|Note: On December 4, 2017, we on WRFG-Atlanta‘s Just Peace program interviewed Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report about the threat by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of destroying “Net Neutrality” in America and the impact this would have for all of us. Below is both a link to the interview with Bruce as well as one of his recent articles about the issue. If you are not familiar with the issues around Net Neutrality and the importance of it for all us to acquire and share information, please listen to the interview with Bruce Dixon shared below about what he has to say about this.
We are told the chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, plans to vote on this tomorrow – December 14. There are demonstrations planned outside the FCC tomorrow. For more information about this issue and planned demonstrations please go to Free Press.
While millions of people around the country have been responding to the FCC in opposition to the vote on ending net neutrality, it appears that even that effort has been compromised. Here’s a quote about this from Bruce Dixon’s article:
Telecom shills and operatives have stepped up their game too. The previous record for public comments was 3.2 million. This time there were 22 million comments, many of them with names and email addresses harvested from known data breaches. The NY state attorney general has requested the FCC provide logs that might help investigate the fake pro-corporate comments but the FCC is not listening. (Dixon)
Interview with Bruce Dixon
December 4, 2017 about Net Neutrality
December 13, 2017
Justice Initiative International
Bruce A. Dixon,
BAR managing editor
23 Nov 2017
When it comes to the people’s will, the FCC have never been good listeners. The Trump FCC wants to kill subsidies for poor people to pay phone and internet bills, and remove caps on how much telecoms can charge the families of prisoners to receive phone calls. Its FCC chair used to represent a prison phone company. And they intend to kill network neutrality.
Early this week former Verizon lobbyist and current FCC chairman Ajit Pai unveiled the details of the Trump administration’s plan to scrap the network neutrality rules which prevent telecoms from selectively blocking or throttling traffic, from segregating the internet into slow and fast lanes to favor or penalize customers and content providers according to the whims of corporate “business logic.”
Net neutrality is the legal notion that the internet should be available to all content, to all technologies, to all messages and to all people, and that nobody has the right to restrict who can send, receive or connect to it. The concept of network neutrality emerged out of almost a century of peoples struggle against the greedy monopoly interests that controlled telephone networks in the US. Phone companies – originally there was only one – THE phone company, which prohibited devices manufactured by others to connect to phone networks, and refused to build infrastructure out to small towns, rural and poorer urban areas. When neighborhoods and rural communities organized their own phone companies, frequently as cooperatives, the phone company purchased judges, governors, members of congress and state legislatures to outlaw, prohibit, close them down or confiscate them, and preserve monopoly over communications networks.
It was out of these 19th and early 20th century struggles against corporate interests that the concept emerged of phone service, like water, gas and electricity as a public utility to which everyone rich or poor, rural or urban possessed an inherent right, which would be guaranteed by regulation in the public interest. When the internet took off in the early 1990s, the only way to connect to it was through the existing phone networks. So the internet was initially regulated by the same regime which governed phone service.
Greedy corporations whined and chafed and protested. Internet companies demanded to do what phone companies did (They often WERE the phone companies!) and charge higher fees for long distance as opposed to local internet. They wanted to charge the senders and the recipients of email. They wanted to restrict what kinds of devices connected to “their” internet, and what software was deployed over it. And most of all internet companies insisted that if they were denied the right to privilege their own content and slow down or block that of competitors and those they wanted to shake down, the sacred principles of the free market would be violated and they wouldn’t make any money.
For most of the 1990s, there was a Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton. Like Barack Obama Clinton was first elected with a thumping majority in the House and Senate which he lost after only two years by demobilizing his own base and moving sharply to the right. Clinton’s “reinventing government” initiative required every state, county and local government unit to list parts of their own functions that could be privatized, and begin putting them out to bid. Conceiving, engineering and building the internet was an exclusive project of the federal government, costing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars and employing thousands of scientists, engineers and construction workers on direct federal payrolls and contracts to design, test and build its backbone which was ready for prime time by the early 1990s.
The same crew of neoliberal corporate operatives who wrote and rammed through NAFTA, including Rahm Emanuel and Bill Daley of the Chicago Daley dynasty crafted the Telecommunications Acts of 1995 and 1996. They privatized the internet, giving away the American people’s massive public investment to a handful of greedy telecommunications corporations for pennies on the dollar. Privatization is always theft, and in this case it set the stage for overturning the hard won legal protections the public had won in previous decades fighting for public access to phone networks.
Industry observers knew by the late 1990s that expansion of fast internet access would only be possible over existing and new cable networks, not the existing telephone networks, and began tailoring their legal objections to regulation in the public interest accordingly. They began claiming that since “theirs” was increasingly not a wired phone network the public interest regulations like network neutrality didn’t apply to them. By the last part of Georgie W. Bush’s administration they’d purchased enough FCC officials, judges, federal and state legislators, including most of the Congressional Black Caucus, to make their argument the law of the land. Colin Powell’s son, also a telecom lobbyist was the FCC chair, and his proposals were substantially the same as those on the table today.
But it wasn’t a public argument, at least not at first. Telecoms, under the same ownership as newspapers, cable and broadcast media had no interest whatsoever in letting the public know that the handful of corporation which owned most of the book publishing, broadcast media, wireless, phone and cable network were aiming for dictatorial power over the internet too. Consequently there were practically NO stories in corporate news media on the corporate power grab. Black Agenda Report, in three or four dozens of articles in 2006, 2007 and 2008 was one of the outlets which explained again and again what was at stake for minority communities, for everyone if the telecoms were permitted to do away with network neutrality. Despite the mainstream news blackout on the issue, perserving network neutrality and the relative freedom of the internet became the cause not only of the left and the Democratic party’s mass base, but the cause of millions of ordinary Americans who otherwise supported Republicans.
The number of public comments filed in the period leading up to the Bush era FCC meeting which would have eliminated network neutrality shattered all previous records. So many Republican members of Congress were swamped with such an unprecedented volume of faxes, phone calls and emails from their own base that the White House and Congressional leaders feared an open revolt and possible action to make network neutrality the law of the land, even in a Republican ruled Congress. The Bush White House allowed FCC Chairman Powell to withdraw his proposal.
Sensing the opportunity, candidate Barack Obama declared that he “would take a back seat to no one ” when it came to protecting network neutrality. But this was the same Barack Obama who said he’d rein in the oil companies, raise the minimum wage, pass a law to make it possible for people to organize unions and maybe put on some comfortable shoes and walk a picket line. He simply lied. By the 2008 Democratic convention Obama was declaring himself the candidate of “clean coal.” In his first month as president he froze the wages of federal workers. He took extraordinary measures to protect BP after the Deepwater Horizon disaster and handed out hundreds of underwater fracking permits. He never mentioned the minimum wage till he ran again in 2012 and has yet to utter a word about that union card check bill. And his FCC chairs the first six years of his presidency did nothing to advance the cause of network neutrality or protect communities from digital redlining and price gouging.
In his last two years President Obama finally instructed a new FCC chief, who had taken part in writing the disastrous Telecommunications Acts of 1995 and 1996 to come up with regulations protecting network neutrality. But unlike laws passed by Congress, administrative regulations are easily undone by the next administration. On banking, the military budget and other matters the Obama crew was too lazy, too risk averse and too deep in the corporate pocket themselves to fight for and lock down network neutrality while they had congressional majorities and massive public support. Somebody should go ask Ta Nehisi Coates why they didn’t address these matters “when they were in power .”
So here we are, with a new president, the same news blackout, and the same corporate power grab that was tried nine and ten years ago. Trump’s FCC intends to overturn the vaunted Obama protections with a majority vote and a stroke of a pen on December 14.
This ain’t 2007-2008, the end of a fatally weakened and discredited Republican White House and congressional regime in which even public knowledge of the power grab was a surprise. Democratic oriented corporate media, and a good part of the Democrats’ mass base are consumed with Russiagate and the fake “resistance,” and not interested in stirring people up against corporate rule. Black Democrats on both the federal and state levels have been almost uniquely unhelpful, since telecom corporations used to give them money when few other megacorporations would. Same with groups like the NAACP and Urban League, and Rainbow PUSH. Until now, the right leaning public seems may be too absorbed in the polarizing racist theatrics of Big Cheeto in the White House to pay attention to network neutrality.
Telecom shills and operatives have stepped up their game too. The previous record for public comments was 3.2 million. This time there were 22 million comments, many of them with names and email addresses harvested from known data breaches. The NY state attorney general has requested the FCC provide logs that might help investigate the fake pro-corporate comments but the FCC is not listening.
Relief from the federal courts is possible, says FreePress.Net staffer Joe Torres. “You make a new rule, you repeal an old one you’re required to justify it, and the justifications offered by this FCC, our lawyers tell us, are surprisingly weak… There’s litigation in progress over the previous rules, where phone companies opposed the LifeLine program which funds phone and internet services to some of those who cannot afford them, and over rules that limit how much companies can charge for intrastate phone calls from prisons. The Trump FCC has refused to defend these policies in court…
“We’re also energized because in the last 24 hours there have been 75,000 phone calls to members of Congress opposing these new rules. We believe many of them are coming from people put in motion by places like Reddit, which lean rightward not leftward. So we’re far from dead yet. We’ll be fighting to make our voices heard, whether they want to listen or not.”
Want to see if your name and address were used to write a fake email to the FCC? Click here .
On December 7, network neutrality advocates will be protesting at Verizon stores nationwide. Click here to find one near you, or to host one.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party, which unlike Democrats and Republicans unequivocally supports network neutrality. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Interview by Heather Gray on WRFG-FM Atlanta
by Heather Gray
December 13, 2017
On December 11, 2017 on Just Peace, on WRFG-FM in Atlanta, I was fortunate to interview Reverend Dr. Fahed Abuakel and Father George Makhlouf about the Trump decision and consequences of announcing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel. Dr. Abyakel is a Palestinian American Christian and who was born in Galilee and Father Makhlouf is a retired Eastern Orthodox Priest who was born in Jerusalem. Below is the interview posted on YouTube.
2017 is also the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Israeli Six Day War. Below is also a summary of the consequences on Palestine as a result of this war which has resulted in what is often referred to as “50 years of Illegal Occupation” – it is from the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
50 years of Illegal Occupation
Fifty years on…
A CALL FOR LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
On June 5, 2017 the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza turns 50. This is not an occasion for celebration but a mark of shame on all who have enabled this half-century of subjugation and oppression.
The Israel / Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is committed to shining a light on this ever-worsening situation which currently by default, is one state, with apartheid laws separating two peoples.
Since the Six Day War in 1967, Israel has, through successive governments of every ideological stripe, continually expanded and deepened the systems of injustice, which keep one people subject to another. As Christians, we are committed to the breaking down of barriers between peoples, the deepening of solidarity based on our shared dignity as children of God, and the support of those for whom basic rights have been denied.
Israel’s official policy* is one of “hafrada,” Hebrew for “separation” or “segregation,” which is also the definition of “apartheid.” History has shown that separation does not lead to peace. We believe that there will only be peace for all in the region when there is justice for all in the region. As Americans, we are committed to equal justice for all peoples, regardless of ethnicity or creed.
Currently, in the de facto “one state” that Israel controls, such equal justice seems a long way away. In the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories, since the Six Day War, the government of Israel has:
–Demolished over 48,000 homes and related structures in the West Bank and Gaza;
–Confiscated over 586,000 acres of Palestinian land in the West Bank;
–Created 300,000 Palestinian refugees;
–Colonized the West Bank with over 600,000 Jewish settlers in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention;
–Enacted over 50 laws that discriminate against Israel’s Arab minority;
–Established an apartheid legal system with civil courts for Jewish settlers and separate military courts for 4.5 million Palestinians, including indefinite detention without trial and a conviction rate of over 99%.
