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If race becomes an increasingly potent factor in the next few weeks, the outcome could be decided by millions of conversations among white voters, many of whom believe their own race was unfairly threatened, if not severely injured, by affirmation action programs in the recent past.

This most common complaint against black Americans is blown away by an historical fact that few know and apparently no one has ever used to redefine the issue of affirmative action, and to revolutionize white understanding of race relations in general.  

Affirmative action [AA] and its consequences provided a framework for most discussions of race, and of the economic woes of white Americans, for about three decades, starting with the school busing battles of the early 1970s.

Throughout this period, anyone who wanted to vent racist feelings in the MSM or in polite society, could do so freely by pretending they were just complaining about AA. (There were indeed plenty of legitimate complaints — just not quite as legitimate as they were made out to be, as we'll see.)
The debate over AA became positively malignant with the publication of the now-notorious The Bell Curve. The MSM, from the NY Times on down, greeted the book with shameless enthusiasm. Rave reviews and endless editorial discussions propelled it onto national bestseller lists and kept it there for ages. The book cited IQ records as incontrovertible proof that black poverty must be due to black stupidity rather than white racism, and declared that AA programs are doomed to failure for this reason. The Bell  Curve was slowly but surely discredited, not by black protests but by experts in the field of intelligence testing who showed the authors' misinterpretation of the data, as well as the flaws in the data itself. (In fact the arguments against The Bell Curve had already reached a conclusion years before the book was even written, but the media had to be reminded, over and over, before this manifesto was finally abandoned by its MSM cheerleaders.)
But even though the strongest and most respectable argument against it crumbled to toxic dust years ago, and it's been rolled back or even virtually outlawed, AA is still a volatile issue.

But a brief, simple historical fact puts it all in perspective. It's not that slavery was bad, and segregation was bad, or that white people are evil. This isn't about opinions, and it isn't a rehash of familiar rhetoric. This is the fact:

Thousands and thousands of black employees who had won and kept their jobs through ability and hard work were summarily fired to make way for less qualified whites.

The employer who did this was the United States government — under a Democratic president. They had worked in the postal service, in the back offices of federal bureaucracies, and all kinds of other places, and they weren't all menial dead-end jobs by any means.

I first across this choice little tidbit while glancing at an old copy of The Strange Career of Jim Crow, by C. Vann Woodward. It first came out in 1955, long before the term "affirmative action" even existed.

This what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

Woodrow Wilson, a southern Democrat and the first southern-born president of the postwar period, appointed southerners to his cabinet. Some quickly began to press for segregated work places, although Washington, DC and federal offices had been integrated since after the Civil War. In 1913, for instance, the acting Secretary of the Treasury ... was heard to express his consternation at black and white women working together in one government office: "I feel sure that this must go against the grain of the white women. Is there any reason why the white women should not have only white women working across from them on the machines?"[Wikipedia footnote: King, Desmond. Separate and Unequal: Black Americans and the US Federal Government. 1995, page 3.]

President Woodrow Wilson, a Southern Democrat, introduced segregation in Federal offices, despite much protest. [6] Mr. Wilson appointed Southern politicians who were segregationists, because of his sincere belief that racial segregation was in the best interest of Black Americans and White Americans alike.[Wikipedia's footnote: Schulte Nordholt, J. W. and Rowen, Herbert H. Woodrow Wilson: A Life for World Peace. 1991, page 99-100.]

Not many people realize that advances made during the two or three generations after Abolition were systematically reversed, not just by the repeal of Reconstruction in the late 1870s, but by the resurgence of race-hatred (and the emergence of a new "scientific" racist ideology),  between 1890 and 1930. Wilson may have been the most racist president in American history. And his purge of black federal employees wasn't reversed when "the party of Lincoln" took back the White House in the 1920s, when the reborn KKK was a mainstream organization in the North.

