Thursday, July 28, 2016

Kendrick Smithyman's rebuke to Trump

Donald Trump's presidential campaign has helped make the term 'white nationalism' fashionable, if not quite respectable. Political commentators of both the left and the right have noted Trump's popularity with white, working class Americans angry at their country's deindustrialised economy and darkening demographics.

Trump has repeatedly retweeted messages and slogans from white supremacists, and in the lengthy and combustible comments threads at sites like Breitbart and Pajamas Media many of his supporters have defined themselves as white nationalists, and decried liberals and leftists as 'traitors' to the white race.

What very few white nationalists seem to sense is the fragility and historical shallowness of the racial category they use to define themselves. The Northumbrian scholar Alistair Bonnett has spent a good part of his career studying the labels 'white' and 'whiteness'. Bonnett has shown that, before the nineteenth century, few Europeans defined themselves in racial terms. If any pan-European identity existed, then it was premised on religion, rather than race. When the Crusaders marched east, they saw themselves as warriors for Christendom, not fighters for a white race.

Even after pseudo-scientific ideas about race became popular in the middle of the nineteenth century, many members of Europe's elites tended to see the continent's working classes and peasantry as non-white. In his essay 'How the British Working Class Became White', Bonnett describes the reaction of newspapers to a working class riot in Southampton in 1866. The rioters were characterised as 'negroes', and contrasted with the white 'gentlemen' whose businesses they attacked. A century ago some of Britain's upper classes still saw the working class of their country as a different and inferior race, closer genetically to the Indians and the Africans than to the Windsors.

Commentators have criticised Trump's tendency to make unjust generalisations about diverse minority groups, like America's black and Muslim communities. But few have noted that Trump is guilty of homogenising and stereotyping America's 'white' population, as well as its minorities. 'White' Americans come from a plethora of cultures, and it is not long since some of these cultures were viewed as both backward and dangerous by the country's Anglo-Saxon establishment. In his marvellous film Jungle Fever Spike Lee reminds his audience of the Italians who were lynched along with blacks in Louisiana. As a brilliant high school student recently proved, Irish as well as blacks and Mexicans were often excluded from jobs in nineteenth century and fin de siecle America.

Because of the diverse origins and affiliations of its European population, the United States was for a long time seen as an inferior, 'mongrel' nation by Anglo-Saxon racists.

Sixty-five years ago the great Kiwi poet Kendrick Smithyman fired off a satire of racist anti-American sentiment. Smithyman wrote his untitled poem on the 19th of March 1951, at a time when America and its Australasian allies were at war in Korea and New Zealand's workers were confronting an anti-union government in what has become known as the Waterfront Dispute.
Picking up a newspaper, Smithyman notes that the American president Harry Truman has just sacked his hawkish general Douglas McArthur, who wanted to move the war from the Korean peninsula to China. With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Smithyman argues that the clash between Truman and MacArthur is inevitable, given the 'mixed blood' of the 'citizens of the good old USA'.

The targets of Smithyman's satire may have been on the left, as much as the right. In both New Zealand and Britain, some Kiwi leftists blended a justifiable opposition to American foreign policy with an antipathy to American culture in the '40s and '50s. The Communist Party of Great Britain complained that its country was becoming a cultural colony of America, and even celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth as an assertion of British cultural independence. Kiwi communist Dick Scott's classic history of the 1951 Waterfront Dispute is marred by a denunciation of the evils of American comic books.

Smithyman's poem has never been published before (I found it when I was exploring his papers), and it is not one of his masterpieces. It does remind us, though, of the historical shallowness of the white nationalist rhetoric of the Trumpites.


They've recalled the General. Well, the Yanks
can't be beaten for their silliness anyway.
But what can you expect from those people? One day
they're kikes and dagoes and polaks and bohunks,
and the next they're the citizens of the good old USA,
and their names - my God, you've only got to look
at a paper and see them: Fernandez, Marino, Di Maggio,
Hirschfelt, Kryzwicki, Antumovich, Molmar - this Book
I'll bet has something else for all we know.
You can't trust them, not when they're a mixture.
It never has or will come to any good.
The good gets wiped out by the poorest feature
about them. It's deadly, that mixed blood.

