Posts from May 2002

It’s Time to Stop Blaming the South: elitist ‘progressives,’ the South, and the struggle for social justice

So I was minding my own business, publicizing this year’s Southern Girls Convention in various forums for progressive and radical politics, when someone decided it was heigh time to weigh in with a diatribe against everyone and everything south of the Mason-Dixon line. I quote, at length; names have been omitted to protect the guilty:

Sorry Folks

I can’t be a part of this.

The horrible, atrocious activities and acts of the people from the American South is beyond reconcilliation and as far as I’m concerned…unforgiveable.

I wouldn’t stoop down to urinate on anyone over the age of consent from down there…even if they were on fire….and I mean that… so if a statement like this gets me kicked off this mail list…so be it….I’m still voteing green…regardless.

And if a statement like this makes me appear intolerant…well…I reckon so…because it’s true…..I can’t put up with them…one bit.

To say that I dispise the U.S South, it’s culture and people is a great understatement.

The entire South voted for the ethnocentric George Bush, a Texan and Southerner. We have what we see in the news today…largely because of southern based policies….and ‘good ‘ol George W.

They have yet to answer for their atrocities dateing back before the 1860s to this present day. To wit, crimes against humanity and crimes against nature.

As I see it…those Republicans and all those exclusive religious fanatics and social conservatives AND their women are on their own down there in that polluted mud hole of a region for as long as they choose to remain there.

They can just stay there…and ‘rot’.

I’d written a rather lengthy and bombastic reply which I decided to file away in the calm down and read it over again in the morning folder before I fired it off to the list. I was pleased to see that two people had already taken issue with these vicious comments on the list, so I went back and cut down my comments a bit in an effort to make them somewhat calmer and more lucid. As I said to the list:

I, personally, have had it with attacks from self-styled vanguards of the revolution who insult people in the most cruel fashion for not living in one of their oh-so-trendy white-washed upper-income progressive-chic communities. It’s nothing new, to be sure. The student Left of the 1960s and 1970s was full of classism and racism from white college boys–ranging from patronizing attitudes towards the Black liberation struggle, to overt ignorance and hostility against many working-class white people, especially those in the South. But it’s no less frustrating and hurtful.

Southern politics has been tightly in the fists of the reactionaries since the end of Reconstruction. From the late 19th century through the beginning decades of the 20th, new state governments were constructed by elite white Southerners, under the auspices and with the complicity of the Northern white elite (remember, during Reconstruction the South had been under military occupation from the North, so whatever governments they formed were entirely with the consent of the feds), with the express intent of shoring up centralized power and white supremacy. The reapproachment between Northern and Southern elite whites resulted in one of the most horrifying convulsions of racism this country has ever experienced–in the form of Southern apartheid, murderous race riots throughout the North and Midwest, overt segregation imposed by Northern landlords, anti-immigrant nativism, thousands killed in lynchings, and so on. By the 1920s, Ohio Republican Warren G. Harding was inducted into the Ku Klux Klan on the White House lawn. It has also led to a long legacy of corrupt machine politics across the South, where reactionary elites maintain pretty much absolute power over our so-called representative government. The enfranchisement of Southern Blacks has cut against the Good Ol’ Boy system, but not much: while Blacks can now participate in elections, the form of the government itself is elitist and centralized and made expressly to protect the interests of the Good Ol’ Boys.

The blame which is directed against the South for the rise to power of the reactionary Right over the past 30 years is counterhistorical scapegoating at its worst. Our so-called representatives have always been reactionaries, and the only thing that’s changed in the past 30 years is that they’ve ditched the Demopublican party for the Republicrat. Rather, the rise to power of the Right has been a phenomenon primarily in the North. Reagan won the South, but he would have won the South anyway. What as changed in the past 30 years to elect reactionaries such as Reagan and the two Bushes is the growing power and influence of the Right in the North, Midwest, and West Coast (even New York City has elected two Republican mayors in a row), and also the ever-increasing anti-democratic subversion of the electoral process all across the country.

They have yet to answer for their atrocities dateing back before the 1860s to this present day. To wit, crimes against humanity and crimes against nature.