Think about the direct social consequences of Wilson's purge: These were the grandfathers and grandmothers of many black people growing up in the 1960s — their families had been humiliated and destabilized as well as suddenly impoverished. Even solid loving households often crack under such strains, resulting in all sorts of nervous breakdowns, alcoholism, and worse. And even if they don't crack at the first blow, they still have to survive, and their options — migrant farm work, petty crime, perhaps prostitution, as well as the most utterly demeaning menial roles in the straight economy as servants or dishwashers — would seem all the worse because they remembered a time when they could make a decent living with their dignity intact.

Private sector employers may well have followed the government's example; it may even have seemed the patriotic thing to do when white troops were demobilized and seeking jobs during the economic recession right after World War One. In they heyday of the Klan in the mid-1920s, few businesses would have hired or promoted black workers unless they wanted to be ostracized in their communities.  

The affirmative action programs that got going in the 1970s involved some preferential hiring and promoting, and college admissions; did they ever require the firing of white employees or the expulsion of white students? For the individual white victims of this reverse discrimination, this was painful and distressing emotionally and economically. But when seen in the perspective of families — just going back two or three generations (not even considering the earlier long history of slavery!) — how many of the white people affected had a grandparents who had replaced of a purged black worker? How many of the black beneficiaries of AA were merely reclaiming a fraction of their lost birthright — because their "dysfunctional families" had been broken by Jim Crow purges?

Originally posted to S Chelydra on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:05 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You don't argue with racists (13+ / 0-)

    because you can't win. And you won't win. They have a disease of the mind.

    •  The message we need to get across (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      (and I've posted this before)

      is to say incessantly that racism is blatantly Un-American.  How can you truly be a patriot if you don't believe in the principles that this Country was founded on?  From my experience, this argument leaves them with mouths agape and smoke coming out of their ears.

      •  Mouth agape, smoking ears... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        a gilas girl, evilstorm, BYw

        ...and wondering if this is tongue in cheek?

        My daddy once took me to a meeting of the Society of Colonial Wars, membership limited to males descended from guys who fought on American soil before the Revolution. It was a weird, weird scene, unlike anything I've witnessed before or since, but I'll skip all that and just get to the point: I eventually (years later) discovered what ancestral heroics made Dad and me eligible to sit through that weirdness: One of our New England forefathers had been one of the Puritans who lured some rebellious Indians out to an open plain for battle, then left the redskins waiting in vain for the action to begin. When they eventually gave up waiting and returned to the top-secret hideaway deep in the Great Swamp where their womenfolk and kiddies were safely nestled away in the bosom of Mother Nature, they found...
                           a s h e s

                           ... where their families were supposed to be. Our clever ancestor and his pals had found the hiding place, and correctly guessed that holding The Great Swamp Fight there, instead of holding The Great Meadow Fight where the savages expected it, would cast such a long shadow of gloom across the survivors that no one would have any will left to fight as us white folks settled and civilized the landscape.
        Okay that was all real history. Just to nail down exactly what it means, try this little mental excecise in alternative history. It's 1940. The Spitfires run out of gas, the Luftwaffe owns the skies, Churchill is deposed and Chamberlain is back in as prime minister (now that his wisdom is vindicated). Chamberlain sues for peace and gets it on generous terms. Hitler own all of Europe west of the Soviet border, and he has his pact with Stalin in place. The Japanese resolve their differences with the US, meanwhile. Peace reigns in the world. The Jews and Gypsies (et al) are reduced to

                           a s h e s

        and 300 years later the descendants of the heroes are still meeting to celebrate the heroic victories at the Battle of Auschwitz, the Battle of Buchenwald, etc etc, you get my drift. I must admit I'm grateful my family was on the winning side, for purely selfish reasons, but ashes are ashes and dust is dust, and the principles of this great nation are dust, they were dust in the beginning, and they're dust now, and they were dust in 1908 and 1808 too. There are truly wonderful things about America, very much including the Constitution and the glories of our transplanted (or rather, feral) European culture (I am not a self-hating Caucasian, and I'm deeply patriotic in my own way). But let's try to keep it real, okay? We at least owe that much to those ashes, even if we never get around to paying reparations to the their long-suffering and still demoralized descendants, and don't bother defending their cousins now under attack in Latin America.

