Monday, November 20, 2017

Silence Equals Complicity

"If I were to remain silent, I would be guilty of complicity." - Albert Einstein

In case you haven't noticed, Refuse to Cooperate is very big about pointing out cases of racial discrimination wherever it may be found. Further, as a Marxist-Leninist Communist organization, it is our obligation to point out instances of class discrimination. However, these are not the only types of discrimination that exist. Listed below are several other types of discrimination that are rampant in Amerikkkan culture and that Refuse to Cooperate is committed to help overcome. We are committed to exposing these issues for the same reason that Dr. Einstein stated. Silence in the face of injustice equals complicity, which means that you are just as guilty of the discrimination committed as the person who committed it directly if you do not defend the discriminated. Take action! Whatever you are able to do, no matter how small, do it. Just do not be the person that lets injustice go unpunished.

Racism - is the systemic oppression of a dominant racial group over other racial groups and the actions and beliefs that support such oppression.

Classism - is systemic prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class. It includes individual attitudes, behaviors, systems of policies, and practices that are set up to benefit the upper class at the expense of the lower class.

Ableism - is systemic discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.

Ageism - is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. This may be casual or systematic.

Sexism - is systemic prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender. Sexism is particularly documented as affecting women and girls.

Homophobia - encompasses a range of systemically enforced negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). It has been defined as contempt, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, may be based on irrational fear, and is often related to religious beliefs.

Transphobia - encompasses a range of systemically enforced negative attitudes, feelings or actions toward transgender or transsexual people, or toward transsexuality. Transphobia can be emotional disgust, fear, violence, anger or discomfort felt or expressed towards people who do not conform to society's gender expectations. It is often expressed alongside homophobic views and hence is often considered an aspect of homophobia.

Religious Discrimination - is the systemic oppression of groups of people because of what they believe in. Specifically, it is when adherents of different religions, or denominations are treated unequally, either before the law or in institutional settings such as employment or housing.

Discrimination Based on National Origin - is the systemic oppression of persons based on their national birthplace. This form of discrimination assumes that a person has some sort of control over where they are born and then attacks that person for coming to this country in search of better opportunities.

Zoosadism - is a form of sadistic pleasure derived from the performance of cruel and inhumane acts on animals. Zoosadism is part of the Macdonald triad, a set of three behaviors that are considered a precursor to sociopathic behavior. The term was coined by Ernest Borneman.

So, here is how it works here at Refuse to Cooperate. We will not support discrimination on these grounds at any time. Refuse to Cooperate is on eleven different social media outlets, and nowhere on any of these sites will we tolerate individuals who find it necessary to act in ways that endorse these behaviors. If and when we do encounter such behavior, we will take the appropriate action to ban those persons from said social media sites. The punishment will be instant banishment from the social media site in which the offense was committed. No exceptions will be given, and no appeals will granted.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II - A Review

John L. Spivak’s 1932 photo of a prisoner punished in Georgia. Credit Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center/Doubleday

What Emancipation Didn’t Stop After All

A Review by Janet Maslin (

In Slavery by Another Name, Douglas A. Blackmon eviscerates one of our schoolchildren’s most basic assumptions: that slavery in America ended with the Civil War. Mr. Blackmon unearths shocking evidence that the practice persisted well into the 20th century. And he is not simply referring to the virtual bondage of black sharecroppers unable to extricate themselves economically from farming.

He describes free men and women forced into industrial servitude, bound by chains, faced with subhuman living conditions and subject to physical torture. That plight was horrific. But until 1951, it was not outside the law.

All it took was anything remotely resembling a crime. Bastardy, gambling, changing employers without permission, false pretense, “selling cotton after sunset”: these were all grounds for arrest in rural Alabama by 1890. And as Mr. Blackmon explains in describing incident after incident, an arrest could mean a steep fine. If the accused could not pay this debt, he or she might be imprisoned.

Alabama was among the Southern states that profitably leased convicts to private businesses. As the book illustrates, arrest rates and the labor needs of local businesses could conveniently be made to dovetail.

