This weekend, amid the horror of Charlottesville, we witnessed a return to the 1950’s and the early 1960’s.
In the fifties and sixties the fire-breathing moralists were the Governors of Alabama, Mississippi, and their like. Do you remember the phrase uttered by another presidential candidate? Alabama Governor, George Wallace’s 1963 inaugural address included “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wasn’t that him standing on his “moral” high ground”?
Remember Mississippi governor Ross Barnett who once said, “The Good Lord was the original segregationist. He put the black man in Africa. … He made us white because he wanted us white, and He intended that we should stay that way.” Barnett said that Mississippi had the largest percent of black Americans because “they love our way of life here, and that way is segregation.”
It brings to mind Little Rock, Bull Connor’s fire hoses and dogs in Birmingham, and the attacks in Selma, Two recent articles make it very clear why, after 50 plus years we still haven’t cleared any of those racist hurdles and are at an impasse and loggerheads with each other again, today.
The first, written by Jane Coaston, entitled, HIGH HORSES, talks about how people, especially on social media posts, “flaunt their own moral superiority” using “virtue signaling” in ways that we have for centuries been told the dangers of doing. She claims, “We are living in an age of hypocritical showboats advertising their own righteousness.” Although I disagree with her focus on the left, I see it there too often.
Now before my fellow left/progressive/liberal/democrat (God, I hate labels.) friends start to profess their moral high ground about what follows, let me first say, If we are to progress left and liberal, we must listen and debate, as was once the case, especially in universities and colleges across the nation. Why do many who grew up with free speech in the 60’s now suppress their own allies if they cross some imaginary “moral high ground line”?
However I see it much more on the right. Thus Charlottesville. Their version of their “city on the hill” is revolting yet claims their version of “moral superiority and “value signaling”.
The left and right’s versions of the moral high ground and virtues differ strongly but their “conversational approach is the same. “Shut up! You are a moral miscreant.” “Only my values are valid.” “I am appalled at you, your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions and your causes.”
Every one of them, left or right, wants to show others how morally superior they are not only to those on the opposing side but also to show how great they are to their allies. This includes our disastrous president trying to appeal to his base. In doing so, they only add fuel to the fire.
As Coaston points out, they live in a ”virtual foxhole, the spot from which you will attack before logging off for the evening,” or go to bed after you’ve finished tweeting.
However, what happened at Charlottesville wasn’t virtual. It was the result of the venom spewed by “High Horsed” people, especially on the Duke, Bannon, Jones, Spencer led white supremacist “Alt Right. This time one of the stokers of the flame of hate was #45. Of course the White Supremacists came out in force.
Now these kind of “my righteous way or the highway” comments are everywhere on Twitter, Facebook, and every kind of social medium that exists. It appears on cable news. They are as destructive as a California wildfire or a driver mowing down demonstrators who disagreed with him.
That leads me to the second piece, by Frank Bruni, entitled, “I’m a white man. Can i continue.”? He says, “The legitimacy of my voice shouldn’t depend on my oppression.” All too often allies in the fight for social, political, and economic justice have been shut out or shut up because they are either not oppressed enough or haven’t properly renounced their “white privilege”.
I get that. So does Bruni, a powerful spokesperson for these causes in the NYT. He admits he is white was brought up rich and suburban and in private school.
We can say, “fuck him” and have our enemies laugh as we silence a powerful voice or we can say, hey this dude is actually with us. We need his help.
Who else do those on their moral high horse say fuck off to? Bill Maher? Really? Because as an atheist he critiqued all organized religions including Islam? These are the same people who cheered him when he criticized his own Catholic church. What virtue are they signaling? I don’t get it.
I know some will attack me for writing this, but I cannot change my view that we have to get off of our moral superiority pedestal. Claims to hold the highest ground often blind us from working with our allies in the fight against this newest version of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Do we not see Jeff Sessions in action? This NYT article tells it all.
“Jeff Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee 20 years ago that affirmative action irritated people (he meant white people) because it could cause them to lose opportunities “simply because of their race.” This sense of grievance lies behind the Justice Department’s recent memo seeking lawyers to investigate “race-based discrimination” in college admissions.
It also implies that all that stands between hard-working whites and success are undeserving minorities who are doled out benefits, including seats at good schools, by reckless government agents.
In fact, today’s socioeconomic order has been significantly shaped by federally backed affirmative action for whites. The most important pieces of American social policy — the minimum wage, union rights, Social Security and even the G.I. Bill — created during and just after the Great Depression, conferred enormous benefits on whites while excluding most Southern blacks.”
Either we get off our high horses, stop the moral posturing against each other as allies, and fight this together or the segregationists win…
The author is a somewhat privileged 67 year old white boy who grew up as a white shadow in the South Bronx, taught there for 16 years, and after a long teaching career, spent 4 more years after retirement teaching new, mostly white, teachers how to teach in the hood where he grew up.