'That which is inhuman cannot be divine'

Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852:

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too — great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory. …

… Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, 0 Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow-citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery — the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse”; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, “It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed.” But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are 72 crimes in the State of Virginia which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual, and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their mastcrs? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, today, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival. …

… Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. …

Stay in touch with the Slacktivist on Facebook:

I hate this sunless Saturday
If I could only give you everything you know I haven't got
South Carolina GOP threatens evangelical churches
OotGOism: 'Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it ...'
  • Lizzy L

    Amen.

    And the nation, to its great honor and cost, heard.

    “It
    is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us —
    that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for
    which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve
    that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall
    have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people,
    for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    “That which is inhuman cannot be divine,”

    And with strange aeons even death may die? 

    (Sorry, could not resist the first thing that popped into my head upon reading that.) 

  • eyelessgame

    Damn, that man could write.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that slavery is not a sin to man!

    With all do respect Jeff, what are you really trying to tell all of your readers with this so convincing post of these writings?

    Shalom

    I hear ya! Hey Victor’s back! :)

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Give me back my identity sinner vic and sinner victor cause I’m not going to play this game of yours with Fred Clark!

    Nice try! You bunch of skitso!

    I again apologize for them Fred :(

    There’s nothing wrong with you guys, “IT” is the rest of the world! :)

    Peace

  • Amaryllis

    Hey, Victor’s back! Long time no see! Hope you’ve been well.

    For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
    And all the songs we’ve sung
    And all the hopes we’ve held
    And all the flags we’ve hung,
    The millions who have nothing for our pay–
    Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

    O, let America be America again
    The land that never has been yet–
    And yet must be–the land where every man is free.

    -Langston Hughes

  • Tonio

    As a patriotic citizen of the United States who believes that freedom of religion is vital to democracy, I admit to feeling a little uncomfortable whenever fellow citizens past and present talk about freedom using sectarian religious language. Fred eloquently explained the difference in his “King and Huck” entry about the distinction between Martin Luther King’s use of such language and Mike Huckabee’s. And obviously Douglass and Lincoln, who also used sectarian language, lived during a time when very few of their countrymen weren’t Christian. Still, as a matter of principle, any such language should be used delicately, otherwise listeners of many different religions are likely to assume that the speaker is wrapping Christianity in the flag. Particularly at a time when the religious right pushes a revisionist theocratic version of the nation’s beginnings. I’ve heard too many arguments for keeping Christian language on the money and in the Pledge that boil down to “heritage.”

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Amaryllis said:
    Hey, Victor’s back! Long time no see! Hope you’ve been well.

    Thank you for the interest in my well being Amaryllis. As for my body of bone, blood and skin, I’m doing well and so far most of my reality cells have agreed that without the three additional  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angioplasty,  which the gods, I mean God has so generously provided there’s no telling where all my reality cells might find themselves today.

    As to where and what condition my parallel spiritual cells might be in, well let’s just say that “IT” would take a few books just to scratch the surface and then as you might guess, their imaginary friends might not be telling U>S (usual sinners) the complete truth when they say that they would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong if you know what I mean? :)

    Shalom

  • spinetingler

    Ouch. That’s gonna leave a mark.

  • Anonymous

    Douglass was amazing.  Thank you, Fred.  And also Fred.

  • Amaryllis

    @28626c1523c92a9e879ad94163956357:disqus: I’m glad to hear that you’re well.

    As to where and what condition my parallel spiritual cells might be in,
    well let’s just say that “IT” would take a few books just to scratch the
    surface

    I think I know the feeling!

    @1cfd07d71c70392c27d26165e23b0cf2:disqus : I think you have to remember that Douglass was speaking back to Christians who used the Bible as a justification for slavery. He was answering them on their own terms. He denounced slavery both in civil terms ( in the name of the Constitution) and in terms of the religion the slaveholders professed (and the Bible which are [both] disregarded and trampled upon).

    It’s the same spirit in which our Fred talks to Christians who use the Bible as a justification for oppressing immigrants or women or QUILTBAG people: your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy if you aren’t loving your neighbor.

  • Tonio

    I think you have to remember that Douglass was speaking back to Christians who used the Bible as a justification for slavery. He was answering them on their own terms. He denounced slavery both in civil terms ( in the name of the Constitution) and in terms of the religion the slaveholders professed (and the Bible which are [both] disregarded and trampled upon).

    That’s true, and I picked up on both of those. My point is still valid whenever someone like Douglass is addressing an audience made up of fellow citizens from many different religious viewpoints. Or even more importantly, someone like Lincoln. As praiseworthy as his Second Inaugural is, it assumes that its audience is limited to Christians, and my guess this was simply Christian privilege instead of outright non-Christian bigotry. Neither man was certainly no Rick Perry, who encourages citizens to thank Jesus for their freedom.

  • Anonymous

    I recently read an interesting article in a history journal about arguments over slavery in the final decades before the Civil War.  Some southern Democrats carried the Biblical justifications to their logical conclusion: slavery was the natural order of things for the weak and inferior.  Furthermore, slavery provided cradle-to-grave care for the weak and inferior, unlike the misery in which they lived under “unfettered capitalism” in the North (e.g., workers would be tossed out on the street if they got sick or in bad economic times.)  To their discredit, northern Republicans responded not on moral grounds but with fear mongering: if the expansion of slavery was allowed, slaveholders would eventually enslave whites.

    Aside from being interesting in its own right, the article also reminds one that political discourse hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

  • hapax

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Fred.  I so needed to read this today.

    And, hey, Victor!  Long time no read!  

  • Terry

    “Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the
    monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South
    America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay
    your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you
    will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless
    hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

    You’re wrong.

    I’ve lived there and it’s worse.

    I live here in the US and it’s better.

    Fancy words and little real life knowledge just make for a pompous human.

  • Anonymous

    Terry:I’ve lived there and it’s worse.

    I live here in the US and it’s better.

    You don’t live in 1852, slave-holding America, which is what Douglass was talking about.

    Fancy words and little real life knowledge just make for a pompous human.

    I’m guess you don’t know too much about Frederick Douglass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    This may be my own preconceptions and biases — I can’t really put a finger on it, but there’s just something about your post that makes me suspect you aren’t a black contemporary of Frederick Douglass. In which case, your counter-opinion carries little weight.

    Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

  • P J Evans

    Reading comprehension fail!
    That’s Frederick Douglass in 1852, not J Random Speaker in 2011.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart
    America reigns without a rival

    I live here in the US and it’s better

    For most interpretations of “reigns”, that’s arguably true.

