It Never Gets Out of Me

I’ve probably talked about this a million times already, but I love this song. I was listening to it yesterday and not only do I love the guitar part which has a little unexpected swinging kick to it, and I love how she’s like, “what you do to me, baby, it never gets out of me.” Whew. It just blows my mind. It sounds like the truth about certain people.

But it also may be the only song I can think of where a mother-in-law is mentioned positively, as someone who might be on the side of the singer.

This is one of the songs I’m most curious about hearing the original women do it live, because there definitely is something about it that, recorded, seems kind of dour, but I wonder about, in a crowd, if people are dancing real close and slyly.

What If Your Culture is a Stack of Lies?

My time writing at Pith has led me basically to one conclusion–white people view ourselves as the rightful ruling class of America and we lie a great deal to each other in order to instill and reinforce that belief and those lies are incredibly damaging to white people. We laugh and point at people who elongate their necks with rings in such a way that their shoulders are permanently deformed; we’re fascinated by people who bind their feet in ways that permanently break and deform them; but we do not much look at how the ways our parents and grandparents raised us binds and deforms our souls.

Any attempts to point out how we’ve been misshapen by those lies is met by a lot of anger. Our parents love us! As if the parents who subject kids in other cultures to odd and permanent manipulations of their bodies don’t love their children and have good reasons to do what they do.

And now, it seems to me, we’re in this weird position where, in order to prove fidelity and love to our ancestors, a lot of us seem to think that we must insist on everyone accepting a demonstrably false version of history. In other words, in order for me to properly love my ancestor, I need you to accept that he was a good slave owner and the Confederate flag was a symbol of rebellion and somehow also great patriotism. If you do not accept that, I mourn as if my love for my family is being irreparably broken.

It’s weird and it’s no good for us. The work was hard and it sucked and nobody wanted to do it. Our ancestors lived during a time when you could boss around anyone you could dominate–your wife, your kids, your slaves, sometimes your neighbors, etc. We’re still trying to clean up the societal mess that way of living leaves in its wake. But the fact is that, if there was hard work that you couldn’t do alone, it makes sense in their context to buy someone and dominate the hell of of them so they do it instead.

It’s not good.

But it’s also funny to me that we live in such a Christian country that views humanity as fallen and this world as wicked and yet, even with that belief supposedly underpinning the philosophical base of this country, we won’t accept it about our own ancestors.

As I Went Walking that Ribbon of Highway

It’s going to be so close, whether I have enough yarn. So very close. In an effort to try to ensure that I have enough yarn, I’m working on the last twelve squares simultaneously, so I can use up all the yarn I have very, very little of on the middles. Then the yarn I have very little of on the next row, and so on out to the row where I hopefully have enough yarn to complete the borders. But, man, I don’t know.

I am still kind of an emotional mess over yesterday. Between gay marriage and listening to the President sing Amazing Grace at a funeral, I just felt so happy and sad and proud and all the emotions. Watching all the pictures of people getting married stream by in social media just made me feel so happy and so confused about why anyone would want to shit on this for someone else.

I heard conservatives threatening that this was going to galvanize their side like abortion did and I just think that’s not true and they have to know it. It’s like interracial marriage or marriages between people of two faiths. Some people won’t approve and some people won’t do them, but otherwise, it’s a non-issue.

And this morning I woke to pictures of Bree Newsome climbing the flagpole in Charleston to take down the Confederate flag. And I just felt so proud and honored to get to witness this moment in American history. Yes, it’s corny. Yes, they put it back up. But I don’t care. We are a country that makes a great promise to its people and the world and we mostly, thoroughly fail to deliver on that.

But sometimes, in fits and starts, we start to deliver.

Oh my god! I have Bruce Springsteen-itis!

Confederate Things

1. I argue we should stop providing racists cover.

2. I talk about how Nathan Bedford Forrest was always a man and a myth and how the man came to resent not being able to escape the myth. And here we are, still mythologizing him.

3. Coates makes the point that I have been wrestling with for years–that Confederates, actual Confederates, hated the “states-rights” origin story for the Civil War and were pissed that Southerners were rewriting what they did and why to make it more acceptable. Confederates got that their grandchildren were ashamed of them, even as their grandchildren and great grandchildren and so on mask that shame in veneration.

