For those who might not recognize the name Alice Ristroph – and I am willing to be that is 99.9999% of the people in America – she is one sick or manipulative radical progressive puppy.
Alice Ristroph is a professor at Brooklyn Law School. She teaches and writes in criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, and political theory. Her recent work examines laws that regulate state violence, focusing especially on the law’s distribution of risks of physical harm. She has also been studying ways in which the law suppresses, tolerates, or even facilitates various forms of resistance to criminal justice institutions. Professor Ristroph received her J.D. and Ph.D. (political theory) from Harvard University, and she has served as a permanent or visiting faculty member at Seton Hall, Utah, Columbia, Georgetown, and Fordham law schools.
How ignorant, biased, or just plain nuts is it to argue that a natural event like an eclipse is a racial teaching moment?
Blackout - Along the path of the August 21st solar eclipse, there live almost no African Americans. The peculiar trajectory of the moon’s shadow illuminates racial isolation and compromise, past and present. -- Alice Ristroph
On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will arrive mid-morning on the coast of Oregon. The moon’s shadow will be about 70 miles wide, and it will race across the country faster than the speed of sound, exiting the eastern seaboard shortly before 3 p.m. local time. It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.
Presumably, this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system. It is a matter of population density, and more specifically geographic variations in population density by race, for which the sun and the moon cannot be held responsible. Still, an eclipse chaser is always tempted to believe that the skies are relaying a message. At a moment of deep disagreement about the nation’s best path forward, here comes a giant round shadow, drawing a line either to cut the country in two or to unite it as one. Ancient peoples watched total eclipses with awe and often dread, seeing in the darkness omens of doom. The Great American Eclipse may or may not tell us anything about our future, but its peculiar path could remind us of something about our past—what it was we meant to be doing, and what we actually did along the way. And if it seems we need no reminding, consider this: We tend to backlight our history, and so run the risk of trying to recover a glory that never existed. When the light in August changes, watch carefully.
Alice takes us on a region by region recitation of history …
The Colors of the West
Oregon, where this begins, is almost entirely white. The 10 percent or so of state residents who do not identify as white are predominantly Latino, American Indian, Alaskan, or Asian. There are very few black Oregonians, and this is not an accident. The land that is now Oregon was not, of course, always inhabited by white people, but as a U.S. territory and then a state, Oregon sought to get and stay white. Among several formal efforts at racial exclusion was a provision in the original state constitution of 1857 that prohibited any “free Negro, or Mulatto” from entering and residing in the state.
Shadows in the Heartland
After Wyoming, the eclipse will go through Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. This is America’s heartland, and also, literally, the land of compromise. When Missouri sought statehood in 1819, the United States consisted of 22 states, equally divided between those that permitted slavery and those that did not. Missouri’s request to enter as a slave-holding state threatened to upset the balance, but a kind of unity was preserved with the Missouri Compromise. The deal allowed Missouri its slaves but drew a line across the nation, east-west to the Pacific Ocean, and mandated that slavery would be illegal in all other territories north of the line. Nebraska and Kansas, bordering Missouri to the west and lying just north of the compromise line, were thus to remain slavery-free. But the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed the (white) people of those territories to decide for themselves whether to have slavery. A few years later, in Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court would declare the Missouri Compromise to have been an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to intrude on states’ rights. A few years after that, the Civil War would begin.
The shadow of the moon doesn’t care who lives below, and in certain respects, the Constitution doesn’t care where people live, either.
The shadow of the moon doesn’t care where it falls or who lives below. And in certain respects, the federal government designed in our Constitution doesn’t care where people live, either. We need the census tallies to determine how many representatives each state sends to the House, but the census is irrelevant to the Senate: Each state gets two senators, whatever its population. This arrangement is the result of another of the many compromises that made the Constitution possible. Of course, we probably don’t need the eclipse to remind us of the Constitution’s different forms of representation. After all, every four years an Electoral College and not the people directly selects the President. Every four years we are reminded that each state gets as many electors as it has members of Congress, a system that magnifies the relative power of voters in less populous states. California has two senators and 53 representatives, giving it 55 electors for 39.25 million people, or one elector for every 713,000 people. Wyoming has two senators and only one representative, three electors for just over half a million people, or one for every 195,000 people.
Sometimes it’s hard to recall why we did it this way. There were reasons to think of equality in terms of states and not just in terms of individual people—surely there must have been. Equal states were to serve a particular vision of inclusive totality. One nation, it was thought, could accommodate and even thrive upon difference—if not racial difference in the beginning, then cultural and political difference. Separate states had and would keep different identities and ideologies, and yet still these states could be united. The states were supposed to look after the interests of individual citizens more effectively than could a national government. The states were supposed to bring everybody in without shutting anybody out.
