Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, January 2001
Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations, by Joe Feagin, Routledge, 2000, 311 pp.
As a service to readers, AR occasionally drags itself through some of the foolishness that now passes for scholarship, and Racist America by Joe Feagin is a masterpiece of the genre. In the opening pages we learn: “One can accurately describe the United States as a ‘total racist society’ in which every major aspect of life is shaped to some degree by the core racist realities.” And that: “Every part of the life cycle, and most aspects of one’s life are shaped by the racism that is integral to the foundation of the United States.
Racist America is blind fanaticism of two kinds. First, the author hates white people so passionately he can’t see straight. Second, he is blinded by unrepentant Communism. A decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, he is still writing sentences that begin, “As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels long ago pointed out . . .”
Unfortunately, one cannot toss this book aside, confident it will fool no one, if only because Joe Feagin — who is white — teaches sociology at the University of Florida at Gainesville and is the president (!) of the American Sociological Association. It is books like these that create the climate for anti-white doggerel of the kind on page nine.
This book attempts to lay bare the nature and origins of American “racism,” to describe its workings, and propose antidotes, but Prof. Feagin tips his ideological hand from the start: “The Marxist tradition provides a powerful theory of oppression centered on such key concepts as class struggle, worker exploitation and alienation . . . In the case of racist oppression, however, we do not as yet have as strongly agreed-upon concepts and well-developed theoretical traditions as we have for gender and class oppression.” Therefore, “it is time to put white-on-black oppression fully at the center of a comprehensive study of the development, meaning and reality of this nation.”
Needless to say the “development, meaning and reality” of America is an unrelieved chronicle of wickedness since “racism” of the most virulent kind shaped us from the start. Of the founders, we learn “many were oppressors who made their living by killing, brutalizing and exploiting other human beings.” They were only following the lead of “the savage, often genocidal operations of Spanish colonizers such as those led by Christopher Columbus . . .”
“The political system,” writes Prof. Feagin, “including its founding documents, was shaped in response to the need to protect slavery.” From the ground up, the country “was crafted to create wealth and privilege for those transplanted Europeans who stole the lands of the indigenous peoples and enslaved African Labor,” and the Constitution was written to “maintain separation and oppression at the time and for the foreseeable future.” Prof. Feagin approvingly quotes the old communist, Herbert Aptheker: “the Constitution was a “bourgeois-democratic document for the governing of a slaveholder-capitalist republic.”
Prof. Feagin tells us when Jefferson was in his 40s he “coerced” Sally Hemmings into bed and fathered at least one child by her as “has now been confirmed by DNA testing.” What the DNA testing showed is that Jefferson could not have been the father of any child born to Sally Hemmings when he was in his 40s or 50s and that someone in the Jefferson line fathered a child by Hemmings when Jefferson was 65. DNA evidence is mute as to whether Hemmings was ever “coerced” into anyone’s bed.
The founders, we learn, were obsessed with slavery for two reasons, the first being economic: “[T]hex exploited labor of enslaved black men, women, and children was critical to the creation of prosperity and development in the United States . . .” (Note the avoidance of the word “slave.” The virtuous prefer “enslaved person,” which suggests an evil “enslaver.”) Without slavery, “it is unclear how or when the United States would have become a major industrial power.” The industrial revolution also got its start, thanks to slaves: “It seems unlikely that British and other European economic development would have occurred when it did without the very substantial capital generated by the slavery system.” And, naturally, Africa is poor because Europeans plundered it: “this impoverishment was directly and centrally linked to European prosperity and affluence.”
This sort of thing is widely repeated and at the heart of the “reparations” argument, so it is worth taking a moment to show how breathtakingly stupid it is. If slavery were such a fantastic generator of wealth, why was the South so much poorer than the North, even at the height of slavery? If slavery is the decisive factor in American prosperity, how did the Canadians (and New Zealanders and Australians) get along without it?
