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Do We Want Any Aluminum Production in the United States?

[ 68 ] April 24, 2016 |


Do we have any interest in having any industrial production left in the United States? This is not an abstract question. It’s a real one, at least concerning the aluminum industry. China is dumping aluminum on the global marketplace to effectively take over all international production, while Alcoa seeks to close U.S plants and move elsehwere. Prices for it are plummeting. It is seriously risking what is left of the aluminum industry in the United States. The United Steelworkers is urging the Obama administration to act to save their jobs:

An American labor union is pushing the United States to impose broad, steep tariffs on aluminum imports using a little-used but wide-ranging trade law that has riled the country’s trading partners in the past.

The effort by the United Steelworkers union comes with trade increasingly an election-year issue in the United States and elsewhere. More than three-quarters of the United States aluminum smelting industry that existed five years ago will have been idled or shut down by this summer as imports have surged, according to the union’s legal petition.

The union blames China’s rising exports, though if successful its effort would also affect American imports from Canada and many other countries.

The union’s law firm on Monday filed a petition covering raw aluminum imports with an American trade panel. The petition invokes Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act. The section was last invoked by President George W. Bush in 2001 to start a legal process that led to American tariffs on steel imports the following year.

A Section 201 case covers essentially all imports of a product from all over the world. That makes it more substantial than anti-subsidy and anti-dumping cases against imports from a single country. The European Union objected to President Bush’s use of Section 201, which resulted in American tariffs on a wide range of steel products, until the administration dropped them in late 2003.

Why precisely is this necessary?

China, which already produces more than half the world’s aluminum, is expanding capacity even as its economy decelerates. The result has been a surge in exports and falling prices for aluminum.

Chinese exports of aluminum jumped more than 27 percent in the past two years, Chinese customs figures show.

A spokesman for the government-affiliated China Aluminum Association, who gave his family name as Zeng, said aluminum’s increasing use in high-speed railway equipment, aerospace and electronics justified China’s expanding production capacity and rising exports.

Smelters in Canada and elsewhere, having been displaced in their traditional international markets, have stepped up shipments of raw aluminum to the United States. American imports of raw aluminum from Canada, the biggest supplier, jumped 10 percent by tonnage last year, United States customs data shows.

So the fundamental question as Americans we have to ask ourselves is whether we want some union jobs to survive in this industry, not to mention the industry itself. To answer no has a major impact on the future of any industrial unionism and jobs policy. I know that free trading fundamentalists love to bathe themselves in moralistic language of saving the world’s poor through capitalism, but there’s a very real cost here, a cost that you as an American have to live with in your own country. It’s already contributing heavily to Trumpism. Continued economic instability for the working class is not only a moral problem of its own but a political problem that can’t be solved by vague discussions of more education, retraining programs that don’t provide a path forward, or ideas like UBI that might be a reality in 20 years but sure aren’t now. You have to answers for the USW right now about what happens to their workers.

We do need industry in this country. We need good jobs for people who do not have college educations. There are many positives to global trade, but there are also positives for industrial production at home. The two issues need to be balanced. The United States does need an aluminum industry.


Jacobin: Walking on the Fighting Side of Me

[ 181 ] April 24, 2016 |


Were you thinking, I really need to know what Jacobin has to say about Merle Haggard? Probably not. Unfortunately, Jacobin decided to publish a Merle Haggard obituary of sorts, by Jonah Walters. It is, without exaggeration, the worst essay I have ever seen in that publication and one of the worst essays on music I have ever read. It is essentially an exercise in Aesthetic Stalinism, arguing that Merle Haggard was a terrible person and overrated artist because he was supposedly the voice of American reaction for a half-century. This is not only wrong politically, it’s wrong musically. Let’s break it down.

The America Merle Haggard sang about was an ugly, indefensible place, a revanchist fantasy where the democratizing momentum of the 1960s never swept from sinful coastline cities into the pure heart of the middle country; where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites; where women existed only to break hearts and be heartbroken (generally in lonesome small-town diners); and where the most working-class people could hope for was martyrdom, not liberation.