    And yet I’m glad I don’t live there.

  • Terry

    “Reading comprehension fail!”

    You are all quite correct.

    I read this way too fast with too little attention.

    My only excuse, and a sorry one at that, is that I’m in the middle of the Gulf of Findland on a pitching ship and it’s past 3 AM.

    The intent of my point still remains. No matter how hateful a constitution that allowed for slavery, I consider the ones that avowed hatred for slavery but practiced it nonetheless to be worse. This was true of much Latin America in the time of Frederick Douglass and is still true nowadays.

    I do also consider Frederick Douglass to be pompous, but that is my own opinion.

    Time for me to go to sleep.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    No matter how hateful a constitution that allowed for slavery, I
    consider the ones that avowed hatred for slavery but practiced it
    nonetheless to be worse. This was true of much Latin America in the time
    of Frederick Douglass and is still true nowadays.

    You know, if I thought there was even the slightest hint of substance behind that thesis other than “People shouldn’t complain about America because it’s the greatest nation on earth!” then I would be mildly interested discussing that more deeply.

    I do also consider Frederick Douglass to be pompous, but that is my own opinion.

    Never mind.

  • Tonio

    I had the same suspicion that “pompous” was partly an ethnic euphemism, but in context it really amounts to a third-grader’s defensiveness: “You aren’t so smart!” The comparison to Latin America is the same: “But he did it too!” That’s the same attitude that answers criticism of one’s nation as though it were a matter of preserving its honor. Love for one’s nation is not excusing its injustices, or treating criticism of the injustices as the problem. No, love for one’s nation means not tolerating those injustices, working to eliminate the current ones and avoid repeating the past ones.

  • Anonymous

    Is it equally 3rd grade to say the US is ‘worst’ always instead of saying the US is ‘best’ always? Because that is a popular meme in some quarters. Sometimes it seems like it’s American exceptionalism all the way down.

    To be fair to Terry, perhaps he is not used to Victorian rhetoric and oration styles? Which are kind of florid and full of allusion and now-obscure references.

  • Tonio

    Is it equally 3rd grade to say the US is ‘worst’ always instead of
    saying the US is ‘best’ always? Because that is a popular meme in some
    quarters. Sometimes it seems like it’s American exceptionalism all the
    way down.

    Are you suggesting that the “worst” crowd is just as influenced by exceptionalism as the “best” crowd? Part of the issue is that the “worst” crowd is far, far smaller than the Sarah Palins would have us believe. There are a few people like that out there that think the US can do no right, but there are many, many more honest critics of the nation’s behavior who have been straw-manned into that crowd.

    To be fair to Terry, perhaps he is not used to Victorian rhetoric and
    oration styles?

    Perhaps, but the reaction was part of an overall diatribe about how unfair the criticisms were of the US and of whites.

  • Rumplefugly

    A person can’t call Frederick Douglass “pompous” because he legitimately thinks he’s pompous?  There’s has to be a racial undertone to it?

    Here’s a thought:  As a courtesy, why don’t you give Terry the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s NOT racist until he gives you an explicit reason to think he is?  I personally don’t think Frederick Douglass is pompous, but I’m not going to imply that someone who disagrees with me is doing so because he’s a racist.

    That would make me an asshole, which isn’t exactly a step up from racist.

  • Tonio

    As a courtesy, why don’t you give Terry the benefit of the doubt and
    assume he’s NOT racist until he gives you an explicit reason to think he
    is?

    The answer is simple. There’s a long, long history of such language being used against blacks who are educated and eloquent. When I was a kid, it was still very common to hear prominent black politicians or commentators being described as “well-spoken,” as if there was something abnormal or strange about such eloquence.

    No one here is automatically assuming that Terry’s use of “pompous” was motivated by racism. Instead, the use of the word is suspect, which is a different thing. It’s suspect because of the history I mentioned, and suspect because it’s an idiotic way of criticizing Douglass’ words and ideas. I ask again, what does “pompous” have to do with the merits or flaws of those words, or with Fred’s motivation for posting them here?

  • Anonymous

    When you were a kid? Try today. Obama keeps getting described as ‘articulate’.

  • Tonio

    Yes, and I’ve seen an anti-Obama bumper sticker that says ARROGANT with the O replaced by the Obama logo. Part of my point was that the meaning behind “well-spoken” was so obvious that today it’s used ironically, a satirical way to call someone out for sounding racist.

  • Rumplefugly

    Excuse me?  When Terry is asked why he feels Frederick Douglass is pompous and the question contains a bunch of euphemisms historically associated with racists marginalizing the intellect and accomplishments of black people, he is being not-so-subtly accused of being a racist.  Now Terry must defend himself against these accusations against his character before he can defend his opinion about why he feels Douglass is pompous, and that’s a bullshit thing to do to someone for expressing an opinion you disagree with.

    It is entirely possible to feel that Frederick Douglass is pompous while also acknowledging the merits of these particular words and Fred’s motivation for posting them here.  I would be interested in hearing why Terry thinks Douglass is pompous, and I am interest in hearing that without also implying he’s a racist for thinking that.  If his elaborated explanation for his opinion is blatantly racist or carries racist undertones, then I’ll call him a racist alongside Nicholas.  But I’m not going to call him a racist or imply he’s a racist simply because he said something I disagree with because, again, that would make me an asshole, which isn’t exactly a step up from racist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    I’m not implying he’s a racist because I disagree with him about the relative merits of the United States and the rest of the world, or our presumed political opinions. I’m implying he said something racist when he called Frederick Douglass — a Black slave, who experienced every single thing he ever wrote about slavery first-hand*, and who managed to teach himself and others to read and write in a time and place where that could (and did) get them physically beaten, and who only gained his freedom by illegally fleeing the South, and then proved himself to be one of the best writers and orators the United States has ever seen — when he called that Frederick Douglass “pompous.”

    Dictionary synonyms: self-important, affected, conceited, pretentious, smug, arrogant.

    That would be the same Frederick Douglass who, during his life, had to write a book identifying his previous “owners” by name to prove to Northerners that a former slave could, in fact, speak and write as well as he did.

    If Terry had some substance, then he should have presented it when he made the comment. But he didn’t, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to act like accusing someone of saying something racist is more offensive than off-handedly referring to Frederick Goddamned Douglass as “pompous.”