Out There vs. In Here

One thing I keep seeing is this idea that the people in the church should just be armed. Like some NRA dolt blamed the pastor for not having a gun.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad’s friends, the black pastors, and how many of them, now that I look back on it, seemed fully aware that they could die in the practice of their ministry. I don’t think I ever worried about this with my dad. I worried the stress of the job might kill him. I hated what the people in his congregations did to him, often behind his back, but in front of me. But I never thought he was in physical danger. And so, even when terrible things were happening to my dad’s friends, I didn’t take seriously my dad’s fear for them. I didn’t understand then, as a child, that this is a place where people do kill ministers. I thought they were just jumpy because of MLK.

I say this because I want you to get how stone-cold and deeply ignorant I was, even as my dad was trying to wrestle with a truth he never hid from us.

Now, though, I see. I think. At least better than I did.

Here is the thing about arming people in church, as I see it. My dad’s friends were almost always in danger from people in their congregations, sometimes more broadly their communities, but usually it was someone in a predominately white church who resented having a black pastor. Should a pastor arm himself against his own people? Or are we just saying that white people and black people can never be each other’s people? That the only way for black people to be safe is to just always assume white people are the enemy?

How can you be a Christian, let alone a Christian minister, believing that your first duty to your flock is to protect yourself from them? How can you square turning the other cheek with carrying a gun with the intent of using it on any congregant that wishes you harm?

You can’t.

I don’t think you can pray and study with someone for an hour in genuine fellowship and keep one hand on your gun in case things go south. They’re just incompatible. Either you close yourself off to almost everyone in your church and only have genuine fellowship with those few people you intimately trust or you leave yourself open to being vulnerable to those who would harm you.

Christian churches can’t be open and be safe.

But a lot of this advice, to go back to my first point, also, assumes that the threat is always external. That someone from outside wants to do harm to people inside. My dad’s friends didn’t have that experience. The threat was from inside the church. And, if the Church is doing what it says it wants to do–spreading the word of God–then Christians have to be open to fellowship with strangers, who then are brought into the group.

What people are calling for is for Christians to be something other than Christian in order to be safe.

I have my issues with my dad, but I respect that he believes with his whole heart that people can be redeemed and changed by Christ’s love. (I have my grave doubts, myself.) I also respect that he knows that some people aren’t going to be. You sit across from 10 white supremacists and maybe only one changes his ways. I know my dad knows the other nine are still a danger.

I think he still believes it is his obligation to make himself vulnerable to scary people in order to reach them.

Again, he has his drawbacks, but, at least when it comes to racial justice, my dad wants everyone in church to be “us.” That’s what he’s worked for his whole life. That’s what his friends have put their lives on the line for, over and over.

A racist walking into a church and killing nine people can’t ruin American Christianity. American Christians deciding it’s safer to take precautions against “them” rather than trying to be open to folks becoming a part of “us” will.

I can’t begin to tell you how it feels to look at that list of victims and see how many have “Rev.” before their names. I can’t tell you how sad and scared it makes me for my dad’s friends, who somehow have to get up in the pulpit on Sunday, have to open their Bible studies to whoever says he needs it on Wednesdays, knowing that racists have no respect for the sanctity of the church and, in fact, that they’ll target ministers.

My heart is with them.

Charleston

I don’t have organized thoughts. But I have these thoughts.

1. I always felt it was a great unfairness that my dad was so faithful and gave up so much of what he wanted out of life and it didn’t make things any easier. I know you’re not supposed to tit-for-tat God, but being a minister is a difficult thing and, it’d be nice, to put it mildly, if someone wasn’t throwing knives at you while you were up on the high wire.

2. My dad’s black minister friends went through Hell–yes, the names and the hatred, but people putting their obituaries in the paper or turning the gas on at their churches and then locking them in. And these were always members of their congregations. A church is not a safe place for a minister, especially not from the racism at the heart of our country.

3. Since the Clinton era, we’ve had a series of terrorist attacks in this country that are, to me, obviously linked–Tim McVeigh (and whoever helped him), Eric Rudolph, that guy in Knoxville, this dude and so many more. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s some supreme commander behind the scenes pulling the strings. If there were, I think we’d go after him and get him and declare a final victory on racism. Mission accomplished, so to speak. Then we’d, for years, be killing or arresting “The Number 2” of our secret domestic terrorism organization. I think what we have, instead, is a bunch of people with similar interests who bump into each other and share information or pass things along on the internet or whatever and who gin each other up to do this kind of shit.

