Sunday, July 4, 2010

continue to embody the "real americans"

We were founded on a very basic double standard. This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free. Am I right? A group of slave owners who wanted to be free. So they killed a lot of white English people in order to continue owning their black African people, so they could wipe out the rest of the red Indian people and move west and steal the rest of the land from the brown Mexican people, giving them a place to take off and drop their nuclear weapons on the yellow Japanese people.

You know what the motto of this country ought to be? "You give us a color, we’ll wipe it out."

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. . . .

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. . .

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

—The United States Declaration of Independence,
adopted on July 4, 1776

Be in enacted by the State and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any alien, being a free white person, who shall have resided within the limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, may be admitted to become a citizen thereof . . .

—"An Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,"
ratified on March 26, 1790

Autonomy is freedom and translates into the much championed and revered "individualism" . . . . Eventually individualism fuses with the prototype of Americans as solitary, alienated, and malcontent. What, one wants to ask, are Americans alienate from? What are Americans always so insistently innocent of? Different from? As for absolute power, over whom is this power held, from whom withheld, to whom distributed?

Answers to these questions lie in the potent and ego-reinforcing presence of an Africanist population. This population is convenient in every way, not the least of which is self-definition. This new white male can convince himself that savagery is "out there."

—Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark:

After 1870, Blacks as well as Whites could naturalize, but not others. . . . from 1870 until the last of the prerequisite laws were abolished in 1952, the White-Black dichotomy in American race relations dominated naturalization law. During this period, Whites and Blacks were eligible for citizenship, but others, particularly those from Asia, were not. Indeed, increasing antipathy toward Asians on the West Coast resulted in an explicit disqualification of Chinese persons from naturalization in 1882. . . .

In 1935, Hitler's Germany limited citizenship to members of the Aryan race, making Germany the only country other than the United States with a racial restriction on naturalization. The fact of this bad company was not lost on those administering our naturalization laws. . . .

In 1952, Congress moved towards wholesale reform, overhauling the naturalization statute to read simply that "[t]he right of a person to become a naturalized citizen of the United States shall not be denied or abridged because of race or sex or because such person is married." Thus, in 1952, racial bars on naturalization came to an official end.

—Ian Haney López, White by Law:
(1996, 2006)

I see a pattern running through the matrix of white privilege, a pattern of assumptions which were passed on to me as a white person. There was one main piece of cultural turf; it was my own turf, and I was among those who could control the turf. I could measure up to the cultural standards and take advantage of the many options I saw around me to make what the culture would call a success of my life.

My skin color was an asset for any move I was educated to want to make. I could think of myself as “belonging” in major ways, and of making social systems work for me. I could freely disparage, fear, neglect, or be oblivious to anything outside of the dominant cultural forms. Being of the main culture, I could also criticize it fairly freely. My life was reflected back to me frequently enough so that I felt, with regard to my race, if not to my sex, like one of the real people.

--Peggy McIntosh, "White Privilege and Male Privilege:
A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences
through Work in Women’s Studies" (1988)

Deep within the word "American" is its association with race. . . . American means white . . .

--Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark

[Long-time readers of swpd might recognize this post as a version of a post from last year's United States Independence Day. Sadly, such things bear repeating.]


  1. I am reminded of Frederick Douglass's solemn Oration at Rochester- July 5, 1852: What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

    "What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

    Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival."

    These powerful words are just as relative in our times...

  2. Howard Zinn on the Revolutionary War

    How many American SWPD readers out there are/were the big spoilsport at your neighborhood or family barbecue?

  3. P.S. "American" like in the post title, not like American. (I'm not sure that came across).

  4. As to Frederick Douglass' quote about the celebration being a sham (that M. Gibson mentioned above), some folks in Lexington, KY are apparently doing a good job of making their celebration a sham. They've taken the Tea Party rhetoric a bit farther, and are selling "Yup, I'm a racist" t-shirts. A blogger captured the t-shirts on video, as well as some unpleasant rants from the people selling them.

  5. I don't know what date should be used to celebrate our independence, but it definitely is not July 4th. Indeed, that date may not (most likely doesn't) exist yet.

