Posts Tagged ‘Robert E. Lee’

The Trump Statues: Nudity, Castration and the Punishment of Slaves

April 9, 2018

I sent this piece below off to the left-wing American website and magazine, Counterpunch. It’s a reply to a previous article they put up about the satirical statues of Trump, which appeared when he was campaigning for the presidency. These showed him naked, with a small penis and no testicles. One of their female writers compared this humiliating portrayal with the way nudity has been frequently historically used to punish women. She also cited the Fantasy series Game of Thrones and one of the punishments inflicted on a female character in that. But the statues’ genital deficiencies point to another way nudity was also used. Along with castration, it was also used in South American colonial society to punish captured runaway slaves. The Statues’ portrayal of Trump thus seems very fitting, given his aggressive masculinity and support for racists and White supremacists.

The magazine hasn’t used the article, and I don’t think they ever will. So here it is.

Nudity, Emasculation and the Humiliation of Slaves:
The Hidden Politics of the Anti-Trump Statues

Remember those statues of Trump which appeared in various cities across America about a year or so ago, when the Orange Generalissimo of reality TV was strutting about stadiums across America trying to get people to elect him? These were life-size statues of him, naked, with a tiny penis and no testicles. Today, Wednesday 28th March, the British papers reported that the last remaining one of a set that wasn’t destroyed, was put up for sale at Julien’s Auction in New Jersey. The statues were a subversive comment on a man, whose personal behaviour and style of government is one of aggressive masculinity and misogyny. One of the female contributors to Counterpunch published a piece a year or so ago when these statues first appeared. Written from a feminist perspective, it commented on this sculptural humiliation of the future president, and in particular its similarity to the methods used in the past to humiliate women. The statues’ nudity recalled the way errant women were also humiliated by being paraded naked.

It’s true that public nudity has been most used to humiliate women, but it wasn’t exclusively so. Men have also been humiliated on occasion by being exhibited naked by their enemies. In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, nudity was a badge of shame, and there’s a plaque from ancient Egypt showing a group of Asian prisoners being led, naked, by their Egyptian captors. And during the 18th century heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, public nudity and mutilation, including castration were used to humiliate enslaved Africans, who ran away or otherwise resisted their White masters. The slave societies of the New World was gripped by the fear of slave resistance, which itself took various forms. Enslaved Africans revolted in armed rebellions. They also ran away from their masters, or confined themselves to less dramatic forms of resistance, such as eating dirt, sabotage, or finding ways not to perform, or perform badly, their allotted work. To combat this, the slave masters punished their slaves with a variety of brutal measures, ranging from whipping to execution. These included various forms of mutilation, including castration.

This fear intensified during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the British and other European colonial nations feared that the slaves would follow Toussaint L’Ouverture and Black Jacobins of Haiti, and rise up against their masters to found free Black states. And so they resorted to increasingly brutal methods to discourage them. In one British Caribbean colony, one enslaved man was forced to sit on a cannon as it was fired, which understandably left him shaken and terrified. A female planter was also awarded five pounds by the local legislative assembly in another British colony, for having her male slaves castrated as a deterrent to further resistance.

It wasn’t just in the British colonies that emasculation was used to crush rebellious slaves. The Spanish slave code provided that runaway male slaves should be punished through the amputation of their member, and then exhibited naked to the public, a further punishment intended to humiliate them further after the horror of the mutilation itself, as well as dire warning to others also considering absconding. And it is this punishment, which the Trump statues, with their nudity and lack of genital endowment most closely resemble.

As a caricature of the President, it’s very appropriate indeed. Not only is Trump keen to project aggressive masculinity and sexuality, his regime is also notorious for its racism and connection to White supremacism. Trump tried and failed to pass legislation banning Muslim immigration from specific countries, largely those where he has no business dealings. He’s promised to build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Latino/as getting into the country illegally. And his supporters and staff have included members of the Alt Right, determined to preserve White dominance as America rapidly becomes racially diverse. One of the most notorious examples of this racist support base came when Richard Spencer, the founder and leader of the Alt Right, greeted Trump’s election at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan room with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ and a raised right arm in something that looked very much like the Fascist salute, despite his claims to the contrary later.

