Saturday, December 04, 2010

Hysterical Color Blindness and History

A while ago, I introduced the concept of hysterical color blindness as a psychospiritual condition that can result from adherence to the ideology of color blindness (note: I am not saying that everyone ends up this way but some do). This is what I said at the time:

"The problem with color-blind ideology is not the goal of ending color-based judgments of human beings. Who could disagree with that? The problem is that when we claim not to see color we are not being truthful. How can an effort at social change be healthy or effective if it is based on an untruth?

"Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized" (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 384)

I believe that there are Americans for whom long term insistence on the untruth of not seeing color has effected their ability to see racism itself. Not only that, but they insist that others join them in this not seeing. This is why they get so upset when people bring up the possibility of racism. I refer to this state of being as hysterical color-blindness.

Let me repeat that reasonable people can disagree about whether particular incidents or trends in America are based on racism or not. What I am describing is a completely different phenomenon. Hysterical color-blindness is anything but reasonable. It is the insistence that race not be discussed and the denial of the truth of racism even in the face of supporting evidence."

I've wondered since then whether or not hysterical color blindness represents an emerging epidemic and cited at least one of example of how this state of mind might impact social policy. It would seem that hysterical color blindness also has implications for how we understand our history:

"ATLANTA — The Civil War, the most wrenching and bloody episode in American history, may not seem like much of a cause for celebration, especially in the South.

And yet, as the 150th anniversary of the four-year conflict gets under way, some groups in the old Confederacy are planning at least a certain amount of hoopla, chiefly around the glory days of secession, when 11 states declared their sovereignty under a banner of states’ rights and broke from the union.

The events include a “secession ball” in the former slave port of Charleston (“a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink,” says the invitation), which will be replicated on a smaller scale in other cities. A parade is being planned in Montgomery, Ala., along with a mock swearing-in of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.

In addition, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some of its local chapters are preparing various television commercials that they hope to show next year. “All we wanted was to be left alone to govern ourselves,” says one ad from the group’s Georgia Division.

That some — even now — are honoring secession, with barely a nod to the role of slavery, underscores how divisive a topic the war remains, with Americans continuing to debate its causes, its meaning and its legacy.

'We in the South, who have been kicked around for an awfully long time and are accused of being racist, we would just like the truth to be known,” said Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the Sons, explaining the reason for the television ads. While there were many causes of the war, he said, “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.'"(Read the whole thing here)

Efforts to minimize the significance of slavery and in some cases outright deny it was the reason the South seceded from the Union are amusing in light of the fact that folks who actually lived at that time knew exactly why they were seceding and said so. For example, leaders of South Carolina signed a "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union". Among other things this document states the following:

"In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

...We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction."

While it is fair to suggest that the South seceded from the Union due to an assertion of states' rights, the question is right to do what? To own enslaved Africans! If the very folks that some white Southerners wish to honor and celebrate today could travel through time and hear what their descendants and admirers are saying about the war they fought so hard to win, they might be surprised to hear that it wasn't really about slavery.

In order to white wash the Confederate cause (pun intended), a person must deny the reality that the Confederacy was formed to perpetuate that "peculiar institution" of inhuman bondage called slavery. You cannot celebrate the Confederacy without also celebrating its reason for being. To suggest otherwise is to apply hysterical color blindness to history. It's not enough to deny the significance of racism today, you now have to project that denial into the past.

I suppose the next series of celebrations will be to honor all that vigorous opposition to desegregation during the Civil Rights era. We'll hear that those White Citizens' Councils, police armed with clubs, dogs, and water cannons and angry mobs screaming at little black kids trying to go to school were really heroic acts of defiance against a tyrannical Federal government and a defense of states rights. Right to do what? I think we all know.