This is ridiculous and just wrong. “Where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites.” Huh. Well, what about “Irma Jackson”? What about “Go Home”? Both are songs about interracial relationships broken up by racists. Haggard actually wanted to release “Irma Jackson” instead of “Fighting Side of Me” as the followup to “Okie from Muskogee” but the record company overruled him. Yet such facts never get in Walters’ way. Merle was not singing about black oppression per se, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable standard by which to judge the politics of a musician. Moreover, there are plenty of minor songs that at least express a certain level of solidarity with working people of other races. For instance, “The Immigrant” off Haggard’s relatively minor 1978 album I’m Always on a Mountain When a Fall (“It’s Been a Great Afternoon” was the big hit on this album) is not particularly sophisticated or a great song but it’s a song about undocumented migrants that welcomes them into the country and hopes they will come back when they are inevitably deported. Walters’ argument on Merle Haggard’s catalog is absolutely incorrect.

As for the line about women, welcome to country music. And this is of course the real problem with Walters’ article. He is dismissive of country music as an art form because he doesn’t like the politics and considers the entire genre a revanchist fantasy. More on this later. Songs about heartbreak are the centerpiece of country music songwriting, especially before 1990. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette sang about women in these terms just as much as Merle Haggard or any other supposedly sexist male artist. One feels that Walters is the type of lefty who makes an exception for Johnny Cash, but dismisses the entire genre otherwise as the music of racists and sexists.

For Haggard, working-class allegiance meant political conservatism. He shape-shifted to suit the times, but never wavered in his reactionary posture. He was a hippie-hating hawk in the sixties and seventies, a dutiful Reaganite in the eighties, and a petulant chest-pounder during the first Gulf War, when he broke a mid-career spell of semi-obscurity with a song criticizing antiwar protesters. There are precious few lyrics in his songbook worth defending.

Now this my friends is what you call a selective timeline. Among other things, I wonder why Walters doesn’t discuss the Iraq War? Actually, he does, later in the article:

But no amount of waffling could challenge the red-blooded conservatism of his some of his fans, including the contemporary country star Toby Keith, whose Iraq War–mongering sing-along “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” was inspired by Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”

He blames Merle Haggard for Toby Keith. Interesting. I wonder if there were any county musicians who opposed the Iraq War? Oh yeah, this guy:

A new Merle Haggard song that is critical of the media’s coverage of the war in Iraq is being rushed to thousands of radio stations around the United States.

Tom Thacker, vice president of Hag Records, says the song “That’s the News” is generating intense interest around the country from media and fans.

“We’re mailing it out as we speak,” Thacker said. “It’s going to a broad range of stations.”

“It’s another one of Merle Haggard’s social commentaries,” he said. “This time it’s kind of opposed to the tone of ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me.”‘

Quite the unreconstructed right-winger there! There are other anti-Iraq War Haggard songs as well.

At the core of Walters’ analysis is that Haggard wasn’t the right kind of political artist. By representing white populism and not engaging in fantasies of global revolution, Haggard somehow sold out the American working class, who clearly didn’t want to hear his messages as he is only one of the most popular artists in the history of recorded music.

The same year, he released “Working Man’s Blues.” This was a year in which workers’ movements all over the world demanded a more just economy, replete with better entitlements and expanded leisure time.

But according to “Working Man’s Blues,” to be a proud member of the working class was to be a dutiful employee, arriving to work on time in the morning, drinking beer in the evening, and denying the need for welfare all the while.

First, saying “workers’ movements all over the world demanded a more just economy” is both true and not true at the same time. Yes, there were uprisings at Lordstown and elsewhere through the 1970s. But that doesn’t mean that a majority of workers believed such things per se, that they felt their popular music had to represent those viewpoints if they did, or that wanting to go home and drink a beer is somehow anti-political or antithetical to their interests. As I have stated elsewhere, one problem the labor left has is that it assumes an empowered worker is a worker who is going to spend their off-hours engaged in meetings for democratic unions or anti-racist meetings. Sometimes it is. It’s also empowering to be able to go home and watch a bad CBS comedy, or have time to watch your kid’s soccer game, if that’s what you want to do. Empowerment is not “do what I think you should do.” Empowerment actually means “you have choices to do what you want to do.”

