Social Black Experience Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3284 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Social Black Experience

A Survey of Black Social Oppression in the Twentieth Century

Evelyn Waugh noted in his "Conservative Manifesto" in Robbery Under Law (1940) that "inequalities of wealth and position are inevitable….Men naturally arrange themselves in a system of classes [and] such a system is necessary for any form of co-operative work, more particularly the work of keeping a nation together" (16-17). What happened in 20th century America, however, was the development of more than a mere system "of co-operative work." It was a system of outright slavery, propagated by an elitist element of American society, as E. Michael Jones has chronicled to great extent in numerous works. This paper will analyze how the American government has gone beyond the strictures of the natural arrangement of class and racial hierarchy, (often secretly) employing methods of controlling the African-American population in an attempt to uphold its investment in the social order. What should have been a system of natural co-operation has turned into a system of unnatural control and social black oppression.

In 1913, John B. Watson was detailing the specifics of behaviorism at Columbia University and cubism was invading the cultural sphere of American art through Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase. Both would play an indirect but important role in the reduction of the role of the African-American -- the former through scientific experiment, the latter through radicalism in art. Both science and art in America were funded largely by the moneyed elite -- and the ideals of the moneyed elite were largely synonymous with those of the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) establishment. What both essentially taught was a page out of the book of the Marquis de Sade, whose writings from the time of the French Revolution had never ceased to have a hold over the literary public. The lesson was this: undesirable groups of people could be controlled through a single aspect of human nature that, when pushed towards excess (as Huxley showed in Brave New World), enslaved mankind to its passions. That passion was sex -- and both behaviorism and cubism were a kind of prelude to the marginalization of "undesirables" in America (Jones 131).

W.E.B. Du Bois, over a decade earlier, however, had already begun an examination into what was beginning to be known as the "Negro problem." For Du Bois that problem was the maltreatment of blacks through inequality, poverty, and lack of social standing. For the American elite, it was a problem of escalating numbers -- as Du Bois points out early in The Philadelphia Negro: "The Negroes, as an element in the total population of the city, are growing in numbers more rapidly than the whites" (xii).

The black population and the Catholic population (increasing through emigration) both posed a threat to the ruling classes. The link between science, art, and the control of the "undesirables" was the decades long funding (by, in particular, the Rockefeller foundation) of men such as Eddie Bernays, nephew of none other than Sigmund Freud and the founding father of American advertising and PR.

The sexual liberation that occurred in Greenwich Village in the early twentieth century would be repeated in Harlem decades later, and then pumped into the mainstream with the advent of the Sixties revolution and rock 'n' roll, which found its inspiration in the black jazz era that preceded it. Jazz had been promoted by the literati, ("Jazz is orgasm," as Norman Mailer stated in "The White Negro" -- a remark that cut through to the heart of the role that sexual revolution played in the decline of black moral standards and subsequent enslavement) just like women's smoking had been promoted by Bernays. "Bernays tried to manipulate the country collectively through the mass media, by means of advertising and public relations" (Jones 135). The black population, as it would be throughout the whole of the twentieth century, was essentially the guinea pig for such experiments.

Experimentation on the black population did not stop, however, with the patronage of black poets like Claude McKay, a Jamaican writer who had helped initiate the Harlem Renaissance with Harlem Shadows and Home to Harlem in the 1920s. It continued and intensified under the banners of science and control. The Tuskegee experiments in which blacks were injected with syphilis and Project MKULTRA were later examples of the estimation and worth of blacks in the eyes of the scientific community. McKay, however, served as a forerunner of the kind of societal manipulation, with which the liberal white elites and their WASP counterparts exercised over the black minority. At once exploited and oppressed, blacks in the twentieth century have been treated as puppets in the hands of social reformers (such as the socialists of the first half of the century) who, like Margaret Sanger, used them to gain a foothold on the political scene -- only to abandon them once that foothold was established. (Sanger had fought for equal rights and fair pay just long enough to become heard -- then she focused solely on crusading for the eugenicists, who (like in Germany) sought to put into the hands of "undesirables" the very birth control that would deplete their numbers. To people like Sanger, birth control was viewed as the liberal fulfillment of "sex without consequences." To people like Eleanor Dwight Jones, head of the American Birth Control League in 1930, it was a campaign to preserve the white race:

We…are concentrating on the practical work of making it possible for the lower social classes to practice birth control. For the good of the race, people of poor stock -- incompetent and sickly -- should have few or no children, and fortunately they want few or no children. In this matter private interest is in accord with public interest. That is the strength of the birth control movement. (Jones 279)

Social conditioning (as devised by men like Watson decades earlier) was meeting social engineering. Through the art and "Renaissance" of the early part of the century (patronized by the international community seeking to control the "undesirables" of the world), the black population of America had been rendered loose from its Protestant moorings, which (thanks to the persuasion of the liberal element) it now viewed as "white" and part of the character of the "oppressor." McKay, for one, gave voice to such a view -- and was commended for it -- even to the point of being invited by the Soviet regime in Moscow to serve as a kind of poster boy for liberation from the old world of prudery and the induction of sexual revolution.

Imported into the States as a kind of protege of the liberal white elite (like Max Eastman), McKay rejected his own Protestant roots, which he had received in his Jamaican upbringing, in favor of the new liberal revolution underway in New York. The new morality, embodied in Harlem, quickly made its repercussions known: McKay contracted syphilis, manifested while abroad in Spain -- an event which sparked a new direction in his life, and a return to religious morality. McKay converted from liberal socialism to Catholicism, and upon return to America was essentially ostracized from the literati which once upheld him. When McKay ceased to be the black poster boy of liberation (aka sexual slavery, ruining, as Thomas Merton would point out later, the lives of blacks all over places like Harlem), he ceased to be useful to the white elite. However, like the eugenics campaign of the Third Reich in Germany, the push for control of the black population did not require poster boys -- it had the funding of monopolists to back the science that would write the book on social engineering in the latter half of the century. As Jones notes:

On December 26, 1945, [Arthur] Packard [head of the Davison Fund] wrote to Morris Hadley of Planned Parenthood, informing him that John D. Rockefeller III had made a contribution of $2,500 to support PP's Harlem Project, which was 'to provide an example for other Negro populated communities' on how to reduce their numbers through the use of contraception…Again, in spite of the war and the bad name Hitler had given eugenics and the name change to evade association with it, Planned Parenthood was still talking the eugenic line. (Jones 288)

De-population, of course, was only one method of control. Outright experimentation with drugs and disease was another.

The Final Report of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Legacy Committee, filed on 20 May 1996 outlined an incident in recent American history that illustrates the point of this paper perfectly well:

From 1932 to 1972, 399 poor black sharecroppers in Macon County, Alabama were denied treatment for syphilis and deceived by physicians of the United States Public Health Service. As part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, designed to document the natural history of the disease, these men were told that they were being treated for "bad blood." In fact, government officials went to extreme lengths to insure that they received no therapy from any source.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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