November 2021 round-up: attacks on academic freedom in Florida and Texas

There’s a lot to include in any wrap-up of the battle going on in the U.S. right now to make colleges and universities nothing more than weapons in the hands of Americans who want to dismantle our democracy. Through sheer chance, we began our coverage of the University of Florida on the first of this month, and that story has continued to evolve throughout November. In our November 1 post, we described how three political science faculty members were refused permission to serve as expert court witnesses during a lawsuit challenging Florida’s new voting restriction law because, as UF president Kent Fuchs put it in a written statement,

It is important to note that the university did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom of professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin. Rather, the university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.

That is, UF employees will not testify against a state policy because then the state will cut funding to the university. The idea that state universities will lose funding if their faculty criticize the state is a new one, at least in the U.S., and it makes “the state” sound a lot less like Florida and a lot more like “the State”, as in “state-controlled media” or “state-controlled education”.

Reaction was swift, from inside and outside UF. The next day, higher ed reporters wrote that “Administrators denied requests from a fourth professor who had asked to participate in litigation supporting mask mandates against [the state of] Florida…

The professor, the pediatrician Jeffrey L. Goldhagen, was asked to testify and serve as a declarant in litigation that followed Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order that forbade mask mandates in schools as the Delta variant of Covid-19 tore through the state. Goldhagen is chief of the division of community and societal pediatrics at the University of Florida‘s College of Medicine, in Jacksonville, and a professor in pediatric palliative care. Goldhagen said he would have spoken about why masks work and why children need protection from the virus.

…Goldhagen’s case appears to contradict the university’s earlier explanation for why the political-science professors’ testimony was blocked. The campus’s president, W. Kent Fuchs, and provost, Joe Glover, wrote on Monday night that the political-science professors would be “free” to testify “pro bono on their own time without using university resources.” Goldhagen wrote in the disclosure he submitted to the university that he would not be using university resources and indicated, when asked if he would be paid more than $5,000 annually, that he would not. He told The Chronicle that administrators never separately asked him if he would be paid at all.

The very next day–November 3–it was revealed that a faculty member at another state university, Florida International University, who supported the Florida voting restriction law was allowed to testify in its favor by FIU:

Court records show that the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee hired a Florida International University professor, Dario Moreno, as an “expert witness” in League of Women Voters of Florida v. Lee, which challenges the restrictive voting law.

At Florida International, a public university, administrators signed off on Moreno’s outside-employment request with little fanfare. The “Outside Activity/Conflict of Interest Form” includes no comments or feedback to Moreno — just a couple of sign-offs by his superiors. Though the filled-out form does not specify the lawsuit, it names a law firm — Shutts & Bowen — listed on the same court documents that name Moreno as an expert witness for the Republican committees.

…Moreno, who could not be reached for comment, is an associate professor in the politics and international-relations department. He has previously been paid by the Florida Legislature to defend Republican-drawn redistricting maps in court. According to a 2015 article in the Tampa Bay Times, Moreno had been “hired by the Florida Legislature to be an expert witness in defense of every GOP-drawn redistricting map since 1994.”

Uproar over the discrepancy led UF to issue a statement saying their faculty could indeed testify against the voting law, but only if they were not paid. FIU put no such stricture on Moreno as he testified in favor of the law, and he billed for 112 hours’ worth of compensation.

Where does the fault lie–with the State of Florida’s Republican-led government, which may send a message to its colleges and universities that any criticism of the government will be punished? or with those institutions, like UF and FIU, that are all too willing to accept this situation? or with the general public, which includes people who support the situation and people who do not support it, who do nothing?

Silke-Maria Warnock, a faculty member at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, throws down the challenge we are all facing:

It’s rarely a good sign if you find yourself wondering how to translate certain German words: Gleichschaltung,for instance, or vorauseilender Gehorsam. But reading the news out of the University of Florida, where two administrators informed three faculty members that they were not permitted to testify as expert witnesses in a court challenge to Florida’s voter-suppression laws, will send you down that road.

Gleichschaltung is the process by which institutions are brought under the control of totalitarian ideology. It is frequently rendered as “coordination” or “synchronization,” but those terms lack the terrifying connotation of switches flipped, one by one, until the same ideological current flows through every previously independent institution.

Vorauseilender Gehorsam means “obedience ahead of the command.” The Yale historian Timothy Snyder translates it as “anticipatory obedience,” and that is close enough, but it doesn’t quite capture the scurrying servility implied in “vorauseilen,” to hurry ahead.

We don’t know on whose orders David E. Richardson, dean of the university’s college of arts and sciences, rejected the request of Daniel A. Smith, chair of its political-science department, to testify as an expert witness in the voting-rights case; or on whose orders Gary Wimsett, UF’s assistant vice president for conflicts of interest, rejected the requests of Michael McDonald, who studies national elections, and Sharon Wright Austin, who studies the political behavior of African Americans, to do the same. All three faculty members had previously testified as expert witnesses against the state in other cases, and the university had never declared them to be subject to conflicts of interest.

