Sunday, December 11, 2016

Viola Desmond triumph will boost Kellie Leitch campaign

why we all failed to predict the triumph of the TRUMP counter reaction to Obama's moves towards greater tolerance 

I won't go as far as to call it a law of political science ----because I don't believe such 'laws' can exist ----- but generally, we can say that for every official gesture towards greater tolerance there is almost always a massively angry, if sullenly quiet, popular counter-reaction from about half of the population.

And having an united quietly sullen half of the population on your side is more than enough to get yourself elected -- just ask President-to-be Donald Trump.

So the news that the face of a "mixed-race" "colored" "woman"  "divorcee" "convict" is about to be placed on Canada's $10 bill, instead of the face of the white Anglo Saxon Queen, will only play into the hands of Canada's own 'Donela Trump', Conservative party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch.

Few historians or journalists, unfortunately, will accept this as fact.

We historians and journalists are typically too busy celebrating the advances in tolerance that led to the 1965 passage of the Democratic Party's Voting Rights Act , designed to ensure the right of Blacks to vote, to notice the determined reaction against it by white racists.

One that in turn led to their quiet but wholesale move to the Republican Party --- the party once led by Lincoln, oh He who freed the Blacks.

This in turn led to the highly anti-tolerant presidency of Ronald Reagan and onward to today's Trump victory.

I am a historian of WWII, but was born in late 1951 and so I first learned of the war years through the decided jaded prism of such late Fifties works as 1959's "The Long and the Short and the Tall".

So much so that when I was taught, in the very early sixties, with endlessly uplifting celebratory civics-oriented school books written back in 1949, they already felt to ten year old me as being from some incredibly distant and foreign-feeling era.

The generation of historians and journalists before my own were generally born between 1935 and 1945.

So raised were their young impressionable selves in a constant bath of war and post war propaganda about the noble Allies that, despite very strong personal efforts to be particularly tolerance-oriented, they generally failed to see that WWII represented not merely a move towards greater tolerance.

That it also led to a quiet but massively popular counter-reaction against that official encouragement of racial and religious tolerance.

Between about 1941 till about 1956, years, their minds would have been filled to the brim with propaganda claiming/lying that the Allied fight against the Axis was all about nobly defending the rights of all to live free of fear and oppression.

When in actual fact, almost all Allied nations only got involved in fighting Hitler when they themselves were directly attacked.

And we know now that most newspaper readers in the Allied countries, in the early war years of 1939-1942, would indeed have had access to detailed accurate reports of the murders of millions of Jews and Slavs in Eastern Europe.

Given the huge amount of wartime government and elite institutional support for racial and religious tolerance, these historians, the initial assumption might be to expect less, not more, prejudice against Jews and Blacks during the war years.

But in fact, archival evidence of public polling in the UK and the USA suggests that prejudice against the Jews rose not fell during those years!

This prejudice amongst so many voters is the real reason why Allied politicians did nothing to rescue Europe's Jews from certain death.

In those same war years, Allied White prejudice against their own Black and Latino population led to violent riots and lynching murders.

Now : hard evidence from Canada's own Roseland Theatre

Polling (and rioting) was less extensive in Canada but what I think we younger war historians born after the propaganda bath can do is add some fresh insights to a particularly well documented case of wartime era prejudice.

One that involved two very brave Black women from Nova Scotia, Carrie Best and Viola Desmond.

Very briefly, in late 1941, New Glasgow's Roseland Theatre instituted a new policy wherein Blacks had to sit up in the balcony, away from the white patrons - failure to do so would result in their arrest and imprisonment --- nominally for evading one cent in provincial taxes due!

Early in 1942, Mrs Best deliberately tested the policy, got arrested along with her son James, and was convicted.

In 1946, Viola Desmond, not knowing of the policy, accidentally ended up in the white section with the cheaper black ticket but then spontaneously refused to leave despite the threat to be arrested.

She was violently arrested, jailed and convicted.

She fought it to the NS Supreme Court and lost.

This week, her face was put on the forthcoming new Canadian $10 bill - the first woman other than the Queen to be featured on Canadian currency and the first Black too.

Emergent Modernity

But something immediately struck me odd when I looked into her story this morning.

