Friday, April 22, 2016

John Hope Franklin..

is a name that is probably unfamiliar to you. He was not someone I had heard of until 18 months or so ago. Even though he was born and grew up in Oklahoma. Dr. Franklin was an African American historian who was well known and respected both nationally and internationally. One of the several books he wrote was an important and influential work about American history which was titled From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. This book, first published in 1947, is now in its 9th edition and has sold over 3 million copies.

I promise you that no other historian from Oklahoma has a book that's sold over 3 million copies...and I also bet you that 97% of white people (more probably) who live in Oklahoma have never heard of John Hope Franklin.

The white bubble tends to invisiblize and/or overlook the prominence and accomplishments of people of color especially if such accomplishments challenge white supremacy. Dr. Franklin has several formal "honors" from the State of Oklahoma but he's virtually unknown to the white citizens here.

In that regard he joins another historian, a white woman named Angie Debo, who wrote an accurate, but very unflattering history of white people's dealings with Native Americans here. In her book, And Still the Waters Run, she detailed the swindling and violence that was inflicted on Native Americans and she named the names of some wealthy Oklahoma folks who acquired their riches in this manner.

The University of Oklahoma refused to publish her book but eventually it was published by Princeton University press. Like Dr. Franklin she has some formal recognition but is virtually unknown to Oklahoma citizens. We'll do the obligatory honorings...but we'll do them quietly and with no fuss...because what we really want is to completely ignore anything that points out the turds in the kiddy pool of "liberty and justice for all".


Dr. Franklin's books are well researched and well regarded academically. They're not polemical or distorting, but...white people don't come off looking too well in them. The facts of U.S. history don't support white folks looking like a terrific group and that's just not ok, for the most part, with the white supremacist ideology that operates as the most significant influence on the media and the thinking and the "common sense" of U.S. society. Violate those strictures and you'll probably find yourself becoming either demonized or minimized or ignored.


In his autobiography called "Mirror to America", published when he was 90 years old, he notes how the writing of the first edition of this history book impacted him:
In planning and writing of my work, I had witnessed more than five hundred years of human history pass before my eyes. I had seen one slave ship and another from Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, England and the United states pile black human cargo into its bowels as it would coal or even gold had either been more available and profitable at the time. I had seen them dump my ancestors at New World ports as they would a load of cattle and wait smugly for their pay for capture and transport. I had seen them beat black men until they themselves became weary and rape black women until their ecstasy was spent leaving their brutish savagery exposed. I had heard them shout, "Give us liberty or give us death," and not mean one word of it. I had seen them measure out medication or education for a sick or ignorant white child and ignore a black child similarly situated. I had seen them lynch black men and distribute their ears, fingers, and other parts as souvenirs to the ghoulish witnesses. I had seen it all, and in the seeing I had become bewildered and yet in the process lost my own innocence. (p. 127-128)
When I read this passage I thought of my recent post where I quoted the white female historian writing: "Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap?" in reference to her exposure to factual information about how Native Americans were harmed by white people who came to the "New World".

Her writing perfectly exemplifies one manner in which information that doesn't fit the maintenance of a white supremacist viewpoint is demeaned and/or diminished and targeted for disregarding and/or ignoring. It presents one way in which invisibling operates.

In case you might not be clear about what is meant by white supremacy, here is an article that might help. In part, the article notes:
White supremacy is comprised of habits, actions and beliefs. It is not necessarily reliant on the specific intentions of its actors, practitioners or beneficiaries. Of course, there are “active” racists whose intentions, words, and deeds are meant to advance a racist agenda. However, implicit and subconscious bias, as well as taken for granted stereotypes and “common sense,” can also serve a white supremacist order. Ultimately, intent is secondary to the unequal outcomes across the colorline that individuals benefit from and perpetuate.

Got it? You don't have to wear a white sheet and pointy hat to uphold or benefit from white supremacy. The idea that there is a good/bad binary about this stuff is one of the ways it keeps perpetuating itself. If I don't have bad intentions, if I don't do bad things...well...then I'm a "good person" and don't participate in or uphold white supremacy.