But the equal power of states was enshrined at a time when states served white people, and never since have states’ rights been a particularly effective mechanism for racial equality. Looking back, the bargains struck to protect the states appear as resolutions to disputes among white people, including disputes about what to do with people who are not white. And looking ahead, we can expect the equal power of the states to exacerbate further the political inequality of individual persons: The farther you live from other people, the more electoral power you wield.
There aren’t many people in the southern coalmining counties of Illinois, where totality will last the longest, up to two minutes and forty seconds. Williamson County here is sometimes labeled “Bloody Williamson” thanks to several violent episodes in the region, including attacks by white union miners on black workers brought to Williamson to replace them. Not all of the violence was cross-racial, or union-based. After a 1922 massacre of 20 strikebreakers by union miners, the Ku Klux Klan established itself in the county, promising church leaders frustrated with bootlegging and hostile toward thirsty Italian immigrants that the KKK could help the churches protect “the highest ideals of the native-born white American Gentile citizenship.” Several years of gang warfare followed as local sheriffs battled the Klan to control the region. Williamson is a reminder that white skin alone cannot satisfy some visions of American totality. The Klan’s targets were not always black—there were few blacks in Williamson to target, then or now. At the last census the black population of Williamson County was about 3.8 percent, and that’s with a U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, the county seat.
Looking South, and Looking Away
Former slave-holding states are still the home to most of America’s black population. In Kentucky, Tennessee, and eventually South Carolina, the eclipse will finally pass over black Americans. Even here, though, the path of totality seems to mark the legacy of slavery and the persistence of segregation more than any form of inclusion. Kentucky permitted slavery but never seceded and instead tried to remain neutral during the Civil War. “I hope to have God on my side,” Lincoln reportedly said, “but I must have Kentucky.” Cautious, careful, incrementalist, the Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom only for slaves in rebel states and didn’t apply to border states like Kentucky. Nonetheless, the state grew increasingly disenchanted with Lincoln, and it would not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment (which formally abolishes slavery) until 1976.
The arc of the eclipse is long, and it bends toward Charleston. In South Carolina in the last 12 or 13 minutes of the Great American Eclipse, it will probably pass over more black Americans than it does throughout all of its earlier journey. After Greenville and Columbia, the eclipse goes out where so many slaves once came in: Charleston was the busiest port for the slave trade, receiving about 40 percent of all the African slaves brought into the country. Today, the Old Slave Mart is a museum. Two years ago in Charleston, Dylan Roof chose the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as his shooting ground, quietly joining a Bible study and then opening fire on the black congregants, killing nine.
And then the shadow goes to sea, still indifferent to the earth below, indifferent to the little creatures here, indifferent to these people indifferent to their own histories. Or perhaps we are not indifferent, but just no more capable than butterflies and bees of seeing the long path and of deciding to change it. The Great American Eclipse illuminates, or darkens, a land still segregated, a land still in search of equality, a land of people still trying to dominate each other. When the lovely glow of a backlight fades, history is relentless, just one damn fact after another, one damning fact after another. America is a nation with debts that no honest man can pay. It is too much to ask that these debts simply be forgiven. But perhaps the strange path of the eclipse suggests a need for reorganization. We have figured out, more or less, how to count every person. We have not yet found a political system in which every person counts equally.
To read the full piece, in context, it may be found here: Blackout : Democracy Journal
Is this an implicit pitch for socialism or communism where each person is counted equally, stripped of their freedoms, allocated their share of misery, turned into unexceptional population units to serve the state; while elitist academics tell us all “how it should be?”
Of course, no tour of America would be complete without noting the omissions …
It was the Democrat Party that gave us slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and fought the Civil Rights acts with fervor. Many of the Democrat’s most honored members were blatant racists, segregationists, Klan Members, and those that tried to keep little Black Children from attending school. Remember Bull Connor, the Sheriff with the vicious German Shepard, he was a Democrat. Remember former President Woodrow Wilson; he was the racist who segregated the armed forces. And, it goes on and on …
Alice was quick to point out that power grab that allocated three-fifths of a personhood for purposes of allocating congressional representatives but said nothing about the full counting of illegal aliens to give a few states a disproportionate share of representational power.
One might posit, that Alice could have made the case the entire Democrat Party should be branded the party of racism and disbanded. But, then again, where would the disaffected who hate our nation, illegal aliens, and members of foreign governments find a home?
In the final analysis, I think that the entire piece is little more than virtue signaling for personal promotion and/or potential guilt for being White.
We are so screwed.
"The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." -- Marcus Aurelius