How do we deal with Hate?

This is a longer blog than I usually write, and includes a fair amount of research I did into slavery, the civil war and the Jim Crow era. You’ll need more time to get through it, but I hope you find it useful!

After I took a class on White Privilege in the Spring, I started doing some research: first reading a lot of James Baldwin and some other Black authors, and then reading about the origins of slavery in this country and then the Civil War.

I find that I am interested in what makes the White Supremacists tick – I just couldn’t understand why certain White people would carry so much hatred towards people of color, and Blacks in particular. I found that the research has helped me to understand it much better. I now understand that the killings of so many young Black men by police is simply the latest expression of that hateful consciousness that didn’t end when the North “won the war”.   This may seem like a “duh” but I hadn’t consciously put those pieces together before. Michelle Alexander in “The New Jim Crow” articulates this historical progression beautifully.

The question of how do we grow and evolve social consciousness is one that I’m thinking about a lot these days. I know a lot of people are doing work around this topic and I’m trying to find my way into that work. It looks like part of the way is going to be to read and to write and to share these ideas with other people.

Below is a distillation of some things I’ve read that have been interesting to me and have helped me connect some dots. A lot of it is basic Civil War history but I hadn’t done much reading in that area before. Much of the material is taken from a book called “Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans” by Ginzberg and Eichner in their 1993 edition. It was originally published in 1964. I hope this is interesting to you and that it spurs more questioning and reaching out on your part.


The question is how do you deal with Hate?

In delving into some of the roots of that in this country, this is some of what I’ve found. In speaking about African Americans after the Civil War, I use the term ‘Negros’ as that was the term used up until the mid-1960’s.

Africans were brought to this country as slaves for economic reasons. The institution of Chattel Slavery developed. Their labor helped create great wealth, particularly in the Southern colonies, but many in the North profited immensely from the slave trade.

Many Africans were sold to the slavers by other African tribes on the Western coast of Africa: initially to the Spanish and Portuguese, but later to the Dutch and the English. Many of those slaves came to the American South, but many wound up working in the sugar plantations in the West Indies. Some found their way to New England.

At least 2 million Africans–10 to 15 percent–died during the infamous “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic. Another 15 to 30 percent died during the march to or during confinement along the African coast. Altogether, for every 100 slaves who reached the New World, another 40 had died in Africa or during the Middle Passage.

For those who survived, it was just the beginning of their troubles. They were stolen from their homes and were strangers in this new land. Once here they were sold into bondage and treated in a vile manner. To get them to work, and keep them in line, they were treated brutally. Separated from their families, whipped, castrated and hung from trees; most Americans know something about the nightmare that was the stolen African’s time in slavery.

Africans had been enslaved in England before many of the English came to this country. Designated as “the children of Ham” there was “Biblical support” in the minds of the English for their being subservient, for their being servants and slaves. This was the way most whites in the colonies thought about the Africans. (There were quite a few Native Americans sold into slavery as well – mainly to the West Indies, as a way to clear the land for White settlement.)

Once in the South, most Africans got attached to large plantations. Laws were passed which made them slaves in perpetuity. Their children would be slaves.As brutal as it was, relationships developed between the Blacks and Whites.The whole system in the South supported slavery-including the religious stuctures.The White Southern identity grew in relationship to the slaves and the institution of slavery.

The Slaves were on the bottom of the social hierarchy and there were repeated manipulations by the power brokers to make sure the poor whites competed with the blacks and didn’t bond with them to fight for better conditions for themselves.

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As the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency approached, there was much conflict in the country over whether the new states and territories opening up would be Free or slave-owning states.

The South wanted slavery to exist there, partially because the plantation owner’s children needed more land to establish more plantations (worked by slaves). The land in the south was pretty much used up.

Slavery created “soft whites” since many of them didn’t have to work and the idea of a “privileged class” grew up around that. Not only did they feel that they were superior because they were white, but because they had the land and they (the Big Plantation Owners-some owning as much as 20,000 acres) had the money and controlled the economy of the region.