Walters clearly has not actually read anything on Haggard either, which is too bad since the literature on him is voluminous. He mentions that Haggard played for Pat Nixon’s birthday in 1973 as central to his argument that Haggard was an unreconstructed conservative. What he doesn’t do is discuss how Haggard actually responded to that event. Jefferson Cowie does detail this event, in his great book Stayin’ Alive, which Walters desperately needs to read if he wants to write about the white working-class. Haggard described it as a horrible experience. He remembered, “I felt like I was coming out for hand-to-hand combat with the enemy.” That’s the evidence Walters should be using. But instead, the actual fact of Haggard playing at this event is a sign of his unreconstructed politics in this incredibly shallow essay.

Walters then goes on to somehow blame Haggard’s nostalgic songs about the 1980s as prepping for Reagan’s election but has no evidence at all to even begin supporting this point.

The point of course is not that Merle Haggard is a progressive hero. He’s not. Merle Haggard’s core belief was that he liked money. He acted accordingly. He wrote a wide variety of songs, some of which expressed conservative fantasies, others that expressed quite progressive and nuanced politics.

But for all too large swaths of the left, dealing with the actually existing white working class and their cultural forms is far more difficult than fantasizing about the idealized white working class in their minds. See this absurdity of a paragraph:

It’s a tragedy that Haggard adopted a regressive, individualistic politics of misplaced nostalgia. In other circumstances, his life experience might have guided him toward the opposite, toward a progressive politics of collective action.

This is Jacobin magazine, a magazine hoping to spawn a new revolutionary politics. You might call it a tragedy that white people don’t generally respond to cross-racial collective action, but the point if you believe that should not be that Merle Haggard represents everything wrong with America because he didn’t write songs from the precise political perspective you personally espouse. It should be that we need to learn from Haggard’s songs to tap into tenets of white populism where the left might build a broader class-based politics. But so often on the left, talking about the white working class as they actually exist, turns into a snobbish dismissal, whether of actual people or of their cultural forms. That this essay is being published at the same time that the same magazine has published many essays supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders is quite telling. As the 2016 elections have shown, we are in a moment of an upsurge of white populism. A lot of it has supported Trump. But not all of it. Sanders has had some success among the white working class. He’s the kind of politician that can provide a real voice for white working-class people. Jacobin supports that, but seems to also lack actual white working-class voices that make these people real. It’s easy for the left to talk about the working-class from a generalized perspective. But Walters’ essay shows how quickly many leftists fall into a knee-jerk belief that the actual living breathing white working class is a political failure and thus evaluates their cultural forms from that perspective. Walters attempts to avoid this in his last paragraph:

We can defend the millions of Americans — many of them poor, rural, and neglected — who find comfort and companionship in Merle Haggard’s music without defending Haggard himself, because we understand what Haggard didn’t: together we can build a just, prosperous world for the future, rather than simply imagining one in the past.

“We understand what Haggard didn’t” is perhaps the most condescending phrase of all time. It screams of “let me tell you, poor whites, what the real and correct politics are.” It says that Haggard’s songs, or at least the few cherry-picked songs to support this essay and not the actual catalog of Merle Haggard, are actually wrong and we now know better. In union organizing training, you are taught to listen carefully to the people you are talking to and build arguments for unions based upon their concerns, not your concerns and your talking points. This is good advice. I have to feel that Jonah Walters would be a terrible organizer if that was his job because he would condescend rather than listen, spout talking points rather than consider the real desires of the people he was organizing.

Jonah Walters’ article is a failure as a piece of musical journalism. It’s a failure at understanding that art and the artist’s biography are not the same thing. It’s a failure as a history of Merle Haggard. It’s a failure as a political argument. It’s a failure at understanding anything about the white working class. It is an absolutely terrible essay and Jacobin should be ashamed to have published it. This feels more appropriate to be published with the recent anti-white working-class articles at The National Review than in a leftist publication.

More on Georgetown and Reparations

[ 124 ] April 24, 2016 |


I was prescient yesterday by saying the only answer for Georgetown was to pay reparations for descendants of its slaves. The New York Times editorial board calls for a very specific form of reparation:

Such denials are impossible in the harrowing history of slavery at Georgetown University that Rachel Swarns recounted recently in The Times. In 1838, the Jesuits running the college that became Georgetown sold 272 African-American men, women and children into a hellish life on sugar plantations in the South to finance the college’s continued operation. On that fact, there is no dispute.

