Monday, July 3, 2017

Hapi 4th of You Lie: the celebration of capitalism and slavery

Capitalism Is the Highest Form of Organized Crime: Founded Upon Stolen Land, Stolen People and Genocide

Founding Fathers, Founding Villains

The New Liberal Originalism
As soon as there was a Constitution, fights about its meaning began. In 1792 Fisher Ames, representing the first district of Massachusetts in the first U.S. House of Representatives, complained about a tendency of Congress:
We hear, incessantly, from the old foes of the Constitution, ‘this is unconstitutional, and that is;’ and indeed, what is not? . . . If the Constitution is what they affect to think it, their former opposition to such a nonentity was improper. I wish they would administer it a little more in conformity to their first creed.
Ames was ridiculing the minority in Congress for having abandoned a position he considered idiotic—they’d claimed during the ratification debates that the Constitution made Congress a tyranny—for an equally idiotic contrary: now they claimed the same document limited federal power so strictly that Congress couldn’t do anything. “Antis,” Ames called them, short for “antifederalists.” He saw them as a “party of ‘no,’” to use a current phrase, and their constant appeals to constitutional restraints as spurious. It was rank antifederalism by other means.
Some students of the period wouldn’t agree with Ames. The Constitution, amended after ratification, wasn’t, in fact, the same document that the antifederalists had feared was tyrannical. Yet while the amendments can seem paramount to us—they’re what many people today seem to mean when they refer to the Constitution—the minority in the first Congress rarely resorted to them. James Madison, chief author of the Bill of Rights, was at the time still committed to federal sovereignty, and where antifederalists had hoped for amendments preserving state rights, Madison was careful to focus the amendments, as much as he could, on individual rights instead.
So to oppose federal activism, the minority in the first Congress looked to the Constitution’s main body. Nowhere, they said, did it empower the Congress to pursue big projects that the majority, associated with President Washington’s administration, believed were critical to establishing American nationhood. In the debate over forming a central bank—a favorite project of the first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton—Madison himself began questioning the powerful, wide-ranging national authority that he, Hamilton, and others had recently tried to build into the federal government. Soon Madison was leading his former antifederalist opponents in condemning the bank as unconstitutional. Congress’s power to create one, he said, is not enumerated in the document.
Hamilton, speaking in Congress through Ames and other allies, responded with an argument enshrined today as an elemental principle in an elemental dispute. While there is no explicit provision in the Constitution empowering Congress to charter a bank, the powers explicitly granted—in this case to borrow, tax, and coin money—naturally imply other, un-enumerated powers “necessary and proper” to exercising the enumerated ones. Otherwise government would be not limited but paralyzed, Hamilton believed, and, absurdly so, by government itself.
Madison had believed the same thing only months earlier. In the amendments debate he’d said, “There must necessarily be admitted powers by implication, unless the constitution descended to recount every minutiae.” But now he feared where Hamilton was taking the doctrine. Madison, Jefferson, and others began full-scale resistance, based on what they claimed was a strict and literal reading of the Constitution.
To many conservatives, it’s axiomatic that there are no unenumerated powers, but many unenumerated restraints.
Hence a banal dichotomy that has long marked the relationship between our day-to-day politics and our founding history. Modern liberals, drawing on Hamilton’s more expansive reading, have traditionally appealed to a living Constitution. They see the necessary-and-proper clause, the reference to the nation’s general welfare, the power to regulate interstate commerce, and the post–Civil War amendments as supporting the big, federal social programs of the twentieth century and protecting rights that were at one time not enforceable by invoking the Constitution, such as the right to early-term abortion and the right to nondiscrimination on the basis of race in buying goods and services. Conservatives have traditionally appealed to the narrower reading that Madison put forth when opposing the bank. They prefer the founders’ Constitution to the later amendments, argue for strictly literal readings of all amendments, cite the Tenth Amendment reserving for the states or the people all powers not granted the federal government, and criticize any federal policy relying on a power or protection not explicitly set out in the document.
The dichotomy rang loudly in conservative Supreme Court judges’ review of the Affordable Care Act. Regarding the act’s provision compelling citizens to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked where the limits to the commerce clause lay. If a law doesn’t possess, within its own mechanisms, a way of limiting its effect to the case it addresses, it might unleash an infinite lawmaking power, the definition of tyranny, destructive of liberties that the Constitution is meant to protect. Less abstractly, Justice Antonin Scalia asked hypothetically whether the federal government might now compel a citizen to buy broccoli.
Conservatives of various kinds have long believed that the Constitution was intended first and foremost to do two interrelated things: limit Congress’s power to regulate society; and promote individual liberty over social equality. Liberals have long had to argue against—have even, Fisher Ames–like, mocked as a disingenuous idiocy—the philosophy that some on both sides call “originalism.”

