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.


  1. cordoba blue

    “Slave labor camps”. That does have a terrible sound to it.
    I believe there are certain elements happening here that might be addressed. Everybody loves “quaint” aspects of the past. The book “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott is considered a charming picture of life in a New England village in the 1860’s. The father is away fighting the Civil War, and this mother must survive while bringing up four girls.The older clothing fashions, past times the girls engaged in, subjects they studied in school, social behavior with the opposite sex (very timid by today’s standards) are all seen as charming and worth keeping as part of Americana.
    Part of the reason whites in the 21st century want to keep the GWTW tradition alive is because of the aformentioned factors. However, while “Little Women” does not take place at the expense of capturing and torturing other humans, GWTW does. I do not believe white America even consider this. They are focused on the mannerisms, dress, conflict between the white characters of the novel, not on the horrible institution of slavery bolstering the whole system up. Many people feel this book is an integral part of Americana also.
    I believe a suggestion would be to keep the novel in circulation with a strong advisory. The advisory would be that while the drama between the white characters is entertaining, we should not dismiss that a terrible institution is occuring in the background. It is the genocide of millions of African Americans.
    Germany still celebrates, for example, many German traditions.Tourists who’ve been there (and I’ve been there myself) are shown traditional German dances in full costume, laughing and drinking German beer etc. To actually enjoy this, and I found myself doing so, although sometimes with discomfort, you almost have to “forget” WWII. It’s true that it’s extremely difficult to smile and just “go along” with Octoberfest, even though it can actually be an enjoyable experience.
    Does this sound schizophrenic? I realize it does. I mean, let’s face it, our country and Germany have certainly been monsters to certain races of men. To move forward and enjoy ANY American traditions and German traditions, means to some extent to be in denial of the horrors these people perpetrated.
    Is there any way to keep the “charming” traditions and yet keep apologizing for and rectifying the past transgressions? I’ve often had these thoughts before. If a country commits enough atrocities, what do we do with that country’s entire past? Should we throw the whole thing away? And I am asking sincerely, not sarcastically. Was I wrong to enjoy reading GWTW when I was a teenager? Was I wrong to drink a stein of German beer in Munich while watching Germans merrily skipping to German traditional songs? I don’t know the answer. It certainly requires abstract thinking and a philosophy for how to deal.
    But don’t we continuously do this? We take trips to Rome and “admire” the Coloseum where thousands of Christians were fed to lions for entertainment. In fact, I’ve read the Vatican wants to consider the Coloseum a sacred burial ground, and not a tourist attraction.
    Isn’t man always being schizophrenic when he admires the pasts of civilizations who’ve commited atrocities? In summary, would it be possible to keep GWTW with strong advisories about “you must be aware of the horrors keeping this lifestyle alive” type of thing.

    • Joe

      Very good questions. Clearly, the point about honestly teaching and discussing the historical truth of these racial horrors and oppressions is a start on dealing with these issues. amazingly, we teach very very little of our racist history to our children, and indeed to the whole population. We are a nation of illiterates on the real history of both slavery and legal segregation.. We have major denial and coverups to deal with.

  2. cordoba blue

    Honestly, I might not use the word “illiterates” regarding knowledge of racial transgressions..I would actually use paralyzing fear and denial. If whites look too deeply into the dark pit, who knows how many of us would come out sane? I am quite serious. It’s that horrible.
    In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad made Kurtz, the man sent to the Belgian Congo to help “monitor” the Africans, a man who was absolutely turning insane by most definitions. The horrors he witnessed made him literally lose his mind. He was totally unfit to return to England and “polite society”.
    America operates in a very schizophrenic fashion. We choose to see certain aspects of our society to keep our sanity, and we choose to ignore other aspects because it’s just too painful and guilt-producing.
    In the movie The Constant Gardner, an English man’s wife is murdered because on a trip to Africa she discovered Africans are being used as human guinea pigs in a medical experiment. So the husband flies all over Africa trying to find why she was murdered. We see scenes in Africa of unbelievable poverty and destitution.
    In one scene, a little girl is in the middle of a savanna and running toward his helicopter. He tells the pilot to stop because he can at least save this one child. The pilot is screaming at him, “I can’t stop. Let it go! You don’t understand. There’s millions like her. Africa’s always been this way. There’s nothing you can do..let it go!”
    And that’s the attitude white industrialized countries take toward their own racism. It’s not, I believe anyway, ignorance so much as “Oh my God..there’s so much misery..can’t deal..can’t handle it..the guilt is suffocating me..so I’ll just buy myself a new SUV and rationalize”. And there’s plenty of whites all too willing and able to help another white to rationalize “not dealing”. But in our gut, doesn’t every white man know what abominations we are capable of? I would think they know.
    Very similar to the way many Germans dealt with Hitler’s Final Solution to the Jewish problem. “Is it true? Can’t be true. Too horrible to think about. Am I culpable? I’m just a common citizen, not a member of the Gestapo! What can I do? Better to just keep my mouth shut and not call attention. Might not be all that bad anyway. The Jews are merely being relocated, our block leader reassured us, not murdered. Now I can sleep nights.” Total schizophrenia to maintain status quo. I think that’s the way racism affects white Americans.

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