75 Years of Celebrating Oppression: Rosy White Racial Framing



People sometimes contend we are in a post-racial America, but you have to be pretty naïve or deceptive to really say that. It is not just colorblind racism, it is usually intentional deception when whites say “I don’t see race” or “we live in a pro-racial society.” Most know better from their daily lives as much social science data on whites’ backstage discussions reveals.

Some have asked about how our old and deep racial framing gets perpetuated, A very good example of how the 400-year-old white racial frame is perpetuated can be seen in the ongoing contemporary celebration and viewing of the old white racist movie, Gone with the Wind.

CNN has this long article on the recent celebrations of 75 years of the novel. And in “post-racial America” and world, it is still making huge amounts of money, as a book and as a film that teaches people everywhere lies and misrepresentations of the old, brutal, and bloody slaveholding South:

More than 30 million copies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel are in print worldwide, . . . [and] Selznick’s 1939 adaptation finishes atop most reckonings of the biggest-earning films of all-time, …. Throw in sequels, licensing and merchandise, and …. “It’s making more money now than it ever did in Mitchell’s lifetime,” says John Wiley…

That means huge numbers of people are still reading the novel or watching the movie worldwide, probably many each hour of each day of each year. People still meet to really celebrate for two days the highly racist book and movie, as 100 folks did recently, including at least one person of color. They met at the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, not far from Mitchell’s Atlanta grave. Interestingly, they had a GWTW museum before we had a museum in Washington, D.C. to deal with our heritage of slavery. And this is about the only weak criticism in the CNN story:

Of course, the book does have political problems of its own. Its apologetic depiction of slavery and liberal use of the N-word are hard for modern audiences to overlook.

So that is the best CNN can do as a critique of the novel and the movie—“political problems”—as though GWTW’s rather rosy depictions of slavery and plantations are somehow just debatable “problems” of a political sort? Actually, GWTW as novel and movie is more like the contemporary denial histories of the European Holocaust. We, or at least many of us, are still in denial about the brutality and oppressiveness of our long racist history–and the lasting consequences.

At least as sad as the rosy celebrations of America’s slave labor camps–called plantations and slave farms—and their fictional Civil War history is the fact that CNN thought a mostly positive review of celebrations of Gone with the Wind was in order. Clearly, not even the media are ready to take on a real critique of the depth and reality of the North American racial foundation we call slavery. No mention of that reality in this story, or how the novel, movie, and celebrations get our history quite wrong.

This country, after all, is the only “Western advanced industrialized” country that is based on 246 years of slavery, more than half its history, which was followed by nearly a century of the near-slavery of Jim Crow segregation. Clearly, the fictions and denials are not gone with the wind. One sees very well here how little we have progressed as a nation, when we cannot have an honest and ongoing discussion of the enslavement of millions of human beings in slave labor camps that kidnapped them, exploited them, tortured them, killed them or shortened their lives, and built up the great wealth of the white-run nation. Even the election of an African American president has not changed this reality.

April 15th: White Nationalists Marching

BlackAgendaReport executive editor, Glen Ford, has a hard-hitting take on the rather overt, substantially white nationalist movement that is reflected in much of the Tea Party movement:

The campaign to bring White nationalism, the founding ideology of the United States, fully out of the closet, kicks into a higher gear on the Right’s anti-holiday, April 15. Newt Gingrich and the various tribes of White Rightists unveil their “Contract From America,” a scaled-down version of the manifesto the Republicans rallied around to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1994. … It is written largely in code, the language of obfuscation that American racists speak in an attempt to hide their white supremacist beliefs….

He notes too some of the mythology around the movement:

Corporate media almost universally describe the Tea Partyers as “anti-government” – which is nonsense. They oppose the government providing assistance – economic, legal, educational, real or imagined – to those that are “undeserving,” which in their world consists mostly of folks that can be defined by race, language or religion …. Naturally, the average Tea Partyer – when sober – will deny having “a racist bone” in his body, but any group whose unifying characteristic is daily engorgement on Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck is, by definition, racist.

However,

What the Tea Partyers really oppose is a social contract among all the resident peoples of the United States. In this, they are indeed the direct political progeny of the Founding Fathers and the great mass of white settlers, who found the very concept of full U.S. citizenship for Africans and Native Americans monstrously repugnant, a devaluation of their superior white selves.

And today,

The white nationalists want their white nation back. But they can’t have it. And, since there can be no bargaining on that issue, there is no reason whatsoever for Blacks and browns and people of good will to engage or humor the Tea Party’s white nationalists. There is nothing to concede to them, and nothing they can offer us to which we are not already entitled. … Just as they reject a national social contract with non-whites, they reject any compact with other peoples of the world, particularly the non-white ones.

