STARTING TOMORROW: No complaint left behind!

MONDAY, MARCH 14, 2022

Quiet trailblazer speaks: With apologies, we didn't get very far last week. 

More specifically, we didn't get very far with our review of the (very important) essay by Professors Curran and Gates. 

The professors advanced an important claim in last Sunday's New York Times. "We need a new language for talking about race," the headline on their guest essay said.

That was an important suggestion about a deeply complex topic. In part because of the vast complexity, we didn't get very far with the strengths and the weaknesses of what the professors said.

A bit more on that will follow. First, let's consider what Mary Frances Early once said.

In 1967, Early became the first African-American to receive a degree from the University of Georgia. She's one of the determined, dedicated trailblazers from the classic "civil rights era" whose names are not well know.

In our view, she hails from our nation's "greatest generation." She has recently written a book about her life, a book called The Quiet Trailblazer.

Early wasn't and isn't a hound for attention. We strongly recommend the hour-long discussion of her new book—a discussion you can watch by way of this C-Span tape.

Early strikes us as a revelation throughout. Beyond that, we recommend the contribution of Emory professor Hank Klibanoff, who interviews Early—they seem to be friends—about her days at UGa and her subsequent life and career.

Early was already a college graduate when she entered UGa seeking an advanced degree in music education. In 1967, she received that degree—from the division of UGa which now bears this name:

The Mary Frances Early School of Education

For our money, there are no dull moments in the hour-long interview recorded by C-Span. Life for Early at UGa was "no crystal stair."

Today, though, we call your attention to something Early wrote in 1953, when she was still 17. Klibanoff read the statement at one point during his interview with Early.

Early was an entering freshman at Clark College—today's Clark Atlanta University. She wrote this statement in a journal which her mother saved:

EARLY (1953): On Saturday evening of Freshman Orientation week, I mused as I walked back to my dorm: Thank God I am an American … an American who can go forward not as a Negro, but as a true American citizen to greater heights and to the pinnacle of success. Tonight, I pray a fervent prayer for the freshman class of Clark College, and the freshman classes all over the world—that they might dedicate themselves to the task of finishing this college course of four years, if possible, and then turn back to help their people who are not as fortunate as they—mold themselves into true citizens of the United States and of America so that someday the Negro race will not be called Negro and the Caucasian race called White, but all will be united together—in one race—the human race, having differences only in the pigment of their skin, texture of their hair, and having this in common—a citizen of the United States of America.

As she embarked on her freshman year, Early "prayed a fervent prayer" for college freshmen all over the world. She was and is a religious person. At this site, we aren't.

Beyond that, she placed a high value on her status as an American—"as a true American citizen." For ourselves, we don't identify that way as strongly as Early did. But we think that part of Early's statement points to a deeply complicating aspect of our nation's emerging Babel.

Early identified as a Christian, and as an American citizen. Mainly, though, we call your attention to what she had to say about the existence of race.

What did Early think about "race?" Her ideas tracked an idea which was once quite common among liberals and progressives.

Someday, this young woman mused, "the Negro race will not be called Negro and the Caucasian race called White." Instead, she offered this notion:

All will be united together—in one race—the human race, having differences only in the pigment of their skin, texture of their hair, and having this in common—a citizen of the United States of America.

There would be only one race—the human race. Skin pigment and texture of hair would be seen as trivial distractions—as the "superficial physical differences" to which Gates and Curran refer at one point in their guest essay.

Early was 17 when she prayed that prayer. At one time, the viewpoint we've highlighted in that passage was quite common within the liberal / progressive world.

On the merits, on the science, here was only one race—the human race! The way we the people had been split into so-called "races" was a misguided artefact of "the world the slaveholders made."

In spite of the way the society worked, there was only one "race"—the human race. The rest was all misdirection.

That's what liberals once widely believed. It was somewhat common for young people to write the word "human" on government forms which asked them to state their "race."

Rather plainly, our failing tribe believes something different today. Or at least, so our behaviors strongly seem to suggest

There's no ultimate right or wrong in such a complex matter, of course. In the main, though, we think Early pretty much had it right on the science: 

As everybody knows how to say and no one seems to know how to explain, there's no "inherent biological meaning" to the concept of race. The concept of race is a social construct—a social invention. It's a misguided framework which comes to us, live and direct, from "the world the slaveholders made."

All this week, we'll consider some of the ways things fall apart when we start accepting and stressing the basic conceptual framework which comes to us from that world. Along the way, we'll offer a basic suggestion:

The "new language" we badly need would almost surely have to be built around that older idea—the older idea in which there's only one "race.".

