American Racism, Confederate Trappings, And this, too, shall melt away

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A pottery cone is a cone-shaped object made of a pyro-sensitive material (in the early days, some kind of clay) so when a pottery kiln reaches a certain temperature, the cone droops. Pottery kilns are made with a tiny window one can look through and if your eye doesn’t melt (don’t worry, there are provisions for this) you can see which of a series of different cones have melted, and thus estimate the temperature of the kiln. You then add fuel if necessary, and keep a record and an eye on the clock, and over time your pottery fires just right.

The pottery cone, reaching a certain level of heat and then falling over, is a metaphor for Confederate monuments in America. The perennial racism-fueled conflict between white supremacists and everyone else flows and moves, waxes and wanes, and always generates heat. Every now and then enough heat is generated, and some sort of civil meltdown occurs in relation to one of these statues. This has happened since the very first months after the Civil War. It has happened more frequently, it has been more widespread, and it has been accompanied by much greater heat, in recent years. So, the statues are drooping, in their own way, like the pottery cones.

The falling statues are the direct result of activism, but they are also metaphors in their own right. They are metaphors of a changing demographic. The racist and classist cancer that infects society in the United States is perpetuated mainly by less educated white men, and although it appears in other societal tissues to some degree, that is currently the main source of the disease. Progressive minded people have been engaged in an open conspiracy for decades now, consisting of two parts: 1) Educate more, and 2) make sure “education” remains education and does not become indoctrination (or it wont’ work). This conspiracy has been only modestly successful, so the number of metastasizing cells, as it were, has not diminished much via liberal education.

But racism is becoming unfashionable, and that is probably the best thing that could happen to it. What was once de riguer, or at least, not something one complains about, in all areas of white or white-ish society, is now widely recognized as bad. Active racists know this, and they revel in its badness, with the new war cry of “make the liberals cry.” The key difference between now and 50 years ago is this: Out of fashion, racism is not recruiting from the young as much as it could, and is withdrawing rapidly from many areas it once held sway. This means the source, less educated white men, are aging as a demographic.

Racism in America will ultimately be addressed by the death of most of the racists.

Most people will react to this idea with the following, or something like it: “But racism will always be there, because of the basic nature of human beings.” This is one of the great lies of racism, that racism is natural, inevitable, and therefore, possibly, normal and even good. This is the Naturalistic Fallacy being used to excuse or underwrite nefarious behavior. Don’t be fooled by that fallacy. Also, despite the fact that we find racism of one sort or another in many societies, you need to know that American racism is it’s own thing. Racism in modern America grows out of American history. American slavery, American immigration, American isolationism, the American frontier, and many other things American are either unique, or at least, very different in America than any other place or time, and the combination is utterly unique. It is not some sort of demented American exceptionalism to claim that running a physically large country (or set of closely interactive colonies) for centuries on the back of widespread slavery, so that most of the people in the slave regions were the slaves themselves, is unique. (The Caribbean of course is part of this story, but lets not give this discussion over to the professional historians until we hit the comment section below.)

To understand this better, consider just one aspect of racism against East Asian people in America. In the 19th century, Chinese people, usually imported workers, were viewed, literally and unabashedly, by most white Americans, as subhuman. There wasn’t even a little apology there. They were a form of monkey that could talk in a lot of white people’s minds. The legislation to keep them out, the norms and regulations that gave Chinese workers less protection than the mules that died along with them building railroads across the mountains, clearly document this, as do the depictions and writings of the time.

Today, a different belief about East Asians pervades American culture. While many of the White Supremacists may view East Asian people as subhuman (I don’t put much past them), today East Asians are more often viewed as superior (like how well the kids do in school), of a more effective or demanding culture (how the parents of those school kids keep things under control) of greater physical prowess (East Asian marshal arts have redefined American fighting) and more gentile and artistic (see all the Asian influence in all the arts) all at the same time. Now also consider the plight of the Irish, considered sub human (again, monkeys that can sort of talk), or the Italians (monkeys that can talk very loudly) or the Polish or other Eastern European groups, and so on and so forth. All of these groups went through a period of intense denigration, were the subject of attack and murder, and economic disenfranchisement. Until the weren’t. That all went away. We see almost no remnant in day to day life of any of that.

