was a rallying cry to Christians to push back against A$E GLAAD, etc.

I’m not sure AAs are pleased to be inextricably bound to the LGBT population. The discrimination link isn’t a solid one. And I wouldn’t be surprised if his comments on working alongside Black farmhands didn’t endear him just a bit more. And if you’ll notice Phil’s speech patterns, they’re similar to many AAs. He calls his wife Miss Kay, his idiom is their idiom because he shared their economic condition.

It’s hard to know if there is a contemplative maniple in the States. One that M Young thinks possible. If so, it’s likely comprised of more than just Christian, white conservatives. It’s one that consists of people who little by little are coming to conclude that what they share is sizable and what they stand to lose, sizable as well.

#16 Comment By William Dalton On December 28, 2013 @ 10:45 am

“Like it or not, the Western world is becoming less christian, less white and less straight

“Perhaps so, but at the same time — like it or not — the world as a whole is becoming less Western.

“[NFR: Verily. And by saying “less straight,” does the reader mean that more people are becoming gay than would otherwise have been gay? That there recruiting I’ve been hearing so much about must be working. — RD]”

Traditionally, “straight” is a word used to describe something as morally upright and uncompromising. Are we agreed that the Western world is becoming less so?

#17 Comment By William Dalton On December 28, 2013 @ 10:53 am


Promised or not, the manumission of slaves without their repatriation left the Southern states ungovernable without the institution of a race-based caste system. There was no common mindset and understanding binding the bulk of white and black people in America then as there is, barely, today. Both white and black Americans enjoyed more settled lives as a result and were happier for it. As both blacks and whites in the U.S. received a common education and became part of a common culture, the necessity of segregation dissolved. But old prejudices had to be overcome and, in time, were. Laws imposing segregation were rightfully, if clumsily, abolished. The transition, like many a life saving operation, was painful. People remember the incision as being more painful than the disease.

#18 Comment By M_Young On December 28, 2013 @ 11:12 am

“Southern plantations weren’t Siberian gulags.”

And that goes double for the South under segregation. After all, you didn’t see too many Soviet ‘defectors’ sending their kids back to Russia to attend university a la Jeremiah Wright attending a HBCU in segregated Richmond, VA. You didn’t (and don’t) see Cuban-Americans sending their kids ‘back’ to the island for summer vacation, like the family of Emmet Till and countless others sent their offspring ‘back’ to the South.

#19 Comment By Mont D. Law On December 28, 2013 @ 11:31 am

(I’m an optimist. I believe that maybe not fifty years from now but maybe one hundred, people will have set aside the idea of justice altogether as wildly unworkable and just laugh at our time and things people get worked up over.)

These are the truest word written here about the future. And the saddest.

#20 Comment By Mont D. Law On December 28, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

DeepSouthPopulist – M_Young

The myth of Dolchstoßlegende is as dangerous today as it was in interwar Germany. It increases the likely-hood of CC’s future and shortens the time line. Before you wish for something you should examine closely the state of any previous owner.

#21 Comment By Thursday On December 28, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

In 193x? No. See: Gone With The Wind (and several lesser-known “Southerns”) for what people wanted to think, officially, about slavery in that era.

Hoo boy. The Federal Writers Project (who did the slave narrative project) was filled with left wing activists who went out looking for victims to valorize.

(Google is available.)

#22 Comment By Thursday On December 28, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

Southern plantations weren’t Siberian gulags.

This is generally true of cotton plantations, but sugar plantations (including those in Southern Louisiana) were horrific.

(Details, details. Again, both sides, google.)

#23 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 28, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

Like it or not the Western would is becoming less christian, less white and less straight.

Nothing is so transitory as a long-term prediction. Nothing is so unreliable as projecting the trend of a decade or two indefinitely into the future. The future is probably going to be a messy, unsatisfactory, but workable compromise, such as Bobby has described. I don’t even agree with Bobby about the exact contours of the compromise, but its going to be whatever works out, not what I, Bobby, Rod, or anyone else thinks is just the right balance.

