Theodore G Bilbo

Theodore G. Bilbo. It sounds like the name of a character in a fantasy story, doesn’t it? Perhaps the name of an amiable, good-natured, little fellow who goes on exciting adventures with elves, dwarves, and wizards. Well, Theodore G. Bilbo was an actual person, and although at five feet two inches was small enough to be a hobbit, he did not go on any adventures, as far as I know, and he was far from being good-natured and amiable. Theodore G. Bilbo was, in fact, one of the most racist people ever to serve in the United States Senate.

Not a Hobbit

Theodore Gilmore Bilbo was born in Juniper Grove, Mississippi, on October 13, 1877. Bilbo obtained a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University Law School, but he failed to graduate perhaps from financial difficulties, although there were accusations of academic misconduct. Nevertheless, Bilbo was admitted to the bar in 1906 and began practicing law in Mississippi.

Bilbo was ambitious, however, and soon entered politics, serving in the Mississippi State Senate from 1908 to 1912. In 1910, Bilbo was accused of accepting a bribe to back a candidate for the United States Senate. Bilbo admitted to accepting the bribe but asserted that he was investigating political corruption. His fellow state senators did not buy the story, and he escaped being expelled from the Senate by one vote short of the three-fourths majority required for expulsion. This scandal did not seem to harm Bilbo’s political career. He was elected Lieutenant Governor, serving from 1912 to 1916. He then served two nonconsecutive terms as Governor of Mississippi, from 1916 to 1920 and again from 1928 to 1932, as Mississippi’s constitution did not permit governors to secede themselves.

Theodore G. Bilbo was a good governor. He became well known as a progressive populist who enacted policies to help the poorest residents of Mississippi, as long as they were White. He improved the state finances of Mississippi, implemented a state highway system, introduced compulsory school attendance, built charity hospitals for the poor, and ended public hanging. In his second term, Bilbo introduced the first state sales tax in the United States. Governor Bilbo had less sympathy for the Black residents of Mississippi, however. Among other things, he refused to prevent the lynching of Black Mississippians. Bilbo’s terms as governor were not without controversy, however, and a feud between the governor and the state legislature prevented the passage of a budget in the final year of his second term.

After his second term as Governor ended, Theodore G. Bilbo moved on to the Senate, serving from 1935 until the end of his life in 1947. In the Senate, Bilbo once again established a reputation as a progressive, fervently supporting Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Bilbo feuded with his fellow Mississippi Senator, Pat Harrison, who was seen as representing the wealthier classes of Mississippi. Bilbo made use of the Senate floor to promote his populist opinions, haranguing against:

 “farmer murderers,” “poor-folks haters,” “shooters of widows and orphans,” “international well-poisoners,” “charity hospital destroyers,” “spitters on our heroic veterans,” “rich enemies of our public schools,” “private bankers ‘who ought to come out in the open and let folks see what they’re doing’,” “European debt-cancelers,” “unemployment makers,” pacifists, Communists, munitions manufacturers, and “skunks who steal Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms.”

Many of Senator Bilbo’s speeches were extremely racist, even by the standards of his time. As a result, the Democrat-controlled Senate would only assign him to relatively unimportant committees. When the Republicans gained control of the Senate after the 1946 elections, they along with the Northern Democrats, refused to permit Bilbo to take his seat because they believed his racist speeches had incited violence against Blacks in the South. Bilbo’s supporters among the Southern Democrats threatened a filibuster unless he was seated. The matter was resolved when Bilbo proved unable to serve his last term because he had developed oral cancer. Bilbo returned to Mississippi for treatment, and he died in New Orleans on August 21, 1947.

By describing Bilbo as racist, I do not mean that he only shared in the prejudices of his time and place. If that were the case, his racist views would be hardly worth writing about. He lived, after all, in the heyday of progressive, scientific racism in which all of the smart people believed that human beings could be graded like eggs from superior to inferior. No, Theodore G. Bilbo’s racism went further than the usual bigotry.
At some point, Bilbo joined the Ku Klux Klan, and he remained a proud member of the Klan his entire life, even after the Klan had dissolved as a formal organization. As a governor and senator, Bilbo upheld and advanced the Klan’s cause of White supremacy.

At the end of his life, Bilbo wrote a book titled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, which served as a summation of his views on race. Although in the prologue he professed to have no feelings of hostility against persons of any race but only opposed the mixing of races, a cause he believed the Black man should support as much as the White man, the book’s contents tell a different story. Throughout his book, Bilbo made it clear that he believed that Blacks were intellectually and morally inferior to Whites, describing Blacks in the most uncomplimentary terms possible.

In his view, Whites founded every great civilization; Rome, Greece, Egypt, or Babylon. When the Whites began to mix with other races, these civilizations declined and vanished. Whites founded our American civilization, and only the heroic efforts of Southern Whites have prevented the race mixing that destroyed so many past empires. Unfortunately, the efforts of Northern Liberals to achieve political and social equality for the Blacks threatened to undo everything. Bilbo’s solution was to encourage the voluntary emigration of American Blacks back to Africa, the ultimate separate but equal endeavor.