In a discussion of evil white nativism, Prof. Feagin notes with horror that California’s first English-language newspaper wrote in 1848: “We desire only a white population in California.” Since slavery had by then been turning out fabulous wealth for more than 200 years, why would Californians want to miss out on the bonanza?
In fact, in terms of contribution to the economic development of a country, it makes no difference whether workers are paid high wages, low wages, or no wages at all. What matters is how productive the labor force is, and slaves were notoriously unproductive. “It takes two slaves to watch one slave do nothing,” ran the wisdom of the day. If, instead of slaves, the South had productive laborers working for wages, its economic development would have been considerably more rapid. As every economist not dizzy with Marxism knows, slavery held back the southern economy.
Likewise, anyone who claims Africa is poor because of colonization is either stupid or thinks you are stupid. Does Prof. Feagin suppose Africans were poised to invent the steam engine and discover electricity when along came the white man and stopped science in its tracks? Africa is poor for the same reason Haiti, the South Bronx, and Brixton are poor — it is full of Africans. The richest parts of Africa are those that had the most sustained white administrations — South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast — whereas the worst hellholes are places like Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ethiopia that hardly saw a European. Africa was vastly better off and better run under white rule, as many Africans freely acknowledge.
Empire was a decisive net loss for metropolitan countries. Switzerland and Scandinavia, which never had colonies, are today the richest countries in Europe while Portugal and Spain, which both had large empires, are the poorest. What do France and England have to show for their enormous empires compared to Germany, which had virtually nothing? Only to someone blinkered by anti-white animus and Marxist mumbo-jumbo can slavery or empire be twisted into the philosopher’s stone.
According to Prof. Feagin, whites practiced slavery and imperialism for yet another reason — they are different from other people:
The ever-spreading acquisitiveness and rapaciousness of the north European bourgeoisie was reinforced by the values of certain Protestant religions to which they adhered. The individualistic Protestant ethic did not create capitalism, but it did foster certain values of capitalism, including a rather greedy individualism that contrasted with the more collectivistic values of the majority of the world’s peoples.
We also learn that Christianity, with its imagery that associates white with good and black with evil even explains how the races got their names. White people are really pink, and black people are shades of brown, but by insisting on “black” and “white” races, early racists could paint themselves the color of the angels and Africans the color of evil. (Besides being completely fanciful, this theory fails to recognize that “white” and “black” are relatively recent. “Caucasian” and “Negro” are more traditional terms, and it is blacks themselves who insisted on being called black.)
Prof. Feagin is as much as saying that white people are, by nature, uniquely rapacious and exploitative, and this explains why “the [American] slavery system was hellish and deadly beyond description and comprehension.” Prof. Feagin also insists, without substantiation, that American slavery was worse than African slavery or that practiced by the ancients.
Whites are so wicked and slavery was so profitable that to read Prof. Feagin one would never guess whites abolished slavery all by themselves. Prof. Feagin himself doesn’t discuss this spasm of virtue in an irredeemable people, but he is certain slavery (and certainly not abolition) is the central and enduring American fact. After abolition, whites shoved blacks aside and “were generally able to accumulate family resources and individual opportunities, unfairly and very disproportionately, because there was little or no black competition for most critical resources and opportunities.” But if blacks, who had been the key to American prosperity, were suddenly pushed out of the economy, why didn’t the country go into a tailspin?
Blacks were poor when they got their freedom and have stayed poor, only because “once a group is far ahead in terms of resources it is very difficult for another group without access to those resources or even with modest new resources, to catch up, even over a substantial period of time.” Somehow, this did not hold back white ethnics, Jews, Asians, and even Hispanics who are now outstripping blacks.
Whites keep blacks around as a kind of low-wage buffer workforce: “When they are no longer needed, the less-skilled black workers are kept as a ‘reserve army,’ in a condition of painful poverty and unemployment, or in the prison-industrial complex, until they may be needed again.” “Reserve army” is short for “reserve army of the proletariat,” more Marxist gibberish. The theory here seems to be that when unemployment goes up, the Fed chairmen calls up a few police chiefs and tells them to lock up all the now-unnecessary blacks. Since black unemployment is at a record low and black per capita incarceration at a record high, we should expect a call to the police chiefs to turn a few of those blacks loose so they can be put back to work.
