Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Racism Bank Shot

Though discounting the mythology that cases like Brown v. Board single-handedly exposed the evil of Jim Crow and promoted civil rights reform, revisionist (I mean that totally value-neutral) civil rights historians like Michael J. Klarman do concede that these largely symbolic measures did cause real progress by provoking a White overreaction. The intense White backlash to cases like Brown, broadcast to the North by television and other media sources, helped shock moderates out of their complacency and create the political will to enact meaningful reforms, such as the Civil Rights Act.

Other historians have observed the effort made by the Soviet Union to weaken American support amongst "non-aligned" and third world nations by exposing the horrors of American racism. Domestic civil rights battles in America were never far removed from the Cold War context, with progressives arguing fervently that America had a significant national security interest in dismantling Jim Crow, and conservatives shooting back that it was unpatriotic to tailor our domestic policy based on Kremlin critiques. This was a battle progressives would slowly but surely win. The United States government intervened for the first time in favor of desegregation activists when it wrote an amicus supporting the NAACP in Brown v. Board, specifically citing "the hostile reaction among normally friendly peoples" to anti-Black discrimination. The continuance of segregation and inequality in America was leading potential allies around the world to view the US as "hypocritical in claiming to be the champion of democracy while permitting practices of racial discrimination here in this country."

By contrast, evidence of meaningful civil rights progress was wielded by American diplomatic agents as proof of the superiority and fundamental righteousness of American ideals. From officially-sponsored world tours featuring Black Jazz musicians, to President Truman's famous maxim that "Democracy's answer to the challenge of totalitarianism is its promise of equal rights and equal opportunities for all mankind," it was well known to everyone that the question of racism had potent implications for American foreign policy interests.

All of this is prelude to al-Qaeda #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri's mockery of President-elect Barack Obama, whom they call a "house slave" and compare derogatorily to Malcolm X. Spencer Ackerman responds:
Who would have known that electing a black president also turns out to have an information-operations component as a bonus? We should want to publicize, far and wide, that Zawahiri is a racist. Drive this discrediting message into the heart of the Muslim world. I wonder what the tens of millions of African and African-American Muslims think about Zawahiri's charming statement.

Yes, and yes. Obama, fair or not, is already somewhat of a hero in many places where the American brand had been faltering. One benefit of making even symbolic racial progress, as Klarman indicated, is that it makes racist reactionaries that much more visible. America learned that racial regressivism was a serious liability in its fight with the Soviet Union. Hopefully, it can take this opportunity to utilize racial progressivism to dismantle reactionary, totalitarian movements like al-Qaeda.


PG said...

Speaking of racism, what do you think about the BNP membership list leak? I'm surprised that there is a policy against allowing BNP members to be police and prison officers.

I admit that I did a ctrl-F through the list to see if there were any of those folks in my neighborhood, but the closest to me seems to be a gentleman living on Lex. None in my hometown, either, although I wouldn't expect a lot of Brits to have moved there anyway.

David Schraub said...

Didn't hear about it. Are you in the UK right now?

PG said...

No -- sorry, that was unclear. There were people living abroad on the list, including about a dozen folks scattered around the U.S.