I am writing about Theodore G. Bilbo partly because I enjoy writing about historical trivia, but mostly because I want to make an important point. It has become conventional wisdom in this country that America is a country based on white supremacy, shot through with systemic racism. As is often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong. America has been racist in the past; there is no denying that fact. Given that White people founded the United States of America, it is inevitable that our society would be based on White supremacy. just as a country founded by Blacks would be based on Black supremacy or a country founded by Asians would be based on Asian Supremacy. Every society in the world has been founded on the idea that its people are superior to the people living in other societies. It is only very recently, that in a few places, like the United States, the idea has taken hold that everyone should be treated equally.

I have said that Theodore G. Bilbo’s racist ideas were extreme even for his times, but his views were not too extreme for the people of Mississippi to elect him as governor and then senator. A large number of people throughout the South shared his racist ideas. That is not the case today. A candidate who expressed the sort of racist ideas that Theodore G. Bilbo expressed would be lucky to get just two percent of the vote. We are no longer the country that would elect a Theodore G. Bilbo to high office.
America has changed, vastly for the better, by embracing its founding ideals. Anyone who asserts that America is a systemically racist country in the twenty-first century is either a fool, ignorant of our history or a malicious liar.

The Dogs Don’t Like It

I once heard a story, probably apocryphal, about a pet food company that unrolled a new brand of dog food to great excitement. After the initial burst of interest, sales of the new brand dropped rapidly. Week after week fewer boxes of the new brand sold. Finally, the CEO of the pet food company called a meeting of all the chief executives of the company to determine why the new brand wasn’t selling. One executive after another proposed ever more elaborate theories about the declining sale. Maybe the advertising campaign needed to be changed, they said, or maybe the boxes were the wrong size or color. Perhaps the company needed to change the price. None of these theories seemed satisfactory to the CEO until finally, he turned to a lowly lab technician who had helped develop the new brand. “I think” the technician stammered nervously, “the problem might be that the dogs don’t like it.”

Last week the Democrats suffered some stunning losses in the off-year elections, elections they would normally have won easily. In Virginia, Glenn Youngkin narrowly defended former governor Terry McAuliffe in a race the Democrat was widely expected to win. The Republicans swept the state, winning the governorship and the elections for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General as gaining a majority in the lower house of the Virginia legislature. In New Jersey, one of the bluest states, Republican Jack Ciattarelli almost defeated Phil Murphy in the governor’s race. All over the country, the Republicans have won odd elections and ballot initiatives, which does not bode well for the Democrats’ chances in next year’s midterm elections.

Naturally, the Democrats are trying to discover the reason for their unexpected losses. Perhaps they were too moderate. Maybe if Terry McAuliffe had run more to the left he would have won. Maybe the voters are frustrated because Congress has not passed an infrastructure bill or done more to enact Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. Maybe Republican voter suppression tipped the scale in their favor. Probably Republican fear-mongering about trumped-up culture wars encouraged conservative Deplorables to vote while discouraging decent people. Then, there is the old standby; it was racism. The people of Virginia and elsewhere are racist, and the unfortunate losses were the result of a whitelash. Never mind that Virginians just elected their first Black, woman Lieutenant Governor, this was White supremacy at work.

An obvious white supremacist

So far, what had been missing in these post-election analyses is the obvious fact that the Democrats lost because the people do not like the woke, extreme leftist policies they have been pushing. People do not want their children to be taught race hatred, even in the name of fighting against racism. White parents do not want their children taught that they are evil oppressors because of their skin color. Black parents do not want their children taught that they are helpless victims because of their skin color. No one wants their children to be taught to hate themselves and their own country.

Parents do not want their daughters raped by skirt-wearing boys who claim to be gender fluid. They do not want their children to be exposed to pornographic materials allegedly t0 promote gay acceptance but which seems suspiciously like grooming by pedophiles. People want their children educated, not indoctrinated. They are growing weary of schools shut down for COVID while they go out to work, somehow ensuring that remote education is working.

People are also tired of the vaccine mandates, the mask mandates, and the whole idea that someone in some office in Washington, or Richmond, should have the power to control or destroy their lives, based not on any consistent scientific principles but seemingly on random whims. People are exasperated by higher prices and empty shelves in stores. They are angered by a border in chaos, increasing crime rates, and their country being humiliated abroad.

Most of all, people are upset with a ruling elite that refuses to take their problems seriously. Parents who take issue with their children being taught Critical Race Theory are racists and domestic terrorists. Americans complaining about the economy are spoiled and need to lower expectations. We are deplorable for wanting leaders that put America and Americans first. Instead of coming up with solutions, they laugh at us.

If the Democrats want to win elections they need to start paying more attention to what the people out there really want and less attention to Twitter activists ideologues. If they do this, the Democratic Party might become a truly American political party again and not a continuing menace to our freedom and way of life.

Soft Bigotry

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has recommended that college athletes should no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT scores to be eligible to compete in Division I or Division II sports. Since I don’t follow professional or college sports, I only learned about this latest development from this article at townhall.com.

The NCAA Standardized Test Task Force recommended that high school students preparing to compete in Division I or Division II sports should not have to submit SAT or ACT scores.

 

“This work reflects the NCAA’s commitment to continually reviewing our academic standards based on the best available data and other relevant information,” said Morgan State President David Wilson, who led a group of representatives in both divisions in carrying out a nearly six month project on the matter. “We are observing a national trend in NCAA member schools moving away from requiring standardized test scores for admissions purposes and this recommendation for athletics eligibility aligns directly with that movement.”

The announcement from Friday comes as part of the NCAA’s eight-point plan to “advance racial justice and equity,” which includes reviewing eligibility requirements, reviewing the league’s Academic Progress Rate and its impact on historically black colleges and universities, and implementing “unconscious bias training” for all national office staff.

