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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is Jim Crow A Conservative?

Suppose you want to hold down another race in your country and suppose that the old ways of slavery and Jim Crow are no longer considered acceptable. The change is because discrimination and segregation are no longer in style for these methods have been outed as saying more about the victimizer than the victim. What do you do? You could use a proxy who not only does the dirty work for you, this person uses bleach to make what is filthy look as white and pure as the driven snow. Who is this middleman? According to Michelle Alexander (it is essential to click here to listen to her argument in this matter), this proxy is our Criminal Justice System.

What use to happen under Jim Crow was this. Blacks were held down and demoted to 2nd class citizenry. They were easily arrested and thrown into prison so that their labor could be exploited. Those who weren't in prison were demoted through the denial of rights, such as the right to vote, the denial of access to public services and places to live, denial of employment, denial of the right to serve as jurors. And where there was no denial, there was separation that stigmatized Blacks. This punitive special treatment of Blacks was solely based on race. This occurred during a time when today's old-timers regarded our country as being more of a Christian nation partially because our sexual mores were far more conservative.

How does today's Jim Crow II work according to person who coined the term? You start with prison and the inequitable enforcement of laws involved in the "War On Drugs." That is, instead of using procedures such as Stop And Frisk or police sweeps fairly on the whole population, certain races and economic class are targeted. Arrests from these procedures result in felony convictions and lengthy prison sentences due to harsh, mandatory sentencing requirements. Then discrimination continues after a person is released from jail because their felony conviction can prevent them from obtaining professional licenses, jobs, the opportunity to serve on juries, assistance for education, access to public housing and even food stamps. And in many states, convicted felons are forever denied the right to vote.

And just when you thought it couldn't get worse, you run into Chris Hedges who sees Michelle Alexander's description of those who are guilty of crimes and raises that by listing how those who are poor and belong to a minority, that is those who are legally vulnerable because of restricted access to services, have been falsely accused and even framed by the authorities (click here and there).

But this nightmare for those who are targets of the system and utter shame for the rest of us is still missing parts of the story. People working in the prison system or privately owned prisons are profiting from this new Jim Crow.

Jim Crow is more than just about the horrible persecution of Blacks that became a way of controlling Blacks after slavery was done away with. The concept of Jim Crow is that of relegating a group to 2nd class citizenry, or even, to use a German term from WWII, 'untermenschen.' And certainly there are varying degrees to which this dehumanizing of others who are different occurs. The differences in degree, however, share the same basic concept of demoting a group to a lower rank in society. And that is why we need to pay careful attention to another Jim Crow that is rising like the morning sun.

What is this other new Jim Crow? Consider the different states that are discussing or voting on legislation that would allow businesses to deny public services and even employment to gays so long as the denying of services or employment has religious reasons (click here and there). Certainly this Jim Crow is not as severe as what minorities who live in poverty are facing, but it is a demotion in citizenry. And we really need to think about the ramifications here.

The possible results of allowing just one business to deny public services to gays for religious reasons is that other businesses could follow suit so that gays could find access to public services impossible for either all or many. This is especially true in a Capitalist economy where it is only the private sector that provides these services. But it isn't just the denial of services that is involved here. It is the stigmatization of gays that follows.

Now a similarity is shared between the different instances where some varying degree of Jim Crow is introduced. That similarity involves a previous expansion of rights for the target group. The first Jim Crow followed the elimination of slavery and Reconstruction. Jim Crow II came on the heels of gains made by the Civil Rights movement for minorities. And this possible emerging anti-gay Jim Crow follows gains in rights such as the right to be joined in a same-sex marriage. In other words, Jim Crow is a reactionary movement against those who have come closer to being recognized as equals in society.

That Conservatism has played a significant role in the life of the three forms of Jim Crow mentioned here is undeniable. Russell Moore, the President Of Ethics And Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (click here), admits this regarding the first Jim Crow, though we should hasten to say that he also believes that Conservative Christianity helped undo it too. We should also note that not all who favored segregation were conservatives or were from the South. Northern Liberals also played a significant role to ushering in Jim Crow. 

The second Jim Crow also has a conservative influence. As Michelle Alexander has stated, Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs, the Get Tough on Crime movement, and the Law and Order Movement, the latter was, in part, a response to the Civil Rights Movement, are enabling Jim Crow II. Remember that our Criminal Justice System is being used as a proxy to advance the 2nd Jim Crow. These movements have been strongly supported by Conservatives with their support for Ronald Reagan though their support for his War on Drugs has started to vacillate. Alexander points out that the latter of the three movements appeals to voters who supported Reagan and who were considered to be part of the Southern Strategy in winning presidential elections.

Finally, the third Jim Crow is a Conservative Christian reaction both to gains in rights for gays, such as for same-sex marriage, and to legal problems for Christian businesspeople who tried to refuse providing public services to same-sex weddings. The laws being proposed in around six states go well beyond providing Conservative Christians legal protection for refusing to provide public services for same-sex weddings.

Historically speaking, Conservatives do not have a monopoly on participating in our country's Jim Crow movements and certainly not all Conservative support Jim Crow. But there are some Conservative personality traits that does lend Conservatives to supporting discriminatory systems. 

The first personality trait is the conservative emphasis on authoritarianism--this is especially true for Conservative Christians. The corollary for authoritarianism is hierarchical relationships in society and, because usually those advocating authority and hierarchy are doing so for their own group, tribalism. The bend to authoritarianism usually demands a high degree of respect and obedience from others and this is particularly applied to supporting harsh punishment for those who don't fall into line. 

Hierarchical relationships in society, when mixed with tribalism, lends itself toward a continuum with domination at one end to some kind of paternalism to group privilege on the other end. Conservative Christians have been looking to maintain at least a privileged place for themselves and heterosexual marriage over gays and same-sex marriage in society.

The second personality trait is the conservative reluctance to accept change.  Conservatives tend to work to preserve the superior status of the old, which they call tradition, over the new. So some Conservatives worked to maintain White privilege and its higher position in society following the Civil War, which the period of Reconstruction started to challenge. This also occurred during the Civil Rights movement when Blacks were gaining more freedom and political power. As with marriage, the antiquity of the primacy of heterosexual marriage has been a staple in Conservative Christian apologetics for keeping the old status quo and making same-sex marriages difficult, if not impossible, to obtain and maintain.

In the end, if Conservatives, especially Conservative Christians, do not wish to be saddled with an old stereotype image of being tyrannical and oppressive, they will have to spend more time facing the truth about themselves. But more importantly, their desire to dominate others, or at least to have the upper hand and privilege, must be exorcised. For not only does this desire discredit Conservatives, it almost always leads to serious conflict either now  or later. We should note here that conflicts always involve collateral damage and sometimes lead to wars. And so the desire to dominate and have a superior position over others should be despised and be seen as repulsive. 



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