The Hillbillies who Became Urban Poor

Progressives still don’t know the meaning of tolerance because they believe they are on the right side of history. Mencken understood the moralizing instinct that afflicts all uplifters, especially the ones that believe in progress (whether millennial or secular):

Poor people, let it be remembered, have just as many rights under a civilized government as rich people. The one obligation laid upon them is that they shall not claim as a right any privilege which will have the effect of destroying the rights of other folks. But do they destroy any other person’s right when they go to Back River on Sunday and drink a few bottles of beer, or when they go into the public parks and kiss their best girls, or when they take those girls to dances and there hug them con amore, or when they slake their thirst between waltzes with the malt of the country? I think not. On the contrary, it seems to me that they have an inalienable right to do these things, and to do any other normal and harmless thing which seems to them agreeable, and that any person who ventures to forbid them commits an intolerable offense against them.

A poor man’s amusements are his own affairs, and so are his vices. Even if those vices are of such a character and virulence that, long practiced, they will tend to endanger his health, he has still a clear right to practice them. The work he must do every day also tends to endanger his health, and yet who objects to it as immoral? Certainly not the Pecksniffs who pursue him with their platitudes and their complaining. These Pecksniffs, nine times out of ten, get a profit, directly or indirectly, out of that work of his, and are the chief opponents of all proposals that its hours be reduced or its pay increased. Then what right have they to preach to the man? What right have they, after paying him so ill, to dictate how he shall spend his pay and his leisure?

The trouble with all these efforts to uplift the poor, even when they are sincere, is that they concern themselves with effects to the exclusion of causes. Why, for example, do girls go wrong? Is it because they are naturally vicious? Not always. Too often it is because they are poor, or because their parents are poor. Poverty is the eternal enemy of self-respect, of intelligence, of personal dignity. Poor people, when they get any recreation at all, must take it in common with large numbers of their kind; they cannot. afford to go it alone. And that wholesale contact naturally breaks down their reserve and robs them of all fastidiousness. No wonder they begin to appear, in the end, as barbarians. No wonder their pleasures tend to offend the delicate sensibilities of the classes above them.

But that element of barbarousness, I believe, will never be wholly eradicated. To the man of refinement it may seem wholly disgusting to send a lard can to the corner saloon for six cents’ worth of beer, but to the man who can’t afford to drink more decently it presents the only alternative to going without. But should he then go without? I don’t think he should. He is as much entitled to joy in this world, and even to an occasional debauch, as any other man, and it is his misfortune rather than his fault if he must take it somewhat hoggishly. No human being can live upon work alone. He must have, too, his relaxation, his moment of forgetiulness, his fling. And if he can’t get it in an automobile, he is well within his rights when he seeks it in a barroom.

The current objection to the love-making customs of the poor is merely an objection to the vulgarity of the poor, and that vulgarity will persist as long as there are poor. Is it a fact that unrestrained hugging and kissing, in the parks and elsewhere, tends to promote the debanching of girls? I suppose it does. But that is one of the penalties of being poor. An immigrant working- girl of the class so numerous in Baltimore cannot ordinarily entertain her young man in her own home. Even if she has a home, it is usually too crowded for such benign uses. So she and he take to the parks, the dance halls and the excursion boats, preferring the gaze of strangers to that of more intimate and embarrassing critics. Naturally enough, this frank adoption of publicity tends to break down their self-consciousness and reserve, and so it is no wonder that their love-making sometimes becomes frankly clownish.

But why belabor them for it? Why ask them to show that refinement which is based so obviously on the possession of money? Why go on the assumption that whatever they do is inherently wrong? Why try to teach them tricks so hopelessly unadapted to the life that they must face and endure? Why, in brief, bound them and tyrannize over them? They are just as decent, at bottom, as any other class of people, and they have just as much right as any other class to frame their own definition of decency.

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55 thoughts on “The Hillbillies who Became Urban Poor

  1. Mencken sounds remarkably like the writer of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes here, which is to say human and reasonable. But maybe Keller and the Redeemerites understand the needs of the new urban poor — artists, web and graphic designers, non-profit/NGO employees. Maybe they need bistros, art walks, coffee bars, and hemp goods shops in the same way that the old white trash Baltimoreans needed cheap beer and park benches.

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  2. They are just as decent, at bottom, as any other class of people, and they have just as much right as any other class to frame their own definition of decency.

    2k seems pretty for complicated for the believer who knows – Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female, rich, poor, etc. – the plumbline is always Jesus.

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  3. So besides being prejudiced against different races, he viewed the poor as being a monolith? And look at the kind of monolith he sees them as. Somehow I see just as Keller has been accused of conforming to the big city, others have been conformed by political libertarianism.

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  4. Oh, cw, you’re so predictable- so, fondly, just for you, this morning, as you are waking up :)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoPWqi0W2DA

    1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma…walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. ..14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, ..17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is…be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. Eph 5

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  5. Going through season 3 again. Maybe we need to find a paper bag for Redeemerites, and give them their own little free zone where they can work their noble eschat…err… experiment.

