What I’m Reading, September 22, 2015

Nativism: Everywhere the Enemy of Human Rights, Jack Healey, Huffington Post, September 17, 2015

Though we are a nation of immigrants, a segment of the American people has always wanted to walk through the door and then close it behind them, keeping everyone else out. This segment dates back most clearly to the nativist movement that took place in the years leading up to the Civil War. When the nativists have their way, the US stops being a nation united by principles of freedom and justice. We are unfortunately witnessing a resurgence of these politics. An understanding of their history, and the history of their defeat, could help to embolden the contemporary generation.

Only a few decades after the American Revolution, the “bad’ folk were the Irish escaping from the famine and British oppression. Many of the nativists of that time were Protestant, mostly Presbyterian and Lutheran, living in Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. One of the strangest parts of their story was their flag, which carried the banner “Native Americans Beware of Foreign Influence.” Of course, none of the nativists were American Indians. In fact, Indians were branded as “bad’ folks as well.

“Lean the f*** away from me”: Jessica Williams, “impostor syndrome” and the many ways we serially doubt women, Katie McDonough, Salon, February 18, 2015

[T]his is the problem with “lean in” applied as a universal feminist ethos. Like most supposedly universal narratives, it’s incredibly limiting. Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged in the book that she didn’t believe that women “should all have the same objectives” or face the same obstacles, but much of the advice is still presented as inclusive when it’s actually narrowly tailored to a certain kind of woman (namely, white, upwardly mobile and married to, or interested in marrying, a man who is likely the same), working to achieve a certain kind of power while maintaining a certain kind of family life. The book is undoubtedly useful and resonates for some, but, as Roxane Gay pointed out in her thoughtful review, a lot of Sandberg’s wisdom reads something like, “If you want to succeed, be an asshole.”

Constitutionally, Slavery Is Indeed a National Institution, Lawrence Goldstone, The New Republic, September 17, 2015

Slavery was instrumental to the economic well being of not only the states in which it was pervasive, but also in the North. As such, slavery profoundly altered the four months of Constitutional debate, both with respect to obvious issues, such as how slaves would be counted for apportionment, and some more indirect, such as how often would the census be taken, or how a president would be elected. By the time the Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, slavery had indeed become a national institution.

Key to fully appreciating the impact of slave economics at the Constitutional Convention is that slavery had cleaved the nation into not two, but three separate and conflicting socio-economic systems. In the lower South, primarily South Carolina, the staple crop was rice: immensely profitable, but grown in fetid, leech- and snake-infested swamps in which slaves toiled all summer in thigh-deep standing water. Mortality was high; many slaves survived only two or three years. South Carolina therefore needed a constant influx of able-bodied males to overcome the attrition, and the cheapest place to get them was Africa. The rice planters were thus committed both to slavery as an institution as well as perpetuation of the slave trade, not at all the same thing.

The upper South grew tobacco, cultivated in open country under what, by comparison, were temperate conditions. Slaves bred rather than died, resulting in a crippling oversupply. As the convention began, slaves in Virginia likely outnumbered whites. But tobacco planters couldn’t fire their workers—they had to feed, clothe, and house them from birth to death. In addition to the financial burden, white southerners lived in constant dread of slaves—whom they regarded as sub-human savages—rising up and slaughtering them. During the war, though the army was undermanned, troops in the southern states were often held out of action to guard against slave revolts.


One thought on “What I’m Reading, September 22, 2015

  1. Hell of a reading list. I can’t decide if I want to read the imposter syndrome post. Maybe it would give me some insight I haven’t already figured out. Or may it’ll just piss me off.

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