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Racial Myths and Realities By: James Lubinskas
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, October 03, 2002

Throughout the 1990’s, both conservatives and liberals worried about the large divide between blacks and whites over issues like the Crown Heights riots, The Los Angeles riots, the O.J. Simpson verdict, Louis Farrakhan’s “Million Man March”, affirmative action, hate crime legislation, choice of political parties and many other topics.  The recent emergence of issues such as racial profiling and “reparations” for slavery indicates that this divide is as wide as ever.


For at least the last 40 years, political, social and cultural elites have taken a particular point of view regarding this gap and how best to overcome it. From the Kerner Commission of the 1960’s to President Clinton’s “Dialogue on Race” in the 1990’s, the proposed remedy has been to make whites realize the daily racism blacks (and to a lesser extent all non-whites) face, as well as the daily privileges they get from being white. In other words, blacks have the clear view on American racism and whites must be disabused of their bigoted, wrong-headed opinions and made aware of their true history of oppression.


In order to do this, a mountain of racial myths has been created. Perhaps some of these myths are put forth by those who only want racial advantage for their own group. But most of these untruths exist because people have never heard the whole story on a host of racial issues in American and world history. While it would take volumes to correct these distortions, here are three of the most common racial myths and the realities behind them.


Myth #1

Japanese-Americans were put in internment camps during World War II while Italian-Americans and German-Americans were not


The war against terror in the United States has caused many to warn that any erosion of civil liberties could result in a repeat of the government internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Only this time the targeted group would be Arab-Americans. The National Education Association recently released an instruction guide for teachers to help them teach about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The instructions generally call for a warning against American intolerance – not Islamic or Arab intolerance. To better get the message across, one recommendation is to teach children about how the government interned Japanese-Americans during WWII.


 Indeed, during a tour to promote his book on American race relations, Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White (2002), Frank Wu, the first Asian-American law professor at Howard University, appeared on a local black talk show in Washington DC hosted by NPR personality Kojo Nnamdi. Professor Wu also writes for the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The Nation, so he is no minor character.  The two commentators immediately started talking about the history of white American racism and spent considerable time informing viewers about the  “fact” that during WWII the American government interned Japanese-Americans but not Italian-Americans or German-Americans. Indeed, if America really did intern non-whites whose ancestors happened to come from Japan, but not whites whose ancestors came from Italy or Germany, what can be more telling about the reality of American racism?


The fact is that about half of those interned by the U.S. government during WWII were white (Mostly Italian-Americans and German-Americans). In Undue Process: The Untold Story of America's German Alien Internees (1997), Arnold Krammer, professor of history at Texas A&M University, describes the extensive wartime policy of interning Europeans - a policy that has disappeared from history books and that gives the lie to the orthodox view that Japanese relocation was a race-based policy. Using government documents, newspaper accounts, and interviews with former internees, Prof. Krammer has documented the officially forgotten history of the internment of whites.


The United States started to intern German and Italian merchant seamen in U.S. ports in April 1941 while the country was officially neutral - a clear violation of law. By October 1941, it had formal plans for interning Germans and Italians living in the United States, and began implementing them on December 8, 1941 - three days before the U.S. was officially at war with Germany and Italy. Some Germans who were naturalized citizens were stripped of U.S. citizenship so they could be interned legally.

The total number of enemy aliens interned by the Roosevelt Administration was 31,275. This included 10,905 Germans, 16,849 Japanese, and 3,278 Italians. The rest consisted of other Europeans from enemy nations, with whites constituting 46 percent of the total.


Another forgotten point about Japanese internment was the open disloyalty of many Japanese-Americans during the war. Over three-fourths of Japanese-Americans held dual Japanese citizenship, which indicated a less-than-total attachment to America. Once the war began, unlike German and Italian-Americans, many Japanese-Americans were openly hostile. For example, approximately 14,000 filed to renounce U.S. citizenship. The demand for renunciation was so great that in 1944 Congress amended the Nationality Act of 1940 to allow U.S. citizens to renounce citizenship during wartime. Of these 14,000 petitioners, 5,620 followed the process through to full renunciation, and gave up citizenship. They were then interned as enemy aliens, a consequence that probably kept many other disloyal Japanese- Americans from renouncing citizenship. Without this group of 5,620 Japanese - officially known as "renunciants" and, in effect, self-selected internees - the number of European internees would have been greater than the number of Japanese. There are no known cases of a U.S. citizen of European origin renouncing citizenship during the war.  When forced to choose between their homeland and the United Sates, many Japanese chose to side with their race.