    * And second-hand, and third-hand, and fourth-hand.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    If you really want my actual guess at what Terry really feels in
    hir heart of hearts, I’m betting that zie doesn’t just hate Blacks with a
    burning, ancient rage. More likely than not, zie just doesn’t know or
    give a fuck about the actual historical context, sees some “flowery”
    writing, and gets annoyed because, like, why use all those big words and
    complex sentences when you could just speak plain English, right?

    So you don’t consider what zie wrote to be racist (since zie would have had the same complaint against a white speaker of the time), but it’s no big deal to accuse zie of being racist.

    Cool!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    Incorrect.

    How One Feels != What One Said

    The whole point is that I don’t know whether Terry “is a racist” or not, however that distinction would even be drawn, and I don’t care, because it doesn’t matter.

    What matters is what was said, and what was said was, “That victim of lifelong abuse at the hands of an unconscionable and unspeakably evil system, who then proceeded to spend his entire life speaking out against said system at much personal risk and to great effect, and whose incredible efforts literally returned people’s humanity to them? I’ve always found that guy pompous.”

    Who the fuck cares if the same complaint is levied against a white speaker? It’s that fucking argument about drawing Bush and Obama as monkeys all over again. Call Thomas Jefferson or Abe Lincoln or King Louis pompous all you want, because the pomposity bar for a wealthy, land-owning white guy is a fuck of a lot lower than a goddamned slave.

  • Tonio

    The whole point is that I don’t know whether Terry “is a racist” or not, however that distinction would even be drawn, and I don’t care, because it doesn’t matter.

    That’s my point as well.

  • Rumplefugly

    But what Terry said wasn’t racist.  It was ignorant no doubt, but you’re grasping at straws if you think calling Frederick Douglass pompous is a racist thing to say.

    Racist remarks are ignorant remarks; not every ignorant remark is a racist one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    What is this thing where “racist” has to mean “with conscious malice”?

    Look, if I decide that I’m going to grab the next two images on Flickr, put them together, and make it my Facebook profile image, and I get (A) a Black man looking greedily to the side, and (B) a watermelon, and I go ahead with it, then I’ve just made a racist profile image. It doesn’t matter that it was just random chance, and it doesn’t matter if I’ve never even heard of the Black/watermelon stereotype. It doesn’t matter that I would have put the same image up with a white guy. The image is what it is.

    And you know what? That’s ok. Because if I did that, however the image came to be, then I would have people calling me on it. And I would say, “Oh shit, I had no idea that was so racist. I’m sorry.”

    What I wouldn’t do is become indignant that these people dare to call something I did racist — why, I harbor no hatred at all for Blacks! Don’t blame me; blame random chance! If they had just been nice and left race out of it, I would have been happy to take it down, but now I’m going to double down and take a stand against this hypersensitive political correctness gone too far!

    Do you perhaps see the difference?

  • Rumplefugly

    Terry called Frederick Douglass pompous.  You can call a black person pompous without being a racist.  You can call Frederick Douglass pompous without being a racist.  Instead, you’re just a fucking idiot for calling him that.

    The question of whether or not he used racist language did not exist until you introduced a whole bunch of racially charged euphemisms and juxtaposed them next to an ignorant-but-not-racist claim that Frederick Douglass is pompous.  It’s not racist or racist-language to call him that; it’s just a profoundly stupid thing to say, and you can say stupid things about black historical figures without being a racist or being guilt-tripped into feeling racist.  He already said something fucking retarded; do you have to accuse him of being a racist too?

  • Rumplefugly

    You want to talk about “conscious malice?”  What about the conscious malice of shaming someone who said something stupid by associating them with racism?

    You were not interested in merely correcting Terry’s “racist language.”  If you were, you would have simply said, “Hey, calling Frederick Douglass could be interpreted as a racist statement.  You might want to elaborate on that point, or redact it if you meant to say something else.”

    Instead, you asked him WHY he called him pompous, meaning you were interested in the INTENT behind his use of that word, and then proceed to associate with him all manner of horrible, racist statements that in no way can be compared to what Terry said.  You consciously created a false equivalency between what Terry said and legitimately racist remarks used throughout history to marginalize black people in order to shame him publicly for saying something that was merely stupid, not racist.

    That’s a fucked up thing to do to someone and you’re an asshole for doing it.  Fortunately, merely being an asshole makes you better than racists, but only slightly.

  • hapax

    You were not interested in merely correcting Terry’s “racist language.”
     If you were, you would have simply said, “Hey, calling Frederick
    Douglass could be interpreted as a racist statement.  You might want to
    elaborate on that point, or redact it if you meant to say something
    else.”

    From the original post:

    But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, “It is just in this
    circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a
    favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and
    denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less; your cause
    would be much more likely to succeed.”

    So, according to you, Douglass may not have been “pompous”, but he stands guilty of being a “fucked up asshole”.

    You might want to elaborate on that point, or redact it if you meant to say something else.

  • Beatrix

    I just wasted hours of my life with these zombies two or three posts down (And I was being considerably lesss conciliatory than you are).  Bat shit crazy; university Marxists for the most part, and sad old hippies the rest I think.
     
    I can’t believe that this is the same site which hosts the Anchoress.

    Lady Murasaki is into “public shaming” for thoughtcrimes.  What a sensational little red guard she’d make.

    I started off amused but now I feel sick.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    1 – We generally prefer to avoid using “crazy” and other terms that ultimately boil down to an accusation of mental illness as insults around here. It’s just good manners.

    2 – I’m…not sure you understand what “Marxist” means.

    3 – I know, right? It’s like there are some blogs that are incredibly condescending about issues like GLBT rights and abortion, and then there are other blogs that are insightful and caring, and they’re somehow both written by people who have religious views! What are the odds?

    4 – What does Lady Murasaki have to do with this?

    5 – Yeah, I’ll admit to getting overwhelmed by racism on occasion as well.

    …hm? Oh, you meant…oh. In that case, that’s probably a good feeling for you to feel. Carry on.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    So, when did “university” become an adjective to include in personal insults?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    So, when did “university” become an adjective to include in personal insults?

    Since anti-intellectualism became a dominant cultural impulse in America…so, around 1810?

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Oddly enough, responding to racist language with a strong, unmistakeable rebuke of “Racist language is not OK here” is a valid strategy for reducing the amount of racist language in polite society.

    Racists can think whatever they like. But I am heartened that here, at least, when someone (racist or not) uses racist speech patterns (which, with or without the speaker’s intention, act to support racist thought and racist action) they are roundly told “That is not OK here.”

    As has been pointed out before, it is impossible to create a space where racist speech is tolerated and people of color are treated with respect. The message “Racist speech is not OK here” makes it clear which side of that line the community holds as its ideal.