The Internet Angle: Cyber Racism and Domestic Terrorism

ValueIn today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” series, The Editors have an online forum about the “Internet angle” on the recent acts of domestic terrorism (Creative Commons License photo credit: pasukaru76 ).  In both recent cases -  the murder of Dr. Tiller and the attack on the Holocaust Museum – The Editors write that “the suspect arrested was well-known among fringe “communities” on the Web” (the quotes around “communities” are in the original from The Editors). I’m going to leave the Tiller case for now, and focus on an examination of the Internet angle in the von Brunn case.  I return to the Tiller case at the end of this post.

After von Brunn was released from prison he went to work for a Southern California bookstore affiliated with the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) a Holocaust-denial group.

I refer to the IHR site (and others) as “cloaked” sites because they intentionally disguise their intention in order to fool the unsuspecting web user about their purpose.   As I’ve written about here before and in the book, the cloaked sites draw millions of readers each year.

Following that, von Brunn created his own virulently anti-Semitic website called Holy Western Empire (link not provided).   If you’re curious about his web presence, several writers at TPM have posted screen shots of von Brunn’s overtly racist and antisemitic website and other online postings here, here and here.  Von Brunn’s sites appear to be “brochure” sites – that is, one-way transfers of information (rather than interactive sites where users can add content).

I’ve spent more than ten years researching hate and white supremacy online and in my new book, Cyber Racism, I discuss both kinds of websites:  the “cloaked” sites like those of the Institute for Historical Review and the overtly racist and antisemitic websites like von Brunn’s Holy Western Empire.

There is no denying that white supremacy has entered the digital era. And, the overt racist and antisemitic sites have proven even more popular in the Age of Obama.

Avowed white supremacist extremists, such as James von Brunn (and David Duke), were early adopters  of Internet technologies.  White supremacists were among the first to create, publish and maintain web pages on the Internet.   The reality that von Brunn and other white supremacists were early adopters of the Internet runs counter to two prevailing notions we have: 1) that white supremacists are gap-toothed, ignorant, unsophisticated and uneducated; and, 2)  that the Internet is a place without “race.”

In fact, neither of these notions is accurate or supported by empirical evidence.  There’s plenty of data to show that some white supremacists are smart, as well as Internet savvy.   And, the Internet is very much a ‘place’ where race and racism exist.

So, what’s at stake here?  What’s the harm in white supremacy online?

I argue that there are a number of ways in which white supremacy online is a cause for concern, namely: 1) easy access and global linkages, 2) harm in real life, and 3) the challenge to cultural values such as racial equality.

With the Internet, avowed white supremacists have easy access to others that share their views and the potential at least to connect globally, across national boundaries with those like-minded people.  I highlight potential because  so far, there hasn’t been any sign of transnational border crossing to carry out white supremacist terrorist acts, although while there is a great deal of border crossing happening online.

There is also a real danger that ‘mere words’ on extremist websites can harm others in real life (e.g., Tsesis, Destructive Messages: How Hate Speech Paves the Way for Harmful Social Movements, NYU Press, 2002).   And, for this reason, I’m in favor of a stronger stance on removing hate speech from the web and prosecuting those who publish it for inciting racial hatred and violence.    In my view, websites such as von Brunn’s constitute a burning cross in the digital era and there is legal precedent to extinguish such symbols of hate while still valuing free speech (see Chapter 9 in Cyber Racism for an extensive discussion of efforts to battle white supremacy online transnationally).    There is, however, lots of ‘room for debate’ on this subject and that’s the focus of the NYTimes forum today.

It’s important to highlight the cloaked websites I mentioned earlier.  The emergence of cloakes sites illustrate a central feature of propaganda and cyber racism in the digital era: the use of difficult-to-detect authorship and hidden agendas intended to accomplish political goals, including white supremacy.

The danger in the cloaked sites is much more insidious than the overt sites, and here’s why:  even if we could muster the political will in the U.S. to make overt racist hate speech illegal – admittedly a long shot – such legislation would do nothing to address the lies contained in cloaked sites.

The goal of cloaked sites is to undermine agreed upon facts – such as the fact that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust – and to challenge cultural values such as racial equality and tolerance.    And, these sites are the ones that are likely to fool a casual web user who may stumble upon them and be unable to decipher fact from propaganda.

