Friday, January 6, 2012

A Sermon against Racism

To continue a little with Hermann Baar and his sermons to orphans, he does confront the issue of racism in strong terms:

My children, a sickly outgrowth of the human heart is that feeling of contempt with which many people look down upon their fellow-citizens, who differ from them as regards race, descent, and nationality. Thus we see that the Mongols, from whom, for instance, the well-known Chinese descend, are treated with a deep-rooted prejudice, while the Hamites or Africans, having been emancipated from slavery only in late years through the noble interference of the Federal government, have joined that bright ring of humanity which forms of all being a large chain of brotherhood. Even the great wars in the Middle Ages and recent times between the Latin and Saxon nationalities have been partly instigated - although questions of a more religious and political nature have served for a pretext - through nothing else but race animosities. The present bitter feeling between England and Ireland, between people of Saxon and Celtic origin, has, besides economical reasons, its main source in the different individualities of both these great nations. (Addresses on Homely and Religious Subjects: Delivered Before the Children of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum vol. II pg. 369-70.)

Baar takes the opportunity to comment about German anti-Semitism, noting that Moses "uttered such humanizing sentiments in a dark and unrefined age when no classical studies were taught in colleges, and no German professors of history and theology like [Heinrich von] Treitschke and [Adolf] Stocker were in existence." (Pg. 370.) 

What I find interesting about Baar's take on racism in America is that he equated racism against blacks with racism against the Chinese and for that matter the Irish. This seems odd and even obtuse to modern ears because we know that the history of black civil rights turned out to be very different and much more difficult. Blacks remain the chief racial issue in this country. Most Americans, unless they know something about American history (or have seen the movie Gangs of New York) are unlikely to have even heard of discrimination against the Irish. The Chinese remain an identifiable minority group, but have largely, following the path set by Jewish immigrants, managed to work their way into upper middle-class respectability.

Baar lacked the benefit of knowing twentieth century history. In the America of the 1880s prejudice against the Irish and Chinese was quite real. It was reasonable for a liberal of the post Civil-War generation to assume that the essential problem with blacks had been solved with the Emancipation Proclamation and the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. Now that blacks were to all appearances just another minority group like the Irish, Chinese or for that matter Jews all that was left to do was replace race with American nationalism, which could be open to all races, and all racial problems would soon fade away. What Baar could not know was that the South, freed from occupation by Federal troops, would strike back with a renewed regionalist ideology. As refighting the Civil War was not an option, the South made its stand through segregating blacks. As long as the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights amendments remained unenforceable the South could claim the victory lost to them at Appomattox Courthouse. This line of thinking is very explicit in the Birth of a Nation movie where the defeated South finally wins the war when the Ku Klux Klan fights off the "mobs of negros" and stops them from voting.


Contrary to Birth of a Nation, the post war years saw tremendous gains for blacks in the South. That tide only began to turn in the 1890s with the passage of Jim Crow laws and the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision of 1896. In essence blacks became the sacrificial victims of the late nineteenth century northern and southern reconciliation, a process which would not become obvious for several further decades.

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