Statements such as these ignore a simple fact. Not everyone who lived in the South has been white. Or male. Or rich. Or held power in the centralized political elite. In my own state, Alabama, 1/4 of the population is Black. The usual 1/2 of the population is female. The state government, which holds nearly all political power vis-a-vis local communities, is well under 100 people. A lot of us have not apologized for the crimes committed by Southerners because we were too busy fighting back against them. And we are Southerners too. Thank God for the South: it is primarily through our struggles that the country has begun to even talk about and deal with race. In the South, a revolutionary struggle for Black liberation is a fact of recent memory. In the North, American racism is something that is simply not talked about at all in many of the more insular communities.

It was Southern Blacks, who launched slave revolts of unprecedented scale, and poor Southern whites, who resisted the power-grab of elite Confederate slaver-planters, who defeated the Confederacy in the Civil War. Southern women such as the Grimké sisters fought the enslavement of both Blacks and of women, which was enshrined in the law not only of the South, but of the whole United States. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee were created in the South, by Southerners, for the benefit of Southerners struggling for justice. Gainesville Women’s Liberation played a crucial role in the re-emergence of an autonomous feminist movement in the United States. Fannie Lou Hamer spent her life in the heart of Mississippi. Ida B. Wells was born in Mississippi, and fought for women’s liberation and racial justice from her home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Meanwhile, a number of elitist liberals and progressives have spent a long time denigrating and blaming the South. We’re rednecks, we’re hicks, we’re stupid, we fuck our sisters, we fuck animals. This is nothing more than overt classism and scapegoating that ignores the long history of brutal male supremacy and white supremacy in the North. In point of fact, Northern rhetoric about hillbillies in the 1920s, is nearly indistinguishable from 1920s racist rhetoric about immigrants and Blacks. And too many modern-day elitist progressives are perpetuating the same rhetoric. It’s really interesting to see how class solidarity gets flushed down the toilet when someone starts speaking with a drawl.

I’ve lived most of my life in north Florida, Texas, and east Alabama. The culture I live in told me that I was living in the midst of irredeemable rednecks and that the only way out was to physically leave. It wasn’t until I had left home to a Northern progressive liberal arts college that I began to realize that (1) the South is my home, and I have been horribly cruel to myself and my friends in denigrating it; and (2) the North has plenty of problems of its own, and complacent progressive outposts are doing very little serious work toward improving the world.

What I realized is that the South loses 90% of its potential for change because we are bred to be hopeless. The cultural landscape is haunted by caricatures of the South–the redneck, Rastus, the plantation slaver, Uncle Tom, the mammy, the hillbilly, the poor white trash, the Southern Belle. Eventually it drives us mad, especially those of us concerned with social justice. We are constantly told by Northern liberals and progressives that we live in the midst of everything that’s wrong with the United States. And because history of the South is taught as a history of elites, not as a history of people’s struggle against power–because we’re taught to believe that the great victories of our struggles for justice were benevolently granted by the federal government Great White Yankee Father, rather than won through decades of hard struggle against both Northern and Southern elites–because the atrocities and crimes of the North and the complicity of Northern elites in racial and sexual terror is simply not mentioned–eventually we come to believe it. But in the end, it is nothing more than a convenient ideology: Northern elites have a convenient scapegoat to protect their complacency, and Southern elites have their interests protected as Southerners who yearn for justice either flee or give up because they feel hopeless and isolated.

Many of us in the South have had enough. We’ve been fighting hard for a long time down here, and we don’t need to fight a two-front war against both the domestic reactionary power structure, and self-appointed vanguards who think they are better than us because they have trendy coffee shops and independent record stores.

The Southern Girls Convention is part of the ongoing resistence against hopelessness, and the ongoing struggle for social justice. Our aim is break the isolation and the grip of the caricatures with which we are bombarded, and to work towards making our own home the kind of place that we want to live. Why? Because it is our home, because justice is our birthright, and because moving away only shifts the problem without solving it. So, instead, we are working to honor and celebrate the heroic work that was done across the South for human dignity and justice. We are working to acknowledge and undermine the historical legacy of hatred and oppression. We are building networks, organizing campaigns, empowering ourselves, and taking it back to our own communities. And if there is hope for anywhere, there must be hope for the South, because there is no part of the country with a deeper and more powerful tradition in the struggle against oppression.

