Jim Crow segregation survived long into the 20th century because it was kept alive by white Southerners with value systems and personalities we would applaud. It’s the fallacy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a movie that never fails to move me but that advances a troubling falsehood: the notion that well-educated Christian whites were somehow victimized by white trash and forced to live within a social system that exploited and denigrated its black citizens, and that the privileged white upper class was somehow held hostage to these struggling individuals.The racism of Jim Crow or of Zionism and the occupation; of course most Zionists are good people.
But that wasn’t the case. The White Citizens Councils, the thinking man’s Ku Klux Klan, were made up of white middle-class people, people whose company you would enjoy. An analogue can be seen in the way popular culture treats Germans up to and during World War II. Good people were never anti-Semites; only detestable people participated in Hitler’s cause.
Cultures function and persist by consensus. In Jackson and other bastions of the Jim Crow South, the pervasive notion, among poor whites and rich, that blacks were unworthy of full citizenship was as unquestioned as the sanctity of church on Sunday. “The Help” tells a compelling and gripping story, but it fails to tell that one.
Optimistic liberals are optimists about themselves, and liberal intellectuals, in the American model, are unable to imagine or at least fully understand the implications of the fact that elsewhere people are arguing with their friends over whether American liberals themselves are "good". Debates among Americans over Libya are claimed to continue "an age-old foreign policy debate between realism and idealism", as if idealism played any role at all in the decision to go to war.
Intellectual defenders of idealist liberalism will always need to refer to others in the coldly impersonal form of the bureaucratic third person -as objects or ideas- regardless of the gulf between themselves and those of whom they speak. Idealists need to discount the history of good people like themselves who have been guilty of gross error and objectively criminal irresponsibility.
The Palestinians' place in the American imagination is not proof of American corruption, it's proof, once again, of a human capacity for blindness that idealists need to deny in order to maintain an intentionalist philosophy. Philosophical liberalism is predicated on the assumption that intellectuals, academics, leaders, the elect, can speak both of and for others, and do justice to them and their causes. To agree with this would be to argue that white liberals played an equal role alongside blacks in the civil rights movement, that men have played an equal role in feminism and that heterosexuals have been at the forefront of the fight for gay rights. No liberal will agree with those claims but most would deny the implications of their refusal to do so. Let's not begin to talk about questions of class.
That governments find it necessary to refer to people as data does not justify a moral politics of data sets. American liberalism (and Anglo-American political philosophy) have never tried to come to terms with this simple obvious fact.
Haaretz: "Polish-Jewish sociologist compares West Bank separation fence to Warsaw Ghetto walls."