I shouldn't have read that bit about the war. Fix
up the fire and don't tell me about our politics,
I want to see what happened here last Saturday.
Three quid for a win: I said that's what he'd pay.
Marinkovich was riding. A good boy that. Tonight
Manata's fighting Wysoki - should be alright,
and Lorentz at the speedway. I'll sit tight
beside the fire and listen to the boxing if I may
and try to forget those half-breeds in the USA.


[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Ryan Bodman said...

You need to add a facebook-esque like function. I have nothing to contribute, but, as usual, found your thoughts interesting and insightful. Cheers for sharing.

10:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:15 pm  
Anonymous jh said...

Donald Trump's presidential campaign has helped make the term 'white nationalism' fashionable, if not quite respectable.

People establish a national identity and in the case of the US it is mainly European. You are trying to say that it is irrational however it has an evolutionary basis (moderated by oxytocin) and works the same for every ethnic group.

12:44 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

'You are trying to say that it is irrational however it has an evolutionary basis (moderated by oxytocin) and works the same for every ethnic group'

What we learn when we look at history is the slipperiness of ethnic categories. The fact that, in the eyes of many of their fellow Americans, Irish and Italians were black a century ago tells us something about how the boundaries of ethnic groups are not defined by physical characteristics. Culture and language and shared historical experience are what account for ethnogenesis.

Arguments for a scientific basis for race should be left in the dustbin of history with eugenics and Nazism.

1:05 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Cheers Ryan!

1:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

2:46 pm  
Anonymous jh said...

What we learn when we look at history is the slipperiness of ethnic categories
But still enough to justify a reaction to mass migration.
Arguments for a scientific basis for race should be left in the dustbin of history with eugenics and Nazism.

7:10 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Bodmer (Nobel Prize for Biomolecular Biology etc) and others wrote in a book on the subject of molecular biology that it has been completely proven that the difference in genetic terms between say the people in Africa and those in Europe and the United States is less than the differences inside those areas. So the myth of a unified 'genetics' or evolution is just that, a myth. It shows though that Trump supporters are invoking Nazi racist ideas. Trump doesn't care as he wants power, as they all do. He also wants to attack the working people. These are not as united as they could be and identify as being 'whites' as they lack a real culture. Generally they are ill-educated. Unfortunately they are from the working class or better paid working class although they wouldn't consider themselves as such.

Good post Scott.

8:59 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Good poem also.

9:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Google are blocking some of your worst blogs. About time. Take down early ones. They are real crap. See you have not got a real job yet. Still wasting time writing pseudohistory instead of supporting your family. Ask you wife how she suffers.

2:22 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

What a bitter old sausage you are anon!

Cheers for the comment Richard. I love the irony in the fact that the genetic differences between different groups of sub-Saharan Africans are far greater than those amongst the rest of humanity, and also in the fact that, strictly speaking, Africans are the only pure humans, since the rest of us have a small amount of Neanderthal genetic material!

2:53 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Neanderthal material? I don't know about that. I think this racialism, nationalism is bad though. I might get annoyed with certain people but the logical part of me keeps me alert to the danger of stupid generalizations. Of course the racist, supremacists keep on, and it is difficult for many people to counter them...

But a simple one is this: what is so great about our civilisation? You then cite the wars and so on and that in fact overall the Europeans were less healthy than Maori (and other "primitive" peoples): their diseases arose from contact from Europeans. Overall they were cleaner and had a working and very good system, or civilisation if you want to call it that. It worked. The Europeans though went to various countries (the Conquistadors and others) and exterminated or got close to exterminating the native populations in violation of Christian ideals (if you can isolate exactly what these are: but love one another, do unto others, and forgive them for they know not what they do are some) but instead of much that was noble they destroyed and made worse whatever they touched. The British basically reintroduced the caste system into India.

Meanwhile many Europeans found Pacific Island people to be much more healthy and happy than they were.

The other way of looking at it is: who invents things? If we look at the majority of Europeans, it is nothing. And in fact the Aboriginees in Australia had a great understanding of their environment.

Another way of approaching it is what Dr Wayne Dyer called 'The comparison trap.' If two dogs are barking, one is brown, the other is red (we'll avoid black and white): does the red dog try to out bark the brown dog? Of course not, it would be stupid.

Who really cares what other people have been 20,000 years ago or whatever? The question is: how can we live with each other now? Will we be able to, despite differences of class, culture, and all the rest.

