My American Identity
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Identities based on ethnicity and class
Race and Ethnicity
Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet
The famous Indian chief Tecumseh (Te-cum-seh) was born around 1768 in a territory included within the present state of Ohio. His brother and collaborator was Law-le-was-i-kaw, otherwise known as the “Shawnee prophet”. These two men were Shawnee Indians, a tribe of Algonquin stock that had been split into groups residing in South Carolina and in northern Tennessee before being reunited in Ohio in the mid 18th century. This tribe was involved in numerous battles with white Americans moving west.
Around 1800, the Shawnee prophet began preaching a new religion intended to stop the encroachment by whites upon Indian lands and revitalize the Indians’ culture. An 1858 book, History of Indiana, states that the prophet “began to declaim against witchcraft, the use of intoxicating liquors, the custom of Indian women intermarrying with white men, the dress and habits of white people, and the practice of selling Indian lands to the United States. He told the Indians that the commands of the Great Spirit required them to punish, with death, those who practiced the arts of witchcraft and magic. He told them, also, that the Great Spirit had given him power to find out and expose such persons, to cure all kinds of diseases, to confound his enemies, and to ‘stay the arm of death in sickness and on the battlefield.’ ”
In short, the Shawnee prophet was trying to preserve his people’s identity in the face of an advancing alien culture. His message of resistance to white culture and return to Indian ways appealed to North American Indians of many different tribes. The prophet’s brother, Tecumseh, meanwhile engaged in the political work of visiting tribes in the eastern part of the United States in an attempt to form a confederation that would resist the United States militarily. Thus Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwautawa were a team, each handling different aspects of the struggle: Tecumseh, as the military and political leader; Tenskwautawa, the religious or spiritual leader.
The Shawnee and other Indians were then losing ground on all fronts. First, they were losing their tribal lands to white settlers after disadvantageous treaties were signed with the U.S. government. Second, they were demoralized by the use of alcohol, which they could not tolerate. Their Indian ways were being forgotten as many Indians adopted the white culture.
Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet, were upset by the treaties which some chiefs signed ceding land to the whites. These individuals were not authorized to sign treaties on behalf of all Indians. Some had been persuaded by trinkets and alcohol. Tecumseh argued that it was wrong to sell or cede Indian lands. Land, he said, was a common tribal possession. One could no more sell this than one could sell the water one drinks or the air one breathes.
The military governor of the Indiana territory at the time was General William Henry Harrison, who later became President of the United States. Governor Harrison urged the Indians to reject the Prophet’s teachings. He wrote to them: “The dark, crooked, and thorny road which you are now pursuing will certainly lead to endless woe and misery. But who is this pretended prophet who dares to speak in the name of the Great Creator? Examine him ... Demand of him some proofs, at least, of being the messenger of the Deity. If God has really employed him, he has doubtless authorized him to perform some miracles, that he may be known and received as a prophet.” Harrison’s real concern was that the Shawnee leaders were influenced by British agents working against the United States.
In August 1808, the Prophet visited Governor Harrison at Vincennes. He said to Harrison: “Father, it is three years since I first began with that system of religion which I now practice. The white people and some of the Indians were against me; but I had no other intention but to introduce, among the Indians, those good principles of religion which the white people profess. The Great Spirit told me to tell the Indians that he had made them, and made the world; that he had placed them on it to do good, and not evil.”
“I told all the red skins that the way they were in was not good, and that they ought to abandon it; that we ought to consider ourselves as one man; but we ought to live agreeable to our several customs - the red people after their mode and the white people after theirs - particularly that they should not drink whiskey; that it was not made for them, but (for) the white people, who alone know how to use it; and that it is the cause of all the mischiefs which the Indians suffer; that we must always follow the directions of the Great Spirit, and we must listen to Him, as it was He that made us. Determine to listen to nothing that is bad. Do not take up the tomahawk, should it be offered by the British, or by the Long Knives. Do not meddle with anything that does not belong to you; but mind your own business, and cultivate the ground, that your women and children may have enough to live on.”