I wonder if it has occurred to the NCAA administration that by dropping standardized tests to advance “racial justice and equity” they concede that some races are intellectually or academically inferior to others. If they feel that they have to abandon academic standards because some groups; probably African Americans and perhaps Latinos, do not score as highly as other groups on standardized tests, they must be inherently inferior and cannot by nature compete on a level playing field, therefore, the standards must be rigged in their favor or done away with entirely to preserve the myth that everyone is equal. This reasoning strikes me as racist through and through.


I am sure the people responsible for this policy would deny it is racist at all. They would no doubt assert that a level playing field is impossible given the history of oppression and racism some groups have faced. It is only fair that groups that have faced discrimination in the past should receive extra assistance now. Very well, but if discrimination based on race is wrong, as I believe it is, then it is wrong to discriminate against or for anyone by race. Two wrongs do not make a right. In any case, the claim that systemic racism causes Blacks to score poorly on standardized tests fails to explain why other people who have been the victims of discrimination, Jews and East Asians, tend to score very well on such tests; scoring better than the Whites or gentiles who have been oppressing them.


If a racial group, such as African Americans does poorly academically, it must be either because the members of that group really are inferior, on average, or because some external factor, economic or cultural which inhibits their potential. Either way, we do no favors by pretending the problem isn’t there or attributing it to some mythical systemic racism that somehow only manifests itself in hate crime hoaxes.


I cannot emphasize enough that if a particular group, I’ll call it Group X to avoid real-world implications, really is inferior intellectually to Group Y on average, that cannot be considered justification for discriminating against individuals of Group X. We are talking about averages. There will be many intelligent members of Group X and many unintelligent members of Group Y and a considerable degree of overlap. You will not find zero members of Group X among the top tier academically, just relatively fewer than members of Group Y. You will see relatively fewer Group X doctors, lawyers, scientists, and engineers, not none at all. There is no reason to exclude members of Group X from pursuing such occupations. But, there is also no reason to inflate the numbers of Group X by lowering or eliminating standards to pursue equity. That helps no one, least of all the members of Group X who have actually earned their place but now find themselves tainted by association with those who have not.


If, on the other hand, there is some external factor inhibiting Group X from doing as well academically as Group Y, we are also not helping the members of Group X by lowering or eliminating standards. Instead of trying to discover what might be holding Group X back, we are whitewashing the problem in the name of equity. Even worse, the people who push lowering standards in the name of racial equity make the problem worse by attacking those who are actually trying to solve the problem as racists.


Getting back to the real world; my opinion is that no race or population is inherently inferior intellectually or academically. If African-Americans do not do so well on standardized tests, it is because external factors prevent them from realizing their full potential. What these external factors might be, I cannot be sure. I am no expert. I would hazard a guess that the breakup of the Black family and a persistent attitude that academic achievement is somehow not authentically Black or getting good grades is acting White. It is not a coincidence that the East Asians and Jews I referred to as doing well come from cultures that prize strong families and academic achievement.


The NCAA’s recommendation to no longer require standardized tests for athletes to promote racial equity is a step backward in racial progress. It rests on the unspoken assumption that Blacks cannot compete on a level playing field because they are inferior and so must receive extra help from well-meaning Whites. It is the soft bigotry of low expectations or, perhaps the hard bigotry of no expectations at all. It ought to be stopped.

Dr. Seuss is Racist

I don’t think anyone expected this, but the woke have decided that something as innocuous as Dr. Seuss’s books are racist and must disappear into the memory hole, Unfortunately, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that oversees the publication of the late author’s works rather than standing up for freedom of expression and literary contest, has decided to yield to the small minority of extremists who see racism everywhere and end the publication of six books that are considered to be particularly racist.

Dr. Seuss became the latest target of “cancel culture” Tuesday when six of his children’s books were yanked from publication  because of their alleged racism.

The company that oversees the publishing of Dr. Seuss’s works said  it scrapped the six books — “If I Ran the Zoo,” “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer’’ — because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

“We believed that it was time to take action,” DSE told The Post in a statement.

“We listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field, too, as part of the review process.”

The move came on what would have been the 117th birthday of the late author — who has traditionally been feted by schools across the country March 2 as part of “Read Across America Day.”

President Biden even avoided mentioning Dr. Seuss in the traditional annual presidential proclamation Monday marking “Read Across America Day.”

While Dr. Seuss — whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel — remains one of the world’s most popular children’s authors three decades after his death, his books have come under fire in recent years for how they portray black people, Asian people and other groups.

If I Ran the Zoo,” for instance, has been panned for depicting Africans as “potbellied” and “thick-lipped,” as one biography of Seuss put it.

It also describes Asian characters as “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” from “countries no one can spell,” notes a 2019 paper on Geisel’s work published in the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature.

And “Mulberry Street,” the first children’s book Geisel published under his pen name, contains a controversial illustration of an Asian man holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice whom the text called “A Chinese man Who eats with sticks.”

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” said DSE, which works with Penguin Random House  on their publication, in an official statement.

The company — asked by The Post if there were other titles under review to be nixed —  suggested there could be.

“Dr. Seuss Enterprises is committed to identifying how they can make meaningful and lasting change in their catalog and entire portfolio,’’ the group said.’

