I gave this presentation for the Atlantic Council and Accenture. From the Atlantic Council site:
On Wednesday, 17 June 2020, the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center and Accenture held the second episode of the jointly presented Data Salon Series, featuring a presentation from Mr. Davi Ottenheimer, Vice President of Trust and Digital Ethics at Inrupt, that prompted animated discussion among participants about the nature of privacy, consent, and responsibility. The event focused on how our understanding of privacy and its preservation affects our ability to temporarily compromise it in the interest of addressing crises. These issues are particularly relevant to the ongoing pandemic, and their intersections with other topics—integrating different cultural priorities and expectations of privacy, ensuring data is truly representative of a diverse population, and examining the nuanced relationships between privacy, knowledge, and power—are especially timely.
Information warfare in America has continued almost non-stop since the late 1700s when abolition of slavery began to expand around the world. There has been a concerted effort by white supremacists to erase the reality of who really did what, where and when.
One of the most dramatic expressions of this is the mythology of the “frontiersman” of America. I say mythology because, truth be told, there were very blurred groups in the 1800s who drove western expansion far more than only white men.
The harsh frontier was largely explored by those furthest from the mainstream culture (seeking new lives and smashing a glass ceiling such as entrepreneurial women, freed slaves, mixed-races, convicts). This should come as common sense, since you can imagine who would take the most risks when there was no guarantee of rewards.
“The Revenant” story is a good example of this, as the true story was a very diverse group of non-whites and outcasts. A wall-street banker bored with his job picked the story up and rewrote it as a very loaded white man against nature narrative, which unfortunately was widely read and turned into a disgusting movie full of disgusting falsehoods and degrading imagery (innocent white man has to battle against non-whites, animals, women… to survive and conquer).
I assure you white men in comfortable settings didn’t say they’d throw it all away just to expand and explore new spaces for the sake of it. Think about motivations and you can see white men would go when the odds were more in their favor, which in fact usually meant many other people doing the work for them — they didn’t play fair.
It didn’t always mean white men shirked hard work. One example of that is Ulysses S. Grant who has been portrayed as a failure in business, when in fact he was really a do-it-yourself hard-working independent man. He freed his only slave and faced challenges alone. And yet his image, especially as told by the losers of the Civil War, is being tarnished unfairly as someone who struggled.
Think hard about that fact that the best evidence of an American white man (a hero really) doing hard work himself to be a truly “made man” has been viciously and falsely characterized by historians as a failure. In other words the people lauding some for the “fail faster” culture should embrace Grant, and yet you see them distanced and aloof. There’s a subtle reason for this.
On the flip side the complex narratives of success have often been unfairly replaced with a deceptive binary one — successful white men were hardworking even when everyone else was their property/prize and did the actual work.
Confusing matters is the fact that evidence pops up of white men bifurcating from others in the records of westward migration. Those taking the Oregon trail, for example, are described as those who tended to be families who would abide by regulations (e.g. religion and law) settled in with local populations. Those headed to California in contrast were predominantly single white men who waged an all out war on people and nature.
Bifurcation like this tends to end up being an oversimplification that doesn’t quite fit (Oregon was site of mass atrocities and some parts of California became preserves). It does show however a simple good/bad framework of settlement does manifest from a grain of truth as it feeds into narratives told by the self-appointed “good” story-tellers.
Here’s another way of looking at that bifurcation. In one infamous case a white man brought his slaves with him to California to seek gold and when none was found he abandoned them there and went back to a southeastern state. His freed slaves then found gold on their own and… that white man sued them, claiming two Americans and their gold should be seen as his property.
So when people describe the California trail as “single white men”, which it definitely had a lot of, keep in mind they may be (even unintentionally) erasing several or many team members carrying a “single” person on their shoulders.
Really this problem is rooted even deeper in American history. Slavery was banned in the colonial time (prior to 1750) and yet some settlers saw their role in a revolutionary war to expand slavery. Americans saw England making noises about abolition, even banning it in the latest colonies, and aimed to fight and keep slavery going.