Prof. Feagin clearly thinks “racism” and even the faintest racial consciousness are wholly unnatural and had to be thought up by whites to justify their need to oppress “the other.” “Racist thought,” he explains “did not come accidentally to the United States. It was, and still is, actively developed and propagated.” White people got right to work, and “by the mid-nineteenth century the propagation of racist thinking had become a major industry in Europe and the United States.” A major industry? But how is wickedness propagated today? “Racist attitudes and images are constantly available to virtually all whites, including the young, by means of presentations in daily discourse, as well as in the media, through the writings of intellectuals, and in the speeches of political and business leaders.” Really? Examples, please.
But there is an even worse villain: “[T]oday, perhaps the major source of the negative images of black Americans is the mass media.” Movies, we learn, have not really improved over the years. Prof. Feagin quotes two lefties approvingly: “[T]he portrayal of whites in Birth of a Nation is almost identical to their portrayal in Glory and in Amistad.” The system slants news to show blacks in a bad light and not even children are safe: “The often hidden power of the elite works through propagating the racist ideology and its associated beliefs and images by means of the mass media and the educational system, as well as in workplaces and churches.”
Churches, schools, and employers are all churning out “racist” propaganda? What is Prof. Feagin talking about? He does note that whites can often be found talking about racial equality but says this is just a smokescreen for shoring up white supremacy.
Prof. Feagin says over and over that “racism” pervades the everyday lives of whites, but he gives few specifics: “Most whites are involved in some way in creating reinforcing, or maintaining, the racist reality of U.S. society.” But how? Well, we learn that “many white parents and politicians work hard to keep their residential areas and schools as white as possible.” What’s the evidence of that? If politicians want to keep things white, why does the country import millions of non-white immigrants?
Prof. Feagin tells us there are still people who think blacks are less intelligent than whites: “Today, such views are more than an academic matter. They have periodically been used by members of Congress and presidential advisors in the White House to argue against antidiscrimination and other government programs that benefit Americans of color.” Examples? Evidence?
Moreover, it is “racism” when whites use words like “welfare recipient,” “violent criminal,” “gangs,” or “the poor:” “A white person, including a media commentator, can use these terms to target or denigrate black Americans but still appear unprejudiced, at least to other whites.” If we are allowed to talk about violent crime at all, what words may we use? Likewise when insurance companies decline to write policies on rickety buildings in dodgey neighborhoods, “obviously racism went into the formulation of such rules.” And, of course, if different playing positions in football tend to be dominated by either blacks or whites, that is “discrimination.”
“In recent years,” writes Prof. Feagin without offering examples, “the vicious mocking of black Americans’ language and culture seems to be spreading.” More signs of wickedness are the use of Spanish-type phrases like no problemo, el cheapo or hasta la vista, baby. “This mocking,” we are told, “enables whites to support traditional hierarchies of racial privilege and degradation without seeming to be racist in the old-fashioned, blatant sense.” But what are whites up to when they use words like bon voyage, kaput, achtung, Gesundheit or ciao?
Prof. Feagin points out that American whites have had the temerity to use European place names and even build museums to commemorate their culture, with the effect that “today, to use the names given by imperialists or to visit their museums is to participate, however unconsciously, in the lasting consequences of European colonialism and imperialism.”
Prof. Feagin is dismayed to note that most whites just don’t see it this way; they “do not see their own racism.” They are so “racist” they think equality of opportunity is sufficient whereas what is necessary is equality of results.
