The Fire Next Time

Part of my mission civilisatrice with the young Dinos is teaching them about privilege. White privilege, male privilege, class privilege, ableist privilege – they has it. We have it, minus the male part for Mouse and me, and it is our bounden duty to name it honestly and not treat it as the natural order of things or a reflection of any merit on our parts.

I try to fill the holes in my knowledge of history, philosophy, religion, and literature so I’m working from a more complete perspective than the canon I grew up with gave me. Most of my reading to this end winds up being whatever the “new books” section of the Alexandria City Library yields in the way of books about the history of social and economic policies in the US and books on African-American history, culture, and literary traditions. Luckily the library has been celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Alexandria Library Sit-In, so it’s been Black History Month all year and the pickings are rich. A few weeks ago, I found Negroes and The Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms and Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement. My haul from Thursday night included The Other Blacklist: The African-American Cultural Left of the 1950’s by Mary Helen Washington.

(Long-time paleontologists will know that I have been moving steadily toward the left of the political spectrum over the last couple of decades.  I started out as a mainstream liberal with some libertarian/populist tendencies, so I was already left of center to begin with. I do not discuss my political party affiliation online, but I do feel comfortable saying that I consider the two major political parties in the US interchangeable and almost equally conservative in their platforms. Anything with “cultural left” in the title is like catnip for me.)

Reader, The Other Blacklist has an academic feel to it, with lots of citations and thesis statements. It is not a speedy read. But it made my brain explode. Until Professor Washington explicitly linked Cold War anti-communist political philosophy (self-reliance, salvation by individual works, and refusal to recognize systemic bias or systems of oppression as anything other than individual psychological aberrations) with the FBI’s well-known surveillance and harassment of civil rights activists,* it never dawned on me that our current political landscape is dominated by that same philosophy. I was reminded of an Alternet article about how the self-help industry thrives in a cultural climate where individuals have ever fewer guarantees of their rights while corporations are treated as persons.

Remember the 1990’s when we talked about how Yugoslavia exploded into civil war because their strong central government and relative consumer freedoms weren’t accompanied by actual self-determination or free speech? I feel kind of sick now.

 

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