Much of the infrastructure for this systematized oppression is funded by United States taxpayers. The United States provides more military aid to Israel than to any other nation, and has been remiss in holding Israel accountable for its human rights violations. As American citizens, we own this occupation. It is past time that we return it as damaged goods.
We urge you to join with us, along with our sisters and brothers from many nations and religious traditions, to call for and work for equal rights for all, in all the land that is under the control of Israel. The time is now. The plight is urgent. The call is our moral obligation.
Including the 2010 Tavis Smiley videos of “A Call to Conscience”
December 9, 2017
Click here for a PDF of “Beyond Vietnam“
There is no way I could end 2017 without acknowledging the 50th anniversary of one of the most profound and important speeches in American history. This was, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech against the Vietnam War on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York. It was known as “Beyond Vietnam“. A few months after his speech, I was fortunate to participate in the anti-Vietnam war march in October 1967 in Washington, DC, known as the “March Against the Pentagon”. Without question, King’s speech in April helped to energize the anti-war movement and, through his profound moral analysis, in defining the degenerate role of the US in that war.
In the 1980s, I directed the Non-Violent Internship Program for Coretta Scott King at the ‘Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change‘ in Atlanta, Georgia. During those years I met and remained friends with Dr. Clay Carson of Stanford University who, in 1985, was selected by Mrs. King to edit and publish the papers of her late husband. You can also go to the ‘Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute‘ website for a vast array of information about Dr. King.
Recently, I asked Clay about an informational source to best acknowledge the 50 years since King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech. He recommended Tavis Smiley’s ‘A Call to Conscience’ – a 2010 PBS program. (Please see the videos below.)
The “Beyond Vietnam” speech was, indeed, a “Call to Conscience”! King’s ‘conscience’ prevailed by his giving this speech because he was being discouraged in doing so by countless civil rights leaders. For one, they told King that by speaking against the war he challenged President Lyndon Johnson who had, just a few years prior, taken a leading role in collaboration with King and other civil rights leaders in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Essentially those around King began questioning why he should risk alienation by the president when his and others’ advocacy could be helpful in the future. Instead, King not only infuriated the so-called political establishment in America by giving this speech but also many in the civil rights movement.
Another major criticism about King’s message was essentially and condescendingly inferring that, “A black man in America does not have the standing to make statements about and critique of US foreign policy. King needs to stay in the realm of domestic issues!” I remember hearing those arguments on major TV news shows in the 1960s. Click here to also read the New York Times critical editorial on April 7, 1967 – three days after King’s speech – entitled “Dr. King’s Error“.
Also, below are comments made by Dr. Charles V. Willie in 2002 at Harvard’s King Day celebration. Dr. Willie knew King from their early student days at Morehouse.
Writer John A. Williams said, “The closer a black man comes to the truth of America in his writing and speaking, the more quickly, the more positively does the nation’s press close the doors against him.” And so it did against King.
For his courageous actions against war, high political officials turned against him. Let me call the roll. Carl Rowan said that after the Riverside Church speech, King became persona non grata to Lyndon Johnson at the White House. Ralph Bunche of the United Nations disagreed with King. Bunche said King had overstepped his domain. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell proclaimed that “the day of Martin Luther King has come to an end.” Powell ridiculed and disparaged King, calling him Martin Loser King.
King’s friends in the civil rights movement also criticized him, including Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Whitney Young and Norman Thomas “all pleaded in vain with King not to wade into the Vietnam controversy.” Jackie Robinson publicly disagreed with King’s position on Vietnam. These criticisms were described as harsh.
Finally, King’s wife tells us that even his family was uncertain of the wisdom of Martin’s opposition to the Vietnam War. “At first,” she said, “Daddy King did not approve of Martin’s stand.” Eventually King’s father came to believe that not he, but his son, was right. When he came to this understanding, Daddy King described Martin Luther King Jr. as “a genius,” but he claimed no responsibility for assisting him in coming to a commitment against war.
Amid all the opposition from friend and foe, King’s college president and spiritual mentor, Benjamin Elijah Mays, was steadfast in support of his student. Mays said, “I do not agree with the leaders who criticized Dr. King on the ground that he should stick to civil rights and not mix civil rights with foreign policy ….” “I learned long ago,” said Mays, “that there are no infallible experts on war.” Why then, he asked, should Dr. King confine his work to civil rights and leave Vietnam to the government and military professionals. (Harvard)
Dr. Willie mentions, above, the critique of King’s position by Dr. Ralph Bunche who was a diplomat at the United Nations at the time. As the only two African-American Nobel Peace Prize winners and who had also worked closely together, they had respect for each other. Yet Bunch thought King “had overstepped his domain” with the anti-war position? Bunche said, “In my view, Dr. King should positively and publicly give up one role or the other. The two efforts have too little in common“. (Bunche) On April 13, 1968, King called Ralph Bunche expressing his dismay of Bunche’s opinion. They apparently remained friends, however.
Ironically, a year later in 1968 I assisted in the funeral of Dr. King and, with two Atlanta University students, picked up Ralph Bunche at the Atlanta airport. Bunche had been asked by the UN Secretary General U-Thant to represent the United Nations at the funeral, given that Lyndon Johnson was sending Vice President Hubert Humphrey to represent the Johnson administration.
Again, in spite of all, King’s conscience prevailed. He stated what he thought needed to be declared to the America people and to the world where he wisely links violent war to poverty and injustice at home. King is also consistent with his messages. In his 1963 “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail” he stated that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere“. In this sense, to me he is also wisely inferring that injustice by the United States anywhere is a threat to justice here in America. Along that line, one of the anti-Vietnam slogans stated – “I ain’t goin’ to Vietnam; I’ve got work here in Harlem, Watts and Birmingham!”
Perhaps two of the most important and/or famous comments made by King in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech were the following, that have resonated ever since:
* The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government
After attempting to convince “the desperate, rejected and angry young men” in the ghettos about non-violence versus the use of Molotov cocktails and rifles to solve problems, King altered his assessment. He realized it seemed senseless to discuss non-violence when these youth brought up the issue of the excessive violence and loss of life in Vietnam. This, of course, inferred that violence was how the US chose to solve its perceived problems. He said in “Beyond Vietnam:”
I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.
* America is composed of “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism”
King also made reference to the fact that the United States was a “thing” oriented society. He said America needed to change this distorted orientation. It was here he spoke of what has become legendary by referring to the “giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism” which many in the justice movement say are the “giant triplets of evil”. King said:
We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 – one year after he made his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. The FBI had also intensified its harassment and surveillance of him. It seems fairly clear that many of the American elite – both corporate and government – were not overly concerned about his civil rights work. But when he shifted and expanded his emphasis to international peace and also in demanding economic justice, that was too much.
And yes, I venture to say that the wealthy corporate and government elite were threatened by King’s support of the garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee and his plans for the “Poor People’s March” in DC. Black workers as well as the white working class have always been used as the pawns of corporate elite and empowering these workers is the last thing the corporate leaders wanted! They also wanted, both then and now, for these workers to fight in their international wars. They were obviously threatened because they knew King was a powerful messenger and leader – which indeed he was and his words and wisdom calling for peace and justice continue to resonate!
“A Call to Conscience” Videos
The 2010 PBS program by Tavis Smiley was produced at Riverside Church
in which a number of King’s friends and/or scholars,
such as Clay Carson, Cornel West, Harry Belafonte, Vincent Harding,
Taylor Branch, Dr. Susannah Heschel. etc. were interviewed.
Below please find parts one through six of the video links
to this excellent program.
For approximately 95% of our human existence
men and women have been equal!
The advent of agriculture considerably lowered the status of women
When gods are both male and female, there is some parity between men and women. Both have their proper roles, and both are Divine….
When a solo male God became the source of life and salvation, feminine characteristics got transferred to masculine. When God, and men, are responsible for fertility, nature, creation and destruction, the feminine gets shoved aside, destroyed, or buried in the rubble. (Goodman)
We need to learn our history to understand who we are, and to speculate on where we might be going. “L’histoire est un grand présent, et pas seulement un passé,” as the French philosopher Alain wrote. History is a grand view of the present, and not simply something in the past. (Wells)
Preface: If you think that the lower status of women – regardless of color – versus men has always been a reality in human history, you would be wrong. In fact, it is a relatively new phenomenon in the long course of our human experience.
Most of my professional career has been in agriculture in the southern part of the United States, and this ultimately led me to explore the history of agriculture. With women finally speaking out about sexual abuse in America, I am wanting to share something about the historic role played by women, over all, in our human existence. Unfortunately, this history of the status of women is generally not taught.
We modern humans are known as homo sapiens and in our vast history, women and men were principally equal in terms of social/societal status. This was the case for some 95%, or more, of our human existence until the advent of agriculture 12 to 10 thousand years ago. Prior to agriculture, we were hunters and gatherers, in which, for close to 300,000 years, men were hunting animals and women were gathering a wide variety of nuts, fruits, vegetables and roots for our food needs. Women, in fact, gathered from 60% to 80% of the food for our human groups. As a result of the significant role of both women and men, in the religious life of our hunting and gathering societies there were both female goddesses and male gods and the society was also likely based on “enlightened egalitarian principles”.
Early men and women were equal, say scientists
Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.
A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.
Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.” (The Guardian)
With agriculture, however, the status of women was radically altered. This included removing women from being revered as goddesses and focusing on a formidable male god primarily to control the agriculture workers largely for the benefit of the expanding elite whose existence was possible thanks to sedentary and agriculturally based surplus food.
Also, with agriculture our health began to deteriorate. In our hunter-gatherer society, with women as the gatherers, we humans were eating some 150 varieties of food (i.e. fruits, nuts, vegetables and meat) and with agriculture this was reduced to about 8 varieties (largely grains and some domesticated meat) (Spencer Wells – “The Journey of Man”). Archeological findings reveal that both the restricted and less healthy diet along with constant agricultural work reduced our health considerably as demonstrated by the bones of agriculturists vs. hunter-gatherers.
Here is some information about the hunter-gatherer vs. contemporary diets:
Wide variability exists in the way the paleo diet is interpreted. Nevertheless, the diet typically includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, and meat while excluding foods such as dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, salt, alcohol or coffee.The diet is based on avoiding not just processed foods, but rather the foods that humans began eating after the Neolithic Revolution when humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled agriculture. (Wikipedia)
As geneticist/anthropologist Spencer Wells has also noted, with the advent of agriculture we also lost our free time to be with the family and our group overall.
I am writing this article not only to share this history of our human society and the status of women and men in the vast majority of our human existence, but to also serve as an historical witness to the dynamics of oppression and, contrary to that, a model for equality and acknowledgement of the significant contributions of both women and men in our human existence.
It is also a narrative to honor our contemporary and ancestral women.
This article below is edited from an article I wrote in 2015 entitled “Human, Cultural and Religious Evolution – Belief Systems, Monotheism and White Supremacy“. I have edited it to include what was noted about agriculture and its impact on the status of women.
About agriculture and how our lives changed:
More often not for the better
I know most of us generally think of the advent of agriculture as an advancement in our human history. Almost everything changed for us humans with agriculture along with mass production of crops and domestication of animals. On the whole, however, and surprisingly, it has not been positive. Further, many of us also tend to think that the economic hierarchical exploitation in our European human societies started, for example, with feudalism that flourished in Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries (Wikipedia) and ultimately led toward the different, yet also, economically exploitive capitalist system in the 16th century (Wikipedia). If we think that way, however, we are wrong. The exploitation started long before, and this was with introduction of agriculture.
