"Take up the White Man's burden-
Send forth the best ye breed-
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild-
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child."
- Rudyard Kipling, 1899
Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem "White Man's Burden" to "justify" America's military incursions into Cuba and the Philippines. A few years later, Mark Twain remarked, "What about the brown man's burden?" The history of interaction between white people and non-white people is a history of conflict. The most recent history concerns colonization and expansion of the British Empire and what must now be called the American Empire.
The British occupied much of Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, and points in between. The Americans first engaged in wars with Mexicans and Indians, then set forth on the de facto colonization of Cuba, the Philippines, China, Hawaii, and points in between. Most of the white European countries, however, have long histories of interaction with the "native lands." The Roman Empire. The Spanish Conquest. The Crusades. For a couple thousand years, armed whites have ventured into the land of the non-whites and done some serious damage. At this point, a very large portion of the non-white world hates the whites because of it.
The relationship of whites to non-whites is often characterized as being one in which the non-whites are disproportionately hurt, enslaved, exploited and destroyed by the whites. There is no question that in adding up the "score," whites have done far more damage to non-whites than vice versa.
The question, which is not asked without controversy, is whether the non-whites are better or worse off for having dealt with the whites. Any blanket "excuse" for white exploitation, prejudice and violence is easily dismissed as immorality. On the other hand, we live in a world shaped by Western Civilization or "Dead White Males" as some like to say, with a little bit of derision.
The great principles of Western Civilization have been left to roll around in messy confluence with the great evils of Western Civilization. Either way, the world has been shaped, for the most part, by Western Civilization. Western Civilization is not the only civilization. The ancient world includes the antiquities of the Middle East and the philosophies of the Far East and Near East. Europe has given us its fair share of major stinkers. The French Revolution led to a century of revolution, eventually resulting in the Nazis and the Communists. Nevertheless, the contributions of Western Civilization far outweigh the evils.
The age-old question again is asked. Are non-whites better off, or worse off, on the whole, for having been forced to co-exist with the white world? Are the ancestors of slaves better or worse off for having had their ancestors brought to America? These questions have an inherent controversy attached to them, because it forces one to address whether there was justification in what happened. Of course, there is no sense of moral relativism that can ever be used to give credence to slavery or any other evil. But just as American involvement with brutal dictators who opposed Communism must be viewed under the larger picture, so too is the convoluted, complicated relationship of whites and non-whites.
Today, Liberia is a country in West Africa that is rife with genocidal violence. Freed American slaves, under the dictates of President Monroe founded this country. The capital of Liberia, Monrovia, is named after him. Are the descendants of these slaves, who barely survive the day-to-day struggle against AIDS, war, anarchy, disease and evil, better off than descendants of slaves living in, say, Detroit, Michigan?
The black-white relationship in the U.S. is more complicated than in other nations. Great Britain, for instance, is so old that one simply accepts their past misdeeds. There is too much history to try to "explain" it. But America was founded on these enormous principles of goodwill and love for our fellow man. The contrast with treatment towards blacks is something that we do try to come to grips with. The beauty of America is that we do not sweep our problems and secrets under the rug.
The question goes back to our founding, when the Constitution was written in light of the "great compromise" between the Southern and Northern states. It is easy to make the argument that the ideals of this nation are counterfeit since slavery was allowed. A defense of these actions leads one to conclusions that the "victim class" would prefer to avoid. Despite everything, the principles of freedom prevailed. The Founders did in deed allow slavery, but they had a plan to end it. The idea was to stop importing slaves from Africa. Throughout history, countries that stopped importing slaves saw slave populations die out over a few generations. The Founders thought this would happen in America.