And that’s a lot harder to find and deal with because it means everyone admitting that there are now active, violent movements with actual power in this country. It means admitting that we let people responsible for Oklahoma City go, that some of us sheltered Eric Rudolph for a long, long time, that someone saw this dude’s picture on the news this morning and recognized him and weighed his worth over the worth of those dead Bible studiers and is choosing to protect him.

4. The hate mail I got for the Isaac Franklin piece all, it seemed to me, shared one thing in common: when they read a story about a white guy who stole, raped, and murdered black people, even though that white guy himself understood himself as evil, the “white” told these white readers where to put their sympathies–with Isaac Franklin. And then they felt they had to jump to his defense as not being so bad or misunderstood or whatever. I was doing wrong by not showing him in the best, false, light I could.

We will never keep feeding into and perpetuating the great American sin if we, white people, can’t learn to hear a story where a white person does something horrible to anyone else on this continent and have our sympathies go to the people who are wronged or, if they are wronged to death, to the families of those people, instead of feeling like our duty is to flounder around finding some way to sympathize with the wrongdoer.

Because, for as long as I’ve been alive, dudes like this jackass have had both active supporters and a lot of people willing to gloss over what they’re doing. Most of us will never be in a position to do anything about the evil villains and their supporters. But we can refuse to be among the willing to gloss over. We can stop providing cover.

The Problem with Replacing Us with Machines

Right now, cotton growers get 500-600 pounds of cotton out of an acre (source). At peak production, slave owners claimed to be getting 1,000 pounds of cotton an acre.

Which means we still don’t have a machine that picks cotton as well as a person.

This is at the heart of what Baptist means when he points out that we’re lying to ourselves when we say that slavery would have just gone away in thirty or forty more years. Even assuming that the U.S. wouldn’t have found a million other things to do with an enslaved workforce, some forms of agriculture see John Henry winning against the machine every time. All the time.

Still, if we were willing to do to the cotton pickers what was done to the cotton pickers in the 1000 pound an acre days.

That, to me, is the second most chilling thing about the book (1. being how important liberty was to white men and how, even with that goal and that philosophy in their hearts, it was so very rare for a white man whose goal was liberty to even consider the possibility of anyone not in that category as being a part of the project of this country, as it exists to make men free) is how easily it would have been, how likely it was, for slavery to continue and to spread country-wide.

It is really almost a fluke–just an overstep on the part of the South–that lead us to war and thus to ending slavery.

When you think of how very likely it was that slavery would continue and expand, how, if the scenario played out 100 times, 95 of them probably would have ended with continued enslavement of black people, it feels no wonder that we’re still so fucked up about race and unable to see our way out of it.

A Little More

I also really wish I’d had Baptist’s book assigned to me in a history class in college, because he does such a clear job of laying out pre-Civil War U.S. history not as a series of facts, but as “this happened because of these three things. And because this happened, years later, when this other thing happened, it happened in this way.”

I mean, just at the level of fleshing out “Andrew Jackson didn’t like banks” into “here’s all the crazy shit banks were doing” was really useful. And, though I still think a gold standard is stupid, when you have what we had in the 1830s, with people lending money to other people to lend money to other people who’ve mortgaged crops they haven’t grown yet to buy slaves they’ve already put up as collateral for other loans, you can see the appeal of “you have 300 gold coins in your vault, so you can’t lend out 500000000000 gold coins, because they don’t exist. You don’t have them. If you want more money to lend, you’d better figure out a way to get people to put more money in your bank.” Was Andrew Jackson doing to the banks what he should have been doing to Andrew Jackson Jr.? Probably.

But it’s also hard to look square in the face the fact that we are a white, male supremacist nation. Not just in the way we use those terms now, but in the very real sense of that being exactly who our country was designed for and to benefit. Everything that we have in this country that is different than that is because we have imagined a way to make the dreams those guys had for themselves big enough to cover more of us.

But it is a massive revision. And I was telling the Butcher this morning, when you see what a sweet deal the white guy ruling class had set up for itself and how strongly it depended on other white guys wanting in on that sweet, sweet ruling action, white guys are not wrong to feel like they’ve lost something in the modern era.

Now, I would argue that, it was immoral in the first place, what they were given.

But it doesn’t change the fact that there is a loss of power. And for a lot of them, white power was the only power they really had.

Whoa

I’m just about finished with Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told. It is just as fantastic as you’ve been told. I only wish I’d read the bad reviews on Goodreads before I’d read the book, because it would have provided me with some levity in a book where there’s very little. (One of the reviewers seems to think that Baptist is black and doing his part of make white people feel bad. A few seemed to think that Baptist’s book had nothing to do with the economics of slavery–even though the whole last half of the book is how Southern speculators managed to tank the American economy in the 1830s and the fall-out from that for the next thirty–and more–years.)

