The present is a reflection of the past. We live in a place that feels on the edge. It is as if we were one step away from a hot civil war. Some writers are starting to talk of a soft civil war. This trend did not start with Donald J. Trump. However, it did accelerate. It is partly because we are living in the shadows of the Civil War, and the central issue for the war. Race is once again a central issue in the culture. It is also emerging because whites are going to be part of a minority-majority country within a generation. This is creating quite a bit of anxiety.
Many whites, especially older whites, feel they are losing their country. They may even be afraid that the other will treat them the same way they treated them. The fear of retribution is deep in the psyche. It may, or may not be justified. But fear is a powerful motivator. So is the feeling that a halcyon age was in the past, and a desire to recover it.
We are threading on dangerous ground. The kind of terrain that divides, and could end in a third civil war. The American Revolution was a civil war as well, and it is understood as such among some historians. It helps to understand it in this context, since it helps explain the deep violence and disjunction, as well as refugee flows to Canada.
We all know from history books that the second civil war ended in 1865. It was a war that killed more Americans over the course of five years than all other wars in American history combined. It left its indelible mark in the consciousness of the country. The ghosts of the blue and the gray still march in our myths and history. They still divide us, as the meaning of the war is different among those who won the war and those who lost it. Nor were the reasons for the war completely expunged from the culture.
The Lost Cause is still a powerful force, and Southern pride is code for things that are dark in the recesses of our collective history. We are living though a revival of those forces, as white supremacist march screaming “blood and soil” and “jews will not replace us.” We recoil at what this means to the country.
Those dark forces have been with us from the beginning as a series of colonies to the United Kingdom. Nor were they destroyed by the successful rebellion against the crown. They are embedded in our economic system, and even our politics.
These forces are still with us, and form an ugly substrate of the American soul. They are the reason for many ugly chapters in American history. These are shards that could cut deeply into our sense of self. This is why Americans prefer to ignore them. Among them are race riots, which incidentally until the 1960s were started by white people and led to the murder and ethnic cleansing of small towns, from black residents. Among them was the Tulsa Riot of 1921.
The riot destroyed a thriving middle class community that happened to be black. It was not the only riot ever against a successful African American community. It is just one example. Some historians have referred to these events with the same tern used in European history, The word is pogrom.
This is a history from which most Americans recoil and prefer to run. There are many reasons for that. It betrays our self image. It also goes against the grain of who we are as a people. Or at least what mythic stories we tell ourselves. We prefer the more agreeable exceptional nation pablum that we hear from the media and others. We’d rather ignore what we have done, and chiefly why. This includes mass deportations.
Take the Civil War, which was fought over the single institution of slavery. It is slavery that is behind the pogroms that fell on communities of color, not just blacks. In 1943, in the midst of Wold War Two, we had a race riot in Los Angeles. The victims this time were Mexican American men who wore distinctive garb, called zoot suits. Many of these men also refused to serve in Uncle Sam’s army, since like Blacks they were second class citizens. Many of their families were also deported by Hoover during the Great Depression.
The underlying theme in all this is white insecurity and white supremacy. The civil war was fought over the idea that some men were superior to others due to their success in being born white. Slavery also produced fears, constant and all, that those slaves would revolt. In 1676 they did, and they almost successfully threw the British yoke off. But that rebellion, which became a symbol of freedom and independent thought until 1776 made the blood of slave owners run cold. What if their slaves rose up? What if they were not inferior to them? What if they did to them what they have done to their slaves. This includes a constant team of dehumanizing, they are rapist and murderers. If the language sounds familiar, it is because Donald Trump has used the same dehumanizing code.
There is another factor to slavery, and one that most people do not like. Slavery was the source of cheap labor. It was not the only source mind you, but it was a well known one. This is why northern men did not want it to expand, They correctly feared a race to the bottom, where their wages would collapse. Why we had riots in New York in the middle of the war. Free men would compete with white workers, and bring wages down.