The direction Trump and others are heading is potentially suicidal or counter productive. It may lead to civil war. It could lead to the fracturing of the United States. Certainly the wars and the xenophobia do nothing to slow or decrease various kinds of terrorism. In fact, since the invasions began in Afghanistan terrorism has increased and there has been no obvious progress.

The United States is a nation that, by and large, has tried to suppress that people are workers. Communism, Marxist ideas, have even been outlawed. The people of the United States and other places may yet unite on class grounds. This will be a different turn. The left needs to realize though, the complexity of cultures we now have everywhere.

Oh well, more talk. W. H. Auden: 'All I have is a voice, to undo the folded lie.'

8:19 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I didn't mean we shouldn't study history, I think all aspects of history are very important.

8:20 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Hi Richard,

just on the Neanderthal thing:

Interesting eh? I recently did a DNA test. My wife and mother are both genealogists, and were intensely curious about the results.

12:14 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think that genetic experiments involving DNA can be made now and in the so-called modern era, but I don't think it is so relevant so long ago. I studied one unit of Anthropology in 1990 and read a whole text book on it (ca 1980 or so) which was very good. A lot is known.

It is also my view though, that we can know too much. There are many things we will never know, and I think that is a good thing. I think, with Arundhati Roy, that they should have left (for example in Nepal) a number of the mountains unclimbed: and I don't see any point in exploring space. Leave places unexplored, unknown. Leave alone. That is what I prefer. Leave nature to itself, albeit we are a part of nature.

It is good enough to read science fiction, which will probably always be more interesting.

This (the subject of not knowing things) get's into Richard Ford's 'The Sportswriter' which is a great novel I think: for example, things about one's girlfriend or as in 'The Sportswriter' about why an acquaintance commits suicide, it remains a puzzle as do many things in life.

That is why we can never know why there is something rather than nothing, or if or not there is a God. We may feel we know, but we can never know for sure. Science is limited as humans are. And it may be we are at the end of the road, so to speak: give or take a few thousand years.

I was at one stage interested in where my grandfather from London and his wife, my grandmother, both of whom I never met, came from. But no progress was made as there are so many Taylors and the other name I think was Thoms or Thom. But in the end I decided that it was irrelevant. We all originate perhaps from the eternal slime!

I was more interested in those things when I was a teenager: when I recall being excited seeing the first ever photographs of the other side of the moon in the Herald Newspaper. We had no television, only a radio. Television started in 1960 but my father didn't want one, and we as children were not really that interested in it either, surprisingly. I did get one in 1967, I hired it. But nowadays I don't watch television.

So what of space out there and the past? Just that there is more and more of it.

I never figured who was who, but years ago my father got a batch out (Kawakawa near where Brett is or was...) and on the way somewhere out there we met this old man, and my father, who I expected to not converse much, had a longish converstation. I recall the old man saying en passant and with a flourish:

"They know more and more about less and less, and less and less about more and more."

(It must have been something he had heard, perhaps it is a well known thing like 'What happens when an irresistible force meets an unmovable object.")

I recalled it and thought about that for years but couldn't figure out who were the philosophers and who the scientists!

7:56 pm  
Anonymous jh said...

What we're trying to do in behavioral genetics and medical genetics is explain differences. It's important to know that we all share approximately 99 percent of our DNA sequence. If we sequence, as we can now readily do, all of our 3 billion base pairs of DNA, we will be the same at over 99 percent of all those bases. That's what makes us similar to each other. It makes us similar to chimps and most mammals. We're over 90 percent similar to all mammals. There's a lot of genetic similarity that's important from an evolutionary perspective, but it can't explain why we're different. That's what we're up to, trying to explain why some children are reading disabled, or some people become schizophrenic, or why some people suffer from alcoholism, et cetera. We're always talking about differences. The only genetics that makes a difference is that 1 percent of the 3 billion base pairs. But that is over 10 million base pairs of DNA. We're looking at these differences and asking to what extent they cause the differences that we observe.

Not that that's what Trumps about.

10:48 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

No, you use science and logic and perhaps some wisdom. Trump just keeps acting like a thug. He makes it up as he goes. Reality, whatever that is, is not of interest to Trump. Unless it is what he wants: power. Just power.

11:37 pm  

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