(Side note on Bobby’s prediction that we will separate into insular communities… While that is possible, but not necessary for race, there is a separatist component that is almost inevitable for gays, at least partially. In general, a male passing puberty can expect that females would welcome their own tastes in the opposite sex, and vice versa. But a gay male, if there is such a thing, can only assume that most of the other boys would be repulsed by his attentions, and has to seek out that tiny minority that share his orientation. Ditto for females. Of course they can still live next door to a heterosexual couple, work in the same office or factory floor, etc.)

Dalton has a valid point grounded in a historical falsehood and limited by ideological blinders, however sincere. It is true that developing a transition from slavery was botched — largely because few unionists, northern or southern, intended to free the slaves at all. Emancipation was a war-time measure, forced upon the federal government by the rigors of war, and applauded only by a tiny minority of abolitionists. So nobody was prepared to make a well-thought out transition.

If there had been an all-around good-faith agreement that the enslaved population was to have a manageable transition to full citizenship, it might have been perfectly reasonable to encourage them to remain in agricultural labor for wages (as Lincoln advised), combined with an intensive literacy program, and voting rights for those who graduated, along with access to credit to open their own businesses, etc.

But, with a powerful bloc in the south determined to use any excuse (including manipulation of “literacy tests”) to keep resubjugate the African-descended population, no such regulated and gradual transition could be accomplished.

As others have noted, Lincoln did favor voluntary colonization, but people born and raised in the United States had no desire at all to return to Africa. If they had studied the results of American colonization in Liberia, or the British treatment of colonists in Sierra Leone, they were even less interested. They are part of American history, like it or not. Get used to it.

#24 Comment By Bobby On December 28, 2013 @ 1:01 pm


Do you honestly look at yourselves in the mirror? You’re defending a guy who said of gay people:

“They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.”

Do you honestly believe this? And, if you do, don’t you see that this presents something of a problem in a civil society? Don’t you suspect that this may have something to do with the fact that mainstream America generally views conservative Christianity as doing more societal harm than good?

Such statements reflect the views of someone who has little ability to cope in a pluralistic society where Christian mores are no longer given privileged status by the law. You wring your hands over the thought that you may be fired from your jobs or expelled from professional organizations (e.g., bar associations) for holding such views. Can’t you see why it’s not too hard for mainstream Americans to doubt that this is merely about remaining faithful to your private religious convictions, and therefore to draw the parallel between you and Bull Connor.

I respect your constitutional right to say such things. But, mind you, that right is merely a right to speak and not to be punished by the state because of that speech. On the other hand, you seem to want more. You seem to want the culture to privilege those views, despite the lack of objective evidence to lend support to them.

David Blankenhorn was the sole expert for the SSM opponents in Perry v. Brown. On cross, Blankenhorn admitted that he could proffer no admissible evidence to support his expert conclusion that SSM harms society. He admitted that his expert conclusions regarding the alleged harm caused by SSM were based primarily on his personal moral convictions, and not on any objective findings. (Incidentally, in 2012, Blankenhorn changed his moral convictions, and abandoned his moral opposition to SSM.)

We don’t live in a society where the laws punish classes of persons for reasons that have no foundation outside of religious disfavor. Sure, we once believed that homosexuality was harmful. We now know that such views were bunk and that the science that underlay these views was bunk. Unless you’re advocating for a theocracy, I just don’t see why you feel that society should punish a whole class of persons for no other reason than that your church doesn’t like them.

Yes, Phil is entitled to state his beliefs. But there’s no reason why the law should shield him and his ilk from being ridiculed for uttering such stupid things. You have every right to be a fool. But the Constitution doesn’t generally protect you from suffering the consequences of your folly.

Never mind that no fair reading of Romans 1 would ever lead one to arrive at Phil’s paraphrase of the passage, especially if one starts with the Greek. You only get to Phil’s paraphrase by employing hindsight bias.

#25 Comment By LM On December 28, 2013 @ 2:26 pm


No, white people are not “the West.” Russia and the other countries in the Orthodox sphere of influence are filled with “white people” but they certainly aren’t Western, and they would be the first to acknowledge it. Japan is often grouped in as being part of the West, despite coming from Confucian and Buddhist points of reference. One reason why cities like Detroit are failing is because white flight, and eventually the flight of the black middle class – caused the tax base to collapse. I consider myself, a highly educated black woman, to be completely a part of the West, more so than many of my white peers. My family has been in this country before a political entity known as the “United States” even existed. I have relatives who are members of the DAR. The women in my family have been going to college for four generations, and my great-grandmother (the product of a black woman who was raped by a white man after Reconstruction) was a student of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. I myself was the valedictorian of a majority white liberal arts college, and I read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. And yet a bunch of faux-redneck reality TV stars are more deserving of inclusion in the Western world than I am just because their skin is several shades lighter than mine? Sure, whatever. The West was never entirely all white or all Christian, and this didn’t start five or even five hundred years ago.