Unless we want to believe that two different administrators independently invented the same policy from scratch and presented it in near-identical terms, we have to conclude that Richardson and Wimsett acted on orders from above. The notion that they simply anticipated such orders is, in some regards, even worse… Whether they got their orders from the trustees, the president, the provost, or from Gov. Ron DeSantis or one of his minions will emerge in due course. But no matter where the directive originated, both men should have refused to carry it out. They should instead have offered their resignations. You do not obey such commands, you do not hurry ahead to destroy your university’s reputation at the bidding of an authoritarian regime.

…The implications of the assertion that the faculty must not act in a manner adverse to the regime’s interest — “activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the state of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida” — are staggering. If you are not allowed to bear witness against voter suppression in court, why would you be allowed to study the effects of voter suppression in the first place, or to teach your students about them? Such research and such teaching are not in Ron DeSantis’s interest, either, and by the logic of Richardson’s denial, any activity that is not in Ron DeSantis’s interest is not in the interest of the University of Florida.

…the university’s decision to declare itself an arm of DeSantis’s government rather than an independent institution beholden to the production and dissemination of knowledge and expertise represents an instance of Gleichschaltung that will be more difficult to reverse. It will only get worse. That it is the democratic franchise itself that is at stake in the court case in question only highlights how deep the threat is. Access to the vote is to democracy as freedom of speech is to the university: fundamental, constitutive. Democracies go bankrupt the same way everybody else does: very slowly, then all of a sudden. We are still at “slowly.” All of a sudden is scheduled for Tuesday, November 8, 2022. If Florida’s administrators have ever asked themselves how they would have acted in 1932, now they know.

The date of November 8, 2022 refers to the next election day, when Governor DeSantis is up for re-election.

Of course, it’s not just Florida. If our CRT page has taught us anything, it’s that democracy is under attack in all 50 states, and that higher ed is a much-hated target. Most recently, the University of Texas at Austin has halted a research study “on the effectiveness of antiracism training for white children”–the original “critical race theory” topic that began our own coverage of CRT.

The name of the university is different, but the attack is the same:

This follows a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that the project is racially discriminatory, among other criticism. his follows a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that the project is racially discriminatory, among other criticism.

–It’s astounding and depressing that a single, horrible argument has gained so much credibility: that teaching about racism is racist. Our first CRT page post, Truth v. Myth: Trump’s Executive Order on Diversity Education, thoroughly explores this double-speak. Teaching Americans that racism existed in the past and still exists in the present, and takes the form of white racism against non-white people in our laws (institutional racism), is, the argument goes, racist because it makes white people feel bad by assuming that they are racist until they prove themselves non-racist. It is imperative, in this argument, that no white person ever feel bad or consider whether they participate in or benefit from racism, institutional and otherwise, and the deeper, much more screwed-up message is that non-white people are racist. Non-white people assume that white people are racist, which is racist.

To be brief, in a society where racism against non-white people is deeply embedded in law and social more, every white person does indeed have to make an effort to change this situation, and remove racist laws and representations from our nation.

To return to this particular UTA story, it seems logical that if CRT is “new” and suspect, it should be objectively, scientifically tested through studies of its impact. That’s what was happening at UTA. But its opponents could not take the chance that the study might prove that white children were not damaged by learning about racism, and so have shut it down, with the university’s meek acquiesence–or its gleichschaltung:

Numerous professors are asking the university to allow the research to proceed during the internal and external reviews, arguing that UT Austin’s institutional review board previously approved the project, as did peer reviewers during a competitive internal funding process.

These professors warn that halting research due to outside complaints threatens the integrity of the study at hand and, more generally, chills free inquiry into timely subjects such as antiracism.

UT Austin “leadership’s decision to pause elements of the study based on the mere filing of a complaint, and before any assessment of whether the complaint poses a credible claim, compromises the integrity of the research and the academic freedom to conduct research and draw conclusions rooted in evidence,” 18 UT Austin education professors said this week in a letter to President Jay Hartzell and Provost Sharon Wood.

…“The leadership’s decision to pause any aspects of the study has the effect of legitimizing actions that, however unfounded, seek to suppress scholarly pursuit of truth and the advancement of scientific knowledge.”

The purpose of the study, according to a recruitment flier, is to explore “overall engagement with the GoKAR! program, as well as the potential for the program to reduce bias and increase awareness of racism.”

The study hit a speed bump after Mark Perry, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Michigan and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, filed a complaint with the Dallas OCR office alleging violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race.

UT Austin “blatantly violates Title VI by illegally engaging in racial discrimination on the basis of skin color by promoting, sponsoring, offering, and marketing a discriminatory program that engages in racial segregation,” Perry wrote to the OCR. “In violation of Title VI, the University’s GoKAR! Program operates illegally and exclusively for caregivers and their 4-5 year old children who both must identify as white and illegally excludes and discriminates against and excludes non-white caregivers and their 4-5 year old children on the basis of their race and skin color.”