It is thought that one of the earliest areas where there was evidence of “mass production” and storage of grains was in the Fertile Crescent in Iraq and surrounding areas from 12,000 – 10,000 years ago (National Geographic). This area is known as the “Cradle of Civilization” or the “Fertile Crescent”. Subsequently, the system of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent began to disperse north, south, east and west.
The Fertile Crescent is the region in the Middle East which curves, like a quarter-moon shape, from the Persian Gulf, through modern-day southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and northern Egypt…
Known as the Cradle of Civilization, the Fertile Crescent is regarded as the birthplace of agriculture, urbanization, writing, trade, science, history and organized religion and was first populated c.10,000 BCE when agriculture and the domestication of animals began in the region. By 9,000 BCE the cultivation of wild grains and cereals was wide-spread and, by 5000 BCE, irrigation of agricultural crops was fully developed. By 4500 BCE the cultivation of wool-bearing sheep was practiced widely. (Ancient History)
In addition, author Richard Manning notes that agriculture or the domestication of plants did not develop because of a “need” but because of a desire for “abundance”. I know this is also contrary to what most of us have thought about agriculture.
By the initial mass production of agriculture, I am referring, for example, to the growing and storage of grains, such as wheat, that were planted, harvested and stored. Agriculture took us away from our remarkably diverse and healthy diet.
Demand for Surplus of Food and Creating Hierarchical Societies
What is especially significant about the advent of agriculture is that with the domestication of plants, for the first time, we developed largely “hierarchical” societies. It was hierarchical with the creation of an elite seeking wealth and demanding circumscribed behavior by the masses to maintain a “surplus” of food and services. This was a radical departure from our hunter-gatherer existence that was, as mentioned, mostly egalitarian (Manning).
It was not always practical, however, to have a mass production of food and animals in climates and areas where food was readily available, as in many parts of Africa and other countless regions of world, or where the climate or environment was not conducive to a mass production, as in parts of Africa and Australia (Diamond).
Regarding much of Africa, however, the food was readily available in numerous areas. It could be gathered, hunted and/or picked off trees. And Africans developed sophisticated forms of herding and pastoral life.
(In fact) there was no need for African hunter-gatherers to settle down as farmers. Savannas, which cover 80 percent of sub-Saharan Africa, provided people with a vast garden of Eden. Since they were so mobile, hunter-gatherers and pastoralists could take advantage of many varieties of wild grasses, fruits, tubers and game… (Fowler)
Mass production of agriculture in these areas in many cases was simply not practical. And further, not all animals are able to be domesticated, although Africans did attempt to domesticate many of their wild animals, such as tigers and zebras. Diamond states “of the world’s 14 species of valuable domestic mammals, 13 were Eurasian, only one American, and none Australian” (Diamond).
Suffice it to say, over time, many hunters-gatherers all over the world had small gardens. Many carried the seeds with them as they traveled from location to location.
Agriculture Society and Mass Production Took Us Away from Nature
With agriculture, many of us humans, depending on our environment, then changed from being hunters-gatherers in relatively small groups with a close relationship to nature and others in our group, to that of larger diverse human collectives under this new agricultural system (Diamond – “The World Until Yesterday”). It took us away from closeness to and what was more often a respect for and an in-depth understanding of nature and its dynamics.
In fact, organic farmer Fred Kirshenmann in North Dakota “believes that humans fell from grace ten thousand years ago, the fall a sin of pride that came from domesticating plants. Since then, all of agriculture has been an attempt to enforce distance from nature” (Manning).
Further, those who farmed the surplus food or provided services for the elite mostly received the scraps of what was produced and their health deteriorated. This has not changed in most contemporary societies (Manning). In addition, as mentioned, living a sedentary life in large groups along with animals led to rampant diseases not experienced previously. We, of course, still need to address this dilemma.
Archeologists comparing the bones of hunter and gatherers are rather shocked at how healthy they were (tall and strong) compared to those in early agricultural societies whose diets were severely limited. Plus in agricultural societies the masses worked excessively long hours – as in women grinding grains. Their bones and spinal cords reflect this strain on their bodies (Manning).
Agricultural communities, therefore, did not necessarily improve the quality of our lives. Most of us became less healthy (Manning), had a shorter life span, spent less time with our children, and ultimately were, and continue to be, excessively exploited by the rulers of these societies (Diamond – “The World Until Yesterday”).
Changing our Belief Systems and Lowering the Status of Women
With Christians there was one male God, one male savior, male prophets
Further, the monotheistic religions radically changed our concepts of and relationship to nature. They essentially took the belief of the “divine” out of our understanding of the natural world.
However, before males predominated in the now contemporary major religious faiths, there were both female goddesses and male gods in most of our religions. In fact:
Prior to the exclusivism of the Monotheists, there were hundreds of gods and goddesses alive and worshipped in cultures throughout the world. There is evidence that the early Jews worshipped Asherah, a goddess, along with Yahweh, their male deity, and the Jewish mystical tradition acknowledges Shekinah as the feminine principle of life….
When gods are both male and female, there is some parity between men and women. Both have their proper roles, and both are Divine….
When a solo male God became the source of life and salvation, feminine characteristics got transferred to masculine. When God, and men, are responsible for fertility, nature, creation and destruction, the feminine gets shoved aside, destroyed, or buried in the rubble (Goodman).
Diamond has said, however, one of the functions of religion under agriculture was “organization and obedience”. (Diamond – “The World Until Yesterday”). Below he explains the process:
…how does the chief or king get the peasants to tolerate what is basically the theft of their food by classes of social parasites?….The solution devised by every well-understood chiefdom and early state society – from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, through Polynesia, Hawaii, to the Inca Empire – was to proclaim an organized religion with the following tenets: the chief or king is related to the gods, or even is a god; and he or she can intercede with the gods on behalf of the peasants, e.g., to send rain or to ensure a good harvest (Diamond – “The World Until Yesterday”).
Therefore, the complexity of creation stories and other vast components of the world’s spiritual elements in hunter-gatherer societies, that tend to venture into all aspects of our lives and environments, had likely been too complex and time consuming for the humans living on the huge plains of Central Asia, North Africa and elsewhere as the domestication of plants evolved. In fact, North Africans, followed by Europeans, due largely to the advent of agriculture, began to develop a more toned down and/or refined and simplified version of the spirit or religious world. This led ultimately to the monotheistic creation of Judaism, as the progenitor, followed by Christianity and Islam.
As with agriculture, monotheism considerably altered the status of women in society. With males dominating in these beliefs it then affected the social relationships and attitudes toward women and more often maligned them or lowered their status. Monotheistic religions are, therefore, often referred to, appropriately, as patriarchal.
So, in summary, the above patriarchies are what evolved! The largely “male” elite had a higher status within the religious infrastructure, with a declared link to God, that was utilized to ensure surplus food availability for non-farmers in which the workers/farmers were required to fulfill that demand (Diamond – “The World Until Yesterday”). For that purpose, religion (Christianity or not) was used as a vehicle for making sure people fulfilled those demands and acted appropriately.
In other words, from the outset of agriculture development there was a system of slave-like conditions.
Black women in north Africa were likely the founders of agriculture because for centuries these brilliant women were not only the primary caretakers of society, they were the ones who would have witnessed the behavior of seeds, plants and their growth. But, as mentioned, they and other indigenous women were also knowledgeable of the “divinity” of nature. It is because of them that the planet is more often referred to as “Mother Earth”.
I am certain these remarkable women would be appalled at the consequences of agriculture and its poisonous industrialization. In fact, in the 1990s at a gathering of the Southern Organizing Committee (SOC) I attended in New Orleans, a Native American woman spoke about this in tears. She said, while crying, “Why are we being so destructive to our Mother Earth? It has to stop!”
In fact, most farmers in the world today are women but, nevertheless, often still exploited to create the surplus needs of society. However, particularly and especially with the increasingly industrialized agriculture in contemporary life, the status of women in agriculture has been all the more reduced, although we are now witnessing some reversal of this process with increasing demands for organic production on the part of both women and men.
Also, the agriculture exploitative model described above has been on-going in our contemporary life that includes incorporation into the hierarchical western capitalist system and often includes dire and threatening monotheistic religions that invariably embrace exploitative males as we constantly witness in American political life.
Women, however, even prior to today’s much appreciated outspoken statements about sexual abuse, have been making strides for years in terms of status within the society, in a vast array of professions, in education, politics and independence overall in the economy, to name but a few areas. And regarding speaking out today about sexual abuse? Most women are saying “enough is enough!”
In contemporary agriculture, we are also witnessing vast changes, as mentioned, and concerns about the unhealthy industrialization of agriculture on our health and environment. The changes are largely the interest in and development of organically produced foods in both urban and rural areas. This is most definitely a positive sign in our human development and in our evolving human story. By doing this we are in some ways reclaiming our important and relevant past.
But it is important for both women and men throughout the world to understand that the status of women within our human groups for most of our human existence has been profound and of equal status with males. It is way past time to attain that same equity. And this time in our contemporary lives, with women as leaders, that would hopefully include, in most instances, the sensitivity and appreciation of nature and of the world’s diverse humanity overall. Women are, after all, the caregivers.
Armstrong, Karen A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, A Ballantine Book, (Random House) (1993)
Beckert, Sven Empire of Cotton: A Global History Borzoi Book (Alfred A Knopf) (2014)
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies W.W. Norton & Company (2006)
The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? Viking (Penguin) (2012)
Goodman, Lion “The Divine Masculine” Women Waking the World (October 25, 2014)
Gray, Peter “How hunter-gatherers maintained their egalitarian ways” (Nov 2 2011)
Lorenz, David, The Role of the Christian Missionaries in Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart Seminar Paper, University of Stuttgart (May 2005)
Johnson, Theodore “Africans Have Apologized for Slavery, So Why Won’t the US?” The Root
Luthuli, Albert Let My People Go: The Autobiography of Albert Luthuli Tafleberg Publishers and Mafube Publishing (2006)
Manning, Richard Against the Grain: How Agriculture has Hijacked Civilization, North Print Press (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux) (2004)
Smithers, Stuart “The Spiritual Crisis of Capitalism: What would the Buddha do?” Adbusters (29 June 2012)
Sussman, Robert Wald The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea
President and Fellows of Harvard College (2014)
Wells, Spencer The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey Penguin, UK; Princeton University Press and Random House, US (2002)
White, Matthew Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History W.W. Norton & Company (2011)
HEATHER GRAY produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She has been a part of the food security movement for close to 3 decades in Africa, Asia and the United States. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: In 2010, I wrote the article below entitled “Texas Rewrites History”. In 2010, Obama was the president and he was, of course, the first black president of the United States. Yet, in spite of and likely because of this landmark presidential election, the South reacted as per always – it continued in its efforts to make the country into a white supremacist, conservative, Christian, and male dominated society. While the South has always attempted to do this since the end of the Civil War in 1865, the end of Reconstruction in 1877, and the successful civil rights movement in the 1960s, with the election of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, many white supremacists in the South became empowered yet again. Reagan, after all, launched his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi (Neshoba County) where the three civil rights workers were killed in 1964. Here is information about these killings:
The murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, also known as the Freedom Summer murders, the Mississippi civil rights workers’ murders or the Mississippi Burning murders, involved three activists that were abducted and murdered in Neshoba County, Mississippi in June 1964 during the Civil Rights Movement. The victims were Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner from New York City, and James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi. All three were associated with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and its member organization the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). They had been working with the Freedom Summer campaign by attempting to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote. This registration effort was a part of contesting over 70 years of laws and practices that supported a systematic policy of disenfranchisement of potential black voters by several southern states that began in 1890. (Wikipedia)
By Reagan launching his campaign in Philadelphia, it was, in a sense, a green light for the America’s white supremacists and they knew it and acted upon it! Conservative Texas was definitely part of that mix.