Ironically, it is on the grounds of “racism” that Japanese have successfully sued the U.S. government. Activists succeeded in winning financial compensation from Congress on seven separate occasions - in 1948, 1951, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1972, and 1978.  In 1988, Congress issued an official apology, and awarded $20,000 to each former internee and relocated person of Japanese descent. Four years later, Congress extended eligibility for the $20,000 to non-Japanese spouses of Japanese internees who voluntarily joined their families in internment. In June 1998, the Clinton Administration announced it would pay financial compensation to Japanese-Latin Americans interned in the United States during the war. There is now a memorial to Japanese internees in Washington D.C.


Needless to say, no white internees have received money, an apology or a monument and their sufferings have been erased from history.


Myth #2

American slavery (white-on-black) is uniquely wicked in world history


One of the most productive effects of David Horowitz’s 2001 campaign against reparations for slavery was his publicizing some inconvenient facts about the institution. Slavery was a universal institution first stopped by whites, and blacks who came to America were already slaves of Arabs or other blacks. While every American child learns about white-on-black slavery, other forms of slavery that are more prevalent and still practiced are ignored. In fact, black-on-black and Arab-on-black slavery still exists today in parts of Africa such as the Sudan and Mauritania and in the black Caribbean nation of Haiti.


A few proponents of reparations tried to answer Horowtiz by stating that African slavery was benign compared to Western slavery. Typical of this line of thought is the following passage from Randall Robinson’s reparations manifesto, The Debt (2000): “While King Affonso [of Kongo] was no stranger to slavery, which was practiced throughout most of the known world, he had understood slavery as a condition befalling prisoners of war, criminals, and debtors, out of which slaves could earn, or even marry, their way. This was nothing like seeing this wholly new and brutal commercial practice of slavery where tens of thousands of his subjects were dragged off in chains.”


Dorothy Benton-Lewis, head of the National Coalition for Reparations against Blacks, claims that only white slavers were racist and brutal: “It is American slavery that put a color on slavery. And American slavery is not like the slavery of Africa or ancient times. This was dehumanizing, brutal and barbaric slavery that subjugated people and turned them into a profit.”


The claims of Robinson and Benton-Lewis are widely believed but are simply not true.  Orlando Patterson studied 55 slave societies for his 1982 book Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (1982). He writes:


“It has often been remarked that slavery in the Americas is unique in the primary role of race as a factor in determining the condition and treatment of slaves. This statement betrays an appalling ignorance of the comparative data on slave societies. . . . Throughout the Islamic world, for instance, race was a vital issue. The light-skinned Tuareg and related groups had decidedly racist attitudes towards the Negroes they conquered. Throughout the Islamic empires, European and Turkish slaves were treated quite differently from slaves south of the Sahara Desert. . . . Slavery [in Africa] was more than simply “subordination”; it was considered a degraded condition, reinforced by racist attitudes among the Arab slave owners.”


Writing on African slavery before 1600, the historian Paul Lovejoy notes: “For those who were enslaved, the dangers involved forced marches, inadequate food, sexual abuse, and death on the road.”


In his book on the reparations battle, Uncivil Wars (2002) Horowitz adds:


“In fact Africa’s internal slave trade, which did not involve the United States or any European power, not only extended over the entire 500 years mentioned by Robinson, but also preceded it by nearly 1,000 years. In the period between 650 and 1600, before any Western involvement, somewhere between 3 million and 10 million Africans were bought by Muslim slavers for use in Saharan societies and in the trade in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. By contrast, the enslavement of blacks in the United States lasted 89 years, from 1776 until 1865. The combined slave trade to the British colonies in North America and later to the United States accounted for less than 3 percent of the global trade in African slaves. The total number of slaves imported to North America was 800,000, less than the slave trade to the island of Cuba alone. If the internal African slave trade-which began in the seventh century and persists to this day in the Sudan, Mauritania and other sub-Saharan states-is taken into account, the responsibility of American traders shrinks to a fraction of 1 percent of the slavery problem.”


African tribes were some of the fiercest defenders of slavery when whites tried to outlaw the practice in the 19th century.  Blacks in present-day Ghana rioted against the British as they destroyed the slave ports along Africa’s western coast. In 1808, the King of Bonny (now Nigeria) told the British: “You’re country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.”