• • •

Until now. Liberals have become originalists too. Recent books by progressive thinkers as varied as the legal scholar Lawrence Lessig, journalist Roger Hodge, and political commentator Rachel Maddow decry a national failure to live up to the founders’ purposes in creating the Constitution. Maddow means by her title, Drift, an unfortunate movement away from founding-era anti-militarism into the modern military-industrial complex. In Lessig’s Republic, Lost, the loss has come about thanks to a money influence in politics that Lessig says the founders condemned as corrupt. Hodge, in The Mendacity of Hope, frames a criticism of President Obama in terms of the founding political battle over finance between Hamilton and Madison.
All of the liberal originalists’ books run into political and historical trouble over some unedifying realities of our founding period. Similar difficulties plague a new right-wing constitutional history, Tea Party leader Michael P. Leahy’s Covenant of Liberty, which takes the betrayal of founding values as its theme, too. Leahy’s book represents classic originalism, the right-wing kind. It therefore serves as a mirror of the new liberal originalism: American-history fantasies of the left stand sharply in relation to those of the right.
One of Leahy’s strengths is that unlike so many others in the Tea Party movement—and unlike some of the liberal originalists—he doesn’t rope all the founders into one group and set them rolling in their graves over today’s America. Leahy admires particular founders and knows they had enemies in other founders. To him, a disastrous betrayal of the Constitution occurred in its first moments of operation. The betrayal was carried out by Hamilton.
As debated, ratified, and amended, the Constitution was, Leahy says, a “secular covenant.” That term draws on language long pre-dating the document itself. Leahy invokes especially the legacy of John Lilburne, a younger son of minor gentry, an activist against monarchy, and the author in 1647 of Regal Tyranny discovered, as well as of other works. The American political struggle, as Leahy lays it out, has origins in a struggle between English radicals who opposed arbitrary power—Levellers, for example, whom Leahy associates with his own Tea Party movement—and the monarchical forces that tried to crush them.
As a modern conservative, Leahy plays down the social and economic communitarianism in that English dissenting tradition, the thought and action of, say, the Diggers, spiritual communists closely related to the Levellers. And he describes the Levellers themselves in terms less radically egalitarian than some other writers have. Still, he refreshes an old discussion by trying to shift it away from more familiar seventeenth-century English liberty authors and activists—more upscale and better-connected than Lilburne, men such as James Harrington and Algernon Sidney—and focusing it instead on the rougher hewn and lower born. Leahy makes seventeenth-century English radical libertarianism the driving force behind our own constitutional republicanism, which he associates with a ruggedly free-market movement against arbitrary authority. That movement comes to fruition, for him, in the American Revolution and then, more powerfully, in the debating, ratifying, and amending of the Constitution. Leahy thus joins “constitutional conservatives” who see our founders as creating a government meant to stay small and non-intrusive, taking on no debt, spending little, and taxing minimally. In his reading, the Constitution is a world-changing, right-wing libertarian solution in favor of a rising, entrepreneurial, self-bettering middle class.
Leahy’s use of “secular covenant” to describe the Constitution can be elusive. On the one hand, he repeatedly states that government may act only on what he calls the Constitution’s “plain words”: to him, as to many other conservatives, it’s axiomatic that there are no un-enumerated powers. On the other hand, he insists that those plain words exist within “an agreement of conventions.” That term, at one time applied to the unwritten English constitution, refers to values prevailing at the time of authorship. “Terms . . . not specified in the written constitution,” Leahy says, were “accepted by all the Founding Fathers when it came to the important matter of fiscal responsibility.”
No un-enumerated powers, then, but many un-enumerated restraints, especially regarding borrowing, taxing, and spending. Leahy doesn’t define “fiscal responsibility”—he means, not surprisingly, low taxes, low spending, and low debt—and he doesn’t make an explicit argument that the Constitution can be understood only in terms of eighteenth-century ideas, especially those important to fiscal policy; he just says so. He thereby ducks the contradiction that faces all right-wing originalists. For the Constitution’s original words do not, in fact, limit Congress’s power to tax, spend, or borrow, fiscal activities that constitutional conservatives routinely criticize not only as bad policy but also, somehow, as unconstitutional.
The idea, on the left and right, of a Constitution lacking any essential Hamiltonian contribution is not history but wish.
With the covenant notion established mainly through reiteration, not argument, Leahy presents a betrayal of the covenant by Hamilton when forming the national bank. Madison and Jefferson, who opposed federal banking (and every other project of Hamilton’s), are the covenant’s heroic defenders. Careful always to frame his ideas in secular terms, Leahy is nevertheless making the founding drama a religious one, in the oldest sense: an explosive conflict following upon our coming into existence, a fall from grace, and an eternal contest between truth and falsehood ritually reenacted and now poised—via the Tea Party movement—for final resolution in favor of the covenant. The Madison-Jefferson critique of Hamilton becomes not a point of view with strengths and weaknesses but constitutionality itself. In this reading Hamilton’s fiscal ideas can’t have contributed to the impulse to frame or ratify the Constitution and certainly can’t have entered it. The Constitution stays sacrosanct. It’s all Madison, yet it’s always vulnerable.
For many years, Leahy says, the struggle was tense between the good and evil sides of American political life, with victories and setbacks for both. Then, catastrophe. Hamiltonian corruption exploded in “the administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s and Barack Obama in the twenty-first century.”

