The Jerks, the Barks, and the Slave-Owning Mentality

1 Jul 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 10.51.30 AM
Katherine Krueger, at Talking Points Memo, writes,

If Republican Donald Trump wins the White House in November, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said he expects unprecedented “levels of violence” from upset liberals.

Of course he does. That kind of rhetoric is pretty much boilerplate in some quarters. For example, Brian Tashman, at Right Wing Watch, has a blog post called, “Five Right-Wing Predictions About Marriage Equality That Still Haven’t Come True,” in which he presents a whole list of horrors that were supposed to have brought the country down by now. Here’s one:

Radio host Rick Wiles predicted that “God will cut off America’s food supply and this nation will be hit with disease, pestilence, drought, natural calamities and a great shaking” and urged people to flee the country.

Where does this apocalyptic mindset come from? Possibly, it has something to do with our religious heritage: terrified Puritans clinging to the edge of a “howling wilderness,” listening to Jonathan Edwards, or fiery leaders of the Second Great Awakening. One such was James McGready, a Presbyterian minister who, according to George McKenna, in his book, The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism,

depicted the “furnace of hell with its red-hot coals of God’s wrath as large as mountains”…People fell in trances and some even went into seizures known as “the jerks”…Strange as “the jerks” were, there were reactions even stranger. There were, for example, “the barks.” One contemporary observer described them this way: “Both men and women would be forced to…move about on all fours, growl, snap the teeth, and bark in so personating a manner as to set eyes and ears of the spectator at variance.”

On the other hand, a historian I know believes apocalyptic rhetoric reflects the “slave-owning mentality.” When I think about how much of this hysteria is reserved for even the slightest expression of Black agency, his label makes sense. Here, for example, are a handful of quotes. The first is from Bill O’Reilly, as quoted by Caitlin Cruz, at TPM; the others were made by antebellum slavers, as quoted by James McPherson, in Battle Cry of Freedom:

“Here are two extremely famous individuals,” O’Reilly said [of Beyoncé and Jay Z], to briefly explain the couple’s accomplishments. “Do you think they know they’re giving money to an anarchistic group like [Black Lives Matter] that wants to tear down the country and talking about genocide, really extreme things?”

*****

James Hammond, of South Carolina, commenting on the Wilmot Proviso in the 1840’s: Enactment would “proclaim freedom or something equivalent to it to our slaves and reduce us to the condition of Hayti…Our only safety is the equality of POWER. If we do not act now, we deliberately consign our children, not our posterity, but our children to the flames.”

*****

“Do you love your mother, your wife, your sister, your daughter?” a Georgia secessionist asked non-slaveholders. If Georgia remained in the Union “ruled by Lincoln and his crew…in TEN years or less our CHILDREN will be the slaves of negroes.”

*****

“If you are tame enough to submit,” declaimed South Carolina’s Baptist clergyman James Furman, “Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands…Submit to have our wives and daughters choose between death and gratifying the hellish lust of the negro!!”

Birth_of_a_Nation_Still-Lust_view2(It’s interesting—and pertinent—to note that the “wives and daughters” routine is also the default argument resorted to by most of the people scare-mongering over transgender bathrooms.)

Another example of this fear of a Black planet is the freak-out over Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, which Saturday Night Live perfectly skewered in “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.” Still another, even more recent, is the controversy that rocked the heretofore impervious bastion of West Point, over a photo of 16 Black women cadets raising their fists. The Army Times quotes Sue Fulton, a former Army captain and “long-time diversity advocate” for the military:

I would not have re-tweeted the raised-fist photo because I am well aware that our culture views a black fist very differently from a white fist…I knew it was their expression of pride and unity, but I am old enough to know that it would be interpreted negatively by many white observers. Unfortunately, in their youth and exuberance, it appears they didn’t stop to think that it might have any political context, or any meaning other than their own feeling of triumph.

In other words, they weren’t intelligent enough to know what they were doing, and they didn’t defer enough to White fears. Apparently, they should have known that, when many White Americans look at a picture like this:

635979918593929460-black-lives-matterthey actually see this:

nat-turner

Must have been their “youth and exuberance.”

My favorite response to all these apocalyptic visions comes from Sojourner Truth who, in an 1851 speech, said:

The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble….But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

And now BLM and the LGBTQ community are “coming on him,” too. That would be enough to give anyone with the slave-owning mentality a case of the barks.

***

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One Response to “The Jerks, the Barks, and the Slave-Owning Mentality”

  1. sdalton43 Says:

    Very thought-provoking, as always, Mike.


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