Saturday, March 16, 2013

Frederick Douglass, Republicans, CPAC & Are Republicans Racists?

When it comes to racial issues, nobody steps into it more than Republicans.  At the 2013 CPAC confab, there was a panel hosted by the Frederick Douglass Republicans.  Apparently, the discussion turned ugly.

Racism Talk At CPAC Derailed When Attendee Says Slaves Should Have Been Grateful
A panel hosted by “Frederick Douglass Republicans” at CPAC was supposed to be about how Republicans can overcome their issues with race and tolerance spun out of control when an attendee suggested that Douglas should have been grateful to his slave owners “for giving him shelter and food.” Prior to this, another person at the discussion expressed frustration with what he termed the disenfranchisement of “young southern white males.”

During the breakout session called Trump The Race Card: Are You Sick And Tired Of Being Called A Racist When You Know You’re Not One?” which was led by K. Carl Smith, a black conservative activist that committed to the movement full time in 2009, a young man from North Carolina, Scott Terry, asked him about the problems facing white people and segregation.

“It seems to be that you’re reaching out to voters at the expense of young white Southern males,” said Terry, who told the crowd that he had come “to love my people and culture.”

Smith told him that after Douglass became a freeman he wrote a letter to his slavemaster and forgave him.

“For giving him shelter? And food?” Terry muttered, promoting gasping shocks from the crowd.

Terry was accompanied by a man with a Confederate flag, Matthew Heimbach.
I do believe that most Republicans in the shocked crowd were gasping in horror at the sight of a southerner hauling a Confederate flag into the Frederick Douglass Republican CPAC panel and suggesting that African Americans should be grateful to their slavemasters for giving them food and shelter.

As a Libertarian, I quite voting Republican in 2006 because after spending a few years hanging out with Republicans to try and understand these peculiar creatures, I came to despise them as hateful and loathsome for their love of war, their social intolerance and the revolting Evangelical fanaticism that craves theocracy.  While I can think of many more reasons why I think Republicans are vile, racism isn't among them.  Republicans proudly boast that they are the party of Lincoln and by extension proclaim the GOP anti-racist.  Moreover, the Republican Party has been trying to recruit and romance African Americans and other minorities into its fold by marketing the GOP as the party of family values.

Still, it can't be dismissed that the deep south is a solidly reliable Republican stronghold and that racial issues still stir the imaginations of the South.  As a Yankee, I find the south perplexing and a complex duality which is precisely why I enjoy reading about the South.  A Southerner once told me "you love the blacks as a race but hate them as individuals but in the south we hate the blacks as a race but love them as individuals."  Effectively, I was accused of being just another Yankee fraud shamelessly advocating for civil rights which, of course, conflicted with Southern culture.

In The Road To Disunion, Secessionists at Bay 1776-1854 by William W. Freehling, I did manage to get a horrifying glimpse into American slavery and the South.  Here's what Freehling wrote about Frederick Douglass:
In the mid 1830's, Frederick Douglass, then in his early twenties, successfully ran away from slavery in Baltimore.  He soon became the most famous northern black abolitionist.  Douglass's Life and Times, one of the great American autobiographies, ranked with Theodore Dwight Weld's American Slavery as It Is and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin as widely disseminated volumes having incalculable impact on northern public opinion.....
Frederick Douglass was born the wrong half white.  From his mother, a black slave, the Marylander inherited thralldom.  From his father, an unknown white and perhaps a slaveholder, the future runaway received the contempt of of a patriarch running away from responsibility for a child enslaved.  Douglass despised his anti-father father, worshipped his caring mother, and adored his mother's mother who tenderly raised him.
Such attitudes wold seem to encourage finding black beautiful and white loathsome.  But Douglass disliked much of slaves' cultural blackness.  He had no use for conjuring or voodoo or any other traces of African "primitiveness"...He carefully scrubbed his voice of slave dialect....
This transparent excuse for his own efforts to whiten himself showed Douglass's uneasiness about black styles.  He was less uneasy about his dislike for some slaves' "black-assed' behavior - fawning, cringing, eyes downcast, worshipful of whites as some superior beings.  He "quite lost his patience" upon finding "a colored man weak enough to believe" in submission.  He found plantation slaves "in point of ignorance and indolence" and "stupid indifference" to be sinking with the worn-out soil into "general dilapitation.".
In contrast, Douglass shared enslavers' vision of te ideal personality type:  independent, fearless, egalitarian, individualistic, the reverse of everything servile....
Douglass looked like a man trapped between races....
As a child, Douglass fit in nowhere, in no family, black or white, after being torn from his enslaved grandmother at the age of six.  The tearing was itself a comment on the Domestic Institution. Douglass's grandmother had been assigned to raise him while his mother labored in the far-off fields....Then one day at Massa's command, grandmother and grandson tramped many miles to the home plantation.  Douglass knew not why they had been summoned.  The grandmother lovingly carried the weary lad part of the way.....
They arrived.  Frederick could not understand why "grandmamma" looked so "sad".  Grandmamma pointed out to Frederick two sisters and a brother.  "Brothers and sisters we were by blood, but slavery had made us strangers.".  Grandmamma, "affectionately patted me on the head," to go out and play...
The lad, sensing something, reluctantly went.
Frederick never saw is grandmamma again.  He was forced to live with a cruel black lady with her own children.  She fed her own children well but starved Frederick to the point where he had to steal food.  His birth mother visited him, brought him a ginger cake and her "strong protecting arms" showered him with "deep and tender pity". Douglass later wrote "as I had never learned before, that I was not only a child, but somebody's child.  I was grander upon my mother's knee than a king upon his throne.".