    •  Arken, arguing with racists is not about winnning (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      it's about not letting them believe that their view is the only one, the mainstream one.

      We have to push back. Silence is not an answer.

  •  There is no arguing with the racists (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    burrow owl, dogemperor, fromdabak

    that I'm familiar with here in The South.

    There is no logic, no reason, and not enough intelligence to understand an argument.

    "How we gonna run reform when we're the damn incumbent?" - O Brother Where Art Thou

    by bleet on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:10:46 PM PDT

    •  This is true... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      retLT, dogemperor, malharden, fromdabak

      I usually say to them.... to be racist in America today is unpatriotic.  Then I suggest they move to another country.

      I'm not ready to take a 10% chance on CHANGE! Kos Member Since: August 04

      by Moxie Gurl on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:21:36 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Have hit a number of racist doors canvassing Ohio (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I usually try to express strong disapproval and tell them that I hope that the next generations of Americans will care about more important things than skin color. Then I tell them that if they care about the economy and the future of their kids, they'll vote Democrat.

        Then I smile and move on to the next door.

        "Knock knock, it's your neighbor with the Obama campaign!"

        Where's your Obama office?

        by Comrade Brad on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:26:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  There is no arguing with racists, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BYw, S Chelydra

      just as there is no arguing about religion, because neither are matters of fact, about which one could argue, or even matters of interpretation, more difficult, but still something about which one could argue.  Each are matters of faith, about which argument is futile, because it is simply what an individual believes.  And beliefs are not the stuff of argumentation.

      The only possible disscussion topic there is the consequences of one's beliefs, but for folks who are devout believers, whether of a particular religious faith or in the superiority of one race, culture, or lifestyle over another, the consequences of said beliefs are usually immaterial, for they protect themselves from the responsibility of said consequences by claiming "faith".  

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 04:41:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I wish it was that simple. (4+ / 0-)

    It is irrational and unreasoning hatred born from xenophobia and most likely an inferiority complex.  Facts are unconvincing to people with that mindset.

  •  Racists are funny because most of the time they (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    are the most ignorant or stoopid person in the class.....  Or they like a taste of the sweet, sweet Chocolate love, but can't seem to bring themselves to ask for it....  So it's that pent up frustration eating at them from the inside out....

    Me and my wife are in the military. If you vote for McCain you signed our death certificate. This election has real consequences!

    by fromdabak on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:21:26 PM PDT

  •  I wonder if 1 in 100 white americans knows the (7+ / 0-)

    shameful secret of woodrow wilson's presidency. Thank you for bringing it to light, although with racists, it's a waste of time.

    The problem is not AA or quotas, the problem is the racist. There is no arguing. If somebody plans to vote for WcCain only because Obama has an African father, it would be better for them that they tied an millstone around their neck and jumped into the nearest pool of sufficiently deep water BEFORE they vote.

    Talk about an unforgivable sin. Their legacy has been long and disgraceful enough without this new outrage, which would further ruin this country and the world for future generations.

  •  Nitpicking on Wilson (6+ / 0-)

    I don't believe he purged, that is, fired, black employees.  Rather, he allowed each cabinet secretary to decide for himself if his department would be segregated or not.  In segregated agencies physical barriers were set up to physically separate white and black employees, employees were shifted around to all white or all black offices, with black employees supervised, if not on the first level than higher, by whites.  And Warren Harding, to his credit, reversed this segregation policy, although there was no attempt to recruit black employees at least until the New Deal.