…Victor Saenz, chair of educational leadership and policy at UT Austin and the first of the 18 education professors to sign the letter of concern, said via email that he wanted “to clarify that we’ve been in constant communication with all levels of UT leadership throughout this review process.” The university is “working expeditiously to help resolve this matter to ensure our faculty are being fully supported.”

Saenz’s letter to Wood and Hartzell tells something of a different story: “We are deeply concerned by the request to pause any aspect of the research. The university’s actions raise serious concerns regarding the differential treatment of research based on subject matter and viewpoint. In our experience, and in consulting with individuals who have extensive experience interacting with the [OCR] and/or expertise in academic freedom and civil rights, this is an atypical and unprecedented response from a university.”

…Referencing several critical blog posts and news articles about the study, some of which suggest that the project amounts to training, not research, [a letter from UTA faculty] says that “to succumb to political coercion, especially as it relates to scholarship that confronts anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and any other forms of oppression, compromises the central function of a public university. The university’s actions send a message that risks censoring and chilling professor speech based on viewpoint, running afoul of central tenets of the First Amendment.”

Yes, Perry is saying that a study of white children’s responses to educational materials that will help change racist attitudes about non-white people is racist because it doesn’t allow non-white children to participate–it’s segregation. Perry is deeply concerned that non-white children are not being given the chance to learn how not to be racist, perhaps against other non-white children, but given everything we have learned about this topic, it seems safer to bet that Perry wants non-white children to learn not to be racist against white children.

If only this type of university-supported attack on science, the objectivity of higher ed, and our national commitment to liberty and justice for all were truly “atypical and unprecedented”. This snowball is quickly growing and the hill it rolls down becomes steeper and steeper.

We’ll end as we always do–everyone must do their part to stop this takeover and dismantling of our democracy. Get involved in whatever legal and non-violent ways that you can, where you are, locally and nationally. Stop the gleichschaltung before it becomes a way of life.

Freedom of double-speak

We’re back once again to flag just one of the many open, unembarrassed attacks on our democracy going on right now, and it’s clear that this is not going to stop until that work is accomplished, or an equally powerful bloc of pro-democracy Americans occupy positions of authority in federal, state, and local governments, in K-Ph.D. education, and in corporations.

This time, it’s the University of Florida: three of its political science department faculty submitted requests to serve as expert witnesses in court during a lawsuit challenging Florida’s new voting restriction law. UF released a “University statement on academic freedom and free speech” on October 20, 2021, that was short and not sweet:

Recent news reports have indicated the University of Florida denied requests of some faculty members to participate in a lawsuit over the state of Florida’s new election laws.

The University of Florida has a long track record of supporting free speech and our faculty’s academic freedom, and we will continue to do so. It is important to note that the university did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom of professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin. Rather, the university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.

…the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution. What does this mean? One can quickly infer that it means “we don’t testify against the state government that funds us–our main interest is existing.” If we continue to browse UF Statements by Year, we see that on August 26, 2021, President Kent Fuchs included this paean in his state of the university address:

Despite the economic challenges faced by the State of Florida due to Covid, our elected officials invested even more in the University of Florida this past year, for which we are incredibly grateful.  In the past five years we are the only university in the nation to have increased the size of our faculty by 500, and this past year the Governor and the State Legislature invested additional funding in UF to further increase the size of the faculty, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence.  Although no new funds were provided for salary increases, the provost, vice presidents, and deans reallocated funds from existing budgets to provide compensation increases for both faculty and staff this year. 

So “incredibly grateful” is UF that it is paying back the favor by refusing to allow its faculty to testify against state voting policy. This inevitably leads one to wonder if that state financial support for UF was predicated on the State of Florida’s understanding that the gift would make UF (even more) unwilling to criticize any state laws. Fuchs has made no secret of his own sense of being a figurehead, saying in the same August 26 address that he could not issue a mask mandate: “I literally don’t have that power… within hours, another message would go out from someone to everyone, again saying we’ve been informed that there will be no such mandate. We’re part of the state government.”

State funding is meant to fuel the inquiry, knowledge creation, and intellectual work of a university. It’s not supposed to be a muzzle or a leash. It’s supposed to be freeing–instead of relying on private money, which is given at the whim of wealthy individuals, state universities get public funding that is regular, objective, and not predicated on the university doing what a few people want it to do. It receives public money in return for serving the public good.

If a state university will not allow its faculty to testify in a case against state policy, no matter the reason, then that university cannot logically refer people to its “long track record of supporting free speech and our faculty’s academic freedom” and vow that “we will continue to do so” when they protest this shutdown of free speech and active democratic participation. This is just more of the open double-speak that is so hard to witness, so unbelievably brazen and acceptable and, it seems, often so persuasive to the American people.

It’s what Chief Judge Beryl Howell, FDC in Washington, DC, sharply rebuked on October 28, 2021:

“No wonder parts of the public in the U.S. are confused about whether what happened on January 6 at the Capitol was simply a petty offense of trespassing with some disorderliness, or shocking criminal conduct that represented a grave threat to our democratic norms,” Judge Beryl A. Howell said in court Thursday. “Let me make my view clear: The rioters were not mere protesters.”

