yaymukund’s weblog

Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind, and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

Middlemarch (1871) by George Eliot

“Of course, the old thing that we always fear is tending to happen in the Association [the NAACP]. It is tending to become a white man’s organization working for the colored people in which no colored people have any real power.” In the white world, ability, temperament, determination were assets– “the rule of effective work”– but, as his racial experience of nearly half a century cruelly reconfirmed, “the colored man gets no such chance. He is seldom given authority or freedom; when he gets these things he gets them accidentally,” as with the creation of The Crisis. “Even when his ability is patent,” wise and cautious white people deem it “inexpedient to trust him.” Everything “tends to this break along the color line.” For Du Bois, the encouraging fact that there were small yet growing numbers of white people free of prejudice and unequivocally enlisted in the crusade against Jim Crow was reason not for celebration but for rededicated militancy, and he governed his office manners accordingly.

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1869-1919: Biography of a Race (1994) by David Levering Lewis

As a leading authority on women’s rights, Nancy F. Cott, states, “the suffrage movement since the late nineteenth century had caved in to the racism of the surroundding society, sacrificing democratic principle of the dignity of black people if it seemed advantageous to white women’s obtaining the vote.

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1869-1919: Biography of a Race (1994) by David Levering Lewis

Black performance itself, first of all, was precisely “performative,” a cultural invention, not some precious essence instilled in black bodies; and for better or worse it was often a product of self-commodification, a way of getting along in a constricted world. Black people, that is to say, not only exercised a certain amount of control over such practices but perforce sometimes developed them in tandem with white spectators. Moreover, practices taken as black were occasionally interracial creations whose commodification on white stages attested only to whites’ greater access to public distribution (and profit). At the same time, of course, there is no question that white commodification of black bodies structured all of this activity, or that the cultural forms of the black dispossessed in the United States have been appropriated and circulated as stand-ins for a supposedly national folk tradition.

Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy an the American Working Class (1993) by Eric Lott

This white paternalism was described most memorably by SNCC veteran and historian Julian Bond, when he barbed: “Rosa [Parks] sat down, Martin [Luther King] stood up, and the white kids came down and saved the day.” Yes, white students did come south to work in the movement, most famously in Freedom Summer: but they learned more than they taught, and what they learned, they carefully and passionately took back to their home communities. The civil rights movement, then, taught the whole New Left– sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly– how to organize for “freedom now.”

Rebellion in Black and White: Southern Student Activism in the 1960s (2013) edited by Robert Cohen, David J. Snyder

Now one final note about the school year and Little Rock. What we don’t often hear about, what we basically never hear about Central High School history, is […] that the governor was so upset about the public relations disaster that accompanied the school’s integration, that he decided to shut down Little Rock public schools the following year. The integration of the school, this great moment of civil rights victory of American exceptionalism, lasted one year, and the public schools were shut down. Why don’t we know this part of the history? You know, there’s something really maybe too tantalizing about these nice narratives of our past. We can be ashamed of the shortcomings of our predecessors, but by keeping the story clean and simple, we can also be proud that our predecessors ultimately made the right decision and did the right things. In short, the Civil Rights Movement has been sanitized, because it ultimately casts a great light on the American character; that the American character can take its lumps, learn from its mistakes and then do great things. The Civil Rights Movement has been cast as a great moment of American exceptionalism when we all summoned the courage to do the right things, regardless of our political positions, where we are in the country, etcetera. Well, that’s just one big fat lie. Only a minority of folks rose to the challenge, and accepted it, and pursued it.

– Professor Jonathan Holloway, African American History: From Emancipation to the Present, Lecture 14: From Sit-Ins to Civil Rights (youtube.com)