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Help Make Thursday, December 1st "Blog Against Racism Day"

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Frederick Douglas American WriterFannie_Lou_Hamer sick and tired

Frederick Douglas and Fannie Lou Hamer. Two of my personal favorites among our American "greats."

He was born into slavery, and self-taught, pursued freedom, first for himself, then for all those still enslaved, then for all humanity, including women, and in that process, became a counsellor to Presidents and one of our great American writers.

She was the grandaughter of slaves, the twentieth child of sharecroopers, another kind of forced servitude, which required her to work in the cotton fields starting at the age of six, and to drop out of school to do so full-time at the age of 12. A sharecropper married to a sharecropper, at the age of 41, Mrs. Hamer, like so many others in the sixties, had had enough of "things as they are," and having decided it was time for her and any resident of Mississippi, who wanted it to get the vote, she didn't stop until she'd shaken the Democratic Party to its foundations.

Two ordinary Americans who were anything but, who came to understand that one can never change the world only for one’s self.

Ask yourself, don't they deserve better than the dialogue we've been having about race for the last two and a half decades?

The idea of making December 1st a day to take the issue of racism seriously once again did not originate with us, but we are delighted to join Chris Clarke, who has declared that such it shall be, even though we’re doing so, somewhat belatedly. I’ve been ailing with flu and have failed for more than a week to get this up when I’d intended to. My apologies.

If you are not familiar with Chris, you have a treat in store.

In addition to being one of those regulars at Michael Berube’s blog who make Michael’s comment threads so dazzling, Chris runs his own smart, highly original blog, Creek Running North, where he writes beautifully about all manner of subjects, from left, progressive, activist politics, to a well-spent weekend, to contemplation of a piece of Pyrite, with scenes from his life, past and present, the common thread holding it all together.

That present, to judge from the pictures Chris takes, (available for public viewing at Flickr, link available on his blog), is fairly enchanting, what with a household which contains the beauteous Becky, and their two exquisite children, and a strikingly handsome dog named Zeke, and a bunny rabbit named Thistle, not to mention other critters who roam in their beautiful rural Northern California environment.

Now you know something about Chris, let's talk about his idea.

Perhaps your first thought upon reading the title to this post was "Huh? Who isn't against racism?"

Well, exactly. Who indeed? Pretty much no one.

Even David Duke is against it. Even white separatists are. After all, their current claim is that they're the victims of minority racism and the dreaded liberal PC culture which enables it. So, jeepers, you pretty much have to count them all as being anti-racism.

Yes, white supremacists are, by definition these days, marginal characters, but as the nominations of our newest Chief Justice and our newest candidate for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court should remind us, an organized backlash against the social gains of the sixties is alive and well today, and has succeeded in creating a topsy-turvy environment in which attempts to discuss these matters from a liberal/progressive/left perspective are more likely to be labeled as racist than are the clear vestiges of racism we can see in our segregated schools, churches and neighborhoods, in the curtailment of voting rights enforcement, and of disability rights, and in the reemergence of many of the oldest, most hairy tropes of classic American racism, retooled for use today, (see Dinesh D’Souza’s entry in the topsy-turvy sweepstakes, "The End Of Racism," samples from which can be found in Professor’s Berube’s ruminations on D’Souza’s hiring, last year, as a Washington Post columnist; herein, a brief sample:

"[The Civil Rights Movement] sought to undermine white racism through a protest strategy that emphasized the recognition of basic rights for blacks, without considering that racism might be fortified if blacks were unable to exercise their rights effectively and responsibly."

"Most African American scholars simply refuse to acknowledge the pathology of violence in the black underclass, apparently convinced that black criminals as well as their targets are both victims: the real culprit is societal racism."

"Increasingly it appears that it is liberal antiracism that is based on ignorance and fear: ignorance of the true nature of racism, and fear that the racist point of view better explains the world than its liberal counterpart."

And my personal favorite, and surely the oldest and most hoary of racist tropes, recapitulated, let us not forget, in 1996:

"The American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well."

While eschewing the crudest forms of racial superiority, (like actually owning slaves), and having learned the value of integrating receptive minorities into their ranks, (after all, what good is a political movement that doesn’t look like America?), the right wing in this country has fashioned a devastatingly effective rhetorical ploy, based on an argument not entirely dissimilar from those made by white supremacists; in this view, the racial discussion of the sixties is no longer a meaningful subject, nor racism any kind of genuine problem, except on the left, which, with its fixation on affirmative action, its refusal to embrace color-blindness, and worst of all, its failure to engage in a genuine dialogue about race, and instead, to substitute accusations of being racist against anyone who might differ from conventional liberal, i.e., PC wisdom, is where the only meaningful racism abides in the America of today, (see this stink bomb of a book by self-proclaimed still-liberal Jim Sleeper).

Although it is surely true that this racial backlash became an important strand in the the rightwing political movement that produced the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the subsequent radical right takeover of the Republican Party, it is surely as true that its success in reframing the discussion of race in America could not have taken place if its arguments had not proved resonant with Americans who don’t think of themselves as part of that movement.

In fact, what caught Chris Clarke’s attention to the need for such a day of anti-racism blogging was the tenor of some of the comments provoked by a post of his that responded to a cartoon making use of cannibals, by readers Chris knew to be "smart and educated," but who couldn’t understand why he found a depiction of dark-skinned people wearing grass skirts and bones through their noses to be "racist."

Thoughts about that exchange brought him to this post, in which he profers the idea for a day set aside to blog against racism. Read it; it’s a great jumping off point for a dialogue I think the liberal/left needs to have, first, with itself, if it is ever to successfully challenge the co-optation by the right of how race is talked and thought about in this country, which is to say, without a genuine recognition of the history of American racism and the many ways in which it shapes the culture of America still.

There is more to discuss here than can be contained within a single day of blogging, but Thursday, December 1st could be a beginning to the kind of dialogue President Clinton hoped for when he called for a national discussion of race; some blame Clinton for the failure of most of the nation to answer his call; I don’t.

Clinton appointed a brilliant panel, headed by one of our great American elders, the historian, John Hope Franklin; the panel had important discussions across the nation and produced a first-rate report. What kept most people from even noticing was the rightwing’s organized campaign of disrespect for the whole notion of such an enterprise, and the SCLM’s skeptical hostility. (It’s always been my view that they needed for Clinton to fail in such a large, moral undertaking, one that reeked of the idealism of the sixties, an aspect of Clinton’s persona the Washington press corp appeared to despise.)

We hope others in the blogisphere will join us Thursday, in what will be an improvisational beginning to a dialogue that needs to become national one, once again.

Thank-you Chris.

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