The Civil Rights Myth

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This article, which originally appeared in 2010 at AlternativeRight.com, was a classic essay from one of the most remarkable political commentators of the past 50 years, Elizabeth Wright (1937-2011).  The occasion for the piece was the controversy over Rand Paul's apparent questioning of Civil Rights dogma, but its thesis bursts out of this context by virtue of Wright's insight into both the psychology of White Americans as well as the sham of the never-ending Civil Rights struggle.  

How is it possible that RandPaul could have been so unprepared for Rachel Maddow‘s persistent questioning on the race issue? He claimed on her TV program that civil rights “hadn’t been a real pressing issue on the campaign.” Yet his National Public Radio interview on May 19 shows that he has been down this road before, similarly dodging questions and talking around the issue, while indicating confusion when the subject of race was brought up. According to Frank Rich, Paul had been known to express his views on race as far back as 2002.

Wasn’t there time between that little NPR fiasco and the Maddow debacle for his advisers to sit him down and sort out the preferred approaches on all kinds of subjects? You know, “This is the way we’re gonna handle this issue.” He does have advisers, doesn’t he?

How could it come as a surprise that race, of all subjects, would be front and center for any candidate, especially a declared Republican? Such lack of insight betrays a peculiar denseness. The subject of race is a “pressing issue” in every campaign and will remain so, as long as white men like Rand Paul can so easily be backed into a corner and put on the defensive. Maddow simply picked up on Paul’s obvious discomfort during the previous NPR interview and ran with it.

Besides his repeated protestations that he abhors racial discrimination in all forms, Paul felt the need to reassure us that he is not a racist by revealing that he gets emotional and weepy when listening to a Martin Luther King Jr. speech. That may tell us something about his vulnerable mental state, but nothing else. (By the way, though a black woman, King’s tiresome, sentimental pulpiteering has never left me teary-eyed.)  I’ve written endlessly about the brainwashing of whites, but even I didn’t believe it to be this thorough.

I misread Rand Paul entirely. I thought that he wanted to make a point of getting particular ideas into circulation, and not that he cared whether he succeeded in winning political office, certainly not at any cost. If the political route was too degrading, I thought he might make use of the publicity he had acquired during the primary period to add a critical voice to mainstream propaganda. But the lure of office and the power it brings is, apparently, tantalizing. Even this “purist” libertarian could not resist backing down from his principles. I had assumed he would chuck the entire effort if it meant he’d be expected to prevaricate and become a dissembler — i.e., act like a “real politician.”

When pressed by the cunning Ms. Maddow, I half expected Paul to declare: “Yes, this is what I believe. Those who own private property have the right to reject from their premises whomever they wish. If this is unacceptable to voters, then I will not hold office.” In other words, Take your stinking Senate seat and stick it!

In an article filled with improbable hypotheticals, and meant to be a defense of Paul, the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Jacob Hornberger, referencing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its legal coercions, asks, “Why were liberals so intent on forced integration of private businesses?”  Before answering that question, let’s take a step back.

Remember, the problem to be solved by a section of the Civil Rights Act was that of public accommodations. When traveling and in need of food, sustenance and overnight shelter, what were blacks to do, since white establishments, especially in the South, generally rejected their presence.

No one bothers to ask why this posed a problem in the first place, because so little is known or cared about the incentives that drove blacks to create multitudes of institutions throughout the segregation period, even before slavery was officially ended. These were institutions such asrestaurants, stores, motels and movie theaters. There were banks, insurance companies, newspaper publishers. It is assumed that all blacks were helpless victims, financially crippled drudges, with no resources to pool among themselves. In fact, most of black entrepreneurial success originated in the South, the poorest region and the one of greatest need.

White liberals were so intent on forced integration of white businesses because it never occurred to them to put the onus on blacks themselves, and to ask, Why should whites, or any other group, be compelled to go against their preferences to satisfy yours? Why aren’t you taking care of these matters and fulfilling your own needs? At one point in our history, circles of resourceful blacks did exactly that.

There were blacks asking these impertinent questions of one another. “Where’s our self-respect?” so many black men asked in another time. It flew out the window when forced integration flew in. How is it possible to win the respect of others, if you produce nothing?  This question was already being asked back in 1852 by the black Abolitionist Martin Delany, who denounced middle-class blacks that long ago for desiring only to ride on the coattails of whites. These elites were determined not to risk their own capital. Such people earned the scorn of enterprising blacks, who did take risks.

Why didn’t whites support those blacks who, back in the 1950s and 1960s, challenged the strategies of the proliferating numbers of civil-rights leaders, and who insisted that blacks must not be taken down the road of dependency? One reason is that ever since the days of Abolition, whites had grown used to having this mass of people to pity. These black victims of the “bad” whites made the “good” whites feel expansive and noble, as they still do. The graphic depictions of past sufferings relentlessly offered up by the NAACP suited these whites just fine.

There were persevering blacks who understood early on that greater independence comes through the ownership of businesses and land.  Thomas Sowell has pointed out that even minimum skills and resources can be applied to create and develop modest businesses out of which the most ordinary person can earn a living.  With this understanding, the wise educatorBooker T. Washington, in the early 20th century, urged poor blacks to emulate the immigrants who often began with almost nothing yet managed to elevate themselves and families.

