DSA/DL knifes my Racism article
hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 24 13:46:59 MST 2002
Note by Hunterbear:
The editorial committee of DSA's publication, Democratic Left, has knifed
an article of mine on American racism. The article was solicited and the
reason for this ["too long" -- given very belatedly] is not, frankly,
I've written and published widely for almost 50 years. This has virtually
never happened. Anyone, I should add, who is interested in my writing
and publishing history and activism [as well as my Native American
background and family, culture, or anything else] can find much
on this Personal Background Narrative page on our large Lair of Hunterbear
website. Simply go to http://www.hunterbear.org/narrative.htm
I joined the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee via a coupon in In
These Times around 1978 while on the Navajo Reservation -- and have been an
essentially consistent member of DSOC/DSA ever since. When DSOC merged with
NAM to become DSA, an Anti-Racism Commission developed which I've loyally
supported all the way through. Last Summer, when a long-standing promise by
DSA to the Anti-Racism Commission -- a special issue of Democratic Left
devoted to Commission articles -- began to gel, Duane Campbell, the
excellent Commission Chair, asked me to do a survey piece on American
racism. I was glad to do so and did. The deadline was mid-November and I
had my article in a month before that. No space limitations had been given
but I kept the piece in what's generally a very reasonable spatial frame.
The article has been viewed quite favorably by a wide range of
representative and honorably critical individuals to whom I sent it.
I learned shortly after I sent Duane Campbell the piece that this
special anti-racism issue, however, rested in the hands of the
DL Editorial Committee.
None of this is any negative reflection on Duane.
The upshot is that I've just learned [12/24] that Democratic Left
isn't publishing my article, The reason, passed on to me by Duane from its
Managing Editor, Kathy Quinn, is that "it is much too long." This is
patently limp and weak. No one got back to me with any request to shorten
it. Very ample time existed for that.
In any event, here is the article -- a survey piece on American
racism -- done from my many decades of experience in actively
dealing with racism and related poisons. It is also on our large website.
I have no way of knowing but, if any appropriate outfit wishes
to use it, please contact me.
Hunter [Hunterbear] hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Also, fortunately, a member of SPUSA, Solidarity, CCDS
AMERICAN RACISM: AN ORGANIZER'S REFLECTIONS
By Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] October 15, 2002
As a long-time social justice organizer -- and frequent professor -- I've
often found it useful to use graphic and sometimes even sanguinary examples
in trenchantly and quickly making basic points. Like, on prejudice and
discrimination, I might say, "If someone doesn't like someone, that's
prejudice -- an attitude; and if whoever shoots someone because of that
attitude, well, that's an act -- that's discrimination."
And of the closely related twin evils of racism and ethnocentrism, I'll
sometimes say, "And if whoever is doing the shooting tries to justify that
by saying the target isn't really human -- that's racism. But if it's put
on the basis that, although the victim is human, the person's culture --
total way of life -- is deemed inferior, now that's called cultural
There's still a great deal of confusion about what racism and ethnocentrism
are and aren't. They're certainly big components of that river of poison
that's so antithetical to humankind -- along with all of the other
anti-people isms -- that must come from a murky and fog-bound headwaters
full of goblins and demonic bats.
Racism -- the effort to deny the biological humanity of the victim -- is the
most dangerous nonsense that humanity has yet produced. While Anthros talk
of various racial stocks -- Negroid, Caucasoid, Australoid, Mongoloid [with
many including Native Americans as Mongoloid and others placing Natives as a
separate group]-- there is certainly, of course, extremely pervasive
consensus among Anthropologists and all scientists [and has been for many
generations], that"racial differences" are extremely skimpy, superficial --
and have nothing to do with any intelligence qualities or basic physical
abilities. Further, there is wide recognition that there is no longer any
pure or completely "full-blooded" racial category anywhere among humankind.
A weird concept that waxes a bit now and then, and wanes a great deal,
involves the presumption that specific "racial memory" and
"knowledge" are conveyed genetically. Known as "biological essentialism" or
"biological reductionism," this is quack nonsense -- generally not initially
racist in its own right -- but very much open to a downward drift or plunge
into that plain old and very dangerous super-toxin of biological fantasy.
And that's certainly happened in some instances.
