‘The Face of Racism Today is not a Slaveowner’: Eric Foner on the Past and Present of White Supremacy

South Carolina Is Hardly Alone in Refusing to Confront the Burdens of History, Celebrated Historian Tells Salon

By Elias Isquith
Salon.com

June 24, 2015 – During the past generation or two, the way educated Americans, and especially historians, have come to understand the Civil War and Reconstruction has dramatically changed. Whereas it was once in vogue to play contrarian and argue that the war over slavery — and the subsequent effort to establish true, multiracial pluralist democracies in the South — had little to do with African-American liberation and white supremacy, that is thankfully no longer the case.

While no one, two or three-dozen people can rightly be said to deserve all the credit for this decades-in-the-making shift, few would deny the pivotal role played by Columbia University’s Eric Foner — especially his classic book “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” as well as the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.” Among others, it was Foner whose top-notch scholarship and unusually engaging prose helped usher in a new understanding of this seminal era that continues to gain influence today.

Recently, Salon reached out to Foner to get his take on the historical roots of the savage attack on Charleston, South Carolina’s, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. We also discussed Gov. Nikki Haley’s call for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from the state’s Capitol grounds, as well as what it means to say Americans must confront their own history. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

How significant would it be, symbolically, for the Confederate battle flag to be removed by South Carolina?

As you know, and as it has been reported many times, the Confederate flag was only put up on top of the Statehouse in South Carolina in 1962. It was put there as a rebuke to the civil rights movement. It was not a long-standing commemoration of Southern heritage. It was a purely political act to show black people in South Carolina who was in charge.

Symbolism has its limits. On the other hand, to see that flag flying … it’s a statement by South Carolina. Black people perfectly well understand what it stands for. A lot of white people do also. I think removing it is certainly a positive step.

Can you tell me a bit about South Carolina’s history in this regard, and why it’s often singled, out even among its fellow former Confederate states?

I have taught in South Carolina as a visiting professor. I have lectured many times in South Carolina at the University of South Carolina, at Clemson, at Beaufort, in Charleston. I have good friends there and I’m certainly not trying to suggest that everyone in South Carolina is a deep racist or has anything to do with a guy like Dylann Roof. On the other hand, one has to recognize that South Carolina has a very unique and deplorable history when it comes to slavery and race.

It goes way back to the American Revolution. South Carolina had delegates who insisted that Thomas Jefferson take out a clause that condemned slavery from the Declaration of Independence. It was South Carolina delegates who got the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Fugitive Slave Clause into the Constitution. It was South Carolina who was the leader in nullification, the leader in secession. The first shot of the Civil War was shot there. South Carolina was the only Southern state in which the majority of white families owned slaves.

And yet, not incidentally, it also had an unusually large African-American population, too, right?

It had about a 60 percent black population at the time of the Civil War. In other words, the majority of the people in South Carolina were slaves. To say that the Confederate flag represents the heritage of that state is not true; it actually did not represent the majority of South Carolinians even at the time the Confederacy existed. (Continued)

Continue reading “‘The Face of Racism Today is not a Slaveowner’: Eric Foner on the Past and Present of White Supremacy”

Playing the Rightwing Populism Card

Enter Scott Walker, Stage Right

Thomas B. Edsall
Progressive America Rising via New York Times

April 29, 2015 – As Scott Walker has transformed himself from a three-time statewide winner in blue-leaning Wisconsin to a hard-right Republican primary candidate, he has jumped to the head of the pack in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Walker’s re-creation of his political identity is a test of whether a Republican presidential candidate can win on the basis of decisive margins among whites (while getting crushed among minority voters).

Walker hopes to stand apart from Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, and Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, who are both taking a more centrist approach. Walker intends to stake out the right side of the Republican spectrum and trump competitors for this niche like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Even as he shifts to the right, however, Walker, a preternaturally careful candidate, is avoiding any explicit suggestion that he is the champion of disaffected white voters. Still, key policy positions — particularly his changing stance on immigration and his attacks on public sector unions — reveal a thoughtfully directed appeal. In 2011, Walker successfully sponsored legislation repealing most collective bargaining rights for government employees. Walker’s anti-union initiative has made him a folk hero to conservatives concerned about what they see as the expanding power of government.

In a recent paper, “The Whiteness of Wisconsin’s Wages,” Dylan Bennett, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, and Hannah Walker, a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Washington, argue that “Governor Walker and his allies activated the racial animus of white workers.”

Bennett and Walker contend that gutting the power of public sector unions serves as a vehicle to disempower African-American workers, “for whom the public sector is the single most important source of employment.” (Continued)

Continue reading “Playing the Rightwing Populism Card”

The Christian Right Still dominates the GOP — Is There Any End in Sight?

 

By Amanda Marcotte
Progressive America Rising via AlterNet

March 18, 2015 – In a recent interview on Fox, Christian right writer [3] James Robison went off on a rant about how Christian conservatives need to take over the government: “There are only 500 of you,” Robison said of Congress. “We can get rid of the whole bunch in one smooth swoop and we can really reroute the whole ship!”

He added that this takeover would cause "demons to shudder" and the "gates of hell to tremble," but what was really delusional about it was the idea that Congress is somehow devoid of Christians. In reality, 92% of Congress people identify [4] as Christian. More to the point, nearly every Republican, regardless of their sincerity in saying so, aligns with conservative Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant, an affiliation reflected in their policy preferences. (One solitary Republican is Jewish.) The Christian right might not own all 535 members of Congress, but with Republicans in the majority, the Christian right is also in the majority.

And yet, as New York Times writer Jason Horowitz explained in a recent profile piece about evangelical organizer David Lane, Lane feels quite similarly: “For Mr. Lane, a onetime Bible salesman and self-described former “wild man,” connecting the pastors with two likely presidential candidates was more than a good day’s work. It was part of what he sees as his mission, which is to make evangelical Christians a decisive power in the Republican Party.”

Say what, said any reader who has cracked a newspaper, the New York Times or otherwise, in the past four decades. Making the Republican Party beholden to the Christian right is like making the sky blue or making cats stubborn. Can you really make something be what it already is?

That the evangelical right already controls the GOP shouldn’t really be in dispute. Not only do the Republicans do exactly as the Christian right tells them on every social issue, such as reproductive rights or gay rights, but Republicans also pay fealty to the Christian right by targeting Muslim countries with their hawkish posturing or using [5] Christian language to rationalize slashing the social safety net. If you were trying to come up with a quick-and-dirty description of the Republican Party, “coalition of corporate and patriarchal religious interests” would be it. (Continued)

Continue reading “The Christian Right Still dominates the GOP — Is There Any End in Sight?”