While Governor Harrison was placated by this explanation to some degree, he kept hearing that certain officers in the British Indian department were encouraging Tecumseh and the Prophet to form a confederation of Indian tribes allied with the British. Suspecting the Prophet of duplicity, he continued to sign treaties that ceded Indian lands. Such acts infuriated the Shawnee brothers. The Prophet, in Prophet’s Town, showed increasing hostility toward whites. He refused his share of “annuity salt” and called white boatmen “American dogs”.
In 1810, Tecumseh met with Governor Harrison to complain about a treaty signed in Fort Wayne that ceded more Indian lands. He said that the Indian signatories to the treaty had no right to sign that treaty. Tecumseh said to Harrison: “How can we have confidence in the white people! When Jesus Christ came upon the Earth, you killed him, and nailed him on a cross. You thought he was dead, but you were mistaken. You have Shakers among you, and you laugh and make light of their worship.” Harrison replied simply that he thought that the American government had treated the Indians fairly. At this remark, Tecumseh became angry. A number of his followers stood up with war clubs, tomahawks, and spears waving them at Harrison in a threatening way.
At a subsequent conference, Tecumseh was more polite. Harrison met privately with him in the Indian camp. He told Tecumseh that the U.S. President (James Madison) had decided not to acknowledge the Indian claims. “Well,” said Tecumseh calmly, “as the great chief is to determine the matter, I hope the Great Spirit will put sense enough into his head to induce him to direct you to give up this land. It is true, he is so far off he will not be injured by this war. He may sit still in his town and drink his wine, while you and I will have to fight it out.”
Fight it out they did. While Tecumseh was away on a diplomatic visit to an Indian tribe in the south, his brother, the Prophet, led an attack on General Harrison’s encampment on a hill near the Tippecanoe river not far from the present city of Lafayette, Indiana. The Indians were given courage by the Prophet’s assurances that his incantations would protect them from the white man’s bullets.
The Indian attack took place in the early morning of November 7, 1811. Roused from their tents, Harrison’s disciplined soldiers repelled the attack. There were casualties on both sides. However, this so-called “Battle of Tippecanoe” discredited the Prophet. His followers began to desert the tribal coalition. Tecumseh returned from the southern trip to find his plan of establishing a confederation of Indian tribes in ruins.
Tecumseh went on to join the British in Canada during the war of 1812. Made a brigadier general, he led the Indians in the siege of Fort Meigs and protected the British after their defeat on Lake Erie but then lost his life in the Battle of the Thames, near Chatham, Ontario, on October 5, 1813. Canadians consider him a national hero. Tecumseh’s brother is not remembered so kindly. Given a pension by the British, Tenskwautawa returned to Ohio in 1826; and then, with others of the Shawnee tribe, he moved to Missouri and finally to Kansas where he died in 1837, almost forgotten.
His adversary, General William Henry Harrison, was elected President of the United States three years later. “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” was the slogan used in the election campaign. However, President Harrison caught cold while giving his inaugural address and died a month later. He was first of seven U.S. Presidents elected in a year divisible by twenty who died in office. The others were Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Political superstition has attributed those deaths to “the curse of Tecumseh”.
Shawnee experience foreshadows the white man's fate
I tell this history as a foreshadowing of our own fate, speaking from a white man’s perspective. Both my parents came from Indiana; so did three of four sets of grandparents. So I am roughly descended from the people who took the Indians’ land. The roles, however, are now strangely reversed. We of the majority population in the United States now face problems not unlike those which Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet, once faced.
Unlike the Indians’ loss of land, the United States has maintained its territorial integrity with respect to other nations. On the other hand, illegal immigration into its territory proceeds at a rapid pace. At least twelve million persons who entered this country illegally continue to reside here. Also, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, has made our nation security-obsessed. We are no longer safe in our own house. Justifiably or not, the U.S. government makes us live in fear of what foreigners might do to America.
