The Civil War Never Ended: ‘Sum Of Us’ Examines The Hidden Cost Of Racism — For Everyone — Fresh Air on NPR

Thanks to friend of the blog Bobcabkingsrecommendation (Of Cabbages and Kings) that we listen to the Fresh Air episode interviewing Heather McGhee about her new book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.

I thought I knew a lot about racism in America, after all there are enough racism posts on Ye Olde Blogge, but she reveals there is much much more. And, what she reveals is just jaw dropping; the extent that white America has gone to to hurt Black America. The evidence that she outlines in her book is just overwhelming and soul sappingly disheartening.

It’s so bad that I’m having real difficulty figuring out how to even describe the shit that white people have pulled. What dimensions do you even rate it on? What words can adequately describe the duplicity of white America? Let me give you an example and see if you can help me out in the comments, okay?

Back in 1958, some court or other ordered the integration of public facilities. Black people, whose tax dollars helped fund the parks, pools, libraries, and stuff, were adjudicated by a federal court as needing to be able to use them the same as white people. You know, this was back in the day when there were white only signs on everything nice and for coloreds on holes in the ground.

Let us know in the comments how you’d describe white America’s duplicity!

The Montgomery Swimming Pool

So, in Montgomery, Alabama — why isn’t that surprising? — they were ordered to integrate their parks facilities. Apparently, they consisted of a grand swimming pool capable of holding hundreds of swimmers at a time, a zoo, and a park system. When confronted with the possibility of sharing a swimming pool with Black people, the good white folks of Montgomery came to the rational decision to castrate themselves despite their sex drive. This is what they’d rather do than swim with Black people:

  • They filled the pool in with dirt and paved it over.
  • They sold the animals in the zoo.
  • The shut down the parks and recreation department.

The good white souls of Montgomery would rather not have municipal recreation facilities than share a very large swimming pool in any way shape or form with Black people. Unfucking believable. I’m just stunned by the sheer what? What do you call that? I don’t have a word for it. I don’t have a concept for it. I don’t have a smart alecky phrase for it, and that should be a crime. Please take a shot at it in the comments because I for one flummoxed, flabbergasted, and at a loss for words. Filled in the fucking pool, paved the sucker over, sold the animals from the zoo, closed down the parks, salted the fucking earth, and burned the entire gottam city to the ground General Tecumseh Sherman-stlye rather than allow white people to share a pool with Black people.

When my sister and I were wee tots, my mother would threaten us with no desert if we didn’t eat our vegetables. I’d cry; my sister would cross her arms, stick her lower lip out, and declare, I didn’t want dessert any way. She was five and didn’t want to eat her peas. These are grown ass elected adults who wanted to deny fellow human beings the same services that they used their tax dollars to pay for.

I guess some people back then had access to private pools but most of Montgomery’s white community was Whew! Thank god we don’t have to swim with Black folks! It was worth losing the parks!

Instead of Public Pools

Every community in the country has evidence of public pools that were closed at that time. It’s there if you look or ask a grandparent. Instead of providing a community pool, white people started building backyard and private membership-only pools.

Then, it was like every white person occupying every elected and appointed office across the land had the exact same thought at the exact same time: If public services must be integrated and shared with Black people, there can only be one thing to do, eliminate public services. It was only logical, amirite?

