June 14, 2015

Review Demicorner

In the summer of 1957, a Baptist preacher in the segregated South issued a series of fiery sermons denouncing the laziness, promiscuity, criminality, drunkenness, slovenliness, and ignorance of Negroes. He shouted from pulpits about the difference between doing a "real job" and doing "a Negro job." Instead of practicing the intelligent saving habits of white men, "Negroes too often buy what they want and beg for what they need." He suggested that blacks were "thinking about sex" every time they walked down the street. They were too violent. They didnít bathe properly. And their music, which was invading homes all over America, "plunges men's minds into degrading and immoral depths."
The preacher's name, for those who have not guessed, was Martin Luther King, Jr. And here beginneth the conclusion of Review Corner for Russell, Thaddeus (2010-09-28). A Renegade History of the United States [Part One].

The second half (I don't want to frighten anyone away, the book is not that long) also pushes one to rethink both a factual, objective timeline of American history and commonly held foundational beliefs. Part 4 of the book, "Whose Side are you On?" opens with that quote and Russell continues his counterintuitive views of slavery and reconstruction to civil rights. Russell continues the WEB Dubois position that liberation not be assimilation into the Calvinist and puritan mainstream of American society.

The factual challenges are to the efficacy of non-violence. Russell says there was lots of violence, all well documented in the police blotters of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma -- if they do not make into most of the documentaries. The Gospel of nonviolence "shaming" the culture into acceptance is all that makes the books. Russell suggests there was an extremely violent parallel movement. Rather than shame, America was offered a choice between King's nonviolent, bathed, hard-working vision and the -- I cannot use the term but the first word is "Bad" and the second starts with "N" -- both are capitalized and Russell suggests that the BNs deserve more credit for civil rights than they receive.

Indeed, after several days of rioting, white business and government leaders sat down with the civil rights leader and signed an agreement that allowed blacks full access to commercial and public spaces in the city and desegregated jobs in downtown stores. This was not integration, in that it did not compel African Americans to live with or like whites, but it did allow them to come and go where they liked and as they pleased. And it was won not by appealing to the conscience of whites, nor by seeking admission to the American family, but by making the price of segregation too high to pay.

I would pay money to see Russell debate Jason Riley. Riley is black (you can tell from the name, right?) and his "Please Stop Helping Us" [Review Corner] is the foundation of my Booker T. Washington - WEB Dubois bifurcation. Riley is unabashedly Washingtonian. As am I. Russell -- again I need stress he was no wild-eyed Calhoun disciple, he was a frequent guest on The Independents: affable, bright and liberty minded. Russell takes a Penn Jillette-ish position of championing the libertine. In the book's Introduction, he professes that it would be dystopian to have his "Renegades" run the world -- but he does not want to hand it over to the puritans.
Jack Kerouac made this desire to be black and free explicit in On the Road. When the novel's hero arrives in Denver, he heads to the black neighborhood. "I walked ... in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night." Like many white "race traitors," the Beats often reduced black culture to its most sensual aspects, but in doing so, they found a vehicle through which to escape the confines of whiteness and citizenship.

Race is so charged that I suggest the next chapter, "Gay Liberation, American Liberation," presents a better opportunity to objectively evaluate Russell's thesis. It's often been said in jest that "gay marriage" represents an odd objective for a community known for its rejection of confining, traditionalist institutions. Like the freed slaves, Russell asks if joining the mainstream is the best idea.
Today's movement for gay marriage-- a renewal of the homophile movement-- ended gay liberation, is helping to end straight liberation, and seeks to return all of us to the 1950s. Like the homophile movement, the gay marriage movement demands that, in order to gain acceptance as full citizens, its constituents adopt the cultural norms of the American citizen: productivity, selflessness, responsibility, sexual restraint, and the restraint of homosexual expression in particular. Proponents of same-sex marriage have justified their demand by presenting homosexual partners as devoted, self-sacrificing, and industrious adults.

And here, at last, after two lengthy review corners, will I make my stand against Russell. I have two classmates from high school in breathless anticipation of their upcoming marriage. He's marrying another guy and she another woman. I've been pro gay-marriage, but from an abstract, liberty-theory and rights perspective. Now I am watching the joy of four people doing something the State would not have allowed a few years ago.

Our mainstream American culture is not puritan -- ask Osama bin Laden. It has many flaws and its puritan elements. But Jason Riley is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributor to the Wall Street Journal. Did he trade the slavery of the plantation for having to get up and put a tie on every day? My gay friends are choosing something that has been the greatest blessing of my life -- are they rejecting the liberty of the drag queens punching cops at the Stonewall riots?

No. Thaddeus Russell and my hero, Penn Jillette, to whom I compared him are a little too tough on the straight white life. No. we don't dance too good and our friends sometimes do clap on the 1 & the 3, but we pursue the uniquely human achievement of rising above our sensual natures when the time is right.

Ergo, I remain unsold on the full Russell. But there is much truth in his history. It also includes some far less controversial elements with which I do agree 100%: juvenile delinquents' taking down the iron curtain, the benefits of consumerist culture over hippie communal living. &c.

Where we do not agree, I was challenged as reader and thinker. That's a lot of fun in puritan, white, rhythm-less America. Four-point-seven-five stars.

Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at June 14, 2015 10:29 AM
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