The Shawnee prophet preached that alcohol was not good for the Indian. He urged that his people leave that intoxicating substance alone. Whites, too, have a problem with alcohol. Since the 1960s, our nation has also had a problem with illegal drugs. Heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine addiction today afflict broad segments of our population. There is also a gambling epidemic, feeding on another personal weakness. Ironically, some Indian tribes profit from that addiction. Indian-owned casinos fleece the white compulsive gambler as whites once fleeced their ancestors. Gambling is our weakness as alcohol consumption was theirs.
Tecumseh and the Prophet were concerned about the Indians’ economic survival if their tribal hunting lands were lost. They were angry at Indian chiefs who had signed treaties jeopardizing their future. Today it is Americans who are concerned about their livelihood. The nation’s manufacturing base has been devastated as factories have closed in the United States and opened in low-wage countries abroad. The problem is not that outsiders have invaded our territory but that America’s own business and political leaders have decided to send production abroad. Both the 19th century Indians and contemporary Americans suffered from leaders who profited personally at the expense of their community.
The point is that, however strong we may have been in the past, the American people are facing an uncertain future. It is in this context that the story of Tecumseh and his brother becomes relevant. Tecumseh was a politician who tried to rescue the Indians by uniting them in a military alliance against the United States. His brother, Lawlewasikaw or Tenskwautawa, was a religious prophet who was concerned about changing the hearts and minds of the Indian people. He wanted to reestablish the Indian identity on a firm moral foundation. The idea was that his people, being true to their cultural heritage, would again become strong and be able to withstand white encroachment upon their land.
White Americans have tended to look more favorably on Tecumseh, the skilled military leader, than on his religious brother. Perhaps in the context of our Christian faith, we see this Indian prophet as a false prophet: He was non-Christian, either a dissembler or a person in league with evil spirits. However, the Shawnee prophet was essentially dealing with identity. He wanted to strengthen the sense of Indian identity so that his people would become strong again. It is this part of the story which interests me. Perhaps, Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet, can become historical guides for us, descendants of their enemy. Perhaps we, too, can find regeneration in our cultural roots.
Indians seek to recover their identity
In all honesty, I can’t say that the Prophet’s regenerative effort succeeded. After the battle of Tippecanoe, the North American Indians continued to experience misfortune. The land grabs continued until whites controlled most of the land east of the Mississippi river. An uprising by Sioux Indians in Minnesota in 1862 was crushed and 38 men were hanged in Mankato. The remaining Sioux were removed from the state. During the rest of the 19th century, U.S. military forces battled Indian tribes in the western territories. Except for the Sioux victory in the battle of Little Bighorn, the superior organization and weaponry of the federal cavalry won the day. White cowboys and red Indians then went on tour in Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” show.
The government plan was to resettle the Indian population in reservations controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Boarding schools were established to teach Indians white culture. The students were forbidden to speak in their native tongues. Indians were encouraged to abandon practice of their tribal religions and instead embrace Christianity. In short, they were to assimilate with whites in the American “melting pot” as other ethnics did. There was to be no more separate “Indian identity”.
The black Civil Rights movement inspired other nonwhite peoples, including Indians, to think of regaining their culture. The American Indian Movement was founded in 1968 to advance Indian interests and identity. In 1972, some of its members seized the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington D.C. In the following, A.I.M. members and local Indians took over the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and occupied it for 71 days. More recently, Indian activists have protested the practice of naming college or professional sports teams after Indians, attempted to enforce Indian claims under treaties with the U.S. government, and encouraged history to be rewritten in ways more favorable to Indian peoples.