I’ll give you one other example of a cloaked site and connect this back to the Tiller case.   A student of mine a couple of years ago made an in-class presentation in which she included the website Teen Breaks to illustrate the concept of “post-abortion syndrome.”  Now, as savvy readers and those involved in pro-choice politics know, there is no medically recognized “post-abortion syndrome.”  This is a rhetorical strategy of the anti-abortion movement used to terrify women and keep them from having abortions.   This pro-life propaganda is effectively disguised by the cloaked site  Teen Breaks which appears to be one of many sites on the web that offer reproductive health information for teens.

This cloaked site takes a very different strategy from the “hit list” websites that publish the names, home addresses, and daily routines of abortion providers.    Whereas the “hit list” not-so-subtly advocates murder, the cloaked sites undermine the very agreed upon facts about the health risks of abortion.     These are two very different, but both very chilling, assaults on women’s ability to make meaningful choices about their reproductive lives.

Similarly, the holocaust-denial sites and the overt racist and antisemitic websites are two very different, and both chillingly effective, assaults on racial equality.

Czech University Cancels Lectures by David Duke

One of the things I was surprised to learn in research for my upcoming book, is that young people (ages 15-19) surfing the Internet for information about civil rights who stumble upon a reference to David Duke have no idea who he is, and therefore don’t immediately discredit him.   I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me given that most of the national headlines David Duke as former Ku Klux Klan wizard and then as david_duke_and_udo_voigt_2002a suit-and-tie-racist and Louisiana politician happened long before most 15-19 year olds were paying attention to news.  And, in the past few years, Duke has spent much of his time in Europe where he his brand of white supremacy has been well-received (pictured here with German far-right leader, Udo Voigt). Duke even received an honorary doctorate and often refers to himself as “Dr. Duke.”

So, it was encouraging news when I read recently that Duke was banned from delivering lectures at Charles University in Prague and Brno, Czech Republic, university authorities said.  (I guess I also felt a special glee because a couple of years ago I’d been to Brno, Czech Republic to give a talk about my work.   I’m not saying these two events are related, just a happy coincidence, but I digress.)  The article refers to Duke as a “former white supremacist,” and nothing could be further from the truth.  While he has discarded the hoods and robes of the Klan, he is a regularly featured celebrity on an Internet radio show hosted by Stormfront, the largest and longest-running white supremacist website.

Part of what’s so pernicious about Duke’s particular brand of white supremacy, racism and antisemitism is the way that he has been able to both appropriate and influence more respected hatemongers, such as academic Kevin McDonald.   Kevin McDonald’s ties to extremists such as David Duke have been well-documented by the ADL and I wrote a long post about him awhile ago.

And, Duke was among the first white supremacists to see the potential of the Internet for spreading his views of white supremacy.  Back in the mid-1990s he wrote,  “I believe that the Internet will begin a chain reaction of racial enlightenment that will shake the world by the speed of its intellectual conquest.”   The reality that David Duke and other white supremacists were early adopters of the Internet, runs counter to prevailing notions about white supremacists as bumpkins and about the Internet as an inherently democratic space.

Finally, in the category of the extremely strange bedfellows created by Holocaust denialism, in 2007 David Duke attended a conference called “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision,” sponsored by the Iranian government.  While denounced by the governments of the United States, Britain (among others), in attendance were 67 participants from 30 countries including Frederick Töben of Australia, Robert Faurisson of France, and a group of Orthodox Jews who despise Zionism.  Of course, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was a key figure in organizing and speaking at the conference.  Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis a “myth.”

Perhaps now that the Czech Republic has cancelled lectures by Duke, the support he once enjoyed overseas is beginning to turn to distaste.

U.N. Anti-Racism Conference

eleanorroosevelthumanrightsThe U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva adopted a consensus resolution yesterday that demands action against racism and xenophobia.  The resolution is not without controversy, however, and this rather lengthy post is meant to serve as a review of some of the key issues surrounding the controversy that developed it.  First, a little history.

U.N. Declares Freedom from Racism a Fundamental Human Right

The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed in 1948 largely due to the efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt (pictured here holding a copy of the declaration, image in the public domain from Wikimedia), includes in it language that reads:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Article 2).

That commitment to human rights in general, and racial equality in particular led to a series of conferences sponsored by the U.N. on racism, the third of which was the first U.N. World Conference Against Racism in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.   This conference is widely referred to by the shorthand “Durban,” or the “Durban Racism Conference.”  That first conference was intensely controversial for the kind of extreme antisemitism it attracted, as the Christian Science Monitor recounts in a recent article:

Some pro-­Palestinian supporters passed out fliers containing a photograph of Hitler captioned, “What if I had won? There would be no Israel and no Palestinian bloodshed.” Thousands of NGO delegates approved a document that branded Israel guilty of genocide, apartheid, and other war crimes.Then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson found the forum recommendations so toxic she refused to “forward” them on to the governments.