American Racism is centered on, and consists mainly of, disdain for African Americans, the descendants of kidnapped Africans bred as a slave population on which our economy was based, and from which our country grew strong. This core of American racism is different from the other, just mentioned, racist historical trends, let alone racism among humans in general.

Yes, American Racism is big, bad, ugly, utterly unique, and most importantly, American racism exists because of its own specific history. Anything that arises from context and history can be put down with new context and future, if that future is unfriendly to it. White supremacy reproduced itself generation after generation in America not because it is innate, but because it is very large and very strong, very convenient, money-making, and desired even by those not directly engaged in the most obvious forms of it.

But now, the cones are melting. The reasons racism is good are melting away. Racism against African Americans is no longer economically neutral or convenient for an increasingly large part of the white dominated business world. In fact it can be downright damaging. It is hard to find a city or state where a wink and a nod in favor of racism increases your vote count. Individuals with histories tied to the American racist model are politically doomed these days, but not in the old days, where the “old days” were five years ago or so. Prosecutors who rode the law-and-order wave of recent decades are increasingly inviable as candidates for executive office, because that “law and order” movement is what made Americans the most incarcerated population in the world, with a strong racial bias. An up and coming mover and shaker who wore blackface to his frat party is no longer seen as a mere doofus. The societal and cultural feedback loops have been breaking for some time, but in recent years, they are being systematically identified and ripped asunder. This is one of the key roles of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” It is an ironic statement designed to pop the racist mole so it can be solidly, and with finality, whacked.

I am not suggesting that racism in America is suddenly over, or that it is going to become unimportant any time soon. Rather, I’m saying these three things. 1) Racism of the kind we see in America is not a mere reflection of human nature, and to see it as such is not only factually wrong, but defeatist; 2) while American racism is big and complex and should not be underestimated, if it was a disease, it would be best cured by cutting out that one element of society that keeps it going, less educated white men; and 3) we need to keep up the pressure, to stop them from recruiting or spreading their culture, over the next 30 years while most of them die off. Under current conditions, with Covid-19, the tendency of these very men to also disdain science may speed the process. We can talk about that after a 30 day period following the upcoming in-person Republican National Convention sans mask.

Of course, we speak here in statistical generalities. Lots of less educated white men are not contributing to this problem. But the demographic of less educated white men has a lot of ‘splainin to do.


“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And this too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

  • Abraham Lincoln

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23 thoughts on “American Racism, Confederate Trappings, And this, too, shall melt away

  1. So the confederate statutes get pulled down.

    To an American Indian I bet a case could be made that all the founders statutes and monuments are offensive and should come down also.

    Maybe the East Asians will want the railroads dismantled – since they were built with Asian slave labor.

    What about pictures in textbooks? Should we edit them to remove the offending photos? Or are photos different than statutes. What about paintings? How much art should be destroyed to appease the protesters?

    Gone with the Wind was pulled from HBO Max recently. It depicted slavery.

    I suppose Ben-Hur should be pulled also – it also depicted slavery.

    I wonder if Roots will be pulled – it depicted slavery also.

    Where will it stop? What is the point? Are we supposed to pretend slavery didn’t happen? Are we supposed to destroy all evidence of past slavery?

    I read that a Columbus statute was pulled down in St. Paul. I wonder who pulled that down – Native Americans? Black people? Or white people?

    I am against the destruction of public property by mobs. If you want a statute removed, ask the City Council to remove it.

    I am against reparations. I don’t owe anybody anything just because slavery existed. The sins of the father do not pass down through the generations. I am only responsible for my own sins – and I have never enslaved anybody.

    It has gotten to the point where merely being white is considered racist. I reject that point of view.

    I don’t believe it is racist to be white.

    I don’t believe it is racist to earn more than average.

    I don’t believe it is racist to send my kids to private school.

    I don’t believe it is racist to send my kids to college.

    I don’t believe it is racist to allow my heirs to inherit the wealth I accumulate during my life.

    I don’t believe it is racist to be against riots, assault, vandalism and arson.

    I don’t believe it is racist that people are arrested for breaking the law.

    I don’t believe it is racist to try people who have been arrested, and if found guilty to jail them.

    In other words – I don’t believe it is racist to be color blind and simply judge people on their actions.

