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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January 3, 2012: Ron Paul and Race

[This week I’ll be highlighting some of the benefits of an American Studies methodology. This is the second in that series.]
How an American Studies approach can deepen and strengthen our analyses of one of the most controversial current debates.
Perhaps no story is dominating more American headlines at the start of this new year than Ron Paul’s surge to the top of the Iowa Republican Caucus, and so perhaps no current debate rages more heatedly than the arguments about whether and to what extent the extremist, often bigoted newsletters that were published for decades under Paul’s name (and from the sales of which Paul has made millions of dollars over that time) can and should be used to critique Paul directly. As with any political debate, there’s no question that one’s own perspective and starting point will have a lot to do with where one comes down on these questions, although it seems clear to me that even in the best-case interpretation Paul allowed his name to be associated with, and the profited from, revolting sentiments and ideas (or was unaware that those things were happening, which isn’t necessarily better).
 An American Studies approach and analysis is not the same as—if never entirely distinct from—a political argument, however, and in this case such an approach would allow us to link Paul’s newsletters and history significantly to other prominent late 20th century trends and narratives. When it comes to race in America, some of the most complex but meaningful trends could be described as the unforeseen aftermath of Civil Rights, and more exactly of where and how white supremacist communities and ideas have persisted after that era and its changes. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been monitoring and responding to such communities since its 1971 founding, and its pages on still active KKK groups and more recent offshoots like Stormfront are relevant not only to a general sense of these American trends, but also very specifically to the question of Paul’s newsletters and supporters: both KKK leader David Duke and Stormfront founder Don Black have recently, publicly stated that they subscribed to Paul’s newsletters and are endorsing him for president.
Even more nationally central over the last few decades, of course, have been our debates over multiculturalism and its alternatives—in my second book I define the “culture wars” as driven first and foremost by the competing multicultural and traditional historical narratives—and an American Studies approach could likewise link the Paul issues to those debates. Because while Ayn Rand critiqued racism  and white/Southern racists in her 1963 essay “Racism”, the libertarian movement that has followed her philosophies has often focused instead on critiquing movements such as multiculturalism or policies such as affirmative action as themselves racist (particularly toward now disadvantaged white Americans), as illustrated by an Ayn Rand Institute-sponsored essay entitled “Diversity and Multiculturalism: The New Racism.” The last few years’ many, mostly (to my mind) manufactured controversies over anti-white racism—from the New Black Panther Party to Glenn Beck’s description of Obama as a racist who hates white people, the tempest over Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” remark to the destruction of Shirley Sherrod’s career over a seemingly racist (when viewed out of context) quote—can and must be contextualized through such libertarian attempts to changes narratives of racism; and so must Paul’s newsletters’ use of racist language and arguments be linked to those broader trends.
None of that, again, means that an American Studies argument will definitively result in an anti-Paul position; political judgments and choices are complex and individual in any case. But such judgments and choices are stronger when they’re informed by the kinds of historical and cultural narratives and understandings that an American Studies approach can help provide. More tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think?
1/3 Memory Day nominee: Lucretia Coffin Mott, one of the 19th century’s most influential and prolific social activists and reformers, one of the very few Americans who can be describe as leading both the abolitionist and the suffragist movements, and by all accounts a speaker of tremendous talent, passion, and eloquence.

4 comments:

  1. Ron Paul did the right thing when nobody else did.

    Helped a black family with delivery when nobody else would help them in a hospital back in 1972, unfortunately they had a stillborn, he didn't charge them any money.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rv0Z5SNrF4

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mB7SG5gpWAw

    http://www.revolutionpac.com/2011/12/the-compassion-of-dr-ron-paul/

    http://www.examiner.com/independent-in-salt-lake-city/revolution-pac-releases-ad-the-compassion-of-dr-ron-paul

    Ron Paul 2012.

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  2. Hi Romanmir,

    Thanks for the comment and links. I should be clear that I'm not calling Paul a racist, nor would I do so for any other person, much less one I don't know.

    However, one's individual feelings and attitudes, and even relationships, aren't the same as the larger political and social questions and conversations to which one contributes. Many of our society's continuing racist narratives aren't at all about individuals, but instead about broader dynamics of exclusion and discrimination--and the fact is that Paul's newletters contributed in a profound way to, and probably even helped drive, those dynamics for many, many years.

    To be honest, even if Paul is the least racist person alive, that effect would be a more significant and hugely destructive one to me.

    Ben

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  3. Ron Paul believes that no GROUP should have special rights, as that by necessity would mean some others will have lesser rights. By having rights being on the individual level all forms of groupism disappear. Are the following statements/situations racist, sexist, or "groupist"?
    White men can't jump. Whites can't rap. Men are stronger than women. Basketball teams are disproportionally black. Black women are more often unmarried. AIDS is related to lifestyle. Black thiefs are fleet of foot.
    Some of the views above are Ron Paul's and some are thrown in to make a point. Despite being politically incorrect, most of the above statements have a lot of truth to them. Ron Paul probably doesn't like rap music but he supports the right to free speech and is strongly against internet suppression or FCC regulations. He is Christian but supports freedom of religion. He is very unlikely a user of drugs like marijuana or cocaine but believes strongly in individual rights. He grew up in a racist time and area. It is hard not to be influenced some by this. His voting record and speech have consistently shown that even though different groups may act differently, each at times in a good way or bad way, the law should treat them the same. If everyone is treated the same any racism that is there tends to dissipate.

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  4. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for the comment. Rights are indeed part of identities--individual, communal, national, etc--but so too are other and often (if not always) equally affecting narratives and histories: stereotypes and prejudices, for example, and the discriminations and practices and policies that can result from them. And just to be clear, I believe that many of your "statements/ situations" are already, and certainly lead directly, to such stereotypes and prejudices, and to discriminatory attitudes, practices, and policies.

    Ben

    ReplyDelete