  • If schools have to be integrated, then we won’t have public schools. First, we decided to fund schools using a local tax structure like property taxes so that poor neighborhoods would have impoverished school districts, read that Black, Brown, and poor white, and rich neighborhoods would have well-funded school districts, read that white. And, now we have home schooling, school choice, government vouchers, and charter schools. Wasn’t that Betsy DeVos’ raison d’etre? All so white kids can go to school with as little contact with Black students as possible. See this NBCNews article about racism in black neighborhoods.
  • If universal healthcare means that Black and Brown Americans will have the same healthcare as white Americans, then we won’t have universal healthcare. Obama offers the Repube plan of universal health insurance, and the Repubes go crazy and call it socialism and try to destroy it. Work-based health insurance ensures that white people who are generally employed more widely and at better jobs with higher pay and better benefits will have better healthcare than Blacks and Browns are.
  • If universal preschool and childcare means that Black and Brown children will start life with the same advantages as white children, read that not being damaged by poor nutrition, lack of environmental stimulation, and not allowing one adult to work, then we won’t have universal preschool and childcare. If it means that poor whites are hurt too, then it’s worth that sacrifice.
  • If making broadband and Internet service a public utility like electricity, water, and sewage, means that Black and Brown people will have the same Internet access as white people, then we won’t make the Internet a public utility. Black, Brown, and poor white people just won’t be able to access Internet-based services like applying for jobs, universities, and #COVID19 vaccines.

If keeping Black and Brown people from accessing public services the same as white people do means that we eliminate those public services, then it is worth it even if it hurts white people, too.

Think about how this works. Starting in the late 1950’s, the federal courts began ordering public facilities to be integrated. It really started with the integration of the army during World War II. As soon as that happened, white people began withdrawing public funding for these facilities and privatizing it all. It culminates with Reagan’s Southern strategy, racist dog whistles, the welfare queen myth, and his phrase, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” It started us on the road of “the government can’t do nothing and all welfare favors Blacks who abuse the system, so the system should be shut down.” Now, Repubes favor deregulation of everything — how’d that work out Texas? — and if it ends up hurting some white people, at least it will mostly be progressives, poor whites. It is all worth it if it means the Blacks and Browns can’t have the same nice things that well-off white people have.

The Civil War Never Ended: The Racist Legacy of Puritanism and Calvinism in White Deep Culture (part 2)

There are just so many ass-scratching government actions and decisions that limit the ability of Black people to access government goods and services that white people can easily have, especially as our society became more equal. So, head on over to the Fresh Air episode, read the transcript, listen to the interview, or both, then come back and tell us what you think in the comments.

If you liked this post introducing an article on systemic racism, join our email list, so you don’t miss a single post!

‘Sum Of Us’ Examines The Hidden Cost Of Racism — For Everyone

DAVE DAVIES Fresh Air 17 February 2021 

DAVE DAVIES, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in today for Terry Gross. Our guest today, Heather McGhee, has a new book about the importance of recognizing and fighting racism in America. But it isn’t just an argument that racial discrimination is morally wrong and unfair, even deadly to people of color. The heart of McGhee’s case is that racism is harmful to everyone, and thus we all have an interest in fighting it. Drawing on a wealth of economic data, she argues that when laws and practices have discriminated against African Americans, whites have also been harmed. When people unite across racial and ethnic lines, she argues, there’s a solidarity dividend that helps everyone.

Heather McGhee is the former president of the progressive think tank Demos, where she spent much of her career. She holds a BA in American Studies from Yale and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She currently chairs the board of Color of Change, a nationwide online racial justice organization. Her new book is “The Sum Of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone And How We Can Prosper Together.” She joins me from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Heather McGhee, welcome to FRESH AIR.

HEATHER MCGHEE: I’m so glad to be with you.

DAVIES: You worked at the think tank Demos for a long time. Then you went and got a law degree and came back to it. And you write in the introduction that you were in love with the idea that information in the right hands was power. And you would do research. You would craft legislation. You’d talk to members of Congress and their staffs hoping to make change. And you write that getting to some of the ideas that motivated this book came from your discovering the limits of research and facts. Just share with us that journey.

MCGHEE: Well, I have always been animated by core questions about our economic dysfunction in America, why it was that people so often struggled just to make ends meet. I was born on the South Side of Chicago. I saw what happened when the good factory jobs and the good public sector jobs started to leave. And it felt like we could do something about this. We could, in many ways, have nice things, right? Universal child care and health care and reliable infrastructure and well-funded schools in every neighborhood. And the data was saying it would be in our economic interest to do it.