The sale by the Jesuits stands out for its sheer size and the directness of its relationship to the existence and fortunes of one of the country’s top Catholic universities. The names of the people who were taken from the Jesuit plantations in Maryland and shipped to New Orleans are known. The fact that some of their descendants have already been found makes this a particularly salient case in the emerging effort to confront one of history’s worst crimes against humanity.

Georgetown is morally obligated to adopt restorative measures, which should clearly include a scholarship fund for the descendants of those who were sold to save the institution.

Many people may be startled to learn that the Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in the nation. But as the historian Craig Steven Wilder notes in the forthcoming book “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,” the Catholic Church was fully involved with slavery in the colonial period. Professor Wilder writes that income from slave plantations gave Catholics the resources to resist colonial-era persecution, allowed the church to survive through the American Revolution and underwrote the church’s expansion.

Visitors to the Jesuit plantations, including an Irish priest who visited Maryland in 1820, documented the violence against the enslaved. Some urged the church to get rid of its slaves. But as Professor Wilder writes, “Rather than retreating from slaveholding, the bishops built their church by tracking the westward expansion of plantation slavery” after the Louisiana Purchase.

Personally, I don’t think this goes far enough, but bringing the descendants into Georgetown for free would at least be something.

As to the idea that reparations is somehow unrealistic, well:

The latter is by Ed Baptist, historian of slavery. White people benefit each and every day from the legacy of slavery and racism. They can move to the suburbs to “give their children the best education” because they have better jobs and histories of redlining, restrictive covenants, job flight, and violence made the suburbs traditionally a white-only space. They benefit from a lack of police violence. They benefit from better jobs and education. They benefit each and every day. The middle class is built on a foundation of slavery and racism. If we are going to accept those benefits, we also need to pay up to even the playing field. Otherwise, we are just continuing to invest and benefit from a racist society.

A Complete and Utter Destruction

[ 58 ] April 23, 2016 |

I very rarely post this sort of click-baity lefty stuff, but watching Socialist Alternative activist Darletta Scruggs utterly eviscerate that gigantic piece of garbage Neil Cavuto is truly a thing of beauty.

Georgetown: Pay Reparations

[ 85 ] April 23, 2016 |


This story about how Georgetown University sold a bunch of slaves to pay off its debts in 1838 is pretty interesting. And it’s great that Georgetown students are forcing the administration to deal with the school’s past. I do have one caution though, which is that the skilled PR people employed by big universities are adept at turning nasty history into an opportunity to make the university look good today, as has happened at Brown in the decade since that school embraced its deep relationship with slavery. There is one thing that Georgetown can do to make up for some of its historical crimes: tap into that $1.5 billion endowment and pay reparations to the descendants. To me, that’s a sign of an institution serious about making some sort of amends and not just seeking to make itself look good in 2016 through some conferences and a statue and a lot of press releases about it all. Reparations would show seriousness and actual leadership, especially for the precedent it would set for other slaver institutions. Which is why it almost certainly won’t happen.

Julian Castro

[ 111 ] April 23, 2016 |


I have nothing to say about the substance of this controversy around Julian Castro. And I don’t care that much who Hillary chooses as her VP. I will say however that it is completely ridiculous the kid gloves which the Democratic Party establishment has used with Castro for the last 5 years. If huge parts of the Democratic Party establishment are taking a line that “under no circumstances can Julian Castro be criticized because we need him too much,” then this is one the pathetic job of the Democratic Party to cultivate Latino candidates.

And you know what is revealing? None of the pushback on our criticism of Castro’s housing policy is saying anything about how or why the coalition of groups that signed this letter are wrong. His defenders are saying we should not criticize Julián Castro because he is Latino; that any criticism of him is wrong. In Joe Velasquez’s words, “an attack on him is an attack on the Latino community.” Well, the seven Latino members of Congress who co-signed that critical letter to Castro and Watt don’t think that. Latino blogger Markos Moulitsas doesn’t think so., the biggest Latino online organization in the country, doesn’t think so. The thousands of Latino leaders and members of the big community organizations Alliance of Californians and New York Communities for Change don’t think so.