Yet, as the CSM goes on to point out, often forgotten is the fact that the gathered diplomats stripped out the most incendiary anti-Israel language even though it did make reference to “the plight of the Palestinian people,” a reference which many objected to as anti-Israel if not a veiled antisemitic attack.

Antisemitism & Racism: Disaster from Disaster

Given this context of overt and extreme antisemitism at the first Durban conference, the second conference had a lot of disadvantages at the start.  The second conference, known as the Durban Review Conference (April 20-24, 2009), is still in process and yet many have already declared it a “disaster,” such as 

“There has only ever been one United Nations conference on racism before and it ended in disaster. The second begins in it.”

Part of what prompts Ms. Philp to call the Durban Review “a disaster from disaster” is the extensive boycott by many of the invited nations, led by the U.S.:

“The boycott, begun by the United States and Israel, has snowballed so far across the Western world that any official international consensus on dealing with racism and xenophobia now looks near pointless. “

It’s true that the U.S. has led the way in undermining the Durban Review conference, and to the extent that this has been about taking a stand against antisemitism this is a very good thing.

In fact, the U.S. deciding to boycott the Durban Review was responding to the 2001 Durban resolution.  Here’s the CSM article again on this issue:

“In a statement released Saturday, the US State Department cited the 2001 Durban text in explaining its withdrawal from this conference. That document “singles out one particular conflict and prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians,” it said. And since the draft document for this meeting is based on the previous meeting’s, the US could not participate.”

And, as if there needed to be any more confirmation of the overt antisemitic intentions of some of the key players involved at the Durban Review, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech that was more a hate-filled screed than a stand against racism.  Clearly, what Ahmadinejad and other hate-mongers have done is seize upon this opportunity to fight racism in order to advance their antisemitic, (not to mention homophobic – but that’s another post -) and hate-filled agenda.   You can begin to see why some would call this conference a “disaster,” but I’m not quite ready to write it off.   

Protesting & Monitoring the Geneva Conference

durban_review_protest

Fortunately, Ahmadinejad’s intolerance did not go without protest and a number of world leaders, as well as NGOs and unaffiliated citizens, walked out of his speech (image of unidentified protesters in Geneva courtesy of DurbanReview).

In addition to the protests, some people have been closely monitoring the Geneva Conference.  For example, Andre Oboler launched on a news service April 2nd 2009 about the conference called DurbanReview (http://www.durbanreview.org/).   Durban Review is a volunteer project supported by a number of NGOs with people on the ground in Geneva and Oboler coordinating information and news gathering several time zones away in Australia.

One of the useful bits at DurbanReview is the piece on the sponsoring nations, aka “string pullers,” and Gregg Rickman’s piece on what’s problematic about this roster.

Hope for a Stand Against Racism and Antisemitism?

As Matt notes,  the conference started on Hitler’s birthday – certainly a bit of inauspicious scheduling on someone’s part – and yet he writes that despite that he’s heartened by the protests to antisemitism:

If people and nations are unwilling to accept antisemitism, there might be a chance to keep it from spreading. Perhaps the antisemites of the world will be radicalized, but if enough nations are willing, we can deal with that.

I agree, I do think there’s hope in that.  And,  I think that the example of being at the conference, and thus, being able to walk out on Ahmadinejad’s speech is more powerful than not attending the conference altogether. As Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, points out:

Nations that attended this conference in good faith proved that it’s possible to reaffirm the global commitment to fight racism, despite efforts to derail the process. The adoption of this document by consensus only a day after Ahmadinejad’s divisive speech is a clear message against intolerance.

To me, part of the real disaster here is that the extremists like Ahmadinejad have given the West, and particularly the U.S., a very good excuse to stay away from the conference and to continue the pattern of not participating in the global fight to combat racism.   Perhaps foolishly, I remain ever hopeful that this can change and the U.S. can, eventually, step up and do the right thing when it comes to fighting racism not just here but around the world.  And, the Geneva Conference still provides such an opportunity.

Following the passing of the resolution, de Rivero called for the governments that boycotted the UN racism conference to now endorse the conference declaration and thereby demonstrate their commitment to fight racism.   If the U.S. wants to stand against antisemitism and racism, it will heed this call and endorse the conference declaration.

Updated: You can download the Durban Review Conference Outcome Document here (.PDF).