A Very Impersonal Thing: Ron Paul's Polite White Racism
Over the last few days, I have watched this interview with Ron Paul several times. Something about his tone of voice just doesn't sit right with me, the detached indifference rubs me the wrong way.
It is easy to flatten history, in doing so to generate stories of evil men, barbarous and incomprehensible deeds, and frothing at the mouth villains. This is true when the history is personal and your people would have been the vanquished, the oppressed, the conquered, or the exiled. Ironically, the need to hold on to a fiction of two-dimensional monsters and evildoers is also true of those who are the present day descendants of the dominant, the winners, the exploiters, the "in-group," and the conquerors.
By painting "those people" into a box where only the most wicked were racist, prejudiced, genocidal, chauvinist or the like, a safe distance is created between the present and the past. Cartoon visions of history are very comforting for those on both sides of history's accounting sheet: nuance is a shared enemy for those seeking simple and validating stories.
For example, it is easy to imagine all white slave owners as rapine beasts who crawled into the beds of black women and girls, using them as their personal sex toys, where inevitably these same white men would either sell off their own mulatto sires for a profit, or throw them into the fields as "free" labor. Likewise, we can envision the babies of newly arrived African slaves being smashed on the ground, killed during the seasoning process that the human cargo of the slave ships endured upon arrival in the New World.
In black masculinity's shared collective memory there exist memories of wives and loved ones taken before our eyes, we being rendered powerless to intervene by the barrel of the gun or the edge of the blade, and where inevitably the lustful eyes of the white slave owner, his sons, and friends turn to us as objects to sate the wickedness of their reckless and violent libidos. This is a secret pain, one little discussed in the shared history of blacks and whites together in the Americas and elsewhere. And of course, every overseer was an evil debased man like Mr. Covey of Frederick Douglass' famed autobiography, a degenerate piece of poor white trash who, like many of his class, lived for nothing but the sadistic pleasures that came with "breaking" black slaves as he made them suffer under his whip, ax handle, cat of nine tales, scold's bridle, or branding iron.
But, what of the white slave owner who struggled to reconcile his "Christian faith" with the owning of human beings, and in a fit of guilt, convinced that he would go to hell because of his wickedness, freed his human property? How do we make sense of the white slave owner who manumitted the children of slaves on his plantation, or the feelings of loyalty and closeness that some slaves felt for their "white family?"