Great Brown Hope politics is not exactly a useful strategy, especially when tied to a neophyte with few actual accomplishments.

Fortress Liberalism

[ 98 ] April 23, 2016 |


This is a curious article by the historian Matt Karp, arguing against Hillary Clinton’s “fortress liberalism,” which itself a play of Rich Yeselson’s “fortress unionism” strategy for the labor movement. Karp argues that only a mass politics creates scenarios for major changes. That’s what Bernie Sanders represents and those who dismiss Sanders because there is nothing he can do to make Republicans vote for his policies in Congress are short-sighted. Rather, this so-called fortress liberalism won’t accomplish anything either. It has no potential to do so even if it succeeds.

I guess I am torn about this piece. In some ways, Karp is correct. Change does require mass mobilization and those uncomfortable with protest politics like Jonathan Chait simply don’t understand how large-scale change happens. The Civil Rights Act required baiting Bull Connor to sic dogs on children. The National Labor Relations Act required the 1934 strikes that led to the deaths of workers. The growth in legislation providing civil rights protections for LGBT people required the mass action of ACT-UP in order to spur recognition that queer people were real and suffering. It is workers in the streets who are leading the charge to raise the minimum wage, which is happening in states from California to Arkansas. So yes, more mass action, please!

But Karp either doesn’t recognize or doesn’t respond to two obvious rejoinders. First, all of those mass actions were outside of the electoral system. While it is certainly true that workers responded to FDR, it’s also worth noting that the 1932 election was more a rejection of Hoover and the 1936 election, which was genuinely a worker outpouring of a support for a politician, took place only after FDR’s original intention to allow corporate self-rule through the NRA was thrown out by the Supreme Court, after the 1934 strikes forced his hand to take a stronger stand toward labor, and after the Social Security Act was passed to undermine other retirement-based political movements. In other words, FDR adjusted to workers. He did not lead a workers’ movement. Truman, LBJ, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, any of these presidents were reticent to do much of anything for social and economic justice unless they were pushed. It seems to me that Karp makes the classic mistake of thinking that a president can lead a social movement. I think that is an error. That’s no reason not to vote for Sanders. I am voting for him on Tuesday. But if we think that change happens primarily through electing the right savior, then the inevitable disappointment will result when that individual can’t create that change.

That gets to the second point which is that Karp really doesn’t want to deal with the gerrymandering issue. The reality is that there is simply no reason for most Republicans to care what Democratic president is in power. They aren’t scared because they are gerrymandered into safe districts. They have to care about being primaried from the right. That situation isn’t inevitably stable, but it’s very real. So while Karp talks about how recalcitrant legislators had to be cajoled into supporting reform of the past, he is avoiding the real differences between the past and present on this issue while playing up the different political realities in other forms. It’s not a dishonest argument, but it is a dodge.

It’s not that voters should support a “fortress liberalism,” if that is what we want to call Hillary Clinton’s worldview. It’s that we should a) recognize that any president is going to need outside pressure to accomplish anything, b) that no president will ever save us, and therefore , c) the need for mass action will quite likely be just as necessary and just as effective (or not, depending on the level of mass action) under a Sanders presidency as it is under a Clinton presidency.

Richard Lyons, RIP

[ 34 ] April 21, 2016 |

Prince isn’t the only great musician to die today. Richard Lyons of the legendary cult band Negativland, RIP.

Regulating Fishing

[ 25 ] April 21, 2016 |


The regulating of international fishing is utterly disastrous, both in terms of sustainability and in terms of labor rights. With the rise of documented cases of slavery in the fishing industry around the world, some are worried that calls to monitor for labor conditions will undermine the already tenuous monitoring for sustainability, claiming that this is an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good. I reject that argument because I don’t think you can have sustainability to the natural world in a society where exploitation within the human species is rampant. Those who are happy to enslave workers are also going to be happy to cheat fishing limits. I think you have to consider them both together. What I found interesting about the linked article is that it is trying to think through some of these problems, but completely ignores what would actually move us toward accountability in both areas, which is holding people higher on the food chain legally accountable for their suppliers. Third-party monitoring and certification are not inherently evil, but they are inherently limited, dealing with a symptom rather that the disease. If you want to stop exploitation of labor and of nature, you have to go higher up the supply chain. It’s only when we start holding the buyers and the stores who buy from them accountable that you see the downward pressure that will actually clean up these practices.