Also, saying that plantation life or the Jim Crow South wasn’t so bad because Emmett Till was allowed to visit relatives is patently absurd. Movement in and out of the USSR, especially under Stalin, was heavily controlled, and it’s almost impossible for US citizens to travel directly to Cuba. The average American couldn’t go for a casual summer vacation in either of these places even if they wanted to. Till went to Mississippi to visit family, not because he thought it was the ideal place to be a black person in America. There was no freedom of movement for blacks in the antebellum period whatsoever, because they were property. Even free blacks were subject to restrictions that no white person had to endure.

Let’s look at the issue of slavery from a different perspective, perhaps using arguments that might be more appealing to you. Under American chattel slavery, marriages between slaves weren’t considered valid, either by the state or the churches (I include the Catholic and the Protestant churches here). Families were routinely broken up when various members were sold off to other plantations. Slave masters “bred” their slaves like show dogs, thereby encouraging fornication and lax sexual morality. Rape between white slave masters and black women was also very common. This accounts for the wide range in skin colors exhibited by American blacks. So if nothing else, slavery was responsible for a gross devaluation of the family and flagarent violations of the sixth and ninth commandments.

#26 Comment By Aaron Gross On December 28, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

@JonF, are you saying that the historians who wrote that book were committed to a Gone With the Wind picture of slavery? (I haven’t read the history book and I don’t know about the historians who interviewed the slaves.)

#27 Comment By Bobby On December 28, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

I wanted to give a brief follow-up on my comments regarding David Blankenhorn. Contrary to what I said, Blankenhorn still maintains his moral opposition to SSM, although he now believes that the state should permit it. Blankenhorn’s reasons are germane.

Blankenhorn writes:

“I had hoped that the gay marriage debate would be mostly about marriage’s relationship to parenthood. But it hasn’t been…. In the mind of today’s public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus.”

In other words, Blankenhorn believes that SSM causes certain societal harm. But he acknowledges that few–including both SSM proponents and SSM opponents–agree with him. In particular, he came to recognize that his opinions were being relied upon by SSM opponents, who themselves didn’t really oppose SSM for those reasons. Instead, Blankenhorn came to see that the overwhelming amount of opposition to SSM was rooted in animus–intuitive animus, perhaps–toward gay people. And Blankenhorn came to believe that he couldn’t continue to support laws whose primary purpose was to give legal expression to the majority’s feelings of animus toward a vulnerable class of persons.

Mind you, Blankenhorn isn’t some nobody. He was the #1 expert relied upon for years by those who oppose SSM. He was the only expert put forward at trial by SSM opponents in Perry v. Brown. This guy knows the world of SSM opposition inside and out.

At some point, we just have to admit that Phil Robertson, like many Christian traditionalists, just doesn’t like gay people. Period. It’s not an opinion he’s arrived at through reasoned analysis by examining sociological studies. He clearly hasn’t spent a lot of time giving serious consideration to the exegesis of certain passages in Paul’s writings. No. He just knows that he doesn’t like us, for reasons that probably aren’t entirely clear to him.

#28 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 28, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

I agree with LM for the most part, and certainly she is more a part of “the West” than a substantial portion of people who boast of their congenital melanin deficiency, but she overstates her case when she says that rape “accounts for the wide range of skin colors exhibited by American blacks.” It was one significant contribution. What is overlooked, because our culture has taught us it couldn’t have happened, is the widespread mixing of genes among the servant classes prior to 1800 or so, and continuing to some extent up to even 1830 (as did mixed race worship in some areas). This also accounts for the African genes found in people who thought of themselves as “white.”