Why, she asked, when prosecutors called the riot an “attack on democracy . . . unparalleled in American history,” were Griffith and other participants facing the same charge as nonviolent protesters who routinely disrupt congressional hearings?

“It seems like a bit of a disconnect,” Howell said – “muddled” and “almost schizophrenic.”

“Is it the government’s view that the members of the mob that engaged in the Capitol attack on January 6 were simply trespassers?” Howell asked incredulously. “Is general deterrence going to be served by letting rioters who broke into the Capitol, overran the police . . . broke into the building through windows and doors . . . resolve their criminal liability through petty offense pleas?”

She said it was also unusual that prosecutors were not asking for defendants to be under court supervision until they paid their fines. “This is the first time I’ve ever had the government ask for a restitution payment and not ask for a term of probation,” she said. “Is it because the government thinks these defendants are more trustworthy?”

…”In all my years on the bench, I’ve never been in this position before, and it’s all due to the government, despite calling this the crime of the century, resolving it with a . . . petty offense.”

The worst attack ever, slap on the wrist. Academic freedom, no testifying against the state. Killing our democracy, petty offense. We’re far beyond the stage of a foundation for dictatorship being laid. It’s been laid, the concrete has set, and the framing is going up. All Americans who value democracy in general, and our historic democracy in particular, need to be as active as the fascists are, to get into politics at all levels at the rates they do, to be as forceful in fighting for democracy as they are forceful in attacking it, and to stop letting anti-democratic Americans dominate policy, media, and society.

This is that email with the subject line that says ACTION REQUIRED. We don’t call for riots or bloodshed, which is just another thing that distinguishes us from anti-democracy activists. We call for legal action to take the place of the amazing inaction and bystandering that seems to characterize even those Americans who support our democracy.

It’s much like the latest environmental crisis: people watch it grow and grow, and they get scared, but they comfort themselves that some small group of people will fix it. Some scientist will come upon a solution. Someone will solve it. Someone else. This is partly the result of the last 150 years or so of medical and scientific exploration and development: there have been many, many times when a small group or even one individual did create or discover a cure or a solution–vaccines, non-aerosol dispensers, seat belts.

But we cannot all sit back and wait for some free individual or team to solve our national or global problems. To bring it back to American democracy, there are likely many opportunities for you, wherever you live, to take up the long, slow work of participating in local government. Wherever you live, you can join the fight to prevent anti-democratic Congresspeople from calling a new Constitutional Convention that, with the solid voting bloc formed by anti-democratic Republicans, would be sure to shred our Constitution and institute the same kind of dictatorship that other countries whose leaders have re-written their constitutions (Hungary, for example).

Never heard of the “Article V Convention” effort? Just put it into a search engine and you’ll find plenty about it–sharply divided into pro-Convention stories from right-wing orgs and anti-Convention stories from left-wing orgs.

Whatever you do, do something to defend democracy. You may be that individual or in that small group that could change things.

Truth v. Myth: Trump’s Executive Order on Diversity Education

Welcome to the beginning of our series on the Trump Administration’s September 22, 2020 Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. You can find the official White House version of this executive order here. We’ll be quoting from it extensively as we work our way through this insidious piece of doublespeak.

The title itself is an unapologetic, almost taunting lie: the order purports to combat race and sex stereotyping, but as we’ll see as we work our way through it, the order does just the opposite. The joy that its author(s) feel in twisting the truth is something we’ve come to expect not just from this administration, but from the Internet world it reflects. Let’s move in:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America… and in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal contracting, to promote unity in the Federal workforce, and to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Purpose. From the battlefield of Gettysburg to the bus boycott in Montgomery and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, heroic Americans have valiantly risked their lives to ensure that their children would grow up in a Nation living out its creed, expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” It was this belief in the inherent equality of every individual that inspired the Founding generation to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to establish a new Nation, unique among the countries of the world. President Abraham Lincoln understood that this belief is “the electric cord” that “links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving” people, no matter their race or country of origin. It is the belief that inspired the heroic black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment to defend that same Union at great cost in the Civil War. And it is what inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to dream that his children would one day “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of our forebears, America has made significant progress toward realization of our national creed, particularly in the 57 years since Dr. King shared his dream with the country.

Today, however, many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.

–The first paragraph of Section 1 quotes from our Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. King, and it’s wonderful to read their inspiring language. The abrupt, jolting switch to the determinedly hate-filled, divisive language of the administration author(s) in the third paragraph is, then, particularly painful and annoying. It reads like a draft essay by a high schooler: “today”, “many” people are “pushing” a different version of America. Whether it’s an inability or unwillingness to match the concentrated, formal yet powerful language of the earlier Americans they quote is unclear and, in the end, unimportant, as both inability and unwillingness do the same damage in the end: reducing the level of the conversation to “good” and “bad” people.

