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How Slavery Built America

Saw this one on my Amazon Reading List, downloaded it – and have been reading through it the last week or so on my way to work on the subway.  Historian Edward Baptist’s treatise on how slavery made America has been greeted with both strong objection from the usual suspects as well as hailed for it’s detailed treatment of a complex historical subject, the ramifications of which still impact American Society today. What Baptist documents is what us students of American History have suspected for a very long time, but until this book – no one really documented it and brought it out front.

What Baptist succinctly points our and documents is the “capitalism” which grew this country from it’s founding in the early 1600’s to an industrial powerhouse owes it roots, and its foundation to slavery. Far from the oft repeated “land of economic opportunity”, slavery generated over half of this country’s economic might, and the worth  of slaves alone constituted over 1/6th of the total wealth of the nation prior to 1860. This one smacks the”Southern Myth” regurgitated by conservative right wingers dead between the eyes.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

 

Part of a book review by the NY Times. Follow the link for the whole article.

A Brutal Process

‘The Half Has Never Been Told,’ by Edward E. Baptist

For residents of the world’s pre-­eminent capitalist nation, American historians have produced remarkably few studies of capitalism in the United States. This situation was exacerbated in the 1970s, when economic history began to migrate from history to economics departments, where it too often became an exercise in scouring the past for numerical data to plug into computerized models of the economy. Recently, however, the history of American capitalism has emerged as a thriving cottage industry. This new work portrays capitalism not as a given (something that “came in the first ships,” as the historian Carl Degler once wrote) but as a system that developed over time, has been constantly evolving and penetrates all aspects of society.

Slavery plays a crucial role in this literature. For decades, historians depicted the institution as unprofitable and on its way to extinction before the Civil War (a conflict that was therefore unnecessary). Recently, historians like Sven Beckert, Robin Blackburn and Walter Johnson have emphasized that cotton, the raw material of the early Industrial Revolution, was by far the most important commodity in 19th-century international trade and that capital accumulated through slave labor flowed into the coffers of Northern and British bankers, merchants and manufacturers. And far from being economically backward, slave owners pioneered advances in modern accounting and finance.

Edward E. Baptist situates “The Half Has Never Been Told” squarely within this context. Baptist, who teaches at Cornell University, is the author of a well-­regarded study of slavery in Florida. Now he expands his purview to the entire cotton kingdom, the heartland of 19th-­century American slavery. (Unfortunately, slavery in the Upper South, where cotton was not an economic staple, is barely discussed, even though as late as 1860 more slaves lived in Virginia than any other state.) In keeping with the approach of the new historians of capitalism, the book covers a great deal of ground — not only economic enterprise but religion, ideas of masculinity and gender, and national and Southern politics. Baptist’s work is a valuable addition to the growing literature on slavery and American development.

Where Baptist breaks new ground is in his emphasis on the centrality of the interstate trade in slaves to the regional and national economies and his treatment of the role of extreme violence in the workings of the slave system. After the legal importation of slaves from outside the country ended in 1808, the spread of slavery into the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico would not have been possible without the enormous uprooting of people from Maryland and Virginia. Almost one million slaves, Baptist estimates, were transported to the cotton fields from the Upper South in the decades before the Civil War.

The domestic slave trade was highly organized and economically efficient, relying on such modern technologies as the steamboat, railroad and telegraph. For African-Americans, its results were devastating. Since buyers preferred young workers “with no attachments,” the separation of husbands from wives and parents from children was intrinsic to its operation, not, as many historians have claimed, a regrettable side effect. Baptist shows how slaves struggled to recreate a sense of community in the face of this disaster.

The sellers of slaves, Baptist insists, were not generally paternalistic owners who fell on hard times and parted reluctantly with members of their metaphorical plantation “families,” but entrepreneurs who knew an opportunity for gain when they saw one. As for the slave traders — the middlemen — they excelled at maximizing profits. They not only emphasized the labor abilities of those for sale (reinforced by humiliating public inspections of their bodies), but appealed to buyers’ salacious fantasies. In the 1830s, the term “fancy girl” began to appear in slave-trade notices to describe young women who fetched high prices because of their physical attractiveness. “Slavery’s frontier,” Baptist writes, “was a white man’s sexual playground.”

The cotton kingdom that arose in the Deep South was incredibly brutal. Violence against Native Americans who originally owned the land, competing imperial powers like Spain and Britain and slave rebels solidified American control of the Gulf states. Violence, Baptist contends, explains the remarkable increase of labor productivity on cotton plantations. Without any technological innovations in cotton picking, output per hand rose dramatically between 1800 and 1860. Some economic historians have attributed this to incentives like money payments for good work and the opportunity to rise to skilled positions. Baptist rejects this explanation.

