The Color of Law and the Politics of Artifacts

Ancient Roman Soldier

All roads lead to Rome. They do because the ancient Romans built roads. Lotsa roads. They were famous for it. They had had an empire to build and maintain.  They had to come and see and conquer. They had nouns to decline and verbs to conjugate. So they built roads. Really good roads. So good, in fact, that many routes we still use today through Europe were laid down by the Romans two-thousand years ago.

The Romans built roads because they needed them for the maintenance of their empire. The technology of the road was embedded in a particular social system of power. Roman roads are an example of how, in political theorist Langdon Winner’s phrase, artifacts have politics.  The artifacts we are surrounded with every day: our houses, neighborhoods, roads, cities are political in nature. They reflect a certain set of assumptions about who should live where and who should travel freely. One of Winner’s examples were the overpasses built on Long Island. These bridges were too low to allow buses to pass which meant that major transportation routs were designed to keep lower-people out of areas while allowing wealthier, car-owning folks easy access.

In Richard Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Lawit is clear that Winner’s was not an isolated example. Throughout the country, technologies of space and place were purposefully designed to maintain a racist society.

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Genetics and Affirmative Action

The power of racism lies in its ability to “naturalize” social relationships. What I mean by this is that racism claims that whatever social inequities exist they are part of the natural order of things. Those people are simply inferior, there is not much anyone can do about it; it is in the nature of things. Speak out for racial equality? You might as well speak out against the tide coming in, nature doesn’t care what you say. Pass laws to encourage racial equality? You might as well pass laws demanding the moon fall out of the sky. Racial inequality is in our genes, nothing society can do to will change that so we should just stop trying. Over at the National Review Online (NRO), Michael Barone has written a piece on the terrible David Reich editorial about genetics and race that does exactly this.

Last time I wrote about Reich I explained how those who really, truly believe that black people are genetically inferior to white people really, truly loved Reich’s piece.  At the NRO, and keeping the organizations long-standing  commitment to social inequality, Barone wants you to know that in this race we call life, there are winners and losers and it is just nature’s way that there are more white winners than black ones.

Drawing of blocks racing and one declared

He makes his case by lying. I’ll explain how.

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Snowflakes are White

You folks remember Tucker Carlson, right? He’s the guy at Fox News who took over for sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly when Bill O. was fired.  Ever since he took over he’s become very popular among white nationalists who appreciate Tucker pushing their agenda for them. As a writer over at American Renaissance declared: “Suddenly people on national television are talking about the end of white America, the rising tide of color, and what demographic change really means.” Long time readers will recognize the “rising tide of color” shout out.  The 1920s never really went away for American Renaissance writers.

Are you a believer that whites are victims of a planned genocide who also argues that Hillary Clinton is operating a pedophile ring out of a pizza restaurant? Tucker has your back! Are you a European white nationalist worried about all the foreigners entering your country? Tucker feels your pain! (The good racists over at American Renaissance thought Tucker did a great job of  consolidating “Years of awareness and fact, boiled down into one compound sentence— and not from an AmRen-ner or alt-Righter, either.”).  So, yeah, Tucker is the confused face of white supremacy.

Just recently Tucker explained that  white people are precious little snowflakes who must be protected from the big bad world because they are so fragile and delicate. “Reporting” on a National Geographic article on an influx of Latinx immigrants into Hazleton PA, Tucker explained if too many brown people with Spanish accents move in then it is perfectly understandable if white people just cannot even:

It doesn’t matter how nice these immigrants are. They probably are nice; most immigrants are nice. That’s not the point. This is more change than human beings are designed to digest. This pace of change makes societies volatile, really volatile, just as ours has become volatile.

We can learn a couple lessons about racism from Tucker’s latest confused rant.

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Racial Science and Strawman Arguments

Portrait of a scarecrow

“If I only had a brain…..”

I have often maintained that there is no idea so stupid that a tenured professor from Harvard won’t profess it. A good recent example is geneticist David Reich’s recent New York Times editorial about how we have to stop ignoring the reality  of genetic causes of human variation.  According to Reich, there is an “orthodoxy” that comes from well-meaning but muddle-headed people “who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations.”  These kind-hearted dopes are afraid of bad results that could possibly result from the study of such differences:

The concern is that such research, no matter how well-intentioned, is located on a slippery slope that leads to the kinds of pseudoscientific arguments about biological difference that were used in the past to try to justify the slave trade, the eugenics movement and the Nazis’ murder of six million Jews.

I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

Reich claims his own research proves that such genetic differences in human populations cannot be ignored and are needed to understand, for example, differences in disease rates among different populations.

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Sheriffs, and Racists, and Koch: Oh My!

Sheriff's Badge

Sheriff’s Badge

A little over a month ago there was a minor kerfuffle about our Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions saying that;

Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process…The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.

A great hullabaloo ensued. What did Sessions mean about this “Anglo-American heritage” stuff? Did he think only white folks built our laws? And “heritage” isn’t that a dog whistle to neo-Confederates who are always talking about their heritage of the South (meaning white supremacy)? There was reason for people to be suspicious, after all “Sessions is a well-documented white supremacist who” is “hot for incendiary racist behavior.”  Coretta Scott King had this guy nailed thirty years ago, not that it has stood in his way in his rise to power.

Calmer voices soon urged everyone to calm down. Sessions was merely invoking English common law which is, indeed, an important part of our legal heritage. While Sessions certainly is capable of racist dog whistles, they said, this probably wasn’t one. I had another thought at the time, however. It wasn’t the “Anglo-American heritage” part of his remarks. It was the “sheriffs” part that might have been the dog whistle. And that brings us back to the Koch Foundation’s funding of a right wing ideologue to educate prisoners in civics and to a guy named W. Cleon Skousen.

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Koch and the Neo-Confederate

People bowing down to a dollar sign.

Is it the case that whoever pays the piper calls the tune?

We can combine two interesting bits of recent news productively.

Koch and the Neo-Confederate

The first is the news comes courtesy of the student group, UnKoch my Campus. It seems one of Charles Koch’s many foundations disbursed money to Florida Atlantic professor Marshall DeRosa to start a classes in civics education for prisoners returning to society. DeRosa was a one-time member of the League of the South (LOS) a neo-Confederate hate group.  As The Nation concludes:

The reality of the situation is staggering: An academic who worked with a neo-Confederate organization is teaching inmates, including many of color, a curriculum he designed, funded by one of the wealthiest conservative political donors in the country and instituted at the facilities of a notorious, predatory private-prison company that is accused of violating federal anti-slavery laws.

The Charles Koch foundation has scrubbed their article touting their connection to DeRosa (fortunately, the internet never forgets). And, even after DeRosa left the LOS for the (supposedly) more respectable Abbeville Institute, his views are still reactionary and ill-informed. What should we make of this? Is it reasonable to think that DeRosa’s prison activities are benign? Is it reasonable to think that the Koch Foundation just didn’t know about his unsavory past and present views and associations?

The Jews Control the Weather

The second bit of news was when a DC councilman claimed that the incoming snow on the Atlantic coast was the result of a conspiracy:

“There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities,” said White, according to video footage that the city routinely releases after official meetings. “They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.”

The councilman later explained that he had no idea that invoking the Rothschilds was invoking an old antisemitic slur.  So, while he meant to say that a shadowy cabal controlled the weather, he certainly didn’t mean that a shadowy cabal of Jews controlled the weather.

In both cases a reasonable question is: while the Koch Foundation and the DC Councilman might have been ignorant that they were linking themselves to racist ideas, should they have known? It is an interesting historical question worth exploring.

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On the Prehistory of Holocaust Denial

 

Skull on top of a book.

My very first blog post was this one. It was on the “softcore Holocaust denial” of one of the first actions of the then-new Trump administration: remembering the Holocaust without mentioning the genocide of European Jews. The guy I thought chiefly responsible for this statement was Sebastian Gorka who is no longer with the administration. He’s now landed a gig with an antisemitic website. The good news is that he’ll be in Canada so…..   Well, that really isn’t good news, is it? He’s still around being a racist jerk.

A year later, Holocaust denial is back in the news. Arthur Jones, bona fide neo-Nazi and denier is running, unopposed, for Congress in Illinois (I hate Illinois Nazis). In Poland, it is now illegal to claim that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust.  Holocaust denial, in its endless variety, is still out there. It is time, therefore, to take another look at it.

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The Anti-Racism of Rose Wilder Lane

A picture of Rose Wilder Lane

Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968)

Whether you realize it or not you’ve probably read the words of Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968). She was the daughter of famed children’s book author,  Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose Little House books have delighted several generations of children (and adults) and which were adapted into a long-running, if somewhat mawkish television show. For all intents and purposes, Rose, an accomplished journalist and novelist in her own right, co-authored those books with her mother.

She was also one of the “three furies” of libertarianism. In 1943 three women published books that are considered important sources of modern libertarian thought. The best-known is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  Also in the annus mirabiles were Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine and Lane’s The Discovery of Freedom. These books have often marked Rand, Paterson, and Lane the “founding mothers of American libertarianism.”

Albert Jay Nock, the dean of American individualist/libertarian writers was deeply impressed by Lane. Writing to a correspondent he declared:

You must read The Discovery of Freedom. I don’t know who Sister Lane is. but she is a credit to the Cause, I assure you.

On anything basic she always shoots straight to centres, and hits damn hard. Another odd thing is that while she has the philosophy of individualism down fine, she seems to have got it entirely out; of her own head. There is no evidence that she has read the individualist writers, and considerable evidence that she has not–I believe she hasn’t. I think this is a remarkable achievement, and darned creditable. I’m all for Rose.

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Trump’s Shithole Logic

Drawing of an outhouse

Trump thinks that we don’t need immigrants from shithole countries like Haiti, El Salvador, or the entire continent of Africa. Instead he thinks we should let more Norwegians in. Since a racist is a person who consistently makes racist remarks, Trump is a racist. Naturally, Fox News insists that pointing out Trump’s racism is the real racism. Just for the record: calling out racism is not racist. Being a racist is racist. Trump is a racist. The logic behind his statement is racist logic. Here’s why.

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