    I think it is racist to believe you are better than somebody else based on the color of your skin, or your ethnicity, or your national origin.

    I think it is racist to assault somebody just because of the color of their skin.

    Those are my opinions.

    Let me hear yours.

    1. RickA, to your first point, absolutely. Consider South Africa. After the new government was formed, statues of the individuals who engineered smaller and larger scale wiping out of indigenous populations were torn down or repurposed, and roads and cities were renamed. At the same time, it was also recognized that not every single member of the government or industry of the old days was totally evil, and some had made contributors, so not every single thing was renamed.

      In the US, we have not torn down monuments related to the founding fathers or other significant presidents, etc. but we have erected monuments related to Native American culture or history, and the Native American museum occupies a significant part of the Mall.

      In Minnesota, we renamed a lake that had been named after a person responsible for a good a part of the regional genocide of Native Americans, giving it the original Lakota-Dakota name. And, cynicism about that act has lead to a counter protest and legal action against the park board, but we’ll fix that.

      It is indeed complicated. But your overall response is mightily oversimplified.

  2. Greg:

    Thank you for your response. I respect your opinion and thank you for sharing it.

    My response is oversimplified. That is because my position is simple. Protests are ok, but riots are not. Tearing down statutes falls into the rioting category because it is illegal and the destruction of property.

    Cannot get much simpler than that.

    1. Protests are ok, but riots are not.

      Clearly you have never considered the presence and actions of agents provocateurs, and we have seen clear evidence that police have acted as such.

      People having simplistic views of the world is one of the reasons for the messes we are in. Few politicians consider the full implications of their actions.

  3. It has gotten to the point where merely being white is considered racist. I reject that point of view.
    I don’t believe it is racist to be white.
    I don’t believe it is racist to earn more than average.
    I don’t believe it is racist to send my kids to private school.
    I don’t believe it is racist to send my kids to college.
    I don’t believe it is racist to allow my heirs to inherit the wealth I accumulate during my life.
    I don’t believe it is racist to be against riots, assault, vandalism and arson.
    I don’t believe it is racist that people are arrested for breaking the law.
    I don’t believe it is racist to try people who have been arrested, and if found guilty to jail them.

    Nobody is saying those things — you are grossly misrepresenting the entire situation.

    On the other hand, this

    In other words – I don’t believe it is racist to be color blind and simply judge people on their actions.</blockquote.

    is completely the opposite of what your posts clearly show you to be — witness your lies about protests, police use of force when not required — even something as simple as the seriousness of devil's night in detroit was lied about by you.

    Also

    I think it is racist to believe you are better than somebody else based on the color of your skin, or your ethnicity, or your national origin.

    You do precisely those things (again, which a review of your posting history makes clear).

    I think it is racist to assault somebody just because of the color of their skin.

    Hence your condemnation of the police assaults.

    Oh wait — you turned yourself into a pretzel defending them.

    We’ve known for a long time there is no reason to take you seriously. You keep insisting on demonstrating that point instead of trying to show any modicum of decency.

  4. “I am against the destruction of public property by mobs”.

    Does that include foreign public property blown to smithereens by US bombs? What about the wishes of peoples in foreign lands whose countries were invaded by mobs of the US military? Or do their views not count? The US most recently carried out the mass destruction of property in Iraq. The invasion was illegal: it violated the Nuremberg Code, the UN Charter and even the US Constitution. Indeed, US foreign policy – along with the British – is built on a foundation of racism.

    It does not get much simpler than that, Rick. You are a rank hypocrite.

    1. Does that include foreign public property blown to smithereens by US bombs?

      Not unless the property is owned by well off white men.

  5. I am not claiming any particular expertise in saying this but it seems reasonable to me that the application of the names of Confederate generals to some military installations was in large part a result of the simple fact that many of those generals were classmates and friends of Union generals and other officers and that those friendships were strong (band-of-brothers) and often transcended the war both during and afterward. There is also the fact that the in the institution of the military those who practice warcraft particularly well are studied and given honor for that if nothing else.

    According to a Wikipedia article on South Carolina “South Carolina also was the only Confederate state not to harbor pockets of anti-secessionist fervor strong enough to send large numbers of white men to fight for the Union, as every other state in the Confederacy did.” [No reference was cited for this. –TW] I wonder if those states also honor those war dead with memorial statues etc.