The North wanted the new states and territories to be free – partially out of a growing idea of the equality of all people, but more to have land where free white people could go and homestead. That wouldn’t have been possible if southerners were buying up the land and working it with slaves.

As this argument heated up, Southern states started talking about succeeding from the Union. Once Lincoln was elected in 1860, they saw him as being hostile to slavery and a threat to their livelihood and way of life, and the Confederacy was born. First the seven most southern states succeeded, then four border states.

The civil war started on April 4th, 1861 at Fort Sumpter, in Charlotte, S.C., when a southern militia fired on Federal troops. Lincoln sent troops into the South to preserve the Union. It had become very clear that without action from the Federal government, this country would have split in two. Even though the South was acting out of their feeling that they needed to preserve slavery, the initial impetus for sending Union troops south was not to free the slaves.

In 1862, Congress appropriated money to support the relocation of slaves from the US to Haiti or Liberia. Lincoln felt this was the best plan. He didn’t see Blacks and Whites living together peaceably in this country.

The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t come until Jan 1st, 1863 and that was because Northern Whites were less and less interested in going south to die in the war. Lincoln was very reticent about freeing the slaves, but it was determined that they were needed to continue the war effort. Also, abolitionists were losing faith in the war effort. What was all the bloodshed about if it weren’t to free the slaves?

Lincoln’s thought was that gradual emancipation of slaves was a better idea than having it happen all at once. He sensed the social and political disruption that would happen with a sudden termination of an institution that had so defined the south, and provided for its wealth for over 200 years. He also wanted to compensate the former slave owners for their slaves as a way to capitalize the South and help with its rebuilding effort. Neither of these ideas made it through Congress.

The war was brutal and the South in particular was decimated. Much of its infrastructure, roads, railroads and bridges were destroyed. Many towns and cities were laid waste.

620,000 people were killed in the war, about 250,000 from the South. and many more injured.

Along with Lincoln’s ideas, there were other discussions about rebuilding the South but these ideas were not put into effect and Southern anger at the North grew stronger.

There were also discussions among politicians and religious and educational organizations about what to do once the slaves were freed, but the follow-through on this was negligible. The slaves had been entirely dependent on their White masters for their livelihood for generations. They had practical skills, but were for the most part uneducated. They had no experience in using money. Many freed slaves briefly had the right to vote right after the war ended, but these rights were circumvented within two decades and the fight for Black suffrage went on into the 1960’s and still goes on today.

Once freed, the ex-slaves found themselves in a hostile land among people who last year had been their masters, who whole-heartedly believed that they were inferior beings and still believed in the rightness of slavery. Congress created “The Freedman’s Bureau”, which was meant to help ex-slaves with the transition, but it was funded for only one year. That was later continued for a second year, but it was not enough time to really support the Negros in making the transition out of slavery.

Much of the political and moral will to actually care for, feed, protect and educate the ex-slaves was destroyed when Lincoln was assassinated within months of the end of the War. The man who succeeded him, the Vice President, Andrew Johnson, was nowhere near as brilliant a man as Lincoln, nor as committed to the well-being of the Negros.

The Abolitionists, apparently were all about abolition. Once that was achieved, all the Northern abolition groups dissolved. Very few got involved in helping the Negros transition from Slavery into civil life.

There were programs put in place to support the freed slaves but they were poorly administered. In spite of this, Negroes enjoyed about 15 years of freer movement and prosperity in the South before the Black Codes went into effect, and then the Jim Crow laws.

During the first 8 months following the Southern defeat, the Congress was not even in session because the country was so much in disarray and the (Northern) Congress was trying to figure out the best way to re-integrate legislatures from the Southern states.

After the war there was a discussion in Congress about whether to treat the Confederated States as an occupied territory or not. Thaddeus Stevens, who went to Congress on the anti-slavery Whig platform from Pennsylvania, was all for this. In a speech on June 6th, 1965, he laid out his plan on how to deal with the defeated South:

“Heretofore, Southern society has had more the features of Aristocracy than Democracy…It is impossible that any practical equality of rights can exist where a few thousand men monopolize the whole landed property.”