• • •

It’s true that, as treasury secretary, Hamilton did everything he could to strengthen federal authority and build the nation on the concentrated wealth of the lending class. When opposition to his plans grew intense, he was eager to ignore constitutional protections of individual rights in the interest of a small group of government-connected insiders, the public bondholders. The view of Hamilton as a betrayer of founding values therefore plays not only among conservatives of the Leahy type but also among certain liberals.
Roger Hodge is one of them. In The Mendacity of Hope, his view of practical aspects of Hamiltonian finance is more nuanced than Leahy’s, but he joins Leahy in denouncing Hamilton for spoiling the best hopes of the founding generation. “Undeniably,” Hodge asserts, “Hamilton had been trying to corrupt the government by cultivating a moneyed class dependent on it.”
Like Leahy, Hodge defines Hamiltonianism—the first treasury secretary’s cultivation of the money class—as a corruption of our constitutional republic. Hodge’s target, too, is Obama, whom he, like Leahy, presents as an avatar of Hamilton. And, like Leahy, Hodge gives us a hero to fight the villain: James Madison.
But Hodge’s and Leahy’s Madison is a flimsy construction, and their idea of a U.S. Constitution lacking any essential Hamiltonian contribution is not history but wish. Both authors refuse to look backward from the pivotal moment in the early 1790s when Madison startled Hamilton by suddenly opposing him. They ignore Madison’s dedicated efforts in the 1780s, as Hamilton’s partner, to pursue a federal authority that would not only vitiate the states’ power but also suppress popular, democratic approaches to public finance. When the War of Independence was winding down, the two young lawyers worked together in the Confederation Congress to impose a tax, to be collected by federal officers, earmarked not for support of troops but for making interest payments to the small, interstate class of rich investors who had bought Congress’s bonds. That tax was planned as a wedge for further taxes, collected throughout the country by a top-down, well-armed government in support of government lenders. Madison especially looked deep within the Articles of Confederation for an overarching power—an implied one—to levy the tax without amending the articles.
His effort failed. Yet in the desire to sustain a large public debt to bondholders, supported by federal taxes, American nationalism flourished. Far from opposing Hamilton’s vision of America as a great economic power knit together by collectors of regressive taxes, in the early 1780s Madison criticized Hamilton only for, as Madison put it, “let out the secret” by expressing that vision so honestly.
The partnership with Hamilton went on. Madison’s fans routinely cite those parts of the famous essay we call “Federalist Ten” where Madison explains how a republican government may balance the deleterious effects of factions without repressing them. Rarely do we see quoted parts of that essay expressing a fear and loathing of popular, democratic finance as deep as anything ever expressed by Hamilton; or parts that call failure to pay investors in the public debt a major flaw of the confederation, curable only by creating a national government with power to enforce its finance policies. Throughout the framing convention, the ratification debates, and the amendment process, Madison’s persistent desire was for the most vigorous kind of national authority, for reasons he shared with Hamilton.
In the Constitutional Convention, Madison’s and Hamilton’s hyper-nationalism did in some ways fail. Sovereignty was divided, against Madison’s wishes at the time, between the national government and the states. Yet all-important fiscal provisions gave immense power, explicitly, to the federal government and took power away, explicitly, from the states. Imagining a U.S. Constitution free of inspiration and provisions that we call Hamiltonian is imagining a constitution other than ours. And a Madison free of Hamilton is not the Madison we call the Constitution’s father.
That dissonance causes trouble for authors who want to read the 1790s Madison, who became Hamilton’s enemy, back into the Madison who authored the Constitution. Leahy, for one, goes to great lengths to exempt Madison from things he condemns in Hamilton. Hamilton relied, for example, on the doctrine of implied powers that Leahy views as a deadly falsehood, so Leahy ignores Madison’s role in developing that doctrine. Hamilton was skeptical, to Leahy heretically, about the Constitution’s perfection; Madison was equally skeptical, and for the same reason—in 1789, he thought the document gave too little power to the federal government—but Leahy doesn’t mention that. Damningly to Leahy, Hamilton believed no amendments were necessary, but Madison believed that too, and he used the amendment process, once he couldn’t get out of it, to further sap state power. Yet Leahy asserts that Madison wanted to help the states by writing the amendments.
The founders feared broad democracy, and they wrote the Constitution in large part to defeat it.
Hodge, for his part, treats Madison with not a drop of the skepticism he pours, with compelling results, over almost every other historical and current political figure he discusses. Even while explicitly rejecting abject founder worship, Hodge creates the impression that Madison operated on a plane so far beyond gross calculation that we may read his statements about government, and virtually his alone, as expressing founding truths uncompromised by politics.
The disconnection from historical reality becomes especially clear in Hodge’s discussion of fiscal matters. Hodge rightly says that conflicts “over credit and banking lie at the heart of our constitutional politics,” and he notes a republican principle that “control of credit amounts to control over the distribution of wealth.” Like Leahy, Hodge is grounding Madisonian republicanism in the Whig liberty tradition (though Hodge cites the usual, more aristocratic authors Harrington, Sidney, etc.). Where Leahy, consistent with Tea Party philosophy, overemphasizes middle-class, free-market entrepreneurial elements in Whig republicanism, Hodge reflects modern liberal philosophy by overemphasizing a preference in early Whig thought for fairly even property distribution. He doesn’t mean perfect equality: Hodge also doesn’t talk about early communitarians such as the Diggers. But he connects the even-distribution idea, with its connotations of democratic fairness, to Madison the constitution-maker.
To do that Hodge must endorse, with many other writers, the familiar notion that the confederation period was an economic disaster screaming for correction by a national constitution. The problem for Hodge’s liberal reading is that to all the constitution-makers the economic disaster in the confederation had mainly to do with working-class democracy’s effect on public and private finance. “Even distribution” is a relative term, and Hodge knows that the famous opponents of the central bank, for example, were not “dirt farmers,” as he says, but elitist decentralizers. He gets slippery trying to make them seem, in our terms, democratic anyway. “To republicans like Jefferson and Madison,” Hodge says, “Hamilton’s contempt for democratic principles was heretical to the spirit of the new union—even if Madison was far from being an advocate of simple or direct democracy.”
The nervous “even if . . .” mode, characteristic of efforts to make certain founders seem proto-democrats, glosses over some possibly distressing facts. Disagreements in the founding generation had less to do with direct or representative government—the famous founders overwhelmingly wanted the latter—than with who got to participate. Working-class agitators at the time—those dirt farmers, along with lower artisans, tenants, and landless laborers—were demanding an end to sufficient property-ownership as a qualification for voting and holding office. In Pennsylvania in 1776, the militia privates took over the state and abolished such qualifications. They bore out ancient republican horrors of a too-broad franchise by passing laws devaluing the public and private investments of the lending class in favor of ordinary people’s economic aspirations. That gave elite nationalists and state-sovereigntists alike a scare.
The kind of democracy the lower class wanted wasn’t just a few degrees more democratic than what Madison and the rest of the Whig elite preferred. That’s how we’d like to imagine it, but working-class politics in the founding era represented a radical break with all of Whig thinking about rights, which had always been linked to security in property. Madison, like others, believed only a new tyranny could result from laws devaluing debt and otherwise equalizing economic life—the kinds of laws demanded and even sometimes passed by popular-finance radicals after the Revolution. It’s not too much to say that democratic-finance agitation, both within and against the state legislatures, inspired Madison and the others to call a constitutional convention, and that the document they wrote, ratified, and amended was designed, explicitly so in the fiscal provisions, to stop that agitation and to repair its democratic effects on American government.
It’s not surprising that Hodge has little to say about any of that. Like many of us, he wants to endorse modern liberal ideas about broadly democratic participation in government by linking that kind of democracy to our Whig-inspired founders. The problem with that idea is that our Whig-inspired founders feared that kind of democracy as much as they feared monarchy, and, more significantly, they wrote the U.S. Constitution in large part to defeat it.
Liberal writers overlook the fact that, no less than today, militarism and high finance worked together in the founding era.
Hodge and Leahy must therefore read the entire Federal period as a Hamiltonian betrayal of principles supposedly inherent in the Constitution—just as Madison and Jefferson hoped we would read it. In a 1792 passage that Hodge quotes admiringly, Madison bemoans a permanent military, corruption, cronyism, inside deals, and other things that his readers would have recognized as Hamiltonian, and which Hodge cannily predicts we too will read with a shudder of recognition. Madison goes on to express a wish that the nation’s happiness instead “be perpetuated by a system of administration corresponding with the purity of the theory.” That’s a tautological, partisan definition of Madison’s own theory as pure. It affects how Hodge looks at Madison’s presidency. Hodge notes, with asperity, that somebody is always bringing up the fact that in 1816 President Madison ended up adopting Hamilton’s banking program. Nevertheless, Hodge argues back, Madison “never compromised his opposition to Hamilton’s paper men or adopted his rival’s view of executive power.”
Madison adopted, that is, only the program. For modern writers seeking founding heroes, his theory remains pure.

