The history of the American intellectual community is beset with violent love affairs with other classes. Those of a certain age will be able to remember the one of the thirties.
That one was conducted across class lines and its object was the workingman, but its course was quite as tempestuous as the more recent affair. Such affairs of the heart have been in the romantic tradition that endows the object of love with exalted virtues and sublime attributes and at the same time indulges the lover in dreams of glory and self-flattery.
The passion was manifest in different forms. The White Southerner, his ardor and devotion suspect from the start, was most given to violent protestation and self-abasement. But in action he was prone to lapse unconsciously into hereditary postures of benevolent paternalism. The White Northerner, the more confident and masterful suitor, was not immune from hereditary posturing himself/herself, and could set forth on his freedom ride humming "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The Negro intellectual, cast in the curious role of both lover and beloved, was subjected to all the temptations of narcissism and occasionally succumbed.
Some of the whites, overcome with conviction of communal guilt, succumbed to to impulses of masochism and begged nothing of the beloved but to be publicly whipped and generally abused. And for a suitable fee there were those who were ready to oblige from the platform, the stage, or the screen.
The impulses, however, were but deviations from the white norm of neo-paternalism, a compound of philanthropy and unconscious condescension. For the underlying assumption was was that it was up to the white man to solve "the problem", to lift up the Black brother, to redeem the Negro.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
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