Stop Fucking Whining, White People


Caine posted a bit about The Talk [affinity]. If you don’t want your day tainted by anger now is a good time to stop reading. This piece is going to start cheefully enough but end as dark as you can get.

When I did my drive out to Chicago last month, I was catching up on some NPR podcasts and they had a link to an interview with a woman whose voice was like melted butter running down pancakes. And she played some banjo for us. And she explained that the banjo was a black people’s instrument.

Rhiannon Giddens’ banjo collection, showing evolution from African roots

I did not know that; I thought it was an Irish workers’ instrument – either way, it all became part of the fusion that resulted in Nashville country. The Irish and Hungarian and Chinese workers had it pretty rough – but the black slaves had it worse: generations were bred in captivity. Indentured servitude is bad, but breeding people so you can have more hands for your fields … comes with consequences that are disgusting. When I think about the way the US rained high explosive on Germany during WWII, and nuclear fire on Japan, then deliberately destroyed their cultures – I can’t help but wish that the northern states had had the fortitude to do that last piece to the American south. Sound a bit harsh?

“The Talk” is a horrible talk to have to have with a child, unquestionably. But there was an earlier talk that went something like, “baby, my sweet child, oh lord, our owner is selling you.” Whenever I think about this, I am amazed at the patience and kindness of black Americans that they are not plotting right now to kill us all. Given current American politics, I would be.

Rhiannon Giddens’ goddess-voice sings of the most horrible things, beauty and nightmares twined together with memory. I don’t understand how I can hear it as “entertainment” but it’s educational. Like watching Nacht Und Nebel was, when I was a kid in high school learning about The Holocaust. Giddens’ beautiful music shines a relentless light on America’s second Holocaust (the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples being the first).

“Julie” is about when the northern troops were coming through the south, and many plantation-owners were trying to hide all their valuables. She writes:

Julie oh Julie
wont you run
cause I see down yonder
the soldiers have come

Julie oh Julie
can’t you see
that them devils have come
to take you far from me

mistress oh mistress
I wont run
cause I see down yonder
the soldiers have come

mistress oh mistress
I do see
and ill stay right here
till they come for me

Of course, the plantation-owner doesn’t recognize Julie as one of those valuables. This song is the hardest fucking reality check. I find it especially horrible because it’s so beautiful.

There’s a full interview with Giddens here. [npr] I am so grateful that she offers thoughtfulness and tough love instead of the hate and anger that white people deserve.

Julie oh Julie
You wont go
leave this house
and all you know

Julie oh Julie
don’t leave here
Leave us who love you
and all you hold dear

mistress oh mistress
I will go
leave this house and all I know

mistress oh mistress
I will leave here
with what family I got left
they’re all I hold dear

Julie oh Julie
wont you lie
if they find that trunk of gold by my side

Julie oh Julie
you tell them men
that that trunk of gold
is yours my friend

mistress oh mistress
I wont lie
If they find that trunk of gold by your side

mistress oh mistress
I wont lie
if they find that trunk of gold by your side

mistress oh mistress
that trunk of gold
is what you got
when my children you sold

mistress oh mistress
don’t you cry
the price of staying here is too high

mistress oh mistress
I wish you well
but in leaving here
I’m leavin’ hell

------ divider ------

My ancestors never owned slaves; they came to the US as a result of potato famines in Norway and Ireland, “on a coffin-ship, I came here” [pogues] – about half of the family that embarked was dead by the time they got to Ellis Island. There, the man told my great-great grandfather to go to Minnesota “that’s where all the squareheads are.” I have all of the possessions he brought with him: a small wooden trunk, a knife, and a notebook. I feel I can rain hatred down on the slavers, without being inconsistent, since my Irish ancestors (my ma’s side) were starved and stomped by the English for generations and never owned much, let alone owning people. But: they had it great, comparatively. They came to America and settled on land that belongs to Caine’s ancestors, who had been driven off it. Undeniably, my ancestors enjoyed the advantages of genocidal oppression, and it is unquestionable that my opportunities have been greater than the vast majority of black peoples’  When someone speaks of “Southern Pride” all I can do is talk about the deep shame I feel, and I wonder that they don’t hate themselves so much that they put a gun to their heart.

Today I live on a beautiful farm in Pennsylvania, in an area that belongs to the Shawnee, who were mostly killed and driven westward before 1800, when the foundation of my house was laid.

Comments

  1. polishsalami says

    they had it great, comparatively.

    I would say that “great” is an overstatement, esp. with regard to the Irish. What the Irish did have was white skin, and that — combined with their ability to organize politically — enabled them to slowly claw away at the WASP Establishment.

