Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Need For Cheap Labor Comes First - Racism Is N-1 Moralizing For Softheads


theamericanconservative |  Lincoln’s legacy as the Great Emancipator has survived the century and a half since then largely intact. But there have been cracks in this image, mostly caused by questioning academics who decried him as an overt white supremacist. This view eventually entered the mainstream when Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote misleadingly in her lead essay to the “1619 Project” that Lincoln “opposed black equality.”

Today, we find Lincoln statues desecrated. Neither has the memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, one of the first all-black units in the Civil War, survived the recent protests unscathed. To many on the left, history seems like the succession of one cruelty by the next. And so, justice may only be served if we scrap the past and start from a blank slate. As a result, Lincoln’s appeal that we stand upright and enjoy our liberty gets lost to time.

Ironically, this will only help the cause of Robert E. Lee—and the modern corporations who rely on cheap, inhumane labor to keep themselves going.
***
The main idea driving the “1619 Project” and so much of recent scholarship is that the United States of America originated in slavery and white supremacy. These were its true founding ideals. Racism, Hannah-Jones writes, is in our DNA.

Such arguments don’t make any sense, as the historian Barbara Fields clairvoyantly argued in a groundbreaking essay from 1990. Why would Virginia planters in the 17th century import black people purely out of hate? No, Fields countered, the planters were driven by a real need for dependable workers who would toil on their cotton, rice, and tobacco fields for little to no pay. 

Before black slaves did this work, white indentured servants had. (An indentured servant is bound for a number of years to his master, i.e. he can’t pack up and leave to find a new opportunity elsewhere.)
After 1776 everything changed. Suddenly the new republic claimed that “all men are created equal”—and yet there were millions of slaves who still couldn’t enjoy this equality. Racism helped to square our founding ideals with the brute reality of continued chattel slavery: Black people simply weren’t men.

But in the eyes of the Southern slavocracy, the white laboring poor of the North also weren’t truly human. Such unholy antebellum figures as the social theorist George Fitzhugh or South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond urged that the condition of slavery be expanded to include poor whites, too. Their hunger for a cheap, subservient labor source did not stop at black people, after all.
Always remember Barbara Fields’s formula: The need for cheap labor comes first; ideologies like white supremacy only give this bleak reality a spiritual gloss.

The true cause of the Civil War—and it bears constant repeating for all the doubters—was whether slavery would expand its reach or whether “free labor” would reign supreme. The latter was the dominant ideology of the North: Free laborers are independent, self-reliant, and eventually achieve economic security and independence by the sweat of their brow. It’s the American Dream.
But if that is so, then the Civil War ended in a tie—and its underlying conflict was never really settled.