ontology of class and race? (was Alabama and Tibet (?))

Jim heartfield Jim at heartfield.demon.co.uk
Wed Jul 8 16:38:17 PDT 1998

In message <l03130323b1c991f126dc@[]>, Doug Henwood <dhenwood at panix.com> writes
>Rakesh Bhandari wrote:
>>He seems to forget that due to the limits of the New Deal
>I just got a review copy of Suzanne Mettler's Dividing Citizens: Gender and
>Federalism in New Deal Public Policy, from Cornell University Press. In the
>preface, she argues that "Men, particularly white men, were endowed with
>national citizienship, incorporated into policies to be administered in a
>centralized, unitary manner through standardized, routinized procedures.
>Women and minority men were more likely to remain state citizens, subject
>to policies whose development was hindered by the dynamics of federalism
>and which were administered with discretion and variability."

I think a proper examination of the impact of the New Deal would reveal that it is the moment that consolidated the white identity amongst second and third generation immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. By welcoming these immigrants - previously excluded - that had flocked to the new cities, Roosevelt welded together a new American patriotism that was characteristically white, but not necessarily Anglo-Saxon or Protestant.

This was an exercise in wideining the consensus, but for that very reason the limitations of that consensus were more emphaticaly pooliced. Just as new Americans were welcomed in by the New Deal coalition, so the politics of exclusion became even more important.

The social base of the new deal was the cities - a shift in the centre of gravity in American politics. The new patriots were of many ethnicities, but one colour: white. Whiteness took on a new significance as that identitiy that embraced the elites in the cities as well as the newly minted American workers. Those attempts to found national identitiy on the basis of the exclusion of catholics, Jews and other recent immigrants, such as the Quotas act, were swept aside by the New Deal. Now it was whiteness that became the defining characteristic.

What tied the whole thing together was the tremendous economic growth of the cities. Rapidly accumulating capital was a magnet for immigrant labour and created a ladder of success. But just as the success of the cities defined the White identity, the spectacular failure of agriculture defined blackness as synonymous with failure.

The New Deal was accompanied by a profound reordering of American agriculture that smashed many white farmers, but those who most obviously bore its brunt were the black share-croppers, whose small holdings were too scattered to be competetive. Under the AAA Roosevelt centralised small farms, ruined tens of thousands of balck share croppers and passed the death sentence on the specific recosntrution of agriculture in the South - especially as it related to blacks. Black Americans dubbed the NRA 'N-words Ruined Again', while white American city-dwellers identified with the New Deal.

The dislocation of black agricultural workers led to the great northward migration But unlike the immigrants, blacks were moving to cities whose growth had aready slowed. A much depleted rate of capital accumulation meant that they were inserted into a slumping economy, at the margins, working only intermittently, living precariously.

As the inner city became black, whites moved out. They were relatively well off by comparison. The VA and the HOLC paid mortgages to whtie families to move out. Suburbanisation was fed by the recipients of the New Deal. It cemetned there white identification as they defined themselves geographically against what was perceived as black failure.

N-words Ruined Again is the story of the New Deal, just as the white patriotism of the New Deal cohort of second generation immigrants is. Racial divisions should not be seen as a constant, but rather they are reinvented in each new generation, taking on different forms and characteristics. The New Deal is remembered by some as the moment when they were welcomed into the American polity, but for many others it is the point at which their exclusion was consolidated. -- Jim heartfield

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