FolkWorld #68 03/2019
© Editorial by David Rovics

The F Word

This Week with David Rovics

Facing Blackface - On the 160th Birthday of the White Homeland.

This Week with David Rovics

Artist Video David Rovics

As a kid growing up in Connecticut in the 1970's, browsing the few available TV channels that there were, one of the things you would be exposed to now and then was white men with darkened faces doing supposedly comedic skits mocking Black people. This came mainly in the form of re-broadcasts of older, black and white movies and TV shows, as far as I recall. If you grew up in the UK at that time it was the same, incidentally, and in some other countries they still haven't gotten the memo that blatantly racist entertainment is no longer acceptable on prime time.

Hearing the pundits dissecting the simultaneous scandals threatening to bring down the government in Thomas Jefferson's state of Virginia, the debates playing out just remind me of how it was that Trump got himself elected, and how US history has played out over the course of centuries.

As a student of history and a regular world traveler I've developed a little perspective by now. All the countries in Europe that I travel in regularly are way better off than the US, overall. People seem happier, less stressed, they work less, have much more disposable income, free health care, inexpensive housing, in many countries most workers are in a union and the vast majority of them earn actual living wages. Not only do they not need a second job, but they think the idea of one is completely nuts.

The Jazz Singer

I'm often shocked when I tell my fellow Americans about what life is like in some of these countries, and I get this response – including from people who consider themselves to be progressives – “those are small countries with homogeneous populations, so that sort of thing can work there. It's different here in the US.”

While the last part is true – it's different in the US – the first part is mostly just nonsense. It may be accurate that the size of the US makes organizing a national movement here harder than in a much smaller country, but the idea that the more prosperous countries of Europe are homogeneous is plainly ridiculous to anyone who has actually been to a major European city, and therefore the idea that it's impossible to have prosperity and diversity at the same time is false.

The underlying assumption in this false narrative is that large numbers of people of color in a society inevitably means the society has to be poor and crime-ridden. Although many European countries are both prosperous and ethnically diverse, the US is indeed largely poor and crime-ridden, and it is an even more ethnically diverse society than anywhere in Europe, so perhaps it makes sense to attribute this poverty and crime to the fact that the society is so diverse?

This is certainly what the mocking white men in blackface would have us believe, along with their white-hooded, church-burning brethren – including of course the current occupant of the White House, who comes from a family line of such people, though he likes to pretend otherwise.

In actuality, there is more than a grain of truth to the idea that there is some kind of association between the widespread poverty in the US and the ethnic diversity of the society. But the causality here is not that people of color somehow cause poverty or are inherently prone to the condition. It's that racism is continually used again and again to sow hatred and division in slightly new ways, always serving the purpose of maintaining the disunity in society required for the profit margins to be so much higher for the capitalists in the US than they are for their European counterparts.


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Photo Credits: (1) David Rovics, (2) The Jazz Singer (unknown/website).

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