There's no ultimate right or wrong to this, but once in a while it's worth remembering:

The science is on Early's side! The science describes the world she prayed for when she was still 17.

Tomorrow: No complaint currently left behind? We offer a first example


  1. "That was an important suggestion about a deeply complex topic. "

    May we suggest, dear Bob, that there's nothing "deeply complex" about this topic? That, in fact, it even isn't a topic decent civilized people would want to discuss? Just like the womyn you quoted said.

    ...and may we also suggest that the only organized force opposing and sabotaging this decent, commonsense, civilized understanding is you liberal tribe? But of course you already know it...

    ...and, why does your liberal tribe do all that 'racial' hate-mongering, you may ask. But we already suggested the most likely explanation, dear Bob: to split, to divide the working people into warring factions. In service of your tribe's sponsor: transnational, global capital.

    1. I could totally see David in Cal falling for this idiocy.

    2. At least Mao doesn't pretend there is a Republican voter who isn't a bigot.
      He has some standards.

    3. Mao does give some more than usual insight into his wacko ways today, he's Q light at best. But still we must ask, Mao, are you paid to keep an eye on this sight, and report back to your patron if Bob steps to far into looking at right wing outlets?

    4. @11:25, since you asked -- Whenever I'm asked for my race, I respond "human". This has been my practice for many years. I am glad to learn that I'm in good company.

    5. There goes David, virtue-signaling again...

    6. To err is human.

  2. We are approaching March 17, the day when everyone in the USA considers themselves to be Irish, regardless of actual heritage. In the early 1900s, the Irish were actually considered to be a separate race, and one that would not mix well in America because of their supposed traits. Limiting immigration was urged on that basis. Irish immigrants formed the base for politicians in large cities, as depicted in Gangs in America.

    Being Irish myself, I have mixed feelings about the claims on March 17 made by drunken partiers in green t-shirts, ignorant of everything real about Irish culture. But if we are all one big race -- the human race -- I must tolerate such borrowing according to Somerby.

    But I see a vision of millions of Chinese people all wearing blue Mao jackets, swarming the streets and breaking into people's homes to destroy any vestige of old culture, in support of a revolution that made everyone not only equal but the same. Do we really want that here? Do we want to erase the differences that make people distinct, unique, interesting? Was Early really suggesting that black people and white people should forget and ignore everything that defined their sense of themselves, family, community, culture, in exchange for a Red/White/Blue flag-waving affiliation with a large and diverse citizenry? I doubt that she would be enthusiastic about that, if someone asked her to think in those terms. But that is what it means when black people are told they must stop defining themselves as black, and I must stop defining myself as Irish, so that we can all be human. And how will this so-called new language about race define what it means to be human? In a way that fits well, like those grey/blue jackets, or in a way that chafes when one forgets the colorful clothes of the past?

    I don't think Somerby has thought this through.

  3. Here, once again, Somerby tells us that he likes his activists quiet and subdued, not attention seeking, even though MLK explicitly denied that approach.

    Clark Atlanta University was a historically black college. Early's words are ironic when heard in that context. She talks of black and white striving together without division while starting school on a black campus because she was not permitted on a white campus. How is that hopeful or exemplary?

    And Somerby lauds her as an extraordinary person, when she was one of many such black students doing what she was permitted under Jim Crow restrictions. He thinks she was special because she was not attention-seeking, because she was quiet and meek. When Somerby writes this kind of essay, he makes me angry. His essay has too much of the flavor of a white patron praising the good darkies for knowing their place instead of being noisy and non-compliant like those bad ones. This is very ugly stuff today. And his staff to keep the discontented is line is this suggestion that because we are all one human race, no one can complain because our social systems are rigged against those with dark skin, because that means calling attention to skin color, which is against equality and harmony among people. Better to be quiet like Early and do what white people let you, instead of "attention-seeking" and racial strife.

    If there is going to be one human race, Somerby says let it be the white one, and we can selectively let people with darker skin join it, if they behave themselves like Early did. Phooey on Somerby and phooey on Gates, so desperate to find his white ancestors so he too can be part of the human race.

    1. "Quiet and meek" are your words.

      You think it was easy for those pioneers? She was classy and intrepid and all sorts of things, not quiet and meek. That's ridiculous.

      I don't agree with this post at all, in fact to basically call an early proponent of equal rights a house n****r: it's racist. Shameful.

      Whatever it takes to try to paint Somerby in a bad light, I guess.

    2. Somerby's words were religious. There is nothing intrepid about a black person going to a black college. It is the line of lesser resistance.