    If you want to call that “public shaming for thoughtcrimes,” hey, whatever. I understand the urge to reframe the issue such that the person using racist speech patterns is actually speaking truth to power and the people calling them out are afraid of dissent and perpetrating Orwellian thoughtcrime persecution. It’s certainly easier than actually confronting the reality that racist speech patterns perpetrate racism in society, which is HURTING PEOPLE RIGHT NOW. But the latter requires a certain level of maturity, and not everyone is guaranteed to have reached it yet. I quite understand.

  • Anonymous

    (WARNING!  Clever sarcasm to follow.)

    But Nicole!  It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother and sister commenters fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less; would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed, don’cha know.

  • Anonymous

    How about we stop acting so shocked and appalled that someone pulled out the R-word in polite conversation? Treating racism like a dirty word is incredibly unhelpful for actually trying to identify and resolve racist behaviours; not only does it make people feel afraid to actually call out acts of racism if they’re afraid of breaking some social taboo by doing so, it makes it much harder for people to actually stop and think “Wait, am I being racist?” When they’re too busy being offended by the allegation to actually think about what the word means. 

    Also, I feel like you’ve missed the point somewhat. Terry described Frederick Douglass in a way that has commonly been and continues to be used with racist intent. If he didn’t realise that before he said it, then listing a number of other ways that same racist idea is phrased is a goddamn excellent way to point that out to him. If he did think of that before he said it, and had already considered how charged the word necessarily is in this exact context, but went ahead and felt comfortable using it so casually anyway? Then he is, at the very least, an insensitive idiot, regardless of whether he’s a racist or not.

  • Rumplefugly

    I’m not treating racism like a dirty word.  Racism is a horrible thing, which is why I take umbrage to seeing its horrible impact cheapened by someone who wants to conflate ignorant-but-not-racist remarks about Frederick Douglass into some awful act of racial intolerance and bigotry.

    He said he was pompous.  That’s it.  Any racist subtext you see there is entirely your creation, and it’s very hard to fight racism when you imagine more racism to fight.  

    Hypothetically, I can call Martin Luther King pompous and naive for resorting to non-violence when addressing civil rights instead of something more confrontational.  I can call Malcolm X pompous and foolish for thinking black supremacy and civil disobedience were valid solutions toward achieving equality.  Are these ignorant things to say?  Very much so.  But are they racist?  No, they are not; it’s me expressing my displeasure with the respective tactics used by these leaders to achieve their goals.  If you can find the racist subtext in that remark that I didn’t know I put there, I need you for an expedition to find the Lost City of Atlantis.

    Not every stupid statement about a black person is motivated by racism; sometimes it’s people being stupid.

  • hapax

    I’m not treating racism like a dirty word.  Racism is a horrible thing,
    which is why I take umbrage to seeing its horrible impact cheapened by
    someone who wants to conflate ignorant-but-not-racist remarks about
    Frederick Douglass into some awful act of racial intolerance and
    bigotry.

    Why, thank you, Rumplefugly!  So good of you to protect  the impact of the charge of “using language in a racist manner” from being “cheapened” by applying it to someone who continues the grand old USian tradition of the last-resort argument against  every black man who speaks out forcefully, eloquently, and irrefutably against the hypocrisy of his society, by questioning his very right to use such rhetoric!

    After all, if there isn’t a white hood, a tree, and a rope in plain sight, it can’t be REAL racism.

    For your next trick, will you protect the charge of “sexism” from being cheapened by such trivial matters as wage disparity and sexual harassment, so in our zero-sum discourse it can only be applied to stone-throwing mobs in foreign countries?

  • Rumplefugly

    My God, you’re right.  From now on I will baselessly assume every ignorant remark made about people who are not white are not just ignorant remarks, but racist as well.  Everyone knows it is a work of dastardly fiction to believe that negative remarks about non-whites carry anything but racist intent in any and all instances.  I will make sure the people who unknowingly knowingly commit acts of racism by having an unfavorable opinion of specific black people for reasons that have nothing to do with their race are shamed into the realization that they are horrible racists and the worst human beings in the world.

    Because that’s what Jesus would have wanted.  If I remember my Bible correctly, he was a big fan of bearing false witness and character assassination.

  • Tonio

    he is being not-so-subtly accused of being a racist

    Wrong. That’s merely your interpretation. Terry is being accused of using racist language, which is not the same thing. Terry’s motivation for using the language is irrelevant, because motivation doesn’t change the nature of the language. Arguing over intent, and acting defensive when the language is criticized, has the effect of treating the effects of such language as unimportant. It’s like saying that someone else’s foot shouldn’t hurt if you stepped on it through accident instead of deliberate intent. The really offensive thing is that you and Terry are talking about racism only as it deals with white people, as if that was the only valid perspective.

  • P J Evans

     I think the impression of Douglass being pompous is because it’s a written version of a 19th-century speech: someone who has read 19th-century novels would recognize the style as being more or less the rule for public speaking. (I suspect that reading a 20th-century speech might give the same impression.) Read it out loud, with emphasis as you feel the need, and it might sound much more reasonable.

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    No matter how hateful a constitution that allowed for slavery, I
    consider the ones that avowed hatred for slavery but practiced it
    nonetheless to be worse. This was true of much Latin America in the time
    of Frederick Douglass and is still true nowadays.

    Douglass points out that IS what our country is like. We loudly proclaim freedom as the highest ideal, enshrining it in both of our foundational documents (the Declaration and the Constitution), and yet we still for 90+ years of our history fought tooth and nail to keep slavery as an institution.

    It seems to me though that you’re conflating two distinct points he’s making. The first is the national character argument. That seems to be the substance of your complaint, that the Douglass is saying that the hypocrisy involved in condemning the act and practicing it anyways was that much more problematic for national character, and makes other countries morally worse than us for, in addition to the sin of slavery, the sin of hypocrisy. As Douglass points out, we have that same hypocrisy. For that matter, we may note that while the institution was officially abolished, between discrimination and economic inertia, we fought and are still fighting to keep black people from rising to prominence. And we’re just as hypocritical now as we were then.

    The second is something that you latched on to about the conditions of slaves. This isn’t a function of national character; the hypocrisy of the nation’s inhabitants has nothing to do with this second point. His point was that the actual living conditions of an American slave were worse than the conditions of anyone else on earth. Perhaps that was hyperbolic, I don’t have accounts from all of those other places from the time to compare to.  What I do know is that the living conditions of slaves were absolutely horrendous, and it seems to me that Douglass was appealing more to people’s humanity there, with a hint of patriotic appeal, to cajole people into action.