Perhaps more significant, the tendency in some black sub-cultures to treat women as b’s and ho’s is directly attributable to male attitudes that developed during a period when any such woman could be taken by any “white” man at will, or bred with any “black” man upon order. Not only does this not inspire respect, it convulses all kinds of negative emotions. Once such things become tradition, they are hard to break, like any tradition.

Bobby and I have been finding some common ground lately, so let me see where we stand now. The quote he offers from Robertson, if accurate, is ugly, without factual foundation, slanders an entire demographic collectively, and therefore qualifies as bigotry. I’m not sure that Bobby or any of us have an authoritative grasp on exactly what the boundaries of “mainstream America” are. Until recently, the anti-SSM demographics have conceived of their viewpoints as “mainstream,” which apparently they are not. I’m not sure Bobby speaks for the “mainstream” either. I’m not even sure there is an identifiable “mainstream.” Maybe we’ve become a Mississippi delta culture of rivulets and bayous.

I uphold the right of anyone to call this bigotry, just as I uphold the right of Robertson to say what he said, without being arrested for it. Should he lose his job? If he were just an ordinary Joe working in an office, on a production line, driving a truck? Should he lose his job because his boss thought what he said was ugly? Not necessarily. Maybe if he was insistent on saying it at work to fellow-employees he knew would be offended, thus slowing down production, wasting the time of supervisors, threatening fist fights. But not just because he said it.

That would be even more true for professional associations. A lawyer who spouted such views may be a less effective advocate, may lose clients, but if he can still argue effectively in court and write good briefs, what he says in church, or at a family barbecue, is his own business. Of course clients may well avoid him, and there is no right to the patronage of clients.

David Blankenhorn is a fool. Claiming harm to society from SSM is a weak basis for defending current marriage laws. I simply find it ludicrous to claim that anyone is being discriminated against by laws that do not mention them as a class, do not allude to them as a class, and merely license a human bond that is open to any individual. Its not discrimination just because you want something else, and want to apply the name to a distinctly different game.

Given Rod’s vigorous defense of certain of Robertson’s remarks as being entirely consistent with Paul’s epistles, I do wonder whether the quote Bobby offers could by any stretch be defended as such… or has be now been shown to have gone far beyond what Scripture sustains?

#29 Comment By William Dalton On December 28, 2013 @ 4:49 pm


Here is the text of Romans 1:24-32, taken from the New Revised Standard Version, the translation adopted by the most liberal churches in the 1980’s and 90’s:

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters,[f] insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”

If anything, Phil Robertson’s explication of this text was more considerate of homosexuals that the apostle Paul himself.

Your fallacy is believing that by lumping homosexuals with those guilty of “murder, envy, strife, hatred”, Christians are expressing their hatred for gay people. On the contrary, Christians believe in forgiveness for murderers, haters, the covetous and the belligerent, as much as for those in engage in sexual perversity of any variety. We don’t believe in hating anyone.

If you don’t believe sodomy is a sin, a perversion of God’s gift to Man of the human body and human sexuality, then you may judge the Christian view to be condescending towards homosexuals. But you can’t say it is hateful.

#30 Comment By Forester On December 28, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

“You can tell a lot about who has the power in a particular culture by what you are not allowed to talk about without drawing harsh censure.”

I don’t get this. If a white person uses the N-word it will draw harsh censure. Does this mean that African-Americans have the power in American culture? I don’t think so.

#31 Comment By M_Young On December 28, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

“. Sure, we once believed that homosexuality was harmful. We now know that such views were bunk and that the science that underlay these views was bunk”


#32 Comment By M_Young On December 28, 2013 @ 7:04 pm

LM because Western society can absorb a few individuals — a talented tenth, to coin a phrase — doesn’t change that fact that it is in essence the product of white people and that absent a significant number of white people, it disappears.

As for the ‘Jim Crow’ south, the very fact that it didn’t have entry or exit controls (unlike the Soviet Union) and yet millions of black people remained there should tell you something.

#33 Comment By Tyro On December 28, 2013 @ 10:31 pm

Promised or not, the manumission of slaves without their repatriation left the Southern states ungovernable without the institution of a race-based caste system. There was no common mindset and understanding binding the bulk of white and black people in America then as there is, barely, today.

Not true! Reconstruction and majority-rule was eminently workable. What happened was that in cases where it worked, segregationists [3].