    1. It’s worth noting that most of the memorials to the traitors who were confederate generals were put up during the peak Jim Crow era, not near the end of the Civil War. There’s no issue with someone wanting one on his/her own property (it would identify the person’s core racism, of course) but they shouldn’t be on public, or government, property.

      I am not claiming any particular expertise in saying this but it seems reasonable to me that the application of the names of Confederate generals to some military installations was in large part a result of the simple fact that many of those generals were classmates and friends of Union generals and other officers and that those friendships were strong (band-of-brothers) and often transcended the war both during and afterward.

      Interesting — it would be worth looking for the years the names of those generals was worked into the names of the bases. Then they should be removed — again, why should the memory of a traitor, a person who fought to defend slavery, and who’s actions were responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers, be honored?

  6. A point made today by retired Major General Paul Eaton:

    I commanded Fort Benning, Home of the Infantry, one of 10 Army installation named after Confederate generals. Bad policy that such important Army posts be named after traitors. Time for change. I like the sound of Fort Omar Bradley, the Soldier’sGeneral, for the Infantry Center.

  7. Greg, on the money as ever with:

    Consider South Africa

    The book ‘Long Shadows: Truth, Lies, and History’ by Erna Paris is worth a look:

    Truths too hard to take

    See also Greg Grandin’s ‘Empire’s Workshop’ and ‘Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala’ by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer for the US role in Latin America.

    Destabilising of egalitarian socialist governments to protect corporate profits and the American right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, unalienable rights’ etc.

    And yes I am also aware of Britain’s long history of similar in other pats of the world such as Asia, India and China.

    I suspect memories of the Opium Wars are rising to the fore, necessary to pay for the increasing coercion of the Indian sub-continent.

    I have many suggestions for reading up on that latter, including excoriating statements by British subjects themselves in collections of letters and other quotes.

  8. Re: Lionel A “… why should the memory of a traitor, a person who fought to defend slavery, and who’s actions were responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers, be honored?”
    =
    There is no good reason to do so at present in my opinion. However, that being said, hindsight sometimes provides oversimplified and even mistaken impressions. Benedict Arnold was a traitor by any definition but the case against Robert E. Lee et al. is less straightforward.

    We should remember that after the end of the war for independence the U. S. started life as a confederacy not a federal union and it is clear from contemporary and later writings that many people at the time of the civil war, including Robert E. Lee, still thought of the American union as “the United States ARE” rather than “the United States IS” and therefore thought of their state as their country, with the union a useful voluntary arrangement for certain aspects of governance. Those ideas made allegiance to their state predominant in their minds. (Not entirely dissimilar to the way that many people’s loyalty to family and/or religion outweigh other loyalties in their minds.)

    The statements and actions of President Lincoln, General and later President Grant, and many other Union officers show that they considered the war a tragic episode and did not want a vindictive aftermath to poison the Union for long thereafter.* That is why no Confederate officers or government officials were even tried for treason. Some (including Gen. Longstreet, Lee’s chief lieutenant) even held federal offices after the war. * And they had other things to get on with.

    Now, 1/5 of the way into the 21 century, it past due that we should finally consider and honor the feelings of the descendants of those people who were slaves in the U. S. of the past and remove the remaining hurtful symbols of the Confederate past and any vestiges of the attitudes which allowed racism (and ethnic arrogance) to be allowed and even to flourish in those centuries. All the Confederate generals are long dead and any honor due to them is in the history books and in whatever of their military careers is still studied at West Point.

    I’m still curious as to whether or not states such as Mississippi honor their Union war veterans and war dead along with their Confederate counterparts and if not why not.

    1. Re: Lionel A “… why should the memory of a traitor, a …

      I think that you have the wrong Lionel A there Tyvor.

  9. Re: Lionel A “I think that you have the wrong Lionel A there Tyvor.”,
    =
    You are correct, of course. My apologies. I was quoting dean and somehow during a “senior moment” managed to misattribute the quotation.

    1. I thought I had mentioned that but either my post didn’t take or I thought about it and didn’t follow through.

      It may be that some of the Confederate generals didn’t view their south as being apart from the United States, but I don’t think that excuses their choices and actions.