    I have a great deal of respect for the man, which wouldn’t be changed if I found accounts that he was personally arrogant (MLK Jr. was a serial philanderer, but I still respect him), so I am curious as well why you find him to be pompous.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding this point:

    The second is something that you latched on to about the conditions of
    slaves. This isn’t a function of national character; the hypocrisy of
    the nation’s inhabitants has nothing to do with this second point. His
    point was that the actual living conditions of an American slave were
    worse than the conditions of anyone else on earth. Perhaps that was
    hyperbolic, I don’t have accounts from all of those other places from
    the time to compare to.  What I do know is that the living conditions of
    slaves were absolutely horrendous, and it seems to me that Douglass was
    appealing more to people’s humanity there, with a hint of patriotic
    appeal, to cajole people into action.

    I understand that of the 8 million Africans sent to the Western Hemisphere as slaves, about 400,000 came to North America. North American slaves had better survival rates than the 7.5 million sent elsewhere in the Americas. FWIW.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    I’m linking back to this to highlight the post in which “pompous” appeared.

    I guess I’m an asshole, too, because I just don’t see the racism that others are claiming is obvious.

  • Tonio

    Jeff, see Dash’s post below for a good starting explanation. Context matters. It’s similar to how only African-Americans can use the N-word and not sound racist, because when they use it the word has an inherent ironic meaning. There would be no way that I as a white person could use it with the same irony. Unlike “florid,” “pompous” carries the connotation that the speaker or writer thinks he is superior to others. And as some of us noted earlier, there’s a long tradition of using such words against African-Americans to imply that they don’t “know their place.”

    And the final part of the context are Terry’s other comments about poor downtrodden white Americans, the sad violins accompanying the lament about how everyone is bad-mouthing them and their country. At a minimum, worrying more about accusations of racism than the effects of racism simply enables racism.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd Studge

    That is one beautiful speech.  While I have issues with the sectarian language on an intellectual level, a large part of this atheist thoroughly enjoys a dash of the Old Testament as seasoning. It adds an undertone of majesty to the whole thing.  Besides, I’m trying and failing to think of a politician today who comes close to such eloquence.

    (The closest person I can think of is poor Arthur Silber, who could probably have written something like that almost word-for-word.  Alas – or thank God – he isn’t a politician.)

  • Tonio

    Even if one assumed that use of “pompous” in that context wasn’t euphemistic, how is that a valid criticism of either Douglass or his statement?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    This is the Internet, remember?  Being right doesn’t count for anything if your Tone is insufficiently polite.  :-P

  • Anonymous

    “It is just in this circumstance that you and your brother
    abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind.
    Would you argue more, and denounce less; would you persuade more, and
    rebuke less; your cause would be much more likely to succeed.”

    Oh, hey, look, it’s a nineteenth-century tone argument!  Good gods, it sounds exactly the same.  (Maybe slightly more polysyllabic and with more interesting sentence structure.) 

    The more things change…

  • Skanksta

    I’ve had one of the worst days of my life.

    Slacktivist reminds me to hold on to faith in human nature.

  • Lori

    I’ve had one of the worst days of my life.

    I’m sorry about the bad day. I hope that whatever the situation is, it improves for you quickly.

  • Lori

    I’ve had one of the worst days of my life.

    I’m sorry about the bad day. I hope that whatever the situation is, it improves for you quickly.

  • Anonymous

    If public shaming keeps Terry from saying something racist again, then bring on the public shaming. We’re not being malicious. We just want to not hear racist shit anymore. If that makes us assholes, fine, we’re assholes, and I at least am proud of it.

  • Rumplefugly

    You’re implying he said something racist to begin with and I wholeheartedly disagree that calling Frederick Douglass “pompous” is anything else but ignorant.  Just because Nicholas constructed a false equivalency where calling Frederick Douglass “pompous” is as morally outrageous as telling any black person they are “uppity” or “don’t know their place” does not automatically make what Terry said or Terry him/herself racist.

    If you want to publicly shame him for something then shame him for being ignorant.  But don’t bear false witness against him by assuming the imaginings of Nicholas Kapur are somehow reality.  If you actually care whether or not Terry is racist, wait to see how he answers the question Nicholas asked.  And if the issue is just his language, then correct the language without attacking his character.

  • hapax

    You are missing the point.  Nobody has said one single solitary word about zir character.  Everyone has focussed on zir language

    In the context of the historical discourse on race in the US, to say, “Well, okay, he may have been accurately describing the society of his time, but boy that Frederick Douglass sure was pompous!” is a prima facie racist use of language.

    The commenter may not have meant it in this way.  But the burden of proof is on zir to explain or retract it.

  • Rumplefugly

    When Nicholas says, “Why did you say ‘pompous?’  Because he’s ‘uppity?’  Because he “doesn’t know his place?’ Because he’s overeducated?”  There is an insinuation being made that Terry’s choice of the word “pompous” is code for something much more sinister, and he wants to know “why” he used that word in hopes of potentially outing Terry as a racist.  To Nicholas, the language is only as relevant as what the language says about Terry’s character, regardless of whether what he said was actually racist to begin with.  It’s a means to an end, from my perspective:  Shaming someone for saying something stupid by making it worse than it really is.

    I am of the opinion that was Terry said that racially benign but so factually and profoundly ignorant as to be insulting for reasons that have nothing to do with Douglass’ race.  Shame him for that if you savages feel the need to shame him at all.

  • hapax

    Oh, for pete’s sake.

    pomp-ous — adj
    1. exaggeratedly or ostentatiously dignified or self-important
    2. ostentatiously lofty in style: a pompous speech

    Please to explain how this is any different from the condescending, dismissive, indeed racist characterization as “articulate”, “over-educated”, yes, “uppity” of every passionate and eloquent exhortation for decent treatment made by a person of color during USian history, because they presume to a command of the English language that is reserved by nature for us White folk.

    Douglass is definitely dignified, lofty, perhaps even (to modern ears) florid in this speech.  What he is NOT is “exaggerated” or “ostentatious” — except to someone who expects everyone of African descent to speak in tribal grunts.

    If Terry did not mean to deliberately evoke this omnipresent dogwhistle in USian racial discourse, it is up to zie to explain zirself. Perhaps zie did not understand what the word “pompous” means.  Perhaps zie did not understand this shameful rhetorical tradition.  We can only judge by what zie chose to write — and incidentally, not come back and defend, despite your zealous championing.