Many blacks took Washington’s advice. In fact, it’s documented that thousands did. The reason that Washington formed the National Negro Business League was due to the prominence of so many black-owned businesses, especially in the South.

However, see what happened to some ambitious blacks in Charles Smiley’s Chicago, when their elites disapproved of too much enterprise among them, for fear that such independent activity might inhibit the movement for integration. After all, if whites see that we can do for ourselves, the fearful ones worried, they won’t employ us in their more financially advanced companies and other establishments, and ease our paths to prosperity. Those black men who felt shamed by such attitudes and worked towards self-sufficiency were summarily censored and vilified by fervent integrationists.

Blacks once had some of the best teachers and mentors steering them in the right direction, that of economics. However, the opponents among them, who strove only for “social justice” and “equality,” the theme so beloved by whites, were determined that recalcitrant entrepreneurial types would not mess up their game plan. See what they did to S.B. Fuller. And they were at it again, in a more contemporary fashion in the mid-1990s, when they set out to destroy John Goode. The elites were not dumb. They surmised that the strategy of “civil rights” would lead more quickly to greater power than they could acquire at a slower economic pace.

This is the key to why so much terrible stuff befell blacks and ultimately befell the country. The elites who ran such organizations as the NAACP cared nothing about the overall health or long-term welfare of the group, but only about how they might take short cuts to power via the beneficence of whites.

With the help of their white compatriots they managed to turn what was essentially an economic problem to be solved into a moral crusade. And the typical white ate it up. After all, economic solutions would not have led to all that Freedom-Riding and marching and anthem singing. Oh, how those white folks loved all that melodrama! And still do.

Their worship of Martin Luther King is so ridiculous as to make one’s head spin. Those few dissenting whites who dare to rant about King’s Communist affiliation have no idea of the deeper, more serious implications involved in King’s playing the role of mentor to black males. The total acceptance of King by whites, confirmed when this preacher was granted a federal holiday, fixed for all time the notion that the path on which he took blacks was the only correct one.

It was comforting to believe that no shame was attached to black negligence and other forms of middle class treachery that led to the disappearance of hundreds of commercial establishments and, more importantly, the non-development of many more.  It was much more gratifying to point to the “immorality” of whites who initially refused to forego their own individual rights at the behest of the black cause.

For many blacks, it was often incongruous, when not downright infuriating, to watch as members of their race heroized the act of “sitting in” at a lunch counter while demanding respect from the white store owner. Surely, only the most blinding delusions could have prevented such people from recognizing this clear demonstration of their own lack of self-respect. (It is hard to keep from laughing when viewing part of an actual Woolworth lunch counter that has been preserved as a Holy Relic.)

The Harvard-educated economist Andrew Brimmer, who had served in three Presidential administrations and was a member of the quintessential black bourgeoisie, was, in the early 1960s, already citing the deaths of black-owned “restaurants, barber shops, hotels, hardware stores and mortuaries.” But Brimmer was not lamenting this loss. As a staunch integrationist, desirous of all the goodies that would come from more intimate contact with whites, he approved the disappearance of black-created institutions and the industrious souls who had launched them.

Multiply the likes of Andrew Brimmer by the thousands, and you will see what the ordinary black was up against during that consecrated 1960s period, so beloved and celebrated by whites, who were still smarting from the recent riots and other mayhem.

Had not the promise of integration in the 1950s and 1960s brought out so many black opportunists and outright charlatans, who moved into leadership positions, we might have seen a rejuvenation of the spirit of enterprise that prevailed years before. And maybe those unconstitutional sections of that Civil Rights bill would never have been contemplated because they would have been considered irrelevant.

Where were the so-called conservatives and libertarians? Was Barry Goldwater the only public figure to suggest that there was something wrong with this picture? For all their talk about personal and individual responsibility, notice how libertarians dismiss such foundational thinking when it comes to blacks. Libertarians are no different from the liberals they rebuke — a fact that Rand Paul has made clear.

The responses to Maddow need not have been couched in theoretical gobbledygook, but in common-sense reality based on the manner in which people prosper in a capitalist country. The reason why the Civil Rights Act was wrong is because blacks should be held to the same standards as all citizens, and the Constitution forbids the government from removing the rights of one set of citizens (white property owners) in order to exalt the rights of another.

Those middle-class blacks in the 1960s who were the most vociferous protestors for biased race laws should have been reminded of their past history, as cited above. If their recent ancestors, during what had been called “the worst of times,” had been able to provide much-needed products and services, why should the rights of others now be abridged in order to accommodate the desires of this class?

Although these bourgeois types would deny it (for obvious self-interested reasons), by the 1960s, it was clear that there was nothing preventing blacks with resources from taking advantage of a market niche, which would not only be profitable to them but beneficial to masses of people.

You can be sure that no sooner had black business people begun to open new restaurants and constructing hotels and other commercial establishments targeted to black customers, their white counterparts would have rushed to get in on this lucrative market. If Congress had resisted the social pressures and stood by the principles in the Constitution, what was supposedly a race problem would quickly have been resolved. And imagine, the black bourgeoisie would have had to compete in order to prosper. Or as Martin Delany put it, the black man could no longer sit while the white man produced, but would have been forced to “endeavor to rival his neighbor, in honorable competition.”