The focus of the Indian struggle was identity - the right of a particular people to define themselves and their culture. One of AIM’s founders, Eddie Benton-Banai, a member of the Ojibway tribe, said in a newspaper interview: “The Indian’s greatest enemy ... is a multiple kind of thing. It’s Christianity and it’s the white man. I’m talking about an attitude. White man is an attitude ... One of the greatest sins that we can ever do is to rob our children of their cultural heritage. And that’s what a lot of people have done. I want my children to be knowledgeable about what they are and where they came from ... People call me an atheist, a race-baiter. I don’t hate anyone. I try to live brotherhood all my life. And I believe in Indian identity.”
the racial component in identity
What, however, is an “American identity”? Indian identity and culture is part of this, but only a part. Of the 270 million persons living in the United States in 1998, approximately one percent was classified as belonging to the “American Indian and native Alaskan” population. In contrast, four percent of the U.S. population was racially defined as being “Asians or Pacific islanders”; thirteen percent as being “black or African American”; and eighty-three percent as being “white” or of European descent. The Census Bureau also takes note of Hispanic Americans, who were eleven percent of the U.S. population in 1998. Hispanics can be of any race.
The world’s people have traditionally been divided into three racial groups which are roughly associated with skin color. East Asians, or “yellow people” - people with yellow skins - live in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other lands along the eastern and southeastern coast of Asia. In 1998, they were approximately twenty-six percent of the world’s population. Europeans, or “white people” living primarily in Europe, were nine percent of the population that year. “Black people”, living in sub-Saharan Africa, were approximately ten percent of the world population. All racial groups were also represented in the Americas and elsewhere.
We can see that this classification omits a rather large group, brown-skinned people who live in places like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. They were approximately twenty-one percent of the world population in 1998. A similar group, living in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, were six percent of the world population. Then we have the mixed-race people of central and south America, descended from indigenous people and Iberian whites, who were perhaps ten percent of this population. We have the native peoples of North America. We also have mixed-race people, like Barack Obama, living in all places on earth.
Therefore, the old racial classifications have lost much of their meaning except to suggest that the pure strain of white people, descended exclusively from Europeans, is a small and shrinking part of the world population. Their political dominance has waned since the halcyon days during the reign of England’s Queen Victoria when the European nations controlled the earth. It is said that white Americans had better adapt to the changing conditions if they are to prosper in an increasingly nonwhite world.
Even so, race and ethnicity remain an important part of personal identity. Besides skin color, one can make the following historical observations about the racial groups living in America. The “red” people, American Indians, are the people who originally inhabited the North American continent. Their “immigration”, from east Asia, happened perhaps twelve thousand years ago. The “black” people, African Americans, are mainly descended from slaves purchased in Africa and brought across the Atlantic ocean between the 16th and 19th centuries to work on plantations owned by whites. The “white” people, on the other hand, are people who came voluntarily to North America. They may have come as indentured servants, convicted criminals, or refuges from European wars and social oppression, but their passage to America was generally undertaken with their consent.
Those historical facts play into the moral case being made against white people today. The American Indian has a right to occupy the American land by virtue of his sole occupancy of this land for more than ten thousand years. The black person cannot be blamed for encroaching on another’s territory because he came to America involuntarily. Whatever blame attaches to his occupation of this land must be assigned to the white slave owner or slave trader. The white man, however, saw opportunity to prosper premised on the red man’s demise. The promise of America was based on a replacement scenario in which the aboriginal inhabitants of the land would make way for a society created by and for white people.
At this point in time, however, it’s impractical to propose sending black people back to Africa or whites back to Europe. Therefore, whoever we might be, we need to accept our place in a multiracial, multicultural society. From a white man’s perspective, this identity has a dual perspective. We are, first, Americans submerged in an American “melting pot”. Yet, a second aspect, based on an ethnicity transported from Europe or elsewhere, colors our personal heritage.
my own and other European ethnicities
Mine is suggested by the surnames of forbearers in my family tree: McGaughey, Durham, Elliott, Sawyer, Boal, O’Ragen, Black, Wells. There are a couple Irish or Scottish names here; the rest are English. In reality, however, I am descended from a people that has lived in America for many generations. In the main, they were people who arrived on the east coast in the early 19th century, migrated across Kentucky, and settled in Indiana. Being unfamiliar with what my forbearers did in Europe before they came here, this is my ancestral identity so far as I am concerned. I am an American.
