Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Missing the old NAACP

Dear Hannah,

Sometimes when you tell an old joke the joke is on you.  Some jokes are so relevant that they have to be told until the end of all time.  Such are jokes about easy moms* and mothers-in-law, and when you tell a good one you can join the ranks of Cicero.  But there's no such thing as a joke about a great grandmother-in-law.  You don't go back in time.  You either target the mother-in-law or you leave it alone.  You can say you just shot a bear in your underpants and then question how the bear got there in the first place.  What you can't do is tell that joke to an old person.  You have to start with kids or the whole thing is lost.


There's a science to the art of joking and nearly all of it revolves around timing.  We know Republicans are ignorant of the science because Republican comedians are mostly terrible.  You tell the world's stalest jokes to kids because you're incapable of coming up with new material.  You laugh at black people being in the party historically responsible for slavery because you're incapable of realizing they belong to the party currently responsible for anarchy.  Yes, an old Democrat wouldn't let black people own guns.  A new Democrat would like to take black people's guns away too.  But the new Democratic Party lets black people burn cities to the ground and never calls in the National Guard.  In the old party few would want a black person to vote.  In the new party people want non-citizens to vote.  To joke about slavery is to miss the whole punchline.  You can only say I just flew in from Chicago and boy are my arms tired to a kid.  You can only say black people are in the party of slavery to a person as childish as a baby-boomer.

Much more timely jokes can be made about the NAACP than the Democratic Party and slavery.  The name itself is a gold mine -- a name so old-fashioned that you can't string the last two words together without some honky potentially losing his job (they prefer to be called people of color).  The organization itself is ripe for lampooning -- an organization begun by a man who refused to be owned by the Democrats, who didn't believe in universal suffrage and thought that anyone who did was moronic**; who thought American slavery was (and I quote) not the worst slavery in the world, not a slavery that made all life unbearable, rather a slavery that had here and there something of kindliness, fidelity, and happiness***; who insisted even at the turn of the 20th century that The present generation of Southerners are not responsible for the past, and they should not be blindly hated or blamed for it; who said the key to making black men equal to whites was good culture and hard work and an appreciation of Greek poetry.

You can search today's NAACP in vain and never find the founder.  If W.E.B. Dubois lived today he would be hooted off stage as the wildest of Uncle Toms and "white supremacists."  The Souls of Black Folk (from which all the above positions are clearly stated) could only have been written by a free man with a strong mind and a generous soul.  It could only be accepted by a people whose dignity lay more in the humanism of the Enlightenment than in the doles of the Great Society or the criminality of Black Lives Matter.  They wanted to be as good as Ben Franklin or Burke or Macaulay.  Now advancing "colored people" means letting them vote without an ID (presumably because they ve lost theirs), and hiring them in spite of a criminal record (presumably because they've got one***).  The old NAACP asked us to accept a man who built good things and ranted about Cicero.  The new NAACP asks us to advance a man who's already robbed you but can't tie his own shoelaces.
 
Your father,
-J

*Jokes about easy moms are probably the most natural jokes in the world.  One recent instance: I put on a hand lotion that smelled like an Italian funeral, and a woman complained that I smelled like her mom.  I responded immediately: I get that a lot.

Another instance occurred when a crazy woman in a grocery store had been picking up bottles of wine and smashing them on the floor.  I told my friend I heard a story about his girlfriend.  He said I was right: it was my mom.

**His exact wording is The alternative thus offered the nation was not between full and restricted Negro suffrage; else every sensible man, black and white, would easily have chosen the latter. 

***The "criminality checkbox" shouldn't be banned, but I agree with the spirit of a ban, and this proves that a moral matter shouldn't necessarily be made into a legal matter.  The question at hand is simple.  It asks us whether we should use our brains when we're hiring.  It wonders whether a 40-year-old crime should completely ruin thirty years of ensuing good citizenship.  The whole of a person should be considered instead of a check in a box; and if the check in the box indicates anything less than a real and present danger, it ought to be ignored for the real and present benefits.  If someone stole a watch ten years ago and since then for several years was a great deacon, we ought to consider the deacon more than we consider the thief.

This being said there's no safe way to enforce the thing.  To ensure that a "reasonable effort" has been made to assess character is to deny an ability to personally assess character.  It allows bad men to sue good men because a good decision was made of a bad proposition.  A tyranny of business-owners then becomes a tyranny of criminals.  A "newly turned leaf" comes out of a successful parole and an activist judge punishes a man who never committed any crimes.  An unjust boss is a terrible thing.  But how much worse for all of us is an unjust and too-empowered employee?

***The first person I heard insisting what I would never even suggest, that American slavery was comfortable, was Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America.  Needless to say I took it with a grain of salt.  It was entirely possible that as a Frenchman doing a study in a foreign country he had missed the more gruesome aspects of the institution; but what am I to make of a black man saying it only decades after the Civil War?  The best explanation I can give is that Dubois had read so much history that American slavery looked better than Roman slavery.  Countless atrocities are repeated ad nauseam in the histories of Greece and Persia and Rome and France -- and not even atrocities against slaves, but against people who were technically free.  History is the great comforter in times of distress.  A man who knows men knows where he stands in the history of them.  American slavery wasn't easy but it may have been better than Greek slavery or even African slavery.  We can rest assured it was easier than slavery in the sugar plantations of the British Caribbean.  We can rest assured that W.E.B. Dubois was educated enough to know this.

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