    Leave the corners to the realists and dare we say, cynics.

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  6. No need for the paper bag, Wresby, they have safety pins. Has there been anything more pretentious than the safety pin brigade? Talk about elitist, and white privileged. Between HuffPo, FB, Keller and safety pins, Trump might actually get two terms.

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  7. Letme, now now, Redeemer NYC kicks in for Asian-American charismatic congregations. Asian-Americans may actually be the bulk of the congregation — not the church planters that City-to-City sends to other big (but not as big as New York City) cities.

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  8. D.G.,
    Actually, our soldiers didn’t. They didn’t treat the Wehrmacht soldiers the same as they treated the SS. But what is interesting here is that you would use the poor and the Nazis in a comparison.

    And, btw, Chomsky doesn’t have the same view of Keller that I have. But that is besides the point. Besides the issues and questions you sidestep, your focus on theology seems to have diverted your attention from bearing the fruit of the Spirit in how you discuss issues. And I know you will have some comeback to that, but it is quite a serious issue for all of us because of our weaknesses.

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  9. Curt, weaknesses? Not sin?

    I didn’t compare Nazis to the poor. I compared your view of the Nazis to your view of the poor. It’s all about you.

    So where’s your fruit of the reading Spirit? Produce, ripen thyself.

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  10. D.G.,
    So the fruit of the Spirit as Paul describes includes hostility toward others? And instead of answering questions, you make attacks on those who ask and you do so as if you are imitating some whom you admire. And how is it that my views of the Nazis and the poor are all about me? See, one can answer questions without being insulting.

    See, your typical response to questions and challenges to your views is to attack the person. So I will ask again, in your view did Mencken view the poor as a monolith? Certainly he had racist views and that is demonstrated by his comments about several races which I previously listed as well as comments from his personal diary as reported in LA Times. We might also note regarding racism, one can be in favor of more lenient treatment of people of a particular race and still be a racist. Back in the 1800s, some who opposed slavery still believed that Blacks are inferior. The same applies to some who opposed the discrimination Blacks experienced after slavery. So again, did he view the poor as a monolith?

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  11. Curt, why do you care so much if Mencken was a racist? Why don’t you care that he was a fornicator? Your self-righteousness once again shines.

    Silly me, but I actually don’t start reading someone with a view of whether they meet my moral standards. Thankfully, it keeps negativity from turning into outrage.

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  12. D.G.,
    Are you suggesting that neither of us should care whether an influential writer was a racist? And if you only care if he is a fornicator, how is it that you are not projecting when you call me self-righteous?

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  13. D.G.,
    Another dodging of questions. Have you considered becoming a politician? BTW, if you feel that I have asked if you are sinner, such would be a rhetorical question for we are all sinners. But considering the personally aggressive way you answer my comments, I tailored that question for your response. So that question was a response to what you wrote. The correct answer from you would be a ‘yes’ for we are all sinners. As to whether you were committing the particular sin I mentioned is another issue.

    But you who correct the self-righteous, when you state that Keller is conforming to his world, which would be a sin according to Romans 12, or that you use BS detectors when dealing with his material or any other interpretation of or insult about you have given to him or others show that you have little room for accusing others. Maybe the way you respond to comments is your way of asking people to join Self-Righteous Anonymous. If so, then directly ask people if they would go with you to the meetings.

    BTW, the answer to the question I left unanswered is simple though that does not imply that it is obvious. What racism has to do with portraying a group as a monolith is that there is a tie and strong similarity between stereotyping a group and thinking of a group as a monolith on a limited basis. Racism involves the stereotyping of groups. So if you want, you could answer the question: Did Mencken see the poor as a monolith?

    BTW, that Mencken was a racist, can be seen in his quotes and what the LA TImes reported from his diaries. He listed as an intellectual go to source for the alt-right. But, on the other hand, he is also revered by others for more legitimate characteristics. So if we are going to take in his views, what can be confirmed about him is part of the contextual territory. That doesn’t necessarily mean what he says about any topic is colored by that. But looking for similar themes from other subjects is part of understanding anyone.

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  14. D.G.,
    Note how the evidence of his own statements means nothing to you. The racism charge can’t be true because then we would be reducing him to a 1-dimensional character. But also note that I didn’t reduce him to a 1-dimensional character by noting his racism. I acknowledged that he also had qualities that people appreciate. In fact, this is what I wrote:


    BTW, that Mencken was a racist, can be seen in his quotes and what the LA TImes reported from his diaries. He listed as an intellectual go to source for the alt-right. But, on the other hand, he is also revered by others for more legitimate characteristics.

    Also note the tie between racism and the question of whether Mencken portrayed the poor as a monolith. A question you have refused to answer.