From Jackson to Trump: The Problem of American Whites

[ 441 ] April 21, 2016 |


Reading the discussions of Andrew Jackson over the last couple of days has been really interesting to me. With both Dylan Matthews and Scott, I agree on all the merits of the case against Jackson. But I think it’s also just slightly misguided in emphasis. Jackson was terrible in pretty much every conceivable way–economic policy, slaveholding, genocidal murderer of indigenous peoples, extralegal executions of foreign traders, etc. John Quincy Adams was indeed much more of a visionary of a more just and functional America.

So you’ll see no disagreement from me on banishing Jackson to the back of the $20 or getting rid of him entirely. Good riddance.

But I think all of this lets the real culprits of American crimes off way too easy: white people. Relatedly, I this is a result of and is spurred on by too much focus on the presidency as a way to understand what is still a Great Man History that we can’t get beyond and a way to understand modern politics. These two issues intertwine to provide us a somewhat limited view of the problems of the past and the present. The problems of the past and present in the United States can be blithely summed up as too many racist, selfish white people. Matthews and Scott are both right by calling Jackson a reactionary. He was indeed. But it’s not like Jackson was putting himself out on the line politically. Jackson’s actions–destroying the National Bank, holding slaves, committing genocide against Native Americans–were all the popular positions of the American white population. There’s a reason he was so popular and a reason why the Whigs struggled so much to defeat him. He delivered on what millions of Americans wanted.

Andrew Jackson was the living embodiment of the American Dream in the early 19th century. Growing up dirt poor and barely literate, he managed to rise rapidly in American society through his use of violence, shrewd financial dealings, and military success. Owning slaves was the primary way to wealth for basically the entire South during the pre-Civil War period, a part of the nation it should be remembered that also included Maryland and Kentucky. Moreover, many, many whites would have loved to own slaves in southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The genocidal project was supported by nearly every white American, outside of the northeast at least. What is forgotten about in the Indian Removal debates is that the whites of Georgia simply would have massacred the Cherokee had the government not removed them. Yes, Jackson should have followed John Marshall’s decision. But remember that he and Van Buren faced zero political fallout for ignoring Marshall. The Democratic Party was the embodiment of white desire. Jackson may have been a reactionary, but so were the majority of American whites.

Another way this is really interesting is that it’s really hard for me to see people who are damning Andrew Jackson defend the American Revolution. The American Revolution was largely a movement of racist white tax avoiders who openly advocated for genocide against Native Americans and who then acted upon that. Yes, the fancy Enlightenment thought that gussied up the Declaration of Independence did cause some whites to question their society and you saw northern states slowly move toward banning slavery, although this was by no means an easy task in many of them. But even there, the real issue was slavery wasn’t making any money and so was easily disposed of. In the South, the reason there was some emancipationist talk was that the tobacco farms had depleted soil and so it didn’t make much financial sense. Almost the very moment the cotton gin is invented, all of that southern talk about emancipation disappears and the region doubles down on slavery. Slavery once again became the way for white wealth accrual in much of the nation. Andrew Jackson helped move that process along but he was also very much a creation of it.

The problem of Andrew Jackson is the problem of white people. It’s the problem of genocide against Native Americans after the American Revolution. It’s the problem of slavery. It’s the problem of James Polk lying to Congress to invade Mexico to expand slavery. It’s the problem of John C. Calhoun and John C. Breckinridge. It’s the problem of popular sovereignty and Bleeding Kansas. It’s the problem of the Democratic Party running Horatio Seymour in 1868 and Horace Greeley in 1872, both running on the Republicans doing too much for black people. It’s the problem of William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan wanted to exterminate Native Americans and being irritated with Grant for not allowing that. It’s the problem of Wade Hampton and Tom Watson. It’s the problem of Woodrow Wilson and the Ku Klux Klan, first, second, and third editions. It’s the problem of George Wallace and Strom Thurmond. It’s the problem of Reagan giving campaign speeches about race in Philadelphia, Mississippi and people responding to that. It’s the problem of the Tea Party and the rise of Donald Trump.

