Tag Archives: Race

The Iron in the Blood of Our Fathers (VIAL)

 

 

“God has… made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given us the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America…. We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace. 

“What shall history say of us? Shall it say that we renounced that holy trust, left the savage to its base conditions, the wilderness to the reign of waste, deserted duty, abandoned glory?… Our fathers… unfurled no retreating flag. That flag has never paused in its onward march. Who dares halt it now– now, when history’s largest events are carrying it forward?”

–Senator Albert Beveridge, Speech from January 9, 1900.

 “Thank God for the iron in the blood of our fathers, the men who upheld the wisdom of Lincoln and bore sword or rifle in the armies of Grant! Let us, the children of the men who proved themselves equal to the mighty days, let us, the children of the men who carried the great Civil War to a triumphant conclusion, praise the God of our fathers that the ignoble counsels of peace were rejected; that the suffering and loss, the blackness of sorrow and despair, were unflinchingly faced and the years of strife endured; for in the end the slave was freed, the Union restored, and the mighty American republic placed once more as a helmeted queen among nations” (5). 

Theodore Roosevelt, “The Strenuous Life” (1899)

“The cyclone of civilization rolled westward; the forests of untold centuries were swept away; streams dried up; lakes fell back from their ancient bounds; and all our fathers once loved to gaze upon was destroyed, defaced, or marred, except the sun, moon and starry skies above, which the Great Spirit in his wisdom hung beyond their reach.”

Simon Pokagon, “The Red Man’s Greeting” at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

“My thoughts, the thoughts of Washington, Trotter and others, were the expression of social forces more than of our own minds. These forces or ideologies embraced more than our reasoned acts. They included physical, biological and psychological forces; habits, conventions and enactments. Opposed to these came natural reaction: the physical recoil of the victims, the unconscious and irrational urges, as well as reasoned complaints and acts. The total result was the history of our day. That history may be epitomized in one word– Empire; the domination of white Europe over black Africa and yellow Asia, through political power built on the economic control of labor, income and ideas. The echo of this industrial imperialism in America was the expulsion of black men from American democracy, their subjection to caste control and wage slavery. This ideology was triumphant in 1910”

WEB DuBois, Dusk of Dawn. 

It’s easy enough to see the grounding for Beveridge’s remarks. He positions himself, and by extension the nation, at the apex of a hierarchy of races. God himself has ordained this superiority. In distinction to the “savage and senile” America and Americans are charged with a global, even cosmic, duty to propel humanity forward into the light of civilization. In the face of degeneration, the slide into exhaustion and weakness, an American Empire will vivify the world. And if this process of invigoration is violent, if the work of “adepts” and “guardians” and “trustees” necessarily entails extermination or punishment then who are we to deny the claims made upon us by a “holy trust”?

Beveridge’s speech to the senate is spoken in the language of blood, which operates in several different registers. There is the sanguinary image of “our blood and treasure”– the human and financial capital invested in the pursuit of American Empire. This project consists of a double gesture of de-colonizing the Philippines, of attempting to cleanse the trace of “three centuries of contact with a decadent race”– the Spanish– and governing “these children”– Filipinos– who “are not capable of self-government.” The outcome of this articulated process depends on a kind of magic: “what alchemy will change the oriental quality of their blood and set the self-governing currents of the American pouring through their Malay veins?”

In his appeal to the Senate, Beveridge counterposes the “precious blood that must be shed” by American soldiers against the pernicious influence of material comforts which may lead to an emasculated pacifism. The ennervation of the nation, “Mammon and the love of ease,” threaten to “debase our blood” such that “we will fear to shed it for the flag and its imperial destiny.” Blood is the thread connecting the economic and racial wealth of a republic expanding into empire. It is the currency of that struggle for glory and in turn its reward. In the brutal occupation of the Philippines “our soldiers’ blood is flowing” in order to vivify the blood of the nascent empire’s true heirs. Yet “ barbarous” Filipinos themselves– “Orientals, Malays, instructed by Spaniards in the latter’s worst estate”– are promised redemption by a transfusion of republican virtue.