For the coal, lumber, turpentine, brick, steel and other interests described here, a steady stream of workers amounted to a cheap source of fuel. And the welfare of such workers was not the companies’ concern. So, in the case of John Clarke, convicted of “gaming” on April 11, 1903, a 10-day stint in the Sloss-Sheffield mine in Coalburg, Ala., could erase his fine. But it would take an additional 104 days for him to pay fees to the sheriff, county clerk and witnesses who appeared at his trial.

In any case, Mr. Clarke survived for only one month and three days in this captivity. The cause of his death was said to be falling rock. At least another 2,500 men were incarcerated in Alabama labor camps at that time.

This is a very tough story to tell, and not just because of its extremely graphic details. Mr. Blackmon, who was reared in the Mississippi Delta and is now the Atlanta bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, must set forth a huge chunk of history. He writes of how the emancipation of slaves left Southern plantations “not just financially but intellectually bereft” because the slaves’ knowledge and experience could be indispensable; how the rise of industry reshaped the South; how a new generation of African-Americans who had not known slavery found themselves threatened by it; how slavery intersected with efforts to unionize labor; and even how, once blacks lost their voting rights but still had clout at the Republican convention, they were strategically important to President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 election campaign.

The roles of elected officials in acknowledging and stopping this new slavery are a crucial part of Mr. Blackmon’s story. Needless to say, it is complicated. The book describes the 1903 investigation authorized by the Justice Department, the trial of accused slave traders and the aggressive stance taken by Warren S. Reese Jr., the United States attorney in Alabama, in prosecuting his case.

“As allegations of slavery in his jurisdiction multiplied, Reese demonstrated a prehensile comprehension of the murky legal framework governing black labor,” Mr. Blackmon writes, “and a hard-nosed unwillingness to ignore the implications of the extraordinary evidence that soon poured into his office.”

Carl Weiss’s 1898 photo of a chain gang in Thomasville, Ga. Credit Library of Congress/Doubleday
The resulting trial is among this book’s many zealously researched episodes. Mr. Blackmon’s sources range from corporate records to one “Sheriff’s Feeding Account, 1899-1907.” Its outcome was promising, but there were loopholes. As one sign of this story’s complexity, consider that the traders were tried on charges of peonage.

Those charges turned out not to be applicable in Alabama. And in another such case, lawyers would argue that the charge should instead be involuntary servitude. Reformers were dealing with “a constitutional limbo in which slavery as a legal concept was prohibited by the Constitution, but no statute made an act of enslavement explicitly illegal.”

Mr. Blackmon’s way of organizing this material is to bookend his legal and historical chronicle with the personal story of Green Cottenham, a black man born free in the mid-1880s. This gets Slavery by Another Name off to a shaky start, if only because many of Mr. Blackmon’s wordings are speculative. The book underscores that if black Americans’ enslavement to U.S. Steel which, when it acquired the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company, became a prime offender is analogous to the slavery that occurred in Nazi Germany, it also emphasizes that the American slaves’ illiteracy meant there would be no written records of their experience. So, imagining Mr. Green’s experience becomes something of a stretch.

But as soon as it gets to more verifiable material, Slavery by Another Name becomes relentless and fascinating. It exposes what has been a mostly unexplored aspect of American history, though there have been dissertations and a few books from academic presses. It creates a broad racial, economic, cultural and political backdrop for events that have haunted Mr. Blackmon and will now haunt us all. And it need not exaggerate the hellish details of intense racial strife.

The torment that Mr. Blackmon catalogs is, if anything, understated here. But it loudly and stunningly speaks for itself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Choice of Weapons - A Review

Reflection on Gordon Parks: A Choice of Weapons 

A Review by Ken Ries (

As an amateur photographer and a long-time resident of the Minneapolis St Paul area, I chose this book to explore not only issues of race, but issues of local history as well as the story of a photographer’s journey. I have structured this paper in the format of a book report summarizing the general theme of the story and highlighting some of the issues related to race, culture, socio-economic status and other such topics.

