The End of White Supremacy:

Much as I didn't want Obama to win on ideological grounds, I am nonetheless thrilled that American voters elected the first black president.

I've spent a fair chunk of the last two decades writing about post-Civil War African-American history (in the context of constitutional history, e.g.), a history replete with segregation, lynchings, intimidation, humiliation, exclusion and so forth. I can't tell you how disgusted I am when I read this history, and I'm not sure that those of us who haven't studied the history really understand the pervasiveness and invidiousness of the mistreatment of African Americans. Just imagine the mentality, for example, of people who not only took part in brutal lynchings less than a century ago, but hacked off the victims' body parts and kept them as souveniers, and created picture postcards that highlighted the victims desecrated remains!

And the mistreatment of black Americans crossed ideological lines. As late as the 1930s, President Roosevelt refused to support a federal anti-lynching law, and liberal Democrats had few if any compunctions about intentionally creating massive unemployment among southern African American farmers and industrial workers in pursuit of New Deal goals they considered far more important. Adlai Stevenson, as I recall, ran for the presidency with two separate segregationist running mates in the 1950s! Just forty years ago, the Supreme Court had to force Virginia to allow interracial marriage. Now we see the son of a black African father and white mother carrying Virginia in a presidential election. Amazing!

Prejudice, of course, hasn't disappeared, not will it disappear under an Obama presidency. But all American ethnic groups have faced prejudice, sometimes severe prejudice, and thrived nevertheless.

What was unique about American post-slavery prejudice against African Americans, as opposed to the prejudice against other groups, was that it manifested itself in a system of white supremacy that dictated that blacks always be placed in an inferior position to whites. In the South, this was formalized under the law by Jim Crow statutes, and also enforced by lynchings and "whitecapping" against "uppity" black business owners and others who "didn't know their place."

Things were never quite so bad in the North, but there was still tremendous resistance until relatively recently among whites to, for example, allowing blacks serving in supervisory positions over whites. Until fairly recently, most construction unions blatantly refused to accept African American members, mainly because they did not want to acknowledge equality with them on a social level.

Obama's victory tells us that in case anyone had any doubt, the ideology of white supremacy is over and done with, kaput. Again, while blacks still face a fair amount of prejudice, there's a big difference between prejudice and a widespread ideology among the majority population that members of a particular group must be kept in "their place," by custom, law, and violence. "Their place," in effect, is now all the same positions whites occupy, up to and including the most powerful office in the land.

So congratulations to Senator Obama, and to America.

UPDATE: I posted this by accident before I was quite finished, so the current version is slightly edited.