Planters called their method of labor control the “pushing system.” Each slave was assigned a daily picking quota, which increased steadily over time. Baptist, who feels that historians too often employ circumlocutions that obscure the horrors of slavery, prefers to call it “the ‘whipping-machine’ system.” In fact, the word we should really use, he insists, is “torture.” To make slaves work harder and harder, planters utilized not only incessant beating but forms of discipline familiar in our own time — sexual humiliation, bodily mutilation, even waterboarding. In the cotton kingdom, “white people inflicted torture far more often than in almost any human society that ever existed.” When Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans in his Second Inaugural Address of the 250 years of “blood drawn with the lash” that preceded the Civil War, he was making a similar point: Violence did not begin in the United States with the firing on Fort Sumter.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2014 in American Greed, Black History

 

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Cornel West…And President Obama

Cornel West certainly has a problem with President Obama – and this isn’t the first time it has come out. The last time his criticisms were so ill formed and logic so convoluted he got his head handed to him.

Well…Maybe Dr West has learned something, although it must have been a tremendous blow to his over-sized ego to do so.

This is actually a pretty reasonable critique of Obama’s Presidency sans a few things I will discuss below.

Cornel West’s 8 Most Eye-Opening Critiques of Barack Obama’s Presidency

Very few progressive voices articulate more vitriol and uncompromising disdain for President Barack Obama than Cornel West. During Obama’s six years in the White House, West has critiqued every layer of the president’s policies, from his use of drones in the Middle East to what he feels is the president’s cozy relationship with Wall Street.

In 2011, West wrote in the New York Times that Obama has fallen short of epitomizing Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.

“The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy,” he wrote. “Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.”

West’s commentary is a breath of fresh air for some who feel they’d be blacklisted in liberal circles for criticizing the president, while others see his remarks as coming from a space of personal bitterness. Regardless of where you stand on West’s opinions, his remarks are always worthy of further inspection.  In an excerpt from his new bookBlack Prophetic Fire, West outlines why he believes Obama has turned his back on the black philosophical traditions that put him in the White House. Here are eight of the most insightful quotes.

1. African Americans Have Done Worse Under Obama

“The great irony of our time is that in the age of Obama the grand black prophetic tradition is weak and feeble. Obama’s black face of the American empire has made it more difficult for black courageous and radical voices to bring critique to bear on the U.S. empire. On the empirical or lived level of black experience, black people have suffered more in this age than in the recent past. Empirical indices of infant mortality rates, mass incarceration rates, mass unemployment and dramatic declines in household wealth reveal this sad reality.”

2. Leadership In The African-American Community Has Weakened

“First, there is the shift of black leadership from the voices of social movements to those of elected officials in the mainstream political system. This shift produces voices that are rarely if ever critical of this system. How could we expect the black caretakers and gatekeepers of the system to be critical of it?”

3. Upward Mobility Is The Worst In The Modern World

“Second, this neoliberal shift produces a culture of raw ambition and instant success that is seductive to most potential leaders and intellectuals, thereby incorporating them into the neoliberal regime. This culture of superficial spectacle and hyper-visible celebrities highlights the legitimacy of an unjust system that prides itself on upward mobility of the downtrodden. Yet, the truth is that we live in a country that has the least upward mobility of any other modern nation!”

4. Leaders Who Challenge the Statue Quo Are Silenced

“Third, the U.S. neoliberal regime contains a vicious repressive apparatus that targets those strong and sacrificial leaders, activists, and prophetic intellectuals who are easily discredited, delegitimated, or even assassinated, including through character assassination. Character assassination becomes systemic and chronic, and it is preferable to literal assassination because dead martyrs tend to command the attention of the sleepwalking masses and thereby elevate the threat to the status quo.”

5. Mass Media Ignores Voices That Take on Issues Such as Use of Drones and War Crimes

“The central role of mass media, especially a corporate media beholden to the U.S. neoliberal regime, is to keep public discourse narrow and deodorized. By ‘narrow’ I mean confining the conversation to conservative Republican and neoliberal Democrats who shut out prophetic voices or radical visions. This fundamental power to define the political terrain and categories attempts to render prophetic voices invisible. The discourse is deodorized because the issues that prophetic voices highlight, such as mass incarceration, wealth inequality, and war crimes such as imperial drones murdering innocent people, are ignored.”

6. Obama Doesn’t Really Care About Protecting Working People

“The state of black America in the age of Obama has been one of desperation, confusion, and capitulation. The desperation is rooted in the escalating suffering on every front. The confusion arises from a conflation of symbol and substance. The capitulation rests on an obsessive need to protect the first black president against all forms of criticism. Black desperation is part of a broader desperation among poor and working people during the age of Obama. The bailout of Wall Street by the Obama administration, rather than the bailout of homeowners, hurt millions of working people.”