What’s more, “at the level of everyday interaction with black Americans most whites can create racial tensions and barriers even without conscious awareness they are doing so.” He reports that a black acquaintance “confronts at least 250 significant incidents of discrimination from whites each year” and that includes “only the incidents that he consciously notices and records.” “[T]his man’s experience seems representative,” he adds. Things are so bad that “many black Americans today suffer from something like the post-traumatic stress syndrome-with its pain, depression, and anxiety-that has been documented for military veterans of some U.S. wars.” (In other words, the things whites do unconsciously and without malice have the same effect on blacks as being shot up by Japs in the Pacific.) All this stress “costs the average black American about six to seven years of her or his life. Thus for many deceased African Americans, everyday racism could be listed on their death certificates as a major cause of death.”
As a result, “a black person has to view every white person as ‘a potential enemy unless he personally finds out differently.’ Black Americans of all ages and statuses are thus forced into a vigilant, cautious and defensive orientation as they deal with potentially dangerous whites throughout their lives.” That must do wonders for race relations.
At the same time, whites suffer because of racism, too: “[W]hite-supremacist thinking entails living a lie, for whites are not superior in character, intelligence, or morality. This self-deception takes a corrupting toll on the souls of white Americans.” (But isn’t self-esteem supposed to be good?) At the same time, since we all have African ancestors, “it would appear that by hating and attacking blacks, those who see themselves as white are thereby hating and attacking themselves . . . Denial of the African origins and of a common humanity is ultimately a type of self hatred.” How many whites does Prof. Feagin thinks go around “hating and attacking blacks”?
Non-white immigrants are a big problem for Prof. Feagin. On the one hand, many have done better than blacks, despite America’s storied racism. How come? Also, once they have been here a while, they dislike blacks, which is hard to explain when “racism” is supposed to be a uniquely white affliction. Prof. Feagin’s explanation for the latter conundrum is astonishing: Immigrants were corrupted by American “racism” before they even got here! “At any given moment,” he writes, “white Americans working overseas are telling antiblack stories to people around the globe or television stations across the globe are playing racist American movies . . . As a result, the U.S. media are one of the most important forces shaping racist stereotyping around the world . . . Thus, the negative attitudes of Asian or Latino immigrants toward African Americans-and the negative attitudes of African Americans toward Asian or Latino Americans-are part of the much larger system of white-managed racism, which these groups had no role in initiating.”
Thus it is that Prof. Feagin approvingly quotes another lefty who writes these amazing words: “[W]hen a Vietnamese family is driven out of its home in a project by African-American youth, that is white supremacy. When a Korean store owner shoots an African-American teenager in the back of the head that is white supremacy.”
What about the success of Asians despite horrible white “racism”? This is only a trick to make it look as though the country isn’t racist and to keep the non-whites from ganging up on us. “[S]ome groups within these broad umbrella categories-especially the better educated and lighter-skinned-have been moved by whites to an intermediate position or one closer to the white end of the racist white-to-black continuum. The purpose of this placement is often to destroy coalitions between peoples of color, and to thereby protect the system of white privilege.” We learn further that: “The ability of whites to control the placement of peoples of color on the white-to-black continuum and define their positions in the society is yet another valuable tool for the reproduction of systemic racism over time.” We likewise learn that “the white supremacist system intentionally fosters hostility between groups of color,” but we get no evidence for this.
Asians have adopted something of the European style and done well in America, but this is no credit to them or to us: “[T]he effects of this conformity to whiteness on them and their children have often been negative, with significant numbers facing great personal distress, painful self-blame, physical or mental illness, or alcoholism and drug addiction. Some have committed suicide as a result of pressures ultimately grounded in white racism.” Evidence, please?
Non-whites who try to assimilate are misguided: “[A]mong many Asian and Latino Americans it appears that the pressure to look, dress, talk, and act as white as possible increases personal or family stress and reduces their recognition of the racism that surrounds them.” Presumably the only way to be authentically non-white in America is to be as unassimilated and resentful as possible.