Frederick never saw his mother again.  That's how it was for black families living in slavery.  Yet to this day there are folks who defend the institution of human slavery as humane, just, moral, compassionate and caring.

Remember Bat Shit Crazy Michelle Bachmann who sought the Republican nomination for president?  Bachmann's website had a reading list that included the book Robert E. Lee by J. Steven. Wilkins.  An excerpt from the book, documented here.
Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith.
Christianity defending the institution of slavery is nothing new, although it is also true that many abolitionists were Christian.  So why did Bachmann praise a book that praised slavery?  Bachmann went even further.  She signed a petition of a Christian organization and the petition included these words when Bachmann signed it.
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.
It's a gosh darn shame that Christian groups and Bachmann never really bothered to read the true history of American slavery and its impact on black families.  Rather than seek the bitter and horrifying truth, it's much easier for pro-family Christian groups and whack jobs like Bachmann to defend the institution of slavery because in their opinion, it was Christian!  Based on the flawed assumption that slavery was good precisely because it was Christian is revisionist history at its worst.  Defending slavery as pro-family is actually a theological defense of slavery.

Freehling also discusses the rise of black churches led by black pastors during the slavery era.  The black churches were forbidden and these folks met in secret because if they were caught, and they were caught, they were severely punished.  What kind of black Christians did white Christians want?  Freehling writes:
Whites tended to see any Afro-American religion as un-American.  Whites' favorite black religion was blacks worshipping under a white who preached Christian obedience.  Slaves caught cheering while black preachers thundered about freedom could be lashed.  Bondsmen caught participating in African celebrations could be lynched.

The resulting black religion had a secretive aspect.  To worship, forbidden black style, blacks sometimes had to steal away in the dark night, bound for places called, revealingly "Hush Harbors.".   Folks then huddled around a black iron kettle turned upside down.  Supplicants prayed into the vessel, beseeching the kettle to hush the sound.
Slave preachers seldom wholly depended on such crude silencing devices.  Whites, blacks knew, might eventually hear.  Illegitimate messages had to have the sound of legitimate servility.  That need, like much else in slaves' condition, yielded an Old Testament-inspired, Moses-oriented theology.  White preachers to slaves emphasized St. Paul's injunction that "servants obey in all things your Masters.".  Slave ministers preferred the Book of Exodus, especially tales of the Red Sea opening to allow Hebrew slaves to escape.  Slave sermons dwelled on pitiful David slaying pretentious Goliath, on ridiculed Noah sailing from his scoffers, above all on mighty Moses freeing his people.
"Moses" complained a white Christ-worshipper, "is their ideal of all that is high, and noble, and perfect in a man.". Christ became not so much "a spiritual Deliverer" as a "second Moses, who would eventually lead them out of bondage.".  Slaves tended to sing not of Jesus the meek but of Jesus as warrior: "Ride on King Jesus, No man can hinder thee."
Spirituals carried slaves back to theire favorite river, "Roll, Jordan, roll" they chanted.  "Roll, Jordan, roll...O my soul a rise in Heaven, Lord, For to hear when Jordan roll".  The black "Looked over Jordan and what did I see,"
                                  Comin' for to carry me home....
The life of Frederick Douglass as a slave was a miserable and dehumanizing life.  Because slaves were not considered human beings but merely property, they were frequently relocated, leased out and/or sold.  Freehling tells the story of when Frederick was assigned to Edward Covey.
Covey was a slave breaker of the Easterrn Shore.  Lease the man your slave, went the understand, and you will receive back a modest rent payment and a slave immodestly more docile.  Covey's tactic was to order slaves to labor, then ostensibly to leave.  He often hid nearby, behind stumps or in high grass or under the bushes.  If he spied the slightest let up in hard work, he would leap out of hiding and lay into the slave.  He whipped Frederick Douglass every week for six months.  The regime....was remorseless.....
One hot humid, day, Douglass became dizzy.  He lay down.  Edward Covery booted Douglass in the side.  That not sufficing to rouse the slave, Covey smashed a hickory slab into Douglass's face.
The bleeding slave picked himself up and fled.  He ran not towards freedom but to report Massa's damaged property to master.  Douglass's owner, t first disconcerted by the damage, ultimately felt compelled to side with the damager.  He ordered Douglass back to Covey.....
A fight between Covey and Douglass ensued.  The powerful slave bloodied the brutalizer.  Covey finally retreated.....No further assaults transpired.  The slave had stepped an inch toward freedom.
Frederick Douglass the man was born and Frederick Douglass the slave was dying.  It was a long journey but that is how folks claim their liberty - they refuse to comply, to submit and to be enslaved.

The story of Frederick Douglass is an epic, historical and inspiring story of courage for all of us.

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