He proposed that he North expropriate the holdings of the South’s largest landowners as a war indemnity. Each recently freed adult Negro male would receive 40 acres as a gift. The remaining millions of acres would be distributed among the poorer white farmers at a reasonable price. The wealth and power of the South’s former ruling oligarchy would thus be destroyed and the social and economic structure of the South would be re-cast in the Northern image.

He said “It is easier and more beneficial to exile seventy thousand proud, bloated and defiant rebels than to expatriate four million laborers, native to the soil and loyal to the Government.”

In his view the rebellious states would have to be treated as conquered provinces. “Otherwise, those states would have the right to vote on reform measures and they would certainly vote to defeat any measures which they saw as limiting their land and economic power. Stevens said “The foundations of their institutions; political, municipal and social, must be broken up and re-laid, or all our blood and treasure have been spent in vain.”

An American correspondent for the Paris Le Temps wrote: “A question is never settled until it is settled right. The real misfortune of the Negro race is in owning no land of its own. There cannot be real emancipation for men who do not possess at least a small portion of soil.”


Congress overwhelmingly defeated Steven’s bills. Horace Greeley, the editor of a major New York newspaper and politician stated: “We protest against any warfare against Southern property.”   Business interests supported property and business interests, even after going to war over ideological and moral differences.

I think this can be seen as another in a long line of historical examples of how the vision and the will were adequate to accomplish the immediate end, but not adequate to bring about long term structures to make sure that the deeper goals of the action were also accomplished. Once so much “blood and treasure” had been spent, it was hard to find the energy or the political will to then make the necessary political and structural changes to make sure that, in this case, the well-being of the ex-slaves could be assured.

In reading about this time, it’s quite clear that there was much ambivalence, even in the North, about what rights and opportunities should be afforded the ex-slaves. As stated about a number of the abolitionists, they were about abolition of what they saw as an evil institution. Many of them didn’t actually care much for individual Negros, and they weren’t necessarily interested in living or working with them.

The consciousness of the Southerners (and of the Northerners to at lesser extent) was completely tied to the virtue of the institution of slavery and the idea that Negros were an inferior race. On top of this, the Civil War cemented great enmity between the South and the North and this has continued down the 15+ decades since then. After slavery was abolished, the Black Codes did much to return many Blacks to pretty much the same status-and in some ways worse. After that came the Jim Crow laws, and then after that came the “War on Drugs” which Michelle Alexander and others state is another expression of the consciousness that wants to keep blacks in an inferior and oppressed condition. Now we’re seeing the return of the KKK and the White Nationalists as overt expressions of ideas that never went away in certain segments of the country. They have come back out into the open and are now doing battle with anti-fascist and anti-White Supremacy groups and the whole country is caught up in the violence and the hate again.

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This brings me back to the original question? How do we deal with hate?

I don’t imagine that there’s a single way, and I know that people fall into violent and non-violent responses to what they perceive as bigotry and injustice. Part of my response is to dig into the history a bit, to understand more of the context for today’s events. I do know that families pass down their culture within the families. When there’s a common trauma that’s shared, such as the Civil War, the trauma, beliefs and attitudes generated or solidified by that trauma get passed along. These attitudes and beliefs can be extremely resistant to new information coming in because just like individual trauma, they get locked into the collective mind/body. On top of this, these beliefs, attitudes and hatreds can be manipulated by political forces, the media, etc.

As a practicing Buddhist, I know that it is my responsibility to clear the hate out of my own mind and then hopefully address it skillfully when it shows up in my family and in my community. I think that as painful as the rise of neo-fascists and white supremacists is in the country right now, that it is a cleansing of some sort. Just as the healing from abuse and trauma is painful and difficult on an individual level, it is going to be no less painful, difficult and scary on the collective level. I’m heartened to see so many people grappling with these issues in really deep ways. Hopefully we’ll get something right this time. We’ll learn how to engage with hate and fear and ignorance in a way that it can be transformed. Otherwise, we will be doing this forever.

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