Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Humiliation as a strategy for defeating racism

The question of Dean and the confederate flag continues to get a lot of play over on Digby's blog. He links to a Temple of Democracy post that I'd also like to quote here:

It is not a new observation that the racial division between white and black working people in the former Confederate states has worked against them and enabled various elites to dominate both of them. Hinton Helper realized that the plantation system oppressed white non-elites before the Civil War. One of the fears of the plantation class before the Civil War was that blacks and whites would work together. You can read about this in "Towards a Patriarchal Republic: The Secession of Georgia," by Michael P. Johnson.

There were attempts for black-white alliances during Reconstruction, in the 1890s with Populism, and Mahon in North Carolina, and other times in the history of the South, and this has been an ongoing hope continuing to this day. However, it has been defeated, again, and again, and again.  The trump card that the elites have played over and over is white nationalism. The convincing of white working people, farmers, that their interest lies in a common white identity rather than the common economic interest they hold with African Americans in the South. You can't defeat white nationalism by giving into it. You can't appeal to it and expect to defeat it. You also can't expect to beat the established interests in using it. They can always beat your appeal to it. You can't build an alliance on top of it. The established interests will bust it up with a stronger appeal to white nationalism than you will be willing to make.

To have a movement of ordinary people, black and white, against established anti-democratic interests, you need to defeat white nationalism. FDR thought he could build a progressive future by side stepping the issues. We now witness a party with its strength centered in the former Confederate states demolishing FDRs legacy one step at a time.

I agree completely that you won't get poor whites and blacks to work with each other until you defeat the concept of white nationalism. The question that is: how you defeat the concept of white nationalism?

The old approach to this problem seems to come down to a simple act of humiliation: make the rural white southerners feel ashamed for waving "an obvious symbol of racism". The thinking being that, once they admit they are wrong, they will be awakened into the new, more enlightened reality that is racial equality and mutual cooperation between the races.

Where have I heard this before? Oh, I know, it sounds eerily similar to the "transformative defeat" doctrine that the PNAC crowd has been espousing as a solution to the Iraq problem.

It is ironic that the Democrats are as blind to the drawbacks of this approach when it comes to dealing with rural white southerners as the Republicans are when it comes to dealing with downtrodden Iraqis.

This approach fails to acknowledge a simple basic fact: human beings can be incredibly pig headed. They will continue to do something that is against their best interest, especially when they have some "do gooder" shouting in their face about how they are "bad bad people" for doing what they are doing.

The basic problem is that this approach isn't working! Dean is offering an alternative. We are obviously at loggerheads over what is essentially nothing more than a stupid piece of cloth. So why not just redefine the problem in order to sidestep the whole issue? Stop worrying about the confederate flag and start talking with the people who are waving it. Don't scold them for it. Ask them what they are getting out of doing it?

If we are really going to defeat white nationalism then we need to attack it directly. Attacking the confederate flag is pointless and counter-productive. Once the Democrats show that they are willing to listen to the problems of rural white southerners without insisting that they put down their battle flags then, maybe then, those people will start to listen to what the Democrats have to say.


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