Monday, May 11, 2015

Racist bile, 1868 style

It has been 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the 13th Amendment. It has been 50 years since the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. But racism, sad to say, still rears up, and because of social media and improved technology, more and more it ends up online or on television, filmed by bystanders. Racism today is generally decried as bad, but there was a time in America when even public figures got away with racist remarks. It has been a growing process, or a painful learning curve, to get people past making public pronouncements of their own ignorance.

But even after living around racists and racism for decades, I was still unprepared when I found this book online at the Internet Archive. Page after page is filled with the kind of vicious and vituperative venom that might seem over the top in a Ku Klux Klan brochure, although I am sure that brotherhood of racists would probably co-opt some of the quotes from the book. This is slander to a whole group of human beings.

When reading The Negroes in Negroland on the California Digital Library of the Internet Archive, I had at once a reaffirmation of the basis for deep racial divides in America, and also that as a matter of unwritten public policy, we may not have moved far beyond these stubbornly held beliefs of the “inferiority” of races other than white European.

This book could poison anyone reading it, especially if they were looking to have their prejudices reinforced. The “compiler,” Hinton Rowan Helper, of North Carolina, only picked quotes that conformed to his point of view. There are no comments or quotes as far as I could tell that give a conflicting view of other races. I could not read the whole wore me down with its barrage of hate, but if you look up the book you can look at any page without hope of finding any form of praise for African-Americans.

The year 1868, when this was published, was only three years after the Civil War ended, and the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment ending slavery. Slaves had been freed, but to what? They had no education, and no place to go. It was not like post-Emancipation that they could suddenly apply for a job as a home builder or deputy sheriff and be welcomed with open arms. In many cases slaves had no education at all; they were illiterate, and the white man’s country was a hostile place.

I have my own feelings about why our society has been poorer for its prejudices, but I also understand human nature. It is just in the nature of some to feel superior to others based on how they look or act.

I have “clipped” some especially egregious examples of the hateful sludge between the covers of this book. If it offends anyone, then that’s good. It should offend. It was not written with any other purpose than to dismiss black people as being somewhere between human and animal...and mostly animal.

Quotes from the introduction pretty much sum up the author’s attitude:

Invoking God at the end is a specious way of bringing in Diety for the purposes of backing up one’s prejudice. Another is calling on physical racial differences and the supposed difference between blacks and whites. As in, “God must have cursed this race! Look at how different they are from us!”

If that hate-filled list of buzzwords and overkill in expressing disgust of “negroes” is not enough, those of mixed race are not free of disdain and loathing:

Finally, and I could not help but include this, because the description of the black’s singing voice makes me think of a legacy of African-American singers, from the early twentieth century to today, whose voices have changed American music, making it popular all over the world.

In its biography of Hinton Rowan Helper, the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, speaks of Helper’s books:
“ . . . three of which were extremely racist and unleashed intense hatred towards the Negro race. His writings contained rational, progressive, and farsighted viewpoints and ideas as well as irrationalities and illogical ideas which sometimes sounded like the ravings of a maniac. Historians John Spencer Bassett and J. G. de R. Hamilton have portrayed him as a man of keen intellect with a touch of genius which at times bordered on insanity.”
Helper was born in 1829, and died in 1909.


DEMiller said...

Par - Excellent work here. Your observations are spot on. I was raised around racist thoughts. "Blacks are at fault for being lazy, etc". My parents told me that there was proof that they were inferior because they evolved in the jungle where fruit was easy to pick, so they didn't need to farm. Their skulls were thick. Cops who had hit them on the head with night sticks could testify to that. The stupid ones were more easily captured and made into slaves and brought to the US. All of this was told to me by my father, who was a scientist. As I always say, smart people say stupid things.

Postino said...

Dave, your dad and mine were raised in Utah, far away from the Deep South, but not far enough away from the prevalent racial attitudes of the times.

My dad's favorite racist anecdote was about a cop who comes up on a black man skulking about at night on the docks. The cop conks him with a nightstick on his head as hard as he can, and the man turns to him and says, "What you want, white man?" Dad thought this was hilariously funny. Then, as now, I thought it was a pretty low form of humor, but gullible Dad thought it was a true story. I believe it is an urban legend.

The problem is, these attitudes are still not far from the surface.

Thanks for your comment, old friend.