This is why abolition arrived in some American states by 1820s in-line with the rest of the world, and a spirit of hard work became foundational. Whereas in Mexico a flood of white men settled and complained bitterly that frontier life was too harsh for white people to survive without slaves.
When I say Mexico, I mean Texas, the area these white men immigrated into then violently seceded, calling itself a “lone star” because it aimed for a white supremacists nation, to keep oppression and slavery going even if it meant being the last slave state in the world.
It is no coincidence that the sole survivor from the white supremacists side of battle at the Alamo was a slave. Mexican forced liberated that black man and killed his oppressors. “Remember the Alamo” really means don’t forget the battle for slavery that was lost when white people were defeated and their slave was set free.
Freedom comes with responsibility. Being stupid is irresponsible. Does being free to be stupid therefore violate the principles of freedom?
The FT article skips right over the crucial fact that Texas “exceptionalism” and “frontier” spirit meant slavery.
Again, Texas was Mexico until white immigrants came with slaves and said no white man could survive the harsh conditions without non-whites to do all the hard work for them. They usurped power and seceded from Mexico (and later from America) just to avoid hard work and keep slaves instead.
Being “free to be stupid” is thus a dog-whistle to slavery, which is not freedom at all. It really means doing harm to others in the most selfish way possible.
This article also erases the significant role of women in the frontier, as men not only looked up to them but treated them as superiors and often substituted them for judge (where none could be found) in disputes.
“Madonna of the Trail” is such a memorial just outside Custer’s base camp in Kansas (just one of twelve placed along National Road US40, the first interstate highway established by act of Congress in 1806 and expanded 1926).
Commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, which had a well-deserved reputation for racism, every single statue is identical and unfortunately depicts only a white woman:
Springfield OH – July 4, 1928
Wheeling WV – July 7, 1928
Council Grove KS – Sept 7, 1928
Lexington, MO – Sept 17, 1928
Lamar, CO – Sept 24, 1928
Albuquerque, NM – Sept 27, 1928
Springerville, AZ – Sept 29, 1928
Vandalia, IL – Oct 26, 1928
Richmond IN – Oct 28, 1928
Beallsville, PA – Dec 8, 1928
Upland, CA – Feb 1, 1929
Bethesda, MD – April 19, 1929
It’s not expected to see history told by the FT in such a way that leaves out minorities and women. However it must be recognized more widely how this is continuation of information warfare methods in America that go all the way back to the late 1700s.
Some white men tend to claim to be doing hard work while erasing the fact that their privilege means the work is being done for them without real cost/responsibility.
Avoiding the true history of Texas and the role of women is precisely why this FT article is bunk. You can’t separate them. When “free to be stupid” means a privilege that translates direct to harms to others (e.g. human trafficking and slavery is stupid) that’s not real freedom, it’s oppression.
Calling stupid a freedom, when it means whites stupidly harming blacks, is the continuation of information warfare.
In 2015 the Guardian published a story about the Confederate flags ignorantly flying in Brazil.
Many American slaveholders moved there after losing their Civil War in 1865 because… it was still legal to own slaves and land was being appropriated and granted to white settlers
Most were lured by newspaper ads placed in the wake of the war by the government of Brazil’s then emperor, Dom Pedro II, promising land grants to those who would help colonise the South American country’s vast and little-explored interior.
Brazil used the harsh “pro-life” system of slavery that turned black women into birthing machines, rather than extend life by providing humane work conditions. The brutality of white power economics meant life was extremely short and brutal for non-whites.
They worked on average from 6am to 10pm, almost without rest, and aged very quickly. At 35, they already had white hair and no teeth.
That’s why you see such huge volumes of slavery transit (nearly 40%) directed into Brazil.
American slaveholders directly contributed to perpetuating these slavery practices in Brazil after losing their war at home, ensuring it would be the last country in the world to abolish officially May 13, 1888.
