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Drawing the Color Line 
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Post Drawing the Color Line
Zinn was good in identifying the historical conditions that created the perfect storm for chattel slavery to thrive in the colonies. At the time he was writing, apologists for slavery were no longer coming out of academia or mainstream public life, so there wasn't a lot of refuting that he needed to do. He refers to a book that exploded some of the myths of benevolent southern slavery, The Peculiar Institution, by Kenneth Stampp, but that came out in 1956.

I thought the interesting part of the chapter was his explanation of how even poor whites, of which there were many, came to adopt the prejudices of their betters. Zinn cites some secondary sources that he thinks shows an early affinity between slaves and poor whites. He uses this as support for his thesis that there was not a "natural" dislike of white against black; rather, the hatred had to be inculcated deliberately, mostly by a process whereby poor whites would come to have privileges and advantages that black slaves of course didn't. This created that awareness of social class that made poor whites protective of their status and disdainful of the slaves. So even though they would never own any slaves, they came to support the wealthy planters who did, later on going to war to preserve the institution.

Zinn's argument makes sense on the surface. I don't know whether the evidence in total shows he is right. It seems something that would take a great more space to delve into than he can spare in a fairly brief survey. The argument is an example of what he hopes to achieve through the book: show us that our failings were not inevitable and pre-determined. If blacks and poor whites lived in equality in earliest America, they can do so again.



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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
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By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.
p. 29



Wed Jul 05, 2017 7:24 pm
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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
LanDroid wrote:
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By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.
p. 29

That seems a good example of Zinn's belief that the historian should stand for something, or against something. Real neutrality is impossible, Zinn says, but the historian convention of not expressing opinions openly conceals this.



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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
In his book "One Drop of Blood: The American Misadventure of Race" by Scott Malcolmson, he brings up that the plantation system of the South was dependent upon chattel labor. If there were no blacks brought in and forced to work the fields, the plantation owners would have had no other recourse but to have poor whites brought in and force them to work it. Those fields are not going to just lay fallow because no blacks are around and they aren't going to plant themselves. Recruit a private army to go out and get some slaves too poor and disenfranchised to have any political or material clout to fight back with. Blacks were the easy and natural target but without them, it would have been poor whites.

Poor whites, for their part, were well aware of this. They didn't talk about it much because it wasn't a safe thing to be bringing up. But they constantly buttered-up the landowners with obsequiously-worded reminders that "you and I have the same great-granddaddy!" There was always this constant reminder of the familial relations they shared as a reminder--a way of saying, "If you enslave me, you're enslaving your own kin!"

Consequently, poor whites poured their hatred and derision onto the blacks as a way of further ingratiating themselves to the landowners. They were putting themselves into the role of overseer--maybe not good enough to sit with the family at the table up in the big house but not low enough to thrown hog intestines and hooves to eat. A kind of "I may not be the best but at least I'm not the worst."

You seem to be showing that Zinn is pointing out how poor whites and blacks were manipulated into hating one another by the rich but I'm not sure that's true. Why would rich whites care what happens to poor whites? Always more where they come from. Poor whites wanted status--not really out of some illusion of grandeur but out of a very real fear that they needed it for protection from the machinations of the rich whites whose motivation was always financially based. The rationale of the poor whites was "the more like them [the rich whites] we are, the less likely they are to see us as them [the blacks]."

Those privileges that poor whites received over blacks weren't simply given to them to sow class distinctions, they were fought for and won by poor whites as a matter of survival. They accomplished it by doing what blacks were far too disenfranchised and beaten down to do: form into a political class.

This has been the true Southern way of life behind all the antebellum bullshit notions of propriety and noblesse oblige. The Southern way of life was always, at its root, based on the fear that the rich will eat the poor when the time comes and so in the meantime improve your circumstances to look less appetizing to them.

Even today, it works that way. Trump gained the presidency by appealing to poor whites and pretending that he holds them in higher esteem than blacks or Mexicans or Muslims. But poor whites are still a viable political force and they have been able to force their vision on society for that reason. The rich politicians cater to the whites to show them "I'm one of you!" because that residual fear that if the rich distance themselves too much then poor whites start to fear for their way of life and react accordingly.

