Saturday, December 15, 2012

PUNDITRY: Exposing Racism Alone Accomplishes Nothing: A Comment to Paul Finkleman's "The Real Thomas Jefferson"

True enough, racist ideology was the veil Jefferson thew up to protect himself from the clarity of his own knowledge: Negroes secrete less by the kidneys; they require less sleep; their griefs are transient; the men prefer white women as the Oranootan prefers black women, and blah, blah, blah. After all, exposing racism alone accomplish nothing. The racist edifice that the real Jefferson elaborately engineered in Query 14 collapses out of nowhere in Query 18, where the real Jefferson declared as eloquently as any American had ever done that slavery was not just a source of danger and corruption to Euro-Americans but an injustice to the enslaved as well: "[W]ith what execration should the statesman be loaded," Jefferson writes, "who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae of the other." That's right LOVE OF COUNTRY! How the author of the Declaration of Independence could have held slaves is no paradox at all. Preachers and parents gave Jefferson the rhetorical means to resolve that phony contradiction: "Do as I say not as I do." The real paradox is the one Jefferson had to face when he saw his country's well being, not his own, at stake: the paradox that slavery was both vital to building the nation and likely to destroy it. More compelling than TJ's racism are the ideas and behavior of our own less honest and less clear-sighted contemporaries who absorb and adopt Jefferson's behavior without one iota of the insight that simultaneously contradicted it. 

Paul Finkleman, "The Real Thomas Jefferson," New York Times (30 November 2012).

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