In his autobiography, A Choice of Weapons, Gordon Parks details his early life beginning with the death of his mother when he was a mere fifteen years old. Parks detailed his early years as being full of love and religion. Although the family was very poor, Parks never longed for material things and was comforted by the love that “eased the burden of being black.” While things were buffered by his home life, his early years were marred by prejudices and violence. Taunted by racial slurs, forced to sit in the Negro section at the theater, and not allowed to drink a soda in the drug store, Parks began to accept the realities of his life as normal. While Parks suffered in this environment, he was secure and felt the power of his family. Racism existed, but it was outside of Parks’ inner circle of work and family. Death existed, but it was balanced by love and the caring of his mother. Matching Parks’ conditions to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that his immediate needs were met. Parks felt safe, loved, and confident, and believed that he was on track for doing what he wanted to do.

Arriving in St. Paul, Parks took up residence with his sister and brother-in-law. Their relationship was contentious from the start. Parks described his brother-in-law as nearly white in color, big, and fierce looking. Parks related his brother-in-law to the whites who “pushed him to the edge of violence.” He goes on to describe a fight with his brother-in-law just because he was lighter skinned. Throughout the book, Parks separates people by their shades of blackness. Later, where Mice Titty was judged the lightest, Parks describes another situation where the shade of white became an issue of contention. Clearly, color was the pivotal factor in Parks’ cultural identity. Poor was normal. Living on the street at 15 was a challenge but not a problem. Being black was the single factor that influenced everything; the one thing he couldn’t change, the single factor that created “one emotional crisis after another.”

Soon after settling in St. Paul, Parks enrolled in Mechanics Arts High School. Not much later, a fight with his brother-in-law left him homeless. Riding the trolley between St. Paul and Minneapolis, Parks was tempted to rob the conductor of his roll of cash. Remembering his mother's teachings, he backed down and ran from the scene. I wondered here how different everything would have been had he made the wrong decision, and how easy it would have been. The morals instilled through his mother served him well. Many times throughout this book, Parks is put into a situation where he has an easy opportunity to make the wrong decision, and other than instances where displaced anger interfered, he made the right choice.

Parks highlights several incidents where displaced anger interfered with this ability to make good decisions. Examples include the argument with his brother-in-law, choosing a showdown with Miss Jenny, his loss of his self control in a Bemidji restaurant, and his decision to collect pay at gunpoint from Big John. Parks makes it clear in each example that he understood his actions were inappropriate. As the reader progresses through Parks' life, the frequencies of his outbursts diminish.

Things started looking up for Parks. His three older sisters, a brother, and his father came to live in St. Paul. He took a job at the Minnesota Club, and fell in love. Parks took his job at the Minnesota Club as a learning experience. Rather than feeling belittled or dejected, he read, observed, learned, and built connections. Unfortunately, Parks’ good fortune came to an end in November of 1929. Laid off, unable to find work and lacking a support structure, Parks quit school. Sadly, this is still the case for many American students. Poverty, homelessness, chemical abuse, and other issues are still major barriers to school success. While Parks became a success, most people in his situation do not. The streets of Harlem, Chicago, and Minneapolis are filled with people who never had the opportunities that Parks did. While reading a book like this can give one hope, it doesn’t mean that everyone has the opportunities that Parks had. I still meet people who think welfare should be eliminated because “those folks should just go out, get a job, and take care of themselves.” It’s not that easy when the odds are stacked against you.

After hopping a freight train to Chicago, Parks found a room and a job cleaning in a flop house filled with the derelicts of the city. Living in squalor among poor, alcohol-addicted white men, Parks learned that “degradation was no respecter of color.” It was here that Parks injected the issue of homosexuality into the anthology of issues he faced. Being black was a barrier that he was destined to live with. Other people had their own barriers. Things are complicated. Parks realized that everything bad that happened wasn’t simply because he was black. Poverty, sexual preferences, gender, language, ethnic heritage and other barriers exist. Although segregation is gone, the web of issues that Parks portrays hasn’t otherwise changed much.

After struggling with school again, Parks found a job as a bus boy at the Hotel St. Paul. Here he focused on his music and eventually met Larry Duncan, a band leader engaged by the hotel. Duncan recognized Parks’ talent and orchestrated several of his songs. Soon, Parks found himself on the road as a member of the band. Infatuated with the idea of pursuing his musical career, Parks overlooked the band’s organizational problems.

