Hold the Confetti

(Blue text edited in original for space.)

When democracy dies on Joe Biden’s watch we will have “moderation” to thank.

The consensus of late among editorialists and the talking heads of cable TV has been that the “centrism [that] got [Joe Biden] into the White House can keep him there.” According to the Washington Post’s Max Boot,“Biden is probably on the right path by trying to work with Republicans where he can, ducking the culture wars and keeping his language mild.”

Make no mistake. It would be naive to think that “culture wars” in this context does not include the issue of systemic racism over which Republicans have lost their collective minds and of which Jim Crow 2.0 is a clear example. 

Congress is struggling to halt and reverse the erosion of voting rights but the prospects for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (which seeks to repair the Voting Rights Act) and the For the People Act (to expand voting rights) are not good. 

Today’s attacks from the right on voting rights are cloaked in the camouflage of the Big Lie and rest on a counter-narrative of White victimization. What is noteworthy and alarming is the extent to which this propaganda has gained traction among the general public. It needs to be rebutted wherever it appears.

George Stafford’s Eyes Left columns are one such example.

“Critical Race Theory: Strike 3” (July 15, 2021), is an ambitious bit of “white’splainin’” for readers who don’t know much about American history and don’t follow current events that closely. 

The premise of the argument is that a presumably shared goal of racial harmony has been undetermined by three ideas: defunding the police, reparations and critical race theory.

Defunding the police.

Curiously, for an argument ostensibly coming from the left, defunding the police and the antifa fiction were red herrings employed by Republicans in the summer following the murder of George Floyd to distract the public from a massive coast-to-coast failure in policing. “From New York to Chicago to Dallas,” the New York Times reported in March, “investigations…found that police departments nationwide botched their handling of the protests.”

Internal documents from LAPD, the NYPD and other departments documented pervasive and significant departures from protocol. Reallocating police resources away from equipment and toward training and enhanced mental health resources is an example of defunding the police.

It was never a panacea for the full range of troubles inflicted upon the Black community by the police. While it might, for example, have saved the lives of the harmless eccentric Elijah McClain in Colorado or Daniel Prude, the Rochester resident in mental distress who was restrained and killed following a 911 call for assistance by his family, it would not have protected Walter Scott or Jacob Blake both of whom were shot in the back. It has never meant—as Stafford asserts—the abolition of police departments. “Clearly eliminating the police could never happen.” Clearly no one has made that case.


Stafford’s “Are reparations deserved?” (April 15, 2021) comes to the conclusion that, yes, reparations for American slavery are deserved but seeking them would antagonize White people. 

Space prohibits a correction of his numerous historical errors and the faulty inferences he draws from them but several need to be called out:

  • the “one drop” rule for determining who or who wasn’t African-American was not a “Confederate scale” but rather a shifting standard employed primarily by state legislatures in the 20th century. Things were easier in the Confederacy. Act XII of the Virginia General Assembly overturned English common law in 1662 to hold that the offspring of enslaved Black women were slaves at birth, thereby enabling White rapists to eat their cake and have it too.
  • “the descendants of those who fought and died to end slavery” is an exculpatory category to excuse White taxpayers from having to pay for reparations based on the myth that Union troops categorically fought to end slavery. In point of fact, ending slavery was eventually spun as a military necessity but was never a war aim. The Great Emancipator pushed colonization until the 11th hour. Perhaps more illustrative of the popular mood at the time were the Civil War Draft riots of 1863 in which 5,000 Black citizens fled New York City in the face of White mobs. Hundreds of Black children, women and men were brutally killed and the Black orphanage on Fifth Ave near 43rd St. was burned to the ground.
  • “Jim Crow slavery” was mentioned twice in the column as a cautionary note against reparations. There was no such thing. That “punishing the South” (the core belief of Lost Cause mythology and the heart of post-(Civil)-war White supremacy) caused Jim Crow is a post hoc logical fallacy. “Jim Crow” restrictions on the behavior of Black people were in effect from as far back as the 17th century. Reconstruction preceded but no more caused Jim Crow than the rooster’s crow causes the sun to rise.
  • Throwing in Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes to suggest that things were bad all over (“life is nasty, brutish and short”), not just for enslaved Africans, does not lend any weight to the argument against reparations. The founders actually drew their inspiration for the Declaration of Independence from John Locke, a different Enlightenment philosopher who made the natural rights argument that each person owns his own body and is entitled to “life, liberty and property,” the proper balance among which they admittedly had difficulty determining.