The racial-based caste system was maintained by forced and black autonomy and self-determination was destroyed in any instances where it grew up via lynchings or other forms of violent destruction arising from the barbaric culture of hate against others inculcated within the white community since the time of colonial settlement.

I might add, also, that cotton plantations in MS in AL were designed explicitly on the Caribbean sugar-plantation model, so their entire slave system was much, much worse than what existed in, say, Virginia and Maryland.

The essential problem is that Robertson was raised in a culture where he was taught and trained not to concern himself with the sufferings of others. He said it himself that he is unconcerned with the condition of the poor and relieving poverty because he thinks it makes blacks much less happier and causes them to complain a lot more than they did under the apartheid police-state of segregation.

#34 Comment By Bobby On December 29, 2013 @ 2:25 am

@William Dalton

I don’t get your point. The passage you quoted is referring to degrading sexual acts that were a part pagan religious rites. Thus, Paul is referring to idolaters, not to gay people. No unbiased reading of the passage would ever lead one to arrive at Robertson’s paraphrase of it. Robertson gets there because his exegesis is tainted by anti-gay animus.

In fact, most of the Bible’s condemnations of same-gender sex relate to the role of those acts in pagan religious rites. Unless gay people are participating in pagan religious rites, I see no reason why such condemnations should apply to them. It should probably still give us some pause that these acts are nevertheless referred to as unnatural and are depicted in a negative light. But that doesn’t mean that the passages are about gay people. Romans 1 and other like passages are clearly referring to idolaters. Contrary to what Robertson suggests, they do not refer to gay people.

#35 Comment By LM On December 29, 2013 @ 10:42 am


The idea of a monolithic “white people” only exists in the US, where such a term is needed as a juxtaposition to “black people.” Until the end of World War II, “white people” was a technical term that referred specifically to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Catholics and Jews were alien “others” who were certainly not viewed as co-builders in the project known as Western civilization. As the problems in the EU illustrate, when the specter of black people is eliminated, the idea of a unified, European, “white” culture crumbles. The Germans certainly don’t think they have much in common with the Greeks (and vice versa) and many of the richer Western countries resent the citizens from the poorer East coming into their nations. Furthermore, the pseudo-scientific racial theory that gave the world the idea of the Nordic “Aryan” also sub-divided Europeans into four other “lesser” races, the Mediterranean, the Dinaric, the Alpine, and the East Baltic. Not every European country contributed equally to “Western civilization.” The average “Introduction to Western History” course is usually about England, France, and the Germanic states, and a survey of “Great Books” shows this emphasis. To say that Western civilization was built on white people ignores the diversity of Europe, which has always included Jews and Muslims, and sundry others that can’t be described by a simple black-white dichotomy.

You say the South wasn’t so bad because blacks continued to live their under Jim Crow, but where were they supposed to go? That’s like saying that Nazi Germany wasn’t so bad because most of the Jews didn’t leave. During the Jim Crow era, most blacks were poor agricultural workers or domestics. They couldn’t just get up a leave even if they wanted to. Were they supposed to go to Europe? James Baldwin wrote an essay describing how people would stare at him in Switzerland during his period of exile. I don’t think the situation is much better today. Africa? An article from the NYT several years ago noted that black ex-pats going to Africa were viewed as white people with tans, not as lost brothers and sisters as they expected.

@Siarlys Jenkins:

The Africans that came to the US during the slave trade came from specific regions of West Africa, none of which include naturally light-skinned people like the Khoisan or the San, both of whom live in southern Africa. When you condemn an entire group of people to non-person status, those people can be used and abused by their “owners” in any way they want, including sexually. Situations like those of Essie Mae Washington, the bi-racial daughter of Strom Thurmond are more common than many white people want to admit. My grandfather knew who his white cousins were and they knew who he was. They interacted when they were younger, but as they grew up, they were prevented from having normal family relations by the dictates of the Jim Crow South.

#36 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 29, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

Thanks Tyro. I might add that in the post-Reconstruction era, anyone with dark skin who had built a business, owned a buggy, even owned a prosperous farm, was literally mobbed, ordered to get rid of it, or ordered to close their business and report for manual labor. There was a very deliberate effort to shut down every evidence of black ability to become upwardly mobile participants in general society, so that M_Young could argue that these are manifestations of whiteness, because most black people obviously aren’t capable of it.