• • •

Lawrence Lessig in Republic, Lost and Rachel Maddow in Drift make more usable liberal claims on the American founding. Lessig’s subject is the disastrous effect of money on our representative politics; Maddow’s is the disastrous price of placing responsibility for national security in institutions beyond popular control. Both make inspiring arguments. Beginning with President Johnson’s escalation of war in Vietnam, Maddow traces a process of disengaging American warfare from the experience of American citizens. By laying out how that process occurred—her evisceration of the Reagan administration makes particularly grim reading, yet it’s also somehow fun—she argues effectively not only that the military buildup in recent generations has been counterproductive to the national interest, but also, since it came about not by conspiracy but by political actions and inactions, that it can be repaired by democratic effort.
Lessig too presents a dire problem and offers exciting ways of solving it. He reviews to nearly overwhelming effect a series of specific challenges—unsuccessful schools, unstable economics, inefficient and un-free markets—and shows how they result directly from the dependence of Congress on money, not merely prejudicing legislators’ positions but driving the entire legislative agenda, with increasingly awful results. Departing from the left and liberal slogan “corporations aren’t people,” Lessig parses the famous Citizens United decision in a uniquely illuminating way. He rules out as ineffectual various superficially appealing ideas about campaign-finance reform. And making a genuinely bipartisan pitch—nonpartisan, really—he sets out in detail a series of practical strategies for correcting the money problem. It’s hard to read his book and not conclude that this is the greatest difficulty we face.
Both Lessig and Maddow ground not only their arguments but also their proposals for change in what they see as the founders’ vision for our country, embedded in the Constitution, with Madison once again the go-to founder. Maddow wants to revive ideas about war that go back to the English liberty movement that Leahy and Hodge also write about. Madison expresses those ideas in the long epigraph to Maddow’s book (Hodge quotes the same passage): “Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded.”
Lessig, too, quotes Madison. Our current system, Lessig shows, makes legislators dependent on campaign funding. He reminds us that the representative legislature the founders prized and hoped to create—inspired, again, by that radical Whig republicanism—requires Congress to answer to the electorate and to nothing else. He wants to revive the original plan, making Congress dependent not on money but on what Madison, in “Federalist 52,” called “the people alone.”
Maddow’s and Lessig’s founding histories, read in concert, encapsulate a denial of history at the heart of all liberal originalism. Both authors overlook what may be the most distressing feature of our founding history: an ineluctable connection in founding-era nationalism between an interstate money interest and a rising federal military establishment. The United States was formed in the effort to support the holders of federal war bonds; to find in the emergency of war, as the young Madison tried to do, implied federal powers to tax the country for the bondholders’ benefit; to meld the interstate officer class with the high-finance class by commuting officer salary into bonds; and to find ways of policing, with federal military might, the Shaysites and many other working-class insurgents and protesters who objected to regressive finance policies, widespread foreclosure, and debt peonage, and who demanded democratic access to the franchise. No less than today, militarism and high finance worked together. In the late eighteenth century they worked together to make our nation.
Certainly the founders wanted, as Lessig says, a representative legislature dependent only on what they called “the people.” But that legislature would be drawn from the best-propertied class: “the people” by and large meant a well-propertied electorate. The money influence—call it a property influence—was in that sense hardwired into the founders’ ideas of republicanism, which Lessig wrongly equates with what we call democracy today. While the eighteenth-century property dependency differed markedly from the modern dependency on campaign finance, it overwhelmingly influenced the framing of the Constitution and the early legislative agenda.
Nowhere does the Constitution require that we dress up new ideas to comport with what the founders supposedly would want.
The founders weren’t just crassly lining their pockets, as some historians have suggested. Some probably were, some certainly weren’t, and that issue only distracts us from the starker fact that in forming a nation, and then in passing Hamilton’s plan of national finance (Madison voted for it too), the founders’ allegiance to the property interest, a natural allegiance for them, was made painfully clear to ordinary people whose economic aspirations were crushed by federal policies. Former foot soldiers of the Revolution, sent home not just without bonds but mostly unpaid, had good reason to see the new system as a corrupt machine for enriching financiers, industrialists, and landlords—including the elite military class—at the direct expense of ordinary families’ mobility and independence.
Maddow is right to say that many of the founders, Madison perhaps most articulately, expressed fear of war’s effect on liberty and loathing at the idea of a permanent military establishment, what they called “a standing army.” But by glorifying a founding citizen soldiery and some founders’ philosophical revulsion at military adventurism, Maddow ignores the war that the new nation fought as soon as it was formed: the war against a Great Lakes Indian confederation to conquer what was then the Northwest. During that war, our first as a nation, the militia system was replaced as a national force by a professional, regular army, under the direct control of the federal government. The unabashed goal was vigorous national expansion. Maddow’s idea that the anti-militarist philosophy that Jefferson expressed to Congress in 1806 “held sway in this country for a century and a half” is appealing but wrong. During the Indian war, in response to events known as the Whiskey Rebellion, the government also sent 12,000 troops—more than the number of Americans who fought at the Battle of Yorktown—over the Alleghenies to suppress the entire populace of western Pennsylvania with door-kicking mass arrests, detentions without charge, and forced loyalty oaths. That effort was in support of a regressive tax, the first one ever laid on an American product, earmarked for paying the federal bondholders their interest—just what both Hamilton and Madison had worked for during the confederation period.
So it’s not surprising that our early national involvement with militarism, and with militarism’s tendency to connect political power to concentrated wealth, usually gets laid at the feet solely of Washington, Hamilton (“the betrayer”), Fisher Ames, and other administration supporters in Congress. It’s true that during the 1790s, in the first struggle to establish nationhood, the high Federalists were especially attracted to national military power. But in the case of the war whose bicentennial we aren’t exactly celebrating this year, the War of 1812, it was President Madison, with former President Jefferson’s firm support, who undertook what many historians see as a war of choice, fairly useless to real national interest. In our first declared war—the Northwest conquest, our first actual war, was like our recent ones in being undeclared—the founding stalwarts of republican leanness, protectors of liberty against war’s depredations, harshest critics of their predecessors’ warmongering, became eager for a fight.
And Madison’s war was expensive. It was the need to pay for it that inspired him to embrace in 1816 the federal banking plan that Hamilton (dead for eleven years by then) had introduced back in 1791 over Madison’s history-making objections. Executives’ desire for war and legislators’ dependence on money—interrelated phenomena essential to founding nationhood—dominated the early American government. Yet new originalists keep trying to locate modern liberal values in the values of the founders.

• • •

Just because Lessig and Maddow leave out key elements of founding history that contradict their appeals to founding values, must we reject their analyses and proposals? Is Obama absolved from Hodge’s acerbic critique just because Hodge bases that critique on an unrealistic view of Madison? Can we successfully argue our politics only from impeccable readings of constitutional and founding history?
Of course we must sometimes argue on the basis of constitutional law. Lessig, a constitutional scholar, naturally wants to inform his argument with profound principle; doing so helps make his book a fresh and important one. The other liberal originalists probably have the same idea.
Policies need to be arguably not unconstitutional—and that will always generate contentious legal interpretation—but nowhere does the Constitution say they must be hyperconstitutional; nowhere does it tell us to consider Leahy’s “agreement of conventions” regarding particular values supposedly prevailing when it was written; nowhere does it suggest we must dress up new ideas to comport with what the founders supposedly would want us to do.
Such appeals are always, at least to some extent, wrong. Serious arguments about them can’t be won or lost. Framing ideas that way—relying not on what the Constitution permits us to do, if we want to, but on what its deepest history supposedly requires us to do, whether we want to or not—swings rightward at least as easily as left.
For liberalism the tactic may be doomed both politically and intellectually. The history required to support it involves gross distortions and bad faith, defeating the very purpose of liberal thought.
It would help, of course, if the right wing stopped draping its every objection to liberal policy in what often seems a deliberately uninformed regard for a fake constitutionality, stopped wielding like a blunt instrument that latter day–antifederalist reading of the Constitution, which Fisher Ames was deriding as early as the first Congress. But neither side today is really making a historical argument. Each is seeking bedrock in which to anchor an opinion about modern government, and there is no bedrock. As the strange, maybe even incommensurable career of James Madison suggests, the ground keeps shifting. That’s what they left us.
Black Loyalists Fought for Their Freedom During the American Revolution
John Singleton Copley's painting "The Death of Major Peirson" shows a black soldier avenging the death of Peirson during the Battle of Jersey in England, a run-up to the American Revolutionary War.
POSTED Jun 30, 2017
The story of the Black Loyalists of the American Revolution is the story of a people stolen into slavery who are given the chance to fight for their freedom, exact revenge on cruel masters, and establish one of the first free black settlements on the continent. It's also a story of broken promises, racial discord and the lengths to which people will go to find a better life. And it's a nearly forgotten chapter in North American history.
When the American Colonies declared independence in 1776, African slaves made up 20 percent of the colonial population. The population of South Carolina was 60 percent slaves, and Virginia was 40 percent, mostly toiling on large plantations. (Slavery was not just a Southern institution then — in some Northern cities like Boston, slaves made up 20 percent of the population.) Even before the War for Independence officially began, the British tried to recruit American slaves to rise up and fight against their "rebel" plantation owners. "Loyalist" was the term given to people in the American Colonies who supported Britain.
In 1775 the British royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issued a stunning "emancipation proclamation" promising freedom and land to all slaves who would take up arms against their rebel masters. Dunmore was looking for manpower to put down an armed rebellion in Virginia, and he found it. Between 800 and 2,000 slaves and indentured servants fled their plantations and joined with the British, including a hard-fighting militia that would become known asDunmore's Ethiopian Regiment. The Ethiopian Regiment marched to battle in uniforms inscribed with the insignia "Liberty to Slaves."
Dunmore's proclamation was the "first mass emancipation in American history," says Isaac Saney, a history professor at Saint Mary's University in Nova Scotia. It happened nearly 90 years before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery in areas not under the control of the United States government.
When the tides turned against the British in 1779, they issued a second emancipation called the Philipsburg Proclamation, which extended the promise of freedom and land to any slave who would cross the British lines without the requirement to fight. The move, says Saney, was a form of economic warfare against the colonies.
"Escaping Africans would weaken the rebel economy," says Saney. "You'd have this mass emancipation taking place, and the colonists would now have to expend resources to guard the plantations, instead of using them in battle."
An estimated 12,000 slaves of African descent fought for the British, but the war was lost. When the British surrendered in 1783, one of the central points of contention, Saney says, was "the return of what George Washington deems 'U.S. property,' which are the enslaved Africans."

