Posts Tagged ‘Clothing’

Secular Talk on the Alabama Textbook Defending Slavery

August 18, 2016

This is another fascinating video from the atheist/secularist news programme, Secular Talk, commenting on an Alabama school history book that taught students in the state for a generation that slavery was beneficial to the enslaved Black population. Clyde Smith was a high school student in 1971, and he posted online pictures of the textbook used in the state schools. It was called History for Schools by Charles Grayson Somersell, and was taught from 1955 to well into the ’70s. The book told its young readers that slaves were given good quality clothes, and were better off than contemporary free labourers, White or Black. They were given the best medical care that the times could offer by their masters. The book didn’t mention the regular whippings, nor the frequent rape of enslaved women by their masters, who then did not take care of the children – a fact that is notorious to Black Americans. Kulinski makes the point that slaves weren’t viewed as people, quite literally, and were forced to work long hours. The textbook also explicitly stated that ‘Slavery was the earliest form of social security in the United States’, and states that it was illegal for a master to emancipate a slave after he was too old to work. Kulinski points out that this meant that elderly slaves remained in chains, and slaves were worked until they died.

Kulinski makes the very good point that this shows the basic, unspoken beliefs of Whites in the Southern US, the kind of ideas they express only among themselves in private. It also explains why so many of them were shocked and outraged by demands to remove the Confederate flag. To them, rather than the symbol of evil and oppression, it represented a good and beneficial order, which looked after its enslaved workers and gave them excellent healthcare, in contrast to the poverty of free workers in the North.

Finally, Kulinski explains why he’s talking about this now: because the battle is never over. You have to explain and keep explaining certain basic points about human dignity and freedom, because to people raised on this propaganda, they were the good guys and slavery was not necessarily an evil system.

I put this video up because it boggled my mind how anyone could approve of slavery, or present it as essentially beneficial as late as the 1970s. it explains some of the racism in the Deep South, as well as some of the other weird and bizarre attitudes held by the American Right. I did wonder how far the equation of social security and healthcare with slavery explained the bizarre attitude of the Libertarians that the welfare state is also a form of slavery. There was a prize exchange on American television from Congress when Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul were talking about universal state healthcare for Americans. Rand Paul, a Libertarian Republican, started spouting nonsense that state healthcare reduced doctors and other employees to slaves, and that they would be woken up in the middle of the night by people breaking down their front door to get them to treat patients. This was done when the two were taking the testimony of doctors involved in the state medicare programme. Sanders, who wants a universal healthcare like the NHS, dispatched that piece of stupidity by simply asking one of the doctors if she’d ever had this happen to her. Obviously, she hadn’t. In Britain doctors, surgeons, nurses and other employees are paid employees with all the rights of free people. They do have to treat patients, but no-one’s going to break down their doors except in emergencies, and they are perfectly free to leave the profession. Unfortunately, their status, pay and working conditions is declining, thanks to Jeremy Hunt and the Tories, who wish to destroy the state system and replace it with private enterprise.

As for the conditions slaves endured, the Alabama text books is right on some points. Defenders of slavery in both America and Britain pointed out that slaves were frequently treated better, and enjoyed better working conditions, than the ‘factory slaves’, the free workers employed in the factories of the northern US and in Britain. They’re probably right. Factory workers worked long hours in appalling conditions for miserable pay, and in some ways their condition did tremble on the edge of true slavery. Tony Robinson in an episode of Time Team devoted to industrial archaeology pointed out – with justifiable anger – how factory masters purchased children from orphanages to use as young workers. Also, when the British were seeking to improve the conditions of slaves in the Caribbean in the 1820s, they were also forced to pass legislation forbidding masters from freeing slaves who were too old to work as a way of avoid the expense of maintaining them. This was a period when the British government was passing legislation demanding that slaves were properly fed and clad.

This does not, however, make slavery any better. Slaves were worked to death. There was a debate in the 17th and 18th centuries over whether it was more profitable to work a slave to death quickly, and so make a massive profit quickly, but then have to go to the expense of buying a new slave; or whether it was better to give them moderate amounts of work and keep them working steadily so that they lived longer.

They were not given good quality clothing. The slave laws provided that the men should receive yearly a pair of drawers – that is, underpants – and the women a petticoat or shift. But that’s it. Now much did depend on the attitude of the slave masters. Archaeologists examining the material of the slaves on Ben Franklin’s estate found that the slaves there had a very high standard of living. They were well-fed, had fine crockery, and played instruments like the violin. But there were no doubt many more cases where the slaves were given very little. Visitors to the Caribbean remarked on the enslaved workers labouring naked in the fields. And Kulinski is right to talk about the flogging and sexual exploitation, though he passes over some of the other, more extreme and vile forms of punishment that existed, such as mutilation.

It’s a fascinating, grim insight into the mindset that was instilled in a generation of southern US schoolchildren, and which is still being regurgitated by Republicans across the US today.

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The Guardian and the ‘Femsplaining’ of Corbyn

June 7, 2016

On Sunday Mike posted up a piece critiquing an article in the Guardian by Catherine Bennett attacking Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, she opined, was purely interested in expanding his power base at the expense of winning elections. She also claimed that he was a nasty male chauvinist, who passed over women for important cabinet and political posts, like Ed Miliband and Gordon Brown.

