Friday, March 17, 2006

The Birth of a Nation

Although New Orleans has been trying to use Mardi Gras as a tool for 'recovery', the truth is: this city won't ever be the same. Hurricane Katrina completely ravaged the city. But equally as significant is the fact that Katrina exposed this country's patterns of racism, poverty, and neglect.

Understandably, most commentators have focused on the woeful response from the federal government of today; as they very well should. Others, however, have used this sad situation as a way to awaken this country from the historical coma that its been in. It is time for us to come to terms with how our government has historically neglected the needs of the poor and marginalized, while supporting agendas that led to the creation and sustaining of two completely different Americas.

As history reminds us, it was during the presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman that great progressive policies like Social Security, protective labor laws and the GI Bill were adopted. But with these initiatives came a pretty subtle and destructive movement: the creation of "Affirmative Action for White People." It's not a movement that you'll ever read about in history books, but it's something that plays a significant role in outlining the states of Black and White America today.

Although the late 1930s/early 1940s virtually spelled the end of Jim Crowism, Congress was still largely controlled by southern lawmakers. Under southern-controlled legislation, policies that dealt with welfare, working relations, and war either excluded the vast majority of African Americans or treated them differently from other groups (particularly whites). Between 1945 and 1955, the federal government dedicated more than $100 billion in support of retirement programs, job skills development, educational opportunities, homeownership and small-business formation. Together, these programs dramatically reshaped the country's economic and social framework by creating a modern, well-schooled, home-owning white middle class. At no other time in American history had so many resouces been devoted to a current generation for completing its education, entering the workforce and forming families.

Unfortuntely, however, the black generation was left out of this governmental support effort. Southern members of Congress, who relied on the use of occupational exclusions, took advantage of the concept of American federalism to ensure that national policies would not disturb their region's racial order. In simple terms, they wanted to make sure that racist institutions of segregation and disparity were allowed to survive in their areas of the country. This is unsettling history, especially for those of us who keenly admire the New Deal and the Fair Deal (if you don't know about these initiatives, I would strongly recommend that you look into them).

What's disturbing is that while many public policies were providing priviledged white Americans with valuable tools (in the form of good jobs, economic stability, educational opportunities, middle-class status, security blankets for their old age, etc.), black Americans were left to fend for themselves, battling against an oppressive, exclusive, and destructive system.

When you think about the hurricane relief provided to predominately white Floridians a few years ago versus the hurricane relief of predominately black Gulf Coasters today. What does that tell you?

I strongly recommend "When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America" by Ira Katznelson. It's a very interesting read.

But, be prepare to be unnerved...


9 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

rhoda said...

Hello Andre,

I haven't stopped by your blog in a while, so I'll have to play a little catch up.

But, I did read this post. It's really disturbing. I guess it goes to show how the 'progress' we've made really isn't all that significant.

jules said...

Good point.

As a pretty liberal white woman, it really bugs me when people say that Affirmative Action is "reverse discrimination"; especially when the biggest beneficaries to it are single white women. The information you shared in your blog only proves it more.

The government has also been for White America!

Andre said...

@ rhoda: Welcome back! I used to really enjoy your comments! Don't be a stranger!

You're right. There is something to be said about the government used its positioning and resources to slow down the progress that should have been on the up-and-up after the Reconstruction movement. It really bothers me that the effects of federal racism still exist today.

@ jules: Wow! I want to thank you on so many fronts. One, thanks for your comments. Secondly, thanks for recognizing the priviledge that comes with being white in America. You'd be suprised at how often whites can become blind and deaf to the plight of minorities while they live the "life". You are truly on the right path to enlightenment.

Thanks for blessing me with your posts!

kc said...

I would suggest that, given the history of the last 450 years, we not be surprised. As a result, I question the relevance of pointing out (The author, not you)that which is painfully obvious.

In the south, during the 40's and 50's, the government monies were generally not used for the benefit of black people. *shocking*

We must stop being shocked that we didn't / don't get a fair shake. It is immaterial. What are we going to do to the benefit of us? That is the only question the author didn't answer.

