Tag Archives: National Museum of African-American Culture

The triumphant return of George Wallace

I’m pretty sure people are tired of me pointing at current events and saying – in my querulous old man’s voice – “That’s something we saw when I was young, just all dressed up in different clothes!”

But darn it, it keeps happening.

I offer in evidence the following graphic. I’m sure you’ve already seen it. It was released (at taxpayer expense) by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History. It purports to explain important ways in which “whiteness” continues to inflict cultural violence on the black people in our midst.

“Whiteness,” according to this graphic, includes things like self-reliance. The nuclear family. “Objective, rational, linear thinking.” The primacy of the Western tradition. “Work before play.” Christianity as the norm. Respect for authority and property. “Delayed gratification.” European aesthetics. Christian holidays. English common law. Decision-making and majority rule.

When young people look at this list, I suppose they see an incisive analysis of cultural imperialism.

What I see is a throwback. I see Gov. George Wallace of Alabama (1963) shouting “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”

You see, I’m old enough to remember the last years of Jim Crow. I can remember when you could turn on the TV and see (a few) people still seriously defending the principles of segregation.

I knew an older kid in school who went south to attend a segregated college. When she came back and we challenged her on it, she replied, “You people up here don’t understand. These folks aren’t the same as us.”

Which is precisely what the Smithsonian’s “Whiteness” graphic asserts. That these folks aren’t the same as us.

If you listened to the arguments for segregation they made in those days, you’d hear the apologists saying something like this: “We don’t hate the d*rkies. Some of ‘em are fine people. But you gotta understand. They’re different from white folks. They’ve got no sense of responsibility. They can’t get to work on time. They can’t manage money. They can’t think logically. They’re like children. That’s why we’ve got to give them their own separate neighborhoods and institutions. Because if they had to compete with the white man on even terms, they’d just die off.”

Which is precisely what the Smithsonian is saying. That black people and white people are essentially different. That there is no common ground of humanity. The only difference now is that the moral judgments on racial traits have switched polarization.

The end result of believing that color is the single most important fact about any individual has to be segregation.

If I wanted to be snide, I’d congratulate a certain political party on doing the longest strategic end run in history, achieving their old goal of racial segregation from the 1960s. George Wallace would be proud.

But I don’t really believe it’s strategic. I think it’s just the Gods of the Copybook Headings coming back, forcing those who don’t know any history to repeat it. Yet again.