And some right-wing extremists in the Republicans have gone further. Not only do they defend slavery, but some of them have advocated it, or something close to it. A few years ago, one Republican politician recommended that illegal Mexican immigrants should be held captive by the state, and forced to work on public works. This is forced labour, which comes under the UN definition of slavery. Michelle Bachman, during her 2011 presidential campaign recommended a biography of General Robert E. Lee by J. Stephen Wilkins, which blamed the ‘radical abolitionists’ of the north for starting the Civil War, claimed that Southern slave masters treated their slaves with respect, and gave them enough food and personal possession to live a ‘comfortable but spare’ existence. The book even claimed that American slaves were fortunate in being brought out of their own, pagan homelands, and their godless brutality to Christian America. The Victorian English explorer, Sir Richard Burton, made the same argument nearly 250 years ago in his Wanderings in West Africa. It was also repeated by a number of Trump supporters during his presidential campaign back in 2016.

The disgraced former anchor of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, also repeated it, claiming that the slaves, who worked on the White House were well treated and fed. The Texas school board also tried indoctrinating their children with a carefully sanitized view of it. Back in 2015 one Texas mom was horrified to find that her child’s geography textbook described the enslaved people ripped from their homes in Africa to toil in American plantations as ‘workers’. The protestors, who turned up to demonstrate against the removal of the statue to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, also argued that slavery had been beneficial. And some Libertarians also resent anti-slavery legislation. One confused Libertarian caller to Sam Seder’s internet news show back in 2013 also tried arguing that the anti-slavery laws were a tyrannical infringement of his liberty. Why? Because they deprived him of his right to own slaves. It’s an argument which shows how dangerous and demented at least some Libertarians are.

This shows there’s considerable nostalgia for slavery amongst some Republican supporters, who were very encouraged by Trump’s election and his racist policies. It’s true that during the 18th century some paternalistic slave masters, like George Washington, were concerned to treat their slaves well. Archaeologists working on Benjamin Franklin’s estate found that many of his slaves had very good material possessions. Some had fine china, and played the violin, for example. But for others, the reality was grinding poverty and the tyranny of the whip. In the British Caribbean, the slave codes provided only that male slaves should be given a pair of drawers, and women shifts once a year. Even in the 19th century visitors to these colonies remarked on seeing slaves toiling naked in the fields. As for benefiting from being taken to America, many Africans instead naturally desperately yearned to return to their homes. Some threw themselves into the sea on their arrival in the Caribbean in attempts to swim back to Africa. And if they couldn’t return to Africa, some of them dreamed of recreating an African society in the New World. In one late sixteenth century rebellion in the British Caribbean, the slaves planned on creating a new social order based on the type of monarchies, with a king and queen mother, they had known in Africa.

The subversive statues of Trump not only comment on and invert his projected image of potent masculine leadership. They also attack and undermine the racism at the heart of his administration by subjecting him in image to the humiliation meted out to runaways in the Latin south. Since then, the statues have nearly all vanished, while unfortunately their real-life model remains at large in his occupancy of the White House.

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Cenk Uygur Demolishes Confederate Mythology around General Lee

November 5, 2017

Cenk Uygur is the main man of the American left-wing internet news show, The Young Turks. He’s said in the past that when he was at College he used to be a Republican, until he woke up to how harmful and vicious their policies were. He has also said that he was unaware just how brutal and horrific segregation and White supremacy in the South was until he visited a museum of Black history in the South, and found out from there just how absolutely horrific and barbaric the abuse and lynching of Black Americans actually was. He is passionately and very loudly anti-racist, and in this clip from his news show, he very loudly and angrily demolishes not just the myths surrounding the Confederate general Robert E. Lee, but also the racist mentality amongst the Republicans that still claims that Lee should be respected and promotes a whole series of myths about the South and how they were the real victims of what they term the War of Northern Aggression.