The notion that Western civilization “is in essence the product of white people,” shows a profound ignorance of the history of Western civilization. People who might pass for “white” only inherited the elements of “Western civilization” after the fall of the Roman Empire. Romans are most accurately portrayed by actors like Denzel Washington, not by British Anglo-Saxon thespians. Most of the ancient Greeks would have been refused service at any southern restaurant or hotel. Modern Greeks have a good deal of admixture from Slavic tribes, but even so, there are stories from the Jim Crow south that “the Greek who owns the grocery store is darker than me, but people call him white.” The farther back you go, the darker the roots of “Western civilization” get. At the time of the Exodus “kushi” could mean either an Ethiopian woman or a beautiful woman, which gives some sense of Jewish sensibilities at the time.

LM, I hate to tell anyone I agree with 95 percent that you have set up a straw man, but you have.

I didn’t say a word about the lighter-skinned peoples of the African continent. I’m aware they exist, in fact, there is a greater diversity of skin color among the native populations of Africa than any other continent — which only makes sense since that is where we all derived from. But what I said was that the servant classes in colonial America mixed on a large scale, which is probably as significant a contribution to the varying shades found among Americans of African descent as the widespread incidence of rape.

In case this wasn’t clear, I was not referring to servants of west African descent and servants of Khoisan or San descent. I was referring to servants of west African descent and servants of European descent. (There is some amusing rationalization by the openly racist J.C. Ballagh, writing at the turn of the 20th century… he found uncontrovertible documentary evidence of voluntary cross-racial liasions. With evident shock and horror, he overlaid that with commentary that the Anglo-Saxon woman involved were of “the coarsest class” who had “not yet learned” how awful it was to mate with an African. The cold facts remain: it happened all the time, because Ballagh’s peculiar prejudices were not natural, and not yet well established.

There are people who make a big deal of distinguishing servants from slaves. Some modern people who identify as “black” think to refer to a slave as a servant is a cover-up. In the 19th century, that would be appropriate. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the terms were often used interchangeably. What we now call “slave” was often referenced as “servant for life.” And a female indentured servant from Europe, particularly one sentenced for a crime to transportation and sale, was quite as vulnerable to rape as one from Africa, albeit she was sold “for a term of years,” not “for life.” In the 17th century, she’d be lucky to outlive her indenture.

In addition, there are many instance of voluntary inter-racial union between FREE people — albeit not always registered as marriage — and the “white” and “black” branches of THOSE families ALSO know who their cousins are. As you describe, the “white” branches often deny or ignore the family ties. Check out a book called My Confederate Kinfolk published in 2006 by a woman of African descent who found quite a lot of diversity in her family tree — again, stemming from a voluntary union since the Civil War.

#37 Comment By The Wet One On December 30, 2013 @ 6:40 pm


This is the first time I’ve seen you post here. What’s it like being “a highly educated black woman, to be completely a part of the West, more so than many of my white peers,” and reading M_Young at our host’s blog?

For my part, I don’t encounter the M_Young’s of the world in my country practically at all, though I know they’re out there. I’ve never really encountered them anywhere else but here.

My ancestors are from the U.S. South and some remain. Most fortunately for me (in my no at all humble opinion and probably for M_Young too), my great grand parents decided to leave the U.S. a century ago to a rather more decent and humane land north of the 49. I’m ever grateful for their fortuitous decision.

#38 Comment By Jesse Ewiak On December 30, 2013 @ 9:57 pm

@The Wet One –

Like libertarians, “race realists” only exists in any supposedly large numbers on the Internet. The number of people under 50, let alone even over 50, you can find that think the immigration of Hispanic’s, Asian’s, and so on has been a determent in society, or even that segregation was a bad plan, are very small.

But they find places, like here and Steve Sailer’s website where they can congregate and throw out theories, like it’s immigrations fault the working class has been cut under by corporations in the past thirty years, and not say, massively pro-corporation policies in both nations.

After all, as I’ve said on this site before, it’s far more likely a new union member today is a nurse, possibly of Hispanic or Asian descent than a blue collar white worker.

#39 Pingback By Seeing In Black and White – Chad Comello On February 2, 2016 @ 8:59 pm

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