      It is Somerby who pulls these examples out of context to present as special voices of non-strident activism. I find Early's desire to skirt the issue of race by focusing on what we all have in common as annoying as Somerby's. This is the kind of thing someone says about race when they don't want to make ways by upsetting white people.

      I don't have to paint Somerby in a bad light. He does that all by himself.

      How would it sound to you if someone addressed income inequality, the huge differences between rich and poor in our society, by saying that we are all members of the human race, all citizens together in our great country, all the same regardless of our incomes? Is that a satisfactory way of dealing with poverty and obscene wealth? You cannot make everyone the same by ignoring their differences. It just doesn't work.

    3. Sorry, Early's words were religious, not Somerby's.

      Also, "don't want to make WAVES by upsetting white people."

  4. There's three species of orangutans. Principally, this is true because humans are categorizing them. Had it been orangutans doing the categorizing, you can bet "the science" would say there's only one species of orangutan: the orangutan species. Orangutans who opposed "the science" would be fired from their jobs or worse.

    1. Orangutans of different species don't live in the same geographic areas and would be unlikely to meet each other. Until human advances in transportation, that was true for humans too. Recall the triangle trade that brought African Americans to the US. I see no reason why orangutans can be assumed to be more tolerant than humans, when (1) we are all primates, (2) humans and orangutans form social hierarchys, (3) many animal species reject physially different specimens because it protects the group from disease to do so, and may even put an odd member to death. There is no reason to assume orangutans would consider those with differences to be all the same species. Even metaphors need to be based in some reality.

  5. A typically unremarked upon moment in the Trump Presidency was one a reporter asked the great man about his claim to have been the best President for Black Americans since Abe Lincoln. The reporter mentioned a few others including LBJ with his voting rights act.
    "Yeah," sneered Donald Trump, "What did THAT get you?"
    The President was following a line adopted by an ocean of Republican poles, talk show hosts and Op Ed scribes early into the seventies, that MLK and the Civil Rights programs had actually damaged Black Americans. This was the reasoning behind George Bush's repulsive appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Dissent from this view has been rare on the Right.
    Yes, the idealistic view that race does not exist is held by some... like Joy Reid! Those who occasionally expound it are not likely to be forgetting all about race in subsequent statements. President Trump just he just takes the tendency to ignore consistency to absurd, cruel, and childish extremes.
    President Trump has been at it again in the last few days, more of what Bob would write off as "stupid things" without the supposedly redeeming bits that would get an "Aha!" out of Bob.
    But I'm sure he will keep an eye out.
    For white men like Bob and myself, it's easy to simply say, "well, there is no such thing as race" to change the subject from whether a race based grievance is legit or not. Bob seems to have no sense that there is generally a price to be paid for taking the easy way out. -Greg

  6. “All will be united together—in one race—the human race, having differences only in the pigment of their skin, texture of their hair, and having this in common—a citizen of the United States of America.”

    Early wished this because, at the time, being “black” meant being discriminated against, being a second-class citizen, being subjugated, etc. Race was used to exclude, to disadvantage.

    Nowadays, being “black” is a source of pride, and is in no way incompatible with being a full citizen of the United States and an expectation of taking full advantage of that. Use of the term nowadays isn’t intended as a put-down.

    But since racism still exists, and systemic racism as a legacy of the pre-Civil Rights era still exists, it is important to identify the ways it still disadvantages African Americans. (Voter suppression is a current and pernicious example of this. Somerby never discuses it.)

    That is part of what CRT attempts to do. And as I pointed out the other day, “Scholars of CRT view race as a social construct with no biological basis.” (Wikipedia… look it up.)

    Were Somerby’s readers aware of that?

    It’s also telling that, after the exodus of the many opponents of Civil Rights from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, these same people are now opposed to any discussion of racism and now wish to assert that race is a social construct, as they are busy trying to suppress the votes of (ahem) “black” people. Oof.

  7. "As everybody knows how to say and no one seems to know how to explain, there's no "inherent biological meaning" to the concept of race."

    This is not actually true. In a historical sense, the biological meaning seemed obvious. It was denoted by skin color, which is a biological trait, and that skin color was considered to be a marker for a variety of other real, related traits considered to be genetic (passed down by ancestors), such as intelligence, character, propensity to drink, sexual promiscuity, tendency to lie, laziness, and so on. The science of the day had produced genealogical charts showing that such things were passed down in family lines, and this was considered biological truth. That it was mistaken in now known, but saying that race had no biological reality is mistaken on Somerby's part, an ignorance of the past as wrong as Whoopi Goldberg's error. This biological reality is why bigots still believe that black people are inherently inferior.