A BBC documentary in 2012 called this “an inconvenient history”, where historians and anthropologists explain how Confederate flags are just a tiny part of how modern Brazil isn’t addressing its slavery past:
COVID-19 contact tracing has rolled out to all Android/iOS devices this week. In other words, big tech just dropped a change to your OS without any real notice/consent.
On iOS go to Settings -> Health -> COVID-19 Exposure Logging (screenshots at the end).
On Android go to Settings and you will find a Google option:
Under Google settings, you now can select COVID-19:
There you will find that Google needs both Bluetooth and location tracking to be enabled, although they claim while location data needs to be collected, it also won’t be collected:
Confused? You should be. Bluetooth is a terrible protocol for tracing contact as it just reads everyone’s MAC addresses. It’s being used because other options are not as easy to violate for a clumsy contact tracing agenda.
There are two problems in Bluetooth, both related to privacy:
Before Bluetooth version 4.2 the MAC addresses were static, which was a major privacy issue (and exploited by law enforcement using widely systems like Bluetooth Travel Time Origin and Destination (BlueTOAD), as I’ve spoken about publicly many times). After Bluetooth version 4.2 the devices started to use rolling MAC addresses for privacy protection. Google and Apple have designed their system to overcome this privacy benefit, by issuing everyone a set of tokens that can be mapped back to the device.
Aside from the privacy of its identity getting in the way, Bluetooth also doesn’t record distance accurately. Strength of signal isn’t a reliable measure, given all kinds of interference variables. Thus Apple and Google have included location to overcome this secondary privacy benefit, by using location data to record proximity of Bluetooth signals.
It appears incredibly disingenuous for the companies to claim their framework was designed with privacy preservation in mind when it was designed to bypass some fundamental privacy protections.
Also while technology companies may lay claim that location data never will be shared, the entire point of their system is to inform some unnamed/unknown officials of spread of infections by… location.
What about who you would expect, such as qualified scientists, using the data? Apparently Apple and Google say they will not serve community members who are in the best position to make use of pandemic data.
If you’re a virologist or epidemiologist arguing that you need data to fight the spread of infection inside your country, you’re out of luck. Apple and Google have said no.
That’s what I call clumsy.
Finally, in terms of general trust, adoption of this system needs to be really high to be effective. Some estimates are at least 70% of people (not just phone owners) have to be in the contact tracing system to make it worthwhile.
And yet they pushed a significant update to the OS without any local notice/consent (just blog posts like this one), as if the U2 crash didn’t teach them a thing.
The music suddenly appeared on 500 million iTunes accounts. Shortly after came the backlash and, with it, a story of what may have been the most expensive gaffe in Apple’s history — upwards of $100 million…
This is the sort of top-down centralized approach with no real discussion of social contract that probably makes 90% want to throw their phone in the toilet. I’m also reminded of the science lessons from free trees in Detroit.
Detroiters were refusing city-sponsored “free trees.” A researcher found out the problem: She was the first person to ask them if they wanted them.
Ironically, America is so far behind on COVID-19 science and engineering, it’s rolling out mobile phone software just as Singapore (a global leader during this pandemic response) has abandoned the same.
Singapore’s Bluetooth-based contact tracing app TraceTogether was the first of its kind, intended to log potential exposure events without violating the privacy of participants. As with all of the efforts of this nature, voluntary adoption by the public was key to success. TraceTogether struggled in this area due in no small part to technical issues that hampered the usability of phones. The government has gone back to the drawing board and come up with a new answer: a contact tracing wearable that remains offline as it logs close contacts, only making that data available when a medical professional makes a coronavirus diagnosis and requests access to the device.
The wearable does leverage Bluetooth, to be fair, but it’s a whole different model with dedicated hardware for medical professionals to access.
