Refined Tactics from Refined Gentleman

Voter Suppression 2022 — Home on the Range Part 2 — the History

Searching for black voters on the American prairie Photo by Cullen Zh on Unsplash

The Midwestern vote on the floor of the Senate by the Republican senators on the great plains and Rocky Mountain states display a dispossessed cavalieres of rough-ranger cowhand privilege. Hard-fought scrabblers that may have come from the wealth of the ranch or the mining pit, but it is a modest working man’s wealth relative to that of the East Coasters or Californians.

The blacks in their encounter are few and far between, and in a cold winter on the range, they might give them a blanket if needed, and help a black cowhand back up on his horse. They’ve never had to worry since they are the dominant color by far in state. And if blacks are living in these cold winter states on the open range, then they must share some type of hard-working values and love of open spaces that the traditional Midwesterner might have. Their numbers are sparse compared to whites, so whites can afford to be genuinely nice.

When we last encountered Senator Barrasso from Wyoming, he was shown he has those numbers of whites in his state who all voted for him, and internally knew them. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if some black Wyoming cowboy types voted for him as he might share their values of hard work, a quiet internal toughness forged by cold windy winters. He wants to get back to work for America and couldn’t be seen fooling around with this vote thing. [see part 1]

I’m only amplifying some of the perceived characteristics of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain senators to make a point: they have a separate history than the East Coast or even gold rush and Silicon Valley Californians. I don’t know Senator Barrasso, and really don’t even care to Google him to learn a brief bio. My point is what he represents, who he represents, and the values of those he represents in relationship to their geographical historical evolution. Their attitude towards blacks may not be as callous for the voters as in other regions.

The South is a different animal. Its history is clearly based on other deep-seated tensions, hatreds and violent black repression.

Senator Borrasso or any his upper midwestern Republican colleagues may know the history of the US and the South, but if they weren’t born or raised there, or attend college there, then their physiological perspective is not relatable to Southern whites’ historical emotional perspective of blacks. They are not deeply tied to the South, absent of its tensions.

In the South, maintaining power has always meant a firm hand by whites, and that hand was on a whip, cane, or gun, or tying a noose. Since the beginning of Independence Day, July 4, 1776, the white attitude had already been firmly established in their blood. Literally. The whites were used to violent expressions of power to get manual work done, not on the self-reliance like the Great Plains ranchers, or the little house on the prairie farmers. The Upper Midwest may have been built on each individual’s demanding physical work, but it wasn’t predominantly black forced labor.

The Southern whites were used to wielding power, through commands and through violence in dependable group cohesion. They had too; they were often outnumbered, whether on the plantation or in towns. When blacks were freed after the Civil Way, they were now outnumbered at the polls, and blacks were elected around the South to Congress and locally, even in Mississippi. The black vote was beaten back thus most violently after Reconstruction ended even more so than in 1865.

In 1876 in South Carolina, when blacks compromised 60 percent of the population, had the first black congressman ex-slave elected, Joseph Rainey. He represented an existential threat to their political power. The whites in power knew how to wield white group dynamics against blacks, and poor whites were used to being willfully in that hierarchy, as a chance to get noticed and move up the group rank or just to “be safe.” At that point, their expected cruelty to display against blacks in a white group setting was already part of the mental landscape even before the Klan came formerly into existence.

By comparison, Señor Barrasso, GOP Wyoming said, “It [the voter suppression law he helped shot down] has nothing to do with the crisis at the Southern border.” Here he enjoys making a deliberate dig at Latinos. He can’t help but get in a dig against the “browns.” He is reminding his constituency of the “brown invasion” and when combined with blacks, make up the Great Replacement. But although his reference to Latinos may be more reflective of the emotional bigotry of this state, it is still nothing when contrasted to the Southern white leaders.