After the Revolutionary War

The British commander-in-chief Guy Carleton kept his word and negotiated "certificates of freedom" for all so-called Black Loyalists who had joined the British ranks before the surrender, under one condition: They had to leave the country. Carleton's men carefully recorded the names of 3,000 newly freed men and women in what's known as the Book of Negroes, and then put them on ships heading to Nova Scotia, then a British-ruled Canadian province.
A Depiction of The Sister Recorder for the "Book of Negroes". (From the Excellent Canadian 6-hour Docudrama- The Book of Negroes)
Nova Scotia in the late 18th century was known as "Nova Scarcity." When 40,000 white and black loyalists fled to Nova Scotia in 1783 — including 1,232 slaves of white loyalists — they tripled the native population and completely overwhelmed the province's meager resources. The newly freed Black Loyalists, far from receiving their just rewards in a new home, found themselves last in line for land, and exploited as cheap labor.
Widespread poverty and underemployment across Nova Scotia brewed distrust among whites, who blamed the cheap African labor for stealing their jobs. Racial tensions erupted into violence, says Saney, when a black preacher named David George baptized a white woman, sparking what many believe is one of the first race riots in North America. The 1784 violence raged for months, claiming many black homes and lives until troops were finally sent in from the capital Halifax.
The Black Loyalists repeatedly petitioned the Crown to keep its promises from the war, eventually sending the emissaryThomas Peters all the way to London to make the case in person. Peters got nowhere with royal officials, but did meet with a group of British abolitionists who were launching a social experiment in Sierra Leone, West Africa, a sanctuary for victims of the slave trade. They convinced Peters that the best place for the freed slaves was back in Africa.
In 1792, 15 ships sailed from Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone carrying 1,196 Black Loyalists who had "voted with their feet against broken promises of land and freedom," says Saney, who calls it the maiden voyage of the "Back to Africa" movement. Those who stayed behind in Nova Scotia largely settled in the village of Birchtown, named for Samuel Birch, one of the British generals who signed the original certificates of freedom.

Black Loyalists Today

Jason Farmer is a ninth-generation descendent of the Black Loyalists who first settled Birchtown. Farmer can trace his roots back to Jupiter Farmer — one of five Jupiters in the Book of Negroes, and an escaped slave from Brunswick, New Jersey. Jupiter married a woman named (yes) Venus and established a continuous line of the Farmer family that has remained in the Birchtown area for more than 230 years.
Farmer is an interpreter at the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre & Historical Site in Nova Scotia, where he's proud to share the remarkable story of his ancestors, who dared to escape the plantations and join with an occupying army to win their freedom, only to continue to fight for true freedom and equality in a new land.
"It's an unknown history right here in Nova Scotia," says Farmer, who particularly enjoys telling the story of Black Loyalists to fellow Nova Scotians of African descent. "They're amazed. It's powerful. Some of them can't even sit there and listen to it all. They have to take breaks. Some of them cry." Some 20,000 black people live in Nova Scotia today, most of whom are descended from the Black Loyalists.
Saney the historian says that the legacy of the Black Loyalists is of a persecuted people exercising black agency.
"These are people who took their fate and their destiny into their own hands," Saney says. "Just to get to the British side took a lot of courage, skill and ingenuity. The fact that so many of them chose to fight — and saw themselves as not only defending their freedom, but participating in the liberation of others — speaks the breadth and depth of their conception of agency, but also as part of a collective struggle for freedom."

Reports of the Death of Jim Crow Prove Greatly Exaggerated

One of America’s most cherished myths is that the civil rights movement killed Jim Crow. It didn’t. For more than a century, that dirty bird has proven itself almost immortal.

Who was—who is—Jim Crow? For the record, he is both much less and much more than a man. In 1828, an elderly black stableman, the property of a Kentuckian named Crow, performed an act that caught the eye of the white minstrel Thomas “Daddy” Rice. After blackening his face with burnt cork and dressing in tattered rags, a grinning Rice mimicked the stableman’s act, dancing and singing in black dialect:
        Weel about, and turn about
        And do jis so;
        Eb’ry time I weel about,
        I jump Jim Crow.
White audiences loved the act, minstrelsy became America’s most popular form of mass entertainment, and “Jim Crow” entered the national vernacular. Things got even uglier in the 1890s, for reasons that remain muddy, when Jim Crow became much more than a degrading caricature. He became synonymous with the viciously enforced laws that separated and subjugated black people across the South.
Even today, myths endure about that old brute Jim Crow. One of the most cherished is that he died when the civil rights movement culminated in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a pair of exclamation points to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision a decade earlier that had outlawed school segregation. But, as recent events and a selection of books both old and new reveal, Jim Crow is far from dead. He’s alive and well and living in every corner of the USA. Jim Crow, it turns out, is many-hued, resilient, and quite possibly unkillable.
White Jim Crow
Martin Luther King Jr. called C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow “the historical bible of the civil rights movement.” Originally published in 1955—the year of the Montgomery bus boycott and Emmett Till’s lynching—the book begins by disposing of the widely held misconception that Jim Crow was born in the ashes of Reconstruction, when federal troops withdrew from the South a dozen years after the end of the Civil War and, in effect, left the unanswered questions about race relations and reunion in the hands of white Southerners.
The rigid legal separation of the races across the South, Woodward points out, was not codified until the turn of the 20th century, a quarter-century after the collapse of Reconstruction. Jim Crow laws were built on white Southerners’ iron conviction that the white race is superior to the black race, intellectually, morally, and physically. Therefore, the reasoning went, whites and blacks must be kept separate from cradle to grave—in hospitals, schools, public transit, parks, restaurants, theaters, hotels, churches, prisons, and graveyards. An Alabama law even made it illegal for whites and blacks to play checkers together. There was never any pretense, despite the wording of the Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Fergusonruling, that there would be anything equal about these separate worlds.
The key to Jim Crow’s survival was disenfranchisement of the black voter, which was accomplished through literacy tests and poll taxes and, when they proved inadequate, intimidation and terror.
“In the early years of the 20th century,” Woodward writes, “it was becoming clear that the Negro would be effectively disenfranchised throughout the South, that he would be firmly relegated to the lower rungs of the economic ladder, and that neither equality nor aspirations for equality in any department of life were for him.” Jim Crow laws, Woodward adds, “constituted the most elaborate and formal expression of sovereign white opinion on the subject.”
Black Jim Crow
But what about black opinion—and experience—of Jim Crow? Leon F. Litwack’s Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, published in 1998, contains a blurb from C. Vann Woodward himself: “This is the most complete and moving account we have had of what the victims of the Jim Crow South suffered and somehow endured.”
Litwack, who is white, manages to get inside the minds of the victims of Jim Crow, their terrors and aspirations, their coping mechanisms, their occasional but too-rare victories. He does this by telling the stories of the “daily struggles” of obscure, powerless, and usually poor blacks, dissecting their sense of helplessness in the face of the large and small indignities they suffered. It was a world in which a black man, or woman, could get mercilessly punished—or killed—for looking a white person in the eye, for becoming too educated or prosperous, for daring to own land or attempting to vote.
In Litwack’s telling, Jim Crow was a response to the changes in black aspirations and behavior brought on by Reconstruction, when former slaves got their first brief taste of voting, holding political office, serving on juries, getting an education, working for themselves. Litwack quotes a black South Carolinian, Sam Gadsden, born in 1882: “The white people began to begrudge these [n-words] their running around and doing just as they chose. That’s all there is to segregation, that caused the whole thing. The white people couldn’t master these [n-words] anymore so they took up the task of intimidating them.” W.E.B. Du Bois put it a bit less earthily: “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”
As Litwack and historian David Oshinsky point out, life under Jim Crow was worse than slavery for many blacks. A fleeting taste of freedom only sharpened the bitter realities of sharecropping, convict leasing, the Ku Klux Klan, the lynching bee, and other staples of Jim Crow.
Music, as Litwack repeatedly demonstrates, had always been vital to survival for African slaves and their descendants. As W.C. Handy wrote in his autobiography, Father of the Blues, “Southern Negroes sang about everything. Trains, steamboats, steam whistles, sledgehammers, fast women, mean bosses, stubborn mules—all become subjects for their songs. They accompany themselves on anything from which they can extract a musical sound or rhythmical effect, anything from a harmonica to a washboard.” The blues was fed by these rich musical sources, as Litwack notes, including “chants, work songs, field hollers, ring shouts, and country breakdowns.”
Tyehimba Jess, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, adds that when slavery and Jim Crow denied them conventional literacy, blacks had to adapt: “They were forced to forge another kind of literacy through the music.” But for many, the music could not provide sufficient balm or escape, and so they joined the millions who headed north and west in the last century’s Great Migration. As the bluesman Cow Cow Davenport sang it:
I’m tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna leave this Jim Crow town,
Doggone my black soul, I’m sweet Chicago bound…
Albino Jim Crow
Jim Crow wasn’t content with dominating the lives of black and white Southerners; he even found it necessary to dominate the lives of albinos. In her fascinating and heartbreaking new book, Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South, veteran reporter Beth Macy tells the story of the African-American albino brothers George and Willie Muse, who, sometime near the turn of the 20th century, were kidnapped under mysterious circumstances by a circus traveling through their hometown, a remote tobacco patch in southwest Virginia called Truevine. As the subtitle suggests, this is a book about a mother’s quest to find and reclaim her sons. But as with so many stories spawned by Jim Crow, this one got complicated.