This continues in the paragraph, as the idea of acknowledging social hierarchies, and institutional racism and sexism, is “bad”. It’s “bad” because, apparently, the only way this is done is by slandering America as “irredeemable”, and slandering innocent white male Americans as “oppressors”, “simply” on account of their race or sex.

Ah, the scourge of “reverse racism,” as it’s called, against white people So much worse, its proponents would have you believe, than racism against non-white people. Turning the language of civil rights on its head to support “reverse racism” is deliberately harmful. It attempts to erase a long history of people–like Lincoln and King–calling for all Americans to plainly acknowledge, in writing, in spoken words, in public, the institutional discrimination derailing our nation by thwarting our commitment to liberty and justice for all. This call is not new, it’s not something only happening today, and yes, it is supposed to create a “different version of America” –a better version that lives up to our founding principles.

This commonly known history, however, is under attack throughout the Order. As we will see in our next post, the Order makes no effort at nuance: its message is that white Americans, particularly white American males, are being crucified on the cross of “political correctness” and the “pernicious” pushing of a campaign of reverse racism that threatens our very foundations as a nation.

Next time: the “malign ideology” of civil rights

Removing Confederate monuments erases history–or not

We were reading a great interview with Harvard Law School history professor Annette Gordon-Reed on the recent attacks made on statues of slaveholders, conquistadors, and Confederate soldiers. You can read it all here; we’ve pulled out a few highlights.

GAZETTE: What do you say to those who argue that the removal of such statues in prominent public settings dishonors the memory of those who died fighting for the Confederacy?

GORDON-REED: I would say there are other places for that — on battlefields and cemeteries. The Confederates lost the war, the rebellion. The victors, the thousands of soldiers — black and white — in the armed forces of the United States, died to protect this country. I think it dishonors them to celebrate the men who killed them and tried to kill off the American nation. The United States was far from perfect, but the values of the Confederacy, open and unrepentant white supremacy and total disregard for the humanity of black people, to the extent they still exist, have produced tragedy and discord. There is no path to a peaceful and prosperous country without challenging and rejecting that as a basis for our society.

–This is extremely well-put and we can add nothing of value to it. The BLM protests happening all over our country are based on the truth of the last sentence.

GAZETTE: Many believe that taking the statues down is an attempt to cover up or erase history. Do you agree?

GORDON-REED: No. I don’t. History will still be taught. We will know who Robert E. Lee was. Who Jefferson Davis was. Who Frederick Douglass was. Who Abraham Lincoln was. There are far more dangerous threats to history. Defunding the humanities, cutting history classes and departments. Those are the real threats to history.

–Here Gordon-Reed addresses the argument that always irritates us as historians. As if the main vehicle of learning about U.S. history were Confederate statues! Those statues are not preserved and defended in the name of the objective study of our national history. They are preserved and defended as evidence of the Lost Cause and meant to enforce a sense of alienation from the U.S. predicated on primary identification with “the South”.

GAZETTE: What about the slippery slope argument? Many of America’s founders — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson — owned slaves. Does removing statues of Columbus or Confederate officials pave the way for action against monuments honoring those who helped create the United States?

GORDON-REED: I suppose, if people want to, everything can pave the way to some other point. I’ve said it before: There is an important difference between helping to create the United States and trying to destroy it. Both Washington and Jefferson were critical to the formation of the country and to the shaping of it in its early years. …No one puts a monument up to Washington or Jefferson to promote slavery. The monuments go up because, without Washington, there likely would not have been an American nation.

–Again, perfectly stated, and in need of no confirmation from us. But we celebrate this truth-telling, and recommend it to all Americans.

Confederate monuments fall, America rises

It’s amazing that the sudden removal of so many Confederate war monuments is just a footnote in this Spring’s news. The long and awful battles to remove these monuments to slavery and hatred are suddenly resolved, and it seems like an afterthought.

But all Americans who love liberty and justice for all are happy to hear it. We will pull from two previous posts, Confederate Monuments and the cult of the Lost Cause, and Pro-Confederate is Anti-American to celebrate, and contribute momentum to, this moment.

First, from Confederate Monuments and the cult of the Lost Cause:

There’s a great article from Smithsonian, by New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, called “How I Learned About the Cult of the Lost Cause,” which delineates the real reason so many Confederate monuments were put up in this country, both just after the Civil War and in the 1950s and 60s. One application for federal funding to preserve three Confederate statues as historically important specifically states that the statues commemorate the Cult of the Lost Cause:

“The Cult of the Lost Cause had its roots in the Southern search for justification and the need to find a substitute for victory in the Civil War. In attempting to deal with defeat, Southerners created an image of the war as a great heroic epic. A major theme of the Cult of the Lost Cause was the clash of two civilizations, one inferior to the other. The North, “invigorated by constant struggle with nature, had become materialistic, grasping for wealth and power.” The South had a “more generous climate” which had led to a finer society based upon “veracity and honor in man, chastity and fidelity in women.” Like tragic heroes, Southerners had waged a noble but doomed struggle to preserve their superior civilization. There was an element of chivalry in the way the South had fought, achieving noteworthy victories against staggering odds. This was the “Lost Cause” as the late nineteenth century saw it, and a whole generation of Southerners set about glorifying and celebrating it.”