7. First Lady Michelle Obama Legitimizes Obama’s “Symbolic Status”

“Needless to say, the presence of his brilliant and charismatic wife, Michelle—a descendent of enslaved and Jim-Crowed people, unlike himself—even more deeply legitimizes his symbolic status, a status that easily substitutes for substantial achievement.”

8. To Be Successful and Black, One Must Turn His Back on the Poor

“To be a highly successful black professional or politician is too often to be well adjusted to injustice and well adapted to indifference toward poor people, including black poor people. The black prophetic tradition is fundamentally committed to the priority of poor and working people, thus pitting it against the neoliberal regime, capitalist system, and imperial policies of the U.S. government.”

Toward the end of the book, West writes how modern black leadership has abandoned the traditions that have helped position it and President Obama. “What does it profit a people for a symbolic figure to gain presidential power if we turn our backs from the suffering of poor and working people, and thereby lose our souls?” he writes. “The black prophetic tradition has tried to redeem the soul of our fragile democratic experiment. Is it redeemable?”

With all that said, I have to disagree with West in two areas. The first is his concept of “Prophetic” leaders. The time is long past for that. The Black Community is no longer powerless under the boot heel of Jim Crow, and group organizations like Color of Change, which find and their strategy and ideas from essentially crowd funding the ideas of the group are far more effective than the Big Man on the podium Dr West so desperately seeks to be. No Big Man – the entire strategy of suppression through attacking an individual become naught.

Second is his use of the term neo-liberal, and assigning it’s anchor to one political group. We are in the post Raygun era of neo-liberal destruction of the country’s basic beliefs and foundations (including the destruction of the Middle Class) – but that neo-liberalism and destruction isn’t being wrought by one party – both are guilty.

And picking on Michelle…

Will get you Pimp Slapped.

I’m putting this one under Giant Negroes.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 8, 2014 in Giant Negros

 

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Buckdance!

For readers not familiar with the terminology – a buckdance in black American vernacular  is a dance done by slaves for money or the approval of their white masters. The African American variation of which derived from the West Indies. The term has since been absorbed into the lexicon to mean a style of dancing, wherein a male dances by himself to show his skills. Clogging, a style of dance which derived from dance styles in Scotland and Ireland, which is performed to Bluegrass or Country style music has a variant where a man dances alone, typically using a sheet of plywood as a soundboard for his steps. It is an art style, and to be well done requires considerable skill.

Buckdancing in this post is the African American version – which is a racial pejorative synonymous with Uncle Tom.

Our first buckdancer up for our entertainment is Herman (“Where the white wimmin at”) Cain –

Obviously Herman is buckdancing for white conservative ears, as he now has a new Radio show taking over for Neal Boortz. The fact that Herman is a sick, women molesting trick, who cheated on his wife for 20 years or more isn’t a problem for evangelical white conservatives ready to forgive his sins as long as he continues to put a black face on their racism.

Our second buckdancer is Al Sharpton – making excuses for the Democrat Party’s failure in the recent recall election in Wisconsin –

Buck up Al – The Republicans didn’t win by cheating – they won by the Democrats failure to invest money in the election, AND, most importantly, their failure to make the case that Walker should be removed for unpopular politics – well short of any proven (to this point) criminal malfeasance. The donors apparently figured this out early – as did the DNC – and were noticeably absent in pouring money to counter the Republicans 7-1 spending advantage in the state.

This was not the stolen Florida Presidential Election of 2000 – they beat the Dems by 5 points – not 5 votes. Dems lost…Period. Guess what Al, black folks are so thin on the ground in Wisconsin, if you got 100% turnout… They (Walker) still won.

You can blame Citizen’s United – you can blame the Koch brothers…

But what they did was legal.

As to Walker – with his former top adviser turning State’s evidence – he will be indicted in the John Doe fiasco in the next 30 days and out of office by the Presidential elections. So the Dems win anyway. Its the good citizens of the state who lost.

 

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Televising the Revolution – Red and Not Dead

Watched this one with amazement. Someone out there is still quoting Chairman Mao. The half-truth here is that untrammeled Capitalism has brought the world economy to it’s knees – twice.

Untrammeled communism brought the world millions of dead people, typically killed by their own government.

The real issue here isn’t Capitalism as such, it’s the Cowboy Corporate Capitalism of conservatism in the United States, whose view of the government role is as a wholly owned subsidiary of and completely for and to the benefit of major corporations…

Instead of as a watchdog and representative for the citizenry – ALL the citizenry, corporate and corporeal citizen alike.

Without that watchdog function any system falls to corruption – just as the communist state in the Soviet Union did…

And just as greedy corporate criminal have nearly flatlined the world economy under capitalism.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2010 in News

 

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