One of America’s most famous black novelists, Zora Neale Hurston had a very different perspective on slavery than today’s reparations activists: “The white people held my people in slavery here in America. They bought us, it is true, and exploited us. But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw was [that] my people had sold me. … My own people had exterminated whole nations and tore families apart for profit before the strangers got their chance at a cut. It was a sobering thought. It impressed upon me the universal nature of greed and glory."


Unfortunately, school children are more likely to get the distorted Randall Robinson version of slavery than they are to get the more accurate and poetic version put forward by Zora Neale Hurston. Ironically, slavery is making a return to America primarily due to African immigrants bringing their traditional customs with them. In the last year alone, several immigrants from Cameroon have been sentenced for keeping other Cameroonians as slaves. In one particularly gruesome case, African immigrants Louisa Satia and Kevin Nanji were sentenced to nine years in prison for beating, raping and torturing their teenage slave. African slavery is becoming so commonplace in America that the Attorney General has set up something called the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force to help put a stop to it.


Myth #3

Lynching was another racist American institution that viscous whites inflicted upon innocent blacks


Next to slavery, lynching is thought to be the most racist aspect of American history. A lynching museum exists in Milwaukee that focuses exclusively on white-on-black lynchings. In 2000, a traveling exhibit of white-on-black lynching photos came to American’s biggest cities. The lynching exhibit received favorable attention from the major media including the Washington Post, New York Times and CNN. According to CNN correspondent Maria Hinojosa, “All photos show voiceless victims of hate; men and women stripped, lashed, beaten, burned and hung. Often their only crime was one they could not control -- the color of their skin.” She ends her review of the display by claiming, “The exhibit is a harsh reminder of America's responsibility for a horrible chapter of racial hatred.”

This is the official view of lynching. That it was exclusively whites who carried it out against innocent blacks. It is portrayed as a viscous act of officially sanctioned white racism against innocent blacks, designed to keep “Negroes in their place.”


In fact, we know quite a bit about lynching and the facts indicate it was far from a racist design practiced by whites to terrorize blacks.  From its founding in 1914 until the early 1930’s. The New Republic ran an annual editorial listing the number of lynchings in the United States for each year.  The NAACP’s first big crusade was against lynching and they frequently publicized statistics. The Chicago Tribune also covered lynching extensively.


Robert Zangrando, cites statistics for the period of 1882–1968 in his book, The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching. Using figures from the Tuskegee Institute he finds a total of 4,742 for the 87-year period, of which 1,297 victims were white and 3,445 were black. Even though over a quarter of those lynched were white, this does not stop lynching from being described almost entirely in racist terms.


Here are some examples of the charge:


Jacquelyn Dowd Hall in Revolt Against Chivalry (1993) writes: “Lynching functioned as a mode of repression because it was arbitrary and exemplary, aimed not at one individual but at blacks as a group. White supremacy was maintained … and lynching worked effectively to create a general milieu of fear that discouraged individual and organized black assertiveness.”


Donald L. Grant writes in The Anti-Lynching Movement (1975): “Lynching … became the most effective method of maintaining the racial caste system which developed after Reconstruction. This caste system relegated Blacks to the position of a conquered people and made it possible for whites to receive the economic, psychological, and sexual tribute which they had been conditioned by slavery to accept as their due.”


Robert Zangrado in The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950 (1980) claims: “It was the indiscriminate use of violence that gave the mob its real utility as an instrument of intimidation and control in a racist society.”


An October 25, 1992 Los Angeles Times/Washington Post story on the murder of Medgar Evers claims: “between 1881 and 1966, there were 4,709 lynchings in the United States, most of them racially motivated killings of Southern blacks . . . .”


The claim that lynching was primarily an act of racism against blacks is almost never supported with evidence.  In fact, both whites and blacks carried out lynchings. Almost all cases of lynchings were carried out not because of race, but because of viscous crimes – crimes often perpetrated by blacks.


In Lynching – History and Analysis (1995) Wichita State University professor Dwight Murphey refutes the case that lynchings were largely a result white of racism. People often resorted to lynching because the authorities were a long ride away, and President Andrew Jackson himself sanctioned the practice when he recommended to Iowa settlers that they lynch murderers. Likewise in Kansas, a New York Tribune correspondent reported in 1858 that "[t]here is a very general disposition to pass over the hopelessly useless forms of Territorial law and corrupt Federal courts, and try these parties (i.e. horse-thieves) by Lynch law."