It’s very odd that this clear-eyed assessment of the Lost Cause as a cult and therefore a myth was successfully used to justify maintaining three Confederate statues in Louisiana. One would think that the goal of preserving acknowledged racist propaganda would be recognized as out of step with real American founding principles.

The only thing we would add is that Landrieu mentions the fact that Confederate memorials were put up in the North as well as the South. This is true; it happened directly after the war as part of an attempt to heal the breach and offer a socio-political olive branch to the South. But that misguided effort quickly died away in the North, while statues continued to go up regularly and in abundance in the former Confederacy.

 

And now from Pro-Confederate is Anti-American:

No need to do much more than to point you to James Loewen’s frank article: Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy?

But we will go ahead and also point you to our own posts on this topic: Amazing Fact: The Civil War was fought over slaveryWhat made the north and south different before the Civil War?, and Slavery leads to secession, secession leads to war.

The Confederate States of America were founded with the sole purpose of perpetuating black slavery. There is nothing heroic in that. The men who created the Confederacy did not care about states’ rights—they had repeatedly demanded that states’ rights be trampled by forcing northern states that had abolished slavery to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, by going into territories and voting that they enter the Union as slave states even though they were not residents of that territory, by terrorizing residents who wanted to vote anti-slavery, and by taking enslaved people into free states and forcing the free state residents to endure that slavery.

Soldiers of the Confederacy were not heroes. The old argument that most of them were poor and were not slaveholders is meaningless: they fought to protect their land and their governments, which meant protecting the slave system and the slave aristocracy that governed their land. If they won the war, those poor, non-slaveholding soldiers would have allowed slavery to keep going. They knew that. You can’t cherry-pick motives and focus on the heartwarming “they fought to keep their families safe” motive and ignore the chilling “the soldiers didn’t care if black Americans were enslaved as long as they kept their land” motive.

Secession was not allowed in the Constitution. There is no place in it that makes secession legal. So founding the Confederacy was the most anti-American action in our history.

It’s high time we became as tough on Confederacy worship as the Confederates were on America, democracy, and states’ rights.

 

 

Were there black Confederate soldiers?

It’s a new claim made by those who seek to diminish the evil of slavery: that “many” enslaved black men fought for the Confederacy in battle during the Civil War.

The truth, as ably presented by tireless truth-teller Kevin Levin, is crucially different from the myth. Yes, enslaved black men supported the Confederate army—because they were forced to, because they were enslaved. They did all the support work of cooking, cleaning, burying the dead, and caring for horses. They did everything but fight alongside white Confederates.

See the whole, engrossing and maddening story here, at The diaries left behind by Confederate soldiers reveal the true role of enslaved labor at Gettysburg.

Confederate monuments and the cult of the Lost Cause

Here’s a great article from Smithsonian, by New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, on the real reason so many Confederate monuments were put up in this country, both just after the Civil War and in the 1950s and 60s. One application for federal funding to preserve three Confederate statues as historically important specifically states that the statues commemorate the Cult of the Lost Cause:

“The Cult of the Lost Cause had its roots in the Southern search for justification and the need to find a substitute for victory in the Civil War. In attempting to deal with defeat, Southerners created an image of the war as a great heroic epic. A major theme of the Cult of the Lost Cause was the clash of two civilizations, one inferior to the other. The North, “invigorated by constant struggle with nature, had become materialistic, grasping for wealth and power.” The South had a “more generous climate” which had led to a finer society based upon “veracity and honor in man, chastity and fidelity in women.” Like tragic heroes, Southerners had waged a noble but doomed struggle to preserve their superior civilization. There was an element of chivalry in the way the South had fought, achieving noteworthy victories against staggering odds. This was the “Lost Cause” as the late nineteenth century saw it, and a whole generation of Southerners set about glorifying and celebrating it.”

It’s very odd that this clear-eyed assessment of the Lost Cause as a cult and therefore a myth was successfully used to justify maintaining three Confederate statues in Louisiana. One would think that the goal of preserving acknowledged racist propaganda would be recognized as out of step with real American founding principles.

The only thing we would add is that Landrieu mentions the fact that Confederate memorials were put up in the North as well as the South. This is true; it happened directly after the war as part of an attempt to heal the breach and offer a socio-political olive branch to the South. But that misguided effort quickly died away in the North, while statues continued to go up regularly and in abundance in the former Confederacy.

“How I Learned About the Cult of the Lost Cause,” by Mitch Landrieu—enjoy!

How the cotton gin advanced slavery

We’re going to get from Eli Whitney to your smart phone in one post here, so look sharp.

We all learn about Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in high school. It was a cotton-cleaning machine that could pull the seeds from the cotton itself, a job that used to be done by hand and took a very long time. Whitney introduced his machine in 1794, it caught on in isolated tests, and by the 1820s it was being mass-produced.