It didn’t have to be this way. Engineers at the largest tech firms in the world, paid the highest salaries in the world, could have started at the point Singapore has just now reached — a personal/decentralized system that works directly with medical professionals only.
Instead Apple and Google have built a thing nobody should want: a forced update in their OS to serve mostly an Apple and Google agenda that has apparently little or no accountability to them when it’s misused or even abused. Compare and contrast these two stories, for example:
Or consider that, while Apple and Google insist they aren’t writing the apps that will use their “framework”, early studies already indicate a lot of room for abuse:
…50 apps available in the Google Play Store that have been developed specifically for COVID-19…researchers classified nearly half as informational tools, roughly a third as tracking tools, 10% as assessment tools and 8% as scientific research apps…
Amazon basically operates like the mob by seeking markets where regulation or justice is too weak to stop it from taking payments for unethical business practices.
It allegedly will muscle into markets as an engine of exploitation, which measures margin in the amount of harms it can get away with. Some say this is “natural” in the sense that it fits a pattern of American history:
Inequality in America was not born of the market’s invisible hand. It was not some unavoidable destiny. It was created by the hands and sustained effort of people who engineered benefits for themselves, to the detriment of everyone else.
Thus it somewhat predictably has been accused of building “successful growth” on fake and unsafe services and products that damage or kill, with no accountability to itself for the widespread harms carried by others.
Moreover, such ill-gotten profits seem intentional as they are concentrated into the hands of one man who spends a very small percentage on attempts to fix harms. Just a few examples:
“Amazon’s Enforcement Failures Leave Open a Back Door to Banned Goods… Sold and Shipped by Amazon Itself“
“Amazon gives extremists and neo-Nazis banned from other platforms unprecedented access to a mainstream audience — and even promotes [dangerous and violent hate].”
“Amazon’s gigantic, decentralized, next-day delivery network brought chaos, exploitation, and danger to communities across America.”
“While the scale and severity may vary, a single theme often unites each newsworthy incident: An unsecured Amazon…”
“Amazon executive Joy Covey was killed [while riding her bike by a] van delivering Amazon packages….”
Here’s a deeper look into one case (pun not intended) that has been going on for a while now, where we can see flagrant violation of health for profits.
Consumer Reports in 2020 has called out Amazon’s “Starkey” brand water bottled in Idaho because it violates safe standards that limit contaminants in water.
The bottled water, sold in most Whole Foods stores and on Amazon.com, was the only brand of the 45 tested by Consumer Reports scientists between February and May of this year that exceeded 3 parts per billion (ppb)…. Last year, CR tests found Starkey Spring Water exceeded the federal level…
Amazon was the ONLY brand of 45 tested to fail the arsenic test. Many had untraceable amounts, which is great when you look at how dangerous arsenic is to human health.
Note that the report points out it also failed last year.
FDA told Whole Foods that tests had found levels as high as 12 ppb, which resulted in recalls of the water in 2016 and 2017… legal to sell in a bottle across the U.S., but it would be illegal if it came out of the tap…
Recalled in 2016 and 2017, failed tests in 2019 and 2020. Why is this water, which would be illegal to sell if it came from a tap, still being bottled and sold by Amazon?
Amazon explains on their Starkey information site in 2020 that trying to make this water safer would impact Amazon profits, so they’re not doing it.
Arsenic levels above 5 ppb and up to 10 ppb are present… it does contain low levels of arsenic. The standard balances the current understanding of arsenic’s possible health effects against the costs of removing arsenic from drinking water.
Possible health effects “balanced” is how they refer to not making their water safe for consumption.
Possible health effects?
Let it sink in how incredibly vague and misleading Amazon is being on a scientific topic of arsenic in order to say they won’t protect consumers from known harms. They should not be allowed to just casually blow off the harms as “possible health effects”.
Again, Amazon is the only brand of 45 to fail this test. Other brands have untraceable amounts. Nearly 50 competing brands are able to “balance” the correct way by investing in controls for their products to be safe. Why doesn’t Amazon?