    Your eagerness to defend zir sounds awfully like you consider a charge of “using racist language” to be objectively worse than to be, yanno, an actual victim of racism.

  • Anonymous

    Oh for fuck’s sake nobody attacked Terry’s character. I checked. Several people said Terry said a racist thing, which is not the same thing as saying Terry is a racist. You, by the way, are being racist, and my saying that is not the same thing as saying you are racist. It’s a curable condition. Stop trying to defend the use of racist language and the problem goes away.

  • Anonymous

    Rumplefugly, why the hell is “that thing you said sounded pretty racist” such an incredibly abusive, sinister, savage, shaming thing to say to someone? If someone said that to me I’d be like “whoops, I didn’t mean it that way”. Or I suppose if I’d intended to be racist about it, I’d say “yup, sure was”. In neither case would I be outraged and expect strangers on the Internet to defend me against character assassination!

    What on earth is going on with this kind of reaction? Confuses the shit out of me.

  • Lori

    Or I suppose if I’d intended to be racist about it, I’d say “yup, sure was”.

    I’d pay cash money for someone to be that honest about it. IME the usual response when person is called on having made an intentionally racist statement is some version of, “Geez, can’t you take a joke?” or “You know it’s true, you just don’t have the guts to say it.” or “How dare you call me a racist?”

  • Anonymous

    Ha, well, you’re probably right on that one. I can’t imagine myself in the shoes of someone being racist on purpose, so my reconstruction may lack verisimilitude. :)

  • Rumplefugly

    Ha, I wish someone had said, “that thing you said sounded pretty racist” instead of “that thing you said is as racist as saying these other things, and I’m going to imply you are a racist for saying it.”  It would have made a far more productive discussion than the shitstorm that was unleashed.

    To answer your question:  I reacted the way I did because I don’t like bullies.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a blog to delete from my Favorites bar.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    The Conservatives are using that bizarre rhetorical judo they’re masters of, to try to redefine “calling someone a racist” as MUCH MUCH WORSE than “saying something racist”.  As usual, it seems to be working.  :-P

  • Rumplefugly

    On that note, I think I’m done reading Fred’s blog.  I’ve been reading it for almost four years and it’s really helped me come to terms with questions I had about my faith and beliefs.  But the fact is his community of readers are an ignorant bunch of assholes who delight in shaming anyone who displays a difference of opinion or any sort of factual ignorance.  Terry did not deserve to be accused to being a racist and treated like one simply because he is ignorant of Frederick Douglass.  I do not deserve to be made out to be this horrible person when I’m trying to tell you people that it’s an injustice to bear false witness as you all have done.  To those who claim to be Fred’s followers:  Are we reading the same blog here?

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter if we are because I’m done.  You didn’t lose a poster, Fred; you’ve lost a reader.  I’ll miss your insights and the things you had to say about topical issues and Left Behind, but I simply can’t read a blog as well-written as yours knowing that its audience is composed of nothing but self-righteous, morally dubious jackals who are perfectly comfortable with bearing false witness against your other readers and shaming them so that they may puff their chests proudly and roost proudly atop the Moral Internet High Ground.  Much like the Pharisees forgot the message they received from Moses long ago, so to has the message you’ve been writing since September 2003 been lost on these self-righteous hypocrites that may claim to read you, but clearly do not retain you.

    If you eventually publish a book, I will gladly buy it for my bookshelf.  I also understand you’re facing financial issues due to your unemployment.  If you have a Paypal established, I’ll gladly donate to that as well.  You do not deserve the reputation your community has created for itself and I hope one day you will be able to finally distance yourself from them and create a true community in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

    Goodbye.

  • hapax

    Shorter Rumplefugly:  “Man, I love it when you call out those horrible ignorant evil people over THERE.  But the minute somebody suggests that I might have a log in MY eye, I’m outta here!”

  • hapax

     Oh, and :

    Much like the Pharisees forgot the message they received from Moses long ago

    Nice little parting anti-Semitic swipe. 

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd Studge

    As a long-time (mostly) lurker, I feel the need to mention that the Slacktivist community is and has been full of wonderful people who, to my mind, often live up to Fred’s calls for idealism.  Reading the posts and discussion here has made me more sensitive to other people’s concerns, introduced me to the idea of privilege, and generally made me a slightly better person.

    I’m sure nobody needed me to say that; it’s just that I didn’t like that awful comment sitting there with no replies.  I’ll stop gushing now.

  • tsig

    Oh the drama!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Don’t let the door hit ya where the forces of mutation and natural selection split ya!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    Man, I wonder what it would be like to have a flouncer who actually leaves for once.

    Also:

    He already said something fucking retarded;

    Since you’re almost certainly still here, Rumplefugly, I’m going to address you directly, and maybe — just maybe — you’ll pay even the slightest bit of attention to my actual words this time.

    You? Probably don’t hate people with learning disorders. Or at least not because they have learning disorders. You really don’t need to convince me on this one; I’ll take it on faith that you haven’t joined some organization dedicated to just fucking beating the crap out of people with learning disorders.

    And yet.

    You just used a derogatory term for people with learning disorders as the superlative of “stupid.” Indeed, you described a person acting stupidly by comparing that person to people who do not deserve the comparison. The thing that you did is hurtful to those people, and people who know those people, and other people who just know and care about those people. Your words were ableist.

    You’ll note that here, I didn’t just choose my words carefully. I made it incredibly explicit that I’m not attacking your character*, but rather your actions. See the bold words? See how they’re not about your thoughts? See how that’s exactly the fucking same as what I’ve said in every post prior to this one?

    And then you could perhaps maybe consider pondering why it is that when someone clearly distinguishes between actions and character, you conflate the two accusations … causing you to accuse others of conflating the two?

    ———-

    * At least not regarding whether you are “ableist” or not. I’ll happily assert that you’re a whiny, overprivileged asshat, but even that is only derived from your actions — it can be changed as easily as you not acting like a jackass.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “Man, I wonder what it would be like to have a flouncer who actually leaves for once.”
    He’ll never leave.  Having lost the arguement, he’ll come up with a new screen name and try again.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    And I really wish I could log on to Disqus and edit my double post.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “Man, I wonder what it would be like to have a flouncer who actually leaves for once.”
    He’ll never leave.  Having lost the arguement, he’ll come up with a new screen name and try again.

  • Anonymous

    You know what I wish?