    Wilson appointed his Attorney General James Clark McReynolds, to the Supreme Court - who was the only openly racist and openly anti-Semetic justice to serve on the Supreme Court.  McReynolds would tell President Herbert Hoover not to appoint Benjamin Cardozo to the Supreme Court because there was one Jew too many on the Supreme Court.  That Jew was Louis Brandeis, appointed by the racist Woodrow Wilson, who was one of the great liberals, and opponent of racism, to serve on the Supreme Court.

    And, about the Klan in the 1920's, back then my uncle was lynched by the Klan because he and his family were the only Jews in their town.

    "Great men do not commit murder. Great nations do not start wars." William Jennings Bryan

    by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:31:10 PM PDT

    •  Nitpicking is fine as long as (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp, S Chelydra

      it results in a clearer picture.

      I don't know if there were firings but just the introduction of segregation at the federal level sent a message to blacks that they weren't good enough.

      I'm glad that Harding reversed the policy but as you point out recruitment of blacks was stifled for many years.

      •  I'm pretty sure it was mostly firings, (0+ / 0-)

        but I'm basing that on what I recall from a few paragraphs I read at least ten years ago. The postal service, for example, couldn't very well be segregated; most black neighborhoods would be too small or scattered to justify the expense of separate staff serving just them. We should check it out if we can.

    •  Then I assume you are ok with overturning Roe? (0+ / 0-)

      ...because that just puts the issue back in the states' hands.

      By your logic the Supreme Court justices would bear no responsibility for making abortions illegal, because hey, they would have kicked it to the states to do the dirty work.

      "Watch what you watchin'. Fox keeps feeding us toxins. Stop sleeping, start thinking outside of the box and unplug from The Matrix doctrine." -Nas

      by malharden on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 08:28:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I know I shouldn't say it but (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dogemperor, smari006, S Chelydra

    when I'm canvassing and run into racists I sometimes spit out, "half-baked or half-black-- your choice" as I'm leaving.

  •  Racism is partially a phobia, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Phobias, by definition, are irrational fears.

    Racism is an irrational reaction brought about through nurture.

    I grew up in Buffalo NY, in the city, ans I didn't know what racism was until I was 9, and my mom's bigoted boyfriend was shocked she would let me sleep over a black friend's house.  It didn't occur to me that skin color would matter more than eye color or hair color.

    I have phobias, doctors and airplanes.  I am sensible, I will go to a doctor.  But all the logic in the world can't dispel my fear.

    I feel bad for most racists.  To live in fear of people who are in every way like but one.  that's the saddest fucking thing in the world.

  •  Most enlightening! I did not know about this sad (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    S Chelydra

    period in our history. Recommended, and please put up a tip jar.

  •  My arguments with racist end with this... (5+ / 0-)

    I demand that they live up to their standard of hate to be role models for their children...

    I ask them if they are really committed to the cause, would they be willing to boycott any invention discovered by and African American in a show of solidarity for the superior nature of Whiite America...most of the time, they respond with a whole-hearted YES!

    So, I start simple, with George Washington Carver's peanut...I ask them to stop eating peanuts or any peanut products, to which they usually say, "Well, I guess I could."

    Then I ask them to stop using elevators, because they were invented by that dirty ****** Alexander, sure, they say...

    Then I ask them is they are willing to drive cars with stick shift ONLY because automatics were pioneered by that ***** ****** Richard Spikes...this is where they start to buckle...

    Then I tell them they need to stop using the modern postal system, because it has been contaminated by those ***** ******* William Barry, William Purveys and Philip Downing what with their respective postmarking and canceling machine, hand stamp, and letter drop...

    If by this point they are still even listening to me without having figuring out how much of an asshole I've just made out of them, I'll just pile on Granville T. Woods' automatic on/off switch, Thomas W. Steward's mop, Walter Sammons' hair comb, George T. Samon's automatic dryer, Lloyd P. Ray's dust pan, Joseph Smith's sprinkler system, John Burr's lawn mower and Fredrick Jones' air conditioner...