After the importation stopped, however, an odd thing happened. Slave populations grew. They kept growing exponentially. Eventually, so many slaves had been born in the South that the question of slavery became the overriding dispute in this country. The alarming truth is that the slave populations grew because American slaveowners treated their slaves better than any slaves had ever been treated in history. Slaves had always been fed poorly, treated poorly, and died young. American slaves, for the most part, were fed well, had adequate housing, married and had families. They were allowed to worship, and lived generally healthy lives. They were slaves, but not like any other slaves in any other countries. The inability to pin down all white people as devils in the issue of slavery and civil rights ultimately leads to the success of the civil rights struggle.
Slavery was discussed earlier. It was pointed out that American laws enacted by Americans "ended" slavery. There is a sense of patriotism to this fact. America is where slavery came to die. A man can still visit a massage parlor in most U.S. cities and find some poor girl from Vietnam, Hong Kong or the Philippines, who is in some kind of bondage, probably "paying off" her handlers by working in the sex trade for five years to "earn" her freedom. The Russian Mafia has specialized in this practice, too, throughout the old East Bloc. Still, it is correct to point out that the kind of actual slavery that was practiced in the Old South is no more.
The death of Abe Lincoln is particularly tragic because, had he lived, blacks might have been allowed real freedom, instead of being sentenced to another 100 years of de facto slavery. Many blacks in the South more than likely lived worse after the Civil War than they had when they were property. The Andrew Johnson and U.S. Grant Administrations were rife with corruption and ineptitude. Reconstruction, which had started with such high hopes, ended in the 1870s an abysmal failure. The South found themselves more resentful than ever. The easy scapegoats for their hatred were the poor blacks living within their midst. It was a recipe for disaster.
Maybe, had Lincoln presided over the first four years of Reconstruction, he would have demonstrated enough leadership to enact a real peace. Maybe he would have failed, and his legacy would have suffered because of it. Either way, what did come out of it was something called "Jim Crow."
The term originated in a song performed by Daddy Rice, a white minstrel show entertainer in the 1830s. Rice covered his face with charcoal to resemble a black man, and then sang and danced a routine in caricature of a silly black person. He called the character Jim Crow. By the 1850s, this Jim Crow character was a popular depiction of black inferiority.
There is no clear-cut explanation as to why this term was eventually used to refer to "laws" used to keep black people segregated. What is clear is that the laws were in place and used to subordinate blacks to the dictates of whites. Segregation took a clear turn immediately after the Civil War. Both whites and blacks instituted it. "Carpet bagging" whites did come to the South, "mixing" with Northern blacks. The populace quickly scorned this practice. Whites had no desire to share their lives with blacks. Blacks were not comfortable making any attempt to mix with whites.
The former slaves established their own churches and schools. Black Codes enacted to legally impose discrimination were short-lived, but the Federal government declared these "laws" illegal. The passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments, along with the two Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, and various Enforcement Acts of the early 1870s, curtailed the ability of Southern whites to formally deprive blacks of their civil rights.
For a period of time, African-Americans made progress in building their own institutions, passing civil rights laws. They elected officials to public office. Secret organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan were created as a backlash. The result was brutalization and terror. Federal attempts to stop it were weak, in part because they feared starting a "second Civil War."
In 1877, Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes ended Reconstruction, essentially abandoning Southern blacks. This was not the Republican party's finest hour. In the 1880s, mob lynchings, a brutal prison system, and chain gangs were imposed upon the black population.
Blacks were required to sit in "The Jim Crow Car," even if they had bought first-class train tickets. Miscegenation laws banning interracial marriages were passed, although violence would likely meet people who dared such a thing long before they faced a court of law. The situation in the South began to take on more than just a "backlash" character. It had started as revenge for losing the Civil War and hatred for all things having to do with the Union. By the late 1880s, however, a disturbing religious character had seeped into the South. The concept of "white superiority" became more prevalent. Many felt it was a "sacred duty" of sorts to "save" the white race from the blacks. Mixing threatened the very survival of the superior white race, according to this logic. Southern states passed suffrage laws and poll taxes. Half the blacks of Georgia and South Carolina voted in 1880. Almost none could vote by 1888. Ballots were stolen, misdirected or simply not counted.
