Othering is Bad: Should go Without Saying

This blog post is written with much exasperation. It should go without saying that people of color have experienced the full range of attitudes, philosophies, and preferences that people not-of-color have experienced. Unfortunately, sometimes a reminder is needed that othering is bad even when the politically correct do it. In this case, I am writing this as a reminder that a person can be an African-American and genuinely support non-Democrats. Part of this is about people I know personally so don’t expect deep analysis. Although anecdote is not data, a single counter example can refute claims of ‘all’ or ‘none.’

Context

The pre-trigger for this rant was the assertion by a thoughtful Black woman that only white privilege would enable someone to vote for a third party in this election. I posted an initial counter, but remembered that I should redirect such comments here, if any. I deleted my Facebook comment. So far so good. There is no actual trigger thus far.

When I checked to confirm the Facebook deletion, the actual trigger was waiting for me. There was the troll-move by a former classmate and friend (TW). In general, trolling would be fine and encouraged, except he lies and slanders and spews nonsensical propaganda. In wanting to troll me, he often strays into bigotry, hatred, and hypocrisy. I believe his family, friends, and coworkers on Facebook would rather me not expose and flame him there. In this case, the assertion is that one can not both support Biden and believe that a Black person could vote for a third party. The leaps in illogic are one thing, but the continued ‘othering’ of Blacks must be called out and stopped.

I don’t want to get in a flame war with TW in the threads of 3rd parties on Facebook. That is what this blog is for. I am starting in good faith and this post will not take further shots at TW. He is encouraged to engage on the merits and explain what his evidence is that only white privilege could allow someone to vote for a third party. Alternatively, like Joe Biden, he can say ‘oh yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that Blacks are monolithic’ or something similar. Or some third reply.

Begin Rant

Because a relatively large proportion of African Americans and some other minorities support the Democratic Party, it is important to guard against the ‘othering’ of BIPOCs as a group. BIPOC = Black, Indigenous Peoples, and People of Color (BIPOC). Like many terms, ‘othering’ can have different meanings in different contexts. Here I rely on the usage among Psychologists and Social Psychologists, that at a minimum ‘othering’ refers to the many expressions of prejudice on basis of group identity. It is typically accompanied by the belief that the range of differences among the insiders is wider than the range among the ‘others.’ It is not merely a statement about different proportions, it is a statement about the extent of the range. For example, if rolling two pairs of dice fifty times each, it is not just saying that one pair of dice had a different average than the other, but that the other pair of dice never rolled the extremes (2 or 12), or never roll low numbers (2,3,4), or never roll the middle (6,7,8), etc. This ‘othering’ is sometimes called outgroup homogeneity bias. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201904/the-psychology-othering, http://www.otheringandbelonging.org/the-problem-of-othering/

In political and social discussions, ‘othering’ is common. Simple carelessness can take one from saying ‘the proportion of Catholics among Italian-Americans is higher than among African-Americans” to assuming all Italian-Americans are Catholics but no African-Americans are Catholics. The statement about differences in proportions is true. It is confirmed by a variety of public records, including old Censuses. However, the statement about range is false. One can not say that a real Italian-American has to be Catholic, or a real African-American is not Catholic. The variability of Italian-Americans and African-Americans is wide enough to include examples of both Catholics and non-Catholics in both groups. It would be an example of ‘othering’ to assume that an individual African American cannot be Catholic, distinct from ‘probably is not.’

Joe Biden recently ran afoul of this problem with his “you ain’t Black” comment. Many commentators rushed to condemn him for taking the Black vote for granted, or accused him of racism. Here is a description of the gaffe from Vox.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is no stranger to the political gaffe. And on Friday, he stepped in it once again. After putting it off for months, Biden finally sat down for an interview on “The Breakfast Club,” a radio show that’s earned a place in the black cultural canon for its buzzy, confrontational interviews of entertainers and political leaders. While the 18-minute interview with host Charlamagne Tha God was tense overall, it wasn’t until its final moments that Biden uttered the sentence that would set social media aflame: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” https://www.vox.com/identities/2020/5/25/21269124/biden-black-voters-for-granted https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/05/25/joe-biden-you-aint-black-racism-trump-column/5254434002/

My rant is neither defending nor condemning Joe Biden. He recognized the gaffe once it was pointed out to him. He retracted. That incident is over as far as I’m concerned. Joe has a political record stretching over my entire adult life. I will judge him on that record, not his gaffes. I encourage everyone to take that approach.

Instead, my rant is about the TWs of the world ‘othering’ BIPOCs in the name of hyper Democratic partisanship. He took my reply, which pointed out the sincerity of Green Party and Libertarian (and more 3rd parties) Blacks, and he tried to troll me on my views of Joe Biden – views never mentioned. I shouldn’t have to demonstrate that it is bad to ‘other’ BIPOCs to an ardent Democratic partisan on Facebook, but this is what we have come to.

Let me be clear on why ‘othering’ African-Americans in this way is not only a bad thing, it is also inaccurate. Recall that this is about the range, not the proportion. (1) It contradicts my personal observations of the range of views among BIPOCs I have known in my personal life. (2) It contradicts the range I have met going about day-to-day life. (3) It contradicts the range of views in current public records. (4) It contradicts the range of views that can be documented historically.

In my personal experience, BIPOCs have the full range of political and social views. There are the individuals with whom I had long-time interaction, like the 6-8 Black Philadelphian who took over my thesis committee when my chair went on maternity leave. He served in Korea, claims to have played against Wilt Chamberlain in High School, and had to take buses across the US to get to econ grad school while parts of the country were still segregated. There was the young activist who unbeknownst to me adopted me as his informal adviser – and as president of the Black Student Union invited a Black Muslim speaker to campus so radical that Louis Farrakhan had kicked him out of the NOI. There was the government lawyer who in his spare time canvassed the streets of Baltimore to recruit people for the Libertarian Party. There was the math genius from East Africa who had that magic combination of social ineptitude (I can relate) and hatred of Americans (not America, there is a difference). There was the socialist woman from South America of Indian descent (India Indian, not South American Indian) whom everyone assumed was African American who led two separate lives – one with her white friends and one with her Black friends. There was the party entrepreneur who had struggled as an ex-con, but made it relatively big traveling the country with his own business providing logistical support for regional pop-up DJs (he mostly complained about taxes). There was the master electrician with the severe stuttering problem who picked up extra money staffing the stadium club suites. And many others. These individuals have radically different views from one another despite each being Black, or identifying as Black.