If there are those who think we are too backward, too irredeemable, that it’s our own fault for staying, and therefore want no part of the South, then I say: good. I want no part of the condescending, patronizing, complacent anti-Southern, anti-Black, anti-woman, anti-worker bigotry that an unfortunate number of people try to pass off as liberalism.

For further reading:

Raise the Nation

The folks at Insanity House, an advocacy group for single-parent and non-traditional families, has developed the Raise the Nation Foundation, a non-profit foundation helping single parent women continue their education or re-pay education expenses.

One of the most damnable things about the 1996 welfare deform package is that it gives major economic incentives to states to convert their welfare program into a government-sponsored temp agency for shitty, dead-end labor–with no particular provisions for giving single mothers (by far the largest group of TANF recipients) the time and resources to go to University or vocational schools so that they can better provide for themselves and their families in the long term. The paradigm has been either to run women’s entire lives through do-gooder government bureaucratic busybodies, or else Right-wing "reformers" who prefer to use the government bureaucratic busybodies to drive poor women into more dead-end low-wage "jobs" and ensure that they remain perpetually available to capital.

We need groups like Raise the Nation which provide grassroots mutual aid and support for women in economic need to take charge of their own education and economic well-being. Thank goodness for them.

For further reading:

Convicted Child Rapist Gets No Jail Time

(link courtesy of iFeminists news reports)

New Jersey Judge Bruce Gaeta has decided to ignore reality in favor of his own Van Halen-inspired fantasies, and has refused to sentence a teacher convicted of child rape to prison time on the grounds that no harm was done. According to the Judge, when 43 year old teacher Pamela Diehl-Moore sexually exploited a seventh grade boy in 1999, It’s just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship. He then showered us with the further insight that I really don’t see the harm that was done and certainly society doesn’t need to be worried [NY Times].

Boys have been raised from birth to think of sexual aggression and sexual violence as being something that men do to women, that men cannot be victims. As a peer educator, I’ve had male groups laugh out loud when we made our perfunctory statement that there might be survivors of sexual assault in the audience (in fact, according to the CDC and National Institutes of Justice’s National Violence Against Women Survey, about 1 in 33 men is a rape survivor).

So when men are the victims of sexual assault, we either glibly mock them — as in the case of the sexual torture of men in prison (as well as the increasing fashion for jokes about sexual abuse by priests) — or else pornographize the sexual abuse, in the case of the abuse of boys by older women. The idea expressed is that somehow child rape, which we wouldn’t hesitate to condemn if it were an older man and a younger girl, or an older man and a younger boy, suddenly becomes the fulfillment of every boy’s fantasy when it’s an older woman and a younger man. What the commentator really means is that it is the fulfillment of his own pornographic fantasy. These, in turn, are actually nothing more than a pornographic manifestation of mouldering Victorianism–when most boys’ first sexual encounter was an adolescent encounter with an older woman in prostitution, arranged at the behest of the father or another older man to initiate the boy into manhood.

It is long past time that boys recognized that sexual violence is criminal and traumatic even if the survivor has a dick. The overwhelming majority of sexual violence is committed by men, not by older women. And the overwhelming majority of it is committed against women and girls. But as long as boys regard victimhood as simply a conceptual impossibility, we will continue to live in a boy culture that ignores or laughs at sexual violence. Not only does this bit of ideological flotsam re-victimize male survivors, whose suffering is laughed at or salaciously leered at by older men; but it also harms our ability to seriously deal with sexual violence against women, since boys simply dismiss it as a women’s issue and refuse to acknowledge that sexual violence is a vicious violation of the human rights which all of us, of every gender, share in common.