Starkey clearly states in their safety report they have decided not to invest in removing arsenic to safe levels, because they believe they can get away with it.
Amazon also clearly promotes this unsafe product with “bottled in Idaho” as if that’s a helpful reference, yet does not include anywhere Idaho Department of Environmental Quality water contamination warnings:
Arsenic is a problem in some parts of Idaho.
“Some parts” is a reference to the area of Idaho (southwestern corner) where Starkey water is sourced.
In fact, that red area that shows up on the Idaho contaminant map stands out as being worst levels in the entire US.
In summary, Amazon is selling water from the most arsenic contaminated region of the US, putting it into harmful single-use plastic bottles, and continues to sell it despite years of public safety test failures.
When I visited Lyft HQ when it first opened, they had a large mural timeline of their origin story that went something like this:
In 2006 Logan Green went to Zimbabwe and observed a system of crowd-sourced carpool networks. He came back to America and made a copy he called Zimride (Zimbabwe Ride).
I’ll never forget being in the office (for meetings) and having staff relate this mural story to me, because they said their founder vacationed in Africa after college and marveled at the “safety” of private drivers; white parents having a method of ride-sharing their kids to school (called the “lift system” in South Africa).
The Lyft staff didn’t say the exact word apartheid, of course, because they were blandly relating Rhodesian transportation history as if it were like any other system. It was based on white families driving their children to elitist schools, but that’s not how they framed it.
Anyway this Lyft story telling of their “safe” transport system origins from Africa raised alarms for me, given context of Zimbabwean history.
I also noticed the company seems to tell a very different story to the press, claiming their founder was just an admirer of taxis.
Zimride, in fact, is not a derivation of Zimmer’s name but a riff on Zimbabwe, where Green, now CEO, had observed the local propensity for ridesharing in minivan taxis.
This press brief makes no sense at all when you think about it even a little.
First, Lyft never attempted to work with taxis in America. From the start the company was billed as a whole alternative to taxis systems, so why would they say they liked African taxis?
More to the point who comes back from a vacation to an African country with the idea for a wealthy white person alternative to taxis in America? Does that really sound like observing Zimbabwean minivan taxis?
This kind of narrative disconnect between internal and external statements was highlighted in 2017 when Lyft eventually came around to launching a private “bus” service. I mean why didn’t they start with minivan taxis if that’s what they observed?
The Lyft Shuttle is pretty much a glorified city bus — with fewer poor people. The ride-sharing company’s much-hyped shuttle service seems designed to segregate transit customers by class.
A privilege bus.
Second, ride-sharing in minivan taxis (even pickups beds) has been a global phenomenon of efficient transport, not a concept unique to Zimbabwean culture. There must have been something unique to Zimbabwe being the origin story, aside from minivan taxis.
I’ve traveled all over the world in the minivan/microbus/kombi taxi and similar. From Poland to Indonesia, Zimbabwe to Philippines … you can find vehicles carrying 8-12 people running regular routes. When I was at EMC in 2012 I even worked with security systems to help make Pakistan’s “pink bus” safer (women only, with women guards riding and cameras) .
This is because a modern private micro bus naturally evolved by community-led transit planners to be an optimal solution on a development path towards achieving higher-volume buses or trains (a step on the way moving people further away from cars).
Lyft doesn’t fit that model, not at all. They started with cars where drivers were “safe” as if your friend or on your “side”, pandering openly to wealthy young white professionals and kids in school. That’s the apartheid white parents car-sharing story.
Again, a micro bus taxi service is not even close to what Lyft initially was planning, so the more likley Zimbabwean root is the Rhodesian/South African “lift system”.
After observing the micro bus taxis on predictable routes, CEO Green did the opposite and put passengers in the front seat of small cars on unrestricted paths. It sounds more like a trip to Zimbabwe left the founder thinking “how can I setup a service so white people like me can avoid crowded public transit such as the Zimbabwean taxi bus system”.