Wrong. The status quo is white supremacy, it's the water we swim in, it's the air we breathe. For instance, the U.S. capitol building and the white house (among many government buildings) were constructed, in part, using the labor and skills of enslaved human beings on land taken from Native Americans. We are surrounded by things that were created by or taken from peoples who were racialized as "the other" but we (white folks especially) ignore and/or deny this and work hard at staying oblivious to these truths.

I didn't ask to be stuck into this mess nor do I like it. I suspect you don't like it either. Given that the status quo is unnoticed white supremacy doesn't mean there aren't folks who openly embrace such an oppressive viewpoint. There are white people who either actually or in their thinking wear white sheets and pointy hats. But they're relatively small in number and they aren't the reason that everyday and "normalized" white supremacy keeps on keeping on. The biggest supporters of this ongoing horror story are the "good" people...and...that's where the power to change it lies.

It is you and I who believe that if we think good thoughts, if our intentions are pure and we don't do bad things then we're ok...it's that way of operating that keeps white supremacy in place.

The commenter is offering us some insight into the way good intentioned (I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and presuming she is well meaning) folks support white supremacy all the while thinking they are being "benign" and "reasonable" and "objective" or whatever.

She doesn't deny the fact of genocide (which others sometimes do)...instead she casts this fact as "crap" and asks if we aren't "tired" of it by which I presume she means being made aware of it is debilitating or exhausting. She's saying this truth is bad or repulsive ("crap") and being exposed to it makes her weary and doesn't it make us weary too? (note too that she's implying constant bombardment with information about genocide...which is patently untrue...unless she lives in an very different environment from most white people) 

Consider her statement. Isn't she saying that some truths are demanding and hard and...such a stance implies that...untruth or fantasy is much easier and not tiring? But...she doesn't come right out and say that openly and clearly (she likely doesn't comprehend that she is saying this...she's deceiving herself as well as her audience). Grappling with and acknowledging and coming to know reality, at least in this instance, is difficult hence why not ignore it or deny it by not hearing about it? Let's move it out of our awareness...by not being exposed to it...then we can be not tired.

I've mentioned Dr. Robin DiAngelo in previous posts. She's an excellent resource for anyone wrestling with understanding whiteness and how it distorts thinking. On her website she has a page of downloadable resources. One of them is a paper called "Common Patterns of Whites". I would strongly urge you to read that paper and see if much there isn't familiar. Download all of the resources she offers and study them...they help make sense of the contortions we've all been socialized to either not grasp at all or to comprehend as "normal".

If the author of a history book that has sold over 3 million copies describes himself as "bewildered" after intensive study of the history of the U.S....is there any doubt that we who aren't historians are likely to be beyond "bewildered"?

Each of us faces the option of characterizing that which challenges our externally imposed worldview (but one that we experience as being our own) as "crap" and as "tiring" or engaging in the difficult and painful work of struggling toward a more factually grounded comprehension of our society and of the behaviors of humans in that society. Each of us has the choice of turning away and thereby supporting the status quo or we can begin the journey, hard though it is, toward some clarity of comprehension and interruption of this awfulness called "normal". 

I've previously mentioned Charles W. Mills and his writings about an epistemology of ignorance that is carefully cultivated in members of U.S. society (essentially anywhere western colonialism has imposed itself) regarding race. There is a video by Cori Wong who is a philosophy professor and she suggests that maybe there is an epistemology of ignorance that is associated with each of the "isms" (systems) of oppression...for instance sexism has its own epistemology of ignorance that helps keep it unrecognized and in place and unknowingly supported and enforced by "good" people...not just openly sexist jerks.

I think she's onto something with that. It's an intriguing way to make sense of a human society wherein the majority are presumably well-intentioned people but in that same society marginalized groups are exploited and harmed and then often blamed for the harm that's inflicted on them. And...these well-intentioned people seem helpless or inept when it comes to stopping this stuff or often even in recognizing it.

What a system! You're taught to exploit and harm marginalized group members and you're also taught to not recognize or understand how you're harming them as well as being taught that any difficulty marginalized group members are having is their own fault. You're good to go! Clean conscience...you're a "good" person while all around you folks in less powerful groups are struggling and trying to cope but since you're good well then...their problems must be their own fault, right?

It's all sort of stunning...or...as Dr. Franklin wrote...bewildering.



   

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