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  15. Curt, so you think people hear someone was racist and say no big deal. What planet do you live on?

    Racism outrages you. You constantly sniff for it. That’s a stunted view of human existence. But it is fundamentalist.

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  16. D.G.,
    You accused me of reducing him to a 1-dimensional character. But it was clear that I didn’t. But then you come back and accuse me of saying that people do not regard racism as a big deal. I keep getting puzzled by your interpretations/accusations because I am trying to identify what exegetical techniques you are using to read my comments.

    However, with all of your accusations, it is clear that you want to make me the focus of our discussion rather than answer the question of whether Mencken thought of the poor as a monolith. That is flattering but I would still like to know whether Mencken thought of the poor as a monolith.

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  17. Curt, this isn’t Machen answers, nor is it Mencken answers. Seriously, you’re going to believe me, a systemic sinner, interpreting Mencken?

    My point is that you are way more interested in whether someone is a racist than I am. You seem to think identifying racism is your calling.

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  18. “So besides being prejudiced against different races, he viewed the poor as being a monolith?”

    I’m curious Curt. Did you base this question about Mencken from reading this essay? To close the column Mencken writes, “They are just as decent, at bottom, as any other class of people, and they have just as much right as any other class to frame their own definition of decency.” The point of the essay was clearly to point out the arbitrariness of various mores that had been used as cudgels to keep the poor in their place. He notes that the poor (as a class) is just as decent as any other grouping one might come up with and thus should have the right to define their own social mores appropriate to the conditions in which they live (one might read this as a sort of porto-defense of ebonics). To suggest that the distribution of decent behavior is no different from one class to another does not entail that that every member of that class has exactly the same decency – only that it is similarly distributed in each group. But of course all of this is pretty obvious from reading Mencken’s lucid prose, so I’m sure you have something else in mind. Is there a different essay that has you thinking that Mencken viewed the poor as a monolith?

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  19. D.G.,
    In all of your notes about whether Mencken is a racist, what you seem to have defined out of the picture are Mencken’s statements themselves. Rather, you focus on perceived inferences from the accusation and thus shift attention from the actual evidence. In another thread, I already some of that evidence and in referring to an LA Times article in this thread, I provided more evidence. If you want to discuss the accusation, we should focus on that evidence.

    And, btw, not to lose sight of the original question. Did Mencken perceive the poor as a monolith? Note that the issue of racism was brought into play because just as trying to help those of a particular race does not imply the absence of racism, so to does any lenience shown to the poor imply an absence of portraying them as a monolith.

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  20. Curt, have you heard? Mencken was anti-Christian. It didn’t stop me from reading him.

    You know what it’s like. DG is anti-Curt and you keep coming by.

    Why do you care if someone is racist? Why is that so important a question?

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  21. D.G.,
    Never said that things like racism, or that he is anti-Christian, implies one should stop reading him. Racism exists on a continuum and it is unlikely that we can detect racism in ourselves.

    BTW, I’ve already explained the tie between racism and the belief that some group forms as monolith. There is similar thinking of attributing one or more negative characteristics to all in a particular group. And that brings up the question you continue to avoid answering. Did Mencken think of the poor as a monolith.

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  22. Curt, how would I know if Mencken thought of the poor as a monolith? How could someone possibly prove that?

    I know. You conclude the worst on the slimmest evidence — except that you’ve never proved the worst. You just assume this Curt Day definitions of abstractions and it all constitutes the scales of justice.

    Whatever.

    Why should you or anyone care if he thought of the poor as a monolith (and if so he was a racist)? Why does racism matter? Dodge away.

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  23. D.G.,
    You have read him so I figured you would be a credible source. If you don’t know, then that is a legitimate answer

    And I have already explained why racism matters with this question and I am not going to repeat it. But it seems that the charge upsets you despite the plethora of quotes I provided as well as the quotes I cited from an LA Times article on Mencken.

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  24. curt, you haven’t explained why racism is important to you. Nor have you conceded that the charge of racism is the nuclear option for pigeon holing people. You mean, it’s just like saying Mencken was a white man?

    Dodge more.

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  25. D.G.,
    I think you have it backwards. One should ask why racism isn’t important to those who don’t care.

    Second, I haven’t pigeonholed anyone. People are made up of more than one trait and I have said that about Mencken. In addition, I have said that racism occurs on a continuum and people, including you and me, are not qualified to determine if we are racist because of the conflict of interest that the stigma of being labeled a racists carries.

    Third, you don’t answer questions, you accuse. Why? For me I guess it it because, as you wrote before, you are anti-Curt. I am not anti-D.G. Hart. Why? Because just as you have faults and sins, you have strengths and contributions. And isn’t that the same with Mencken? You have tried your best to discredit the racism charge, which simply comes from his own words, by one accusation after another. In so doing, you have diverted attention from Mancken’s words to people, like me, who have read some of his words and can come to no conclusion. In addition, I am not anti-D.G. