Saturday, 21 November 2009

Jim Crow never died

I am reading “Trouble in Mind – Black Southerners in the age of Jim Crow” (Leon F. Litwack/Alfred A Knopf/ 1998)

For readers outside of the USA here is a reference to Jim Crow  
I can scarcely read Litwack’s book more than a chapter at a time.  It is a horrific tale of the subjugation of Negroes (the then normal appellation) from the end of Reconstruction 
until the modern Civil Rights era.
Litwack’s book opened my eyes.
I was well aware of a history which included the white enforced racial segregation at all levels; the perversion of justice (laws, voting rights, etc) against Blacks; the separate but unequal educational system; and the myriads of petty restrictions designed to “keep Negroes in their place”.
I also knew a bit about lynching.  I always thought that it was nasty and illegal, but I had never known that lynching also involved dismemberment: (the cutting off of fingers and genitals, the gouging out of eyes etc.) , before death.
 I had thought that lynching was  a matter of “simple hanging”. Litwack’s book reveals that in many cases it was a matter of being  vilely tortured, and then being hung or burned alive.
That was Jim Crow.
Here I include a bit from David Remnick in the  November 2, 2009 edition of the “New Yorker”. Remnick reflects on the reaction of the brilliant scholar Cornell West to Barack Obama’s candidacy for the Presidency last year.
West campaigned for Obama in Iowa, South Carolina, Illinois, and Ohio, but he was dismayed by (Obama’s)  speech on race in Philadelphia. West thought the speech was politically “masterful,” but “intellectually, it was pretty thin.” He kept his thoughts to himself, but he was especially annoyed that Obama had said that the Reverend Wright was full of rage, because he was somehow stuck in time, still wrestling with Jim Crow, and that he equated black anger with white resentment.

“Have you seen the young brothers and sisters in prison, on the block?” West said. “I don’t mind being an angry black man in terms of having righteous indignation at injustice, given the situation right now in the country. But as a candidate  (Obama) had to distance himself.

There have been excesses of affirmative action and so forth and so on, but Jim Crow de facto is still in place. . . . Who are the major victims of that? The poor—disproportionately black and brown and red. You got to tell the truth, Barack. Don’t trot out this shit with this coded stuff!”

 And yet, West said, “I intentionally remained relatively silent. It was a very delicate moment.”


Professor Cornell West is correct.  Despite “affirmative action and so on”, Jim Crow still rules.

1 comment:

  1. Not all readers outside the USA are clueless! I don't know about the rest of Canada, but I'm quite familiar with Jim Crow :)