Andre said...

I think the whole premise of the author’s argument is to show white people how they have benefited from affirmative action and yet they are against the same type of fairness for blacks. If whites have benefited directly from the enslavement of blacks because they have inherited wealth, I don't see how it is immaterial that they are reminded why they are so prosperous now.

Anonymous said...

I’m sorry, but I have to ask: Why do blacks still make such a huge deal about racism? I mean real racism was eliminated years ago! I don’t see “whites/colored” signs anywhere. The Ku Klux Klan is a thing of the past. You have blacks earning millions of dollars in entertainment. They’re going to college. They’re voting. Progress has been made.

I think that blacks use racism as an excuse. They need something to say to try and make people feel like they owe them something. My family never owned slaves. Over 60% of families from that time did not own slaves. The only one to own slaves was rich and most of those families are still rich today.

You don’t see Jewish people pissed off at Germans, do you?

Andre said...

@ anonymous:'re not serious, are you?!

Even though slavery in America has technically been over since 1865 with the 13th amendment (though it was more self serving for the Union during the Civil War), its oppressive ripples continue to effect Blacks today. From the Three-Fifths compromise, to the Fugitive Slave act, to "Black Codes," (specific legislation designed to keep blacks bound to their former masters, while not calling it 'slavery') to Jim Crowism, this country embraced slavery and racial persecution all throughout its history. I mean, please try and deny that laws weren't put in place to ensure that Blacks were reduced to second-class citizens. I dare you to...

I'm sorry, but there's no way that you can quantify the devastating impact that slavery has had on blacks, as a collective group, without taking into account the damage done to African-Americans by the continued existence of racism today. This unbroken chain of legal discrimination (which didn't end until the 1960s, when a series of laws passed by Congress outlawed most forms of de jure racial bias) has touched the lives of most of this nation's current generation of African-Americans.

Just because American slave owners are dead doesn't mean that the progress that Whites have experienced because of slavery is.

Not only that, let's consider the fact that slavery is arguably the single-biggest contribution to the wealth of this nation. I'm not just talking about black slavery here. Asian, Hispanic, and even European slavery has contributed to what this country is today. It's no secret that the federal government made special provisions for many families and companies to reap substantial financial benefits from the misery heaped upon slaves and, especially, the generations of dispossessed African-Americans that the Jim Crow period produced.

Some businesses and media outlets which are still around today profit from resources gathered as a result of slavery. There are still documented cases where some people's family wealth is traced back to the enslavement of millions of Africans; families who are well off today because of this connection. It's no secret that a significant portion of ill-gotten gains have been used to capitalize businesses, endow universities, or support systematic initiatives.

Yes. Blacks need to have a more progressive outlook. Yes. They need to fight to rise about years of oppression, racism, and degradation. Yes. They need to 'move on'. But don't you DARE presume that just because blacks aren't picking cotton anymore or bathroom's don't say "White Only" that racism and discrimination are a thing of the past. As long as SOMEONE in this country benefits from the misdeeds of the past, there will always be something to (as you so eloquently put it) "make a huge deal" about.

By the way, please don't compare a few years of Holocaust to over 400 years of slavery. It's insulting...

Anonymous said...

Your rationalizations make me sick. Dont YOU dare undermine the Holocaust just because it did not happen in America. Jews were enslaved too in case you didnt know. Not for hundreds, but thousands of years! Then in the 1900s when you thought you were safe millions were rounded up and killed. Sue slavery was wrong, but at least we were not rounding up blacks by the hunderds and puttin them in gas chambers. No one in this generation knows what its like to be enslaved so stop acting like the world today owes you something.

Andre said...

"Dont YOU dare undermine the Holocaust just because it did not happen in America."

I can do exactly that because we're talking about how THIS country was established. If you want to talk about world history, fine. That's another ball of wax. Contextualize things all you want. But I'm talking about how this American machine was established and to whom it owes its existence. So, in that light, the minority groups upon whom this nation was founded should be honored. And, no, Black History month doesn't count.