Macy, a tireless reporter who worked this story for a quarter-century, concludes that George and Willie were definitely “exploited, made to work without pay, then traded between various showmen like chattel.” Their African features, nearly white skin, woolly white dreadlocks and jittery, light-sensitive eyes made them a popular sideshow attraction. They also became accomplished musicians, and were billed variously as “The Ethiopian Monkey Men,” “Darwin’s Missing Links,” “The Ambassadors from Mars,” and “Eko and Iko, the Ecuadorian Savages.”
“As albinos,” Macy writes, “they were among the rarer finds, somewhere between a giant and a limbless man in the freak-show pecking order.” But Macy digs up unsettling evidence that their mother, Harriet, may have contracted for them to join the circus and went looking for them only when payments for their services stopped making their way to her in Truevine. This was one of the unspoken horrors of Jim Crow: poor parents forced to turn their children into wage earners. For light-sensitive George and Willie Muse, it could be argued that working as sideshow freaks was preferable to pulling tobacco under a scalding Southern sun. Macy poses the essential question: “Who is anyone to judge the pressures facing an illiterate washerwoman raising five children alone in rural Virginia during the harshest years of Jim Crow?”
Whatever the precise circumstances of George and Willie’s departure from Truevine, Macy’s book paints a vivid portrait of life under Jim Crow for small-town and rural blacks and their “doubly different” albino offspring. In nearby Roanoke, Virginia, blacks were denied factory jobs and forbidden from living on the same block with whites. The divide was so rigid that even the parrots were racists. Macy interviews an elderly black woman who recalls walking to her segregated school through a white neighborhood where a woman kept trained parrots on her screened-in porch. Whenever a group of black school kids approached, the parrots would squawk: “See them little [n-words] coming.”
The story of George and Willie Muse, remarkably, had an ending that was close to happy. They had long, successful careers with the circus, and after a protracted legal battle mounted by their mother, they got a portion of the money they had earned. They returned home to southwest Virginia and lived in comfort for many years amid loving family and friends. As one of their living descendants puts it, “They came out on top.” What were the odds of that?
The New Jim Crow
After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the term “post-racial” entered the American lexicon. It has proven to be a fantasy conjured by overly optimistic pundits who believed that by electing their first black president, Americans had finally slipped the bonds of four centuries of racism.
In 2011, Michelle Alexander, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, published an important and necessary book called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which demolished the comforting fantasy that Americans had bridged the racial divide. Alexander did this by focusing on the appalling facts that the United States has imprisoned some 7 million people, and a disproportionate number of prisoners (and probationers and parolees) have colored skin. Selective law enforcement, mandatory sentencing rules, and the resulting mass incarceration have created what Alexander calls “a racial caste system.”
The point is valid and valuable, but unfortunately Alexander’s explanation of its causes is too narrow. She blames the New Jim Crow entirely on President Ronald Reagan’s unleashing of a War on Drugs in 1982—three years before crack cocaine began ravaging the nation’s inner cities—a war waged vigorously by Reagan’s successors (most notably Bill Clinton), with the result that the prison population has soared even as the crime rate has declined to historic lows.
Alexander’s focus on the War on Drugs, while valid, ignores the more nuanced forces that helped birth the New Jim Crow. In his new book Locked In, John F. Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University, acknowledges that mass incarceration is “one of the biggest social problems the United States faces today,” but he then proceeds to debunk the “standard story” put forth my Alexander and others—that today’s appalling rates of incarceration are driven exclusively by the racist persecution of minorities for nonviolent drug crimes. In fact, Pfaff points out, since the rising wave of incarcerations peaked around 2010, nonviolent drug offenders have accounted for only about one-fifth of new prisoners. The War on Drugs, he concludes, “simply hasn’t sent enough people to state prisons for it to be a major engine of state prison growth.”
So what is the engine? Pfaff posits that it’s a pair of linked inequities: woefully overworked public defenders going up against elected prosecutors who wield virtually unfettered power to threaten arrestees with stiff sentences—and lots of them—a ploy that results in plea bargains in 95 percent of all convictions. Only a small fraction of the people in prison today were sent there by a jury of their peers, a circumvention of one of the pillars of American democracy. Regardless of the actual crime rate, no district attorney facing re-election can afford to be labeled “soft on crime.” The tools are there for prosecutors to send legions to prison, and most prosecutors are happy to use them.
Events since the publication of The New Jim Crow have further eroded Alexander’s one-note argument. In her epilogue toTruevine, written in 2015, Beth Macy states, “In the past year, 32 states have enforced new voter identification requirements that disproportionately disenfranchise poor and minority voters, and 26 unarmed black men have been fatally shot by police across the United States of America.”
This political chicanery and physical violence are surely facets of the New Jim Crow, and they’ve spawned an admirable wave of activism that points out, inadvertently but invaluably, that any nation that needs to be reminded that Black Lives Matter is not a nation that has progressed very far.
Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated North Carolina legislature redrew the state’s General Assembly districts in a fashion so redolent of Jim Crow that federal judges struck 28 of them down, saying they were “racially gerrymandered in violation of the equal protection clause.”
A May 14 front-page story in The New York Times reported that, even as numerous state legislatures are shrinking their prison populations and downgrading nonviolent drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced that federal prosecutors should put more people in prison for longer periods, raising fears among reformers, including many conservatives, “that the Trump administration was embracing failed, even racist, policies.”
No surprise there. Sessions, after all, serves a president who borrowed a page from Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign and promised to get tough on crime and, for good measure, erect a wall along one of our two international borders and bar citizens from countries dominated by a particular religion. All of these familiar tactics—disenfranchisement, police brutality, xenophobia, along with the twinned national disgraces of racially tainted law enforcement and mass incarceration—make up the New Jim Crow. Who, it turns out, bears more than a passing resemblance to the Old Jim Crow.
Yes, Jim Crow is alive and well and living in every corner of the USA. He’s still many-hued and resilient. And he’s as unkillable as ever.
Stamped from the Beginning: Ibram X. Kendi on the History of Racist Ideas in U.S.
June 28, 2017-

DemocracyNow! Guests
  • Ibram X. Kendi
    professor of history and international relations and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University.

With police killings dominating the headlines, our first guest, historian Ibram X. Kendi, discusses his recent book, "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America," which traces the origins of racist ideas in the U.S. The author examines the impact of historically racist policies on existing racial disparities. His book is the recipient of the 2016 National Book Award.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re joined today by historian Ibram X. Kendi, professor of history and international relations, founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University. He just left the University of Florida at Gainesville. He is the author of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
If you could take us through your thesis, Professor Kendi, as you raise the profile of five figures through history, right through today, Angela Davis, and talk about their role in our history?
IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. And so, the thesis for the book actually came about through researching for the book, which I think is a good thing. And that was, I ended up entering into this history of racist ideas believing this common idea that, really, the sort of origins, the cradle, of racist ideas is ignorance—are ignorance and hate, and that ignorance and hate leads to racist ideas, and it’s these people who have these racist ideas who are the people who institute racist policies, like slavery, segregation and even massive incarceration.
And so, the more I sort of studied this history, the more I contextualized the development of these ideas in their historical moment, and, more importantly, the more I distinguished between the producers of racist ideas and the consumers, and decided to study the producers, the more I found that people were producing racist ideas to justify existing racist policies. In other words, racist policies were becoming before racist ideas. And those racist policies were emerging out of self-interest. And so, you had economic, political and even cultural self-interest driving the creation of racially discriminatory policies, and then the need to justify those policies led to the development of racist ideas, and then those racist ideas and their circulation—or, more so, consumption—led to our ignorance and hate.
And so I chronicle this history through five major characters. And the first character is Cotton Mather, who was a Boston theologian, who, at the time—he lived from the 1660s to the 1720s—race or racial ideas were largely theological ideas, because theological ideas were largely scientific ideas. And so, he was involved in popularizing many of the early theological ideas justifying or making the case for black inferiority. By the emergence of the United States, the racial discourse became more secular, and particularly through the role of Thomas Jefferson. And Thomas Jefferson died on the eve of the abolitionist movement—Thomas Jefferson being the second major character in the text—and that abolitionist movement was largely spearheaded by William Lloyd Garrison, who of course was the third major character. And W.E.B. Du Bois was the fourth major character. He, of course, was one of the sort of fathers of civil rights and black power. And the last major character, that covers the last 50 years, where mass incarceration, in particular, became front and center, was Angela Davis.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about, from Cotton Mather to Angela Davis, how they embodied your idea of how racist policies and ideas develop.
IBRAM X. KENDI: So, in the case of Cotton Mather, Cotton Mather was involved in probably the first great American debate over race, which was whether black people could become Christians. And slaveholders who were also Christian made the case that black people were too barbaric. Cotton Mather, being a major Boston theologian, being a major minister wanting to have a new group of people to proselytize to, made the case that they can be Christianized, because their souls have the capacity to be white, even though their bodies are black and inferior and worthy of enslavement. And so, this debate, he made this case for this debate because he wanted to open up the sort of reins on the church to be able—particularly the Puritan church, to be able to proselytize to black people. So he had this sort of hidden self-interest, this hidden cultural self-interest, that led to his idea.
And, you know, Thomas Jefferson, as many of you would understand, I mean, he was a slaveholder who, of course, wanted to create ideas that allowed him to continue slaveholding.
And, you know, all the way up to sort of Angela Davis. Angela Davis, I chronicle as, you know, this major anti-racist theorist, because I really sort of show the debate, really, between racist and anti-racist ideas. And I show, particularly within the realm of criminal justice, that, you know, all of these ideas justifying law and order, justifying the war on drugs, justifying tough on crime, and now justifying police being exonerated for killing black lives, that Angela Davis was long at the forefront of challenging those ideas by challenging the racist ideas that were underlying them.
AMY GOODMAN: You write very poignantly in the prologue to Stamped from the Beginning, "I somehow managed to write this book between the heartbreaks of Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd and Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and the Charleston 9 and Sandra Bland, heartbreaks that are a product of America’s history of racist ideas as much as this history book of racist ideas is a product of these heartbreaks. Young Black males were twenty-one times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts between 2010 and 2012, according to federal statistics." And you go on to say, "The under-recorded, under-analyzed racial disparities between female victims of lethal police force may be even greater. Federal data show [that] the median wealth of White households is a staggering thirteen times the median wealth of Black households—and Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites." Talk more about this.
IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. Well, Amy, this is—I mean, since the beginning of the United States, since the beginning of colonial America, there has been what’s called racial disparities, as you just outlined, racial disparities where black people were more likely to be poor, black people were more likely to be killed by the police, black people were more likely to be imprisoned. And so the question becomes: Why? Why is it that black people are on the lower end of these racial disparities? Why does racial inequality exist in this country? And really, the racial debate has largely been trying to answer that question. And really, Stamped from the Beginning chronicles that long racial debate trying to answer that question. And really, there’s been three positions, and those positions still persist to this day.
The first position states that it’s because black people are inferior. The reason why so many more black people are being killed by the police is because black people keep acting recklessly before the police. If black people would act better, then this would not be a problem. So they principally state that there’s something wrong and inferior about black people. This is what I call the segregationist position.
On the other side of the debate has been the anti-racist position. The anti-racist position states that the racial groups are equal. There’s nothing wrong or right about black people or any other racial group of people. So, because the racial groups are equal, it must—these disparities, these inequities must be the result of racial discrimination. So they spend their time challenging racial discrimination.
And then the third position, which is called the assimilationist position, actually argues both. Typically and historically, they’ve stated that, yes, there is racial discrimination, but there’s also something wrong and inferior about black people. And so, they’ve sought to civilize and develop black people at the same time they were challenging racial discrimination.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about where Black Lives Matter fits into this picture, the organizing from the grassroots up, and where you see it going.
IBRAM X. KENDI: Yeah, I think it fits precisely into this picture, because I think Black Lives Matter activists have made the case that the problem is the criminal justice system, that the problem is racist policing, that the problem is the laws that are being created that make the case that there’s something wrong with the people as opposed to the environment that these people—the lack of jobs and resources these people are being faced with.
And so, I’m hoping, and I’m sure many people are hoping, that Black Lives Matter and many other activists, anti-racist activists, who have been inspired by Black Lives Matter, and other types of activists will recognize the anti-racist position, which is that either the racial groups are equal or they’re not. And if you believe that the racial groups are not equal, that there’s something wrong or inferior about black people, that that’s a racist idea. And so you cannot continue to imagine that this nation is post-racial at the same time that you don’t believe that the racial groups are equal, that you’re championing policies that actually discriminate against black people.
AMY GOODMAN: Talking to historian Ibram X. Kendi. His book won the National Book Award, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. And you talk about overall racial inequities, from everything from wealth to health. Certainly, when we look at what’s happening right now in the Senate, though the healthcare bill has been put off for the moment, now opposed by nine Republicans, who run the political spectrum, feeling that regulations—like, what, Senator Paul of Kentucky—have to be stricter, that Medicaid and other healthcare policies and safety nets have to be dismantled, to those who feel that this is way too stringent. But always at the bottom of this you have the most vulnerable in society. So talk about from wealth to health, Professor Kendi.
IBRAM X. KENDI: So, I mean, from wealth, I mean, the Great Recession, some have made the case, was one of the largest losses of black wealth in American history, one of the largest losses of Latino wealth in American history, that when we have these major economic catastrophes, you know, those people who are the most sort of underprivileged are most likely to lose out.
But I think the healthcare debate and, really, argument, I think, is even more indicative, you know, of what we’re talking about. I mean, the Affordable Care Act led to 11 percent more black and Latino people becoming insured, which is a dramatic sort of development within black America, within Latino America. And so, more—it eliminated these massive disparities—or, I mean, eliminated—reduced these disparities between racial groups that are uninsured. And so, you know, to think about a new healthcare bill that’s going to reduce the number of people who—I’m sorry, increase the number of people who are uninsured, I mean, many of those people are probably going to be black or Latino, and then, therefore, we’re going to have an increase in these disparities. And then what racist ideas will say is, "Well, it’s those black people’s fault. It’s those Latinos’ fault. You know, they should be working harder. There’s something wrong with them." And so, they’ll create racist ideas to justify those disparities.
And I should also say that, you know, I think one of the most consequential manifestations in this country that black life does not matter is the disparity between how long black people live. I mean, white people are more like three-and-a-half—have a lifespan of three-and-a-half years in this country. And I think, you know, many of these things sort of result in that, including people having access to healthcare.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re writing a new book on how to be an anti-racist, which will be released next year. Can you give us a little preview?
IBRAM X. KENDI: So, you asked about the—Amy, ask the question again? I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: I was just saying, you’re writing a new book, How to Be an Anti-Racist.
IBRAM X. KENDI: Oh, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us a preview.
IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. So, I mention in the prologue of Stamped from the Beginning that, you know, before I could chronicle anyone else’s racist ideas, I first had to come to grips with my own. And so, really, in How to Be an Anti-Racist, I want to sort of chronicle my journey, my personal journey, of really, you know, being raised and consuming many racist ideas to seeking to become somebody who is an anti-racist. And so I begin the book with a speech that I gave in high school, in which I uttered all of these racist ideas, all of these things stating that there’s something wrong with black people. And I take readers through my own personal journey, while simultaneously revealing many of the concepts of what it means to be an anti-racist.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ibram X. Kendi, can you tell us the origins of your name?
IBRAM X. KENDI: Sure. So, Ibram is—was given to me by my parents. It means "exalted father." It’s a derivative of Abraham. Came up in a Christian church—I mean, a Christian family. My parents were part of the black theology movement in the early ’70s. And my last name, Kendi, my wife and I, when we wed in 2003, we decided to choose a name together. And so, Kendi is a Meru, in Kenya, name that means "loved one."
AMY GOODMAN: And you unveiled this at your wedding to your family and friends?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ibram X. Kendi, I want to thank for you being with us, professor of history and international relations and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University. He’s just leaving the University of Florida at [Gainesville]. He’s the author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which is winner of the 2016 National Book Award.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at a lawsuit in Washington against the Washington, D.C., police for their treatment of protesters at the inauguration of President Trump. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: "I Will Spite Survive," a new song by the band Deerhoof featuring Jenn Wasner. Visit, where we’re premiering the full song. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.


s. e. anderson
author of The Black Holocaust for Beginners
If WORK was good for you, the rich would leave none for the poor. (Haiti)

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