February 21, 2017

No, #segregation and Jim Crow were NOT all about breaking up labor solidarity (updated)

Speaking of solidarity, even more than I despair of some supporters of movements like Black Lives Matter ignoring possible interracial solidarity on socioeconomic issues, I grow tired of others claiming that almost all black problems today are ultimately class-based issues, while minimizing racial ones.

A highly oversimplifying article at the Atlantic by Alana Semuels, as retweeted by Doug Henwood, a primary abettor of the "it's all about class" narrative, have led me to drop a blog-posting dime about this while it's fresh in my mind.

First, there's the header that "Segregation had to be invented." Erm, no, wrong. Period.

Per Wikipedia's article on Jim Crow laws, such laws were already coming on the books by or before the formal end of Reconstruction in 1877. That's before the Populist Party formally existed — a party which itself by 1900, fractured in the South over black-white unity, as the political history of Thomas G. Watson shows. (Why Watson shifted, I don't know. I've never read a biography of him)

It is true that, in the South, the Farmers' Alliance started in Texas in 1876, and spread from there elsewhere in the South. But, per it's name, it remained focused on farm issues. For more of what that means, vis a vis the claims of Semuels, etc., look further down.

(I already knew most of this, but a teh Google for an intelligent but empirically unenlightened person wouldn't have taken that long.)

Indeed, worries about the possibility of Jim Crow led Charles Sumner and Ben Butler to push for the 1875 Civil Rights Act, which specifically addressed equality in accommodations, foreshadowing Southern state government acts that ultimately led to Plessy v Ferguson. But, also foreshadowing Plessy, and its vote on it, in 1883, the Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional in part — namely, the parts that were fully upheld in Plessy.

From 1875 to 1896 in broadest terms, or from the 1883 SCOTUS ruling to the 1890 Louisiana legislative act that led to Plessy, was there any great hue and cry among working-class whites about breaking labor solidarity?

Uhm, hear those crickets south of the Mason-Dixon?

The reality is that before 1890, the South, other than a few iron mills and the like, remained highly underindustrialized compared to the North, as well as highly less urbanized. Indeed, Charlotte, the focus of Semuels' article and a book behind it, had a population of just 7,000 in the 1880 Census — and 4,500 in 1870. That's why, in the brief period that Populism was able to get blacks and whites in the South together, its focus was on farm labor.

(Semuels has other problems, speaking of this issue and specific dates. She repeatedly uses "the late 1800s" in saying you could see this or that in Charlotte, without saying whether that's the 1870s, 1880s, or 1890s. And, if sources of hers are doing that, then she erred by not pinning them down.)

In other words, the likes of Semuels, and even worse, the likes of a Doug Henwood, and an Adolph Reed (more on him below) who will surely agree with Doug's liking of the piece, are conflating a mild American equivalent of Russia's Social Revolutionaries with a mild American version of Russia's Marxists.

Totally wrong.

As the South became more urbanized along with becoming more industrialized, post-Plessy segregation expanded, yes. It expanded because, with smaller cities, less need was seen for it before that time.

Beyond THAT, the very Eric Foner quoted by Semuels could have told her about the lack of industrialization in the South in the first 20 years after the Civil War. So could President Grant, as noted in Ronald C. White's new bio. Why? Northerners wouldn't invest down there, for a variety of reason. Railroad investments made more money in the Midwest and West. Other investments were problematic due to race-based violence.

Besides, as Wiki's piece on the Farmers Alliance notes, in the South, it was strictly white-only. And, it was both patronizing and condescending toward Southern blacks in maintaining Jim Crow. Again, 30 seconds on teh Google, or specifically, teh Wiki, is all that's needed to refudiate Semuels, and by extension Henwood, Reed, and others of their ilk, like Jacobin, which has on more than one occasion claimed that racism was not a problem in early organized labor. (And, in comments on one piece, doubled down on said denialism.)