Anyway 2013 the founder decided to rename his original creation “Lyft”, the same as the apartheid “lift system” white parents used to shuttle their racist families and avoid the black taxis. The renaming meant a complete jettison of the Zimbabwe reference as the original name was sold to Enterprise.
The African root reference only lived on with that painted mural in the office, which I only happened to see because they invited me inside and told me a wild yet inconsistent story of appropriation. They’ve since moved their HQ and evidence of the mural is surely long gone.
You might be thinking the link to apartheid’s “lift system” is uncanny, yet insufficient on its own as just a coincidental name.
Let me now also poke here at the issue of a pink “carstache” wired to the front of original Lyft vehicles.
They were explained to me as highly distinguishable “safety” marketing for ride shares. It supposedly was meant to give riders obvious physical safety signaling. And yet anyone could buy one and celebrities promoted owning them.
A person who would dare to put a big pink thing on their car (remember the “pink bus” in 2012 Pakistan?) was advertised as someone who wouldn’t be physically dangerous to Lyft’s target population (white women).
…little-known fact: The bright pink color was inspired not only by the founders’ desire to seem friendly and bold, but also to make their branding a bit less masculine than competitors, and nod to their very welcome view toward female passengers and drivers, as well as emphasis on safety for women.
“Funny” big pink facial features when you meet your driver may instead read to some as two white guys’ doing some really insensitive appropriation of imagery in black culture. Look at the top lip in this iconic anti-black image:
And notice how even Uber tried to portray Lyft’s requirement that riders must fist-bump drivers.
What’s so weird about requiring Lyft riders to do a fist-bump?
…the pound is “a gesture of solidarity and comradeship… also used in a celebratory sense and sometimes as a nuanced greeting among intimates and/or those with a shared social history”. They trace that history in mainstream black culture to the Sixties, when African-American soldiers fighting in Vietnam used the dap… fists meet vertically, one above the other.
I wonder if Lyft had anyone black in executive management on board with the big pink mustache/lip and forced fist-bump concepts. I found their 2018 diversity report illuminating, given they were on a massive hiring spree doubling the size of the company and yet had 0% black staff in technical leadership.
Speaking of which, did you know a whopping “75% of white Americans have no friends of color at all.”
Even worse, as you might guess from a company started by a white college grad unwittingly claiming inspiration from apartheid who partnered with a Wall Street banker, Lyft has been widely implicated in systemic victimization of women.
A single SF driver repeatedly attacked women over five years before police managed to track him down. That’s just one of literally thousands of their unsafe ride-share cases highlighted by 20 women suing the company.
“Lyft has been aware of the staggering number of assaults and rapes that occur in their vehicles for years. They continue to conceal those numbers from the public and Lyft customers,” Bomberger said in a statement. “That is not a commitment to safety. It is a commitment to profits.”
Obviously Lyft has totally obliterated their origin story now. You won’t find them speaking of Africa or the white woman “safety” angle in the same way. They now downplay the big pink face features, quit the fist-bump, and strut about like ride-sharing was just something they invented while bored and traveling around California.
It may be important to revisit the whole origin story again, however, as researchers have been looking more deeply at the decision algorithms and continue to reveal racism in ride-sharing platforms.
…fares tended to be higher for drop-offs in Chicago neighborhoods with high non-white populations…an earlier report published in October 2016 by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found in the cities of Boston and Seattle male riders with African American names were 3 times more likely to have rides canceled and wait as much as 35% longer for rides.
Confederate memorials in prominent areas are a form of domestic terror tactics, like racist graffiti denigrating the American landscape.
They are akin to someone putting up a statue of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, or naming the streets after them, right in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Who would do such a thing?
McVeigh and Nichols would. Does that mean they should be allowed to do it, or that people should avoid removing some monument to terrorism put up by the terrorists or their descendants? No. We would take them down.
What would their statues be for?