    The Irish were also, unfortunately, hostile to black liberation, mainly because of the Catholic Church.

  2. Dunc says

    But we’re so good at it!

    Thanks for the link to Rhiannon Giddens – she’s definitely someone I need to look into more. I have friends* who are fairly well-known on that whole Appalachian / Old-Time circuit and big into the history of the songs, so I’ve known the origins of the banjo for a long time. The way the music all got mixed up is fascinating – there are songs from the Scots tradition that crossed the Atlantic, got picked up by black slaves and incorporated into their tradition, then moved back into what is now called the Old-Time tradition, and eventually crossed back over the Atlantic to Scotland, having been lost over here in the intervening two centuries.

    The song “Julie” that you’ve picked here almost certainly derives from a Scots folk tune (possibly “Young Hunting”, aka Child #68).

    * A shameless plug is OK for good people, right? Sara Grey and Kieron Means, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

  3. jrkrideau says

    The Irish were also, unfortunately, hostile to black liberation, mainly because of the Catholic Church.

    What did the Catholic Church have to do with it?

    I don’t know a lot of US history but I would have thought if they were hostile to black liberation, it would have been because, oppressed as the Irish-Americans were, they could feel superior to someone and it would cut down on some job competition

  4. says

    One more point I should have made: the many Europeans who came to America came here fleeing oppression: European jews, Irish (who were subjugated by the English), Norwegians (who were starving). Italians, Scotsmen (who had English problems too), Chinese laborers (who were displaced by the horrific TaiPing Rebellion) Frenchmen (earlier, avoiding their various revolutions and terrors) – for most Europeans, even if they came into a bad situation, they were coming to America as a land of opportunity, often fleeing oppression or near-certain death. Europeans came here to escape oppression, indigenous peoples and slaves had a completely different kind of experience.

  5. mikey says

    Check out Carolina Chocolate Drops, featuring Ms. Giddens… also Bela Fleck’s Throw Down Your Heart, where he traces the various roots of the Banjo across Africa.

  6. says

    jrkrideau@#5:
    cut down on some job competition

    It doesn’t seem like there was a lot of competition for those jobs. For all intents and purposes they were practically captives.

    Eventually I’ll be doing a few posts about early industrial era Pittsburgh, Carnegie, Frick, and Phipps (all of whom came to America with empty pockets and wound up among the richest men in the world) – by the time the US was industrializing, which is when the rafts of Irish and Scots and Hungarians and Chinese were put to work building the railroads, the industrial revolution was under way and industrialists’ problem was finding workers – there were plenty of jobs; they were just horrible mind and body-destroying jobs. The unions, however, had whatever power they had because of the scarcity of manpower. I believe that’s part of why union-busting and the gig economy are coming down the pike together.

  7. colinday says

    When I think about the way the US rained high explosive on Germany during WWII, and nuclear fire on Japan, then deliberately destroyed their cultures

    How did the US destroy German and Japanese culture after WWII?

  8. Ice Swimmer says

    Also, some parts of Europe did contribute to the whole colonial business without being much of colonists themselves. The English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch ships and their rigging would have rotted rather quickly if the Swedish Realm (and Finland as a part of it) and Russia wouldn’t have supplied pine tar (Stockholm tar). Some of my ancestors may have been making tar and selling it to the tar merchants (who kept most of the profits).

    Still the people who produced tar, who got cheated by the merchants in Oulu, Kokkola and Viipuri, who got cheated by the merchants in Stockholm, the peasants working the poor soils and trying to get harvests from the short summers and making tar to be able to buy grain, cows and horses in the bad years, were better off than the slaves working much more fertile land and who never knew about frosts in the summer destroying the rye and barley and having to eat pine bark bread.

  9. says

    colinday@#10:
    How did the US destroy German and Japanese culture after WWII?

    The destruction of German culture after WWII equated to the destruction of nazism. Originally denazification was part of the Potsdam agreement, the idea being the winners were going to concertedly tear down all the German political structures that had been taken over by the nazis – which, if you think about it, is damn near all of them: police, military (of course) but medicine, education, damn near everything. When the cold war started, the Soviets went about it in their way and the US went about it in its own, mostly by propagating American consumer culture into Germany. Many Germans were forced to tour concentration camps and the US DoD propaganda department came up with an elaborate program of education aimed at not allowing the Germans to separate nazism from the population. All nazi or German militarist literature was taken away and destroyed, and references to militarism were banned. Of course, anything with nazi logotage was banned. There was intense debate as to whether or not German industrial capacity – basically, the entire Ruhr – should be demolished, but instead it was decided that anything that was not dual-use or militarizable was OK. Partly this equated to a massive intellectual property grab – for example, the Leuna plant where nitrogen was extracted from the air, was a prize of German industrialism and the French and British practically pissed themselves trying to figure out how to steal it and who go to steal what and figure out how it worked.