The reason Trump was so mysteriously successful was because he wasn't some politician who would kill his own mother to get votes. The poor whites want to impress the Big Daddy up in the big house--not his go-betweens. The go-betweens are not trustworthy. They may relay the Bid Daddy's hopes and dreams but how do we know they aren't just putting one over on everybody and lying to both sides?
The establishment politicians they decry so much today are those go-betweens--slimy, scheming, in it only for themselves. But TRUMP! Trump isn't a go-between. He IS the Big Daddy who is speaking directly to them without go-betweens. This has never happened before. Finally! The Bid Daddy is giving us the love, attention and reassurance we have always craved from him!! He is finally showing us how loving and benevolent he is!! He is finally telling us how much he values and treasures us!! We don't have to fear him--he loves us!! To them, he is showing himself as human and it brings them to tears. What a great, great man!!! He assures them, "I want what's good for you and fuck the niggers, spics, kikes, queers, gooks and camel-jockeys! I will fight only for YOU!!!" They love that. Can't resist it. No matter what a lying, stupid, ill-tempered, uninformed, clumsy buffoon he reveals himself to be virtually every time he opens his mouth--they LOVE him!! In fact, the worse he behaves, the more he really does seem to be like one of them. It just makes them love him more.

As long as Trump does nothing to trigger that old fear that rich white Big Daddy will eat us if he takes a whim, they'll love him. If he hurts them in a deliberate way, however---destroys their healthcare, their unemployment checks, their means of employment, then the love affair will be over. If he shows them he holds the go-betweens in higher esteem than he holds them, the love affair is over.

So, where I differ is not that the rich whites have fostered the class distinctions and warfare. It wasn't the rich ones. It was the poor ones. By "poor" I don't just mean poor, I mean "not rich." In other words, middleclass whites are also the poor whites. This wasn't the doing of rich whites but whites in general. It was white people themselves who did this. The country looks the way it does because whites want it to look this way. They are still the dominant class. Trump could have been prevented but non-whites cowered when pissed-off whites flexed their political muscle. Just like voter intimidation of decades past--non-whites stayed home and let the whites have their way. They'll deny it, of course, but that's what it was. Their courage failed them. Whites threatened war if Hillary won and non-whites caved because non-whites are still not a viable political force. They have great strength but their impulses are divided and they can't use it without a great leader to unite them. Hillary wasn't it. Obama was. He was a tremendous unifier, if nothing else. Now, the whites have their tremendous unifier but it's incredibly pathetic. Obama united different races and colors; Trump unifies only the whites against everyone else. It's doomed to failure in the end.

I didn't mean to get off on a Trump rant but we can see the effects of what the treatment of race in the past is having on us today. The Kochs may have thought they were the rich backroom deal-makers calling the shots but they aren't. It was the mass of white people they thought they were mobilizing for their own ends. That mass is who is calling the shots and they can't be led to a better, more inclusive path. They need a leader who will lead them to what they really, truly want: an all-white nation.



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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
DB Roy wrote:
You seem to be showing that Zinn is pointing out how poor whites and blacks were manipulated into hating one another by the rich but I'm not sure that's true. Why would rich whites care what happens to poor whites? Always more where they come from. Poor whites wanted status--not really out of some illusion of grandeur but out of a very real fear that they needed it for protection from the machinations of the rich whites whose motivation was always financially based. The rationale of the poor whites was "the more like them [the rich whites] we are, the less likely they are to see us as them [the blacks]."

Those privileges that poor whites received over blacks weren't simply given to them to sow class distinctions, they were fought for and won by poor whites as a matter of survival. They accomplished it by doing what blacks were far too disenfranchised and beaten down to do: form into a political class.

This has been the true Southern way of life behind all the antebellum bullshit notions of propriety and noblesse oblige. The Southern way of life was always, at its root, based on the fear that the rich will eat the poor when the time comes and so in the meantime improve your circumstances to look less appetizing to them.

The only reason the one-percenters would have had to mollify the poor whites was to save themselves from rebellion, in Zinn's reading. Zinn claims that early on in the colonies, the servant class of whites and the black slaves were not separated by a lot, and that the similarity in their status produced fellow-feeling between them. They might join forces and then the rich folks would be in trouble. Bacon's Rebellion consisted of both blacks and whites. Zinn doesn't like the claim that racial hatred was "natural," not needing to be manipulated by the wealthy. So the rich gave the whites preferential treatment, which only really required hardening the bondage the blacks were under, vs. that of white servants. He's a little vague on the details.

I like your take on it a little better, because it makes sense that the poor whites would take an active role in upping their status, rather than simply being acted upon by the planter class in the South. Zinn seems to be focused on oppression perhaps too much. Obviously the black slaves were oppressed to the max, but racial and cultural affinities of poor whites to rich whites gave poor whites a huge advantage, and it's not surprising that they used it to scramble up the ladder a bit. The arrows point up as well as down for the poor whites.