We have to ask the simple question whether the statues represent the worst of people. In other words are they known for horrible things primarily and is that the purpose of the statue?
Have you ever heard of McVeigh except as a result of his terrorism?
And why should everyone care about these issues? Banksy explains:
At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem. It’s mine. People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. This faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t – no-one will let them in the apartment upstairs. This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.
Confederate celebration and monuments are a rare case of the losers trying to re-write history. They were put up to terrorize Americans in their daily routines.
Leaving them up gives the false impression that white supremacists did not lose their war of aggression against America and allows white power groups to falsely claim their cause of terrorism is validated.
Here’s what you need to know about tearing down prominent Confederate names, statues, memorials and the like:
Statues were being pulled down when Confederate ones suddenly went up to replace them the 1900s. Any statue that “looked too Union” was torn down and buried by people pushing the anti-American Confederate narrative.
Dedications of the Confederate statues included speeches that celebrated physical attacks that terrorized black women. Here’s a typical one from a statue raised in 1913:
100 yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.
Is there really any debate necessary who put these statues up and why, given this is how they were presented in the dedication speech? Do not forget that this kind of violence is an encoded signal for state sanctioned rape of black women by white men, the “economy” of forced birth that America used to domestically generate its four million slaves in the 1800s. Support for that complete madness is the revision to history that these statues are meant to convey — as if white men physically attacking black women is something America is meant to commemorate.
Not only did the people putting up Confederate statues tear down ones at the same time, huge memorials also were targeted by them. The leader of the Union army (President Grant) has been systemically denigrated, defaced, defunded and his reputation falsely tarnished with lies by those trying to erase him from history (as revenge, because he not only defeated slaveholders on the battle field, he initiated the Civil Rights movement in American politics).
The push to raise Confederate monuments was an orchestrated effort to erase history and then rewrite it with a loser’s narrative. It perpetuates Civil War and terrorizes Americans in plain sight.
General Lee pleaded with his followers to never raise a memorial to him or his cause of slavery, yet white supremacist groups have ignored his exact orders and disrespectfully done the opposite.
On the 4th of September 1869 Lee declared there should be no monuments to him because Americans should commit to oblivion the feelings of his slaveholder rebellion.
Taking down public Confederate celebrations and signals is a restoration project.
Here’s an idea that caters for both those who miss the Colston statue and those who don’t. We drag him out the water, put him back on the plinth, tie cable round his neck and commission some life size bronze statues of protestors in the act of pulling him down. Everyone happy. A famous day commemorated.
America should commemorate the act of ending slavery, but also celebrate the act of ending any celebration of slavery. Either rename things with American heroes or modify the name to include context of their defeat by heroes.
Stop the erasure of American history from Confederate graffiti trying to cover up real narratives with racist and false ones. No more context-free commemorations allowed of the failed slaveholder rebellion.
And anyone who openly disagrees with taking down Confederate signals should be drafted into a minimum of two weeks service cleaning and restoring Grant’s tomb.
Remember at the start when I asked “Who would do such a thing?”
These white women prove the point made by James Baldwin:
New laws, gestures of sympathy, and acts of racial charity would never suffice to change the course of the country. Something more radical had to be done; a different history had to be told.
Baldwin was saying the real history of America has to be told, which means restoring it from those who have been trying to disgrace and erase it with their Confederate statues.
Ask yourself would you remove Nazi graffiti from a Synagogue, would you remove Nazi graffiti from a US Army base… these answers should be yes, just like they should be yes for tearing down Confederate statues polluting the landscape.
Update: July 8, 2020
FiveThirtyEight project has picked up the story and has this excellent conclusion:
…deeper understanding of their historical context paints a very different picture — these statues were meant to promote white supremacy and intimidate Black people… the narrative has changed to telling history. Who have we left out of history? What history aren’t we telling through the veneration of Confederate leaders?
There’s a line “do not obey” within the famous Curtis Mayfield song “Move On Up”.