Mike described the attack as ‘femsplaining’, a word he coined as the female equivalent to ‘mansplaining’, which is when a man gives a bloking, and usually spurious explanation of an issue. Mike pointed out that the article really wasn’t so much a feminist critique of Corbyn so much as a hit piece by his Blairite rivals in the Labour party.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/05/corbyn-femsplained-as-a-blairite-tries-to-put-women-off-the-labour-leader/

The article wasn’t the most bizarre attack on Corbyn from a feminist/ gender politics slant the Groan has published recently. A few weeks ago, it printed a letter from a reader, Val Walsh, who accused Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in America of having suspect and reactionary attitudes to gender and the politics of sexual identity based purely on the fact that they dressed in a style reminiscent of mid-20th century men’s fashions. The letter was so bizarre, it got into the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ section of Private Eye.

Marsh wrote:

Hadley Freeman [29 March] overlooks a key feature of the outfits sported by leftwing male politicians, such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. These represent 1950s ‘manly’ dressing: loose, shapeless and generally dull; designed to make sure men were not mistaken for women or seen as feminine, and at the same time meant to function as both camouflage (of the body) and as sufficiently ‘bloke’. the style pre-dates the impact of young gay men and gay-influenced heterosexual men who started (a long time ago) wearing clothes that fit (not necessarily tightly). Bernie and Jeremy’s outfits are surely a size of two bigger than necessary, and not so much retro, but simply the habit of older white heterosexual men of carrying on a before, as if 1950s western manliness was an exemplar, and pretending their embodiment is not party to their politics.

This tells us they have given little thought to their own sexual identity ande its part in the new ‘old’ politics in 2016. They lack awareness of the problematic part played by hetero-patriarchal masculinities in the politics of left or right, and in this continuity they identify themselves with that old hegemonic masculinity…. [continues] (Private Eye 15-28 April 2016, p. 35).

It’s clearly a bonkers piece, and is an example of someone projecting their own prejudices onto the person they’re writing about, rather than a genuinely reasoned analysis. Bernie Sanders is a case in point. I don’t know whether Sanders has given much thought to his sexuality. It’s immaterial. Sanders is probably the most left-wing of the Democrats, and he was supporting gay rights long before many other people, as far back as the 1970s. That’s just about forty years before Hillary finally decided she was in favour of gay marriage. As for Jeremy Corbyn, I honestly don’t know what he stance on sexuality and gender is, but I think I can guess. If he’s left-wing, ‘Old Labour’, then it’s almost certain that he also supported feminism and gay rights. This was, after all, the stance of the GLC in London as a whole, not just ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone. Also, a few weeks ago Private Eye joked about an article in one of the papers which described Corbyn’s hobbies. One of these was baking bread. Not exactly the most macho of pastimes.

Bennett’s and the other faux-feminist critiques of Sanders and Corbyn constitute attempts to appeal to female voters by smearing their left-wing male rivals as misogynists and sexists in order to try to cover up their preferred candidates’ right-wing, corporate stance as ‘establishment’ candidates. Hillary Clinton’s supporters’ denunciations of Sanders are evidence of that. They decided that Bernie and his supporters must be sexist, because they were standing against Hillary, who was a woman. Clinton is also very much a part of the corporate establishment, a very rich woman, whose policies reflect the interest of the corporate donors financing her against the interests of ordinary, regular blue-collar America. Clinton’s response, when this is pointed out, is to claim that as she’s a woman, she can’t be a member of the establishment. This is complete twaddle, as she manifestly is.

The same with the Blairites and Corbyn. The Blairites represented the ‘aspirational’ working class, and attempted to appeal to them and middle class swing voters. They stood for Thatcherite privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. They began the privatisation of the NHS, which has accelerated under Lansley, Cameron and the Tories. They have absolutely nothing to offer the working class except misery and poverty.

But they’re determined to hang on to power, and the Guardian’s giving them space because while it’s liberal, it supports the Lib Dems, not Labour. And it’s not a working class paper. I posted up a piece yesterday quoting Mark Hollingworth’s The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship on the Groan’s extremely affluent readership back in 1979 and ’81, and its need to appeal to these affluent readers and potential advertisers. That was over thirty years ago, but I don’t think anything has changed since. If anything, it’s going to get worse because of the massive losses the Guardian is suffering.

As for Bennett and Hillary Clinton, their spurious feminist attacks on their rivals disguise the fact that they really don’t support or have anything to offer working class women. It’s been pointed out that female workers are those, who have suffered the most from the government’s austerity programmes. They predominately work in the sectors of the economy that have seen the most cuts and lay-offs. They also suffer disproportionately from some of the welfare cuts introduced by the Thatcherites, such as to child benefit.

Ultimately, Hillary and Bennett don’t represent the aspirations of all women. They represent the desires and ambitions of elite, affluent women to succeed, while making sure that working class women, along with the rest of their class, are kept firmly in their place and don’t rock the corporate, establishment boat.