The band was scheduled to make a big appearance in New York City when, unbeknownst to Parks, they broke up. Stranded at New York’s Park Central Hotel with nowhere to go and no money to get there, Parks rode the A train to 145th street, the heart of Harlem. Life here was worse than anything he had experienced, so far. Poverty and squalor filled the city. Police brutality ran rampant. Jobs were advertised for whites, nothing for blacks. Parks described how a “big heavy-fisted man had worked the crowd into a fever” shouting about helping to bury Mister Ofay. Parks had a difficult time understanding the rant. While Parks understood the brutalities of whites, he became scared when he found himself being caught up in the crowd. Parks clearly saw danger in crowd mentality and peer pressure. Parks’ dialog in this section indicates that he did not support fundamentalism and that each individual should be judged on their own merit. He highlighted this point by exploring antisemitism through a relationship with his tailor.

Unable to sell his songs or find work, Parks and his friend Bill set off to join the Civilian Conservation Corps. Bill turned out to be a natural leader and through the use of compassion, hard work, and integrity, he became a popular foreman. Parks used this story to demonstrate what being a leader meant. Leading isn’t about power, but rather respect springing from ethical behavior, hard work, and insight. While Parks didn’t consider himself a leader, he knew what one looked like. Many managers would be well served by reflecting on this chapter in Parks’s life.

While serving in the CCC, Parks befriended a young recruit wounded in a dynamite blast and bandaged from head to toe. Their conversations revolved around religion, family, and common experiences. It wasn’t until later that Parks learned that his friend was white. Both had assumed that they were of the same race. The description of this incident demonstrated Parks’ core belief that everyone was the same and skin color was simply a tool leveraged by those who wished to divide and control.

The following year, Parks took a position as a photographer at the Southside Art Center in Chicago. Parks and Sally moved to a brownstone home in a neighborhood Parks described as an area in social limbo, a place where the whites were moving out and the blacks were moving in. Parks described the architecture as being influenced by the generations of immigrants: the Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles that had proceeded. Here Parks suggested that the blacks were not the first group to suffer ethnic prejudice. While skin color created an obvious criterion for division, others also suffered injustice. Reflecting on Parks’ story makes it clear that things have improved dramatically. However, we still have a long way to go. Color still provides a criterion for division. Years and years of segregation still influence culture. Actions of the past influence actions of the future: for some they justify them.

The arrangement with the art center worked well. The demand for Parks’ work continued to grow. Soon he decided that he “wanted to strike at the evil of poverty,” and he began documenting everything he saw. Parks applied for a Julius Rosenwald fellowship and arranged a show at the Art Center to feature his new work. The event was a success. Parks took special pleasure in the integration he experienced at his opening. In a deeply segregated city, Parks’ show made it possible for poor and wealthy, black and white, to find and share common ground.

Parks’ ability to bring people together within the framework of shared experience outlasted his death in 2006. Kansas City and St. Paul are homes to schools named in Parks’ honor, Fort Scott Community College is home to the Gordon Parks Center for Cultural Diversity, the College of New Rochelle is home to the Gordon Parks Gallery and Cultural Arts Center, Wichita State houses a collection of Parks' personal papers, and museums around the world house pieces of his collection.

While reading this book will not make me a better technical photographer, it has broadened my viewfinder. The historical context of Parks’ autobiography helps the reader to understand the context of the struggles of African Americans in the mid-20th century. Parks’ body of work makes this struggle personal. While the struggles of African Americans are unique, there is a common thread that can be applied wherever people interact.

I do fear that the uninformed reader will see Parks as a reason not to change his or her practices. After all, Gordon Parks beat the odds to become successful without, as some might state, a government handout or societal concern for the issues of class and race. This attitude misses the point. The land of opportunity isn’t just a place where people have a chance to win the lottery; to beat the odds and get lucky. Rather, it is a place where everyone is valued for their contributions, their ideas, their time, and their talent. Whenever I reflect on diversity, it always comes back to integrity and respect. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable when you are in a situation that is outside of your normal environment. It’s how you react that makes a difference.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Flavors of American Liberalism

Defining Liberalism

There are lots of people who call themselves liberals, and lots of liberals who call themselves plenty of other things. In feigned humility, American liberals love to pretend that the definition of liberal is the same as the colloquial one, that it is someone who thinks and acts "freely."  However, liberalism as a political ideology, does have a long history and a fairly clear set of unifying ideas focused first and foremost on bourgeois individualism, idealism, and the sanctity of private property.  Liberals fall into two major branches in the US: what Americans call liberals and what Americans call conservatives. Yes, even as much as they may hate each other, they are both just different types of western liberalism, and they both descend from the original classical liberalism that opposed monarchy back when that was a thing. 