Continue reading on NPR‘s FreshAir: Sum Of Us’ Examines The Hidden Cost Of Racism — For Everyone

Image Attribution

“Swimming Pool Hall 2” by Timm Suess is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

22 replies »

  1. Thanks for the mention, Jack. Reading this, I found myself thinking of Governor Abbott’s recent comment that Texans (read white) should be proud to be freezing in the dark for a while to save Texas from Socialism. BOOM! There it is. What’s the right metaphor? Shooting themselves in the foot? No, that’s too mild. I think of George Wallace saying, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

    Heather McGhee ties it all back to the economic structure of the slavery era plantations. Their markets did not depend on local consumers because their products were shipped out to factories and markets far away. The owners didn’t need to care about the health, wealth, or rights of the non-slave owning white farmers around them. After emancipation, they shifted to share cropping as a slightly less onerous substitute for slavery (permanent debt). They kept the land and the power, defeated Reconstruction and killed the promise of 40 acres and a mule, which would have put the freed black farmer on a more or less equal footing (and voting interests) with their poor white neighbors and upended the power structure. The rule was and continued to be, “Never, ever let those black and white farmers, workers, and small business owners get together politically.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!
      The fear of a political union between poor whites and blacks is pretty much what killed MLK. He was campaigning for jobs at the time of his assassination. I guess it is no coincidence that the GOP has shifted from being the party of the wealthy as it was in my youth to being that of blue collar whites while Blacks have played an increasingly larger role in the Democratic Party.

      I guess Abbott is taking a page from the Antebellum South’s playbook. The plantation owners distracted poor whites from their exploitation of them by fostering racism and white supremacy. Abbott is distracting people in general from their exploitation of them by fear mongering socialism. Like Hitler’s Propaganda Playbook says, keep the populace stirred up and focused on an enemy.

      And, once again, we are graced with a display of the amazing power of cognitive dissonance to deny real self-harm in favor of a version of reality that allows the harm to continue.


      Liked by 1 person

      • Perhaps the best example of the destruction of a post-Reconstruction emerging alliance between poor whites and blacks and black entrepreneurs was the election of such a coalition government in Wilmington, NC in 1898, a massacre very similar to that in Tulsa, OK in 1920 of a thriving Black Wall Street.

        Democrats need to get back to being the Labor Party. Biden’s Covid Relief Bill does trend in that direction.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!
          That was the infamous Wilmington Insurrection that a very few Black pundits referred to after the 6 January Trump Insurrection Riot, right? The lack of real punishment and disruption of Southern society after the Civil War was a big mistake in retrospect. But, you could see why they would be hesitant to be too harsh. It’s not like theirs a post-Civil War Playbook that they could follow. In retrospect, they really did need to round up the plantation-owning families and the military and civilian leadership and either imprison them or disperse them to areas out west and north. But, I can’t see that as being a very viable solution in American culture. Something that really changed the structure of Southern society was needed.

          We can, however, take a lesson from that today. We need to disrupt the means by which the GOP is controlling and managing their base. The first step would be to return civics to the school curriculum so that we understand not only our rights but our responsibilities as citizens. We should also make political lies the equivalent of hate speech so that charges can be brought against those knowingly spreading falsehoods. Then, making civil lawsuits for damages easier to bring for the consequences of those lies. A domestic terrorist law would be good to add years to any sentence that people who act on those lies might face. And, the DoJ engaging in police department investigations and consent decrees and the FBI aggressively rounding up militia types.

          The problem is that you risk pissing off the civil liberties types if you are too harsh.

          The most telling thing since the Insurrection Riot has been McConnell saying that opposing Biden’s American Rescue Plan would unite Republicans. I think Biden’s speech or remarks the other day in which he asked what would they have him change in the plan to reduce the cost was effective rhetoric. I hope that it can be pushed as Democratic talking points and break through the noise of our media.


          Liked by 1 person

          • In the post-Civil War period, the most effective way to have broken up the Southern power structure would have been to keep the promise of 40 acres and a mule by confiscating the plantations and giving the land to the former slaves. That, of course, is exactly why it was not allowed to happen. Prosecuting and imprisoning the civil and military leaders of the Confederacy and permanently banning them from politics would have helped too.