In other words, the problem of Andrew Jackson is not just that Andrew Jackson was a terrible person. It’s the problem of most American white people being racists. By focusing too much on Jackson or too much on Trump, we let ourselves and our society off the hook. Take Jackson off the $20, please! But by focusing our criticism too much on a single individual, we not only reinforce a type of personality politics today that is deeply problematic and reinforce Great Man History, we also cover up for our own culpability in all of these horrors and culpability of our ancestors.

What Will We Do to Actually Desegregate Our Schools?

[ 78 ] April 20, 2016 |


I know the answer to the above question will be “nothing.” People who can, largely white people, will continue to move to the suburbs or send their kids to private schools while people of color will attend tax-starved public schools, continuing the long cycle of racial discrimination in this country. Every white person benefits from this today and many of us contribute to it, even unintentionally. But the problem is real and more people are articulating responses to it. Matt Delmont has a new book out on the busing controversies in the North and notes how much of the busing controversy was created by the media, who reported on southern civil rights problems as a moral issue but sided with whites on northern civil rights issues. Jake Blumgart interviewed Delmont.

Q: Do you think part of the reason Northern racism was harder to expose was that it was subtler and less dramatic? There’s this whole edifice of tightly drawn school district lines where residents are able to pull down the portcullis behind them with zoning regulations. Segregation in the North relies on incredibly complex policies that were just harder to make interesting and accessible.

A: The way racism functioned in the North was much subtler. In the South it’s easy to picture how racism operated—colored drinking fountains and white drinking fountains. The system of Jim Crow segregation was so visible. It was still incredibly difficult to overturn that system, but it was easier to visualize. For Northern white citizens and white politicians, the way their schools and neighborhoods were structured was just normal, they didn’t know or chose not to understand that it wasn’t just a matter of white families choosing to live in white neighborhoods and black families in black neighborhoods. There was a whole history of mortgage redlining, zoning decisions, public housing discrimination, and real estate discrimination that created those separate neighborhoods. But the subtlety of that allowed white people to just see it as common sense, just how our neighborhood and schools should be.

It’s easier for them to say, and mean, well, these are our neighborhood schools, this is our property, and we want to protect those things and lobby for zoning restrictions that reflect that. It made it easier because it they believed it to be an innocent thing that just happened and it gave them a language to be able to argue against school desegregation that resonated powerfully and didn’t seem racist.

Delmont concludes:

One of the goals in my book is to get people to think about the fact that schools are still segregated many decades after Brown v. Board because of intentional choices that politicians and parents and school officials made. In regards to school zoning, school financing, and student assignment, those were intentional things that happened. If we want to have a different set of outcomes in the future and have meaningful school integration in terms of race and socioeconomic status we have to make different choices. It wasn’t inevitable that Brown was going fail as it did and it wasn’t inevitable that schools were going to be segregated the way they are now. Those were choices that people made and continue to make. To have different outcomes, we need to have different choices.

We do have to make different choices. One of those choices may well mean committing to contributing to the solution of de facto segregation and then acting on it. Another solution may be a return to busing. That’s what Sean Riley, who was a bused student as a child and now teaches in the Seattle public schools calls for in response to the growing segregation of the city’s schools. He notes that busing worked in many ways, even though white people of course took advantage of it to dominate it for their own purposes. It led to better test scores for minority students, created a more inclusive city, and spawned a greater desire for integration throughout other facets of urban life. But that era ended, Seattle got rich, and the age of testing took over. That’s helped destroy what was good about diversified education in Seattle.

We must prioritize getting different kinds of young people working and learning together again. Therefore, we must prioritize reintegration.

First off, the Seattle Public School District—a district that currently disciplines black kids four times more often than whites—must immediately increase professional development around culturally responsive and socially just instruction. When schools resegregate, staff stagnate. We must ensure that classrooms use all students’ identities and knowledge as entry points. It takes incredible skill and openness to develop these abilities, and Seattle needs to commit serious resources to the work.