I really highly recommend it. Baptist’s an academic, but his writing is accessible. It’s lengthy and I had to take substantial mental-health breaks between chapters. But I also felt like he walked a really masterful line of showing all the kinds of terrible thing that happened without fixating on a few bad actors, so as to let everyone else off the hook.

I also appreciated how he wrestled with the language we use to talk about slavery to try to really get at what was going on. He calls “plantations” “labor camps,” which is really evocative. But I also ended up feeling like “enslaver” is not entirely satisfactory. On the one hand, it gets at the fact that it was an ongoing, continuous process. You couldn’t just make a person a slave. You had to do things that constantly reinforced to the people you held in captivity that they were slaves. But it also has the effect, to me, of seeming like there was a specific social role or job of “enslaver.” And maybe you could argue that, yes, this is the social role of slave owners. But I kept having to stop and figure out whether we were talking about all slave owners or some subset.

But I don’t think that’s a drawback to the book. I think one of the arguments he’s making is that we’re so familiarized with a certain story about slavery and we have to do things–talk about things we don’t normally talk about, look at things we don’t normally look at, use words we wouldn’t normally use–to jar ourselves out of thinking about slavery in the usual way. That they’re not always going to be satisfactory is to be expected.

Why I’m Not Reading Absalom, Absalom

Faulkner is all “virgins” and “niggers.” And fuck that shit. The one word hardly needs discussion. But the other–I think that Faulkner is fascinated by the idea of a woman’s body that no one has ever been inside of.

And that’s the problem with all his women, isn’t it? A man being inside of one ruins her. But he can’t imagine that there was always already a person in that woman’s body. And that, for that reason, virginity as he understands it, doesn’t exist.

Rich Hill

I spent the morning looking at old houses, trying to get a feel for how my haunted house should be laid out. Trying to decide which ones I should try to get in.

I came home and the Butcher put on the documentary, Rich Hill. I don’t really know what to say about it. It’s fantastic. It’s as clear a picture you’ll get for why I would never, ever live in a small town, especially not a small midwestern town. It’s so sad. Just a heartbreaking look at a bunch of boys whose lives and parents suck. The only decent parent in the whole movie is the mom in prison and her kid is a fucking mess.

Bah.

Yuck.

My heart is broken. How easy it is to be left behind like that. And why weren’t we? Mostly luck. It’s so easy to get trapped there.

Families

One thing I was struck by when working on the Scene piece, which I didn’t write about but tried to indicate indirectly, was just how much work was happening for social justice in families. JC Napier’s parents, for instance, worked really, really hard to get James and his peers educated for a Nashville they could barely imagine and never got to see come to pass. James worked his ass off for a Nashville he never got to see come to pass. Each generation working to make a better future they would never see. They moved the ball down the field, but they often knew they wouldn’t be alive to see if they scored.

And it strikes me, watching these families working that long game, how important it is for white supremacy to pathologize black families–to tear them apart and then pretend that torn apart is their natural state–because the nation gets changed because of the generations’ long strategies of black families. Someone willing to work toward a goal she will not accomplish, but that her grandchildren might, is really powerful. Normally, you break a person by destroying their ability to reach their goal. If they already know they aren’t going to reach it, but that they just need to make some strides toward it and trust that it puts the next generation in a better position for when they set out for the goal, how do you break them?

If you can’t break a person working toward something for his family, you throw his family into disarray.

A Point of Racism

Slavery is its own thing, but, in order to really get your head around it, you have to, I think, compare it to other things. Slavery isn’t rape, though a lot of slaves were raped. But definitely watching how America deals with rape now can give you some clues as to what was going on with slavery. And watching how racism plays out now… well, same thing.

This morning, as I was thinking about it, I realized that racism plays a very important part in slavery beyond the justification for why slavery is “okay.” Racism is very important because it lets bystanders off the hook.

We’ve talked about this with rape–how there are relatively few rapists but they find cover in a society that seems geared to believe that any man, at any second, might be accused of being a rapist or, worse, might, through no fault of his own except having misunderstood his victim’s intentions, accidentally be a rapist.