I gather no moss. I no longer have the burning desire to see Paris at night, nor climb to Machu Picchu, nor ride a camel to a pyramid. But, I do like to visit random coffee shops and sports bars across North America and strike up casual conversations with random people, or quietly endure our common hardships. I meet a lot of different people, white and BIPOC. That includes Maine crab fisherman complaining about a bad year for the Red Sox, Louisiana families riding the bus between Baton Rouge and Lafyette for a funeral, Iowa bicyclists camping out before the Missouri River to Mississippi River tour festival, DC construction workers drinking shots after they were told their current project was complete but the contractor lost the bid for the next project, the Harvard Yale alumni associations gathering in a Seattle Mission District bar for their annual football game, playing pool with West Virginia ‘homeless’ construction workers who drove to Fairfax City on Monday mornings and drove back to WV on Friday afternoons, sleeping in their cars between, predominantly Black DC residents enjoying Karaoke in the only bar near the USDA graduate school, that one extrovert Amish person riding the Amtrak train between SF and Denver (there is always that one guy) who just wants to talk to anyone other than his family for a while, the chain-smoking tourist from China who claims to be surprised that he couldn’t smoke on Amtrak (I didn’t believe him), the New York City real estate agent who got in an argument with an Occupy Wall Street organizer during the Jets-Giants game in a Manhattan sports bar, the native American snowboarders cruising down the holy mountain in clown hats insisting that everyone show proper respect, the Sikh BlueJays fans who adopted me in the upper bleachers of the Rogers Center on Canada Day weekend, the Denver bookstore manager who pushed a regional author’s ghost stories, the ‘Pennsatucky’ anti-semite who kept insisting I was Jewish – as if that would be a bad thing, the Los Angeles dreamer musician trying to create a music video business, the Amtrak cross-country personnel who travel long distance with the train but then the train hits a truck and we all get massively delayed, and…

Do I have to say it? It might be anecdotal, but I am telling you there are individual Black construction workers in DC who resent Latin American immigrants. Some of these individuals have complained to me at 5:30 a.m. in the only coffee shop near their site and expressed their desire to close the borders, that NAFTA took all their jobs, that the Clintons meant well but were corrupt, that the Democratic Party is rigged against them – things that Bernie said in the primaries in 2016 (except closing the immigration part), and that Trump repeated in the general election campaign. These individuals are not alone. I have met Blacks with similar views waiting on the side of I-45 in Texas for a replacement Greyhound bus, watching basketball in a Florida sports bar, and driving my cab in Chicago. This might be a good time to remind people that President Obama increased deportations many fold compared to Bush when he took office and it was President Obama who built some of those “cages for children” at the border. To his credit in my view, President Obama completely reversed that policy in year 6 of his presidency.

Many of these and other people are Democrats, or see the Democratic Party as the least bad. But some don’t. Their like or dislike is genuine. Some (but not all) of the native born African Americans don’t think immigrant Africans have experienced the suffering of the community here. Some think immigrant Africans should be excluded from affirmative action and similar programs. Some (but not all) immigrant Africans believe that native born African Americans are too passive; that many native born African Americans don’t seek out the opportunities that are here. Most African-Americans are Democrats. But, there are sincere African Americans who are Republicans. There are sincere African Americans who are socialists (real socialists, not just social safety net). And yes, I have had beer or coffee or shared rides with some Black Libertarians and Black Marxists, and even an honest-to-god Black Monarchist (we do have occasional problems combining head of state and head of government in a single office).

Public records do not support the assertion that only white privilege would lead someone to vote for a third party. The vice president of the Green Party ticket is Angela Nicole Walker, a Black woman. In the past, she has run as an independent socialist for local office in Wisconsin. Why should I believe that it is Angela Nicole Walker’s white privilege that leads her to run as a Green Party candidate and vote for her own party? See my previous post/rant on the strategy of the Left in Weimar Germany for an example of Leftists who do not prefer centrists to the far right.

Furthermore, the data does not even support the assertion that third party voters necessarily benefit Trump. For one thing, there are third parties like the Libertarians who also draw significantly from potential Republican voters. Second, one analysis of the Green Party in March 2016 suggests that the Green Party affiliates second choice was not clearly Secretary Clinton. https://brandongaille.com/32-stunning-green-party-demographics/

For the 2016 election, 21% of Green Party supporters state that they would vote for Marco Rubio. Another 15% would vote for Donald Trump.
Only 23% of Green Party voters say that they would vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I think I have ranted enough. However, if called upon I will add a section on the breadth of views of political economy among BIPOCs.

Bottom Line

If anyone wants to say that in their opinion only a fool would vote for Trump, or only a fool would vote for Biden, or only a fool would vote for a third party – that is one thing. Everyone should have an opinion and I encourage everyone to express it – or remain silent at their option. I am not triggered.

However, if you say that there can not be BIPOCs who will sincerely vote for Trump or a third party, then I am pointing out that you are ‘othering’ BIPOCs. Furthermore, recognizing that BIPOCs are not monolithic should be highly correlated with voting for Joe, not an exclusion.

As evidence #1 – I refer to Joe Biden’s own retraction. As evidence #2, I offer my own testimony of the variety of views among people I have known well or casually. As evidence #3, I point to the actual candidates of third parties. If called upon I will followed up with the 4th category of evidence, historic reference to BIPOCs who held views in opposition to the major parties of the United States.