My own ethnicity, concentrated in the British Isles, may not match that of other white Americans. Official records of immigration into the United States from 1820 to 1969, which accounts for the bulk of the white population, shows that only 10.7 percent of the immigrants came from Great Britain, compared with 15.4 percent from Germany, 11.5 percent from Ireland, 9.6 percent from Austria-Hungary, 7.5 percent from Russia, and 34.8 percent from various other nations.
English people and Scots were the dominant immigrant group in colonial times. More than a million persons came from Ireland to the United States following the great potato famine between 1845 and 1852. Central European, German, and Scandinavian farmers, seeking improved personal opportunity, settled the eastern and midwestern regions of the country in large numbers throughout the 19th century. Later, the demographics shifted to immigration from southern and eastern Europe.
Whereas a majority of early immigrants had been Protestant, the newcomers at the turn of the century included many Roman Catholics, Jews, and members of the Orthodox Christian faiths. This caused cultural and religious friction leading to enactment of the Immigration Act of 1924. Preference was given to countries that already had people in the United States. Immigration, which had peaked at 8.8 million persons in the decade between 1900 and 1910, declined to half a million persons in the decade of the 1930s before rising to one million in the 1940s and 2.5 million in the 1950s.
In 1965, immigration law was again changed to reduce the racial and regional preferences and instead give preference to foreigners related to U.S. citizens. Also, the U.S. government gave asylum to persons who faced political persecution in their country of origin and to those such as the Vietnamese who had been allied with the United States in wars. Additionally, the “bracero” program between 1942 and 1964 brought Mexican workers into the United States on temporary work contracts. That experience acquainted Mexicans with the advantages of living in this country. Today, Mexico accounts for the largest number of immigrants, followed by China, India, and the Philippines. Many immigrants also have come to the United States from south and central America.
This fact of a heavy immigrant population makes the United States a mini “United Nations” - “a nation of many nations” or proto-universal nation that could serve as a model for the world. The American identity would thus be cosmopolitan rather than parochial. It would be adaptable rather than tradition-bound. Americans would “celebrate our diversity” as they say.
The flip side of the coin, though, from my perspective, is that a society based on such principles might also follow a “replacement scenario” by which white people are replaced by others whom they have generously admitted to their community much as the white man previously replaced the American Indian. That seems to be the tone of the political discussion today. Not only are whites being dislodged from positions of power and privilege, they are a shrinking part of the population.
The healthier outcome for whites from my perspective is to take pride in race and ethnicity. It’s not to develop a white-supremacist attitude but to discover and develop oneself from the standpoint of one’s birth-determined potential. In other words, acknowledge that an important part of identity lies in the genes. If personal identity rests to a degree on that foundation, then it can become and remain something solid and real.
genetic and cultural endowments
So much of 20th century “science” has been devoted to denying genetics. Because Hitler went overboard on such theories, it seems that all suggestions that behavior is genetically inherited must be rejected in favor of the idea that people can be educated or culturally conditioned to do or become almost any thing. The plain fact is, however, that there are genetic differences between different groups of people which, while admitting individual exceptions, do affect the culture. If we are honest enough to admit that, we can perhaps get beyond the “cookie-cutter” approach to social policy and let people be what it is in their nature to be.
It was, for instance, in the genetic nature of American Indians that they could not tolerate alcohol as well as white people could. The wise response was to advise Indians not to drink alcohol, as the Shawnee Prophet did, rather than to suggest that such a statement shows prejudice against Indian people. Of course, some Indians can tolerate alcohol as well as whites, but most cannot. If inability to drink heavily and remain in control of one’s faculties hurts Indian pride, it would be better to move on to consider other areas where Indians have the edge. Better still, downplay such comparisons or attempts to bring one group up to the level of another. Relax. Let everyone be himself.