            As I’ve said before, any government which tolerates or attempts to use or cannot act against private, organized armed groups or militias is one the road to being a failed state. It is hard to believe that there are large numbers of people in this country who want it to become another Iraq, Syria, etc., but their imagined civil war is a fantasy of heroic glory, not the dystopian reality it would be. The so-called “militias” must go. They are not what the authors of the Second Amendment had in mind.

            Opposition to the Biden plan would not unite the Republican party, but it would paper over the split for a while. The catch for them is that to the extent that the plan actually works and the Democrats make sure they get the credit, even with the less committed parts of MAGA Nation, that opposition will become a vulnerability for GOP candidates in 2022 and 2024. So, also, if the Dems play their cards well, will be the horrendous Republican policies in the Texas energy system. How do you move “socialism” away from being a boogieman? You do it by showing that it works for regular people, even Joe Six-pack in a MAGA hat.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!
              As we’re seeing in Texas as the fiasco there plays out, American politics is based on hating one’s opponents more than liking your candidates and supporting the policies or actions of the politicians we like rather than the actual policies or actions themselves. Thus, AOC will still be thoroughly disliked and any philanthropic effort to help alleviate the problems in Texas be discounted. However, it is the “secret” to Biden’s and perhaps O’Rourke’s success. People genuinely like Biden. And, more people seem to like him now than when he was elected. Thus, we’re seeing the GOP trying to drive down his approval rating by any means necessary including attacking is elderly crippled dog (hip dysplasia). If that doesn’t backfire on them, I don’t know what will.


              Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!
                  There was once a well-known movie director whose name I can’t remember, but I think may have been one of the French New Wave directors, who said that you never kill the dog in the movie. Never kill the dog. Audiences hate it. Romney abused his dog. Mike Huckabee’s son beat a dog to death. Cruz abandoned his dog to the dark and freezing cold. Champ is such a sympathetic character no one but a psychopath could hate that dog. It’s a ridiculous and desperate attack.


                  Liked by 1 person

                    • LBJ was such a country boy. I’m amazed at how differently my country cousins and other relations treat their pets. Much more cavalier.

                      The problem, of course, is that the GOP has cowed much of the press into “balanced” coverage so that they feel obligated to report on every complaint whether it is grounded in reality or not. Trump broke them of that somewhat. Too little too late really. Hopefully, the press will keep tagging the disinformation that Johnson, Cruz, Hawley, and others keep putting out there as such.

                      I guess the accusations of anything and everything that the right comes up with is just an extension of the legal saw of pounding the table when you don’t have facts or the law on your side. They are just making noise to muddy the water.


                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Then, there is the rule that seems to operate: If you can’t find something bad to say about the other party, make something up no matter how petty or stupid.

                      It is also interesting to see some more in touch with reality Republicans tying themselves in knots to admit that Biden really won the election while at the same time not giving up the claim that there was, or could have been, some fraud somewhere. But that fits with the decades long GOP assertion of rampant voter fraud to support their voter suppression agenda.

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s devastatingly disheartening that this is where we are 50+ years after the civil rights protests of the 60s. The lack of empathy is astounding. Far too many whites have little or no understanding of what people of color are up against and/or simply don’t care. Native and African Americans have endured centuries now of extraordinary mistreatment. I recently read Between the World and Me, another masterpiece that should open some eyes. I’m at least grateful that more and more black and native authors are being published. We have a long way to go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Carol!
      I’ve been writing about the psychology behind racism for seemingly forever and its stubborn roots in our deep culture still astound me. It really is foundational to America’s deep culture due to Calvinism. We can cover it up.We can minimize it. But, we can’t seem to eradicate it. Anytime there is the least bit of a reprieve, it comes back with a vengeance. The only hopeful thing is that we have managed not to pass on our racist culture to many of our children.


      Liked by 1 person

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