TW, if you read this, I encourage you to respond on the merits. If so, I will keep it on the merits. Do not try to guess what my support or opposition to anything is. I will express my support or opposition. You express yours. I do have many friends who I encourage to tweak my nose about my views. You have lost that benefit of the doubt. But I would like to be friends again and get your thoughts on the issues of the day.

1619 and The Sexism Riddle

An old riddle illustrates the need for greater context to combat the biases underlying The 1619 Project. The promoters of 1619, which is the year the first ship carrying enslaved Africans reached Virginia, believe that slavery is what makes the U.S. special and is the essential element of white supremacy and predatory capitalism. The 1619 Project not only gets history wrong, it reinforces harmful biases and perpetuates myths of white supremacy.

Psychologists have used an old riddle to illustrate one class of harmful biases. A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he is about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” Explain.

Mikaela Wapman and Deborah Belle of Boston University have shown that people still have trouble with this riddle. Presumably, it is gender bias that prevents people from considering the doctor is the child’s mother and the father’s spouse. Even though women are now more commonly doctors, the riddle still stumps many people. http://www.bu.edu/articles/2014/bu-research-riddle-reveals-the-depth-of-gender-bias/

Trigger warning: potentially offensive historical observation follows. OK, here we go. Africans chose slavery. Explain.

Reading “Africans chose slavery” may have offended you. Similar to the doctor riddle, there are biases and stereotypes that may prevent people from considering Africans as masters. Now re-read the observation as “African (masters) chose slavery.” Had you been assuming that the Africans were the slaves?

“Americans chose slavery” is the basis of the 1619 Project. It is accurate and has been a centerpiece of American history for at least my lifetime. Slavery is one of America’s original sins. This older view that America chose slavery and that slavery is an original sin should remain a centerpiece of American history. But it needs context that the 1619 Project omits.

“America chose slavery” assumes the perspective of the masters. What are the implied uses of ‘some’ and ‘all’? The children of American slaves were Americans – did they choose slavery? The statement “Americans chose slavery” does not assume that abolitionist Americans chose slavery or American slaves chose slavery; rather, it notes that American society had slavery, that many slave masters certainly supported it, and many non-masters benefited from slavery. In calling that an original sin, is it a sin that originates in America? Or is it a sin that was part of the originating of America? There is a difference and it matters.

Americans made a conscious choice for slavery, the Founders did not just accept it as an inherited institution. Philosophical debates of the time questioned slavery and Americans had moments during 1776-1788 in which slavery and emancipation were explicitly considered as features of what became the Constitution and of individual state governments. John Jay as governor of New York signed that state’s gradual emancipation law. Thomas Jefferson as governor of Virginia at about the same time did not enact a state emancipation law. New York and Virginia chose. The Constitution included provisions protecting the rights of owners of enslaved people. Americans chose slavery probably doesn’t offend many people even though many would disagree with saying “All Americans chose slavery” because of the enslaved Americans.

In contrast, being offended by “Africans chose slavery” can result from either not considering that Africans might be masters, or from being unaware that Europeans were sometimes slaves, or from being unaware of sophisticated urban cultures in sub-Saharan Africa that not only practiced slavery, but discussed it. Pernicious myths of white supremacy rely on incorrect history; specifically the false claim that history shows that Europeans can be assumed to be the masters and others assumed to be the slaves. (See SPLC for description of historical views of some white supremist organizations https://www.splcenter.org/)

The 1619 Project gets some important things right. Promoters of the 1619 Project emphasize that Slavery affected all of America, not just the South. Here are some more facts to support the view that slavery stains even parts of America considered relatively virtuous. Benjamin Franklin, who later went on to lead an abolitionist society, was a slave owner in his youth and the paper he published earned profits from selling notices related to the slave trade. In 1776, slavery was more pervasive in English colonies than commonly portrayed; Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut were slave colonies when Jefferson sat in Philadelphia writing the Declaration of Independence. https://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/franklin

Even the Quakers were stained with slavery despite the denomination’s reputation for abolitionist writings and efforts. Enslaved people worked William Penn’s Pennsylvania estate, Pennsbury (say that three times fast). Decades later, an escaped slave earning the name Colonel Tye fought for Britain during the Revolution against his former New Jersey master, John Corlies. Corlies was a Quaker. During the Revolution, Britain offered freedom to enslaved people like Colonel Tye who fought against revolutionaries, so Washington and his army were fighting for slavery (although the British did not announce any sort of general emancipation). More examples for educators can be found at a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) supported effort for teaching wider complicity in slavery, which is good history. https://www.tolerance.org/podcasts/teaching-hard-history/american-slavery/slavery-and-the-northern-economy

Unfortunately, the 1619 Project emphasis of the first ship carrying African slaves to Virginia takes American slavery out of context. It inadvertently and erroneously portrays Europeans as historical masters and non-Europeans as historical slaves, which is why people have problem with the historical observation – Africans chose slavery in the same sense that Americans chose slavery. In the 1619 Project view, not only is slavery an original sin of white America, but white America should be held accountable as a purveyor of the sin of world slavery. America provided the demand for foodstuffs sustaining slavery in the Caribbean. White America provided the demand for slaves that disrupted East African kingdoms. White America instigated worldwide White Supremacy. https://pulitzercenter.org/lesson-plan-grouping/1619-project-curriculum

Emphasizing 1619 and American slavery in this way distorts the fundamentals of world slavery. Consider the dominant role of sugar in world slavery as the SPLC supported teaching materials suggest. Sugar was a minor crop in North America. Historically, sugar was the primary cash crop driving the slave trade, not tobacco or cotton. SPLC suggested teaching materials note that sugar was believed to be first cultivated in the Pacific region, made its way to the Middle East, and came to the attention of Europeans during the crusades. In the late middle ages and the renaissance, sugar was produced by slaves on plantations in the Eastern Mediterranean. SPLC suggested materials note that enslaved sugar plantation workers included Slavic Christians captured by Muslims as prisoners of war. https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2018-02/TT-Teaching-Hard-History-American-Slavery-IDM-How-did-Sugar-Feb2018.pdf