This is just a quick tongue in cheek guide to some of the different liberal cliques you're likely to encounter. We'll start with the Social Liberal family:

Social Liberals

Social liberals are centrist individualists who love them some private property but are at least aware enough to realize that the group matters and individuals need to be limited a bit. Further, they want government to be the way that happens. As such, they tend to love them some government programs.

1. Justice Democrats/Young Turks: liberals who hate neoliberals and think they can take back the Democratic Party from evil corporations (hint: they can't)

2. "Progressives": liberals who don't like the name liberal, basically the "I'm spiritual not religious" type of liberalism

3. Social Democrats: what Bernie Sanders actually is, aka not a socialist. Much like the Democratic Socialists, they are fighting for a more equitable division of imperialist spoils and would be easily pacified if the government just conceded free college and universal healthcare, which is all they care about anyways. They also like to make up terms like "crony capitalism."

4. Democratic Socialist: redundant term if it referred to actual socialists, but it actually just refers to fake socialists who think socialism is when the government does stuff; what Sanders and people who robotically spew Sanders rhetoric call themselves. At best, they might want to abolish the capitalist system, but only by asking the government nicely.

5. Greens: SocDems and DemSocs who are big on ecology and think a third party will fix everything but still can't even manage to get 5% of the nation to vote for them.

Conservative Liberals

Conservatives are right wing individualists that love them some private property and hate being limited by anything that isn't rooted in race, religion, or something else.

1. Neoliberals: own the Democratic Party, and think equality is when people of every creed, gender, and race all have a shot at being ruthless exploiters like them.

2. Christian Conservatives: fake Christians cause they love capitalism, want to turn the US into a capitalist theocracy; together with libertarians, they own the Republican Party.

3. Libertarians:  Republicans who like pot and blame all problems on the government but are cool with at least a little government to defend them from the dirty socialists; like ancaps and fascists, they often join together in the category of "Alt Right."

4. Ancaps: short for anarcho-capitalist, also call themselves Voluntaryists because they realized anarcho-capitalism is an oxymoron. An ideology most popular among basement dwelling rejects who blame all the worlds problems on the existence of government; they would, however, be perfectly happy with private businesses performing all the functions of the state. Completely incoherent to all rational people, these people naturally hold themselves up as the height of objective rationality.

5.  Fascists: come in a variety of flavors (Nazis, KKK, Traditionalists, Third Position, etc). basically walking piles of feces, like most conservatives, they are typically of white petty bourgeois and labor aristocracy background, not regular working class, although they often try to portray themselves as such. They will sometimes go so far to the right that they drop their liberalism to become neo-feudalists and critique capitalism from an idealistic, frequently religious position.


This is a category of folks who have dropped the capitalist part of liberalism, but still haven't quite freed themselves of the bourgeois individualism and idealism.

1. Anarchists: idealists who hate capitalism as much as they hate any sort of centralized authority. It is a philosophy that boils down to the political version of a teenager yelling "You're not my real dad so you cant tell me what to do!" It comes in many flavors:

a. Anarcho-communism: ancom for short, wants to achieve full communism but doesn't understand you need a state to eliminate class conflict everywhere before that can happen..

b. Anarcho-primitivism: anprim for short, hates technology as much as authority and capitalism, and wants to return to the stone age. The more extreme and honest ones are willing to admit that doing so would require massive amounts of human death to achieve the goal.

c. anarcho-syndicalism: anarchism but with labor unions.

d. Christian anarchism: anarchism because God said so.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression - A Review

Hammer and Hoe

A Review by William Howard Moore (

In 1965, when Stokley Carmichael and a small group of SNCC organizers arrived in Lowndes County, Alabama to launch a voter registration drive, they discovered a tiny cadre of enthusiastic black farmers, long experienced in defying white authority while feigning deference to it. Veterans of a 1935 sharecroppers strike, these Alabamians had been a part of a Depression-era movement by state Communists among agricultural workers, miners, and industrial laborers. Although little remembered within broader American society, the Alabama Communist Party's race-centered organizing activities still constituted a kind of "collective memory" for a surprising number of the state's black citizens at the time when SNCC arrived on the scene.