All of this was, of course, compounded by the Obama election which gave the supremacists even more energy to advance white supremacist conservative and inhuman policies altogether to counter the election of someone Black as president.
So what does Texas do after the election of Obama? It attempts to re-write history. The Texas agenda is parallel to much of what Trump is attempting to do as well, so it’s instructive to understand some of what they were doing. In fact, Texas in 2010, as scholar Eric Foner notes, was when they wanted to impact what students learned about history to shape a conservative society. Foner stated that:
“…conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military and religion.”
The Texas agenda is also right out of the political agenda of the conservative Alabama Senatorial candidate, Roy Moore, regarding undermining women, and also bowing down the Confederacy, to capitalism, the military and religion.
But yet what also is important, as noted in my article below, is the great progressive history of Texas in reaction to these occasional conservative initiatives. We also need to keep this in mind for the entire United States as there is invariably a concerted effort by Americans to maintain and work toward a more democratic system and to attain justice overall. Lawrence Goodwyn, referred to below, describes this reaction as “the movement culture”.
In the 2010 article below I make reference to Ray Marshall at the University of Texas who is now retired but continuing his great work through, for one, the Economic Policy Institute.
December 1, 2017
Texas’ Progressive History is a
and counters the Texas Efforts
to “twist” its History
April 21, 2010
In the April 5, 2010 issue of “The Nation”, historian Eric Foner of Columbia University wrote about “Twisting History in Texas“. The “conservative-dominated Texas Board of Education,” he said, has made sweeping changes in how Texas students will be taught history. But Texas is schizophrenic. It combines profound progressive activism and attitudes along with stark conservatism. I’ll wager that given this, Texans will not let this conservative history in schools prevail for long.
Foner writes that, “…conservatives want students to come away from a Texas education with a favorable impression of women who adhere to traditional gender roles, the Confederacy, some parts of the Constitution, capitalism, the military and religion. They do not think students should learn about women who demanded greater equality; other parts of the Constitution; slavery, Reconstruction and the unequal treatment of nonwhites generally; environmentalists; labor unions; federal economic regulation; or foreigners.”
This history is obviously not one to encourage the building of democratic institutions and freedom of expression among all sectors of the Texas population but rather offering proscribed roles.
Texas and its schizophrenia?
Texas allows its citizens to carry concealed guns. A few years ago while at a meeting in Texas I went to a bar for dinner. All patrons were required to submit their guns to the management while they were in the bar. I watched as patron after patron placed their guns on the counter. This was new for me. I’d not seen this before and then became paranoid of every Texan I saw for the remainder of the trip. This was likely the attitude they wanted to invoke in someone like me and they were successful. I did not feel safe. It seemed like the wild-west. I guess it was.
Then later at the airport as I waited for my plane, I started talking with a couple of women who were from Texas. I asked them about their former governor, George Bush, who was then the President. I asked them if they were surprised at his arch-conservative positions on policies. One of the women was exceptionally nervous about speaking to me and left the table – she looked around to see if anyone even heard my question. It was explained to me that it was dangerous to criticize George Bush in Texas. I don’t know what the repercussions would be, but it was clear they were uncomfortable talking about him.
But then Texas had wisely elected the progressive and populist Jim Hightower as their Agriculture Commissioner in 1982. A post he kept until 1991. Hightower said, however, that some of the larger farmers complained that he wasn’t interested in agriculture because he was only talking with small family farmers. It was the Texan schizophrenia yet again but also the expressions of the controlling corporate agribusiness community! Hightower is famous, in fact, for saying “We need to base our nation’s growth not on the Rockefellers, but on the little fellers, because if we do it will be based on genius and not greed”.
Who can forget the great and inspirational Black politician Barbara Jordan from Texas who in the 1960’s became the first Black Texas State Senator since 1883 and the first African American woman in that position. She later served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hopefully the Texas Board of Education will mention Jordan with the accolades she is due.
Then there’s Austin, Texas with the University of Texas. A friend of mine who taught there for a while said “Heather, in Austin you can actually support the election of politicians on the left who will win.” I rare treat I must say.
No discussion about the University of Texas can be complete without referring to economics professor Ray Marshall who was President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Labor and is now professor emeritus. Marshall engaged in extensive studies on the economics of the rural south and how oppressed Blacks and poor whites might make strides economically. He thought that cooperatives were one for the best avenues for achieving some equity in the face of the concentrated wealth in rural southern communities and racial oppression. In the 1990’s I interviewed Marshall. He said:
“How do you make it possible for low income Blacks and low income whites in the mountain areas to improve their income? I can’t think of an institution better suited to that than a co-op. Cooperatives are the best people development institutions you can have. With cooperatives you deal with all of it – you are involved in the leadership development, people have to learn to run co-ops, work with people, learn to make plans, meet and set goals, marshal resources.
I have always been interested in rural development in the South. It’s not well understood outside of the South that there’s a connection between economic independence and political independence – that people didn’t have economic independence if when they voted they lost their jobs or got kicked off the plantation. The whole reason for forming cooperatives is to give people economic independence so that they could have independence in political and other matters.”
Marshall also made reference to the development of democratic institutions which again is something Texas students and all students in the US should learn:
“All over the world you see democratic institutions sprouting up and we need to strengthen our democratic institutions here. The basic evolution is that first you have political institutions that are controlled by the people and not special interest groups – that’s political democracy. After workers get the right to vote then you have industrial democracy, which means worker participation in the work place. That’s collective bargaining. Most countries have taken that further than us. Then there’s social democracy where you have safety nets – a minimum level of welfare services. Every industrial country in the world is more developed in social democracy than us in, for example, health care and education. Finally, there’s economic democracy where individuals and not special interests control their economic institutions. Economic democracy strengthens all other forms of democracy. If you have economic democracy then people can’t intimidate you when you vote.”
But no brief account of progressive history in Texas could be complete without mentioning the agrarian revolt in the late 1800’s. According to Marshall’s friend and colleague historian Lawrence Goodwyn in his book ” The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America” (1978), the farmers in Texas revolted because they were fed up with oppressive crop lien system of commercial capitalism after the Civil War that virtually enslaved and destroyed them. Their revolt spread through the country. It was profound. This is the history Texas students should be taught. Goodwyn describes these farmers as having a deep understanding of the economics of oppression they were experiencing and how significant parts of their organizing model should largely be emulated. He writes that:
“Democratic movements are initiated by people who have individually managed to attain a high level of personal political self-respect. They are not resigned; they are not intimidated. To put it another way, they are not culturally organized to conform to established hierarchical forms. Their sense of autonomy permits them to dare to try to change things by seeking to influence others …. “Individual self-respect” and ‘collective self-confidence” constitute, then, the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics. Their development permits people to conceive of the idea of acting in self-generated democratic ways – as distinct from passively participating in various hierarchical modes bequeathed by the received culture. In this study of Populism, I have given a name to this plateau of cooperative and democratic conduct. I have called it “the movement culture”. Once attained, it opens up new vistas of social possibility, vistas that are less clouded by inherited assumptions, I suggest that all significant mass democratic movements in human history have generated this autonomous capacity. Indeed, had they not done so, one cannot visualize how they could have developed into significant mass democratic movements.”
The conservative history objectives outlined by the Texas Board of Education reminds me of the “Bantu” education developed by apartheid leaders in South Africa that demeaned Black South Africans. Throughout South Africa there were Black teachers who resisted and refused to teach this distorted history to their students. Texas teachers should do the same.
HEATHER GRAY is the producer of “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She has been involved in agriculture advocacy and communications for decades in the United States and internationally. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
RETHINKING BLACK POVERTY, POWER and JUSTICE
By William Small
November 29, 2017
Justice Initiative International There is an old adage that says, “when the Lion begins to write his own history, the hunter will no longer be the hero”. It is impossible to find a serious history of Africa or of African descendent people that does not describe the resources of the Continent of Africa and the talents of African people as exceptional. Even today, while much of the African Diaspora wrestles with images of itself that are generally associated with poverty, as popularly defined, the African Continent continues to virtually serve as a treasure trove of resources for some of the richest and most powerful nations on the face of the earth. Without the resources of Africa and the contributions to western culture and high civilization that have been made by African resources and African people “at home and abroad”, the world as we know it would simply not exist.
There is an old adage that says, “when the Lion begins to write his own history, the hunter will no longer be the hero”. Unfortunately, the images of the Lion are still being defined by the hunter and all too thoroughly digested by the Lion. Popular media, the IMF, the World Bank, USAID, Afri-Com, and an unending list of government and non-governmental agencies continue to create crisis after crisis and “resolve them” in a way that reinforces the concept of Africa as inept, unprepared and poor. Similarly, but very much related to that myth are the global images of African descendent people that are spawned within the borders of powerful nations which support the same negativity on the international screen. The psychological and political consequences of these persistent practices are profound. Africa becomes demeaned, while European and now Asian patterns and practices of exploitation become exalted. Black folks as a people or the world as a civilization cannot understand “Black Poverty” unless we understand the direct and lingering consequences of over five hundred years of this kind of social and psychological conditioning. In this confusion we find the wisdom of one of Americas most under-heralded historians, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, whom I loosely quote “condition a person to seek entry through the back door, and even if there is no back door, that person will demand that one be constructed”. This statement is but one more example of the Lion, eagerly digesting the hunter’s interpretation of what is fitting and deserving for the Lion.
My intent in addressing this topic is not to reinforce the popular perceptions of African dis-function or to blame the prevailing political and social conditions in the African Diaspora on Europeans and others. That might prove to be a very productive discussion and analysis of our condition at another time. My intent here is to draw some attention to the extent and degree to which the practices complained of here, have been internalized by us, Black People, to include our leaders, thus contributing to self- diminishing patterns of thought and action which serve to “de-fang” the Lion. The Lion therefore becomes little more than a pathetic character in a 21st century, real life version of the “Wizard of OZ”.
The question for black leadership, in this stage and phase of our struggle is “how do we reclaim our “Lionness?” How do we recommit to value the principles of solidarity and accountability to our people and our Communities? Today, it is sad to admit, too many African descendent people harbor an insufficient regard for Africa and an equally paralyzing insufficient regard for each other. Arguably, we have lost our capacity to identify and pursue our collective self-interest. More troubling, I contend, we have lost our concern with the necessity to develop an agenda to correct this deficiency as a pre-condition to repair ourselves. This condition is the “Poverty” from which we as Black people suffer the most. It is also, in my opinion, the condition that we must first address. If Black people, anywhere in the world today, have any illusion of participating in a meaningful way in a political process which is about creating collective opportunity, collective wealth, and the power to once again become a collectively influential and self-determining people – we must first break the bonds of this “psychological poverty” and reclaim ourselves.
We cannot continue to be more loyal to money, political party, individual celebrity, artificial political boundaries and the transitory trappings of this world and expect to render the essential degree of service and security to each other that real change and re-empowerment will require. Real change and sustainable progress will require more than the kind of symbolic participation that our politics have become. Voting cannot continue to be “a duty”. Voting must evolve to become “a strategy” for our global liberation and empowerment. We must once again learn how to roar responsibly, in our own collective self-interest, like a full-throated Lion. We can neither gain nor retain the respect of our oppressors while purring like the Lion that is “just glad to be in the room”.