However, teachers relying on these SPLC materials might be misled into thinking that almost all of the sugar plantation slaves of European descent were soldiers in battles between Christians and Moslems captured as prisoners of war. No. The Black Sea slave trade started before the Moslem conquest of the Crimea and the accompanying religious wars. Vikings active on the rivers of the steppes, and Italian shippers from city states like Genoa, carried on the Black Sea slave trade based on kidnappings before the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Italian city-states also sold European slaves to Moslems in North Africa, most egregiously inspiring the legend of the pied piper by selling some of the followers Nicholas of Cologne of the so-called Children’s Crusade into slavery in North Africa rather than transporting them to Palestine. Slavic and other Europeans worked as slaves on sugar plantations on Cyprus, as slave-soldiers in Moslem armies, as concubines in Moslem harems, and all the other traditional occupations of slaves in the West Asian and North African world. https://www.history.com/news/the-disastrous-time-tens-of-thousands-of-children-tried-to-start-a-crusade

Kidnappings of Christian Europeans and selling them to Moslems (European and non-European) continued alongside wars between the faiths. Religious wars expanded the opportunity to take advantage of each religion’s laws for enslaving non-believers. According to historian Eizo Matsuki, the Moscovite commercial laws included a national tax for the express purpose of trying to redeem enslaved people, including peasants. “The Russian population on the southern border with the Crimean Tatars was continuously exposed to the dangers of Crimean raider bands, which were usually formed to attack Russian permanent settlements, capture people and sell them to slave-traders, or to give them back to Russia for ransom monies.” https://www.medievalists.net/2014/03/crimean-tatars-russian-captive-slaves/

Focusing on 1619, North America, and Africa may distort proportion if taken out of context. According to Henry Louis Gates, the best estimate of kidnapped Africans during 1502-1866 is 11.2 million, a horrific number. The best estimate of those shipped to North America over the entire three and a half centuries is 450,000, still a horrific number, but less than 5%. Even if the true number is somewhat higher, the overwhelming number of enslaved African people were shipped to Brazil or the Caribbean, primarily to work the sugar plantations.

How does 450,000 over the course of more than three centuries to North America compare to the rest of the world? Just during the first half-century of the 1600s, historian Michael Khodarsky estimates that between 150,000 and 200,000 ethnic Slavs were enslaved and sold across the Black Sea. Alan Fisher estimates that two million Slavs were captured and sold across the Black Sea between 1468 and 1694. Lest people believe slavery in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean is a Moslem feature, many of the slave traders in the Moslem city of Kaffa were Christians and Jews. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/27/138601410/what-it-means-to-be-black-in-latin-america

Slavery was not confined to sugar plantations and the Eastern Mediterranean. North African raiders continued kidnapping and enslaving Europeans to the nineteenth century. Moslem and Christian leaders signed occasional treaties and issued occasional proclamations to deter raids or facilitate negotiations to allow for redemptions, but slave raiding continued. The United States even went to war against the Barbary Pirates of North Africa inspiring the “shores of Tripoli” line in the Marines theme song. Decades after 1619, slavers raided the Irish town of Baltimore kidnapping over 100 of its inhabitants, with most of the men working the rest of their lives as galley slaves and the women in harems.

Nor was historical African slavery only something north of the Sahara or only after Portuguese arrival. Thousands of manuscripts from the library of Timbuktu have survived. Some document the law of slavery as practiced in Mali at the time or describe events in the lives of particular slaves. Other manuscripts examine the law of slavery under Islam. Examples of translations and duplications can be found through the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/mali/mali-checklist.html

The point is that context changes the interpretation of 1619. A ship carrying enslaved people arriving in 1619 is a very important date for Americans to teach, but it does not make Virginia special; rather, it makes Virginia like much of the the world. North America inclusion of slavery was not anachronistic in 1619. The proportion of slaves working cash crops on plantations was not anachronistic in 1619. If North America had never had slavery, the viability of slavery in Brazil and the Caribbean would still have disrupted West Africa on about the same scale. European lands were still being raided for slaves after 1619, especially Slavic peoples. Slavery did not make North America different in some way that can explain the rapidity of industrialization compared to other regions. The white supremacists are wrong – Europeans were often slaves and non-Europeans were often masters – so critical race theorists should stop making erroneous generalizations similar to white supremacists.

Bigotry is more sinister and is what should be emphasized. Mediterranean slavery was often an “equal opportunity” employer, at least in terms of skin color. A more dominant consideration was transferring enslaved people to masters of a different religion. Shippers from the city of Genoa participated in both the Black Sea slave trade and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. When the Crimean Khanate took control of the ports of the northern Black Sea in 1441, some of the slave traders supplying sugar plantations on Cyprus were Italians from Genoa. A generation later, Christopher Columbus (from Genoa) transported slaves to establish sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Slavers kidnapped and sold whites on a large scale to work sugar plantations in the Eastern Mediterranean, and slavers kidnapped and sold Africans on an even larger scale to work sugar plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean.

Transporting kidnapped slaves is a common precaution against escapes. Slavs were kidnapped from Eastern Europe and sold to West Asia and North Africa. Native North Americans were transported to the Caribbean. Africans were transported to Brazil. Certainly these practices can lead to local bigotry, but they need not necessarily become law.

Unlike slavery in most of the Moslem world, slavery in Dutch and English colonies in America became based on concepts of race and infected the law. This bigotry was not a natural consequence of the arrival of a ship carrying enslaved Africans in 1619. Even if some ethnic bigotry existed in the Mediterranean and West Asia, codifying such beliefs in law was not the pre-colonial norm. Fifteenth century edicts by the Pope certifying Portuguese slaving activities in the Atlantic distinguished between Christians, Moslems, and Pagans for treatment. The Black color of the skin of pagans was referenced but the basis of treatment was religious differences, not skin color. In fact, Christopher Columbus was accompanied by a free Black African on a trans-Atlantic voyage, and free Blacks participated in the colonizing of Spanish and Portuguese possessions. Free Black and enslaved Black contributions extended to Spanish Florida in St. Augustine, pre-dating 1619 by six decades.

