'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. …

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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://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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    “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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • tsig

    Oh the drama!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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://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”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

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

  • 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://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.

  • 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.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.

  • 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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X