Tuesday, December 09, 2014

White America's secret, part 1

We must delight in each other, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.
(“A Model of Christian Charity,” John Winthrop, leading figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1630)

No ancient empire has risen or mouldered away within these limits. Except the red man, of doubtful origin and melancholy fate, America has no “surviving memorials of the past.”
(History of New Hampshire, George Barstow, 1858)

It would soon become the greatest mass slaughter of warm-blooded animals in human history. In Kansas alone the bones of thirty-one million buffalo were sold for fertilizer between 1868 and 1881.
(from Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C.Gwynne)

A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.
W.E.B. DuBois

Violence is as American as cherry pie.
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin [H. Rap Brown], 1960s

All a man needed was a horse, a gun and the open land, and he could conquer the world.
(attributed to U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, 2014)

Vacuum domicilium

My favorite time to visit Cape Cod, the section of Massachusetts that juts out into the ocean, had always been in the fall, when the tourists had long gone and the beaches were deserted. It was the emptiness that I liked, watching the Atlantic Ocean crash onto the shore. It was easier to imagine so much.

That same ocean crashed onto the beaches when my ancestors landed in November of 1620—cold, miserable, frightened yet believing fervently in their stern religion and that they were the chosen people of God, about to establish the New Jerusalem.

To these early Pilgrims and Puritans, this New Jerusalem was deserted! It was vacuum domicilium, meaning “vacant dwelling.” It didn't fit the traditional English characteristic.”Unimproved” lands without any clear title were simply available.

Right away the views of the Indians and the Europeans regarding “property” were ultimately irreconcilable. For the newcomers, title was available for the first occupant who would clear the land, build on it, garden, farm and permanently inhabit the property. Property for Europeans meant power and virtually no one in Europe had any in the seventeenth century. And there was so much land for the taking and so few white people to take it, arguably the most fertile region on the planet. We had to be the chosen people.

Back in 2005 I wrote an article entitled A Druid Nation. I asked the question whether or not it would have been different if someone other than the Puritans had established settlements in America.

A clear duality exists in this country. My Puritan relatives were not Libertarians, contrary to some of the more fanciful views of white conservatives today. In the beginning it was about shared responsibility and community norms. It was also about obeying God's laws … as interpreted by the leaders of the community. William Jenkyn the Puritan martyr, who died in Newgate Prison in London, said that, “As the wicked are hurt by the best things, so the godly are bettered by the worst.”

While the Puritan communitarian strain pretty much dominated the settling of the “new” world, the secular influence of the European Enlightenment dominated the founding of the United States.

On Thomas Jefferson's tomb nothing is written about being the third president of the United States. What we see is that he was the author of the Declaration of American Independence, the Father of the University of Virginia and, the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom. The state, in Jefferson's eyes, had no business in proselytizing religious views.

We white people have been mixing, matching, justifying and making stuff up from the very beginning.


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