However, Virginia in particular, but other colonies as well, were primarily corporations with a prime directive. This was not to conquer the land. That was a given. It was to produce profit for investors. This mandate remains to this day. An American corporation has to produce income for her investors, that is the economic logic. The Viriginia Company needed cheap labor. One source was slavery, but there was another origin for cheap labor. It was one with a deep history in medieval England. It was the indenture system.
Lets be clear about this. Both chattel slavery and indenture are considered two forms of slavery under modern international law. While one is permanent and the other is temporary, both share the idea that some humans can be sold for profit. We have had a lot of gymnastics making one worst than the other. Both were at the heart of the early colonial economy. Without them, the tobacco fields, and later the cotton fields would have gone without harvesting. Why? No Virginian owner would stoop down to do the work. That is why they had slaves, and slave markets.
There is another ugly fact, While indentures drew from Englands poor and criminal class, chattel slavery needed further justification. The fact that slaves were black helped, since in the tribalistic way of thinking, they were easy to become the other. This was the beginning of the ideas of race that evolved to the modern toxic brew.
What about today? White Supremacy was not defeated at Appomattox Court. When General Robert E Lee surrendered the army of Northern Virginia, it should have been the death knell of that form of white supremacy. It was not. The period of reconstruction proved to be too much for many of these people. Blacks ran for political office. They successfully took on the role of government and a middle class, a black middle class, started to rise from the ashes of the civil war. And the Ku Klux Khan was founded in December of 1865. It was to fight the new age, and it was successful. It terrorized black people across the south and continues to believe that the mixing of the races is a danger to the white race.
There is a direct chain from that belief system to the modern day ugliness we see under the current administration. After all, it was President Donald Trump who found good people among the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville. This was a moment that should have alarmed people. It was an escalation of the rhetoric, and white supremacist took it for what it was. Trump was their ally, their last great hope to turn back the tide of history.
Slavery and White Supremacy Survived the Civil War
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
So reads the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. At its heart is legalized slavery, which survived the war. It just did not make it in the way it existed before. Within two years of the end of the war, black codes were passed. These laws limited the rights of blacks and also forced them to sign annual contracts for work. These codes were the early systems of control that southern whites needed to keep the system going. It also provided the first pipeline to prisons.
As to the first people…just like blacks and Mexicans their humanity was denied. The reservation system quickly took form. And those who refused were killed. Genocide, which started early in colonial history, became government policy.
It is these programs that became a model for the Third Reich and the Final Solution. American reservations were designed to make life impossible for native people. They were designed to starve the body and destroy the spirit.
However, all these were a model to keep people who were inferior in their place. We also had a model to prevent blacks from voting in the south and Mexican Americans in the southwest. Anybody who had a criminal conviction could be stripped of their right to vote. In some states, like Florida, this system remains essentially in place. This alone started to chip away at the people’s right to vote, even if state constitutions also refused to grant this right. That system of suppression was supplemented with poll taxes and literacy tests. Both were meant to keep voting in the hands of people who had an interest in keeping people they believed to be inferior away from all levers of power.
We are still fighting this battle, even after the Civil Rights Act of 1965. To this day, people who fear minority vote do all they can to keep them from the polls. And they do it, just this side of legality.
Many of the former masters feared retribution from slaves that were treated as less than human. In the west, Americans feared the far larger conquered Mexican people hey lived with. Many were white mestizos who spoke Spanish and once owned great Haciendas and lost all to the invaders. There was resentment to what was done to them, and their power. Especially since some worked to facilitate this invasion. They were also catholic, and that tainted the relationship. The fear of the papist infected the country all the way to the 1960 election. Mexicans were conquered and seen as inferior to the protestant white from Northern Europe. Some of these attitudes remain to this day. You can hear them when the president proceeds to make Mexicans the evil enemy we must fear, because they are are rapist and drug dealers. What you are hearing is also the very clear concern over miscegenation and the end of the white race.
However, there is another benefit to this system of social control. It leads to cheap labor, which is something that is encoded in the economic system of the country.
This labor pool is there for companies to use, or exploit, seven days a week, all year round. When joined with something not entirely new, it becomes clear that tough on crime is also another revenue stream. There are two major corporations that are building prisons across the country. They have contracts with local, state and federal agencies. They are GEO and CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America. They changed their name, partly, as a marketing move.