In Hammer and Hoe, a revision of his 1987 UCLA doctoral dissertation, Robin D.G. Kelley, associate professor of history and Afro-American studies at the University of Michigan, recaptures this earlier period of southern radicalism. Drawing on oral history, memoir literature, and FBI documents, as well as more traditional archival sources, Kelley has also benefited from the insights of such scholars as Nell Irvin Painter, Mark Naison, and Jacquelyn Dowd Hall. His aim is to write a "social history of politics," and he has produced an important and persuasive book. In the paperback format, Hammer and Hoe could probably be used as supplementary reading in courses in Afro-American, social, and twentieth-century U.S. history.

Kelley's thesis is that black culture and religion largely shaped communism in Alabama. Lacking a Euro-American leftist tradition, blacks tended to see northern-born white Communists as latter-day Yankees, returning to complete the job of racial Reconstruction. Although Alabama Communists sometimes clashed with local black ministers, they made no attempt to assault black religion or the church itself. And if Communists armed poor blacks to contest the more cautious NAACP, relations between middle class blacks and the Communist Party were, in fact, frequently ambivalent, with African American professionals sometimes making secret financial contributions to the party even while retaining a public distance from it. 

The party accorded poor blacks an unaccustomed dignity and sometimes a favoritism that complicated recruitment efforts among frustrated whites. Nonetheless, the Communist Party preached a real economic message and assisted significantly in drawing blacks into the CIO in industrial centers like Birmingham. The Alabama Communist Party was, Kelley concludes, "resilient enough to conform to black cultural traditions but taut enough to remain Marxist at the core."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Abolition of White Democracy - A Review

An overview of the text is provided at

An excerpt is also taken from a review of the text written by E. Johanna Hartelius found at (

Joel Olson was an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northern Arizona University before his death in 2012.

In The Abolition of White Democracy, he offers a new way of understanding the tortured relationship between race and democracy in the United States

A common but often unspoken assumption that Joel Olson confronts is the contradiction between the ideals and the practices of American democracy. Many ask how this nation can celebrate equality in the liberalist tradition and at the same time house such discriminatory practices. The author draws on the theories of W. E. B. Du Bois to offer a reinterpretation of race relations and politics in the United States. Identifying racial oppression and American democracy as mutually constitutive rather than antithetical, Olson writes, "American democracy is a white democracy, a polity ruled in the interests of a white citizenry and characterized by simultaneous relations of equality and privilege: equality among whites, who are privileged in relation to those who are not white." The history of democracy in this country, Olson argues, is one that privileges the dominant race and tyrannizes the subordinate nonwhites.

He contends that, given the history of slavery and segregation in the United States, American citizenship is a form of racial privilege in which whites are equal to each other but superior to everyone else. To break this pattern, Olson suggests an “abolitionist-democratic” political theory that makes the fight against racial discrimination a prerequisite for expanding democratic participation.

Racial discrimination embodies inequality, exclusion, and injustice and as such has no place in a democratic society. And yet racial matters pervade nearly every aspect of American life, influencing where we live, what schools we attend, the friends we make, the votes we cast, the opportunities we enjoy, and even the television shows we watch. This has to somehow got change if our society is to survive functionally into the future.

