This is the third installment of a three, but maybe we’re going to expand it to four, part series on the racist deep culture that is driving the political divide in the US. The first post laid the foundation by defining and discussing deep culture and how it linked to Trump’s insurrection riot and his Big Lie about the election. The second one examined the lingering influences of our Puritan and Calvinist forebears. And, this third one will look at how our racist deep culture has caused the worst compromises over race in our country. We’ll begin with a quick review of deep culture and the views of Puritans and Calvinists that have made it into American culture.
Introducing Deep Culture and the Contributions of the Puritans and Calvinists
Deep culture is the unconscious collection of beliefs, norms, and values that form the foundation of our behaviors and mental processes. It operates wholly outside of our conscious awareness yet still has great influence over our behavior and mental processes. These presumptions are what allow an armed white guy to present a fraudulent inauguration document and be armed with a loaded glock and carrying 550 rounds with him to be arrested and not shot to death as most black people would be in that situation. The police looking at this guy saw the same thing, a harmless white guy despite Trump’s insurrection riot having taken place a week ago and threats against the inauguration. And, deep culture allows police to see the same thing when they stop a black person, a threat so severe, they fear for their very lives. It allows us to predict the outcome of most social situations by allowing us to understand the motivations of those we encounter. These cultural beliefs are passed from one generation to the next, so it changes very slowly.
Puritans and Calvinists believed that god would show his love for us as individuals by preordaining us to live successful Christian lives. So, if you were successful, it was because god had preordained your trip to heaven. If you were poor or unsuccessful, it was because god didn’t love you and you were destined for hell. This belief gave rise to a mighty motivation to be successful and to watch and judge your neighbors. Since black people came to America as slaves, our forebears assumed it was because god wanted us not only to have slaves but to have these people as slaves. They had earned it by not being successful and loved by god. It made for a very convenient circular self-fulfilling prophesy.
This attitude coursed through all aspects of the fledgling country right up to and into our Founding Documents and beyond.
The Constitution: Enfranchising Slavery in the Fabric of America
After the Revolution, there was real tension between those advocating a stronger federal government and those for stronger states. We have seen this notion of state’s rights come up again and again in our history. Specifically, slave-holding states thought they should have the right to own real live human beings because it made them a lot of money and showed how much god loved them and hated them slaves.
The opposite wasn’t necessarily true, though. It wasn’t so much that the federalists were against slavery – most of them were proud slave owners – it was that they thought a stronger federal government would make the country easier to govern.
When it came time to cypher out how many Representatives each state would have in Congress, the slave states wanted the slaves to be counted as equals even though they weren’t real live white people.
The non-slave states were having none of that nonsense, so the three-fifths compromise came about. It wasn’t about the morality of slavery or the humanness of Black people, it was about who could out vote who in Congress. Just like the Electoral College is about ensuring sparsely populated rural states — one time slave-holding states — could dictate the winner of presidential elections to densely populated states. Or that the Senate would give all states equal representation no matter how unevenly population was distributed. The structure of our federal government strengthened the influence of the slave-holding states by ensuring Blacks were disenfranchised but counted towards representation in the House and Electoral College and the Senate treated all states equally.
State’s rights is so deeply embedded into our psyche that when the Ol’ Pussy Grabber declines to organize a national federal government response to the #COVID19 pandemic, it resonates with all those racist state’s-rights folks hiding in the American South and Mid-West despite 4,000 deaths and 350,000 new infections occurring every day. The acceptance of the debacle of Trump’s handling the pandemic by MAGA Nation and his Repube enablers in Congress and state governments is just another legacy of our deep culture and directly related to the racism that is its foundation.
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From the Civil War and Reconstruction to Civil Rights and Trump’s Insurrection Riot
We fought the Civil War from 1861 – 1865 because the Confederacy refused to give up slavery. The South lost the military conflict, but it did not mean that the South gave up or stopped fighting for slavery and racism. Immediately after the Civil War came Reconstruction in which the South was to be re-integrated into American society and the economy. The South was never integrated into the country, though, it was only rebuilt.
Let’s run through a history of Reconstruction and see what our original attempt at forging national unity and healing after nearly tearing ourselves apart over racism got us:
- Lincoln’s plan for reunifying the country was both generous and non-punitive. It didn’t get enacted, though. Thanks Booth!
- Andrew Johnson’s plan just waved a finger at the South required them to sign a loyalty oath and presto bingo Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your aunt, the South was back in America again. And they promptly passed the “black codes” to control the labor and behavior of Blacks.
- Congress stepped in and appointed governors and the army occupied the South to ensure laws were followed and protect the state governments from insurrection. But, it gradually faded until the debacle of the 1876 election was created.
- The Compromise of 1877 allowed Rutherford Hayes to be president in exchange for withdrawing the few remaining occupying forces from the South and allowing white supremacy to reign once again. Blacks couldn’t be enslaved but they could do the next best thing through Jim Crow laws that oppressed Blacks in the South for the next eighty years or so culminating with George Wallace’s infamous segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever speech.
- The Civil War did not end. It carried on under a different means.
The Enduring Legacy of White Supremacy
White people were taught that the country was built on the backs of the Protestant work ethic (Calvinism) and American ingenuity, and because of that, hard work was rewarded. But, we had a significant segment of society for which this wasn’t true. When Black people were slaves, they had plenty of hard work, but no reward. In modern America, they just don’t have work. Black unemployment is always the highest and their work the lowest paid.
White people have justified it by mixing the laziness and criminality of Black people into our deep culture. It is a deep and abiding belief that if Black people would just straighten up and fly right, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work hard at menial jobs, they, too, would enjoy the fruits of the American dream… eventually… in their own neighborhoods… which we burn to the ground and massacre Black people for their success, so sure, tell us about how Blacks can pull themselves up by their bootstraps as long as they don’t pull themselves up too far.
The insidious effects of the racism and white supremacy in America’s deep culture are the most easily seen in the white grievances that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and the Repubes have cynically nurtured, harvested, and fertilized with fear mongering the growth of non-white populations in the US. If god shows his love through material success on earth, not only the material success of individuals, but also of nations and races, then any success by a non-white race and non-USA country threatens this belief. It threatens your deep culture. The very thing you rely on to make sense of your social world.
In that sense, Black people cannot be allowed to be successful if America’s deep culture is to continue unchanged. American exceptionalism is part of that deep culture. God loves the USA best, so we have all the successes. God loves white folks best, so we have all the successes. If god suddenly starts loving Black folks the same as he loves whites, it just cannot be. We’ve lived with this strict rigid social structure of whites on top and Blacks on the bottom for so long that changing it is intolerable to many white people. They refuse to even consider it. They refuse to even acknowledge the possibility that our culture is driven by racism.
Share your thoughts on the racism of our deep culture in the comments!
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