Today, we have more “Lions in the room” than we have ever had in the modern political history: Heads of State, United Nations officials, Military General Officers and Corporate Executives. We should and we have rightly applauded their success. However, to a perilously large degree, their success has been permitted to remain “too” individual. Can we actually say that after eight years of the American government lead by an African American President that African American people or African people in the Diaspora are, in any way, collectively better off? Can we actually say that our response was responsible and appropriate when, after the election of the first African American President, the racist elements in our society circled the wagons and publicly announced their intention to restrict his effectiveness as a human being, as an African American, and as a world and national leader? Can we say that the US Justice Department today – independent of the ethnicity, politics or gender of the United States Attorney General – is as effective in protecting and defending the constitutional rights of Black Americans as it has been at times in the relatively recent past? The pain of answering these and other hard questions cannot be ignored by us.
To paraphrase Dr. King, “we have been to the mountain top”. But this time we left our roar and much of our memory somewhere on the trail. We are just so glad to have been there. We celebrate our victories without unifying to solidify our gains. The struggle has become more about “the leader” or self, than it is about “the collective”. Political participation in too many African American communities has become more about the symbol than it is about the substance of “the goal”.
By most significant standards of measure, Black people the world over are becoming more and more segmented and marginalized. Our institutional structures continue to fall apart. Our schools fail, communities and businesses deteriorate, police assaults proliferate and prisons for profit explode with our youth of both sexes. African resources continue to be devoted to the exploitation of African people. Perhaps more now than ever before, African and African American political leaders eagerly dance to the rhythm of others while ignoring the messages inherent in the rhythm of the drums of the ancestors. The Lion no longer has the courage to roar. The quest for liberation and empowerment has become too dependent on a political process that has historically opposed the very concept of racial equality. The “participation-cool aid”, has become the intoxicant; its constant consumption is proving to be as addictive, as debilitating and as destructive as “dope”. In the meantime the debate in our community, if there is one at all, is generally about “which end of our Boat is sinking”.
What I have just described is my view of the seedbed that accounts for and insures the continuing proliferation of “Black Poverty” and its normalization. It is not the absence of wealth or resources that in this century creates the poverty that affects the Black world. That era has long passed. Our poverty, “Black Poverty”, has become deeply rooted in “the disconnect” existing between ourselves and the space that has been created between us, as a people, and our history and culture.
We have traded the moral compass that once insulated us from the corruptive influences of selfish materialism and self-denigration. In exchange we have accepted a title, a banner or some other symbol that says “the other” has validated us who most often is a certified and well-documented oppressor. It is difficult to imagine that a thinking and once great people could define and consciously accept a more insignificant set of symbols of individual or collective success.
It is at moments like these that I recall conversations with a friend with whom I grew up. He left college became an activist in the struggle for Black and human rights and assumed a leadership position in the Black Panther Party. His commitment, coupled with the Counter Intelligence Program and philosophy of the era, resulted in him spending decades and ultimately dying in prison. During all of the years of our friendship and association, I never saw his spirit broken. I never heard him express a single regret for his sacrifices or contribution to the struggle for our collective empowerment. Through it all he remained totally committed and dedicated to the principles of “The Party” and to the creation of a political order where “Justice for All” was the polestar. There was however, one reservation that he would express, with increasing frequency, in our discussion and written exchanges. My friend became increasingly concerned with what he perceived as the decline in the consciousness and in the spiritual wealth of our people. He was concerned with what he perceived as the erosion of our moral compass and the consequent emergence of an infectious climate of moral impoverishment that would weaken the struggle. On those occasions he would “somewhat” rhetorically ask the question, “are we turning into a sad and even more powerless People?” The answer to that question, I submit, has never been clearer, or more important to our future conduct as Black People than it is today.
I have no reservation that I will never see again, in this season that we call life, the restoration of the greatness and beauty inherent in the struggle that we once waged on the global stage to become a free and self-determining people. I am equally convinced, however, that unless we reconnect with the responsibility to become the “architects of our future” and accept the prophetic phrasing of Bob Marley who said, “only we can free our minds” our progress will be slow and slight – if any. If we are more loyal to the political process than we are to the global interests of the African Diaspora, and if we dream more of sports than we do of Reparations, “the cool-aid vendors” will be wealthy and ecstatic, the lion will neither write nor value his own history and the poverty quotient inherent in the Black world will insure the marginalization of future generations. The historical “arc of justice” points to no other end, and without lying, history can tell no other story.
Dr. William Small, Jr. is a retired educator, and a former Board Chairman and Trustee at South Carolina State University.
Note: A few years ago, on my radio program on WRFG-Atlanta’s “Just Peace”, I interviewed the Harvard educated Marxist economist Richard Wolff. Wolff said that Harvard tried to make him into a good capitalist, but it didn’t work. I mentioned to Wolff that in my organizing work in the South, since the 1970s and during what was still the Cold War era, people were often afraid to even mention the word “capitalism” much less critique it and have a dialogue about other economic systems and that the fear from the Cold War era had lingered. Wolff said that he had the same problem across the country overall, but that this changed with the 2011 Occupy Movement. He said that since the Occupy Movement, Americans now have in their mindset the 1% versus the 99%. In other words, there is an acute understanding and consciousness about huge and inappropriate economic inequities under this US capitalist system. As a result, the opportunity for organizing on and dialoguing about economic issues is now, even in spite of and perhaps also because of the Trump election that has altogether demonstrated the control and manipulation of the US economy and its workers by such a small 1% elite.
Historically, I have also found that the prevailing racism and white supremacy in America have hindered, to a large degree, the necessary organizing work and collaboration between working folks – black, brown and white – to address and organize against these inequities and, instead, working toward a more just collective economic system. In the South, what the “white” capitalist elite have invariably done, under this essentially feudal-like system, is to create conflict between the white and black workers in order to control labor altogether. The white working class has, therefore, invariably served as the puppet of the elite and consequently against their own interests.
However, there have been episodes in the country when blacks and whites have, in fact, come together in the South and more of this history needs to be told. One of the most profound integrated groups, in my opinion, was the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU) created in 1934 in the midst of the depression. In 1984, the STFU held it’s 50th anniversary and I was blessed to attend a portion of ceremony that took place in Memphis, Tennessee along with other activities in Arkansas. Below is the 1984 New York Times article about the reunion that provides some of the important history of the STFU.In 1984, while at the STFU reunion, I was fortunate to talk with one of the founders, H.L. Mitchell (1906-1989). I also talked STFU member George Stith about the STFU organizing in the sugarcane growing areas of Louisiana and how treacherous that was. Being someone black and organizing in that area, owned and controlled by white Louisiana plantation owners, was dangerous work to be sure.
Before sharing the 1984 New York Times article about the STFU, I want to provide some narrative from a 1992 interview with George Stith, from the Great Depression Series, where he explains, briefly, the mission of the STFU, as well as the definition of a tenant farmer and a sharecropper.
Now, when you think back about the STFU, and all the battles you fought and all the dangers that you faced, what is it that makes you feel most proud? What is it that you want to think STFU meant, or want to be remembered for?
Well, I think it should be remembered, ’cause, we looked at it as a humanitarian organization. People who worked for poor people, no matter what race, creed, or color they were, and that’s what makes me feel good. See, we went down to Louisiana in the sugar cane, where it was pretty bad down there. We organized groups down in sugar cane area, and we pulled them out on strike for twenty-eight days. We won the strike, but no membership. I mean, they paid the price, I can’t go into too much details on it, but the price was set by the government. The government would have a hearing mostly in Thibodaux or somewhere, down by Bowlett Bush, and the government would have the hearing, and nobody would testify but the plantation owners.
Tell me about the process of sharecropping, how it actually works.
Well, well maybe I need to tell you the difference of a sharecropper and a tenant, well, we had both on the farm. A tenant was a man who had his own mules and his own plough tools. He worked, he give a fourth of the cotton and a third of the corn to the plantation-owner. A sharecropper was one who the plantation owner furnished the mules and the plough tools and the seed. He worked the crop, he gathered it, and he was supposed to get half of it, but most of the time he didn’t. He got what he gave him. Working hours were from, mostly from daylight to dark, which includes from twelve to thirteen hours a day. Don’t go to the lot with the man and the mules until it was sundown, that was a violation of the rules, sharecropping rules. And you must have them out of the lot by sun-up.
Also, in the New York Times article, H.L. Mitchell mentions that “Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture, ”favored the planters and cared nothing for the sharecroppers.’‘ However, while Wallace was trying to develop programs to assist farmers during the depression, the problem he faced was that the Senate Agriculture Committee and others committees were headed by conservative southern whites. Here’s some information about this:
Dating to the Depression, the South was so dominated by conservative Democrats that lawmakers who behaved reasonably well – and even some who did not – could hold office virtually as long as they wanted, earning seniority and privileges.
That political monopoly produced legislators such as Democratic Rep. Jamie Whitten of Mississippi. He became known as the “permanent secretary of agriculture” because he held such a grip over farm spending during a 54-year career.
Democratic Sen. Russell Long – scion of the famed Louisiana political dynasty of Huey Long – was called the “fourth branch of government” for his mastery of tax law during 16 years as Senate Finance Committee chairman.
Committee chairmen held far more power and independence than they do under today’s centralized system, and Southerners often made clear their disdain for contrary views from other parts of the country.(Washington Post)
Under these circumstances, it was next to impossible for Henry Wallace to pass legislation through the Senate that would benefit the tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the South. The large southern landowners, many of whom were in the Senate, insisted that the money from the agriculture programs come to them altogether and that they would then distribute resources to the black and white tenants and sharecroppers. (To note that this was hypocritical is an understatement as these southern elite simply kept the money themselves.)
Wallace didn’t want laws passed that would exclusively benefit the large landowners, but he had to adhere to the demands of Senate’s southerners or he could get nothing passed in Congress that would at the very least benefit small farmers in other parts of the country. Not surprisingly, because the large white southern landowners were keeping the government money for themselves rather than distributing to tenants and sharecroppers, the New Deal agriculture policies, as practiced in the South, bypassed those who were most in need. Greed prevailed, which is historically how the South has operated!
Also, the 1930s creation of the STFU is an excellent model of collaboration between blacks and whites for what we need to do today to challenge an economy that benefits the 1% and not the rest of us.
November 16, 2017
LITTLE-KNOWN TENANT FARMERS’ UNION WILL RECALL ITS BOLD PAST AT REUNION
By WILLIAM SERRIN
Published: March 14, 1984
MONTGOMERY, Ala.- On the steamy night of July 13, 1934, 18 men, 11 of them white and 7 black, met in a rickety schoolhouse on a cotton plantation near Tyronza, Ark., and formed a bold union, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.
Among them was a young man, H. L. Mitchell, who had been a sharecropper but was then operating a dry cleaning business.
The union never was large, but it had a mighty spirit. It challenged social and economic power in the South and attempted to do what unions still often do not do: organize the poor.
On Friday, at the old Statehouse in Little Rock, Ark., near the land where union members were chased, beaten, imprisoned, and where some were killed, 75 to 100 of the people who belonged to the union will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of its founding – An Integrated Union.
Mr. Mitchell, 77, still energetic and dedicated, will be there. So will the Rev. George Stith, who was one of its most able organizers; Evelyn Smith Munro, long one of the union’s indefatigable workers, and John Handcox, who helped write some of the labor movement’s grandest anthems including ”Roll the Union On” and ”We Shall Not Be Moved.”
The union, often unmentioned in labor histories, was integrated when almost no institutions in America were integrated.
