Race and Republicans

July Fourth was a head-spinning weekend.

I watched Hamilton. There is much in the story, the presentation, cast, and the foreign background, upbringing, and education of the man himself that bears on the present day. (See the P.S. for how to watch)

I listened to parts of Trump’s nasty, divisive speech at Mt. Rushmore last Friday fanning the flames of the Republican culture wars of grievance, ignorantly casting the attacks on the statues of Confederates as “lying about our history” –as if those statues were not themselves a lie. (I recommend this 7 minute explanatory youtube video: How Southern socialites rewrote Civil War history. And this tidbit entitled James Longstreet Statues?.) 

On the same day as Trump’s speech, July 3, the Spokesman reported in a tiny article that vandals had defaced the George Floyd mural recently painted by Daniel Lopez on the side of the Shacktown Community Cycle building at 2nd and Howard downtown. (Sadly, the vandals were not caught on video because of a corrupted hard drive.) Racism is alive and well in the inland northwest. Why no more notice than this of a defacement of a modern historic symbol–the mural? 

The Republican Party as it is constituted today, is dependent on racism and our racist past for the minority support that keeps it in power. Recognize here, once again, that the Republican Party of today is not the party of Lincoln. Democrats and Republicans have switched roles since Lincoln. The current Republican Party is dependent on the votes of racists who were gradually cemented to modern Republicanism by the “Southern Strategy.” These are people whose views on slavery would have been anathema to Lincoln. Smooth rhetoric gives non-racist Republicans plausible deniability of the party’s racist vote dependence, but the party strategy is plain: use racism as a wedge; stoke racist fears and harvest the votes. [For local connection, remember that Cecily Wright once was chairwoman of the Spokane County Republicans even as she and her husband, at their Northwest Grassroots gathering, hosted white supremacist Charlottesville marcher, James Allsup, speaking on “label lynching.”] Today’s Republicans stoke racist fears using, among other things, unattributed videos like one sent to me (and “undisclosed recipients”) via email over the weekend by a friend I thought was a moderate Republican. Called the “Nigger Video,” it features a black man talking head who starts by saying “Obama shouldn’t try to ban guns, he should ban niggers,” and follows with pseudo-statistics superimposed on a background of rioting. No documentation, no sources, no timeline, no attribution, a video whose only intent is to inflame.

To quote Kevin Phillips, former Republican strategist, writing in the 1960s:

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.

The Southern Strategy was then weaponized by Lee Atwater for both Reagan and Bush I (remember the “Willie Horton” ads?):

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

“And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.”‘
  [also referenced in Wikipedia in the article on Atwater

Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it. A lot of U.S. history has been intentionally obscured. I only recently learned of the Tulsa Race Massacre, but until just a few days ago I was unaware of the Wilmington, North Carolina, 1898 insurrection, an event, as this excellent youtube video further explains, was intentionally hidden by local librarians. This is history pertinent to the present day. Unlike my friends video is well referenced. It is there for the searching. Learn it. 

I listened to “Frederick Douglass’ Descendants Read His Famous ‘Fourth Of July’ Speech,” a key 6 minute bit of my Fourth of July weekend and a ringing contrast to Trump’s divisive rhetoric. 

But let me end with a link to the the essay that most affected me over this last weekend: You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument; The black people I come from were owned and raped by the white people I come from. Who dares to tell me to celebrate them? I am still staggering from that one. [If you cannot read it thanks to a paywall, Reply to this email and I think I can send you a copy.]

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Hamilton became watchable, streamable, on July 3 on DisneyPlus.com which you can join for a month for about $7 (and then cancel if you don’t want yet another monthly fee nibbling at your credit card). I’m sure the live performance is a different experience, but seeing a live performance is an expensive expedition and, right now, with Covid-19, not even possible.