As a genuine, true-believer Marxist, Prof. Feagin really does want to overthrow the capitalist system, but those clever white supremacists have used race to keep the proletariat divided. “[W]hite workers and farmers have been much more race conscious than class conscious, a condition facilitating their own class oppression . . . As a result, the majority of white workers not only have lost the chance for class solidarity with black workers but also have corrupted their own consciousness of class relations and of themselves as workers under capitalism.”
If proles of all races could just band together and fight the bosses rather than each other, it might be possible to smash the system: “Indeed, the possibility of biracial coalitions was a serious concern among the white elites; out of this fear was born, at least in part, the extensions to propertyless whites of certain privileges and benefits of whiteness, as well as an extensive ideology of rationalizing white superiority.” So long as white workers can be bought off with scraps of white supremacy, the revolution will not take place since “class oppression is obscured by the elites’ use of a racist ideology.”
We must not lose hope, though, because “if we think dialectically and discern the social contradictions lying deep beneath the surface of this society, we see that the racist system has created the seeds of its eventual destruction.” Although “white elites have worked to make the least significant changes possible under conditions of mass protest and pressure” we must take heart because black activism “forced the passage of all major civil rights laws.” Needless to say, this is poppycock. From abolition to voting rights, to affirmative action, blacks have been passive recipients of white good will. Blacks rioted in the 1960s after passage of the major civil rights acts. Without the help and encouragement of whites, black “liberation” would have gone nowhere.
So what’s a good Marxist to do? Here, the naked lust for power that animates the left emerges in full hideousness: We must “go beyond reform of current institutions to the complete elimination of existing systems of racialized power.” This means “not only racist structures, but capitalist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, and bureaucratic-authoritarian arrangements will have to be dismantled.” Prof. Feagin would start with a new Constitutional convention. A few decades hence, when whites are a minority, would be a good time to hold it, and the new Constitution would not only eliminate every trace of “institutional racism” but would guarantee “a broad array of human rights.” (Comrade Feagin does not mention this, but the Soviet constitution guaranteed practically everything short of happiness itself.) At the very least, he wants it to be illegal to talk about racial differences in ability, and wants a guarantee of an “adequate” standard of living.
Whites, of course, would pay a psychological price: “To accomplish this goal [of a democratic and egalitarian society], white Americans would have to abandon their group interest in white privilege, redefine the goals of the nation, and rebuild its racist house from the foundation up-doubtless under great pressure from African Americans and other Americans of color.” That should be fun. Prof. Feagin offers us the example of South Africa as a model of the sort of thing we should strive for.
“The Reconstruction South,” he goes on placidly, “was perhaps the closest the Unites States has come to multiracial political democracy.” To be sure. Let’s bring back the regime imposed on the defeated Confederacy at the point of federal bayonets. And though Reconstruction may have been adequate on the race question, it was still no doubt “capitalist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, and bureaucratic-authoritarian,” and all that has to be fixed, too. What Prof. Feagin wants, of course, is exactly what Stalin wanted: unlimited power to regiment every aspect of life. It is hard to imagine he would have any more scruples than Stalin about the human costs of destroying a society.
But even setting aside the need to smash capitalism or root out ageism, it is clear Prof. Feagin thinks “racism” is a permanent, horrifying flaw in the white man. It would take a revolution to cure him of it, and not even the Marx-addled Prof. Feagin thinks the triumph of the proletariat is inevitable. But if whites are incurable, why not separate them from the source and object of their disease? Why not separate the races? Let the white man stew in the foul juices of capitalism while collectivist, morally superior non-whites enjoy socialism and freedom from “racism.”
This solution is entirely consistent with Prof. Feagin’s view of the unregenerate nature of whites and the horror of “racism,” but he would never propose it. He is no doubt far happier venting his hatred of whites-and encouraging others to hate whites-within the comforts of “bourgeois” society, while he peddles a “revolution” he knows is fantasy. His book is neither a diagnosis nor a search for solutions. It is nothing more than an expression of the crudest loathing for America and its history, and it is a shame that at least in Florida young Americans are forced to pay attention to him.