Mississippi disfranchised black males through literacy tests, poll taxes, and "white primaries." Actual laws replaced fraud and force. By 1910, the entire former Confederacy had adopted these laws. During slavery, blacks and whites frequently co-mingled, but now social contact became virtually non-existent. The result was total lack of understanding on both sides for the other. There was no empathy or understanding. For instance, the practice of white nurses volunteering to deliver children or tend to the sick in the black populations was outlawed.
Lower-class whites, who at one time had identified with blacks, now saw them as threats for what was left of society. They wanted to wrest political power from merchants and large landowners who controlled the vote of their indebted black tenants by taking away black suffrage. As time went on, a new problem emerged. Blacks born after slavery were referred to as "uppity" because they wanted full rights as Americans. More and more blacks learned how to read, and by reading the Constitution and related material, they came to realize they were being illegally discriminated against.
The religious context of "protecting" the white race was matched by a pseudo-science called eugenics, which used empirical evidence that showed black inferiority. With the Federal government again threatening to intervene, the South legally ending suffrage for blacks to keep Washington out of their affairs. The violence would also end. Some blacks were willing to sacrifice their right to vote in return for an end to terror.
Sharecropping left most blacks dependent upon planter-landlords and merchant suppliers. Any attempts at protest brought the threat of lynch mobs. Banks, merchants, and landlords made it institutionally impossible for impoverished, illiterate blacks to confront Jim Crow.
The Supreme Court sanctioned segregation by upholding the "separate but equal" clause of state laws in Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896). It was the second time the Supremes had gotten it wrong. The Dred Scott case prior to the Civil War had sanctioned the view of slaves as legal property in certain states. The Federal government failed to enact anti-lynching laws.
By the 20th Century, blacks and private Northern white groups had started black colleges. Whites in the South had refused to build black public high schools until the 20th Century. Education became the only avenue for blacks. Their literacy nearly doubled from 1880 to 1930, rising from less than 45 percent to 77 percent. By 1910, segregated black institutions enabled a small, middle class of prosperous black participants who lived "behind the veil," in the words of the black intellectual, W.E.B. Du Bois. Southern blacks adopted appeasement tactics called "dissembling," or a psychological ploy that manifested itself as shuffling, feigning irresponsibility, and "turning the other cheek." African-Americans endured words such as "boy," "girl," "uncle," "auntie," and "nigger."
African-Americans resisted by mocking whites in song, jokes, and stories, called "putting on the man, " or playing Sambo to manipulate white masters and alleviate suffering. The result was mixed. Whites were too smart to be fooled by the mockery, which simply inflamed their anger more. But the worst part was that in playing, or actually being, the stereotype, blacks found that whites came to expect this docility. In later years, when the Civil Rights Movement picked up steam, the contrast between the Sambo caricature and serious petition became a culture shock for whites they could not handle.
Literature and film of the period immortalized characters like Uncle Tom, Uncle Remus, Jim Crow and "Old Black Joe". D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) depicted elected black Reconstruction Congressmen as ape-characters eating bananas on the House floor. Black film actors were cast as lazy, submissive, and docile.
Amid the disturbing realities of life under Jim Crow were acts of resistance. 4,000 African-Americans were said to be lynched, mutilated and burned alive from 1882 to 1968, mostly for challenging or breaking Jim Crow laws.
Owning a prosperous grocery store could make blacks stand out, therefore incurring white wrath. Prosperous blacks took to living in unpainted houses and maintaining "run-down" and unpainted businesses, avoiding new carriages and automobiles, so as to stay unnoticed. Black newspaper editors, church leaders, and civil rights' advocates were especially vulnerable.