As Senator Ben Tillman also said on the floor of Congress in Senate: “We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern the white man, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man.” That was in 1900 though, clearly a different time and place, though it was still over 200 years of practice of racial repression and slavery. The upper Midwest was barely even settled and organized with no slavery and if violent incidents of racial repression occurred, they were not through daily floggings and degradations practice on the plantations and farms of the South.

There may be similarities between the Western/Midwestern white senators and white Southern black Senators. They both prefer white rule: one by default from the relative absence of blacks in thinly populated states, and the other by “hard work” in more densely populated states (the hard work being to remain white minority rule through violent repression followed illegal or immoral tactics in state legislatures and governorships).

Senator Tillman does say that blacks are protected in his state, and they are doing well. He is a southern gentleman after all: “We adopted the educational qualification as the only means left to us, and the negro is as contented and as prosperous and as well protected in South Carolina today as in any State of the Union south of the Potomac.” Words that sound Trump-like when he talked about blacks doing better than ever under him, that no one has done more for blacks than Trump.

But unlike Mr. Barrasso, Senator Tillman isn’t afraid to admit the truth on the Senate Floor: “As white men we are not sorry for it, and we do not propose to apologize for anything we have done in connection with it. We took the government away from them in 1876 …. We did not disfranchise the negroes until 1895. Then we had a constitutional convention convened which took the matter up calmly, deliberately, and avowedly with the purpose of disfranchising as many of them as we could under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments.”

For the record, the disfranchising he refers enacted “colorless” voting legislation like those introduced and passed in these last six months, as explicit mention of race was unconstitutional, implicit was not and could not be easily overturn. From 1882 to 1894 South Carolina’s white legislature passed laws requiring voters to place ballots for each category of office in eight separate boxes and any placed in an incorrect box would be disqualified, to protect from voter fraud; the voter registration books were opened for a painfully brief time each month; re-registration was mandatory every time a voter moved, even in the same district; potential voters who registered for the first time need to provide detailed personal information and affidavits from two reputable citizens swearing to the applicant’s “good character”. Finally, the 1895 South Carolina Constitution cemented the disenfranchisement Senator Tillman describes, by requiring a literacy test, by disqualifying voters, disqualifying criminals from voting, and requiring the payment of a poll tax six months prior to the election.

In other words, the minority whites of South Carolina were way ahead of the game in “colorless” methods for black disenfranchisement, had practiced it for decades before his speech, and were so sure it worked that he openly bragged of it. They made a blueprint still used today, spread out and amplified after the Great Southern strategy of Nixon. It is a strategy that doesn’t mention color, in line with U.S. constitution. And like today, one ready, without question or illusion, to make whites the majority minority.

White northern politicians, with their vast industrial base and dominant monetary power, were only too pleased to stay out of the South with its unsolvable problems after withdrawing their troops in 1876, ending reconstruction and Southern occupation. And that’s where whites like Schumer and Biden stand today: a few remarks on their moral indignation, but no real sustained pressure to pass it, the usual practiced nod of disappointment, but glad to have separated the industrial infrastructure bill from the voter rights, or “social” issues (meaning black and brown minorities, something for the backburner in white speak, that doesn’t make politicians richer).

Señor Barrasso thus joins a strategy long in the making, even if not in his temperament, which favors honesty and hard work of the Midwesterner. He thus might be taking a history lesson from the Southern white gentlemen in power on what he means by “Americans”: señor used to mean “superior,” or a lord in Medieval times in Spain. In the times of slavery’s beginnings in the 1600, it evolved mean “a gentleman” or “sir”, as in “yeh’sir” in the colonial American South, which became the preferred way for nonvoting blacks after American Independence to speak to “a gentleman plantation” owner, a true “American”.

Maybe he and Señor Cruz can rustle some cattle together, and he can teach Mr. Cruz, who has Latino roots, that he knows some Spanish and show they share “superior” roots.

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Bren Kelly

Engaged in new Ideas and old Inequalities, putting the system back into systemic, born on the 50th Anniversary of Women's Lib Day, still seeking injustices.