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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
There have been many views on slavery and color; one of the more interesting I found was in a short film discussing the causes of the Civil War. The film's point was that the color of the African slaves served mainly as an identifier; a black slave 'stood out' from whites and Indians. A white slave (if he existed), could escape and with the opening of the western frontier, easily find a place were no one would know (or care) about his previous life. (An old folk song around the time of western expansion was "What Was Your Name in the States.") Likewise, an escaped Indian slave could likely find refuge with his own, or even another, tribe. But the African slave had nowhere to run.


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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
LanDroid wrote:
Quote:
It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.
p. 29
It wasn't so long ago that history was just "one damn war after another" with a few inventions or religious foundings thrown in, mostly as they affected the question of who would win wars. That's what people thought history was - rise and fall of these and those. Having the methods and motivation to keep track of what was happening to ordinary people and people outside the European cultures marks real progress, going along, I suppose, with the "discovery" of human rights as foreign policy.



Fri Aug 11, 2017 9:35 am
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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
DB Roy wrote:
In his book "One Drop of Blood: The American Misadventure of Race" by Scott Malcolmson, he brings up that the plantation system of the South was dependent upon chattel labor. If there were no blacks brought in and forced to work the fields, the plantation owners would have had no other recourse but to have poor whites brought in and force them to work it. Those fields are not going to just lay fallow because no blacks are around and they aren't going to plant themselves. Recruit a private army to go out and get some slaves too poor and disenfranchised to have any political or material clout to fight back with. Blacks were the easy and natural target but without them, it would have been poor whites.

That makes sense to me, but the economics were surprisingly bad. The old latifundia system of the Mediterranean seems to have been about (olive) oil and cloth commodities. To some extent shipping grain, but grain is relatively low value for long-distance shipping, and makes most sense when the return shipments make a big profit. Keeping in mind "surplus value" (value of product over the food value needed to feed the workers) of less than 10% in Roman days, you can see the problem.

Sugar and tobacco for the rich of Europe were the first answer to this. Later indigo dye, turpentine and King Cotton began to be worth setting up plantations for. But the money did not make itself - one biography of George Washington has the plantation of Martha Custis, whom he married in order to become the richest man in the 13 colonies, actually losing money before Washington stepped in to run things more efficiently. Zinn documents that the first Virginia settlers were still basically starving after, what, 10 years, 20? I forget the detail, sorry.

So yeah, commodities for international trade were the basis of a sort of new thing in the world, with plantation agriculture exploiting slavery, but the default expectation was feudal domination. And what does a frontier do to that? If your serfs can run away and clear new land any time they get disgusted with you, how you gonna keep em down on the farm?

DB Roy wrote:
There was always this constant reminder of the familial relations they shared as a reminder--a way of saying, "If you enslave me, you're enslaving your own kin!"
Interesting that the same approach didn't really work for blacks. The mixed race offspring of raping slaves might get a nicer job as a house um, slave, but what they did not get was emancipation. Same impenetrable line in South Africa a century later.

DB Roy wrote:
You seem to be showing that Zinn is pointing out how poor whites and blacks were manipulated into hating one another by the rich but I'm not sure that's true. Why would rich whites care what happens to poor whites? Always more where they come from. Poor whites wanted status--not really out of some illusion of grandeur but out of a very real fear that they needed it for protection from the machinations of the rich whites whose motivation was always financially based. The rationale of the poor whites was "the more like them [the rich whites] we are, the less likely they are to see us as them [the blacks]."

Interesting. There is a long history in leftish academic work of considering the initiative taken by capitalists to be the "real" motor behind economic developments. Not always convincing. I suspect it involved initiative from both ordinary whites and from rich manipulators. Either one is capable of thinking about how things look to the other and exploiting it for some modicum of advantage.
DB Roy wrote:
The rich politicians cater to the whites to show them "I'm one of you!" because that residual fear that if the rich distance themselves too much then poor whites start to fear for their way of life and react accordingly.
This has a long history in American life, and Andrew Jackson is the premier symbol of it. I think it's fair to say we have not had any president as belligerent as Jackson until our current thug, though surely Polk and T. R. are candidates. Being "one of you" is a tribal thing, and that means identifying enemies and scoring victories over them. I guess I don't really buy the "fear of the aristocrats" version, but maybe if you explained it further I would see it.

DB Roy wrote:
The reason Trump was so mysteriously successful was because he wasn't some politician who would kill his own mother to get votes. The poor whites want to impress the Big Daddy up in the big house--not his go-betweens. The go-betweens are not trustworthy. They may relay the Bid Daddy's hopes and dreams but how do we know they aren't just putting one over on everybody and lying to both sides? The establishment politicians they decry so much today are those go-betweens--slimy, scheming, in it only for themselves.