By 1905, the debate on how to deal with Jim Crown was between the followers of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. Washington was born in slavery. He advocated segregation, farming and community support, choosing to "lay low" in order to avoid violent confrontation that he knew blacks would not win. He helped form the Tuskegee Institute, and discovered that there was a great deal of white goodwill and philanthropy. He chose not to antagonize his white sympathizers, realizing that his cause would never be won unless he had the backing of enough whites. He preached training in the arts of agriculture and teaching. Economic security, Washington said, had to be achieved before any other freedoms were possible.
Du Bois was a Harvard-educated, New England-born intellectual who said Washington was an appeaser. Du Bois insisted that Constitutional rights of citizenry come first, and that a talented elite of black Americans would lead the rest, making the fundamental decisions for the masses.
Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter founded the Niagara Movement, advocating activism over gradualism. The Niagara Movement eventually became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an interracial organization that emerged in 1909. In the 1920s, the NAACP filed numerous lawsuits and lobbied Congress to pass Federal anti-lynching laws. The nationwide laws never came to fruition, but the media exposure reduced the practice.
The philosophical divide between Washington-Du Bois also led to a disturbing trend in which "light skinned" blacks were favored by their own community over "African" blacks. Most of the black intellectuals had a great deal of white blood in them. They effected white hairstyles, called "conking." This was the practice of "straightening" the natural kinky hair of Africans into the long styles of Caucasians.
In the 1930s, the NAACP, under Walter White and Charles Hamilton Houston, challenged segregation and disfranchisement in the United States Supreme Court. This was the genesis for the Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court ruling of 1954. It was a landmark case that reversed the Court's support for the "separate but equal" doctrine, and opened the floodgates for the Civil Rights Movement
Organizations like the National Urban League, the National Negro Congress, and the Communist Party all were prominent in the Civil Rights Movement. Communist's, seeing racial inequality as a niche with which to gain a toehold in American society, defended the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s and formed an off-shoot called the League of Struggle for Negro Rights. The Scottsboro case involved the trumped up convictions of nine black youths falsely accused of assaulting two white women. Rural African-Americans joined the socialist Southern Tenant Farmers' Union.
New musical forms of ragtime, jazz and blues were a reaction to repression. Jazz, which adapted African and plantation-based rhythms to European harmony, was a huge success with white audiences. It did as much to bring races together as any social factor. It defied old stereotypes of the "coon songs" and minstrel shows. New Orleans in the South and Harlem in the North became centers of black cultural experience. When the music was exported to Paris, it found enthusiastic acceptance there, too.
Sports became the other great avenue for black success. In the West, black athletes played side-by-side white teammates. The University of Southern California is a football power with one of the longest traditions in the nation. Their very first All-American was a black player, Brice Taylor in 1926. Negro Leagues were formed in baseball, and eventually all-star exhibitions were played between the Negro and Major Leagues, with the black teams faring at least on an equal footing, if not better.
Negro League barnstorming teams are responsible for the popularity of baseball in Latin America, where they played in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other countries. Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo recruited Negro League all-stars to play for his national team in the 1930s, with the warning that they had better win "or else." Soldiers brandishing weapons hammered the point home. The team went undefeated.
In 1936, an Ohio State track star named Jesse Owens put on the greatest display heretofore seen in the Olympics, defying Adolf Hitler and the Nazis who hosted the Games. Boxing had always been a natural road for black athletic success, with mixed social results. Around the turn of the century, the greatest heavyweight boxer in the world was a black man named Jack Johnson. Johnson, however, was ahead of his time. He flaunted his money and fame, openly sleeping with white women. This infuriated white audiences, who howled for his come-uppance, which he defied by egging them on while defeating all challengers. Eventually, it caught up with him. Authorities used the Mann Act to drag him down. This law made it illegal to bring a woman, not ones' wife, across state lines for "immoral purposes." Inherit in the charges was the assumption that any white woman in Johnson's company had to be "immoral." Johnson set black-white relations back by turning whites against his race, reinforcing the attitude that blacks could not handle money or freedom.