Racism -- and this is often surprising to many -- is historically new. It
began to develop, and not all that vaguely, in the late 1400s and early
1500s as western Europe moved into the non-White sections of the world
seeking land and resources, ports and booty, and slaves. From the outset,
it was the basic rationalization for genocide and slavery. Very quickly
indeed, the Roman Catholic Church condemned racism in a series of Papal
pronouncements which correctly recognized the horrific nature of this
anti-human, fast developing, and thoroughly destructive doctrine. And,
of course, the Church was also very much interested in the conversion
of the non-Whites -- and a bona fide conversion always has to be predicated
on a recognition of the basic human equality of the intended convert.
These major denunciations of racism carried heavy weight in Spain, Portugal,
France. But the fast developing Protestant Reformation saw England and
Holland break with Rome -- and, quickly, those two nations came early-on to
embrace racism as national doctrine. If, as one enslaved and killed, one
also denied the basic humanity of the target victim -- you didn't have to
worry a whit about Christian strictures.
And, more than any other culture of Europe, that of England permeated the
ruling circles of the colonies north of Mexico -- and racism became national
doctrine in the eventual United States, Canada, and some other places in the
world once ruled by the Court of St. James. Neither the American Revolution
nor the Civil War overthrew that Evil in the United States. Its
economic base -- massive anti-Native genocide, far-flung Black slavery,
the theft of much of Mexico, and then the quasi-slave sharecropper system
and cheap labor generally in a racially divided anti-union atmosphere --
was paramount. So was the major role of racism in maintaining the political
power of an Anglo elite.
And the skeleton hand of racism is still, from the shadows, de facto
doctrine throughout much indeed of the U.S.A.
Cultural ethnocentrism -- essentially a "cultural superiority complex," is
as old as humankind -- and can easily run close behind racism as
extraordinarily dangerous and enduringly tangible myth. Racism, since
it seeks to deny the basic humanity of the victim, is always inherently
ethnocentric -- since, if one presumes the victim to be biologically
inferior, it certainly "follows" that his or her culture is also
But cultural ethnocentrism has flourished very widely in its own right.
Carried beyond quietly private and mildly and humanly widespread smug pride,
it's also been consistently used throughout human history to
justify genocide and seizure of land and resources -- and slavery and cheap
labor and the maintenance of elitist power generally. Sometimes
centered on theology -- "the only bona fide religion" -- it usually moves
much more broadly, trumpeting the alleged superiority of one way of life
over another. The targets of ethnocentrism are frequently, but not always,
non-White peoples and their cultures.
And here, false and dangerous terms like "primitive" and "civilized" are
thrown to the four directions. The Catholic countries -- especially Spain
and Portugal and France and later Italy -- often carried ethnocentrism
into dimensions just as deadly as racism. But, usually, if the target
victim [again generally non-White] renounced [or appeared to renounce]
his/her original culture and adopted that of the European ethnocentric,
he/she was pronounced essentially equal [or almost so!] to the oppressor.
If the victim did not renounce, hard and lethal stuff often followed fast.
And coming from many directions indeed, cultural ethnocentrism has permeated
the wounded and often outrightly tortured turf throughout the entire New
The realities, of course, are that ethnocentric terms like "primitive" and
"civilized" should be dumped and never used. Every society and its culture
has its own special origin and vision and unique history and destiny.
Linear ranking is cruelly fallacious -- and sometimes with hideous results.
The only way that any culture can be even generally evaluated is to measure
its own realities against its own ideals.
In what's called the United States, Blacks have been consistent targets of
racism. Native Americans and Chicanos and Asians have, depending on local
and regional history and circumstance, been subjected to either racism or
cultural ethnocentrism. And often, to the victims, the differences have
But the inherent drive for a full measure of liberty and bread-and-butter
and dignity is universal in the Circle of the Creation. Always, the victims
of this oppressive travail have consistently fought back with vigor and
vision and courage -- and they always will. A major epoch in all of this
was the great civil rights struggle in the United States of the latter
1950s into the 1970s. And much of that Good War -- which gathered momentum
with rapidity and force -- occurred initially in the blood-dimmed lands
down behind the Cotton Curtain.
And as it flamed, it threw its sparks into the North, East and West -- to
Let me tell you.
Springtime -- that's what I always think of -- when I recall the year 1961
when I enlisted in the Southern Movement 'way down in Mississippi for what
became six full years in the Dixie freedom campaign. And, believe me, at
that early point there were clouds, ominous clouds -- and hostile winds
and very strong ones. But there was Sun and there was great courage.
And all over the Southland, there were a great many dissident things
growing. Some came sooner, some later; but for a good long while
there were struggles of all sizes and each of them truly
great -- everywhere.