New Glasgow has always had a large Black population and its Roseland, built in 1913, was relatively unique for a small town movie theatre in having a balcony, thus allowing seating to be easily divided between different types of customers.

It could have been segregated almost thirty years earlier than when it first was, in late 1941.

That December, the nominally independent owner of the theatre, Norman W Mason. gave way to complaints from (some) white customers and began segregation of seating.

I say 'nominal' because no 'independently owned movie house' that ran conventional fare was ever truly independent --- they were really always under the thumb of the big studios and distributors who controlled the popular conventional films.

So Mason made his decision to segregate despite knowing that almost all of his movies came from studios or distributors controlled by Jews with strong ties to Eastern Europe.

 A place where in mid November, barely a month earlier, newspapers all throughout the West had reported that 52,000 baby, children, elderly and adult Jews had been mass murdered in Kiev.

A place where the mass segregation of Jews from Gentile had proceeded these mass killings.

A situation that Winston Churchill himself, in a radio broadcast in August 1941 ( same month as the Atlantic Charter was released) had publicly condemned in the strongest possible terms : "whole districts exterminated, scores of thousands murdered in cold blood."

But Mason, correctly, greatly feared the wrath of (some) of his working class customers far more than that of these wealthy powerful Jews.

Constance Backhouse did the heavy lifting

Now I did none of the heavy lifting, weary weeks and months in archives amid dusty papers, done by scholars like Professor Constance Backhouse, to establish the details of the Best-Desmond story.

Instead, aware of the general tendency for a popular counter-reaction against official moves towards greater tolerance and being more oriented to the details of the war years than historians approaching these events through a legal and human rights prism, I immediately exclaimed, "August 1941 !!!!!!

The August 1941 FDR-Churchill declaration in Argentia Newfoundland, now called The Atlantic Charter, that promoted human rights for all as the supposed major war aim of the Allies.

Based on my recent experience following the American presidential election, I figured that a lot of Canadian whites in 1941 wouldn't have liked their government's highly reluctant decision to grant (in principle only) Jews, Blacks, Orientals and women the right to be regarded as fully human.

Further, I knew that the combination of coal mines and steel industry, unique to the New Glasgow area in Canada, made it a key site for that country's vital war industries.

(The father of my book's subject, Dr Martin Henry Dawson, was from the New Glasgow area and worked in its first heavy industry, coal-fired steel railways.)

Whites, all through the Allied world, didn't want healthy fit young Blacks fighting in military combat roles. But then when healthy fit young Whites left their jobs doing the hard work frequent in heavy industry to fight in combat roles, who had the physical strength take their place back home in those vital war industries ?

Generally not women and older White men.

Suddenly seeing healthy young fit black youths taking well paying safe jobs on the Home Front while their own sons risked death overseas made many Whites very unhappy.

This, despite the fact that it was their own racial prejudices against 'Coloreds fighting in White Man's War' that created this double bind for young black men.

The Atlantic Charter, announced only a month or two before the move from some White patrons to segregate the Roseland, might have been the last straw.

That is what I mean by Emergent Modernity : an new era and a new atmosphere that allows for the freer intertwining of information in public, one that leads to a more complex reality and a more complex (accurate) insight into that reality.

Reading an article about the Roseland Theatre on that great free source of information, Wikipedia, led me to Constance Backhouse and her article on Carrie best's earlier effort to de-segregate the Roseland.

My own interest and knowledge led to adding three small but new insights to this ongoing effort to examine the Roseland story from all angles.

Firstly, that the effective boss of the Canadian Odeon' chain's Roseland in November 1946 was still Paul Nathanson, himself Jewish and well aware that the segregation of Jews from Gentiles in his grandparents' Eastern Europe was the forerunner to the Holocaust.

Secondly, that in 1941 there was growing resentment in the Roseland's catchment area over Blacks taking up traditional high paying White jobs, due to the war.

Thirdly that the 'tolerance-towards-Blacks-promoting' Atlantic Charter was fresh in the news when the patron-originated movement to segregate the Roseland began.

This new take on an old news story from seventy five years ago is the sort that might have reminded recent US election observers that Obama's efforts to promote greater tolerance was bound to lead to a fierce counter reaction from the half of every society that prefer to hate, rather than love, their fellow members of humanity...

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