    There were demonstrations of Germany’s powerlessness, including things like the explosive destruction of large works of nazi architecture:

    “take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy” and it was also ordered that starvation, disease and civil unrest were to be kept below such levels where they would pose a danger to the troops of occupation.

    [wikipedia]

    Meanwhile, in Japan, Nichiren buddhism (seen as the militaristic sect) and shinto (Japan’s domestic animism, which taught that the emperor was descended from a god) were banned outright. General Douglas MacArthur was the military governor of Japan and had a great deal of leeway and allegedly planned to make christianity the state religion – he was a bit of a christofascist; he planned to get the emperor to publicly convert to christianity, and openly encouraged a flood of christian missionaries to go over and convert Japan. Since shintoism was proscribed, christians rebuilt their churches fast and consequently had a running start at teaching “christian values and morals and way of life” – MacArthur also proscribed the private ownership of swords or any other weapons. That was a deliberate strike at the Japanese cultural identity, which used sword-carrying as a denominator of status. If you did business with the occupation forces you wore a western suit and tie: Japanese home decoration and costume were pretty much eradicated. And the occupiers turned Japan’s geisha culture into prostitution to the point where MacArthur, who was a bit of prude as well, started shipping troops home early. By the way, the “boob job” was invented in Japan during the occupation.

    Nowadays many of us are familiar with the horrific hash Bremer made of debaathification in Iraq; basically, he was following the Morgenthau (Germany) and MacArthur (Japan) template. Which, admittedly, had worked – but it’s possible with 500,000 troops on the ground, not 50,000.

  10. jrkrideau says

    . Nowadays many of us are familiar with the horrific hash Bremer made of debaathification in Iraq; basically, he was following the Morgenthau (Germany) and MacArthur (Japan) template. Which, admittedly, had worked – but it’s possible with 500,000 troops on the ground, not 50,000.

    And some actual plans, some knowledge of the country and German speaking personel?

    I don’t know very much about Japan, but it is my understanding the American and the British (and the Soviets?) started planning for the German occupation in 1943 or 1944.

  11. says

    jrkrideau@#13:
    it is my understanding the American and the British (and the Soviets?) started planning for the German occupation in 1943 or 1944.

    Around the time of the Potsdam conference, yup. Bremer walked into Iraq completely cold and immediately created the insurgency by firing most of the Iraqi military – the exact wrong people to suddenly render pissed off and unemployed. That was how it was done after WWII, but it worked because the allies had huge forces on the ground to stabilize the situation.

  12. says

    @#12

    The destruction of German culture after WWII equated to the destruction of nazism.

    Are you equating German culture with Nazism? When I hear words “German culture” I think about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Joseph von Eichendorff, Wilhelm Hauff, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Christa Wolf, Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Richard Wagner etc. Oh, and the majority of my favorite contemporary musicians belong to German culture as well (In Extremo, Ignis Fatuu, Stahlmann, Eisbrecher, Megaherz, Saltatio Mortis, Subway to Sally and many more). There’s a hell lot more to German culture than Nazism.

    Yes, for a few years Nazism and German culture were closely tied together. And some Nazi propaganda works were artistically very good (for example, Leni Riefenstahl’s movies). But artistically valuable Nazi propaganda was a really tiny fraction of what I consider German culture. Incidentally, among those artists who lived in Germany during the Nazi rule, there were plenty who opposed Nazism. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_emigration

    The bottom line: if you are talking about the destruction of Nazism, you shouldn’t call it “the destruction of German culture”.

    Now, as for the destruction of Nazism. What’s exactly so bad about that? Nazism was a very stupid idea. And Nazis killed people. Nazism is not something that should be preserved. Now, I do disagree with the methods. I believe it is inherently wrong to ban any books or symbols. But then again, no sane person should be willing to walk around proudly displaying a Nazi symbol, so I don’t consider this ban that important anyway. Being forced to tour a concentration camp is not exactly OK, because I find forcing people to do stuff against their will inherently wrong. But again, I don’t find this that bad. That’s not the worst thing that can happen with somebody. Anyway, ultimately it was very good that after WWII majority of Germans ended up realizing that Nazism was a really stupid idea.

    mostly by propagating American consumer culture into Germany

    I suppose I should ask what you mean with “American consumer culture”. This is vague enough that my definition might differ from yours. But (the way I define this) it is irrelevant whether somebody actively propagates “American consumer culture” or not. It’s damn good at spreading itself. Nobody actively propagated it in Latvia, but it spread like wildfire in Latvia after the end of USSR. And by now we have plenty of it anyway. So whether you actively propagate it or not is irrelevant.

    a massive intellectual property grab

    Well, yes, I can agree that stealing intellectual property is not good. But how does having your scientific knowledge (secrets) stolen “destroys culture”?