And the emergent Movement rose in shining form in those years -- especially
during the early and mid-'60s -- and out of all those local streams of
struggle came a Great River buoyed by faith and optimism in the New World
A'Coming. And it fought its now legendary battles through economic
reprisals, police and vigilante brutality, bloody swamps, murder and
And much indeed of that which had sent me into the Movement -- a young
Native person with a radical labor background from the racist Southwest --
was essentially swept away by the Southern Movement as those turbulent years
passed: the sinister forces which had given me boyhood memories of Blacks
and Indians and Chicanos murdered with immunity by open racists or via
"color of law," restaurant signs that warned us that "No Indians or Dogs
Allowed," and countless other cutting things that served as a toughening
crucible-for-struggle for myself -- and for many, many others.
And as those burning Southern sparks went up and far beyond into the North
and the East and the West -- they helped fuel older movements: Native,
Chicano, Oriental, women -- and peace. And they helped ignite newer rights
struggles -- urban ghettoes, gays, students, prisoners, handicapped, senior
citizens, mentally challenged, anti-death penalty.
For a time, there was a genuine national Movement.
And there were indeed many very positive changes which emerged nationally:
breaking the hard-lines of resistance to social change; a slowly growing
awareness -- especially among the young -- of the common humanity of all
peoples and cultures; the achievement in heretofore "closed" quarters of
the very right to organize and dissent and demonstrate; and the development
of widespread local leadership; the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 and
others; the beginnings of desegregation and integration in the lands of Old
And there was a strengthening of Native treaty rights and tribal
land/resource ownership and a broadening recognition of the
functional reality of Indian tribal national sovereignty and the
need for bona fide Native self-determination. And there was the rise of
militant and effective unionism in that most-difficult-to-organize world:
that of the farm workers in the always oppressive "factories in the fields."
Increasingly widespread minority political participation and activism
flourished; there was an end to most racial terrorism; and a basis
for interracial and democratic unionism -- for those unions willing to
display courage and commitment in the thrust to "organize the unorganized."
And there was even more. For awhile.
And many indeed began to talk determinedly and optimistically of bona fide
economic justice -- that full measure of bread and butter for all.
But the really radical visionary promise of the initial Movement of the
latter 1950s and the 1960s and into the '70s -- looking for the end of
racism and ethnocentrism and the achievement of full economic
justice -- did not, of course, materialize. The social class dichotomies
of the Southern Movement especially, joined by the even broader
integrationist/separatist debates -- all of this in the context of the
initially positive victories, much tokenism, and continuing economic
deprivation and poverty -- combined to fragment much of the
solidarity which had once characterized the Great Struggle
in its Springtime.
Behind the scenes, there were the never-ending manipulative maneuvers of
capitalism -- and those of stratospheric corporate liberalism and its more
localized appendages; the seemingly endless and increasingly hideous
War on the other side of the world; the Machiavellian usage of the
Economic Opportunity Act -- generally sprinkling just enough for the
poor to fight over and never enough to even wound the monster of poverty.
And then there was the FBI and its COINTELPRO poisoning and hatchet-jobbing.
All of these had an extraordinarily destructive impact on a myriad of
national fronts. And what they didn't kill, they often substantially
slowed -- frequently to the point of glacial pace.
And when the Movement fires died down and the pieces broke away,
and the smoke began to clear, there were -- still -- some burning
coals of continued social justice activism. Some were older, some newer.
For there are always those who, whatever the national mood and ethos
and however seemingly high the cliffs of adversity, continue
to "keep on, keeping on." These are the long distance runners in the
Save the World Business.
But now it can often be lonely.
Minority people may not be frequently shot down these days with immunity --
though it can still happen under color of law -- and there may no longer be
the "No Indians" signs on the Southwestern restaurant doors and the ugly
Woolworth lunch counter episodes awaiting those non-White. Minorities
moving into previously all-White neighborhoods in the Yankee lands are
generally no longer burned out. But poke the turf anywhere in the United
States and there's still plenty of racism and ethnocentrism right under the
grass -- just like stratified rock.
And the general economic situation is increasingly bad -- going right down
Skid Road into the waters of heavy recession, and maybe even depression. In
this grim geography of mounting crisis, there is massively disproportionate
minority sub-employment and unemployment. The never-reality of health,
education and welfare for all of those "of the fewest alternatives" --
minorities and otherwise -- is now frequently a very cruel joke.
Assaults on minority cultural programs and non-English languages are now
Federal and state and vigilante attacks on immigrants -- especially those of
darker skin -- have become legion.