Joe Louis was a great champion who in the 1930s fought the German champion Max Schmelling twice. Schmelling defeated Louis the first time, which was a big propaganda coup for Hitler. In the re-match Louis floored him. This was a big moment, because many white Americans rooted for the German, but Louis' defeat of him the second time helped bring the country together, recognizing the threat of the Nazis and the theories of racial superiority.
After World War II, many changes were in the offing. The biggest came when Jackie Robinson crossed baseball's color barrier. Robinson's success on the field and greatness as a man off it were of vital importance in the struggle.
Black protest literature reached full expression in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. "New Negro" poetry and literature emphasized self-respect and defiance. World Wars I and II cut off European immigration, creating a labor shortage and opportunity for blacks in the North. Cities like Detroit and Cleveland had huge increases in the black populations because of the factories. On the West Coast, Oakland and Los Angeles saw migrations of blacks to work in shipyards. They took advantage of less severe attitudes. The North was not the "Promised Land." Whites resisted the blacks, and race riots erupted in East St. Louis, Houston, Chicago, Tulsa, and many other places.
The NAACP and the National Urban League worked towards integration, but the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League took a different approach. Led by Marcus Garvey, they advocated self-help and black autonomy, which became the "back to Africa" movement. The movement did not materialize because many blacks came to realize that despite racism, America still offered the best opportunity in the world. U.S. laws, the courts and political system, the free press, economic opportunities, and a wide range of social factors combined to lead folks to understand that within the framework of America lay their best hopes.
Many blacks served as soldiers in the two great wars of the first half of the century. This experience had a two-fold effect. On the one hand, they were repulsed by further racism in the armed forces, reinforcing their desires to get out of the South upon discharge. On the other, they were exposed to American values, saw the need to defend Democracy, and in comparing the U.S. with her enemies, namely Germany and Japan, the realization that the U.S. was the greatest country in the world strengthened resolve to achieve social goals. At the end of the day, America was too great for social injustice to overcome it. We live in a world in which people of every color, nationality and religion comes here. Almost nobody ever leaves here.
African-American leader A. Philip Randolph had threatened in 1941 to lead 50,000 blacks in a non-violent "March on Washington D.C." to protest segregation in the military. President Franklin Roosevelt had already gained popularity with blacks by creating "relief" during the Depression. Blacks were astounded to find that they could receive checks from the Federal government for not working. Many found panacea in the Democrat party as a result. Eleanor Roosevelt was a passionate advocate for civil rights. African-American voter registration rose from 150,000 in 1940 to more than a million by 1952.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, stepped onto a city bus after spending a long day working as a seamstress. She took an empty seat in the "colored" section, but the "white" section in the front filled up. The white driver then told Parks to relinquish her seat. She said no. Rosa was arrested and put in jail. The act inspired the Montgomery bus boycott, and pointed out a truth about race relations. Whites were happy to take black's money, but "reserved the right to refuse" them service if the circumstances did not suit them. The Montgomery bus company made a significant portion of its income from black riders. The blacks realized that economic protest was a powerful tool. It was a successful non-violent protest, received national publicity, lasted a year, and ended with a Supreme Court declaration that bus segregation was un-Constitutional.
A new activism, now known as the Civil Rights Movement, also was called the "Second Reconstruction" because it completed Congressional action embodied in the 14th and 15th Amendments, passed in the decade after the Civil War. This movement also coincided with the fall of the British Empire. It drew inspiration from the de-colonization of non-white nations throughout the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had decided to pattern the movement on the non-violent tactics espoused by Mahatma Gandhi.
With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legalized segregation and the disfranchisement of African-Americans came to an end. The improvements made in society since then have been so drastic that less than 20 percent of modern college students even know what "Jim Crow" means, associating it with a "vague notion" that it once had something to do with segregation, which to young people today is simply ancient history. Unfortunately, the enormous changes have left many young blacks ignorant of the sacrifices made by their elders.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism