We fell for it. White people fell for it starting the day slave ships landed on the shores of the colonies.
White people fell for the con that their ultimate survival, their prosperity, their happiness, depended on the enslavement and suppression of others.
This is our legacy. How could we be so dumb?
As our country evolved, slave owners perfected the con down to a precise science, meant to preserve an autocracy under the guise of a democracy. But we still fell for it: we aired our grievances, we endured the poverty, the illiteracy, the degradation that a slave economy produces. We were told that our miserable lives were not our fault, that the fault lay with people of color. They were the ones that were keeping us in poverty, disabled by illiteracy, and wallowing in our degradation.
Who doesn’t want to hear “It wasn’t your fault!”
So, the slave holders marshaled a scheme that pummeled poor whites with the propaganda they were not responsible for their miserable lot; people of color were the cause. African-Americans were the scapegoats served up, fortified and legitimized by Biblical references taken out of context. The formula was simple: keep whites poor, illiterate, hungry, and they will support slavery. Just tell poor whites that if the slaves were freed, competition for jobs will decimate the job market because freed slaves will work for peanuts, which was up from nothing.
Keeping poor whites poor had many machinations. Slave owners ensured there was no public education in the south because slave owners, who controlled the legislature, would vote against public schooling. If whites were educated, they just might figure out the hustle. As far as African-Americans, it was illegal to be educated, subject to hanging or imprisonment. Kinda hard to achieve the American dream when the most powerful weapon, education, is denied you, a hangman’s noose swinging in the breeze as a reminder not to learn to read.
And to make sure poor whites remain puppets to the slave owners, the KKK was formed, embraced by poor whites, taking pride in themselves for the first time in their life because they were doing God’s work, keeping people of color in their place. And for the first time in their lives, they could look down on someone. The subterfuge that plantation owners had poor whites’ backs was a sham. (We see that today with our former President—you think Trump cares about poor whites in West Virginia, or Mississippi?) After the civil war the con evolved through sharecropping, as the prison industrial complex was hatched with the use of prisoner, chain gang labor, the destination for African-Americans if arrested for vagrancy or loitering. In other words, hanging out while black.
Walter Johnson, in his book The Broken Heart of America, touches on this phenomenon. “And importantly, thus it has been possible to make poor and working-class white people believe that their interests lie in making common cause with their political leaders and economic betters. Common cause in whiteness: the idea that they might eventually share in the spoils, and the understanding that the discomforts and anxieties of their own precarious lives were due to—are due to—those below them rather than those above them.” Page 7 Walter Johnson.
Slave owners, who controlled the southern economy, didn’t believe in our Constitution, especially the part about “all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights ….” They were living in a democracy they didn’t believe in. We see that today manifested in the Insurrection on January 6th, where the former KKK has been sanitized and morphed into modern-day white supremacy hate groups, like the Proud Boys and the Promise Keepers. It was no accident the Confederate Flag was prominently on display during the attack of the Capital. The insurrectionists had the same mindset as the slave owners, and, according to Police testimony, the N word was alive and well with the insurrectionists.
Hundreds of millions of white people vote for politicians who screw them, most specifically in the red states. Rather than voting for politicians who battle to provide them with affordable health care, who battle to provide them with decent schools, who battle to fight global warming because the effects of climate change impacts white neighborhoods also. The politicians they vote for simply provide them with scapegoats, usually people of color, and offer a vehicle to vent their grievances. But they really do jackshit for working class whites, and they do even less for working class blacks.
Recently, four states turned down expanded Medicaid. FREE HEALTHCARE and the states say no. They are perpetuating the lie that this money will go to people of color who are looking for a handout. In Texas, for example, most of this money would have gone to white people. Racism makes white people shoot themselves in the foot. Recently, 120 hospitals closed in Texas, a result of saying no to Medicaid expansion. which has not only devastated the healthcare for poor rural communities, but has devastated the economy of these regions, jobs evaporating into thin air. Citizens are so brainwashed, so inculcated with racism, that these decisions meant to foster racism recoil against whites, but they can’t see it.
The Republican strategy has always hinged on dividing races with disinformation. They campaign on propaganda, outright lies. Page 59 McGhee, The Sum of Us. “I think Republicans were pretty good at what they’re always good at, right? Pitting communities against each other and using a lot of dog whistle politics around, like, Medicaid equates to Black freeloading people…”
Lee Atwater, the famous Republican strategist was captured on tape laying out the true intentions of the Republican party. McGhee, The Sum of Us. “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires so you say stuff like uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites…’We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.’”