Class Notes for VIAL 9/3

Today we talked about the centrality of race in American history and culture. I argued that the notion that the US is a “post-racial” society falls apart when we look beyond what people subjectively believe into the structure of society. For example, most of us would be hard pressed to find someone willing to call themselves a racist. But if we look to some of the social problems and situations that characterize the modern US– for instance 1/3 of African-American men aged 20-29 are in jail, on parole, or awaiting trial— we see that race and racism still exert a powerful influence on the world we live in. 

These remarks were an effort to prime us for discussion of one of the most incendiary novels in American literature. As I indicated, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned by some libraries almost immediately. Since the 1880s the book has been censored, pulled from the shelves, and derided by many organizations. The American Library Association lists AHF as one of the fifth most “challenged” books for the years 1990-2000. Yet while the Concord Library censored AHF in 1885 because it was “trash” which might negatively influence young people, in 2003 the parent of a student in Renton, Washington took issue with the book because of its use of racist language. 

One of the great writers of the 20th century, Ralph Ellison, described the musical form of the Blues as

“an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism.”

I think that definition suits Mark Twain’s novel as well. There are elements of comedy and cruelty in this work, deep affection and ruthlessness. Huck himself is haunted by a profound sense of isolation and loneliness, a condition he only seems to escape, as Toni Morrison argues, in the company of Jim. Our goal in reading and discussing this text ought to be to delve into the tangle of meaning and history that produced it in order to better understand our own contemporary situation. To do that you will need to take this assignment seriously. To complete the readings on time (up to p. 116 for Friday) and to adopt an informed and attentive attitude in class. 

For your pleasure: The Rap of Jim and Huck

rent-a-negro/ Barbie (contcult)

Here’s the site I was talking about in class. 

Also, a news article from the UK Guardian which, on its own, adds another brick to the Orientalist wall of representations of Persia/Iran. Note, however, that Barbie has many critics, including various medical organizations which have studied Barbie’s influence on body-image and psychological development in young girls, as well as hypothesizing what ailments a 36-18-33 woman 35 pounds underweight might suffer. Barbies or Barbie-like dolls now feature in world culture at large and include Fulla, the Egyptian Barbie, and Sara, who hails from Iran. 

Molten Salad

 

The world is as simple as we are. Common sense– sense that is held in common, as opposed to good or bad sense– dictates to us that things are pretty much as they seem to be. For this reason it is obvious, as Terry Eagleton once wrote, that the sun revolves around the earth. We can see that it does every day. 

In our discussions on The Gangster We Are All Looking For, we will have occasion to think about the common sense of national identity. We will engage with that venerable model of society the melting pot and more recent responses to it such as the tossed salad or the mosaic. We will examine just what those paradigms seek to do and what ideologies they promote. 

Roughly, the melting pot is predicated on the idea of cultural assimilation, the notion that the nation is best served if all its inhabitants share certain values. An earlier version of the melting pot theory emphasized citizenship for particular groups. Some immigrants were held to be assimilable while others were viewed as incapable of fully integrating into American life. Legislation around the turn of the 20th century limited the numbers of Asians, for instance, including “immigration exclusion acts and laws against naturalization of Chinese in 1882, Asian Indians in 1917, Japanese and Koreans in 1924, and Filipinos in 1934” (Lowe 3). The tossed salad thesis, on the other hand, corresponds to multiculturalism, a belief in the power of racial and ethnic diversity. People of varying backgrounds ought to be encouraged to retain their distinct cultural features, the logic goes, because the friction and ferment of difference vitalizes social life. Students in ‘mixed’ classrooms learn about each other in addition to whatever content the course is intended to teach. Both of these models have their limits and it is my own personal sense that while our culture at large pays lip service to the latter, there are still many Americans who embrace the former. Luckily, we are not forced merely to choose between the two. Armed with a capacity for critical thought, we can push the often very banal public dialog on immigration, race and American identity into more interesting and productive directions.