I think there are both cultural and innate differences between the races. For example, the culture of Chinese people differs greatly from that of white people. The Chinese eat with chop sticks while Europeans eat with knives and forks. Chinese city dwellers live inside walled compounds rather than in homes surrounded by grass lawns. The Chinese script consists of thousands of unique pictograms instead of alphabetic lettering. The spoken language has many similarly sounding words whose meanings are differentiated by tone. Such differences are cultural and can be overcome in adapting to a new environment.
Chinese people may also have personal tendencies that are innate and therefore more difficult to change. There is an orderliness in their thinking - for instance, a strong tendency to put things in their proper place and often to enclose objects in a container. Chinese people tend to be guarded in their emotions; they are reluctant to express anger in public or openly exhibit love. They take great care to cultivate personal relationships. Family ties are important. Chinese people hate to borrow money. They prefer warm (tea) to cold drinks that might upset their stomachs. They can more easily sit on their heels.
On the other hand, we in the west may have more of the adventurous spirit and be more willing to “let off steam” instead of bottling anger inside. Our mentality is more impulsive and open. I would guess that some of those tendencies, if I have assessed them correctly, would arise from genetic differences between Chinese and European peoples. If no attempt is made to claim a generally inferior or superior relationship between the two racial groups, what’s wrong with that?
The consensus of western intellectual opinion has turned away from such thinking, however. We insist that genetic differences do not exist between racial or ethnic groups. Only culture matters, and that can be manipulated through education and use of the mass media. In such a context, the different races, gender-based groups, religions, and ethnicities have engaged in a political struggle to rewrite history on terms more favorable to themselves. Our culture has become a battleground in which the different groups seek an advantage for itself.
try on different identities
African Americans have led the way to formulating a contemporary, self-defined racial culture. With their black-studies programs and separatist philosophies, they have sought to overcome an inferior social identity. They have fought prejudice against their skin color with the proud slogan: “Black is beautiful.” Likewise, Jews, Latinos, Asians, and American Indians have staked out cultural positions apart from that of the white majority, as have gays and lesbians and feminist women. Each such group establishes its identity in contrast with the majority population while often advancing a political grievance that it suffers from discrimination.
What of the person who has no culture but that of the amorphous majority: the so-called “middle American”? His identity cannot be set against that of his own community. He may be secure in economic and social standing, but his culture lacks contrast with that of others living around him. A century ago, there was a greater sense of white ethnicity, but that has been lost in the melting pot. It is a real challenge to find something to replace this. What is our culture living in institutions that ingest the masses of people and make them all the same?
It may be that institutional man is forced to identify with the more colorful or accomplished deeds of his kinsmen in the past. The middle American, if he is of English descent, may associate himself with Winston Churchill, Shakespeare, Byron, or the Knights of the Round Table. If he is an Italian-American, he may count among his people such figures as Dante, Michelangelo, Christopher Columbus, or even Julius Caesar. Is there not, however, something closer to home to demonstrate his own and his people’s greatness? The traveling circus performer would seem to have a better claim to a distinct culture than what many Americans have today.
In the cultural wasteland of modern society, the artists among us cast about for an identity that comforts their aching soul. Much ingenuity is exhibited in trying to avoid ones own cultural background. One tries on different identities like different suits of clothes.
Garrison Keillor writes: “An American guy is capable of many costumes - Riverboat Gambler, Sensitive Aesthete, Wilderness Scout, Lounge Lizard, House Husband, Dangerous Radical and Scourge of Society, Aging Preppie - and I’ve tried most of them.” John McCain’s “transforming himself into a yahoo and a cracker” as the oldest presidential candidate of a major party was interesting but unconvincing to him. (Keillor is an avid Democrat.)
A biography of Bob Dylan (nee Bob Zimmerman) describes the legendary poet-musician as “an insecure, selfless and consequently arrogant young man. A young man who constantly lied about his past, claiming to be a hobo, a drifter from New Mexico someplace; a man of the people like Woody Guthrie, anything but a middle-class Jewish kid” from Hibbing, Minnesota.