A racist book

They should probably just get ahead of the curve and stop selling Dr. Suess’s books altogether since there is sure to be something some oversensitive wokescold is going to find in each one. Maybe they should hire some new author, someone chosen to check off as many diversity boxes as possible, never mind if he, she, or xe can actually write, to create new, politically correct books to teach children to read. Of course, children probably won’t be as interested in reading the new politically correct Suess, but learning to read is probably a racist means of enforcing white supremacy anyway.

It occurs to me that if we keep canceling everything that could possibly be considered objectionable or that must be considered in a historical context, we are not going to have much left to read or watch or listen to. Certainly, the great classics of Western literature, theater, music, and cinema will have to be jettisoned. Even if a particular piece is not problematic, its creator has surely expressed a (forbidden) opinion at some point. Besides, any aspect of Western Civilization must be considered racist and white supremacist by default. Probably the classics from other traditions will have to go too. We can’t risk exposing the snowflakes to cultures with very different values and societal norms, at least not without a trigger warning.

All that will be left, if the cancellers have their way will be bland, politically correct works with every word and expression carefully sifted and parsed to avoid any possibility of offending any member of a “marginalized” group, heterosexual White males are fair game. These woke works may not be very entertaining or informative and no one will really want to read or watch them, but at least they’ll show off the producers’ virtue, such as it is in our brave, new world of wokeness.

I think I’ll stick with Dr. Seuss and the old books.

Vote Reparations

Vote reparations are the newest idea from the loony left that every conservative is talking about. What is vote reparations? We’ll let Brandon Hasbrouck explain in his article in the Nation.

Black votes in this country are worth less than white votes. Joe Biden won the Electoral College because Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia turned out in significant numbers. But even with overwhelming Black support—94 percent of Detroit voted for Biden!—the outcomes in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania were worryingly close.

We’ll skip over the very real possibility that those close votes were the result of fraud for the sake of the argument. 

One core problem is the Electoral College. Wyoming, which has just 580,000 residents and is 93 percent white, gets three electors because of its two senators and one representative in the House. By comparison, Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District—which includes Atlanta, has 710,000 residents, and is 58 percent Black—has no dedicated electors or senators and can only occasionally overcome the mostly white and conservative votes from elsewhere in the state. This devaluation of Black votes allows our political system to ignore Black lives, and the consequences are devastating. Unequal representation has led to unequal health care outcomes, which the Covid-19 pandemic has only worsened. Without sufficient voting power, Black communities receive substandard education, and politicians are free to appoint judges who sanction mass incarcerationabusive policing, and electoral disenfranchisement.

This is all by design. The Constitution’s framers set up the Electoral College to protect the interests of slave states. Along with the Senate, the Electoral College was critical in the endurance of slavery and its continuation by other means. Abolishing this system would mean that ballots cast by Black voters—or any voters, for that matter—would count the same.

But there’s another way to undo the damage of the Electoral College and other structurally racist political institutions: We can implement vote reparations by double-counting ballots cast by all Black residents. The poisonous legacy of slavery applies to Black people regardless of when we or our ancestors arrived in this country. Vote reparations should also extend to Native Americans. Slavery is rightly called America’s original sin, but so too was the United States’ genocidal seizure of land from its original inhabitants. Various legal forms of disenfranchisement have applied to them. It wasn’t until 1962 that all Native Americans were allowed to vote, and even then they faced—and still face—electoral obstacles. These are not the only examples of American oppression; we should include in vote reparations others who have suffered similar disenfranchisement.

Basically, the idea that Blacks, and perhaps other people who have suffered from past and present discrimination should get two votes to make up for past wrongs. 

There is a lot to object to in this idea, not least of which is the old maxim that two wrongs do not make a right. You cannot remedy injustice against one group by practicing injustice against the other. I will have more to say about that in a moment, but first, I think it is worth observing that the whole idea of vote reparations is based on a false premise, the idea that the constitution and particularly the electoral college were designed to perpetuate slavery. Logically, if the premise is false, the conclusion must also be false.

Contrary to what the architects of the 1619 Project contend, the constitution was not designed to perpetuate slavery. The framers of the constitution wanted to create a republican government that would preserve liberty for themselves and their descendants. The founding fathers drew from many sources, both ancient and modern for inspiration, including the greatest political philosophers throughout history, particularly Aristotle, Polybius, John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Montesquieu. These thinkers generally believed that the best way to preserve liberty was to create a mixed government, that is, a government that included elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, all in balance with a separation of powers. The framers of the constitution wanted a system that was somewhat democratic, but not too democratic, so they included undemocratic features, like the Electoral College into the constitution. The founding fathers did not want the president to be elected by the people, the people might not know the candidates very well. They wanted the president to be elected by representatives of the people, selected by the state legislatures. None of this had anything to do with slavery. In fact, the Constitution, and especially the Declaration of Independence, with its declaration that all men are created equal had rather a corrosive effect on the institution of slavery. 

Getting back to the subject of vote reparations, then. Aside from the obvious injustice of awarding differing numbers of votes based on race and color, the problem I have with this sort of restorative justice is that I wonder when does it all end. At what point are the previously oppressed and the previous oppressors even? If we embark on a policy of privileging the descendants of the oppressed at the expense of the descendants of the oppressors? If Blacks get reparations paid by Whites today, do Whites have a claim on reparations a hundred years from now based on the oppression their ancestors endured at the hands of privileged Blacks? 

It may seem ludicrous to consider Whites being oppressed by Blacks today, but how do people like Mr. Hasbrouck think Whites are going to react when they see their Black neighbors getting two votes? Probably the same way they think about any government policy that shows preference to Blacks at the expense of Whites. Few Whites are going to simply shrug their shoulders and say, well they deserve the extra votes because our grandfathers oppressed their grandfathers. The Whites are inevitably going to feel discriminated against, with some justification. Dismissing their just grievances as simply as more racism will only make them angrier. 

So, where does it end? Do we simply continue on an endless cycle of discrimination, flipping back and forth between the races, or do we put an end to discrimination and treat everyone as equal? Do we continually revisit the injustices of the past to foster an endless sense of grievance or do we move forward into a brighter future? Vote Reparations would only take us back to an endless pattern of racism today, racism tomorrow, and racism forever. I think it is better to aim for a future of liberty and equality. 

 

Al Jolson

I remember going through an old record collection, when I was a child, and seeing an album cover with the picture of a man with what appeared to be a very dirty face. His face was black, except around the eyes and mouth, as if he had just emerged from a coal mine or had rubbed his face with black mud. I had never heard of entertainers performing in blackface and since the man has caucasian features and his makeup did not resemble any natural skin tone, I did not know what this was all about until I turned the album over and read the description on the back. The man was Al Jolson, the entertainer who was famous in the early twentieth century for performing in blackface.

What are we to do with Al Jolson today? His performances are undoubtedly offensive to today’s more racially aware audiences. Perhaps his present-day obscurity is deserved. Maybe Al Jolson ought to disappear down the memory hole along with so much of our shameful past. Then again, maybe not. I am not a fan of airbrushing away historical figures just because they offend contemporary sensibilities. I think the past ought to be remembered.  Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer of his time. He definitely had talent. Moreover, his relationship with the African-American community was not as straightforward as we might expect.

Al Jolson

Who was Al Jolson anyway? Al Jolson was born to a Jewish family as Asa Yeolson, on June 8, 1886, in the village of Srednike in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. Yeolson’s father, Moses Rubin Yeoson, was a rabbi and cantor or Hazzan who immigrated to New York in 1891. In 1894 he was able to bring his family to the United States and they settled in Washington DC, where the elder Yeolson found work as a cantor. Young Asa seemed to have inherited his father’s singing voice, and he and his brother Hirsch begin singing on street corners for money in 1897, using the names, Al and Harry. Asa Jeolson began working in show business in 1902, with his name anglicized to Al Jolson. After a somewhat fitful start. Jolson’s career in vaudeville and musicals took off, particularly after he started performing in blackface in 1904. By the 1920s, Al Jolson was one of the most successful entertainers in the United States.

Al Jolson in blackface

In 1927, Al Jolson began acting in movies, starring in The Jazz Singer, generally regarded as the first talkie. Jolson went on to star in a number of successful movies. His career and personal life went into something of a slump in the late 1930s but after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Jolson was the first star to entertain for the troops, before the USO had even been organized. He was praised for the service he provided for American soldiers fighting overseas, but Jolson also contracted malaria and had to have a lung removed. Jolson was also the first entertainer to perform for the soldiers fighting in the Korean War. Al Jolson’s service in Korea proved to be exhausting for him and he died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23, 1950

This biographical sketch might give the impression that Al Jolson was the worst sort of racist who made his fortune exploiting the most degrading negative Black stereotypes. What else are we to think of a man who was most famous for performing in blackface? Should Al Jolson be relegated to obscurity as a forgotten relic of America’s racist past? Not quite. As is often the case, the truth is not what it seems at first glance. The fact is that Al Jolson used his position as America’s highest-paid entertainer to fight against discrimination against Blacks. He insisted on equal treatment for his Black co-stars and consistently stood up for the rights of Blacks at a time when this was, by no means, a popular position to take.

So, how do we resolve this paradox? Al Jolson was an entertainer who made millions by wearing blackface and demeaning African Americans, yet was an undoubted benefactor of the Black race. How do we reconcile these two very different sides of this man?

I would suggest that Al Jolson did not put on blackface to insult or demean Blacks. Al Jolson had many Black friends in his youth and later and it is hard to imagine that we would have knowingly done something that they might have found insulting. Blackface was an accepted genre of entertainment at the time, and not necessarily seen as degrading to Blacks. I suspect that Al Jolson might have believed that his blackface performances were a sort of tribute to his Black colleagues. He might have found something in African-American culture that was lacking in his own Jewish-Russian heritage and putting on blackface might have been his way of celebrating the culture of his Black friends. In fact, if you think about it, the practice of White performers blackening their faces and pretending to be Black was a sort of backhanded compliment to Blacks. Yes, these performers disseminated demeaning stereotypes about Blacks, yet they had to believe something was appealing about African American culture for them to pretend to emulate it. We ought to look on Al Jolson’s performances, and perhaps those of other entertainers in blackface as celebrations of African American culture rather than deliberate insults.

Now the reason I am writing this, aside from the fact that  I find Al Jolson’s life and career to be interesting, is that I have found it helpful to try to impute the best possible motives for the actions of the people I run into. That is to say, rather than assuming they are acting from rudeness or malice, I try to think of good reasons for why people do what they do. I cannot say that I am very accomplished in this way of thinking. It seems to run against human nature. It is natural for us to make excuses for our own actions while judging others more harshly. I am trying to reverse this natural tendency by trying to make excuses for others while judging myself more harshly, or at any rate more honestly. Some might say that if I succeed in this endeavor I might become something of a Pollyanna, but I think that it would be worth risking becoming more naive to become more tolerant and charitable in my thinking. I might manage to make myself a genuinely good person.

I think that our country as a whole might be better off, especially in racial matters, if we applied this method to each other. What if, instead of seeking out evidence of racism everywhere, we focus on the real progress in racial relations we have made over the last decades? What if instead of canceling people for a bad joke or unfortunate remark made years ago, we accept that they made a mistake and have moved on? What if, in other words, instead of believing the worst of our fellow Americans, that we are a people seething with systemic racism, we assume the best, that we are human beings and like all human beings we make mistakes but we are trying to do better? We might actually make this country a better place.

Pride and Prejudice

I saw this meme posted on Facebook.

I don’t actually subscribe to the point of view expressed in this meme. To begin with, I do not believe that expressing pride is actually a good thing. Pride, according to Roman Catholic doctrine is considered to be one of the seven deadly sins. Many Christian thinkers have viewed pride as the worse of all the sins, the sin that caused Lucifer to rebel against God and become Satan. As C. S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity:

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the center of Christian morals did not lie there.  Well, now, we have come to the centre.  According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

If pride in oneself and one’s own accomplishments is a vice or a sin, what about pride in one’s race or ethnicity? None of us have had any choice about the race in which we were born. It seems to me to be more than a little silly to take pride in something over which we had absolutely no control over. Why should I be proud to be White? I did not choose to be White. If other White people have accomplished a great deal to be proud of, they are not my accomplishments. Race pride is both foolish and pernicious.

If I do not agree with the sentiment in this meme, I cannot deny the logic expressed.  Why is race pride considered to be a good thing in every case except for Whites? Perhaps the answer is that Whites have committed horrible crimes against people of other races in the past and present and therefore being White ought to be a cause of shame rather than pride. But this only raises another question. If every White person ought to feel a collective shame and guilt for the admittedly considerable injustices and atrocities of other White people, then why should they not also feel pride in the considerable accomplishments of other Whites?

The idea seems to be that encouraging greater collective identification among people belonging to groups, racial or otherwise, who have been discriminated against in the past will help to eliminate discrimination against them. Highlighting the particular accomplishments of each group will help to alleviate the lingering effects of past discrimination. Shaming Whites, particularly While males for being the perpetrators of past discrimination against other groups will help to eliminate present and future discrimination. Dividing everyone up into groups and encouraging everyone to be proud of their group, except White males will help everyone get along better.

I think this emphasis on race pride will have the opposite effect. I think that encouraging everyone to identify with and take pride in their race will only encourage racism. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, pride is essentially a competitive sin.

Now what you want to get clear it that Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident.  Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If someone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.  That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not.  The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power.  Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

You cannot really be proud of your group without eventually distaining members of other groups. A person who is proud of his race is proud because he believes his race his better than others. He can only take pride in his own race by believing that other races are inferior. The net effect of encouraging race pride can only be to set people of different races against each other.

I also do not believe that treating Whites as though white skin were the mark of Cain is going to be very effective at reducing White racism. In the long run, it is more likely to increase racism among Whites. No one wants to be the villain of the story. Over time, Whites are going to become more conscious of the hypocrisy of rewarding expressions of race pride among other races while condemning any expression of racial pride in their own race. They are going to feel as if they are the ones being discriminated against. Whites will be all the more susceptible to racist demagogues who tell them that they have no reason to be ashamed of their race. In fact, they will say, Whites have more reason to be proud than others. It will not end well.

If we must be proud of our race, why not be proud of belonging to the only race that really matters, the human race. If we want to fight racism, we shouldn’t be driving people of different races apart by emphasizing what makes us different but bringing ourselves together by focusing on what makes us alike. To quote C. S. Lewis again, this time from Prince Caspian

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Let us be content.

It’s OK to be White

College administrators have been busy combatting the latest threat to the sensitive feelings of the wimpiest generation. From Inside Higher Ed, I found this article describing the latest horror of campus life.

“It’s OK to Be White” is the message that has periodically appeared on campus posters over the past two years, typically placed by people or organizations who haven’t taken credit for doing so, and who are believed to be from off-campus groups.

Pro-white propaganda of various types has been appearing on campuses in increasing frequency in the last two years. But the last week has seen a surge in such postings.

Last weekend leaflets with the “OK to be white” message turned up in Vermont, at the University of Vermont and Champlain College.

Since then the posters have appeared at American River CollegeDuke University, North Carolina State University, Tufts University, the University of Delaware, the University of Denver and the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota.

The trend is not confined to the United States. One Canadian institution, the University of Manitoba, also had the posters turn up. In Australia, the use of the phrase by some politicians has set off a major political debate (and appearance of the posters), but in that case, the focus is not in higher education.

Also last week, white nationalist posters turned up at California State University at San Marcos.

The campuses seeing the posters do not seem to fit any pattern. They include public and private institutions, two-year and four-year, institutions where white people make up a minority of students and institutions where they are the overwhelming majority.

Colleges have generally removed the posters as soon as they are discovered. Colleges generally require those putting up posters to identify themselves and/or get permission to place them. That hasn’t happened in these cases. So while college leaders have condemned the message behind the posters, they have not faced free speech challenges because those putting up the posters have violated college rules.