  10. Re: dean “It may be that some of the Confederate generals didn’t view their south as being apart from the United States , but I don’t think that excuses their choices and actions.”
    =
    I am not trying to condone or excuse slavery or boost the idea that a confederacy of states is superior to a federal union. I am just pointing out that the judgement of history is one thing, trying to understand how a bit of history actually came about through the thoughts and actions of real people embedded in their cultures and times is quite another.

    The idea that primary loyalty was owed to your state not to the coalition of states was a common attitude in the South and elsewhere. If it hadn’t been, there never would have been a secession fever and there never would have been large enough confederate armies to sustain a war effort for years. I’ve already mentioned this regarding the Confederate states: Many people North and South but especially in border states during the Civil War (Lincoln for example) had family members who went Union or Confederate on the basis of what they perceived as their primary loyalty. And anti- or pro-slavery was not the only reason.

    If memory serves me, some northeastern states have also threatened to secede on occasion.

    It may have actually have been the Civil War itself that weakened the “states-first” attitude in part by requiring soldiers to live, march, and fight over much of the U. S. landscape . (This was mentioned towards the end of the Ken Burns Civil War program that aired on public television.)

  11. This issue isn’t limited to historical military and political figures. There has been a debate in the ASA about an award and lectureship named in honor of R. A. Fisher and whether that naming should be removed based on Fisher’s endorsement of eugenics. The decision was recently announced by the current ASA president, Ron Wasserstein.

    Dear Colleagues,
    The leadership of the ASA has recommended to the awarding organization – COPSS – that the R.A. Fisher Award and Lectureship be retired and that this year’s award be retitled. There is no principle of greater value than the principle of strengthening the statistical community by moving forward to form a more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive society. We are committed to future diversity and inclusion across the generations in the statistics profession.
    We celebrate and commend the outstanding accomplishments of past award recipients and especially this year’s recipient….

    (I’ve removed the name of this year’s winner not because I disagree with the choice — the selected person is quite deserving on honor — but to avoid any chance rickA or mikeN worm it into one of their dishonest takes on the situation. )

    I think it’s a good decision. Nobody views this as eliminating him from statistics (which wouldn’t be possible anyway) and isn’t a reflection on his groundbreaking statistical work.

    1. I’m not sure what
      “Parasite resistance predicts fitness better than fecundity in a natural population of the freshwater snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum,”
      has to do with American racism or Confederate trappings.

      I’m surprised they are renaming the prize. Don’t they know that this gives ammunition for cancelling Margaret Sanger?

  12. Have you seen this bill from California?

    https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB3121

    I wonder if Minnesota will go down this road?

    I don’t owe anybody reparations. First, I did nothing wrong – I owned no slaves, I bought no slaves, I sold no slaves. Second, we only pay reparations to the living (see Japanese reparations bill). Nobody who was enslaved in the United States before 1865 is still living. Third, the sins of the father do not pass to the next generation (or the seventh). Fourth, our country already paid in blood via the civil war – to end slavery in the USA.

    If descendants of slaves want to go after money for what happened to their ancestors they should go after the actual slave sale transactions, those in the United States and those in Africa. I mean it won’t work – but that is better than trying to price some sort of collective guilt. Will Kamala have to pay (her ancestor owned slaves). What about all the Africans descended from those who enslaved and sold the persons brought to America? Should they pay? But for them, nobody could have purchased the slaves and shipped them to the USA.

    The calculation is fraught with difficulty. Oh – and don’t forget to net out all the welfare payments. Oh – and don’t forget to compare the average annual income of a slave descendant in the United States today to the average African continent annual income today (as we have to compare how well off a person is here versus how they would fair had slavery never happened). Oh – and don’t forget to charge off the cost of previous riots (Watts riots, the George Floyd riots, the Portland riots, the Chicago riots and so forth). Perhaps we should charge the 600,000 who died in the Civil War, to end slavery, against all the lynchings that took place. Lets put a value on that.

    I don’t think this commission is going to have an easy job and my guess is nothing ever comes out of it. I guess we will see.

    I hope Minnesota doesn’t go down this road. It is not going to make race relations better – only worse.

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