These prisons are a very profitable business.
At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum.
And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
Early after the official end of slavery, southern states started a practice that most Americans are not aware off. This is convict leasing. Prisoners were rented out, just like slaves were at one time. It was such a profitable business model, that private prisons arose and criminal codes assured that constant flow of prisoners.
There is a straight connection to the modern-day practice of running factories inside prisons. However, this is not limited to just private prisons; According to the Economist:
But those who attack the new prison-industrial complex might be surprised to learn that America’s publicly run prisons have been providing labour for private companies since 1979. More than 5,000 inmates take part in the scheme, known as “Prison Industry Enhancement”. “Orange is the New Black”, a television show set in a women’s prison, recently lampooned a private-prison takeover, after which the inmates are forced to sew lingerie for $1 an hour. But this gets the history only half right. Female inmates did indeed make lingerie for brands like Victoria’s Secret in the 1990s — but only through a deal between South Carolina’s public prisons and a private manufacturer.
This is important though. Prisons that run as a business and have contracts with companies have one product to sell. This is cheap labor in the form of prisoners. Over the last few years the number of prisoners in the United States has started to go down. You could even argue that one reason for this toughening at the border is not just racist, but to keep the good times rolling.
According to The Nation:
The Department of Homeland Security in particular is preparing for a boom in detention facilities to house undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation. This could increase the population under detention by as much as four-fold. Incidentally, if immigrants face criminal prosecution for entering the country illegally, that could increase those held in Bureau of Prisons facilities overseen by the Justice Department. This could be what Sessions meant in his memo about needing flexibility “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”
A majority of current immigration- and family-detention facilities, 62 percent, are privately run. Though DHS never joined DoJ in recommending a phase-out, it did issue a report revealing the inferior quality of private detention centers relative to federally run ones, and an advisory council supported phasing out the private facilities. But now that the attorney general has given his stamp of approval, the industry has been rehabilitated.
So feel free to feel cynical about these policies. It is not just about getting tough on brown people, but also about keeping prison beds full. The cost to the taxpayer is very high, but this is not about cost. If it was, simpler cheaper techniques (ever heard of ankle bracelets?) would be preferred over this.
But there is more to this. This is the ghost of the civil war. This is white supremacy once again.
The practices we are following have a clear precedent in American history. We have separated children from their parents. This is a test to prove that it is still dominant in the American psyche. It is also meant to stop a non wanted minority from coming in and changing the demographics of the country. Again, hardly unprecedented. The first group that was barred from entering the US legally, or by any other means, were Chinese. The Exclusion Act was meant to keep what was believed to be an inferior group, a menace, out.
Once we also used eugenics to declare the white race superior to all. We knew were were right. Eugenics also declared groups that were not protestant lesser humans. They included Irish, Italians and Jews. The irony of the grandson of an immigrant eastern European Jew adopting these toxic world views is clear. But there you have it, being a member of a targeted group, like Stephen Miller is, does not mean you cannot drink from that racist well. He has, and in the camps he would have been known as a Kappo.
Trump’s government is quite open about their white supremacy. .
this is also happening because Americans are very good about forgetting history. Most Americans do not know the origin of race riots, or are aware of the genocide practiced against first people’s. It is past time Americans stop using European fascism and confront our own history. It is just as ugly. Oh and Nazis used many of our views and programs during the Final Solution.
Last year we had a very healthy discussion on the lost cause, and how that toxic view spread to the country with the use of statues and other monuments. the lost cause might not be popular, but many of the methods used to keep social control are still in play. Whether this is the rough on crime language, or the racist idioms coming from the White House. We are hearing the language used before every other ethnic cleansing. A dead Indian, we were told, was a good Indian. Then we had a genocide. People who infest the country can only be dealt with extermination.
And you should be worried. The President wants to repeat the Hoover era and deport people without due process. None of what we are seeing is unprecedented. It is part and parcel of American history. This is not the exceptional country we all want to believe we are. It is a test, of our basic humanity. And calls for civility coming out now are wrong headed.