    That the kind of insight that Frederick Douglass displays here, in his Fourth of July speech, were not extraordinary. That ordinary people on ordinary days would readily notice when the precepts they praised most highly were flagrantly defied; that they would immediately see when propositions held dear by themselves or their peers were patently false; and that they, observing these facts, would do the right thing.

    It seems like such a small thing, but the most cursory study of the time leading up to the U.S. Civil War – and, indeed, of any time before or after – shows beyond a doubt that this has not been the case.

    Thank you, Mr. Douglass, though you will never hear my words thanking you. And thank you, Mr. Clark, for posting his speech here that I could readily read it again.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    And I really wish I could log on to Disqus and edit my double post.

    Now why would you want to do that Hurricane? Your double statement only makes “IT” more  convincing for most of U>S (usual sinners) well me at least! :)

    Peace

  • Anonymous

    This speech reminds me strongly of a Jonathan Edwards sermon, in a good way. Synonyms stacked on top of each other, language that to modern ears sounds florid but in context is direct and even shocking, liberal Old Testament quotations for effect, and the courageous contrarian spirit that would give an Independence Day speech attacking America.

    On the whole racist remark kerfluffle, I can’t help thinking the whole subject owes a big debt to modern literary theory and the primacy of reception over intent…

  • Tonio

    I can’t help thinking the whole subject owes a big debt to modern literary theory and the primacy of reception over intent…

    Why couldn’t the debt be to the simple ethical principle that the effects of one’s actions on others are far more important than how one views one’s character?

  • Tonio

    I can’t help thinking the whole subject owes a big debt to modern literary theory and the primacy of reception over intent…

    Why couldn’t the debt be to the simple ethical principle that the effects of one’s actions on others are far more important than how one views one’s character?

  • Tonio

    I can’t help thinking the whole subject owes a big debt to modern literary theory and the primacy of reception over intent…

    Why couldn’t the debt be to the simple ethical principle that the effects of one’s actions on others are far more important than how one views one’s character?

  • Anonymous

    Actually, I think this made an excellent demonstration of privilege.  When we are not ourselves oppressed or living in “less than fully equal” conditions, if left to our own biases we repeatedly fail to understand what people who are ‘not us’ go through.  White, male, heteronormative, neurotypical, cisgendered… if you are all of these then you have no real understanding of what it’s like for someone who is black, who is transgendered, who is homosexual, who has Asperger’s, or who is any of a thousand thousand other states.

    It doesn’t mean you have to feel ‘white man’s guilt.’  It doesn’t mean you can never ever at all speak on the subject.  It doesn’t mean your opinions mean less.  It DOES mean that your experiences will be vastly different from those who are not exactly like you, and will, in all liklihood, be a lot less comfortable or easy.

    Then we get into the cases of ‘I may be X but at least I’m not Y.’  That’s kyriarchy and will, I’m sure, rear it’s own ugly hydra-head at some point!

  • hf

    People, people! Can’t we come together and agree that it sounded either ludicrously ignorant, trollish, or straightforwardly racist? ^_^

    North American slaves had better survival rates than the 7.5 million sent elsewhere in the Americas.

    I’d like to see if we could control for climate, e.g. for the heat that slaves had to work in. But it certainly seems like other nations had more “bloody” practices in one sense. Still, I tend to see it as a bad sign when you need to define words like “bloody,” “abuse,” and “barbarity” more precisely in order to find someone in the world to whom they apply more strongly.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    North American slaves had better survival rates than the 7.5 million sent elsewhere in the Americas.

    I’d like to see if we could control for climate, e.g. for the heat that slaves had to work in. But it certainly seems like other nations had more “bloody” practices in one sense. Still, I tend to see it as a bad sign when you need to define words like “bloody,” “abuse,” and “barbarity” more precisely in order to find someone in the world to whom they apply more strongly.

    Part of it is climate, but part of it is the fact that the sort of work slaves were doing in North America was less physically damaging than the sort of work slaves were doing in the Caribbean,  where they were working mostly in sugar production. Sugar production is and was insanely dangerous, because it involves crushing sugar cane, which does not want to be crushed, which causes a situation where hands and heads and feet and bodies might be crushed along with or instead of the cane.  

    What this means, long term, is that you tend not to get future generations of slaves in the same way in the Caribbean, because slaves were shipped more frequently into the Caribbean, resulting in a steady influx of new slaves, which means that there is less pressure to preserve the individual status of slaves, or (more importantly) the children of slaves. Crassly, there isn’t much of a re-sale market in slaves in the Caribbean, unlike in the US. Socially, then, where in the US, historically, having a black parent makes you black; in most of the Caribbean and South America, having a white parent makes you white. Thus you get gradiations of blackness, in a way that doesn’t happen in the US. Which makes organizing across national lines interesting, as people like Marcus Garvey discovered.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Of course you’d listen to that radical lefty, Fred. He and all his extremist ‘Abolitionist’ liberal communist socialist atheists should just jump off a cliff and let Good Conservative Values protect the status quo in America, which has obviously never needed to change. (The Founding Fathers didn’t care about your race or social class, after all!)

    Excuse me, had to get a little Liberal triumphalism out there. Douglass always inspires me to ‘act’, even if it’s just by blowing steam on the internets. And at the end of the day, that’s really the difference between Liberals and Conservatives; both may claim to be natural allies of things like Abolition and Civil Rights, but only one side happens to be anything approaching correct about such an assertion.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I realize it’s a lot irrelevant and a bit inappropriate, but when I read “that which is inhuman cannot be divine,” my brain wants the next sentence to be “And with strange aeons, even death may die”

  • ako

    I was hoping someone would explain why “Decries a monstrous horror in principle, but allows it to happen in practice” is somehow worse than “Openly advocates and engages in that monstrous horror, and has a significant percentage of the population loudly proclaiming the horror as the best possible way to live”.  Based on my admittedly limited practical experience, it’s less difficult to get monstrous practices to change when everyone agrees they’re wrong than when they’re loudly defending them.  (Generally still not easy, but it’s often possible to implement some form of harm-reducing partial reform in the short term, while working towards ultimately ending that particular horror when people agree it’s wrong, but when they insist it’s right, it’s difficult to stop the horror without a long and bloody war.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Lipton/100001171828568 Jeff Lipton

    Can’t we come together and agree that it sounded either ludicrously ignorant, trollish, or straightforwardly racist?

    “OR”, yes.  But several here want to use “AND”. 