    As for blowing up that swastika, it’s better off destroyed. People don’t like being constantly reminded about the evil deeds of their ancestors. In the city where I live we have some monuments which are honoring mass murderers and commemorating wars. Personally I would prefer it if all those monuments were blown up.

  13. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#15:
    Are you equating German culture with Nazism?

    I’m not. But, at the time, there were many in the US who subscribed to the idea that German culture was militaristic. Most Americans now, for example, don’t know but that Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment was originally intended to measure compliance in Germans.

    Of course there is a lot more to German culture than nazism. But wartime propaganda during both WWI and WWII had done a great deal to portray the Germans as practically genetically militaristic and obedient. That, of course, is culture, not genetic – the post-war Germans were got it from both ends. And, as you point out, there were cultural icons like Nietzsche and Wagner who were portrayed as promoting fascism. You probably are familiar with the nazis who supposedly loved Wagner performances – the truth is that Puccini and Bizet were more popular before the war; Wagner plummeted after. Etc. It wasn’t simply that swastikas were banned, etc.

    Now, as for the destruction of Nazism. What’s exactly so bad about that?

    I didn’t say there was anything bad about that.

    So whether you actively propagate it or not is irrelevant.

    It’s relevant if you’re changing a culture.

    Remember – during reconstruction, the problem was not simply denazification, it was constructing an American-style economy, with banking, markets, legal system, etc. – the Germans had some experience with that process and it turned out to be valuable during reunification. It’s not just a matter of opening a bunch of Starbucks and selling blue jeans. (OK, I know that’s off-period, but you get the point)

    Well, yes, I can agree that stealing intellectual property is not good. But how does having your scientific knowledge (secrets) stolen “destroys culture”?

    I’m not saying it’s good or not. It’s just what happened. In the case of German technology like aniline dyes, sulfa drugs, and the Haber/Bosch process, it equated to a massive economic change – remember, Germany was an industrial powerhouse. Having their industrial heartland blown up, then sifted through for technology, and demilitarized the economy. Perhaps, instead of using the simple label “culturecide” I should have included a full write-up, but this was not the main topic of the thread.

    As for blowing up that swastika, it’s better off destroyed.

    You miss the point: it could have been quietly dismantled. Blowing it up was a demonstration of power. Pull down the statues, blow up the important buildings, etc. There’s a story that MacArthur’s headquarters was deliberately situated in a tall building overlooking the imperial palace in Tokyo. There’s a lot of that sort of thing going on after a conquest – it’s all projecting the message “you lost, we won, the things you were proud of are now in the dust.”

  14. says

    there were cultural icons like Nietzsche and Wagner who were portrayed as promoting fascism

    Yeah, I know that this is how some artists were portrayed. But that was stupid. An artist who died many decades before the Nazi regime couldn’t have promoted it.

    constructing an American-style economy, with banking, markets, legal system

    In 1991 when USSR collapsed Latvia needed to totally change its economy, legal system etc. Some of the politicians who ended up elected at the time either had learned about USA economy or they had actually gotten their education in USA. Result: Latvian politicians ended up enacting what was an American-style economy, with banking, markets, legal system etc. No USA military invasion was necessary for that to happen.

    Plenty of those things, which were good in USSR (yes, there were some good things in USSR) ended up dismantled. Luckily at least state owned hospitals and universities weren’t privatized. But there were politicians who wanted that to happen.

    And there’s another reason why American-style economy is so damn good at spreading. Privatizing and deregulating everything is how oligarchs (whoops, I mean businessmen) can earn most profits. That’s why they keep on pushing for that. Bank lobbies are damn good at pushing for American-style economy. So it’s going to spread anyway with or without USA military invasion.

    Of course Starbucks and American fashion are good at spreading too. Same goes for consumerism and buying junk you do not need.

    And I don’t think that the current German culture is any more “American” than cultures of those European countries, which were never invaded/managed by Americans.

    it could have been quietly dismantled. Blowing it up was a demonstration of power

    OK, I’ll agree about that.

    you lost, we won, the things you were proud of are now in the dust

    After the war most Germans were no longer proud of swastikas. But I can agree about this in general (other examples, like Japanese swords).

Leave a Reply