Thursday, August 07, 2003

Stupidity at National Review Online

The following piece by Roger Clegg struck me as being uncommonly stupid:

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week notes, “On average, 100 African-Americans a year were lynched in the 1890s.” That figure is accurate (it may actually be a little low), and it’s horrifying, but let me add two other facts. First, during this time period, the number of European-Americans lynched was about 40 per year. Second, at this rate, it would have taken 60,000 years to get to the 6 million figure that European Jewry suffered during the Third Reich. Something to keep in mind the next time you hear the American South compared to Nazi Germany.

Where to begin? Let's start with the minor point first, to wit, Clegg's failure to compare the two figures on a per capita basis. By choosing to go with the raw figures, instead of acknowledging the fact that "European-Americans" outnumbered blacks by a fair proportion, Clegg manages to make it seem as if lynchings were almost a color-blind affair. Then there is the issue of just what "European-American" is supposed to mean in this context; does this phrase take in Jews, Slavs and southern European immigrants, or just white Americans of protestant, Anglo-Scottish descent? I bet breaking the numbers out would make things seem even less benign than they would be otherwise.

But let us put aside the whole lynching issue for now, and get to the heart of the matter: are comparisons of the old American South to Nazi Germany really all that facile? If one restricts one's attention solely to the post-bellum era, as Clegg does, and one similarly focuses only on the end-stage of the Nazi mistreatment of Jews, i.e, the deportations to the East, the mass shootings by the Einsatzgruppen, and finally the mass gassings in the concentration camps, then yes, the comparison does seem ridiculous on the face of it.

But the reality is that there was more to the American South than Jim Crow, just as there was more to Nazi Germany's racial discrimation than the mass killings that began in 1941. The treatment of blacks in the South before the Civil War was hardly benign in any respect, and there was little to choose between Southern slavery and the Nazi slave-labor programs. In one as in the other, supposedly inferior peoples were treated as little more than chattels to be worked for profit, with the S.S. even keeping detailed financial reports on the profitability of the various concentration camps. In the American South, just as in the occupied Ostgebieten, to commit the slightest act of insubordination was enough to warrant being killed on the spot, without the murderer needing to fear the prospect of retribution.

If we restrict our attentions to the Jim Crow South in comparison to pre-war Nazi Germany, there was literally no difference between the way a black person was treated in the South and the way a Jew was treated in Germany. Neither could practice certain occupations (other than in the context of serving one's own "racial community"), marry or have intimate relations with a person of "higher" race, make use of any of a broad array of public facilities, or have any expectations of fair treatment before the law. In fact, the infamous Nuremberg Laws were very much inspired by contemporary American practice, with a major difference being that Hitler's laws were actually less stringent in their demands for "racial purity"; where Nazi Germany demanded at least one Jewish grandparent to be considered racially suspect, and three to be definitely confirmed as a Jew, in America as little as 1/64th of one's ancestry being black usually sufficed to condemn one to second-class status!

Given the sheer mendacity and/or ignorance of the historical parallels exhibited in Roger Clegg's article, is it any wonder that African-Americans are inclined to view Republicans with so much suspicion? As long as there are individuals who, like Clegg, make their living writing ridiculous pieces for conservative magazines, with the intention in mind of minimizing the historical sufferings of black Americans, the African-American vote will always remain monolithically Democratic.