So, back to slavery. We’ve talked, too, extensively about how it was impossible to really be a good slave owner. You could be good or you could be a slave owner, but you couldn’t be both, because, at some point, if you are a slave owner, you’re going to be buying rape victims from their rapists, torture victims from their torturers or selling people to people you have to know are going to rape and torture them. You are a part of the system that makes that rape and torture possible.

But it’s so important, if slavery is going to work, for the slave owners who don’t rape and torture (I’m drawing an uncomfortable distinction here between people who “just” physically coerced their captives and people who tortured them, but people, in general, were just more physically violent back then. People beat their kids and their spouses. They beat each other up for fun. They beat their slaves. And it’s not like we no longer do those things, but the scale and scope is just different now. So, I’m trying to draw a distinction, just for the sake of this point, between extraordinary violence–torture–and ordinary violence–everyone is getting knocked upside the head at some point–and not to excuse or downplay the latter.) to have a way to not see the rape and torture. And not just that, but to believe that the rapists and torturers aren’t getting a fair shake. That they need defending, because, at any moment, any slave owner might unfairly be accused of rape and torture.

This is where racism comes in. Black people are liars. Black people don’t feel pain the way white people do. Black people are lusty, practically animals in their “mating.” Black people are… oh and we hear the echoes of this right now in that case in L.A. where the school district is trying to argue that a girl with mental disabilities can’t really suffer from sexual abuse the same way a smart kid could… too stupid to really understand what’s happening to them. Black people are just looking for reasons to be upset, when really, they’re exaggerating the problem. Black leaders are just stirring them up. Etc. etc. etc.

America, by now, we all know this song well enough to sing along.

It just helps put up this screen. White people who are racist don’t have to feel the great discomfort that might spur them into bucking or dismantling the system. Racism is the mechanism by which white people learn to be just fine with horrendous evil. Not just racial inequality, should we ever get to the point when that’s the mountain we have to deal with. But the utter… I want to say “disregard” for black lives, but I feel, too, like that’s refusing to look our history and our society now straight in the face. Our society runs on the destruction of non-white bodies. Even our classism, and we’re a deeply classist society, too, is, like our homophobia is built on men being afraid of being treated by other men how they treat women, our classim has an element of treating poor white bodies like the trash (poor white trash) we treat non-white bodies like.

Racism isn’t the cause of slavery. As people will point out, there have been slaves throughout history. But racism, in our society, gathers like a thick fog to both justify slavery and to obscure from view everything that would make it seem unjustified. Racism is the mechanism by which white evildoers are shielded from justice.

Lady of the Lake, Women in the River

Ugh, this song and Jewly’s writing about it.

I believe the way for things to change for women is for women to come together for each other, to check on each other, to find each other and tell each other our stories.

But I have to say, I keep thinking about how often Death is a woman, the rivers, lakes, and streams are women, sailors can be married to the ocean, and all those ancient earth goddesses. All the places you might put a woman where she’ll never be found, they’re all considered to be feminine spaces.

I don’t know. It makes me sad.

Rigged

The system is rigged. And it’s perpetuated through violence. Both the violence that is actually perpetrated on people and the threat of violence.

I think a lot about whether it’s possible and how one might refuse to play the rigged game we’re born into. If you see that your neighbor is being treated unfairly in a bad way and you are being treated unfairly in a good way, most people’s instinct–if they recognize that unfairness–is to try to rectify it. Unless you’re told repeatedly that it’s deserved or not really unfair or whatever.

But it’s not a conscious decision on most people’s parts to treat you better. You can’t appeal to the leader and demand to be treated fairly. You just get to be treated unfairly well. Your neighbor continues to be treated unfairly poor.

But here’s the rub. Here’s one way it’s perpetuated–generation after generation. When it’s my son or brother or nephew in front of a cop’s gun, I want him to come out alive. And when he does, I feel relief and gratitude. Things have worked how they should.

I don’t want to give that up.

There’s a canard in feminist circles that homophobia is just a dude’s fear that other dudes will treat him how he treats women.

But there’s a similar dynamic at the heart of white supremacy–the threat that white people who buck the system will be treated like non-white people. And yet, when white people are the ones with the power to change things, white people willing to buck the system are what’s need. And yet, and yet, a system that changes in response to white people’s discomfort and not to non-white people’s suffering is still racist.

My heart hurts.

Scape-grace

If the Macons weren’t such fuckers, I’d feel almost bad for John Macon, who, in almost every thing you read is described as being not quite as great as his brother, Nathaniel. Though I did learn a new word–scape-grace. John, apparently, was the biggest scape-grace in the county.