Take nothing less than the supreme best
Do not obey for most people say
’cause you can pass the test
So what we have to do is
move on up and keep on wishing
Remember your dream is your only scheme
so keep on pushing
What might “do not obey” refer to?
To start, let’s look all the way back at Woodrow Wilson’s racist “America First” campaign of 1916, which manifested in years of organized white mobs committing widespread violence and terrorizing black neighborhoods.
I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top…
The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top… ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’
Such attacks literally pushed Americans into mass graves, followed with construction of a KKK convention hall on top of cities ruined by white nationalist terrorism (an early form of racist “urban renewal” politics made famous by Nixon, although he more subtlety used dynamite and bulldozers instead of napalm and planes)…
All of this still is rarely if ever taught in American schools.
Blocked from upward mobility by systemically violent white supremacist mobs — meaning police offered the opposite of help — you perhaps can see exactly why black community protection groups emerged.
Although some black gangs likely formed to counter the aggressive white youth, the unorganized black youth were no match for the well-organized, all-white gangs that were centered in their athletic clubs.
Wherever white oppression tactics were found, and police failed in their duties, a gang was likely formed to defend against injustices and thus enable a degree of protection to help enable gains in health, wealth and prosperity.
Catholic (Polish, Irish, German, Italian), Chinese, Jewish and black gangs all were established to protect against American domestic terrorism. These ethnic gangs also fundamentally depended on fund-raising and community support events. It is a fine line obviously between donations and extractions/taxation, given a lack of transparency or legal representation possible in gang systems.
A story from Milwaukee, for example, involves a fund-raising event on a huge boat in Lake Michigan. A violent storm caused a collision that sank the boat and decimated that community by drowning the “Irish Union Guard” abolitionist militia leadership. So many leaders of that one community died in just one fund-raising tragedy, it has been said the entire balance of Milwaukee’s political power abruptly shifted on that day towards German militia running the city.
Another story, this time from Minneapolis, is how Jewish gangsters violently attacked any German “Silver Shirt” militia (Nazi) rally, calling it a “patriotic duty as Americans” to shut-down pro-Hitler influence operations.
Berman learned that Silver Shirts were mounting a rally at a nearby Elks’ Lodge. When the Nazi leader called for all the “Jew bastards” in the city to be expelled, or worse, Berman and his associates burst in to the room and started cracking heads. After ten minutes, they had emptied the hall. His suit covered in blood, Berman took the microphone and announced, “This is a warning. Anybody who says anything against Jews gets the same treatment. Only next time it will be worse.” After Berman broke up two more rallies, there were no more public Silver Shirt meetings in Minneapolis.
Totally defeated on the streets the Silver Shirt members then became the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) to gain an unfair advantage over their targets, but that’s a blog post for another day.
Gangs typically dissipated as they become assimilated by mainstream opportunities (upward mobility) in America (even a catholic has been elected President). However America has such high levels of continued oppression of blacks (1950s White House urban renewal was encoded race warfare) it is no wonder black gangs have lingered.
See the film “Rubble Kings” for an excellent look at the socio-economics of how and why New York gangs were formed in the 1960s and what helped them dissipate in the Bronx. Hint: upward mobility through opportunities in music and art, the foundations of today’s rap and hip-hop markets.
With that in mind, let’s look at what Mayfield may have been writing about in his lyrics. The year was 1970 when he released his debut album Curtis, and also when one of the Chicago gangs (Blackstone Rangers) tried to pressure Mayfield to fund them.
He did not obey. Instead he offered them a concert and used his platform to drive a “move on up” message.
He was pushing hope for equality and justice of assimilation that other the races in America were allowed to achieve, leaving behind the need for paying for gang protection from the systemic violence of white power groups.
The Atlantic has described the situation as “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”
To make an even finer point on the social power of this song, by 1975 a popular TV show about black “nouveau-riche” prosperity in America, called The Jeffersons, created a theme song called “Movin’ On Up“.