It was instrumental in exposing the evils of farm tenancy and the sharecropper system. It criticized New Deal agricultural policies like the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which, the union said, favored large landholders. It was largely responsible for the establishment of the Federal Farm Security Administration, which, until it was abolished in 1946, fought for the rights of tenant farmers, sharecropppers and small farmers.
The rural areas of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas had long nurtured movements like the Farmers Alliance and the People’s Party.
In 1927 at the age of 21, Mr. Mitchell moved to Tyronza, Ark., from Halls, Tenn. He tried sharecropping, but the land was poor and he took over the dry cleaning store and made friends with Henry Clay East who ran the gas station next door.
In 1934 the Socialist Norman Thomas visited Tyronza to investigate the farm tenancy and sharecropper systems. At lunch at Mr. East’s house, Mr. Thomas suggested Mr. Mitchell and Mr. East form a tenant farmers’ union.
The union received help from many friends: Dr. William R. Amberson, a Memphis physiologist and a Socialist; Howard Kester, a minister and a Socialist; Gardner (Pat) Jackson, a Department of Agriculture official in the early Roosevelt Administration and then the union’s Washington representative and Dr. Will W. Alexander, who was administrator of the Farm Security Administration. But Mr. Mitchell was always the union’s driving force.
Anthony P. Dunbar, author of “Against the Grain (Southern Radicals and Prophets, 1929-1959) ” a study of radical movements in the South, calls Mr. Mitchell ”one of the people who give character and quality to the South.”
It seemed the union might have great success. By 1937 it had 31,000 members. In 1935, it staged a strike of 5,000 cotton pickers and won wage increases. It organized demonstrations to bring the nation’s attention to the eviction of tenant farmers by landords. ”We had people moving, doing things for themselves,” Mr. Mitchell says.
But a number of forces combined to prevent the union’s success and sap its strength over the next 20 years. There was the opposition of plantation bosses as well as of many in the Roosevelt Administration. There was also the breadth of the union’s goals: the replacement of the plantation system with cooperative farms owned by tenants, and a racially integrated organization of the nation’s farm workers.
The labor movement also hurt. When the tenant union applied for membership in the new Committee on Industrial Organization in 1937, John L. Lewis, president of the C.I.O., forced it to affiliate with a new union, the United Cannery Agricultural Packinghouse and Allied Workers of America.
The union withdrew from the cannery workers and the C.I.O. in 1939, but its energy was sapped by struggles with the cannery workers’ Communist leadership.
The introduction of new technologies during and after World War II also hurt the union. Land-owners replaced tenants with machines like the gasoline tractor and the mechanical cotton picker. In 1940, the nation had 2.6 million farm workers; today it has less than a million.
Mr. Mitchell and others worked hard to keep farm unionism going. During World War II the union sent unemployed members to farm jobs in the South, the North and the West.
From 1947 to 1949, the union, now called the National Farm Labor Union, conducted a strike of 1,000 workers at the DiGiorgio Farms near Bakersfield, Calif. The company broke the strike, but the strike and subsequent union actions in California helped give rise to the United Farm Workers.
In 1960, in Mr. Mitchell’s words, the union, then known as the National Agricultural Workers Union, was ”submerged” into the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union. Mr. Mitchell went to work for the meatcutters as an agricultural specialist and helped organize sugar cane workers, fishermen, chicken farmers and dairy farmers.
A large, rawboned, white-haired man, Mr. Mitchell lives in Montgomery with his wife, Dorothy, whom he married in 1940 and who long was the union’s secretary-treasurer.
Looking back, Mr. Mitchell said John L. Lewis was a ”business unionist whose interest was in getting a huge membership that could pay union dues.” He said Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture, ”favored the planters and cared nothing for the sharecroppers.” He said President Roosevelt ”was a real good politician, but of the two Roosevelts, I’d take Eleanor.”
”We were never just a union,” Mr. Mitchell said. ”We were a movement. We tried to make it a union, but we didn’t do so good at that.”
Note: With the accusations now about Republican Alabama Senatorial candidate, Roy Moore, having sexually abused young girls, I, of course, am reminded the major criticizer and opponent of Moore who was none other than late civil rights attorney J.L. Chestnut.
Over the years, I was blessed to be in consistent contact with Attorney Chestnut on civil rights issues. I was definitely dialoguing with him when, in the early 2000s, Roy Moore defiantly commissioned the placement of a monument of the Ten Commandments by an Alabama Judicial Building. At the time, Roy Moore was Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and by doing this Moore was, of course, in violation of the US Constitution’s establishment clause of “separation of church and state”:
“Separation of church and state” is paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson and used by others in expressing an understanding of the intent and function of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (Wikipedia)
Moore obviously thought he was above the law but, thankfully, he is not! He was forced off the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to remove the monument after being ordered to do so by a federal court.
In 2005, Chestnut wrote an article below in reference to Moore creating “Alabama’s Taliban”, which is obvisouly an appropriate description. In his 2005 article, Chestnut also compares the former Alabama governor George Wallace and Roy Moore and says that Moore seems to aim no higher than the Alabama governor’s office. I would love to read what Chestnut would say in 2017 about Moore’s run for the U.S. Senate. However, Chestnut wrote the following in 2005:
Wallace founded a political party (the American Independent Party) and wanted to be president but Moore appears to aim no higher than the governors’ office and would turn Alabama into a quasi-Christian theocracy to get there.
I would also relish reading what Chestnut would say about these sexual harassment accusations against Moore and, as mentioned, Moore’s current Senate race altogether. Believe me, Chestnut would be relentless on the issue and tell the country what they need to know about the “real” Moore who, he notes, “seems to brook no competition in his making of Alabama appear the most backward state in the union.” I guess Moore’s intent as a US Senator would be to work with Trump and others in his party to continue making the United States, overall, more backward as well. With Alabama’s Roy Moore as a Senator and Alabama’s Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Chestnut would have a field day writing about not just Alabama’s Taliban but America’s Taliban.
November 10, 2017
Justice Initiative International
By J. L. Chestnut, Jr.
Two “holier than thou” preachers, one back and one white, visited my office on different days last week but on the same mission. The men are riled up over words I wrote about Chief Justice Roy Moore running for Governor on a 5000-pound statute or monument promoting the Ten Commandments. The white preacher also was not pleased with some words I spoke about Condi Rice on this show. The two evangelical visitors are, to me, Alabama’s equivalent of the intolerant Taliban in Afghanistan.
I said to both preachers that Californians are often No.1 in making fools of themselves but Moore seems to brook no competition in his making of Alabama appear the most backward state in the union. I also said Moore has a whole lot of help and mentioned an online Alabama news group that once put out a poster that read, “Increase Your Child’s IQ by up to Eight Points” and followed that with a poster calling for public execution of school children who commit violent acts.
The white preacher wanted me to know that regardless of what I thought, said and tried to make fun of, Judge Moore will be the next governor of Alabama. I said that would not surprise me in the least. In fact, that would be par-for-the-course. I also said that state government in Alabama is located on a hill in Montgomery called “Goat Hill” and that is a perfect name and Moore is the latest justification for the name. The white preacher didn’t seem to grasp that last point.
I explained that long before George “Schoolhouse Door” Wallace (and even before Jeff Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest) politicians in Alabama made public Asses of themselves on “Goat Hill”. They railed against niggers, high tariffs and Yankees and often in that order, while helping keep Alabama near last in every quality-of-life category. Believe it or not, the Alabama Legislature once passed a law making it a capital offense to put salt on a railroad track. That law was never repealed and remains the law in Alabama.
Before Moore burst on the state scene, Alabama Lt. Governor, Steve Windom, while actually presiding over a session of the state senate urinated in a water-cooler jug under the podium. He didn’t want to relinquish the presiding officer’s chair during a filibuster. The urine jug was later dubbed the “Confederate Battle Jug.” During another session of the legislature, Gov. “Fumbling Fob” James cursed on the floor of the House – while seeking support for, of all things, public school prayer. James also said, “No one has a greater appreciation for a classical education than I do,” then defiantly rejected a major tenet of a classical education -evolution – by defiantly adding, “I didn’t descend from an ape.”
James statement reminds me of an unlearned campaign promise by Lester “Ax Handle” Maddox of Georgia who said, “If elected [governor] I will disintegrate the schools.” This ignorant and racist nut invented a word-disintegrate-on the spot! There are many “Goat Hills” in Dixie. I think it goes with segregation, racism and self-righteousness.
The black preacher wanted me to know that Moore and Wallace are not comparable, politically or any other way. The preacher is only half right. Moore and Wallace are both similar and different. Each man qualified as an ambitious, self-styled states rights Alabama politician who defied federal law and led misguided populist revolts, but the similarities probably end there. Wallace founded a political party (the American Independent Party) and wanted to be president but Moore appears to aim no higher than the governors’ office and would turn Alabama into a quasi-Christian theocracy to get there.
Moore’s antics are hardly new in Alabama. Some years ago, poor white residents in a trailer camp (at Priceville) and a few homeowners all in a rural section of Madison County tried to carve a new town out of the trailer camp and rename it Brooksville. The only law would be the Ten Commandments. There would be a volunteer mayor but no other town official. Every adult citizen would have a gun or a pistol and they would protect each other. Of course that unconstitutional theocratic and religious idea never got off the ground. How could it?
There is really no distinction between a failed attempt to transform a trailer camp into a theocracy and Moore’s theocratic designs for the whole state of Alabama. Religious dogmatists have been trying for years to take over mainstream institutions and government. If you get a big belly laugh out of religious fundamentalists trying to transform an Alabama trailer camp into a theocratic religious township, please consider that such people control school boards, regularly defeat and elect politicians of all kinds, including George W. Bush who placates them with words about “being born again.” Being seen as standing up for the Ten Commandments is as politically potent in Alabama as hollering “nigger, nigger, nigger”!
The white preacher who visited with me accused me of having made up out of “thin air” that Condi Rice’s family opposed the 1960s civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham. He had no facts to refute my charge but the man just could not believe that blacks as prominent as the Rice family would have opposed a black civil rights movement. I explained that upper class, educated blacks had the most to lose from opposing the white establishment and most of them regularly denounced the black marchers and protesters. I also suggested that the preacher read the book, Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921, by Professor Brian Kelly of Belfast, Ireland.
This book reaches back to the turn of the century in Birmingham when black and white coal miners tried to gain better wages and working conditions in the face of stiff employer opposition and Klan violence. In chapter three, Professor Kelly discusses in great detail the role played by members of Birmingham’s extremely conservative black middle class and the lengths these people went to distance themselves from a struggling black working class. The Rice family comes from that conservative black upper class and members hadn’t changed all that much in the 1960s or now.
I love preachers, but some of them seem to have so much trouble with me.