Well, of course the people putting up these posters have neither asked for permission of identified themselves. How likely is any College likely to grant such permission? If anyone having anything to do with these posters actually came forward and identified themselves, how likely are they going to be allowed to remain in college?

I have a couple of questions about this. First, what precisely is wrong with saying, “It’s OK to be White”. The standard response is that such a statement is racist, but is it really? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, racism is

1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

2aa doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

ba political or social system founded on racism

3racial prejudice or discrimination

The posters are not saying Whites are better, but that it is acceptable to be White. If this is racist. why isn’t, “Black is beautiful” racist? Are the administrators who are busy taking down the posters as fast as they appear saying that it is not OK to be White? Isn’t that racist?

I suppose that the answer would be that Blacks and other groups have a history of being marginalized and discriminated against that Whites do not have and that therefore it is appropriate for them to show pride in their groups while Whites, who have historically been the oppressors ought not to. White pride seems to be associated with White supremacy in a way that Black pride is not associated with Black supremacy. But if this is the case, how long will it be before it is okay to be White? Times have changed and while there may still be discrimination against Blacks, it is far less than in the past. There is no one openly calling for White supremacy, and despite what progressives claim, racism is almost non-existent as a factor in American politics. Are Whites always to be considered the oppressors and Blacks the oppressed no matter how much progress is made in race relations?

It seems to me that if they really wanted wanted to end racism, the progressives would be working to made race a complete non-issue in American life. Instead, they seem to want to put race in the center of everything. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics are all encouraged to identify with their particular group. If this is the case, why are they so surprised that Whites want in on the fun too?

Richard A. Baker, president of the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, said via email that “on its face, the statement is both innocuous and obvious. It is OK to be white. But the intent of the flyer’s author is not to state the obvious. It is to find sympathizers to the white nationalists’ cause.”

Baker, assistant vice chancellor and vice president for equal opportunity services at the University of Houston System, added that “what is interesting is that a position is being inferred by some on the national stage that whites are a marginalized group and are being made to feel ‘not OK’ in their whiteness. This flyer’s purpose is to attract persons who may be sympathetic to that position but may not respond to a swastika or other traditional symbols of white nationalism or direct recruitment.”

It would be a stretch to claim that Whites are in any sense a marginalized group, and yet, in a way, they are. Every group and subgroup is encouraged to feel pride in itself except for straight, White, males. Whites, particularly males, are held to be uniquely responsible for all the wrongs in the world. Whites, and only Whites are expected to have a feeling of guilt and shame over the past sins of their race, really the common sins of the whole human race. Whites are always the villains and oppressors.

This is not a situation that can last. No one wants to play the villain in their own mind. If Whites continue to be told that their white skin is a mark of shame, there will bea reaction. The best way to inculcate bigotry in a group is to make that particular group feel as if they are being treated unjustly. First White students will tell each other that it is, in fact, okay to be White. Soon, they may start telling each other that it is better to be White. If every other group can feel that way, why not Whites?

The smart thing for these university administrators to do would be to ignore the signs, not to draw any attention to them while trying to promote a sense of genuine inclusion and unity among the student body. This would mean deemphasizing diversity. Instead of encouraging students to identify as every conceivable group, they ought to emphasize their common identity as students of whatever college they are attending, as Americans, and ultimately as human beings. I don’t expect them to do the smart thing.

 

 

Trump is a Bad Racist

It has become an article of faith on the left that President Donald Trump is a racist, voted into office by legions of White supremacists who want to put Blacks back into chains and ship Hispanics back to Latin America. If this is the case, than Donald Trump must very bad at being a racist and his racist supporters must be very disappointed in him. According to the Washington Examiner, more Americans are saying they are better off under Trump, especially Blacks and Hispanics.

The improving economy has helped President Trump keep the support of his “base” of 2016 voters strong, and is opening the door for blacks, Hispanics and younger voters to join them.

Citing those results in new surveys, Democratic pollster John Zogby is declaring that Trump will be tough to beat in 2020 despite his high disapproval ratings.

“President Donald Trump’s support is actually increasing among voters and offers data to explain why he may be re-elected in 2020,” he said.

In a blog post, Zogby, who co-writes the weekly Trump report card for Secrets, noted that more and more Americans believe they are increasingly better off since the president took office.

“More than two in three (68 percent) tell the pollsters that the economy is strong, while 32 percent say it is weak – and this includes 76 percent of men, 61 percent of women, 64 percent or more of all age groups, 57 percent and 58 percent of Hispanics and African Americans respectively, and 63 percent of political moderates,” blogged Zogby citing a new Harvard University-Harris poll.

“More voters say they are doing better off in their personal financial situation (31 percent) or about the same (38 percent) than the one in four (25 percent) who say they are doing worse off. The ‘better off’ crowd includes the 30 percent of Hispanics and 33 percent of African Americans,” added Zogby on the Forbes website.

Of course, presidents don’t actually have that much control over the economy and things were getting better before Trump took office, but Trump’s tax cut and attacks on excessive regulations are helping the economy grow. More importantly, since a lot of economics is actually a matter of psychology, having a president in the White House who is definitely on the side of the job creators is a lot better than having a president who talks about spreading the wealth around.