The year 1619 is not what distinguishes American capitalism from the rest of the world’s economies. If by American capitalism, people mean using plantations worked by enslaved people to produce cash crops, then capitalism encompasses all of the different economic arrangements from Mongol Ukraine, Crusader Palestine, Turkish Asia Minor, Italian-Controlled Cyprus, Barbary Tunisia, Portuguese Brazil, Spanish Cuba, Dutch Antilles, British Jamaica, and French Guadalupe.

If instead capitalism refers to the rise in wealth in England and the United States during the industrial revolution, note that industrialization was most rapid in regions that did not rely on slave labor. Such regions include England, the U.S. North, and what became Germany. It should also be pointed out that the U.S. South was also industrializing rapidly by world standards, just more slowly than the North, so I am not suggesting that free labor was the essential feature of capitalism either.

Perhaps it is not only direct use of slave labor, but also trade with regions that relied on slavery, that supposedly links American capitalist wealth to slavery. If so, why was there wealth acceleration in the United States and England relative to other areas that traded with regions with slave labor? The Moslem world relied on slavery and traded with regions that relied on slavery. Many cultures relied on slavery or traded with regions that did. Starting in the 1750s (prior to the cotton gin), England, the northern United States, parts of what is now Germany, and to a lesser extent the American South, increased in wealth relative to other societies that relied on slave labor, or traded with societies that relied on slave labor. The facts simply don’t support the view that slavery is the essential feature of industrialization.

Summarizing the context, focusing on 1619 and slavery is misguided if the intent is to illustrate what makes the United States special, exceptional, or wealthy. The arrival or departure of a ship carrying slaves was not unusual in the lands encompassing the Black Sea, Mediterranean, Atlantic, or Caribbean. Relying on slave labor during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries is not what distinguishes places that enjoyed the industrial revolution from those that did not, nor does trading with areas that relied on slave labor.

Furthermore, to refute the assertions of white supremacists and avoid reinforcing implicit biases like the doctor riddle, it is worthwhile to note that the enslaved people transported during the 1600s included people kidnapped from Europe who were destined to work as galley slaves, plantation laborers, as soldiers, or in harems for masters in Asia and Africa.

Law is another matter. In America, white supremacy is linked to slavery. Race-based legal codes accompany American slavery. The 1619 Project and the SPLC are right to identify it. Slavery of Africans in America and some other parts of colonial empires were accompanied by legal distinctions based on skin color typically absent in slavery among Mediterranean Catholics and Moslems.

The Mediterranean world had millennia of slavery, and with that came traditions governing the treatment of slaves. Both Islamic Law and Roman Catholic Law included limits on the rights of masters to mistreat slaves and some ability of slaves to attain freedom for themselves or their descendants. Even if such traditions were often abused or ignored, the existence of non-governmental institutions affecting the administration of slavery offered greater opportunity to attain freedom and avoid the worst forms of legalized bigotry. For example, the Catholic Church maintained the tradition that slaves could have some property rights, and of coartacion, a price for purchasing one’s own freedom. Free Blacks participated and excelled in the Spanish Empire even though enslaved Africans worked the sugar plantations.

The activities of free Blacks were restricted in many North American colonies. English and Dutch colonization of Virginia, New Amsterdam, and Massachusetts occurred in the context of the wars of the Reformation. When Virginia and other colonies wrote laws regulating slavery, the traditions of the Catholic Church regarding the rights of enslaved people were not particularly relevant. Over the course of a century, explicit bigotry was written into many colonial slave laws. The children of Black slaves, but not white servants, become perpetual slaves unless freed by the owner. Laws restricted marriage, even of free Blacks. Many areas restricted free Blacks’ participation on juries. These distinctions between free whites and free Blacks, and between the children of white slaves and children of Black slaves, were not the norm in the Moslem or Catholic traditions rooted near the Mediterranean – societies with much more diversity.

In fairness to the Protestant Reformation, many of the leaders of successful abolition movements were Protestants, and their opposition to slavery was rooted in their faith. Some of the most vehement opponents of abolition were Catholics and Moslems, perhaps because of the long traditions.

Much of this blog post emphasizes interpretation, but I want to emphasize a fact again. The 1619 Project and SPLC suggested teaching materials exclude important context about kidnappings of Slavs for sugar production – not just prisoners of war. This would be an obscure piece of trivia but for the emphasis that The 1619 Project and critical race theorists put on whites as masters and Blacks as slaves. Perhaps unintentionally, but that emphasis reinforces racist bias similar to the the gender bias revealed by the doctor riddle. The phrase Africans chose slavery is offensive if you have been trained to assume that the Africans can’t be the masters doing the choosing. It is not offensive if it is considered in the same way that one considers Americans chose slavery, and if one knows that some African societies practiced slavery.

It is easy to mistake context for justification. This blog post provides context. Nothing justifies slavery. If you want to quote this blog post, the quote is – nothing justifies slavery.

Election Shenanigans: Wisconsin Green Party (Victims) Edition

Beware! Bad people do bad things. Before the election, take precautions and agree on how possible (not just more likely than not) problems will be dealt with.

Reportedly, the state of Wisconsin printed and distributed ballots that did not include the Green Party. The ballots were challenged. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has halted distribution of additional mail-in ballots until the court resolves the issues. (https://www.yahoo.com/news/wisconsin-supreme-court-says-mailing-233714047.html)

You might tell me that election fraud is a myth. It is a myth because there have not been many recorded cases in recent years. It is a myth because surplus ballots have not been tied to millions of migrants residing in the United States illegally. It is a myth because the total number of votes cast has not exceeded the number of registered voters recently. Furthermore, even if some impropriety occurs, you are unaware of any evidence that overcount as a means of election fraud favors one of the two major parties over the other.