The occasion for his tirade was the appearance on Fox News of Trump’s chief of staff and foreign policy expert, John Kelly. Fox is outraged at the taking down of statues to Confederate generals and politicians up and down the country. After asking Kelly questions about contemporary issues and Trump’s policies towards them, they then asked for his views about General Lee, whose statue and commemorative plaque in Washington were also coming down.

Kelly replied that Lee was a decent and honourable man. He defended his state because at the time, the states were considered more important than the Union. One’s first loyalty was to their state, then to the US as a whole. And the Civil War was provoked by the North’s refusal to compromise.

Uygur points out that all of this is a lie. States weren’t more important than the Union, as that was the whole point of the Civil War. He also shows a whole series of tweets from the Black activist, Ta-Nehisi Coates correcting some of the deliberate falsehoods Fox and Kelly spouted.

Firstly, in stark contrast to Kelly’s comments, the North repeatedly tried to reach a compromise with the South. For example, they compromised with the South over the three-fifths rule, in which enslaved Blacks in the South were considered three-fifths of a human being. This was to allow the South to retain its power to elect presidents based on the size of their populations, while at the same time denying them the right to vote. Lincoln himself wasn’t an abolitionist. He just wanted to limit slavery, not abolish it. But that wasn’t good enough for the South. And there wasn’t just one compromise, but a series of compromises, such as the Missouri Compromise and so on. Finally, in order to hold the Union together, Lincoln offered a compromise in which only ten per cent of the population of the South had to swear allegiance to the Union. This was rejected as well.

And then there were the reparations payments Lincoln offered to the slave-owners to compensate them the loss of their property. Uygur states very definitely that he’s glad this was rejected and the country went to war, as this meant that the slaves were freed and the slaveowners got nothing.

He also takes the opportunity to demolish the myth going round the South that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It was about ‘states rights’. States’ rights to what? Slavery. The leaders of the Confederacy made no secret that they were going to war to defend slavery. He quotes one Southern politician as stating that he wanted to invade Central America, in order to extend the blessings of slavery there, and also export it to the North despite their aggression.

He then goes on to tackle the argument that the people back then didn’t realise how evil slavery was. Quoting Ta-Nehisis Coates, he argues that the majority of people in South knew all too well how evil slavery was. This was the enslaved Black population. But no-one asked them, as they didn’t count.

As for Lee himself, the myth is that he personally didn’t believe in slavery, but was forced to defend it through his loyalty to his home state. This is rubbish. Lee believed very much in slavery, as Uygur goes on to show. Not only did Lee own slaves himself, but he also inherited them. However, it was a condition of the will that those slaves should be freed. Lee actually went to court and contested the terms of the will, so that he could keep them in slavery. When his army invaded Pennsylvania, Lee enslaved a number of free Blacks, and brought them back with him as booty to the Confederacy.

And he was personally brutal to his own slaves. When two of his slaves were recaptured after escaping, Lee either personally beat them himself, or ordered his overseer to ‘lay it on well’. Not content with the suffering inflicted by the whipping, according to one of the recaptured slaves, he ordered that their backs should be washed in brine.

Uygur makes the point that, rather than being men of honour and integrity, the Confederate leaders were traitors to America, and it’s very, very good indeed that they lost a war, which ended slavery without giving the slave-owners any compensation for their losses. He fully supports the taking down of the Confederate statuary, and states that if Fox doesn’t like living in modern America, they should leave. But in stark opposition to what supporters of the Confederacy say in the South, it is not northerners, who don’t understand their history, it’s those in the South, who believe in and propagate these myths.

Chicago University Bans Alt-Lite Speaker for Incitement to Violence

May 18, 2017

There’s a grim piece by Simon Murdoch on Hope Not Hate’s site today, reporting that DePaul University in Chicago has cancelled an event by Gavin McInnes because of a speech McInnes gave at one of the unis in New York urging his supporters to use violence against left-wing protestors. The article also discusses the formation of a militant ‘Alt-Knight’ organisation by another member of the same far-right grouping, which also shows how the Alt-Right and its ‘soft’ counterpart, the Alt-Lite, are becoming just another form of the Klan.