  6. Happy 4th SWPD fam. thanks for keeping it really real. You know who you are. Bless.

  7. In the context of a SWPD-esque discussion, a friend of mine pointed out that one of the most well-known modern renditions of the Star Spangled Banner was performed by a Black artist, Jimi Hendrix. Although not without controversy, it was reasonably well received at the time. One of the reasons for this was that another minority (and disabled) artist had paved the way for such non-conventional renditions, at great cost to his own career: José Feliciano's performance of the National Anthem before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Despite the fact that Feliciano was an American citizen, his moving performance of the Star Spangled Banner was widely regarded as un-patriotic and offensive (thanks to racism), and it set his career back by many years. Here's a video of Feliciano talking about the incidient, with a brief clip of the 1968 telecast. (In May of this year, Feliciano was invited back to a Tigers game to perform his version of the anthem.)

    Feliciano's version is now famous of course, but I wonder (mostly rhetorically) what would happen today if a PoC performed a drastically new version (rap? reggae? throat singing? Didgeridoo?) of the national anthem at a major sporting event. Would the reaction be similar to the one José Feliciano experienced? Better? Worse?

  8. @Willow

    I most def was the spoilsport. Yea, just mentioning the whole "slavery thing" kind of made the record scratch, and then everyone had this look on their face like "oh yea...that..."

  9. A "real American" is a citizen of the US who isn't afraid recognize the crimes the US has committed, and to criticize and work to correct their country when it doesn't live up to its own ideals. Not someone who just wants to sweep the atrocities under the rug. If we gloss over all the negative history, how is anyone going to learn from it?

    "All men-" that is, "all people are created equal" is a nice sentiment but if things don't change then that's all it will be.

  10. Willow, I didn't spend the 4th with any WP. We discussed this very topic without having anyone derail it or try to minimize anything. I don't want to say it was enjoyable due to the topic, but it was refreshing to talk openly about this without having someone interject ignorant comments. Did you have the spoilsport moment this weekend?

  11. Well as Colbert said, he is Default America.

  12. American nationalism has always gone hand in glove with White Supremacy.

    Today, however, it is simply more disguised behind propaganda platitudes about diversity, colorblindess, and "post-racialism."

  13. Kraas' comment makes me wonder: if you're an immigrant who believes in the American mythology of equality and fairness and are met with anything but, then is your dissent American? Can you retain dignity without necessarily assimilating? Is dissent to injustice purely an "American" trait?

  14. @Stina:

    1) I'd have to answer that with a question: does the dissenter want to be a citizen of the US? If they do, then that would make their dissent "American" (I keep thinking 'continent' when I say America, instead of 'country'...), since you're here and you're part of the US.

    2) I would say yes. But to what depth are you talking about assimilating? It's possible to simply remain within a community in the US that speaks your language and follows your customs, if that's what you want to do, but if you want to speak out against the system, it would be difficult if you didn't speak English...I mean, that's simply the language that's spoken the most frequently here. I'm not advocating that it be made our official language or anything like that, or that we shouldn't accommodate or assist people who don't know English (I honestly don't know the extent to which government offices can speak languages other than English), it's just that it would make things easier in a lot of situations if one can speak English. I can't think of any way to say that without sounding terrible :( I think it's just part of moving to a new country. There are a lot of good people here who can only speak English, and if you don't, I don't think they'd automatically want to kick you out. So essentially what I'm saying here that it is possible to live here and not assimilate, but in order to reach most US citizens, knowing English helps.

    3) Certainly not. I hope I didn't make it sound that way. I'm just saying that I think that people who don't live up to what's always been held up as our founding principles ("All people are created equal", and the like) can never be "real Americans".

  15. @Kraas

    They were more rhetorical questions, but what I am getting at is that I think it hypocritical for "dissent to injustice" to be touted as an American trait when the US deigns to civilize the brown man. A real American is one who inherits unspeakable violence and crimes against humanity.

  16. "A real American is one who inherits unspeakable violence and crimes against humanity."

    Touche. As someone from the southern US I'm doubly aware of this. And as I said earlier, people need to know the crimes the US has committed. I'd still like to think that we can improve ourselves, but the wars we have been in lately, SB1070 in Arizona, the opposition to gay marriage (the list goes on), make our principles ring hollow all over again.

  17. You should revolt in this fashion: refuse to operate or use any white american inventions.
    Have a g´day!


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