Maybe, Trump is not actually racist at all. Or maybe it does not matter if he was slow to renounce the various racists and white nationalists who expressed support for him. Maybe what is important are President Trump’s policies which seem to be helping every American, particularly Black and Hispanic Americans. I have noticed that the people who claim to the greatest fighters against racism, the ones who are always accusing conservatives, and Americans generally, of being hopelessly racist, tend to support the sort of liberal policies that have been absolutely catastrophic to the Black community. The same people on the left who are always on guard against every vestige of racism support the Democrats whose mismanagement have turned many Black neighborhoods into crime-ridden wastelands. These leftists who want to help the marginalized and disadvantaged have done more damage than the worst Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan or the segregationist politicians of the Old South could have imagined.

Maybe actions are more important than words and maybe it is better to do the right things than to merely say the right things.

Going With the Wind

It looks like the classic movie Gone With the WInd will be the next victim of the ongoing cultural revolution., as I read in this article from Deadline Hollywood.

One of Hollywood’s iconic films is under some serious scrutiny in Memphis, Tennessee. The city’s historic Orpheum Theatre is pulling showings of Gone with the Wind after the 1939 classic was deemed as “insensitive.”

Victor Fleming’s film was part of their summer series programming. After the first screening on August 11, the Orpheum received numerous comments about the film which prompted them to drop it from their 2018 series. Based on the book by Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind starred Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and was set in on Southern plantation during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Although a landmark in cinema, the film and its subject matter has seen criticism for its portrayal of people of color and its overall perspective of the South during that divisive time in history.

Admittedly, the portrayal of African-Americans in the film is not altogether positive and it does tend to glamorize the Old South, reflecting the Lost Cause or Dunning School of Confederate historiography, but Gone With the Wind is still one of the best movies ever made, from an era in which they actually knew how to  make great movies. If we are to purge the culture of every work of art, literature, or entertainment that could possibly be construed as being offensive, we are not going to have many such works left to enjoy. If every new work of art, literature or entertainment must be produced according to the most exacting standards of political correctness, very few such works will be worthwhile. Certainly none will stand the test of time to become classics.

What is the point of this cultural revolution in which statues of Confederate statues are overturned and anything related to the Old South prohibited? If it is to fight racism, then we ought to declare victory and leave the statues alone. Racism as a political and social force is dead in America. Yes, I know that there are still many prejudiced people out there. That will always be the case, as long as there are human beings. Prejudice against people who don’t look or act like us is, to some extent, hardwired into our programming. Yet, the United States in the twenty-first century is probably one of the least racist countries in history. I doubt if any other nation has done so much to reverse past injustices as we have. We are not perfect, but if perfection is the standard, we will always fall short. The people who claim that contemporary America is an oppressive regime of systemic racism are simply too ignorant of history to know what they are talking about. If you want to see true systemic racism, you only need to hop into the Wayback Machine and travel back about sixty or seventy years.

Liberals often claim that Republican politicians promote racism by speaking in coded “dog whistles” that only liberals can hear. There was a time when Democratic politicians openly supported depriving African-Americans of their civil rights. The record for the longest Senate filibuster was set 1957 when Strom Thurmond spoke for twenty-four hours against the Civil Rights Act. Black Lives Matter claims that police officers routinely shoot unarmed Black youths for other reason than racism. Upon closer examination, these innocent youths invariably turn out to be criminals who attacked the officer in question. Yet, there was a time when police officers could indeed harass and even murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when mobs of Whites could murder Blacks with impunity. There was a time when proposals for federal laws to prevent lynching were controversial.

Read that last sentence again and let it sink in. There was a time, less than a century ago, when laws designed to stop Americans from murdering their fellow human beings who had the wrong colored skin were so controversial that they could not be passed.

In my own home town, Madison Indiana, Blacks were required to sit up in the balcony at the local theater. If they got ice cream from the local drug store, they had to eat it outside. They were not allowed to swim at the public pool. They could not attend the same schools as the White children.

Speaking of schools, there was a time when President Eisenhower had to deploy federal troops to ensure that teenagers in Little Rock Arkansas could attend a school in compliance with a Supreme Court decision. Take a look at the infamous picture taken at that time and just try to imagine the hatred those young people had to face.

That is what systemic racism is really like. We are no longer that country. Attitudes about race have changed drastically for the better in a little more than a generation, to the extent that a lot of this behavior is incomprehensible to the people who didn’t experience it. I simply cannot imagine refusing to allow someone to use a public facility because of their race. I don’t really understand why normal, decent people behaved in a manner that even a hardcore racist of today might be ashamed of. We worry about microaggressions today. Blacks of a previous generation worried about real aggressions.

Of course, there is still racism and prejudice. There will always be prejudice as long as there are human beings. It seems to me, however, that if we want to continue to make progress against prejudice, or just maintain what progress we have made, conducting a purge of everything in our culture and heritage that might be considered racist might not be a good way to go about it. I would think that if reducing racism is the goal, than we should be trying to make race less important. We ought to be striving for a world in which the color of a person’s skin is just as inconsequential as the color of their hair or eyes. Instead, the people who profess to be the most against racism seem to be trying to inject race into everything. They seem to be trying to deliberately turn people against one another by stirring up racial tensions. I wonder if the goal is not fight racism but to encourage it. Maybe they need to believe that no progress towards racial equality has been made, or that the country they are living in is hateful and evil. Maybe they want Americans to be divided rather than united. Whatever the reason, this business of driving us apart has to go with the wind.

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