To make the point that reparations unfairly targets White immigrants he strings together, presumably for comic effect, a dozen non-African points of origin. Don’t those who immigrated from Africa and the Caribbean between 1865 and the 21st century also count as immigrants? What about American taxpayers born after WWII who were nevertheless responsible for the reparations paid in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 to Japanese-Americans interned in American concentration camps during WWII?

White taxpayers, according to Stafford, should not have to kick in for a big ol’ bag of loot to be divvied up by Black people who may or may not have descended from the enslaved. (“Do we all take DNA tests and split up the pot?” he asks.)Aren’t Black people taxpayers too?

The reparations issue is not without difficulties. Anyone who has attempted to reconstruct a family history knows how quickly the trail goes cold. How much more difficult to identify individuals in a system in which human beings were bought and sold like used auto parts and traded like baseball cards for two and a half centuries? 

And what is to be done with the findings? The Jesuits at Georgetown University launched a $100 million foundation to address its sale of 272 children, women and men in 1838 to save itself from bankruptcy. Even that plan has met with objections from the descendants of the enslaved.

The complexity of the issue does not make slavery a victimless crime, which is why H.R. 40 proposes a commission to study the reparations issue.

Critical race theory.

Stafford does not understand critical race theory, the third of the “perverse and dangerous” ideas against which he warns his readers. “I’m sure that CRT has plenty of good points and questions,” he assures his readers, without citing examples of either. Which is it? Perverse and dangerous or does it have plenty of good points and questions?

It does not, as he sarcastically suggests, “spell out in detail all the evils forced upon innocent African-Americans by American whites.” One fails to find humor in a history of enslavement and victimization rooted in kidnapping and maintained by torture and terror. (See Caste pp. 151-58 “Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control.”)

Added to these tortured arguments is a potshot Stafford takes at the Pulitzer Award-winning 1619 Project which he lumps in with CRT. “Saying the American Revolution was a ploy (sic) to preserve slavery is incorrect history.”

The introductory essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones does not reduce the Revolution to one issue but does point out that Jefferson’s anti-slavery language was stricken from the final draft of the Declaration (true), and that the Constitution preserved slavery for twenty years (also true).

Stafford regards these facts as “simply reverse versions of Trumpism,”  a jaw-dropping example of the false equivalencies upon which the new narrative relies.

To this he adds the peculiar point that “improving Black lives must also improve White lives.”

Isabel Wilkerson argues that it does. 

“It turns out that everyone benefits when society meets the needs of the disadvantaged,” she says. The sacrifices of the subordinate (Black) caste during the civil rights era, for instance benefitted women of all ethnicities—the wives, daughters, sisters, and nieces of every American man—who now have legal protections against job discrimination that they did not have before the 1960s.”

“Many of the advancements that Americans enjoy and that are under assault in our current day,” she goes on to say, ”birthright citizenship, equal protection under the law [and] the right to vote—are all the byproducts of the subordinate caste’s fight for justice in this country and ended up helping others as much if not more than themselves.”

For the record: “the source of black hatred” as Stafford puts it, may or may not be “the evil lurking in the hearts of White people.” No one cares. It is not now nor has it ever been a public policy issue. One imagines Black people would settle for the equal protection of the law— having their votes counted fairly and not being killed by the police at two and a half times the rate of Whites.

Here’s the thing— the opponents to voting and other civil rights in the sixties were wolves in wolves’ clothing. Their attacks on communists and outside agitators notwithstanding, they were clearly seen as the racist demagogues they were.

The takeaway from Martin Luther King’s classic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was that White moderates had no skin in the race game and had a heck of a nerve dictating to Black people the terms, pace, means and scope of Black liberation.

Today’s foes look different and sound different. They are more sophisticated but the threat they pose to the Republic is, if anything, more serious.

The right to vote is the fundamental American right that makes all others possible. It is too important to be allowed to disappear in a puff of blue smoke.

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