My penchant for procrastination (more on that later) frequently bleeds into my blogging. I’ll bookmark something I plan to blog about, and keep putting it off until I’ve gathered enough information or figured out what I want to say. By then, it’s usually not news. Fortunately, everything has a way of coming around again. So I have Virginia Delegate Frank Hargove to thank for this opportunity to get back to what I intended to post, via his remark that blacks should “get over” slavery.
A state legislator said black people “should get over” slavery and questioned whether Jews should apologize “for killing Christ,” drawing denunciations Tuesday from stunned colleagues.
Del. Frank D. Hargrove, 79, made his remarks in opposition to a measure that would apologize on the state’s behalf to the descendants of slaves.
In an interview published Tuesday in The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Hargrove said slavery ended nearly 140 years ago with the Civil War and added that “our black citizens should get over it.”
The newspaper also quoted him as saying, “are we going to force the Jews to apologize for killing Christ?”
Hargrove’s remarks reminded me of a similar statement that caused a furor not long ago.
First, though, it’s worth noting that Hargrove’s statement came around the same time that — as Prometheus points out — some conservatives recently argued that the Dred Scott case was rightly decided. In case you need a refresher on what you learned in your history class, here’s the basic story of Dred Scott, and here’s how the Supreme Court ruled in his case.
In March of 1857, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, declared that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States. The court also declared the 1820 Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, thus permiting slavery in all of the country’s territories.
The case before the court was that of Dred Scott v. Sanford. Dred Scott, a slave who had lived in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin before moving back to the slave state of Missouri, had appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom.
Taney — a staunch supporter of slavery and intent on protecting southerners from northern aggression — wrote in the Court’s majority opinion that, because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue. The framers of the Constitution, he wrote, believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.”
Referring to the language in the Declaration of Independence that includes the phrase, “all men are created equal,” Taney reasoned that “it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration. . . .” [Emphasis added.]
Now, I emphasized one phrase from the quote above: “that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” Actually, I should just have emphasized the last six words, “reduced to slavery for his benefit.” The sentiment behind those words is far older than the nearly 150 years that have passed since they were written by our then Chief Justice. It’s also far from dead, and not entirely unrelated to Hargrove’s words. Not to tar all conservatives, or Republicans, with the same brush (though their record speaks for itself) but some of them have a peculiar preoccupation with defending, justifying, re-framing, or just downplaying the history of America’s “peculiar institution.”
Back in October, Ex-Gay Watch did an excellent job of tracking a justification of slavery that was posted to the website of the National Association for and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which (before it was yanked from the site) included this stirring defense.
With all due respect, there is another way, or other ways, to look at the race issue in America. It could be pointed out, for example, that Africa at the time of slavery was still primarily a jungle, as yet uncivilized or industrialized. Life there was savage, as savage as the jungle for most people, and that it was the Africans themselves who first enslaved their own people. They sold their own people to other countries, and those brought to Europe, South America, America, and other countries, were in many ways better off than they had been in Africa. But if one even begins to say these things one is quickly shouted down as though one were a complete madman. [Emphasis added.]
The Los Angeles Times eventually covered the story, and even the Southern Poverty Law Center weighed in with this statement.
NARTH is a coalition of psychologists who believe it’s possible to “cure” homosexuality, a position rejected by the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association. The controversy over Schoenewolf’s apology for slavery has battered the so-called “ex-gay” movement with accusations of racial bigotry for the first time. The movement’s leaders and their close allies at Christian Right powerhouses like Focus on the Family have failed to condemn Schoenwolf’s inflammatory arguments.
… Schoenewolf, a psychotherapist who lives in New York City, is director of The Living Center, an online therapy center for people in the arts. He has authored 14 books, among them The Art of Hating, in which he writes, “Many people talk about hate, but few know how to hate well.” [Emphasis added.]
I included those last couple of lines because I just couldn’t resist. But what I really wanted to point out was the emphasized sentence above: “The movement’s leaders and their close allies at Christian Right powerhouses like Focus on the Family have failed to condemn Schoenwolf’s inflammatory arguments.”
It seems par for the course. After all, Virginia Republicans are defending Hargrove’s statements, not condemning them. Trent Lott has long standing ties with “neo-confederates,” was been quoted in Southern Partisan as saying he’d vote to eliminate the MLK holiday, and lamented Strom Thurmond’s loss as the “Dixiecrat” candidate for the oval office, but has returned to leadership as Senate Minority Leader. In the documentary Red State a Concerned Women for America (speaking of “Christian Right Powerhouses”) spokeswoman calls for the repeal of civil rights. In 2005, Senate Republicans balked at apologizing for lynching; or, more specifically, the Senate’s failure to pass anti-lynching legislation back when it was all the rage. And in Texas, conservatives have denounced history textbooks for being “overly negative” about slavery.