McInnes is the co-founder of Vice and a host on Rebel Media, a far right platform. In his speech at New York University, McInnes told his audience

“We’re the only ones fighting these [protesters] and I want you to fight them, too […] When they go low, go lower. Mace them back, throw bricks at their head. Let’s destroy them.”

Last year, 2016, he also founded Proud Boys, a fraternal order for men, ‘who are unapologetic about creating the modern world.’ Initiation into the organisation consists of four stages, the last of which is a physically violence confrontation with the Left. McInnes told Metro that this means involvement in ‘a major fight for the cause’, saying “You get beat up, kinck [sic] the crap out of antifa”.

He also told Metro that “not only would [he] love to speak” with those who protest in disagreement of his views, but that he will also “get violent and beat the f–k out of everybody”.

Members of the Proud Boys were involved in the violence at Berkeley, which erupted when Anne Coulter was due to speak there. The order also has a more ‘militant’ wing, founded by Kyle Chapman, who goes by the name of ‘Based Stick Man’, with McInnes’ approval. This calls itself the ‘Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights’. Chapman himself was arrested after fighting a member of the public at a rally in Berkeley. Before that, he had also been arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon at a Trump rally.

http://hopenothate.org.uk/2017/05/18/rebel-media-hosts-speech-banned-statements-encouraging-violence/

It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear members of the far-right advocate violence against their opponents on the Left. It’s always been there, ever since Hitler founded the SA and then SS as the official paramilitary wings of the Nazi party, the squadristi of Fascist Italy, and the ‘Biff Boys’ of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Quite apart from the skinhead boot boys, who form the thuggish hard core of post-War Fascism in Britain, North America and Europe.

As for the Alt-Knights, the Hope Not Hate article states that it refers back to the ‘Alt-Lite’ movement of which McInnes and Chapman are members. Well, perhaps. But it also seems to be a nod to a much older, violently racist organisation: the KKK. The Klan’s full title, or at least one of them, was ‘The Invisible Empire of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan’.

The Alt-Right has been described as the Klan with keyboards. Now it seems that the similarities with the KKK are becoming ever stronger and more blatant every day. The other day The Young Turks commented on a torchlight vigil organised by supporters of the Confederacy to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee by the town council of Charlottesville, Virginia. Among those protesting was Richard Spencer, the White nationalist, anti-Semitic founder of the Alt-Right. The protestors chanted ‘You will not replace us’, ‘Russia is our friend’, and ‘Blood and Soil’.

The presenters of the video, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, state that the comments by the protestors that it wasn’t a racist issue, is contradicted by Spencer’s presence. They also demolish attempts by the supporters of Confederacy, who have tried arguing instead that the American Civil War wasn’t about slavery. They point out that instead of northern liberals not understanding history, it’s really southern Conservatives, as if you look at everything the leaders and defenders of the Confederacy wrote, they made it clear that it was about defending slavery.

This is a sharp refutation of some of the propaganda coming out of organisations like the Von Mises Institute, named after another Austrian free trade economist, who scarpered to America to escape the Nazis, while sharing their hostility to socialism and the organised working class. This outfit has also tried to argue that the Civil War was really about trade tariffs between the South and the rest of the US.

What they don’t comment on, but which makes the racist overtones of the protest very clear, is one of the slogans the crowd chanted. ‘Blood and soil’, or ‘Blut und Boden’ in German, was one of the watchwords of the Nazi party. It was based on the pseudoscientific doctrine that national characteristics were determined by the environment and landscape of a people’s racial homeland.

Observers of Trump’s rise last year remarked on the Fascistic violence that broke out against people of colour and left-wing protestors at the Orange Generalissimo’s rallies. Trump himself in one speech actually urged his supporters to beat his opponents, promising to pay their legal bills if they did.
This development shows just how deeply rooted is violence in the far-right organisations that back him. And they also show how close these organisations are to the older traditions of violent racism in Nazi and Fascist paramilitary organisations and the weird regalia and ritual of the KKK.