Category: Race and Ethnicity Tags: Abraham Lincoln, American South, Emancipation Proclamation, Katrina Browne, Northern complicity
Katrina Browne, our founder, appeared earlier today on a roundtable at the Huffington Post’s “HuffPost Live.” The topic was “White in America?“, inspired by a blogger’s recent call for CNN to complement its “Black in America” series with a look at what it means to be white in our society today.
I’m having one of those: “I wish I had said” moments. I’m thinking about what I would have said more bluntly than I did, to tie together: Susan Bodnar talking about poor/working class whites not getting enough love (my word) in our culture, as well as talking about their racism; host Alicia Menendez asking why they aren’t covered much on TV; and then Morley Winograd talking about the film Lincoln showing how far we’ve come as a society.
I half-said what I wanted on the show at that point; here’s the more I’d say:
A big shout out to my ‘redneck’ brothers and sisters! President Lincoln actually had a shamefully hard time getting the Emancipation Proclamation passed because most NON-southern members of Congress (the whole Congress at that point) were not on board. Which puts a lie to the myth of northern heroism. All slavery is blamed on white southerners, and all racism up to the present day too. We conjure images of wealthy plantation owners in the past, but today, of poor white men – rednecks – who have Confederate flags in their pick-ups and use the “n-word” without apology. And thus we don’t empathize with at least that southern branch of “poor white trash.”
Knowing what I know about the historic heavy duty racism of the northern states, not to mention the Midwest and the West—the ways they all profited from slavery and on-going discrimination—and knowing that many poor white southerners are still poor through multiple generations, I think there’s re-organizing many of us need to do in our brains, and then some compassion needs to be extended to all who suffer from the ills of economic hardship and lack of resources, whatever racial or ethnic group they belong to. Not to defend the overt racism, but consider the white pot and the white kettle!
Also: my last line shoulda been: Yes! Please! CNN, take up the call: produce a “White in America” series!