I respond that this framework misses vital concerns. Recency bias is a cognitive failure, not a virtue. When conditions change, the opportunity for shenanigans changes. It doesn’t take millions of ballots to swing an election. Migrants residing illegally are not the only potential source of surplus ballots. Because not every eligible voter votes, the number of votes cast can be significantly less than the number of registered voters and there still can be surplus ballots. There are more than two parties.

Sometimes, the cure can be worse than the disease. For this issue, precautions to verify ballots may prevent eligible voters from voting. Stacy Abrams, a rising Democratic leader from Georgia, has argued correctly that seemingly neutral voter verification laws can have the effect of suppressing votes disproportionately. (https://fairfight.com/about-stacey-abrams/)

The phrase ‘Election Fraud is a Myth’ dismisses the corollary. Just as seemingly neutral voter verification standards can offer the opportunity to suppress votes, seemingly neutral voter encouragement policies may make the system more vulnerable to shenanigans.

The Green Party dispute over the mail-in ballots in Wisconsin illustrates many of the issues raised above.

Consider…

…the Wisconsin Green Party might not be particularly impressed with the argument that election shenanigans don’t favor either of the two major parties over the other.

…the opportunity for overcount in Wisconsin will be different from the recent past if 378,000 people are mailed more than one ballot.

…President Trump won Wisconsin by about 23,000 votes in 2016, which is 350,000 less than the number of people to be mailed multiple ballots. Widespread election fraud is unnecessary.

…the eligibility of migrants residing in the United States illegally is not the primary concern.

…the halt of mailing additional ballots could suppress the vote in Wisconsin, disproportionately affect some likely voting groups. The Green Party dispute should be resolved quickly, and ballot mailings resume.

…this opportunity for shenanigans in Wisconsin need not have been intentional (might be), but the opportunity is there nonetheless.

……mail-in and other remote voting methods could be expanded more, and IMHO should be, during a pandemic and still be administered as accurately as any other tally method. Take precautions.

… everything is vulnerable, nothing is safe, every form of voting has vulnerabilities, BE EVER VIGILANT

I am strongly in favor of voting by mail and many other options intended to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to vote. I am also strongly in favor of (1) taking precautions ahead of time to limit the opportunity for bad people to do bad things, even new bad things that bad people have not been convicted of recently, and (2) agreeing ahead of time how disputes will be resolved.

States do take many precautions. Yay. But those precautions were typically based on a much lower volume of likely mail-in ballots. Fortunately, some jurisdictions have experience relying on mail in ballots, which offer useful insights. https://ballotpedia.org/All-mail_voting

What can be done? First, we need to alert people before election day that as the ratio of mail-in ballots to in-person ballots changes, the speed and order of vote counting is likely to change. Election night coverage is likely to be very misleading. Candidates reportedly ahead on election night might lose once additional mail-in ballots arrive. Second, some states may have an increase in challenges to counts based on the method of validating voter identification. The courts are going to be involved in a lot of regional elections, and possibly in the presidential election. Third, the Postal Service, like all of society, is staffed by human beings, and human beings make mistakes – not just intentional wrongs. Some elections may be affected by error instead of shenanigans, or in addition to.

We may not know the winner of the presidential election for several days after the election. Many smaller elections will also be affected. During that time, I expect hundreds of lawyers for the Democrats and Republicans to challenge the propriety of the vote count in several states. Magically, I expect them to seem to switch positions depending on which state is being challenged and whether their candidate is ahead or behind in the current tally.

On the topic of election shenanigans, which are no myth, I repeat two platitudes I learned researching securities fraud.

  1. Nothing is fool proof because fools are so ingenious.
  2. It is only when the tide goes out that we learn who has been swimming naked.

For a brief discussion of several ways the pandemic has affected elections with links to further resources, see the following Congressional Research Service sidebar. https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/LSB10470.html

Left on Left Purge, Weimar Edition

History does not repeat, but it often rhymes. As I write this, ‘mostly peaceful’ demonstrations which resulted in the deaths of an innocent Black child in an Atlanta parking lot are becoming less ‘mostly’ and more ‘somewhat not’ peaceful. Major news outlets continue to conflate the hundreds of ‘not peaceful’ demonstrators with the thousands of ‘entirely peaceful’ marchers, which has the result of undermining public support for traditional Civil Rights organizations.

Reactionaries are confronting both ‘entirely peaceful’ and ‘not peaceful’ people in the streets. We now have street shootings. Civil society is collapsing. In order to avoid the fate of the Weimar Republic, it might be worthwhile to review its fate.

Many people know about the rise of fascists in Weimar Germany following World War I. Fewer people know about the strategy and tactics of the German left. After the rise of Stalin, the KPD (German Communist party) actively worked to undermine Weimar. They denied meaningful distinctions between Liberals (in historical sense) and fascists.

Political debate became public displays of ideological loyalty instead of reason. Rather than bolster efforts by civil authority to maintain order and ensure that all parties could gather, the KPD confronted nazi stormtroopers in the streets – with the resulting violence providing the justification needed to shut down political gatherings and speech more generally.

Were the German communists just naively unaware that the result of undermining social democracy could be Nazi power? No. The KPD leader, Ernst Thalmann, influenced by Stalin, took a calculated risk that if they could destroy liberal institutions, the Communists would rule after Hitler.

The approaching Left on Left purge in the United States is not exactly the same as Weimar, but it is similar enough to raise the alarm. Our public square is becoming filled with mass displays of ideological affiliation, with no tolerance of independence, much less dissent. Activist leaders are open about their rejection of liberal institutions, and their embrace of Illiberal tactics and goals.

— Here is an excerpt from an article on the strategy and tactics of the German left during the fall of the Weimar Republic.

