Hard as it may be to believe, not everyone is completely overjoyed at America’s recent choice of president. In fact, some folks seem downright shook, so to speak. Check out some of the recent headlines and quotes from the lunatic fringe:
The last two bits come from the UK and Poland, respectively, but they are merely the European equivalents of a long-standing American Southern trend in white racial thought exemplified by the first two quotes —fear of black success. This is a rhetoric seldom seen in today’s mainstream politics and pop culture; far more common are the well-worn stereotypes of blacks as brutish, slow-witted, hyper-rhythmic, and lascivious. But during the hundred years spanning the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, sentiments such as the following were commonplace throughout the South:
Reading and writing still bear watching. When a negro learns to articulate correctly and say ‘they’ instead of ‘dey’ and ‘that’ instead of ‘dat’ we are prepared to expect the worst.
If the negro is fit to make laws for the control of our conduct and property he is certainly fit to eat with us at our tables, to sleep in our beds, to be invited into our parlors, and to do all acts and things which a white man may do.
But our blood boils when the educated Negro asserts himself politically. We regard each assertion as an unfriendly encroachment upon our native superior rights, and a dare-devil menace to our control of the affairs of the state (fn1).
As these throwback quotes from various genteel white Southerners show, the specter of black equality/supremacy has long haunted the Southern psyche. It perhaps goes without saying that rationales like these formed the bedrock of the explicit justifications for Jim Crow and anti-black vigilante “justice.” It is a sign of the considerable progress we have made as a nation that most Americans regard the more recent quotes above as the irrational ravings of irremediable racists. They appear even more ludicrous in light of the observation that, in the words of the first old racist above, “the worst” has already come to pass. The political-legal scaffolding his arguments were devised to defend were dismantled over 40 years ago. We now hold distinguished positions in every occupational field, people around the world are inspired by our music and our culture, and the majority of Americans have accepted us as high-ranking representatives of the US government for years now. The quasi-instinctual fear of black leadership now desperately clutched only by a panicked, vocal few has been rendered almost completely vestigial—the purpose it once served is long dead. Very few if any of its adherents likely have any idea where it comes from or what exactly it is they’re really afraid of.
Make no mistake, we have not yet killed racism. And even if we had, remedying the sins of racists past would keep our people busy long beyond your and my lifetimes. Nevertheless, it is difficult to dispute that our nation has just passed a great milestone, on par with the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown v. Board of Education, and the passage of the Civil- and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectively. And while the powers that be often claim credit for those decisions, our people laid the groundwork, through the abolition movement, Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s doll studies, and the civil rights movement. As then, so now: we continue to repudiate everyone quoted above by defying the undisciplined savagery of which we were accused and instead fulfilling our role as one of the great civilizing forces in Western society.
fn1. These three quotes were drawn from Litwack, L. F. (1998). The White Man’s Fear of the Educated Negro: How the Negro Was Fitted for His Natural and Logical Calling. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 20, 100-108. Unfortunately, the text provides no exact dates for them.