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How to Maintain a Racial caste system without trying

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This book  "Caste and Class in a Southern Town," by John Dollard, is a prototypical example of how America's brutal racial hierarchy is enforced through social psychological means so that it will continue to evolve unmolested into the future. 

It is one of the few careful social psychological studies done on the impact of race in American culture. And although it was written in 1937, much of what the author discovered then -- while focusing mostly on the power relationships between whites and blacks in Indianola, Mississippi and on the emotional connections between them -- surprisingly still holds true for the rest of the country even today. And while it is true that his focus was primarily on blacks in the delta of Mississippi, because the emotional connection between blacks and whites was so strong and constituted a single social unit, and because the power relationships have not changed between blacks and whites even today, his study reveals perhaps as much about whites as it does about blacks -- and even more about how the racial caste system of 1937 still works its hidden magic even in 2013.

Among other things, Dollard's study shows how powerful a focused well-composed, analytically sophisticated sociological analysis can be when it is properly and carefully connected to the true root causes of social and cultural problems in America. And as W.E. B. DuBois predicted a century ago, the problem of 21st Century American remains "the problem of the color line."

And in this single regard, the study violently jerks our consciousness back to a general awareness of what the social order and hierarchy of any society ultimately is about: It is about how to socially adjust the conscience, character, personalities and morality of its members through social-psychological pressure and enforcement such that they can then accept without question and without guilt the hierarchical arrangements that the social order demands. Once acceptance of the rules of the game by a majority can be taken as a given -- no matter how corrupt, depraved, immoral and unfair those rules may be -- the society can then quietly go about its business of acting as a stable unified social entity; and unless there is a violent upheaval, will remain in a relatively stable steady state thereafter. 

It is as much for this reason as for any other that the results of Dollard's study can be expanded and generalized from "the 1937 South" to "the U.S. as a whole in 2013."  For despite surface changes, and much superficial progress in race relations in the intervening years (including the election of a weak but politically crafty mulatto President), the essential race-based hierarchy and the underlying emotional structure and main emotional contours of the American racial caste system that Dollard tapped into, remain very much intact and the same today. 

Instead of disappearing, as conventional wisdom would have us believe, the objective facts on the ground in 2013 suggest quite a different story. They suggest that instead of ushering in a new era of racial progress, that like a cancer hidden from detection, the worse aspects of the social arrangements of the South, have been reinforced, and have now metastasized as they have spread unmolested through the nation's main arteries directly into the blood stream of the nation as a whole. More than one author has suggested that even though the South lost the shooting part of the Civil War, because they succeeded in preserving the racist caste system and the culture appended to it, that they have emerged as the real winners of the Civil War.

The reason this study is an apt template for what is happening today and the reason it has received so much critical acclaim even 76 years later, is because the author's objective was to get well beyond the superficial and dishonest narratives of racial progress and inside the minds of those who created, are still heavily invested in, and continue to defend the rules that make the racial caste system work. 

Dollard is the only researcher I know of who has succeeded in getting at the underlying emotional structure and adult feelings that lie at the base of America's racial caste system. Through his analysis of blacks who lived in the Mississippi Delta 76 years ago, we can now connect their feelings directly to the threatened feelings of whites, and even now we can still trace step-by-step the trajectory of adjustments required of both sides of the racial divide in order to accommodate the peculiar social institution called "American style racism." The emotional connections between the races and the accommodations required by both sides to continue to promote the racist caste system have not changed one iota since 1937. One could argue that in fact with thinly veiled racist movements like the "Tea Party," a bona fide adjunct to the Republican Party, that the racist caste system has actually become tighter rather than more relaxed.

The sharpest part of the book lies in its subtext. It is here that Dollard continually reminds us that all social orders, no matter how morally reprehensible and bankrupt they may be, in order to survive, must remain stable and in a steady state. That is to say, they must be rendered normal and above challenge, otherwise it is imagined that there will be social chaos? 

And in this regard, in the case of the USA, as reprehensible as they were, the social orders of slavery, American style Apartheid, Jim Crow, Sharecropping, and even today's "suburban white flight," are all stable incremental forms of the same American racial caste system that was ridiculed and laughed at when it seemed an exclusive preserve of the Southern way of life? Using Dollard's analysis here though, we can now readily see why today this racist way of life, once restricted only to the South, unfortunately is now the normal social order of the nation as a whole. The South has not become more like the North, instead it is the other way around: Every state now has its own Mississippi and Alabama subparts.

Another very important part of the book shows how cosmetic changes, including the election of a mulatto president, do not in any way improve race relations as a whole in the U.S., but instead allows the adult emotional feelings of American white people an undeserved Holiday, in which they can continue to wallow in a comfortable delusional state about how good relations between the races really are? (Say what?)

But the undeniable truth is that the American racial caste system has remained relatively stable since 1937 only because in order to make it work, the social order must continually be enforced, and then periodically reinforced. As Dollard underscores, it is the South that leads the way and shows the rest of the nation how this enforcement and reinforcement process of "socially adjusting" the minds, characters, morality and personalities of all Americans to a renewal of white supremacy, is to best be done if the racial caste system is to remain intact and also remain in a steady state. 

The collective conscience, moral habits and sensibilities of all Americans are continually being "socially adjusted" to conform with and to accommodate the needs of a stable racial hierarchy and racial caste system -- a social order that arguably defines America much better than does even the Declaration of Independence. 

Here the reader does not have to be reminded that the term "socially adjusted" is just a euphemism for brutal social psychological enforcement and reinforcement of the unwritten rules of the racist caste system. The beauty of this book is that it is a careful step-by-step manual of how "social adjustments" and ""moral accommodations" are constantly being made and enforced to allow the American racial caste system to remain in a steady state, a state that it has remained in for more than a century since the Civil War. Anyone who wants to know why racism is still so persistent in the U.S. despite a limp-writed mulatto president, I suggest stop listening to the MSNBC pundits and read this book, which I highly recommend. Twenty stars


 

Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
 

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