  • GT 2001-08-08 Jason Mallory writes on the rape of men in prison
  • GT 2001-09-30 Terrorism Against Women in Colorado, judge gave convicted batterer 1 night in jail
  • GT 2001-05-17 Seattle SuperSonics forward receives only 15 days in jail for attempted rape
  • GT 2001-03-11 and GT 2001-03-12 Faux Leftists make excuses for Lionel Tate’s savage murder of a six-year-old girl

Abercrombie & Fitch Say Sexualization of Children is “Cute and Fun and Sweet”

Clothing-makers Abercrombie & Fitch are once again in the news for paedophile-chic clothing lines. This time it’s thongs for seven year old girls, imprinted with such cute and fun and sweet slogans as eye candy, sexy, and wink wink.

A&F apparently thinks that it is cute to portray little girls as eroticized future sex objects. However, this is pretty obviously a lie; as usual, they are trying to attract attention to their stupid clothing line by being edgy. The thing that people don’t seem to get is that this kind of shit isn’t even remotely edgy. It’s the same old cultural detritus, repackaged. The quasi-child porn thing was already old when Calvin Klein did it; it was even older when Britney Spears did it; and it’s older than dirt by now. It’s not only not cute, it’s not edgy, either. It’s just also-ran, offensive and stupid.

Take action!

Write a complaint to Abercrombie & Fitch asking them why they think that portraying children as sex objects is cute and fun and sweet, and ask them to pull the line from stores. Public outcry has already forced them to remove their racist caricatures of Asians from stores, and now it’s time to turn up the heat on their paedophile-chic.

Leftists and Libertarians Shocked To Find They Agree

Lakshmi Chaudhry has written a column examining chances for a left-libertarian alliance [AlterNet]. The column focuses on the recent direction of articles from the Cato Institute, which have made bold stands for civil liberties, against corporate welfare, and against the ever-expanding military-security Leviathan of the "War on Terrorism."

This shouldn’t come as that much a surprise. Cato has always held a good line on issues such as foreign policy towards the Mideast (1991) and corporate welfare (1995). The supposed animosity between Cato and the Left is based on fights that emerged from Cato’s role in fueling the economic policies of the 1994 Republican Reaction. But of course, the Republicans never seriously followed Cato; they merely altered the nature of tax-and-manage bureaucratic coercion. They turned welfare into a government-sponsored temp agency for shitty dead-end labor. And they never saw a massive corporate welfare boondoggle they didn’t like. Meanwhile, Cato kept calling for a society based on free association and mutual aid—not State privilege for corporations and a hawkish military.

The move towards a more robust and self-conscious Left-Libertarian alliance is emerging as the natural consequence of the growth of the "War on Terrorism," which like all global warfare, naturally brings the nexus of economic, military, and governmental power into the starkest relief. When the military-industrial Leviathan rises from the sea, it naturally draws together those who are fighting government power and those who are fighting boss power. The last time this happened on a wide scale, the radical libertarian Murray Rothbard allied with the radical left in the Peace and Freedom Party against the Vietnam War and imperialist "anti-Communism" worldwide, and the repression of dissent at home. And the "War on Terrorism" is now playing the same role. Former Libertarian Presidential candidate Harry Browne has written a column condemning United States foreign policy as "terrorism" and urging against a second war on Iraq. Cato itself has published a lengthy report addressing the need to understand the "root causes" of terrorism against the United States and urging an end to military interventionism overseas. Leftist and Libertarians are being brought together as government policy increasingly seems designed with the explicit purpose of proving the dictum, "War is the health of the State."

This is all for the best. I’ve been urging the Left to look to Libertarianism for a while, and I don’t think this should come as much of a surprise. The struggle for social justice is a struggle for equity and against power and privilege. And Libertarianism, properly conceived, is a struggle against the power and privilege of the government over the governed. Now, a lot of members of the Libertarian Party are little more than Young Republican rejects who don’t think that the Republicans go far enough on social welfare or public education. But at their best, the Libertarians have a lot to teach those of us on the Left who have remained too complacent about the bureaucratic State as a solution to societal ills. And the Left has a lot to teach Libertarians about the ways in which the systematic power of "private" hierarchies and exploitations undermine the necessary psychological and cultural conditions for maintaining a free and open society, even if they do not directly involve the use of physical violence. Statism in the polity is deeply linked with authoritarianism in the society, and we need to fight them together.

For further reading: