An Article in the NYT I'm Glad To See

It's been the case since the beginning of the nation that the North has told itself a story of racism in which it was the hero and the South was the bad guy. We hear about slavery, but not about how the slave ships that fueled the Middle Passage sailed so often out of Boston and New York. We hear about how the cotton economy was built on slave labor, but not about how the North's industry was built from the proceeds of the Triangular Trade. The Civil War is the reflex point, in which whatever marginal guilt the North admits for having 'compromised' with the South on slavery is washed clean in blood. Subsequent history is virtuous Northerners periodically forcing vicious Southerners to amend their Jim Crow ways, until at last LBJ came down to help MLK and victory was achieved.

So it's not merely a timely but an evergreen question that the Times is asking today: "When Will The North Face Its Racism?"
In matters of racial injustice, the South has been the center of attention since before the time of the Civil War. But the North, with its shorter history of a mass black population, has only more recently dealt with the paradox of an enlightened ideal coexisting with racial disparity. The protests have become a referendum on the black condition since the Great Migration. “The protests are beginning to wake people up to the idea that the problems are not only there but have been obvious all along,” the historian Taylor Branch told me. “It feels like the South in the 1950s.”
Yet the parallels drawn aren't to the South in the 1950s, but to the South at the height of lynching. The parallel between lynchings and police killings of blacks is overblown, as we've discussed before, because even if the rate at which such killing occur is about the same, the population growth means that the rate per black citizen is a fraction of what it was. Still, "it feels like" doesn't require much substantiation: the feeling may not be purely rational, but feelings are often not. Grappling with the problem means both that many in the North may have to acknowledge a greater degree of structural racism than they want to admit to or recognize; it may also mean that some in the black community may have to admit to a kind of objective improvement in the facts, even if there are times when they still feel strongly the sense of oppression.


Gringo said...

As the offspring of a north-south marriage, who spent the first half of my life in New England, I got some exposure to both sides at an early age.

Before leaving high school, I developed a not completely articulated sense that while the South deserved condemnation for Jim Crow, the North was not the paragon of anti-racism and love between different groups that it purported itself to be.

A childhood friend who was the offspring of a Tuskegee airman told me when we were in our 30s that I was only one of 3 people in our elementary school class of 30 "who treated me like a human being." I previously wrote "not completely articulated" because while in childhood I may have sensed this, I was at the time not totally aware of my friend's point of view.

Or a friend, who courtesy of previously living in the big city, referred to blacks as "coons." Not to mention attitudes towards the PRs.[Puerto Ricans]

Similarly, I saw that those who were ready to condemn the South for labeling certain people as "dumb N-words," were quite ready to label other groups with a similar grouping, such as "dumb farmers." Well before I read anything to do with sociology or anthropology I had developed a gut appreciation of in-groups and out-groups. And that white Southerners were not the only people who constructed in-groups and out-groups. We all do it , to varying degrees.

Grim said...

My sense is that the South has really benefited morally from being forced to grapple with racism, which was a poisonous and false idea. I'm hoping the North will benefit too, in the long run.

It's going to be difficult to struggle with, because it means learning that what you have long believed about your history is incomplete, and the things you need to contemplate to complete it are horrible.