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Monday, November 6, 2023

Erasing Black history part one million: THE LEHMAN TRILOGY

I saw THE LEHMAN TRILOGY when it was on Broadway but left during the second intermission, disgusted that slavery was almost completely ignored as a factor in the creation of the Lehman brothers' wealth. 

The New York Review of Books published a piece on that topic, by Sarah Churchwell, which I found recently. The article points out that not only were the Lehmans slave-owners, they were staunch Confederates:

Henry Lehman died in 1855, but when the Civil War came, the two surviving brothers were staunchly on the side of the Confederacy. Mayer Lehman was a committed Southern Democrat, friendly with the governor of Alabama, and knew Jefferson Davis socially. In October 1861, Lehman Brothers, “Merchants of Montgomery,” advertised in local papers that they had stockpiled “almost every article of necessity” during the war. Promising to “be reasonable as to prices,” they added that “owing to the hardness of the times, they are compelled to demand the cash.” Cash, appropriately, was italicized. During the war, the firm successfully ran blockades while issuing the Confederacy with free credit; the Governor of Mississippi sent a public note of thanks in 1864 to “Messrs. Lehman & Brothers,” for accepting “Confederate Treasury notes,” while “charging nothing for their trouble,” to supply the army with cotton and wool for uniforms—despite the blockade that “prevented a larger supply.” In October 1865, “Lehman & Brothers, rich Jews, and merchants,” were pardoned by President Andrew Johnson for doing so, one of the raft of pardons Johnson issued to white Southerners after the war in the name of restoring the Union, but in fact easing the cost of defeat for the embittered white South (and contributing to his eventual impeachment).
I would say it's amazing that a play that deliberately omits the importance of the protagonists' slave-trading was produced on Broadway, but as the article points out, HAMILTON...
...does the same thing in its ambivalent dynamic of denouncing slavery’s iniquities while suggesting that its own protagonists were exempt from them. Anyone who didn’t know better would finish Hamilton innocent of the fact that George Washington owned slaves, much less that Alexander Hamilton himself bought and sold them on behalf of his wife’s family. Such stories try to have it both ways: for their heroes to be representative Americans, while erasing the vicious ways in which they truly were representative. The fact that everyone was doing it is not a defense, it merely measures the scale of the crime.
HAMILTON makes a point of noting that Hamilton was an immigrant. White immigrants gaining financially from the immiseration of Black people continues into the twenty-first century, although thankfully at a lesser scale than slavery. I wrote about that in my piece on Razib Khan's career a couple of years ago:
Only in America - someone born in Bangladesh moves to this country and makes himself a lucrative career dehumanizing a group of Americans whose roots in North America and the United States go back centuries. That's nothing against Bangladesh: European immigrants have been rising in the social pecking order on the backs of Black Americans for a long time, although admittedly, not all Europeans all at once. The Irish have about the palest skin around but it took them awhile, as most of them were impoverished and fleeing famine, to become respectable enough to be truly white. As this caricature from 1876 makes clear.

Razib Khan is a pioneer in that respect, pushing the boundaries so that all you have to do to get a leg up in the American nativist hierarchy these days is to portray Black Americans as subhuman and deny the existence of systemic racism. You don't even have to have European ethnicity anymore.

Khan's family must be so proud of him.

We can see this new system in action from the very beginning of Razib Khan's appalling career. The anti-immigration, white supremacist hate organization VDARE gave immigrant, non-white Razib Khan his start on the road to race pseudoscience fame and fortune.
Razib Khan may not have made a huge fortune like the Lehman brothers, but he has made good money for very little actual work, from wealthy racists like Ron Unz, due to his willingness to portray Black Americans as genetically inferior. Like Khan, thanks to anti-Black racism the Lehman Brothers achieved "white" status, noted by Churchwell:
...the stark racial hierarchy of the South, divided into its ruthless binary of “black” and “white,” made it easier for Jewish immigrants to assimilate as “white.”
And the belief that Black people are separate from humanity, a belief which started in the days of American slavery, continues as a "scientific" claim past the age of Jim Crow and, thanks to E. O. WilsonJ. P. Rushton, Charles Murray, Steve Sailer, Razib Khan and Steven Pinker, and many others, right into the present day.

And an important tactic in the quest to prove Black Americans are separate is to erase Black American history.

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