Re: Heritage of Drum & Fife

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Sat, 25 May 1996 17:42:20 -0400

I knew I'd get a response on this, but I didn't think it would come this fast.
Isn't anybody out fishing, or something? Anyway, in message
<> John Pastore writes:

> How about those who "rant against affirmative action programs", not
> because their ancestors came circa: Mayflower, but more like circa:
> Banana Boat --ancestors who weren't slaveholders, but, in fact,
> slaves themselves with the unfortunate condition of also being
> white, or, at least, slightly olive? Why should they be paying for
> the mom and pop's of your mom and pop's moms and pops?
> Why should anyone, for that matter --unless visiting the sins of the
> father (and for equality's sake: mother) upon the son (and/or
> daughter) is really a bad idea. Isn't 20 years of it now enough?

No, I don't think 20 years is enough, especially when you look around and see
what's still going on. What exactly would make up for over 300 years of
slavery, oppression, discrimination? I don't know, and in any case since I'm
not African-American I probably don't have the right to speculate.

My point is not that anyone should "pay" for what our ancestors did. The point
is that we have to recognize that part of what and how we are is a result of
what they did, and if there are benefits resulting from what they did, we should
be willing to share those benefits with the descendants of those who were the
unwilling participants. And of course there are benefits. The profits realized
from sugar (and other crops, but sugar was very special) and slavery beginning
in the 16th and continuing well into the 19th century went a long way toward
financing the industrial revolution and the rise of the global capitalist
economy. To what extent do the descendants of the slaves who performed that
work, in the US, the Caribbean, or elsewhere, enjoy the benefits of global
capitalism? [answer: they mostly continue to be victims thereof.]

Another point: solution of this problem is usually presented in terms of a
"white" person losing a job to a formerly unemployed "black" person. This is a
false solution, however, foisted upon us by people who don't want us to be able
to contemplate any other possibility. As long as we think this way, we are (to
quote WKRP's Johnny Fever) puppets of the crypto-fascist managerial elite. But
anthropology provides us with alternatives: models of society in which
reciprocity and egalitarian redistribution, rather than stratified
redistribution and "market" capitalism, are the main ways in which goods and
services are moved around; where people are valued more for who they are than
for what they have; and where (quoting the herdsman in Maybury-Lewis' Millenium
series) "a poor [hu]man shames us all."

In other words, we know that societies do not have to be the way ours is. We
could have a society in which everyone had the right to earn a living wage and
live decently. This would certainly be better than affirmative action, etc.
But, do we have this society? When I was in high school in the 60s, I used to
imagine that I would live to see it. Now, in my 50s, I understand that it would
take a revolution (a real one, not the mythological one of 1776). And, having
experienced in a very small way the US response to Grenada's social revolution,
I also know that it's not too likely.

I could keep going, but let me stop and see what the response is. Have a safe
and anthropologically satisfying weekend, everybody.

Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580