“Divided they fell: the German left and the rise of Hitler”, International Socialism: Issue: 137, Posted on 9th January 2013, Florian Wilde

The Communist Party organisation began to change fundamentally in the mid-1920s. Concomitant with the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, Stalinisation of the KPD began under the leadership of Ernst Thälmann. Freedom of discussion and internal democracy were replaced piece by piece by a mood of unquestioning discipline and authoritarian leadership. Oppositional currents were discouraged from speaking openly and eventually forced out of the party. No longer held politically accountable to the membership, in 1929 Thälmann and Stalin agreed upon an ultra-left course against the SPD, concluding that the Social Democrats represented a form of “social fascism”. This disastrous line would eventually prove fatal for both the Social Democrats and the Communists.

The theory of social fascism dictated that Nazis and Social Democrats were essentially two sides of the same coin. The primary enemy of the Communists was supposedly the Social Democrats, who protected capitalism from a workers’ revolution by deceiving the class with pseudo-socialist rhetoric. The worst of them all were the left wing Social Democrats, whose rhetoric was particularly deceptive. According to the theory, it was impossible to fight side by side with the SPD against the Nazis under such conditions. Indeed, the KPD declared that defeating the social fascists was the “prerequisite to smashing fascism”. By 1932 the KPD began engaging in isolated attempts to initiate broader anti-fascist fronts, most importantly the Antifascischistsche Aktion, but these were formulated as “united fronts from below”—ie without the leadership of the SPD. Turning the logic of the united front on its head, SPD supporters were expected to give up their party allegiance before joining, as opposed to the united front being a first practical step towards the Communist Party. Throughout this period the leaderships of both the SPD and the KPD never came to a formal agreement regarding the fight against Nazism.

Another fatal consequence of the KPD’s ultra-leftism was that the term “fascism” was used irresponsibly to describe any and all opponents to the right of the party. The SPD-led government that ruled Germany until 1930 was considered “social fascist”. When Brüning formed a new right-wing government by decree without a parliamentary majority in 1930, the KPD declared that fascism had taken power. This went hand in hand with a deadly underestimation of the Nazi danger. Thus Thälmann could declare in 1932: “Nothing could be more fatal for us than to opportunistically overestimate the danger posed by Hitler-fascism”.3 The KPD’s seeming inability to distinguish between democratic, authoritarian and fascist expressions of capitalist rule proved to be its undoing. An organisation that continually vilified bourgeois democratic governments as fascist was unable to understand the true meaning of Hitler’s ascension to power on 30 January 1933, the day the KPD infamously (and ominously) declared: “After Hitler, we will take over!”

The KPD was able to grow tremendously during the economic crisis. Its radical anti-capitalist rhetoric proved attractive to a large minority of the working class. In elections the KPD went from 10.6 percent (3.2 million votes) in 1928 to 16.9 percent (6 million votes) in November 1932. Its membership doubled in the same time, from 130,000 to almost 300,000. Most of this growth came from the ranks of the unemployed. But despite its phenomenal growth, the KPD was never able to unleash the German proletariat’s revolutionary potential or fundamentally challenge the capitalist system. Its confrontational stance towards the SPD prevented a united struggle against the Nazis as well as the austerity imposed by the capitalist parties. The KPD’s strategy also prevented the development of a realistic socialist perspective that could have pulled many of the Nazis’ unemployed and petty bourgeois supporters back towards the labour movement.

It should be noted that despite employing a strategy that prevented an effective, united struggle, the Communists were at the same time those who fought the Nazis the hardest: hundreds of Communists fought in the civil-war-like street battles that became a common sight in Germany from 1929 to 1933, costing the lives of a hundred Nazis and even more KPD members. After Hitler’s ascension to power no group resisted harder or paid as high a price in blood as the KPD. Nearly every third KPD member went to prison under Nazi rule and thousands were murdered.

https://isj.org.uk/divided-they-fell-the-german-left-and-the-rise-of-hitler/’

NBA on Pause

RE: NBA players and other sports not playing.

I fully support everyone speaking or being silent. I supported Colin Kaepernick kneeling, I supported Bernie Sanders saying nice things about Fidel Castro, I supported Ellen having laughs at a sporting event with W Bush. It is never (never!) about whether I agree with the substance. Speak or be silent as you wish.

Doc Rivers speech was very powerful, but so was the LA DA when she defended her husband’s negative reaction to a BLM crowd knocking on her house door before dawn.

Carry on. Disagree vociferously, not violently. Hear that last part? NOT VIOLENTLY!

On the substance, I think the answer is closer to the recommendations in President Obama’s DOJ report following Ferguson than it is to the slogan “defund the police”.  You know, the changes in policies recommended by a Black president and AG of color, and implemented in many cities by mayors and police chiefs who are women and people of color. Maybe, just maybe, crowds that chant slogans to silence dissent and then say the slogan doesn’t mean the plain meaning of the slogan (defund the police), know less about criminal justice reform than people of color involved in criminal justice for decades. But maybe not.

I’ve been wrong before, and will be wrong many more times before I die. I hope the street activists shouting down anyone who disagrees with them have the humility to believe that when it comes to specifics, they could be wrong.

In any case, pause the NBA and I’ll continue watching my morning KBO. I’ll revive my NBA greatest player debates when y’all return. From me, no negative consequences for expressing yourselves, even if you are seen laughing with Ellen.

Kamala Harris on Criminal Justice 2006

Senator Kamala Harris is the candidate for Vice President for the 2020 Democratic Party. She was a city and state district attorney before being elected to the Senate. In the era of reform by slogan (does ‘Defund the Police!’ mean defund the police?), Senator Harris has been criticized for participating in the criminal justice system as a DA. During her career, she has advocated for what she calls smart policing, not defunding policing. Perhaps this clip from 2006 when she participated in a panel on emerging Black leaders provides some context for her views on criminal justice.