    I wonder if Terry had meant “florid” for “pompous” (and I feel zie meant “florid”), and what the reaction would have been if zie had….  As it is, it looks like zie has not been back since the initial posts, so we won’t have to worry about zie’s oh-so-racist remarks.  Good job in welcoming a new reader, folks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    You act like I saw the word “pompous” and went straight into capslock screaming and accusations of BEING A ZOMG RACIST(TM). I only got angry when certain people started in on that stupid, stupid “only racist people can say racist things, so you’re calling them a racist!” bullshit.

    If the cost of “welcoming new readers” is coddling the privileged (like myself) and pretending that racism isn’t a problem, then I think I know what I prefer.

  • Anonymous

    “OR”, yes.  But several here want to use “AND”.

    Not sure I get the point here–people may say that the original statement was any or all of those things (ignorant, trollish, racist). They are not characteristics necessarily always found far apart from each other. 

    I wonder if
    Terry had meant “florid” for “pompous” (and I feel zie meant “florid”),
    and what the reaction would have been if zie had….  As it is, it looks
    like zie has not been back since the initial posts, so we won’t have to
    worry about zie’s oh-so-racist remarks.  Good job in welcoming a new
    reader, folks!

    The problem isn’t the word “pompous” in isolation. (And of course, if Terry had said “florid” instead of “pompous,” or “brilliant” instead of “pompous” or “old-fashioned” instead of “pompous” or, or, or … oh come on! We could play this game all day!)

    The name “Frederick Douglass” is at the top of the post, along with the date. Aside from ignoring that (and the entire content of the post), there is much in Terry’s remarks that gives evidence of bad faith. I don’t see any indication that this was a scenario of “enthusiastic but perhaps a bit ignorant new reader trying first post and encountering unreasonable hostility.” 

    So no, I don’t think there was a “new reader” of the type you’re evoking to welcome.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    As it is, it looks like zie has not been back since the initial posts, so we won’t have to worry about zie’s oh-so-racist remarks.  Good job in welcoming a new reader, folks!

    Given that zie came across as a tone deaf asshole even before the potentially racist statement, I’m not sure it’s a great loss. 

  • Anonymous

    My criticism actually goes in a different direction. I don’t have a problem calling an African American “pompous” when zie is in fact being pompous. But I do note that Terry read a posting containing a date and a name–the name of arguably the most famous American orator (but let us allow for ignorance). If nothing else, zie read a speech by an African American talking about slavery in a time when slavery existed (if you don’t know who Frederick Douglass was, you can presumably read the date “1852”). Terry then made the decision to spit on this extraordinary piece of rhetoric, one of the best speeches in the American canon.

    It’s always dangerous to play the “if the shoe were on the other foot” game, but, with that caveat, I have trouble imagining that Terry would have tried to play the fool with a speech written by (let’s say) George Washington. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=581585394 Nicholas Kapur

    Even more than that, actually* — and Jeff, I would also draw your attention to Terry’s first post, as well. The minutiae of this specific situation are really unimportant in the long run, but I’d like to take a closer look anyway. It may be illustrative.

    Terry Post 1:

    “Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the
    monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South
    America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay
    your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you
    will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless
    hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.”

    You’re wrong.

    I’ve lived there and it’s worse.

    I live here in the US and it’s better.

    Fancy words and little real life knowledge just make for a pompous human.

    Clearly missing the point, and being kind of a jackass, and certainly being ignorant, but not necessarily making a racist comment. Could just be comprehension fail, and indeed it was, to a degree — apparently Terry missed that this piece was written by Frederick Douglass in 1852, rather than someone in 2011.

    Accordingly, the response was some mild snark about Terry probably sucking at reading and definitely knowing less about slavery than Frederick Douglass.

    But then…

    Terry Post 2:

    “Reading comprehension fail!”

    You are all quite correct.

    I read this way too fast with too little attention.

    My
    only excuse, and a sorry one at that, is that I’m in the middle of the
    Gulf of Findland on a pitching ship and it’s past 3 AM.

    The
    intent of my point still remains. No matter how hateful a constitution
    that allowed for slavery, I consider the ones that avowed hatred for
    slavery but practiced it nonetheless to be worse. This was true of much
    Latin America in the time of Frederick Douglass and is still true
    nowadays.

    I do also consider Frederick Douglass to be pompous, but that is my own opinion.

    Time for me to go to sleep.

    While not showing unforgivable bad faith, Terry made it explicitly clear that (A) zie knew who Frederick Douglass was, and (B) zie considered him — the man — to be “pompous.”

    I, among others, was not impressed.

    At this point, depending on whom you ask, I either gently-but-sarcastically noted the striking resemblance between Terry’s comment and certain historical dogwhistles, or slammed hir with implied accusations of Being a Racist (hint: not the same thing).

    The actual anger only came when certain non-Terry people decided to become defensive on hir behalf and drag the collective conversation way back to Privilege 101, aka Intent! It’s Fucking Magic!, and then we got to go around and around with how incredibly worrying and hurtful it is to say things that are distressing to people and make this an unwelcoming place for them.

    So long as those people are White, that is, and the hurtful thing is possibly-but-not-actually being accused of Being a Racist, which is to say actually being accused of Saying Something Racist. Everyone else is naturally expected to simply provide the benefit of the doubt and bask in the glow of the ~Magic~.

    ———-

    And finally, you’re not an asshole because you didn’t see the racism in Terry’s comment. That just makes you privileged.

    Now, what makes you an asshole is your disingenuous whining about how everyone’s just being so mean to you for the simple crime of not actively looking for racism ignoring the issue of racism except to complain about people pointing it out, and then effectively denying racism’s existence by insisting that its most common and (arguably) most pernicious form — subtle, seemingly benign ignorance — is not, in fact, racism.

    Frankly, you might consider getting over yourself.

    EDIT: * To be clearer, Dash, I meant that zie went beyond simply stating that the piece was pompous and claimed that the writer was pompous.

  • Tonio

    To expand on Dash’s point, the “pompous” comment may sound far less racist if Douglass wasn’t writing about slavery. Imagine if he was speaking about something far less innocuous, like his taste in clothes. The pattern of accusing African-Americans of being uppit almost always involves them criticizing how they are treated by individual whites or by the nation as a whole.

  • Anonymous

    Nicholas Kapur:

    I meant that zie went beyond simply stating that the piece was pompous and claimed that the writer was pompous.

    Thank you for pointing that out–I failed to look back at Terry’s post and so didn’t pick up on that additional bit of nastiness. There is a very big difference between saying a piece of writing is pompous and saying the person who produced it is, a difference I often fail to observe. The original comment went out of its way to make it about Douglass, not just about the speech itself.  


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X