This image is the one we usually see, even though it is a proto-gin that came before Whitney’s invention:

The artist clearly had a positive view of slavery as well as the gin. The enslaved man on the left gazes in happy wonder as the gin cleans the cotton, and the enslaved woman on the right is similarly content. The enslaved child looks on with curiosity, perhaps hoping his day to run the gin will come soon.

What we really want to focus on, though, is the scale: one enslaved woman is hauling one bale of cotton to one machine run by two men. The enslaved Americans work in a small area and have a small basket to catch the cleaned cotton (the woman on the right is carrying it away). Okay, we have to interrupt for one small note on sex: why are the women doing the heavy work of hauling while two men get to do the easy work of running the machine? Clearly sex and gender stereotypes are preserved, even for enslaved black Americans, as men do the “technical” work that women are not smart enough to do.

That said, we move back to scale, and the real impact of the cotton gin. It made cleaning cotton faster. Cotton is a perishable crop. It rots. It was urgent to get cotton out of the fields, cleaned, and baled for sale and a long overland or sea voyage to the northern  factories that would spin it into cloth before rain and heat and insects ruined it. Cotton growers had to set aside weeks for cotton cleaning, which meant they had to reverse engineer the crop: grow only as much cotton as their enslaved laborers could quickly harvest, then clean and bale.

The cotton gin changed all that. Growers did not have to set aside weeks for cotton cleaning, and so they took that saved time and put it into planting and harvesting. Seeds of Conflict says that the cotton gin expanded cotton production from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850.

If cotton growers are planting, harvesting, and cleaning more cotton, and they rely on slave labor, then clearly they need to enslave more people to do that work. Jeremy Smith says that “the number of slaves [sic] rose in concert with the increase in cotton production, increasing from around 700,000 in 1790 to around 3.2 million in 1850.”

So if any enslaved Americans were happy to be relieved of the tedious and high-pressure job of cleaning cotton by hand, that happiness was short-lived, as enslavers increased their efforts to generate more enslaved workers. The U.S. had ended its participation in the African slave trade on January 1, 1808, which meant there were no longer ships carrying Africans to be enslaved in the U.S. arriving multiple times a year. New enslaved people had to be created through “natural increase”–enslaved people having children. The true engine of slavery, breeding human beings for sale, went into high gear, as enslaved Americans were forced to reproduce, and even those who had children outside of forced breeding were forced to give them up for sale. There could not be anything less “natural” than the methods by which enslavers increased the enslaved population.

Too often that real and horrible impact of the cotton gin is ignored or underplayed in history books. The story of human history since the dawn of the Industrial Age is one of living in a manichean world wherein the undeniable benefits of industrialization come inextricably entwined with the undeniable crimes of industrialization. No one wants to live in a world without industrialization, and there’s no reason to, because the benefits don’t really have to be accompanied by injustice and slavery. Refusing to turn a blind eye to all of the impacts and implications of technology is the key.

So to jump to the 21st century, the next time you’re tempted to upgrade your smart phone every year for no reason, think about the electronic waste you’re creating, and the (mostly) child labor force in Asia that melts down that waste in the “recycling” process, exposing themselves to heavy metal poisoning, and do something to help break up the unholy marriage of technology and injustice.

Robert E. Lee was not a hero, white supremacists are not Americans

There is no need to be careful about this. Anyone who served in the armies of the Confederate States of America was a traitor to the United States; anyone who led those armies all the more so. They were part of an armed rebellion against the U.S., which is the definition of treason.

That in itself is enough. But the fact that Confederates were fighting to protect and advance slavery, to create a slave state, means their rebellion was not just political, against the political entity that was the United States, but ethical, moral, and philosophical. They specifically rebelled against the U.S. move to end slavery of black Americans, and just as American abolitionists and antislaveryites based their work to end slavery on moral principle enshrined in the Constitution—that “all men are created equal”–American proslaveryites based their work to continue and expand slavery on a rebellion against that American principle.

The Confederacy was explicitly founded to protect and promote slavery. Its leaders made absolutely no secret of that at the time (see Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion for all the evidence from primary sources that you need). As Confederate vice-president Alexander H. Stephens said in his famous “Cornerstone speech“,

…the new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. [Thomas] Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. …The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. …Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. [our emphasis]

We quote Stephens at nauseating length to show that the Confederacy was explicitly dedicated to the anti-American principle that non-white people are biologically inferior to white people. The Confederates themselves expressed it this way, as a rejection of and rebellion against the Founders’ plan and hope that slavery would inevitably end the United States because it was “wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically”, and the United States would not tolerate this because the nation was founded on the principle of equality.

Why does this matter now, on August 16, 2017? Because Stephens still has followers in this country. The Confederacy still has supporters. There are still people living in this country who do not support our Constitution or our law, or any of our founding principles. They call themselves Americans, and most were born here, but they are not. Americans are dedicated to the founding principles of the United States of America, which include the premise that all men are created equal. Anyone who fights this is not American.