Might help to explain why Reagan's love of luxury went over well, but so did Jack Kennedy's. There may be something to the idea that "dealing directly" with the powerful is appealing. The manipulators back in the shadows, the Svengalis and the Rasputins and the Talleyrands, do seem to attract auras of latent betrayal. But as a narrative it may not deal well with the Hannity's and the Coulter's and the Palin's. Sometimes a worldview is just a worldview.

DB Roy wrote:
As long as Trump does nothing to trigger that old fear that rich white Big Daddy will eat us if he takes a whim, they'll love him. If he hurts them in a deliberate way, however---destroys their healthcare, their unemployment checks, their means of employment, then the love affair will be over. If he shows them he holds the go-betweens in higher esteem than he holds them, the love affair is over.
Well, that's the question of the hour, isn't it? Will West Virginians tilt more to fear of Al Gore and of immigrants, or to fear of losing health insurance? Guess I don't think it all comes down to class-based psychodrama, but these days a person has to accept that rational calculation of interest is not the name of the game either.

DB Roy wrote:
This wasn't the doing of rich whites but whites in general. It was white people themselves who did this. The country looks the way it does because whites want it to look this way. They are still the dominant class.
It wasn't so long ago that immigrant groups, especially Catholics from Ireland, Italy and Poland, were the excluded class and blacks and Latinos were hardly in the calculus. I think it is sad that so much political evolution comes down to who we can kick that's on a lower rung of the ladder, but I would really like to believe that Trump's inability to deliver will usher that old-style politics out the door and we can get back to grappling with the hard problems of reality.
DB Roy wrote:
Trump could have been prevented but non-whites cowered when pissed-off whites flexed their political muscle. Just like voter intimidation of decades past--non-whites stayed home and let the whites have their way. They'll deny it, of course, but that's what it was. Their courage failed them. Whites threatened war if Hillary won and non-whites caved because non-whites are still not a viable political force.

Not buying it. There is still a lot of religious-based conservatism in minority communities. Blacks would turn out to vote for Obama, sure, of course. But lots of them resent Hillary's attitudes toward military adventurism, not to mention her sex, her husband's cavalier willingness to pull strings with the powerbrokers, her sex, her ambition and her sex.
DB Roy wrote:
They have great strength but their impulses are divided and they can't use it without a great leader to unite them. Hillary wasn't it. Obama was. He was a tremendous unifier, if nothing else.
I agree with that, despite the determination of Mitch McConnell and Roger Ailes to paint a different picture.
DB Roy wrote:
Now, the whites have their tremendous unifier but it's incredibly pathetic. Obama united different races and colors; Trump unifies only the whites against everyone else. It's doomed to failure in the end.
Whatever smart thing he might be, 45 is not any kind of unifier. The people who really got behind him were spoiling for a fight, but he backed into office with more people holding their nose as they voted for him than for anyone in living memory.



Last edited by Harry Marks on Fri Aug 11, 2017 11:13 am, edited 1 time in total.



Fri Aug 11, 2017 10:59 am
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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
DWill wrote:
The only reason the one-percenters would have had to mollify the poor whites was to save themselves from rebellion, in Zinn's reading. Zinn claims that early on in the colonies, the servant class of whites and the black slaves were not separated by a lot, and that the similarity in their status produced fellow-feeling between them. They might join forces and then the rich folks would be in trouble. Bacon's Rebellion consisted of both blacks and whites.
I thought the section on Bacon's Rebellion was the biggest eye opener so far in the book. I am up to Ch. 6 and the plight of women, and so far what I have enjoyed the most are these lesser-known eddies of history that reveal the hidden currents. Zinn may be tendentious, but he generally does manage to be interesting.



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Post Re: Drawing the Color Line
Cattleman wrote:
The film's point was that the color of the African slaves served mainly as an identifier; a black slave 'stood out' from whites and Indians. A white slave (if he existed), could escape and with the opening of the western frontier, easily find a place were no one would know (or care) about his previous life. Likewise, an escaped Indian slave could likely find refuge with his own, or even another, tribe. But the African slave had nowhere to run.

Zinn makes a point of this. I expect it did matter, but the idea that black slavery was pursued for that reason doesn't really work for me. It is also true that Africans were more acclimated to the climate and the malaria (my great-grandfather died of malaria when he took it in his head to move from Iowa to Alabama in search of work.) But I think the main motivation was that slaves could be had - large numbers of undefended workers who could be sold. Later, on the West Coast, it was Chinese, but slavery was more or less over by then.



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