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4830113/user-clip-kamala-harris-state-black-union-2006-emerging-leaders

Open Letter: Don’t Disrespect Black Women Being Considered for Vice President

I’m not sure which reporters are the targets of this open letter, but here is a reminder to treat the people being considered for the vice presidential spot on the Democratic Party ticket with respect. Although as a Philadelphian I reserve the right to boo anyone I goddam choose, I do wholeheartedly agree that there are very many excellent professional Black Women in public service. Reminder, I can boo and cheer the same person during the same contest. Before, during, and after booing, I can regard the target of my boos as an all time great and future Hall of Famer. So, I am not condemning criticism. Any one chosen to be on the ticket deserves the same respect (and same criticism) granted to any other candidate on a major party ticket

All of these professional women should be praised and criticized for their records, not as a “… happy, Black servant portrayed as a happy domestic worker loyal to her White employer.” I don’t know which reporters made those allusions, so if you do, please alert me in the comments.

Here is the text of the open letter being circulated through the Action Network. At the time of my post, it has 977 signatures.

OPEN LETTER BY BLACK WOMEN LEADERS IN RESPONSE TO THE NARRATIVE SURROUNDING BLACK WOMEN NOMINEES FOR VICE PRESIDENT

Black women are many things. We are business executives, political strategists and elected officials, philanthropists, and activists. We are health and wellness practitioners. We are entertainers and faith leaders. We are wives, mothers, daughters, educators, and students. We set and shift culture. We build power and we are powerful.

We are the highest propensity voters in this nation. We are a coalition of Black women leaders, who, in this inflection point of the Black liberation movement, where people around the world are galvanized to action, know that the time for Black women in the United States is now.

Over the past few months in the media, we have witnessed many Black women put forth as potential Vice Presidential candidates including former Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Senator Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Val Demings, and former US Ambassador Susan Rice, be publicly critiqued. We have also watched many of these highly-credentialed women be disrespected in the media over the last few weeks.

Regardless of your political affiliation, whether it’s the media, members of the vice presidential vetting committee, a former Governor, a top political donor, or a small town mayor: We are not your Aunt Jemimas. The use of the racist myth of a happy, Black servant portrayed as a happy domestic worker loyal to her White employer is not lost on us. While some of the relentless attacks on Black women and our leadership abilities have been more suggestive than others, make no mistake–we are qualified and ambitious without remorse.

We are servant leaders — motivated by a desire to uplift and advance our communities and nation. And we will not tolerate racist or sexist tropes consistently utilized in an effort to undermine our power. No matter who you are supporting for Vice President, you should be equally outraged by the blatant disrespect of Black women.

Black women have been and remain vital across sectors. We are indebted to women like Ella Baker, Septima Clarke, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, Ruby Doris Robinson, and Ida B. Wells just to name a few. These women have fought to move us forward and are collectively responsible for much of this country’s progress. Black women have been leading, and we must honor, protect, support, and uplift them.

In solidarity,

Approaching Left on Left Purge: Charging Husband of LA County DA with Assault Edition

The California attorney general’s office charged the husband of LA County District Attorney on Monday with three counts of assault with a firearm. Protesters led by Black Lives Matter co-founder Melina Abdullah knocked on the Laceys’ front door shortly after 5:30 a.m. on March 2. It was the second time demonstrators gathered at the house. According to Ms. Abdullah, David Lacey opened the door and pointed the weapon at those who were gathered outside. According to DA Jackie Lacey, “My husband [David Lacey] acted in fear for my safety after we were subjected to months of harassment that included a death threat no less than a week earlier. My husband felt that we were in danger and acted out of genuine concern for our well being.”

https://news.yahoo.com/husband-l-district-attorney-charged-204703867.html

Approaching Left on Left Purge – Seattle Police Chief Edition

Carmen Best, Seattle Police Chief, is an African American woman. She wrote the following letter to the Seattle city council after crowds went to her house.

Dear President González, Chairwoman Herbold, and Seattle City Council Members:
I wanted to update you on recent events, particularly those that occurred late last night.
A residence of mine in Snohomish County was targeted by a large group of aggressive protestors late last night. My neighbors were concerned by such a large group, but they were successful in ensuring the crowd was not able to trespass or engage in other illegal behavior in the area, despite repeated
attempts to do so. Currently, the local sheriff (not SPD resources) is monitoring the situation.
I urge both of you, and the entire council, to stand up for what is right. These direct actions against elected officials, and especially civil servants like myself, are out of line with and go against every democratic principle that guides our nation. Before this devolves into the new way of doing business by mob rule here in Seattle, and across the nation, elected officials like you must forcefully call for the end of these tactics.
The events of this summer were initiated in a moment of grief and outrage over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and so many other Black and Brown people suffering at the hands of injustice. All of us must ensure that this righteous cause is not lost in the confusion of so many protestors now engaging in violence and intimidation, which many are not speaking against.
Sincerely,
Carmen Best
Chief of Police
Seattle Police Department

CC
Tammy Morales, Councilmember, District 2
Kshama Sawant, Councilmember, District 3
Alex Pedersen, Councilmember, District 4
Debora Juarez, Councilmember, District 5
Dan Strauss, Councilmember, District 6
Andrew Lewis, Councilmember, District 7
Teresa Mosqueda, Councilmember, District 8, At-Large
Community Police Commission, Co-Chairs

Written by Chief Carmen Best on August 2, 2020 8:33 pm
August 3rd, 2020
Lorena González, President and Lisa Herbold, Public Safety Chair
Seattle City Council, City Hall
600 Fourth Ave, 2nd Floor
Seattle, WA 98104
Re: Intimidation of Public Officials and Employees

Beauty in the Wake of Tragedy

The tragedy of the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota by police officers in May 2020 has somehow sparked some beautiful moments in its wake. Some of those beautiful moments have involved peaceful protesters and good police officers joining together to call for justice. Let us not forget these moments when additional tragedies grab headlines. As per the Beatles on the Abbey Road album, “Come together, right now, over me …”