J.L. CHESTNUT, Jr. was a civil rights attorney in Selma, Alabama. He was the founder of Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders which became the largest black law firm in Alabama. Born in Selma and, after graduating from Howard University Law School, he began practicing law in Selma in 1958. He started as the only black lawyer in the town and has been challenging the establishment since then. He is the author of “Black in Selma” with Julia Cass (1989 Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Note: As there is much attention about China regarding Trump’s recent visit, I thought I would send out yet again an article about the Chinese. In 2016, I had sent out the article below about the Chinese and learning about the Chinese culture while living in Asia in the 1970s. The Atlanta connection? Prior to leaving the United States in the 1960s, I was part of a group of international students in Atlanta that would meet frequently to discuss what was happening internationally – the group included Chinese, Swedes, Swiss, French, Germans, Indonesians, Australians, etc. The leader of our group was the Chinese student C.S. Kiang who was studying physics at Georgia Tech. He was renowned as having the most overdue books of any student at Georgia Tech. During the years I knew Kiang, in Atlanta, I also knew he was doing what he could to get into China to visit his family – and this was a time when it was next to impossible to get into China but he was vigilant about this. Once finishing his PhD in the United States, he ultimately went back to China to launch the first environmental program at Peking University:
Professor C.S. Kiang is Chairman of the Peking University Environment Fund and the Founding Dean of the College of Environmental Sciences at Peking University between 2002 and 2006. His vision is to set up the basic infrastructure for the development of leadership in sustainable development, exploring the world impact of what China does in the 21st century. (Wikipedia)
In the 1980s, I was also engaged in research about immigrants in America and became focused on immigrant vs American student behavior. What I learned was fascinating and somewhat relates to the culture and economics in both American and Chinese societies. American students are inclined to study alone and are generally embarrassed if they don’t know something. This is rather the individualistic mentality both culturally and economically in the individual competitive “go it alone” America. Whereas, the Chinese students tended to study as a group. Along the lines of Confucian thought, it is important to learn, be educated, and not knowing something is not a disaster as what’s important, to repeat, is for everyone to learn! I noticed also that some teachers in America were beginning to use this Chinese model of group teaching and dialogue.
November 7, 2017
Justice Initiative International
Some Reflections about the Chinese
By Heather Gray
September 13, 2016
Given the changing world dynamic regarding a higher profile of China, I wanted to share something about my experience in Asia. For me, living among the Singaporean Chinese in the 1970’s was a life-changing experience.
We often hear about the civil, religious and human rights abuses in China at the behest of the Chinese government, about the tragic Chinese occupation of Tibet coupled with the huge economic growth in China. But, as always, there is a distinction to be made between the government, the people and its culture. The same distinction applies to the United States, of course, or any other country and culture for that matter. And, importantly, a variety of Chinese communities, with direct links and traditions to be found on the Chinese mainland, exist throughout Southeast Asia.
In the 1970’s I lived in Singapore for two years. It is known as the Chinese bastion of Southeast Asia. By 1826 Singapore was a British Colony and remained so until 1959. In 1963 it joined the “Federation of Malaysia” and in 1965 it withdrew from the Federation to became an independent country. The vast majority of Singaporeans are of Chinese descent. Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister at the time.
During WWII the Japanese invaded Singapore and easily defeated the British occupiers by essentially walking across the land bridge from Malaysia and altogether circumventing the British naval fortresses. While ruthless occupiers, the Japanese defeat of the British did much to undermine the arrogant white supremacy touted by the British occupiers. Nevertheless, while in Singapore in the 1970’s, we soon learned about the ongoing effects and hostility generated by WWII. In the 1970’s, we were told that the Japanese individuals who had occupied Singapore and/or their family members were not allowed into Singapore.
Singaporean Chinese speak one of five Chinese dialects. The major group is Fujianese, the others are Chaozhouese, Cantonese, Hakkaese and Hainanese. Ultimately, after its independence, the Singapore government chose to unify the Chinese language by adopting Mandarin, which is the standard and official form of Chinese on the Chinese mainland and is based on the Beijing dialect.
Arriving in Singapore
When I first arrived in Singapore in 1971 from Australia with my Australian husband and young son, I was in my 20’s.
I had been raised in Canada, the United States, and then lived in Australia a few years before going to Asia. Like many in the West, particularly among white westerners (as in those of European descent), I was approaching the world with a holier than thou attitude. I thought I knew something about what I liked in terms of art, culture and commerce. Singapore changed everything for me.Coming up close and personal with the Chinese, albeit not even on mainland China, was a sobering and humbling experience. In Singapore, I went back to square one. The United States is, after all, a cultural neophyte compared to ancient China and most of the world for that matter. I realized, in 1972, that I knew virtually nothing about anything.
Confucius and Religion
I don’t think it’s possible to begin a discussion about Chinese culture without mentioning something about Confucius. Confucius lived in what is referred to as the Axial Age or “The Great Transformation” as in Karen Armstrong’s book by that name. This period was about 500 years before Christ when there was a transformation from a belief in magic to one of reason. The Buddha also lived during this period along with Lao Tsu in China, Pythagoras in Greece, Isaiah of the Old Testament and others.
The Axial Age was an excessively violent one, which might also partially explain the arrival of spiritual leaders at the time who, such as the Buddha, stressed the need for compassion, particularly for those outside your group.
With the Confucian emphasis on individual achievement through study, including that any human, and not exclusively the elite, was capable of doing so, in some ways the axial period was an early version of the enlightenment or “Age of Reason” that took place in Europe some 1,000 years later.
Confucius stressed the importance of family, of honoring the ancestors and of individual achievement through study. You can witness an acknowledgement of this in Chinese communities everywhere. Confucius stressed an early version of the Golden Rule. He said “What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else.”
Confucianism was about “right” actions or instruction on morality and good government.
By 140 BC there were civil service examinations in China based on Confucian philosophy and study, which was maintained almost exclusively until the 19th century.
Karen Armstrong writes that “Confucian philosophy endorsed the meritocratic system of the Han (Empire), which…selected its civil servants by means of a public examination. The Confucians had always believed that a man of virtue and learning should take a high position in government, regardless of his birth. They supported the family, the basic unit of society, and above all they were scholars as well as thinkers, intimately familiar with the cultural history that was essential to Chinese national identity.”
While Confucius thought that legitimate leaders or emperors should rule society, he did set limits. Basically, rulers should not seek power for their own ego but to benefit others. He also taught that everyone, the rich and poor, could be fully developed human beings or “junzi.” But, according to Armstrong, Confucius said this had to be sculpted through rituals and “actions” rather than ceremonies to the gods. The goal was to learn how to treat others with empathy or compassion. To become fully developed one had to give up what Confucius described as the “ego principal” which he said was the “source of pettiness and cruelty”.
Some refer to Confucianism as a religion, but it is not about worshiping gods, it did not have clergy. This is where, in contrast, the religions of Buddhism and Daoism began to play a role in Chinese life as they dealt with issues of suffering and death. While the Chinese, under Mao Tse-tung in the mid 1900’s, attempted and today continue to suppress religion within the Chinese mainland, most Chinese throughout the diaspora are Buddhists but many are also Confucianists in their way of life. Armstrong makes the point that being both is no conflict. A Chinese, she says, can be Confucianist during the day and a Buddhist or Daoist at night.
Ultimately it appears that Confucian thought has been a profound constant in Chinese cultures even though its emphasis has fluctuated historically. The Communist Party, in a continuation of other previous criticisms of Confucianism in China, tried to end the Confucian traditions, for one, because of its emphasis on the past. Confucianism was also sometimes blamed for the lack of modernism in China. But it never disappeared. Confucian thought is seemingly ingrained in the Chinese culture. Confucius was even referred to at the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Chinese Science, Language, Arts and Literature
No brief summary could possibly capture the far-reaching and exhaustive accomplishments of the Chinese language, arts and literature, which are among the earliest and greatest in the world, not to mention the Chinese firsts in science, health and psychology. Thus, the 5,000-year-old history of Chinese arts, science and literature is a list far too long to expound upon here. The exquisite jade and ancient Chinese sculptures will take your breath away!
As Robert Temple notes in his book The Genius of China, paper and porcelain technologies began centuries ago to be exported from China and suffice it to say that “china” is synonymous with porcelain as it was in China where the process began. Paper and porcelain are fairly well known to have been Chinese inventions, but the Chinese also invented bottled natural gas, iron casting, fishing reels, whisky, the decimal system, seismographs, hormone treatments and lavatory paper and much more. Temple notes that centuries ago the Chinese were engaged in civil engineering feats not even attempted in Europe until centuries later in the Industrial Revolution>
As Pulitzer Prize winning scientist Jared Diamond notes in an editorial to the New York Times in 1999:
“Just imagine an apertologist in the year 1000 trying to predict who would end up opening a capsule in 2000. That would have been a no-brainer: the Chinese, of course! China then was the world’s largest, most powerful, most technologically advanced empire. It had the world’s biggest and best ships, equipped with Chinese inventions like magnetic compasses, sternpost rudders and watertight bulkheads. The long list of other Chinese firsts included canal lock gates, cast iron, deep drilling, gunpowder, bamboo guns, kites, paper, porcelain, printing and wheelbarrows. At the dawn of this millennium, China seemed poised to colonize and conquer the world…”
It is said, in fact, that China is responsible for more than half of the world’s “basic inventions.”
In 2002 British historian Gavin Menzies launched upon the world stage the book entitled 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America. Menzies describes how 71 years before Columbus ventured toward the Americas, the Chinese, led by the great Chinese admiral Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty, had already traveled and mapped the area. In fact, it is speculated that Columbus used maps developed by Zheng’s armada on his own adventure. Zheng’s, 100 ships that were 400 feet long and 150 feet wide, navigated around Africa, the Americas and, of course, Asia between 1421 and 1423. It is important to note that Columbus’ largest ship, the Santa Maria was but 90 feet by 30 feet.
Menzies reports that once the admirals returned to China after their remarkable travels the Chinese emperor decided to isolate China from the rest of the world. There had been significant fires in China while the admirals explored the world. Because of this, Menzies states that the emperor thought the gods were punishing China for this venture so he ended further explorations. At a time when Europe was beginning to solidify it’s occupation of the Americas and parts of southeast Asia, China was isolating itself. Nevertheless, the influence of China persisted throughout Asia and southeast Asia.
Importance of China to Chinese in the Diaspora
The influence of China throughout Southeast Asia is profound. For centuries, the Chinese have settled and traded in the region. Chinese communities in the diaspora also maintained contact with the mainland. Developed over time, one way they stayed connected was through Chinese Voluntary Associations (CVA’s), which were prominent in Singapore.
CVA’s are Chinese associations with members of specific Chinese dialects or kin, clans, temples or secret societies. They perform numerous functions such as religious ceremonies or honoring ancestors from their area of China. The CVA’s offer that sense of belonging that is important in any immigrant group.
The CVA’s generally have association with their home village or district in China. They also assist immigrants from their area to adapt to their new country, such as help with food, housing, education of children, and finding jobs. Also, most Chinese communities in the diaspora were always sending money or some semblance of support back to family members or their community in China. This has accelerated recently as China has now opened up considerably.
In other words, mainland China is now and was always in the picture. I would venture to say that it remains the center of the universe for the Chinese diaspora throughout the world. It’s thought that the CVA’s also offered a protection from and political clout in the face of British colonialism in Singapore and elsewhere.
Attitudes about the Chinese in Southeast Asia
There has been a long-standing resentment of the Chinese throughout Southeast Asia, which has included competition between various Asian ethnic groups. It is likely that the huge unified and accomplished China has indeed been a concern to the smaller countries in Southeast Asia. But this has also made life difficult for some of the Chinese immigrants throughout the diaspora and is also likely one reason why Singapore is rather a “homeland” or refuge for the Chinese in the region.
In the 1960’s in Malaysia there were riots against the Chinese. Hundreds were killed. People told me the “rivers ran red.” I met Singaporeans who lived in Malaysia at the time who told me they were running and hiding, wherever there was a refuge, from the hordes of Malays. My husband, who later lived in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpar, had a Chinese secretary who, at the time of the riots, came home to find her husband’s head in her refrigerator. Questions of why and how these riots arose are still being explored. It’s true that the Chinese in Malaysia tended to be the heads of banks, universities and government posts, which, some have said, was resented by indigenous Malays. But there could have been other issues at play in Malaysia at the time.