Schoenwolf’s statment sounds vaguely related to the rantings of Michael Marcavage.
The crux of Marcavage’s worldview is biblical literalism. Even those famous instances where the Bible seems to wander from modern conceptions of right and wrong, Marcavage explains away as misinterpretations. Biblical slavery, for instance, is “not in the sense of based on the color of someone’s skin, but about how people were admitted into voluntary slavery based on them wanting to be in service to others.” Nor is Marcavage bothered by the suggestion that, in adhering to his own interpretation of the Bible, he is ultimately putting his faith in the superiority of his own intellect. He says that on some matters, the Bible is just clear.
Then there’s Adele Ferguson, who had this to say in her column for the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal.
The pony hidden in slavery is the fact that it was the ticket to America for black people. I have long urged blacks to consider their presence here as the work of God, who wanted to bring them to this raw, new country and used slavery to achieve it.
But let me get back to the question concerning how few “Christian Right Powerhouses” have spoken out against various statements like Hargrove’s, or any other Republicans’ for that matter, regarding slavery, civil rights, etc. Why? Why haven’t they spoken out against concepts that, the overwhelming majority of self-identified Christians in America would probably find morally offensive and indefensible, like slavery or segregation?
They can’t. It’s inherent in the particular brand of Christianity that groups like Concerned Women for America (run by Berverly LaHaye, wife of apocalyptic author Tim LaHaye) and Focus on the Family subscribe to more or less openly, and that’s detailed in books like Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and a few others I’ve read. Call it Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism, the basic idea is that the country should be run according to their literal interpretation of the Bible.
A contrary development is increasingly in evidence in the Western world, and especially in the United States, i.e., the development by systematic indoctrination of a bad conscience. The political cultivation of guilt is a central means to power, for guilty men are slaves; their conscience is in bondage, and hence they are easily made objects of control. Guilt is thus systematically taught for purposes of control. Several instances can be cited readily. For example, the white man is being systematically indoctrinated into believing that he is guilty of enslaving and abusing the Negro. Granted that some Negroes were mistreated as slaves, the fact still remains that nowhere in all history or in the world today has the Negro been better off. The life expectancy of the Negro increased when he was transported to America. He was not taken from freedom into slavery, but from a vicious slavery to degenerate chiefs to a generally benevolent slavery in the United States. [Emphasis added.]
The ‘civil rights’ revolutionary groups are a case in point. Their goal is not equality but power. The background of Negro culture is African and magic, and the purposes of magic are control and power. . . Voodoo or magic was the religion and life of American Negroes. Voodoo songs underlie jazz, and old voodoo, with its power goal, has been merely replaced with revolutionary voodoo, a modernized power drive.” (p. 61) [R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law]
Segregation or separation is thus a basic principle of Biblical law with respect to religion and morality. Every attempt to destroy this principle is an effort to reduce society to its lowest common denominator. Toleration is the excuse under which this levelling is undertaken, but the concept of toleration conceals a radical intolerance. In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions as though no differences existed. [R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 294]
Biblical law permits voluntary slavery because it recognizes that some people are not able to maintain a position of independence . . . The law is humane and also unsentimental. It recognizes that some people are by nature slaves and will always be so. (pp. 286, 251) [R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law] [Emphasis added.]
They, the “Christian Right Powerhouses,” can’t denounce statements like Hargrove’s or anyone else’s precisely because either those statements aren’t that far from what they privately believe, or because to denounce them would mean having to renounce the statements of a founder of their movement. Or they’d have to do some serious contortions to reinterpret them, and these folks are all about literalism.
So, they’re “un-reconstructed” reconstructionists, in a sense. And, as they comprise about 30% to 40% of the Republicans’ base, they’ve got the party by the balls as well. Few if any Republicans will go so far as to denounce Hargove or anyone else who makes such statements.
So, Hargrove gets a spirited defense, Lott returns to leadership, and no one asks or bothers to point out what they really believe. They’re just misunderstood. Because, as I’ve pointed out before, religion is the great conversation stopper, and criticizing even faith-based bigotry is too much to contemplate.
So, they get a pass. And, maybe, we get “reconstructed.” Eventually.