No longer living in an age of heroism, we find refuge in the pages of history or in the continuing national identity that the government creates. To be an American is thought to be to be part of the public experience arranged by government officials. All too often that experience leads to war. The politicians furnish so many opportunities for heroic sacrifice among the nation’s young men and women; so few for themselves. Then, when casualties mount, other recruits must be thrown into battle lest the earlier war victims seem to have died in vain.
No, we need to reject government-made identity and its religion of human sacrifice (war) and, instead, shape our own future. I would say, it’s time to ask what the government can do for us, and not we for the government. This country is bigger than its government. American history is more than a set of events controlled from Washington, D.C. Our national identity relates more to the people living in our communities and what they choose to do than to the political structure that speaks in our name. Only we Americans, each of us, can say in definitive terms what it means to be an American.
the loss of kinship
I have been thinking about how America’s business and political leaders have betrayed the interests of the people they nominally serve. What makes them such cold-blooded reptiles? When our national political leaders send young Americans off to fight in wars and deny wounded veterans adequate medical care or when jobs are cut at home to take advantage of cheap foreign labor and boost executive pay, it’s clear that the top decision makers in America no longer care about the people who depend on them. Is there no longer any sense of a common humanity?
Part of the answer, I think, is that feelings of kinship have been beaten out of people by political or economic interest groups who have gained political control. Kinship, for my type at least, is equated with “favoritism”. A business leader who went out of his way to help someone because that person was of “his own kind” would run afoul of the discrimination laws. There would be accusations of an “old boy’s network” if the natural sympathies that exist between an older and younger man of the same race were allowed to play out in promotions and similar business practices.
I think back to how my father, as a young man from Indiana, found a job at the Wall Street Journal in New York City because the managing editor, K.C. Hogate, was a graduate of the same college. Hogate hired many young men from that small-town college, and it was they (not my father so much as other graduates of that college) who built the Wall Street Journal into the nation’s premiere business publication. Yes, it was an “old boy’s network” that informally gave preference in hiring to white boys from Indiana, but it worked. There was a camaraderie among the people who worked there based on a certain kinship. Today there would be complaints.
It may have been the class antagonism beginning with the labor movement that engendered similar hateful feelings in the business class. When someone routinely demonizes you, you naturally want to retaliate when the opportunity presents itself. Now that labor is weak and management is strong, the laborers are being punished. Old-style paternalism no longer exists. Come what may, Wall Street is clamoring for higher quarterly profits. It’s class warfare in reverse.
But race is also a factor. Back in the ‘50s, the courts said that white people had to open their private businesses to blacks. Freedom of association was not allowed. The public schools needed to be racially integrated. Businesses had to hire a certain number of blacks or face racial-discrimination lawsuits. They had to make sure that their employment tests were not discriminatory. Moreover, these businesses had to police the conduct of their employees to see that no offensive jokes were told. All that reflected human playfulness or people’s natural sense of kinship went out the window. A grim phalanx of lawyers, politicians, media commentators, and religious leaders told them it was wrong for people - whites in particular - to be human. This was now punishable by law.
In that environment, I can see that the human aspect of white business leadership would shut down. Facing an implacable set of political demands evidently supported by the American people, the (white) business decision maker would say, in effect: The heck with it. I’ll just start looking out after Number One. I’ll take out as much money as I can for myself from this organization and let others fend for themselves.
What was the use? America as we knew it had been lost. There was no sense of community but all was merely a political game. Getting money offered today’s top dogs a way to win. Therefore, take as much as you can while the getting is good!
That’s why it’s important for white people to reassert a claim to human dignity. As persons of a certain race, they have been political losers for so long in America that they seem hardly to matter any more. It’s easy for America’s elite to see this large, nebulous group as inconsequential and weak, pick whatever is left in their pockets, and abuse them even more. Whites are racists; people like that need to be kicked.
I don’t share that point of view.
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