Republican puppets believed they would receive the trickle-down rewards if they embraced and forwarded the racial agendas of the Lee Atwater ilk. Atwater’s propaganda kept poor whites looking down, not up, as explanations for their miserable lot. They were able to convince working class whites that working class blacks were the enemy, not their brother. It got politicians elected.
“As Professor Haney Lope points out, priming white voters with racist dog whistles was the means; the end was an economic agenda that was harmful to working and middle-class voters of all races, including white people.” Page 34, McGhee, The Sum of Us.
In the fifties, municipalities would often construct community pools, meant to alleviate the summer heat for their local communities. And then African-Americans asserted their right to swim in the local community pool. Instead of welcoming the black kids, the local leaders ban blacks from swimming in the community pools. This initiative was banned in court and instead of complying with the court order, the pools were filled with dirt. No kids got to swim. Racism is a powerful motivator.
God could have made things so much easier by making everyone white, or black. Instead, he gave us free will, our greatest gift from heaven, and he bestowed upon us different colors of the rainbow for us to revel in the manna of different spices, colors and cultures. We are saturated by the magic, the enchantment of other cultures—we just need to inhale the beauty, as we are surrounded by this alchemy. This was a gift, not a curse.
“When you cut government services,” as Reagan strategist Lee Atwater said, “blacks get hurt worse than whites.” What’s lost in that formulation is just how much white people get hurt, too.” Page 39 McGee, The Sum of Us.
Racism makes you blind; it prevents one from seeing who is pulling the strings.
“Racism, then, works against non-wealthy white Americans in two ways. First, it lowers their support for government actions that would help them economically, out of a zero-sum fear that it could help the racialized ‘underserved’ as well.” Page 38 McGee, The Sum of Us.
We are still fighting the Civil War, which had been fueled by another BIG LIE—that it was a battle for state’s rights, not slavery. It was a battle to save an economic system that relied on the debasement and enslavement of human beings.
White Supremacists are calling for a race war. The mentality of slave holders’ fascism has resurfaced (it never really left), and it has become a rallying cry for white supremacy hate groups empowered by Trump, and the same con employed by slave owners has been excavated by Republican enablers.
“In July, 2019, police officers responding to a racist graffiti incident in Baltimore County, Maryland, encountered swastikas, as well as a phrase new to them: ‘Race War Now.’ In New York, the DMV canceled a Queens resident’s vanity license plate in November 2018; the plate read GTKRWN, an acronym for ‘Gas the Kikes, Race War Now.’ In Washington state, local authorities used the state’s ‘red flag’ laws in October 2019 to temporarily seize the weapons of Kaleb Cole, a member of the white supremacist group Atomwaffen, whom prosecutors claimed was ‘preparing for a race war.'” Cody Boteler, Arbutus Times.
“Some neo-Nazi groups, such as Atomwaffen and Feuerkrieg Division, claim their very purpose is to prepare for ‘race war.’ Other white supremacists repeatedly reference it on podcasts or on white supremacist discussion forums such as Stormfront. The latter has featured a variety of race war-themed topics in recent years, including ‘They Want a Race War, Don’t They?,’ ‘Blacks won’t win the race war,’ and ‘When the Race War is Escalating, What Side Will You Be On?” Cody Boteler, Arbutus Times.
There are powerful forces that seek to divide us, that keep us fighting each other based on artificial barriers, who implant fear into our psyches as a way of securing or maintaining power. Donald Trump emboldened white supremacists to come out of the closet. He empowered and validated their hate, their scapegoating. January 6th was much more than a failed coup, it was the first skirmish, the first attempt to restore fascism and the good old days of the Confederacy.
Karen Elson, The Secret Sisters
I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land, where I was born in,
Early on one frosty morn’,
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land.
Oh, I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand
To live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie…
This is the culture Trump tried to sell, where he ‘takes his stand,’ the KKK ecstatic over his agenda. If a terrorist group like the KKK is happy about your programs and policies, shouldn’t that give one pause, especially if you’re the leader of the free world?
Whites still cling to the delusion, still believe in the con that Dixieland was some kind of utopia. Perhaps you could say it was for the slave owners, but they were a very unhappy, paranoid lot, soaked in the blood of their terrorism.
Curt Strickland is one of the principal owners of Great American Art, an art and design company located outside Boston. Founded almost 40 years ago, Great American Art designs, manufactures and installs art throughout the country. Curt is also one of the principle photographers for Great American, specializing in landscape and cityscape images. His philosophy as an artist is embraced in GAPCO’s mission:
“Art should serve to heal, inspire, provoke, challenge and to offer hope – but most of all to connect… to remind us of our common humanity.”