    After all that, if you haven't been kick in the gut or told to fuck off, they actually say yes, then just say, "Well, good luck with that..." From that moment on, throughout their lives, they will have to live with the knowledge that the very inventions and product they use EVERY SINGLE DAY was brought to them by a black person...and that, my friends, is death to a racist...

    Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.

    by Aqualad08 on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 07:44:27 PM PDT

  •  I Strenuously object to "Reverse Discrimination" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    S Chelydra

    This canard has led more to more passivity on race issues than pretty much any other.

    Read my lips - other than perhpas an individual example here and there, there was and is no Reverse Discrimination.

    What Affirmative Action DOES to acknowledge that a resume of a person of colour of EQUAL qualification may look worse strictly because of the realities of racism.

    Here' my example.  For 17 years or so, I played professionally as a musician in New York City.  2 gigs I would do rehearsed one in a minority high school in the Bronx and the other in a wealthy town in Connecticut.

    A very mediocre White student in the nearly total white School would routinely have a credit from the Jazz band which rehearsed in their own dedicated room, a letter from the swim team which practiced in the school pool and dressed in the separate athletic building or perhpas take part in a theatrical production in the school theatre (located ina separate wing from the class room.  

    In the Bronx school a terrific would have none of these things on their college application.  Because they were lazy and shiftless? I think you know the answer.  They were lucky to have classrooms, in this school, some class met in janitorial closets with water seeping down the walls.   There was no Jazz band, no band.  No theatre club, no theatre. No swim team, no pool.

    Every single college applicant from that school would have an application that lacked ALL of these ultra critical extra curriculars unless they were lucky enough to have a parent who could dredge up the bus fare (student metro passes for most of this time did not apply to non-school hours) to trapse half way across the could be an hour and a half one way to the nearest pool.

    Affirmative Action recognizes that equally good "minority" applicants...strike that, BETTER applicants of colour may have worse resumes.

    It has nothing to do with some regretable reverse discrimination. No such thing.

    "you have the right to your own opinion. You do not have the right to your own facts" -Daniel Patrick Moynihan

    by SteveP on Sat Oct 04, 2008 at 08:34:31 PM PDT

    •  Great points... (0+ / 0-)

      My essay wasn't really dealing with the reality, but with the perception, of affirmative action. The argument I was proposing falls mid-way between the eye-opening zinger suggested above (Half-black or half-baked, it's your choice, asshole!), and your nuanced, well-informed discussion of the big picture. The zinger is suitable for door-to-door canvassing, mine might work well in a relaxed half-drunk barroom rant, and yours would probably be ideal for a high school classroom or family gatherings, where people are supposed to listen respectfully until you've completed the lesson.

  •  So when do you get to "How to Argue?" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    S Chelydra

    This is an interesting post, but it does not address the headline of "How To Argue ..." I also agree with subsequent posters who state that arguing with racists is pointless.

    Ever try to argue with someone about the religion they were raised with? It's pretty pointless. Racism is imbued in a person as much as religion is. People change religions once they reach an age of reason, because they see the flaws in the belief system they ascribed to, as well as the truths of the religion they are choosing to follow.

    Racism existed long before affirmative action, so to document (thinly) an affirmative action argument addresses only a small part of the issue. All phobias are based on deep seated fears and insecurities, including racism. One can't win an argument about a deep pathology imprinted on someone's personality. You can only press on and hope for a breakthrough as the person is exposed to facts. It happens every day.

    To argue affirmative action in the context of this Presidential election is beside the point - nobody claims that Barack Obama was nominated as an Affirmative Action candidate, any more than John McCain was nominated for his own personal history or Sarah Palin for her sex.

    - Dissent is Intellectually Healthy

    by Joe in Atl on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 05:56:11 AM PDT

  •  Good tip -- shameful history (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the head's up.

    Be good to each other. It matters.

    by AllisonInSeattle on Mon Oct 06, 2008 at 07:53:53 AM PDT

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