Seattle teachers should also blaze the trail on creating cross-district and inter-district collaborations. There is evidence, from groups such as Narrative 4 in New York City, that writing projects between disparate groups of students generate radical empathy, develop cultural flexibility, and nurture authentic writing skills. Writers in the Schools (WITS) and I are currently developing a collaborative writing project between Blaine and South End middle schools. As Seattle continues to segregate, these projects should extend beyond our district’s borders. Seattle Public Schools should look into applying for federal grant money to facilitate this work.

In the long-term, I propose something called the Seattle Civics Academy. Pulling students from all over the district, this would be a semester-long program that all Seattle high-school students would participate in at some point in their school careers. They would get to choose when, but no student could opt out—the overwhelming flaw in Seattle’s integration plan. Five days a week, all day long, students from across the city would attend completely inclusive classes that examine race, class, and gender through the lenses of math, language arts, and other disciplines. Teachers highly trained in socially just and culturally responsive teaching would emphasize and promote communicating across differences and fighting for a more just city and society. Each semester’s cohort would create an activism project to improve the city and its citizens’ lives. Such work would break down isolation, facilitate access to power, and promote harmony and empathy. Frankly, I also believe it would be fucking awesome.

Of course, Riley also understands the class dimensions of this–that Seattle can talk all it wants to about racial inclusiveness and support bringing in Syrian refugees but they will all end up in south King County because they can’t afford to live in Seattle. But we have to move forward to creating more integrated schools in very real ways. When wealthy people move to the suburbs or stay in the cities and find ways to put their kids in all (or almost) white private schools or push black students out of their schools because their parents can’t afford to live in a gentrified city any longer, they contribute to racial discrimination. This may not be intentional, but that’s how white privilege works. White privilege must be fought, including and especially by ensuring that all students have equality of opportunity at school. Separate but “equal” is a terrible thing, whether that is the de jure schools of 1954 the de facto schools of 2016.

Sanders and the South

[ 48 ] April 20, 2016 |

The march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went forward March 28, 1968. Most of the 5,000-plus who participated were described as working-class, church-going people who  donned their Sunday best because they believed in the righteousness of the strike and they believed in King. The 'I Am A Man' signs distributed that day came to symbolize the strike effort. In this photograph the men were lining up prior to the march. King arrived as the march was already in progress. "With those men, when you say (union) 'recognition' that means 'We are being recognized.' This is why they wore the sign 'I Am A Man.'  " - Dr. H. Ralph Jackson, director of the Minimum Salary Department of the African Methodist Episcopal Church  (By Ernest Withers / NOT FOR USE WITHOUT PERMISSION)

Robert Greene builds on Bernie Sanders’ deeply unfortunate comments concerning the South to note that no “political revolution” will ever happen in this nation without the South.

The Civil Rights Movement is the most well-known example of what energized Southerners can do to change a region, but it is not the only one. The 1934 textile strike and the CIO’s “Operation Dixie” of the late 1940s remind us that labor struggle is a mainstay of Southern history — and the recent Charleston longshoremen’s strike, not to mention Fight for 15, show that native Southerners have not thrown in the towel.

Often the fight for progressive politics has come at great personal sacrifice. As the 1979 deaths of five left-wing activists in Greensboro, North Carolina at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan illustrate, Southerners have paid a steep price for holding back not a metaphorical fascism, but the real, terrifying version that has been in America since the Reconstruction era.

Donald Trump’s victories in Southern primaries, the Charleston massacre perpetrated by white supremacist Dylann Roof, and the passage of anti-transgender laws under the guise of “religious freedom” might be seen as the latest examples of the region’s hopelessly reactionary hue.

But for every one of those moments, we can point to movements like North Carolina’s Moral Mondays, historical figures like Fannie Lou Hamer or Jim Hightower, and achievements like the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964.

If the United States is to truly witness a political revolution, it cannot leave behind the South. Too much sweat, tears, and blood have been shed by courageous African Americans and defiant white Southerners to simply whistle past Dixie.

While a lot of the points Greene makes are overstated (southern support for the New Deal was always highly tenuous, which is why FDR tried to primary them, and Clintonism coming out of the South of the 1980s doesn’t have very much relevance for understanding politics today), the larger point may well be true. Which is why there will probably never be a leftist political revolution in the United States, however we define those terms. Doing so would have to overcome the racism that is not southern, but is more pronounced and in the open in the South. I’m skeptical that can ever be overcome.

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