It appears to mean something like “rapscallion” or “lout.” And the insults… like numerous books mention that the Widow Macon and her neighbor set up a school so their four boys can go. And then three of them go on to Princeton. I am not a 19th century writer, so I can’t quite get it across, but the way they deliver that “three” just lets you know that John Macon did not go to Princeton.

It’s pretty funny.

Well, This is Some Kind of Exceptional

I feel like I have the general non-Jewish American feelings about Nazis. They are bad.

I remember watching Shoah in college and finding one part, where Lanzmann interviewed an old Nazi (secretly) who, in the grainy footage looked like he could be the brother of my grandfather. That grandfather.

Which means that, in my mind, the problem of what to do with men who were evil a lifetime ago is kind of linked both to historical evil and to familial evil (which, yes, are often the same things).

I, personally, don’t find even my parents’ belated admissions of ways they fucked up to be that satisfying. I don’t want my dad now to be sorry for standing idly by while I was stalked. I want my dad then to have stood up. To me, this is one of the great terriblenesses at the heart of living–that there is no real justice, no real restitution.

For me, seeing a 90 year old man discovered to be a Nazi in hiding in the U.S., even if he’s put on trial and lives out the rest of his life in prison, it seems to me so too little so too late as to be practically meaningless.

However, I am not all people and I am certainly not someone whose families were annihilated by people like that. So, my feeling on the matter is that, even if I would not find tracking down ancient Nazis satisfying, if that’s what even a few of their survivors want, then that’s what we should do. My feelings in this case are mostly beside the point.

If that’s what even a few of their survivors want, then that’s what we should do.

But, it turns out that we, America, are Nazi collaborators. After the war, the ones we thought would be useful we brought here and gave jobs. Not just in the space program, which we already knew, but as spies for the CIA and the FBI.

So, all those Nazis that we find living in the U.S. and make a big show, no matter their age, of deporting for trial, those are just the Nazis who aren’t our friends. It turns out that America faced an ethical question similar to the one I outlined at the beginning–if we don’t think it’s that bad to keep some Nazis around, is the anguish of their victims more important than our feelings?

And we decided, apparently, that, no, the anguish of their victims was not that important to us. We’d throw them a bone every so often by finding a Nazi every now and then who wasn’t useful to us, so that they’d believe we actually gave two shits about finding Nazis. But we’d keep our Nazis safe and sound.

I guess I’d find this less upsetting if we didn’t still run around acting like we have the moral high ground all the damn time. But we never look the terrible things we do in the face. We never say “Yes, we acknowledge these are our bad people, our wrong-doings, our evil.” We always make excuses and go back as quickly as we can to ignoring and pretending we are always on the side of right.

Slave Culture

I’ve been thinking, on my history weekend, that the answer to why people owned slaves is incredibly obvious. It would be awesome. Yes, it’s got to be soul-corrupting, but, ignoring the moral implications, of course having people to do all the shit you don’t want to–or can’t–do is marvelous. I think even believing that you, because of some intrinsic value, deserve to have these people doing whatever you tell them and they, due to their inherent lack of being as awesome as you, have to do it, is some heady shit. Once you gave yourself permission to go ahead and enjoy the luxury of having slaves, I think it’d be very difficult to give it up.

But another thing I keep thinking about, too, is how much this resonates through into our current discussions of rape culture, how “slave culture” is, perhaps, the original rock in the pond that has sent us the destructive ripple of rape culture.

Because, if you consent to be my slave and I consent to do to you only the things you would allow me to do to you, you’re not really a slave. (Maybe we’d say you’re a non-sexual submissive?) The real pleasure of slavery is the pleasure of rape–I do to you whatever I want and I don’t give a shit how you feel about it. In fact, it’s better for me if you don’t want to do it, if you would say “no,” if you could.

Not all slave-owners, of course. Some must have enjoyed believing that their slaves came around to being willing to submit to those circumstances. That they were “kind.” Seducers, turning a “no” into a “yes.”

But for most, the ones who whipped and kicked and punched and burned, the satisfaction had to be there in the ability to willfully disregard the will of the body they were acting upon.

And, too, it wasn’t just slavery–this is how indentured servants might be treated, or wives, or children, or strangers who insulted you.

Which makes me wonder how you train this out of a people. If we have, for so long, believed that social prestige and status is intrinsically linked to having as few people as possible above you who can act on your body without your permission while we display the ways in which we can act on others’ bodies, why and how do we give that up?

Enemies and Truth

One thing I’ve realized lately is that a person’s enemies are rarely wrong. Your enemies do see some fundamental truths of who you are. The things they hate about you are most likely honest-to-god terrible and annoying things about you.

But what I find fascinating about enemies is that your enemies may have a legitimate complaint against you that obligates you to act–“That bastard killed my sister and I want him to face justice.” or “That woman wouldn’t hire me because I’m gay and I want her to face some kind of repercussions.” What your enemies want from you is not unreasonable, even if it’s incredibly disruptive to your life.–but a lot of times your enemies have a legitimate complaint against you–“God, she’s such a complainy douche!”–but the action they want to see taken against you–“Don’t hang out with her.”–doesn’t really obligate you to act. Just because someone doesn’t like that you’re a complainy douche doesn’t mean that you have to change to suit them. It also doesn’t make it right for them to try to separate you from your friends who also probably see that you’re a complainy douche, but find that outweighed by your undying loyalty and your willingness to drive them places whenever they need it.

It does seem to me like a lot of human interactions are about establishing who can force others to move without having to be moved themselves. Most of the time, I think we’d be better off if we all just agreed to either move together or not worry about whether others were moving but just on our own motions and the outcomes of those motions.

But I find the second kind of enemy so weird and fascinating because they’re arguing that their hatred of someone creates some kind of relationship that the person they hate should honor by trying to be less hated. I completely get why people who like each other come to understand themselves as being entwined in mutually beneficial obligations to each other.

But how does the person who hates you understand their claim on you if their claim on you isn’t, in part, “you are genuinely doing me wrong” as opposed to “you are annoying me.”?

I hate, genuinely hate, very few people in this world who I don’t feel have wronged me. The people who have wronged me, the obligation I think they have to me now is to leave me alone. But the people who haven’t wronged me, but who just annoy me into hatred, I don’t want to spend time trying to make them be more palatable to me. I don’t want to have to spend any more time with them than I do. If they were less terrible, I’d be under more pressure to tolerate them.

I feel like I’m missing some obvious thing here. There must be something pleasurable, even in a deeply twisted way, about trying to assert power over people you hate, but I just don’t see it. I mean, if you could guarantee that it would work–I can see how that would be pleasurable–to watch your enemies do your bidding. But real life isn’t often like that. Instead, you’re more often just struggling to try to get any hint of that kind of influence. Mostly, it’s just you and the person you hate yelling at each other and not doing what the other wants you to do.

Less The Godfather and more Real Housewives.

Lou Lewis

Lou Lewis is the name of the black woman who gave Nathan Bedford Forrest flowers at the 1875 4th of July Pole-Bearers picnic. She called them a peace offering. He accepted them, again, using the words “peace offering.” He called her a “lady.” He gave a speech about Southerners, black and white, needing to learn to get along.

It was a strange day. It was nice of him to call her a lady.

Here’s the thing–when both parties call something a peace offering, isn’t that an acknowledgement that they’ve been at war?

The more research I do, the more it does feel like a war. If black people had lived here all along, it’d make much more sense–the United States conquered your territory, enslaved you, and waged a long battle against people who wanted to liberate your country.

It’s just that the land is missing, so it’s hard to see slavery as an occupation. But nothing else about how we talk about slavery really makes any sense. You just can’t argue that agricultural people with access to farm animals didn’t know their slaves were human. They had children with them. And you can’t argue that it’s just how it was, because so many people struggled against it. Slaves didn’t accept slavery as their deserved lot.

We conquered and occupied a people who would have never considered themselves a people before we kidnapped them and made them one.

Doing Nothing Wrong

I wrote about the Radnor Lake Rambo for Pith today. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how, if his crusade is not about publicly escalating his one-man terror-fest until he works up the guts to shoot someone, it’s about demanding the right to be thought of as harmless, no matter what social cues he’s giving off.

You see this come up in other situations, where men get mad when they know they’re just being nice guys by doing something–say following a girl home (to make sure she makes it), or offering to buy a woman a drink after she’s made it clear she no longer wants to talk to you–that sets off the “this guy is trouble” red flag. Like they’re really pissed that they’re not being thought of as harmless.

There are other instances, but you get the gist. And people try to make the argument that, hey, you might be harmless, but you’re doing this red-flag activity and we are not psychic so we have no way of knowing if the guy on campus with a gun is a good guy or a bad guy or if the guy following us home is a good guy or a rapist or if the woman flirting with our partners is friendly or has ill-intentions.