Prof. Murphey notes that contrary to current assumptions, blacks also formed lynch gangs, mostly to lynch blacks, but sometimes to lynch whites. In Clarksdale, Tennessee, blacks lynched a white in 1914 for raping a black woman. The authorities later ruled that this was justifiable homicide. In 1872 in Chicot County, Arkansas, armed blacks broke three whites out of jail and shot them to death.

Nor was lynching by any means a sport in which any black was fair game. In Tennessee in 1911, four white men hanged a black man and his two daughters for no good reason. This outrage roused the ire of the community; the whites were tried and two were hanged.


It is true that blacks were lynched more often than whites, but, as is the case today, blacks were also more likely to commit violent crimes, so even if lynching had been entirely race-blind, the number of executions would still have been racially unbalanced. Prof. Murphey cites black homicide rates in 1921-22 for Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis and New Orleans per 100,000 that were 102.2, 97.2, 116.9 and 46.7 respectively. This corresponded to white rates of 15.0, 28.0, 29.6, and 8.4. According to Murphey, “These figures are eloquent testimony that serious crime was the primary provocation for lynching.” Even W.E.B. DuBois wrote disparagingly of "a class of black criminals, loafers, and ne'er-do-wells who are a menace to their fellows, both black and white."



Lynching exists today, though it is rarely called lynching. Prof. Murphey’s book cites some then-recent incidents such as a July 13, 1993 report of an attempted lynching of a man in Washington state who had recently been let out of prison after serving a mere 18 months for raping a little girl. During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, blacks lynched several whites, Asians and Hispanics. An October 1993 report tells of a “scab” worker being killed by a sniper for “working in West Virginia coal fields during a strike.” Prof. Murphey also reminds us that for years, the United States and the world at large supported the African National Congress (ANC) in its drive for power in South Africa, while fully aware of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people lynched by the ANC through “necklacing,” where a gas filled tire was put around the victim’s neck and lit on fire.


One of the worst cases of modern lynching was a 1992-gang attack on a young white woman, Missy McLauchlin in Charleston, South Carolina. The victim was abducted, raped, tortured and murdered by five blacks who had made a pact to kill a white woman for “400 years of oppression.” The case was not investigated as a hate crime and barely made the local news. Jared Taylor describes many other instances of cases that can be described as black-on-white lynchings in his groundbreaking book, Paved With Good Intentions (1992).


Finally, it helps to keep lynching in proper perspective. The highest estimates of lynchings from after the Civil War until 1960 are around 5,000. This is hardly a remarkable level of violence for a 100-year period. Other blacks kill more blacks every year in America. This also pales in comparison to over half a million people killed in less than a year in Rwanda’s 1994 tribal wars, the discovery of 15,000 Polish officers killed by the Soviet army in the Katyn Forest at the end of WWII, the 30 million Chinese killed off by Mao in his “Great Leap Forward” in the 1960’s, and the millions of Ukrainians purposely starved to death by Stalin in the 1930’s. Prof. Murphey notes, “These events have hardly received a ripple of attention from a world distracted by its on-going concerns; and, perhaps more significantly, academia has devoted almost no attention to them.”




If these myths were merely propagated by far-left academics and black race activists perhaps they would not be so threatening.  But it is precisely because they are put forth as true by Republican politicians, law school professors, NPR talk show hosts, teaching associations and mainstream newspapers that they are so destructive. These and other racial myths are blared over television, radio, newspapers, books and magazines every day. The distortions serve to paint a historically inaccurate picture of America as a racist, bigoted, oppressive nation where blacks and others cannot receive justice or a fair chance. They also cause some Americans to despise their nation and help to give our enemies a vital advantage in their war on Western civilization.


So what can be done? The good news is that there are people such as David Horowitz and Heather MacDonald who trying to correct these myths. The Internet, talk radio and various conservative publications serve as a genuine alternative media where the truth can be put out.  However, these efforts tend to be unconnected and limited to the work of a few talented and determined people. A small, modestly funded think tank that is dedicated to fighting and correcting these distortions on a daily basis would be able to give scholars a base of support and serve as a rallying point for a true debate on racial and other issues. While not as rich as the left, there are sources of conservative funding. In fact, the right in America spends millions each year to promote a strong military, low taxes and less government. These are all worthy causes, but surely the defense of American history and culture is a worthy cause as well. Until the right puts a greater priority on defining racial issues it will continue to be shut out in the culture wars.

James Lubinskas writes from Washington D.C.

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