And the man currently holding the title of President of the United States is one of them. Donald Trump is no American. He is, clearly, a Confederate president, taking up the torch from Alexander Stephens. In his press conference after a white supremacist/KKK/Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA in which one woman was killed while protesting against the racist rally, Trump said that Americans protesting fascism were just as bad, and in some ways worse, than Nazis posing as Americans, and he took the fascist side:

What about the people of the alt-left, as they came charging at the alt-right, as you call them? [shouts] What about the fact that they came charging, they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day… wait a minute; I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day. …I will tell you, I watched this closely, more closely than any of you people, and you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. I think there’s blame on both sides and I don’t have any doubt about it and you don’t have any doubt either.

…there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. …the following day it looked they had had some rough, bad people–neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them, but you had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest…

So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

Our quotes for all but the last paragraph were taken from video on Fox News’ website. So far as we saw the Fox News coverage did not include the last statement. Their commentator did describe these statements by Trump as part of a “brave and honest press conference, he pulled no punches… brutally honest, maybe too honest.”

Honest. We can’t help thinking of Stephens gloating that the premise that all people are created equal had finally been debunked as a fantasy, as fanaticism. If it’s “honest” to say that American protesting fascism are the criminals, and the fascists are the true Americans, innocent Americans, then we have entered a second civil war—or a second Confederate States of America, brought into being without a shot fired in official war.

For over 150 years, the citizens of the United States perpetrated a dangerous wrong by allowing statues of traitors who fought against the U.S. politically and morally, traitors who were dedicated to the lie that all people are not created equal, to stand. “Oh, it’s not about slavery,” people would say; “it’s just their culture.” We once heard someone say there are no statues to Nazi leaders in Germany. Why are there memorials to Confederate leaders in the United States? Now we see the result of 150 years of dedicated fighting after Appomattox by people who will never be real Americans, and a concentrated effort over the last 50 years, since the Civil Rights movement, to revive the Confederate States of America.

Needless to say, we can’t give in. While Trump has basically invited and urged Nazis to show up when the statue of Jackson is taken down, and has given new hope and excitement to Nazis in America, we Americans have to fight. It’s much harder to fight a guerrilla war than it was to go into actual battle during the Civil War. Right now the best path is to meet the Nazis wherever they go, and not remain a silent majority.

Every nation has a fraction of its population that urges fascism and hatred. Sometimes they manage to monopolize the microphone and take up more space in the media than their numbers justify. Now is such a time in the U.S. Now is the time to muscle these people back into the shadows if we can’t drive them out of the country. That’s the “brutally honest” truth.

“Most slave families were headed by two parents”, and other lies

Welcome to part the last of our short series of excerpts from the high school textbook American History: A Survey wherein we finish by giving an example of the damage done by history textbooks that are inaccurate at best, harmful at worst.

Inside Higher Ed recently reported on a dispute over a sociology test given at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Lecturer Judy Morelock was challenged by student Kayla Renee Parker:

sociology question

This reasonable question seems to have been quickly escalated into bitterness by the instructor, as evidenced by her postings on Facebook: “After the semester is over and she is no longer my student, I will post her name, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn … after she graduates, all bets are off,” “I don’t forget malevolent attempts to harm me. #karmawillfindyou,” and “Ignore the facts, promote a misinformed viewpoint, trash me and I will fight you.”  Ms. Morelock says some of these comments were not about Ms. Parker.

Ms. Parker blames “outdated research that ‘whitewashes’ the realities of slavery to back up her argument”. We would add inaccurate, whitewashed American history textbooks to that list. Where might an instructor have learned that “most slave families were headed by two parents”? Where might an instructor find quotes to back that myth up? American history textbooks. This is not just an issue with American History: A Survey. Textbook publishers are at the mercy of state boards of education and state school committees that decide which textbooks to purchase for every school in the state. The biggest states call the shots here, as they are the biggest moneymakers for the publishers, of course, so whatever version is approved by those large states is generally the version that goes to all states that buy the textbook.

Some of the biggest states are Texas, Florida, and Virginia. For over a century these southern states have argued with objective descriptions of slavery and Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. Watered-down pap like we found in AH is the result. Unfortunate that it goes to those three states; worse that it goes to all states that buy the textbooks.

We see high school white-washing moving inevitably into intro-level college history survey courses. To state that “most slave families were headed by two parents” is preposterous. It erases the fact that enslaved black Americans were bred for sale like livestock, with healthy children sold away from their parents for a profit, and women who had recently given birth to healthy children sold immediately so they could be forced to have sex with “productive” enslaved men on other plantations while they were still young and fertile. Once Congress ended the slave trade in 1808, Africans could not be sold into slavery in the U.S. The enslaved population had to grow through reproduction alone. This was a death knell to enslaved black families. Enslaved families were broken up for profit, out of spite, and as a punishment. Marriages between enslaved people were not recognized by law in many states, and no enslaved person had any legal custody rights to their children. They, and their children, were legally defined as the property of the people who enslaved them.

It’s not “malevolent” to stand up to harmful lies about our nation’s history. Fight them wherever you find them, starting in high school.