But you can’t indulge in mildly bad, scary behavior and still be treated like you’re harmless. That’s a really weird thing to ask of the world.

1835

Keeping in mind that John Murrell gave this kind of speech to people he later murdered, if Stewart was telling the truth, or didn’t give this speech at all if Stewart was a big fat liar, liar pants-on-fire, it still fucking blows my mind. Here’s what Murrell was going to say to slaves as he attempted to incite them into a nation-wide rebellion:

We find the most vicious and wicked disposed ones, on large farms and poison their minds by telling them how they are mistreated, and that they are entitled to their freedom as much as their masters, and that all the wealth of the country is the proceeds of the black people’s labor; we remind them of the pomp and splendor of their masters, and then refer them to their own degraded situation, and tell them that it is power and tyranny which rivets their chains of bondage, and not because they are an inferior race of people. We tell them that all Europe has abandoned slaver, and that the West Indies are all free; and that they got their freedom by rebelling a few times and slaughtering the whites, and convince them, that if they will follow the example of the West India negroes, that they will obtain their liberty and become as much respected as if they were white, and that they can marry white women when they are all put on a level. In addition to this, get them to believe, that the most of people are in favor of their being free, and that the free States, in the United States, would not interfere with the negroes, if they were to butcher every white man in the slave-holding States.

I remain stunned to see someone so clearly articulate that the wealth of this country comes from black people’s labor in 1835. Even if they meant it to be evil and ridiculous.

Good vs. Good

What’s striking about the antebellum South is that there’s an informal definition of “good” (at least among white men) as being “that which is pleasing to God.” What was pleasing to God was knowable, because “good” white people were rewarded–literally rewarded with financial success. One’s fortunes rose and fell based on whether one was pleasing or displeasing God. You can see a lot of this playing out in Gordon Belt’s book in reverse, where Confederate soldiers were admonished to stop sinning so much in the camps so that the Confederacy could get back to winning.

So, in a very simple way, when a slave-owner took the opportunity to fuck a slave–in spite of her protestations, crying, and traumatized behavior afterwards (clues we expect “good” people to recognize now as being evidence that they’ve done something “not good” to someone else)–and he remained wealthy, he understood it as God giving the okay to that kind of behavior. After all, if it was a problem, God would have punished him, probably with financial difficulties.

And as Bridgett pointed out in the comments the other day, “good” men who feared putting their wives through pregnancy often found other people to “have sex with.” This was seen as a loving choice.

White men got to equate “goodness” with prosperity.

Slaves were supposed to equate “goodness” with obedience. Possibly everyone in the South was supposed to equate “goodness” with obedience with slaves supposed to be being obedient to their masters the way that slave masters were obedient to God, and everyone knew when they were being good, because there was a tangible measure of it–masters got rich, slaves got to live.

The thing that strikes me hardest about this arrangement, though, is that, when slaves talked about who was a good master, they never talked about a master who was overwhelmingly financially successful. It’s always about how the master treated his slaves.

The definition most of us accept as the definition of goodness is the slave’s definition–that one’s goodness is measured by how little misery you spread to others.

(Importantly, though, even slaves with good masters, by their own reckoning, wanted to be free. You could have “good” masters, comparatively speaking, and still think slavery was not good.)

I was browsing through Nietzsche and Hegel trying to decide if this is what they observed and I don’t really think so.

Hits

It irritates me so much, too, that everyone is like “Oh, Ray Rice! He’s so terrible.” and yet they’ll pass along quotes from Bill Hobbs.

Also, I guess I’ve read some good arguments for why people shouldn’t view the video, but I’ll also say this–when “sources” inside the NFL, who all mysteriously seem not to have seen the video before yesterday, were saying this summer that the video in the elevator gave more context and made what happened outside the elevator more understandable, when they were saying that the events in the elevator were why they could still stand by Rice and why the Ravens felt comfortable having a tweet talking about how Mrs. Rice apologized for her role in the altercation. This video was supposed to explain things.

So, those sick fuck liars made the elevator video an issue by making it an excuse for their unwillingness to do what decent people who just saw how he treated her afterwards thought should be done. I watched the video not to see what happened to her–I knew what happened to her–but to see if the surrounding events matched up with what I’d been told was on the video.

Those surrounding events did not. To put it mildly. And that’s on those sick fuck liars, who watched that video and then lied about what was on it so that they could keep their meal ticket on the field.