Commentary on the Book:

"The Abolition of White Democracy is essential reading for all those seeking to realize the promise of democracy in America." — Noel Ignatiev, Author of How the Irish Became White

"Olson’s compelling book packs both a theoretical and a political punch." — Rhetoric and Public Affairs

"This book is a required read for anyone wishing to understand the uneasy and misunderstood relationship between race and democracy in the U.S." — Profane Existence

"A provocative argument for the elimination of white power in the United States. The Abolition of White Democracy presents a clearly written, well-documented, history-based argument for altering the meaning of democracy." — Perspectives on Politics

Friday, November 3, 2017

Learning to Be White: Money, Race, and God in America - A Review

A Review by Douglas Sturm (

Nine decades ago, in a moment of uncanny prescience, W. E. B. DuBois declared that the "color line" would prove to be the central problematic of the twentieth century. In his own version of that theme during the struggles of the sixties, Martin Luther King, Jr., observed that white America has long manifested a form of schizophrenia on the question of race.

In the text at hand, Thandeka, pursuing an oft-neglected dimension of the same theme, develops a powerful, albeit not uncontroversial, insight into the psychodynamics of the racial divisiveness that has haunted American culture from its very beginnings. More specifically, she concentrates on the social antithetics through which "whiteness" is repeatedly reproduced as a central feature in the self-identity of Euro-Americans and thereby, curiously, has a tortuous effect on the psychology (and institutions) of the white community. Racial identity, Thandeka insists, is not a biological characteristic. It is an ill-devised social construct whose devastating consequences run contrary to our most fundamental humanity, perversely affecting Euro-Americans at least as profoundly as it scars all others.

The governing category in Thandeka's analysis of these social antithetics is "white shame." Shame in general, in her hermeneutical glossary signifies a deepseated conflict of sensibilities internal to one's personality, a "hidden civil war" among one's feelings and yearnings. White shame specifically is induced by that context of life in which Euro-Americans whose natural impulse like that of all humans is to reach out to the other, however seemingly different are admonished by family or friends to repress that impulse in certain circumstances as out of mesh with their true (white) identity. White identity is exalted by one's caretakers as a master principle conformity to which is a requisite to cultural survival and economic success. We (Euro-Americans) are thereby taught to be white but that teaching contradicts our aboriginal inclination as interactive beings.

Within Thandeka's construct, racism is intimately linked with classism. Throughout diverse moments of American economic history, from the colonial period (with its plantation system), through the industrial revolution (with its factory system), to the present postindustrial era, the racial divide has functioned to sustain a hierarchical class structure of economic benefit to the (white) upper class. This elite, through its manipulations of the cultural processes of white shame, has managed to sustain an oppressive economic system over the decades by substituting racial identity for class identity, instilling in the (white) working class the belief that, if they were sufficiently white, they, too, might become economically successful. In this way, belief in white supremacy is presumed to be a function of economic advance.

Throughout her text, Thandeka supports her thesis about the workings of white shame through a series of cases, some taken from the everyday life of ordinary Americans, others taken from the published testimonies of well-known personages-George Wallace, Norman Podhoretz, Frank Rissero, Robert Bork, Bill McCartney, and Martha Numbness. In each instance, she insists that, given the  inner dynamics of white acculturation, the white community is itself, despite its pretenses to the contrary, severely impaired. The costs of becoming white are many; the denial of one's ethnic history (resulting in self-hatred), the misuse of resources to mimic the lifestyle of the upper class (resulting in overspending), and the division of the working class (resulting in a loss of political and economic power).

But the deepest cost, Thandeka insists, is the suppression of one's "core self." Acculturation into the imaginary (yet historically forceful) world of whiteness results in the narrow constriction of our selves as relational beings whose continuous growth and development depends on "an interplay of encounters between ourselves and the world in which we are both astir and stirred." That process of interaction, Thandeka seems to assert, is our natural condition, but a condition that is badly abused through the racialization of life.

Thandeka is explicit in setting her notion of white shame over against evangelical doctrines of the racial divide where their abstract theological categories tend to neglect concrete social context. In her ekrt to attend to that context, Thandeka has, quite properly, located the problematic of the "color line" in America precisely within the heart and soul of the white community, and she has, quite strikingly, pinpointed the character of that malady. Illuminating and provocative as her notion of white shame is, however, it stands in need of further exploration at several critical points: the ontological and moral ramifications of the idea of a "core self;" the historical and motivational origins of racialization, particularly whiteness; and the political and psychological possibilities for resolving the "internal civil war" that is, if you will, so shamefully pervasive throughout American culture and so damaging to the flourishing of our authentic humanity.