For one, the U.S. and British governments were concerned about the influence of communist China on the Chinese diaspora and it is now well documented that the secret service agencies of both countries (the U.S. CIA and the British MIA) began to intensify their interference in Southeast Asia during the Cold War. This would be both for political reasons and to assure access to natural resources in the region. (See my article on this in a 2007 Counterpunch posting entitled “A New Explanation for an Incident that Continues to Divide Malaysian Ethnic Groups: The 1969 Riots Against the Chinese in Malaysia“).
Other expressions and actions of resentment of the Chinese in the region are that, after the Vietnam War, there were thousands of “boat” people who were forced out of Vietnam. Many have said that the Vietnamese felt that this was their opportunity to rid the country of Vietnamese of Chinese descent.
An Indonesian friend of mine who was Chinese told me her father, a physician, changed his family name so it would not sound so Chinese. This was a way of protecting his family.
In the Philippines, those who control the vast portions of land and power today and in the past are of Spanish or Chinese descent, and many indigenous Filipinos resent this.
There is also a difference between the Straits Chinese (Malaysia/Singapore) and those from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Invariably, China is looked upon as the motherland, but the cultural idioms have evolved very differently, and even the way they look at one another is varied.
The elephant in the room is always the ruthless Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in the 1950’s.
China is obviously the center of the universe for the Chinese as the Greek and Roman traditions tend to be thought of as the grand beginnings of European culture by those from the West.
When I attended the NGO Forum on Women in 1995 in Beijing it was with a delegation of 30 women who were African American, Latino American, Native American and some, like me, who were European American. Most of the women had never left the United States until then. Many expressed concern about the poverty they witnessed in the rural areas around Beijing.
The Chinese do their best to offer the world the face they want shown and I knew this yet the women with me could see beyond all of that and witness the face of poverty. Being witness to the poverty was important, but for me it was hard to see beyond the Chinese culture, which I knew was not impoverished, but rather affirming on the whole. Further, whether cultural traditions can inhibit challenges to exploitive government economic policies is another matter and not explored in this article.
In South Africa during the apartheid years the huge majority of South Africans who are Black, of course, maintained their rich and potent culture in the face of the oppressive apartheid laws. I think the same principle applies among the Chinese. The culture was and has been vibrant and dynamic in spite of the government.
I guess I had witnessed too often the pride of the Chinese regardless of where they lived and who they were. I knew that regardless of the government in place, the culture was grounded in ritual and daily routines that are practiced everywhere in Chinese communities. These are rituals that seem to build individual and collective confidence and that draw upon the rich Chinese history. This is Confucianism at its core. The culture and its history are formidable to be sure.
I sometimes felt like a sponge trying to observe, absorb and learn about the Chinese culture and traditions. I think what most impressed me even more than the profound accomplishments of the Chinese, was the observation of the ancient and vibrant traditions that were present in every day life. As history and ancestry were realities among the Chinese and impossible to escape, the connection with the past, then, resonated in the present as it has done in Chinese communities for centuries. It was almost tangible.
The experience with the Chinese led me to a whole new view of the world. My own cultural traditions and ancestry in the west were but miniscule, I realized, in the ocean of human and world achievements. It taught me to look beyond the insular views of my own world and to appreciate, learn from and honor the history, culture and accomplishments of the Chinese, certainly, but more generally of the “other,” wherever that “other” might be.
Heather Gray produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She can be reached at email@example.com.
As mentioned in my previous article, “Africa in the Southern United States: Part I“, in order to understand the history of America and the Southern U.S. we need to learn about the influence of Africa in virtually everything we do in the American culture – be it our music, our food, our religion, etc. Invariably, this requires a focus on South Carolina that has the most unique African community in the United States. In my previous article I noted:
“… if you are going to learn about the profound influence of Africa in America you have no choice but to ultimately focus on South Carolina. In my years of activism in the South, the southeastern part of South Carolina – namely the Charleston area and the South Carolina Sea Islands – has always played a significant role. In fact, the most distinctive and unique African culture anywhere in the United States is of the Gullah community in the Sea Islands that has, for at least 250 years (since the mid 1700s), lived in this area. They are from Sierra Leone in West Africa and were brought to the islands as slaves because they were highly skilled rice growers and growing rice was most definitely not a European skillset.” (Gray)
As a follow-up to “Part I”, I will focus more in-depth on the Gullah rice culture of South Carolina. We are fortunate to have the scholarship of Judith Carney and her all-encompassing book about this, entitled “Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas.” And below is the New York Times Book Review by Drew Gilpin Faust who offers an excellent analysis of Judith Carney’s book. As Faust notes, for one:
Carney challenges conventional histories, which describe Europeans adapting an Asian crop to American uses. Arguing persuasively that highly sophisticated forms of rice culture from West Africa preceded the arrival of any knowledge from Asia, she carefully traces the variety of production systems used by Africans in different environments and landscapes, including the elaborate construction of canals and dikes in coastal swamps. The existence of these complex adaptations was ignored by European observers all too ready to dismiss the possibility of technological achievement among African peoples. The ”denial of African accomplishment in rice systems,” Carney writes, ”provides a stunning example of how power relations mediate the production of history.” (NYTimes)
A few years after writing this 2001 New York Times review, Drew Gilpin Faust, who is also a scholar of Southern history, the Civil War, etc., became the president of Harvard, and, therefore, the first ‘female’ president of Harvard, as well as the first president brought up in the South, which was in the state of Virginia.
November 6, 2017
Justice Initiative International
Seeds of History
The expertise of African slaves in growing rice
played a crucial role in the American South.
Related Link: First Chapter: ‘Black Rice’
By DREW GILPIN FAUST
In low-country South Carolina, American slavery assumed a distinctive form, one that has captured the attention of generations of historians. Between the end of the 17th century and the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of people of African descent toiled in swamps, ditches and fields cultivating rice, a crop that by the time of the American Revolution had created a planter aristocracy wealthier than any other group in the British colonies. The high concentrations of slaves in rice-growing areas produced as well a black culture that remained closer to its African roots than that of any other North American slave society. Yet even in South Carolina, where they were a majority of the population, blacks have remained underrepresented in the historical record, partly because they were unable to leave the rich written legacy that immortalized their owners, partly because historians have failed to look closely enough at the evidence that has survived.
In ”Black Rice,” Judith A. Carney, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds new ”ways to give voice to the historical silences of slavery.” Exploring crops, landscapes and agricultural practices in Africa and America, she demonstrates the critical role Africans played in the creation of the system of rice production that provided the foundation of Carolina’s wealth.
Carney challenges conventional histories, which describe Europeans adapting an Asian crop to American uses. Arguing persuasively that highly sophisticated forms of rice culture from West Africa preceded the arrival of any knowledge from Asia, she carefully traces the variety of production systems used by Africans in different environments and landscapes, including the elaborate construction of canals and dikes in coastal swamps. The existence of these complex adaptations was ignored by European observers all too ready to dismiss the possibility of technological achievement among African peoples. The ”denial of African accomplishment in rice systems,” Carney writes, ”provides a stunning example of how power relations mediate the production of history.”
Not until well into the 20th century did changing assumptions about race prompt revisions to this story. Since the publication of Peter Wood’s pathbreaking ”Black Majority” in 1974, historians have recognized a link between African rice cultivation and Carolina’s economic success. But Carney’s richly detailed analysis gives this connection real specificity.
In order to understand the role of Africans in rice history, Carney argues, it is necessary to think of rice as a ”knowledge system” — not just a plant or a seed but an entire complex of techniques, technology and processing skills. Africans imported as slaves into Carolina possessed this knowledge, and used their understanding to guide phases of evolution in American rice production.
Thus, after a vast increase in importations of slaves between 1720 and 1740 provided the necessary labor, Carolina rice cultivation, which had begun with upland or rain-fed culture, shifted to higher-yielding inland swamps. The newly arrived Africans created embankments, sluices and canals almost identical to patterns of West African mangrove rice production. With another influx of slaves after 1750, cultivation moved to still more productive tidal flood plains, which required such a large-scale deployment of floodgates, canals and ditches that rice fields became, in one planter’s words, a ”huge hydraulic machine.” This transition, Carney writes, depended on ”the large number of slaves imported directly from the rice area of West Africa who possessed knowledge of the crop’s cultivation.”
Carolina planters even knew which African ethnic groups were expert in rice growing and explicitly favored them in their purchases of new slaves. A newspaper in Charleston, for example, advertised the sale of 250 slaves ”from the Windward and Rice Coast, valued for their knowledge of rice culture.”
The knowledge system Carney describes called for different roles and distinctive kinds of expertise for men and women, and these aspects of rice culture were also transported to the New World. Women played a critical part in seed selection, sowing, hoeing and processing of rice. The importance of these skills enabled slave traders to command higher prices for women in Carolina rice-growing areas than in other American slave markets.
The Carolina rice kingdom, the foundation of power in a state that would eventually lead the South out of the nation, came into being because African slaves had mastered — and shared — the techniques necessary for growing rice seeds in standing water. ”Why,” Carney asks, ”would West African slaves transfer to planters a sophisticated agricultural system . . . that would in turn impose upon them unrelenting toil throughout the year?” The knowledge of rice cultivation, she concludes, provided slaves arriving in South Carolina with a crucial negotiating tool, enabling them to bargain for labor arrangements that guaranteed them greater autonomy than in any other Southern agricultural environment.
In cotton-growing areas a system of gang labor prevailed that required unremitting work from dawn till dusk. But on South Carolina rice plantations task labor was the rule. Once their tasks were accomplished, slaves could turn to their own gardens, or manage their own time in other ways. Task labor introduced a degree of freedom into slavery’s oppression.
But Carney is careful not to be too celebratory about the leverage Africans achieved as a result of their knowledge and skill. As rice became a commodity in high international demand, even the structures of the task system could not protect Carolina slaves from almost ceaseless labor.
This detailed study of historical botany, technological adaptation and agricultural diffusion adds depth to our understanding of slavery and makes a compelling case for ”the agency of slaves” in the creation of the South’s economy and culture. But Carney also illuminates another of the almost limitless ironies of Southern history. The knowledge and creativity of Africans created an agricultural system in South Carolina that was based firmly on their own enslavement and exploitation.
Drew Gilpin Faust’s most recent book is ”Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War.”
Judith Carney, professor of geography at UCLA and recipient of three distinguished teaching awards, is the author of two award-winning books: Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas and In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World. Her research centers on African ecology and development, food security, gender and agrarian change, and African contributions to New World environmental history. The Association of American Geographers has honored her with the Netting Award in recognition of distinguished research that bridges geography and anthropology, the Carl Sauer Distinguished Scholarship Award for significant contributions to Latin American geography, and the Distinguished Scholarship Honors. Recent publications study the human usage of mangrove ecosystems in West Africa and the diaspora, the historical significance of recent genetic sequencing of African rice, and African foodways in the Americas.
Drew Gilpin Faust is the 28th president of Harvard University and the Lincoln Professor of History in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
As president of Harvard, Faust has expanded financial aid to improve access to Harvard College for students of all economic backgrounds and advocated for increased federal funding for scientific research. She has broadened the University’s international reach, raised the profile of the arts on campus, embraced sustainability, launched edX, the online learning partnership with MIT, and promoted collaboration across academic disciplines and administrative units as she guided the University through a period of significant financial challenges.
A historian of the Civil War and the American South, Faust was the founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, guiding its transformation from a college into a wide-ranging institute for scholarly and creative enterprise, distinctive for its multidisciplinary focus and the exploration of new knowledge at the crossroads of traditional fields.