Saturday, January 21, 2012
Barbarians R Us
International solidarity campaigns have long been an activist staple. Citizens of countries who think themselves above barbarism appeal to the sensibilities of people who share their values and campaign against some ugly outrage on a foreign shore. While international solidarity campaigns have applied pressure to many just causes over the years, it's safe to say that most international solidarity campaign are of course the product of a web of complex ulterior motives usually rooted in geo-political reality. I remember the massive campaign of the 1970s and 1980s, "Save Soviet Jewry," which conveniently married the Zionist and anti-Communist agendas under a little righteously humanitarian umbrella. And as actually righteous as I believe the world campaign against South African Apartheid in that same period was, there's little doubt about the role the Cold War played in that struggle since the "West" largely supported South African racism and the pro-Communist world largely opposed it.
Which brings us to this fascinating postcard from the Soviet Union, vintage 1931. With its mailing instructions printed in eight Soviet languages, this postcard mobilizes international solidarity around the murderous reality in a particularly backward, barbarian corner of the world... the American South: "долой суд линча! да здравствуют негритянские рабочие!" "Down with Lynching! Long Live the Negro Workers!" The accompanying illustration shows a mob of root-tooting gun-waving, club-wielding, stetson-wearing, flag-waving yahoos stringing up a black man on a gallows.
It's funny how in retrospect that pre-war period is remembered as a succession of outrages about which international solidarity was mobilized: the Nazification of Germany and criminalization of the Jews, the Japanese attack on China, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the civil war in Spain. In 1931, it seems, the barbarians were right here at home.
Why do you think there was such massive African-American migration to northern cities in the first half of this century? Here's the answer: Because the American South was the Darfur of its day. On this day of the 2012 South Carolina primary where Republican dog-whistle racism is rising to audible levels (some would say "air-raid siren levels") it's worth remembering the not-so distant past even as it conflicts with our own carefully cultivated image as a liberal-minded bastion of civilization.
Related reading: Charles Blow today in the New York Times. Chauncey DeVega at We Are Respectable Negroes.
Click on the image of this postcard to see it larger.