And, for many of Islamic background, and emanating directly from the
sacristy of the Federal colossus itself, there is the cruelest harassment
and incarceration treatment since at least the massive Japanese-American
imprisonment [and collateral land-theft by Anglos] of sixty years ago.
Anyone who is at all naive about the extraordinary survival and resurgence
abilities of racism and cultural ethnocentrism and all of the other related
anti-people isms is either myopic or a damn fool. The proverbial
rattlesnake who, shot innumerable times, still twists and spits "until the
sun goes down" is an easy adversary -- compared to the Varieties of Human
And now, these days, hate groups are certainly moving very actively about
in the United States -- and some are steadily growing.. High nationalism,
domestic and international paranoia, "Wars" against dark-skinned peoples,
and the significantly deepening economic difficulties are among the basic
factors stimulating such virulent hate organizations as the National
Alliance, the Nationalist Movement, Identity Church, Aryan Nations, the
Order, contemporary Klans, racist skinheads et al.
And all of these, grounded on a completely irrational myriad of murky and
mercurial forces, defy easy and conventional sociological blackboard
analysis. The pathology of these outfits is certainly complex -- but there
are always certain specific consistencies: they are racist, poisonously
ethnocentric, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, usually homophobic
and frequently carry all sorts of other anti-people "isms" as well. And
they are very often violent -- increasingly so.
The old Southern Klans developed and functioned [and the few survivors still
do] in the context of the traditionally closed South and its open,
widespread poverty -- with the poor Whites being cunningly and consistently
manipulated in anti-union and racist schemes by the economic Big Mules, the
"Captains." The primary basis for the old Klans was/is economic.
These far more complex and increasingly sophisticated contemporary hate
organizations [again, National Alliance et al.] reflect in virulent fashion,
via their own sick and twisted perspective -- the great maelstrom of forces
in which modern Humanity is enmeshed.
But, when you cut down -- through it all -- right to their ultra-venomous
bone, you find, again and always, the very basic components: racism,
ethnocentrism, anti-Semitism and all the other anti-people isms. And you
find violence. And you also find, as the ultimate foundational component,
very substantial economic concerns, fear, and massive insecurities.
While all of these pose substantial threats and dangers, the one category
now most open to racist/violent recruitment -- and this has been true
for at least the past generation -- are economically precarious,
disaffected and alienated White youth: racist skinhead material.
And, of course, it isn't just active and potential hate-groupers who warrant
concern. It's a great many average American Anglos -- fundamentally decent
people in many ways, but with serious hang-ups about folks who they perceive
And, let me note, it isn't easy to be, say, one of the always few
Native Americans or often the only one -- or other minority faculty -- in
the ostensibly genteel and usually wicked Groves of Academe where virtually
everyone piously denies in proper prose being racist or ethnocentric.
Approaches? Well, as always: Keep on organizing, keep on fighting. That's
Organizing -- genuinely effective people-oriented organizing --
is always hard, tough work. It means getting and keeping people
together for action. It's tedious and frequently mundane.
Sometimes it's dangerous. But it's absolutely
critical. And every movement -- Native rights, radical, labor, civil
rights, and all others reaching to the Sun -- is built on the wreckage and
the remains and the hard lessons of its predecessors.
Some specific things? Widespread exposure of issues and multi-faceted
education -- certainly. Arrest and prosecution for hate crimes -- for sure.
Hard-fighting human rights action -- always. But very basically, racially
and ethnically integrated grassroots socio-economic justice and advocacy
organizations, wide-spread public works programs
and other related approaches [e.g., the old voluntary Civilian Conservation
Corps], the push for full employment with living wage and much more,
and full health care and a decent education, and militant and democratic
and pervasive unionization.
And, most fundamentally of all, a democratic and egalitarian society
organized to ensure that a full measure of bread and butter and a full
measure of respect and liberty are accorded every human -- everywhere.
And now, putting on my Indian blanket and viewing the whole panorama from
the perspective of a Native who is also a perennial outdoor mountain and
When all is said and done, and one sits on the edge of a 'way up ridge or
high mesa and looks out at the geographical contours of the Earth, you can
see that most of these blend smoothly and logically together. And so it is
with the contours of humankind and all
its varied ways of life. These, seen
from a high vantage point, flow for the most part into and with one another.
The dichotomy of working class / employing class is -- no matter how diverse
the various peoples involved -- the great basic river-thrust. Of the
ultimate outcome, genuine socialist democracy for all of the many colors and
cultures, I certainly have no doubt.
Human commonality demands Justice -- and will get it. And I know that Spring
will come again.
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] Micmac / St. Francis Abenaki / St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings. Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]
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