Reed is even worse in attempts to claim "it's all about class."

A few months about, when discussing Black Lives Matter raising police brutality issues across the country, he responded rhetorically, wondering why police brutality was so high in New Mexico when it's one of the whitest states in the country, in his claim.
And, according to the Washington Post data, the states with the highest rates of police homicide per million of population are among the whitest in the country: New Mexico averages 6.71 police killings per million; Alaska 5.3 per million; South Dakota 4.69; Arizona and Wyoming 4.2, and Colorado 3.36. It could be possible that the high rates of police killings in those states are concentrated among their very small black populations—New Mexico 2.5%; Alaska 3.9%; South Dakota 1.9%; Arizona 4.6%, Wyoming 1.7%, and Colorado 4.5%.
No, I don't think that's playing "gotcha." Rather, I think it — and the whole piece — was Reed playing "gotcha" with Black Lives Matter activists. The first four states on the list all have high American Indian populations. New Mexico has a high Hispanic population and Arizona a medium one.

What if BLM is right — and we need to extrapolate from largely white cops' undue violence against blacks in particular to their violence against minorities in general.

But, that's a sidebar. New Mexico, separating out Hispanics of any race, as the Census calls it, as a separate socio-ethnic group, has long been a majority-minority state. Even without doing that, it's STILL a full one-third non-white. It has about zero in common demographically with Wyoming. I'm using Wikipedia, even if some call it "lazy-ass." (I'm also using my personal knowledge of New Mexico.)

And, now, Henwood apparently doesn't want to accept that, complete with screen grab sent to him via Twitter.

Dude? (And I use that term on purpose. And, now, perhaps for Henwood as well as Reed.)

New Mexico has been a majority-minority state for decades. It is one of four such states, and is specifically just 40 percent non-Hispanic white.

Whether Reed is that ignorant, or, just to insult BLM, he was claiming that if you're not black, you're white, in either case, I lost a lot of respect for him right there.

I also suspect that Tom Hanchett, author of “Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975,” is trying to make a case for Charlotte as being a foreshadower of the New South, just as Atlanta apologists have long done. That said, why Semuels is digging up a book nearly 20 years old to try to help her make her points is also interesting.

The last few paragraphs above, from the "Besides ..." on, are what led me to blog about this issue.

The left-liberals with a "class-only" lens seem to me to be guilty, first of all, of starting with a zero-sum approach to particular issues of labor or other socioeconomic troubles. And, because they're approaching it from the labor side, that zero-sum lens is a class-based one.

I have no problem seeing where class may have been an issue in segregation. But I know it wasn't the only one, and highly doubt it was the primary one. Ditto on other issues of black-white labor relations before World War II, at a minimum on a terminus ad quem.

Beyond that, I'll freely admit to being a bit of an agent provocateur, or neo-Cynic challenger of received wisdom. But, no, it's primarily that I see a certain amount of left-liberals operating with a "class-only" lens, or nearly so, on issues like this. And it's both wrong and off-putting.

To riff on an old bon mot directed against Freud? Sometimes racism is just racism.



Updates as they come via Twitter and my own research.

First, was an 1890s New Orleans strike an exception or not on poor race relations within organized labor in the South? I say more exception than rule. Even if blacks and whites struck together, they were kept in separate unions, in this case. Even with "relatively" enlightened miners in the early 1900s, segregated locals were maintained by the United Mine Workers! In other words, it's arguable that selfish white miners recognized they had to play ball with black miners just enough to keep them from being scabs, and nothing else. "Class" in capitalistic societies may ultimately be socioeconomic, but it's never JUST socioeconomic, and even that word has "socio-" in front of "economic."

And, the fact that white workers allegedly received no material benefit over racism is itself working through a quasi-Marxist lens. Many Religious Righters get no material benefit over voting GOP, but due to pro-life issues, continue to do so.

Second, a lot of people with either a class-only or a class-first lens for these issues are getting a little butt-hurt. That's fine, or "fine." It adds to my contrarian nature on something like this. (I notice that commenter "ebarr" created his Blogger or Google Plus account sometime this month, and I'll venture created earlier today just to comment here.)

Related, per one Twitter commenter? I do not claim to be seeing things through a "race-only" lens. Or necessarily through a race-first lens, though, if you want my comment on that, I DO view Jim Crow that way. Let's not forget that the incident that led to Plessy was about public transportation — nothing to do with labor issues. And, I'm sure I'm far from alone about viewing Jim Crow laws, and other elements of segregation, through a race-first lens.

And, re another commenter, I'm not a "liberal," I'm a "left-liberal." The two are different. I, as a rule of thumb, would place left-liberal — per the actual phrase — halfway between liberal and leftist. And, that self-description is nearly a decade old; today, I'm probably halfway between left-liberal and leftist. For a variety of reasons, I don't foresee using the word leftist of myself in the immediate future. That said, per that allegedly piece-of-crap Wikipedia, "libertarian socialist" is a OK, but not great, descriptor. (At the same time, I recognize that many non-communal aspects of socialism are hard to develop without government intervention, so the "libertarian" part needs a grain of salt, too. But, not too much; I'm probably about in the middle of Greens as far as views on such things. Speaking of, eco-socialist might be better yet as a descriptor. I am generally NOT a localist, as I think that, in America, that stance leaves the door open to libertarianism, states-rights movements, and big business co-option, among other things. Otherwise, I consider my political stances, along with other aspects of my self, to be kind of protean.

Re yet another Twitter commenter, I never claimed Reed was wrong in his claims on shooting disparity. Just that he was wrong — way wrong — in his demographic claims about New Mexico. Said person is now muted. I'm not a Communist, and not a real fan of people putting the hammer-and-sickle icons as part of their Facebook aliases, either. (That said, "Marxist" seems to be getting to be almost as vague a word as "liberal."

Third, I'm likely to do a pull-out or knockoff from this piece related to the first two update points. And, I'm certainly likely to do a pull-out on the Reed piece. (Elsewhere, per Naked Capitalism, he has claimed that identity politics are being used to undermine class-based politics. Dude, there are plenty of people who aren't Hillbots or other DNC surrogates, and who, like me, find your "either-or" claim ridiculous. And, you don't have to be a Green to know that. Local Democrats in Ohio are on the record as rejecting any such dichotomy. And, yes, worshipers at the cult of Reed, I think he IS perpetuating a dichotomy. Deal with it.)

Seriously, while I think he has some insights, I 
A. Think he's wrong on this and
B. Think there's a cult of Adolf Reed.

Well, as a good neo-Cynic, I love puncturing cults' balloons.


Update 2: This led me to write a blog post about Twitter protectionism by myself or others, kind of like a miniature version of concern trolling. Well, sometime between writing the Reed piece and it, Henwood blocked me. Good-bye. Just to make it formal, even though he wasn't following me, I blocked him back.

I should add, per this Existential Comics issue, that it's "interesting," during the time I followed him on Twitter, that Henwood just about never, if at all, mentioned Franz Fanon. I'm not sure Reed does a lot, either.


Update 3: This is a good point, speaking of misinterpretations of American history, to remind people that the Electoral College is NOT "all about slavery," as I blogged a month ago.


Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is not considered an academic source. You'd get tossed out of grad school for poor documentation .

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is not considered a true academic source. You'd get tossed out of grad school for poor documentation, particularly when there are real historical sources from which to choose. Jeez, even Google Scholar provides better sources.

Gadfly said...

A. I have a graduate degree.
B. The Wiki pages to which I link? Those related to Jim Crow have plenty of sublinks. The Charlotte one is PURELY about Census numbers.
C. Someone as academic as Massimo Pigliucci is as comfortable with this level of Wiki use as I am.
D. Are you also butt-hurt? If so, your problem, not mine.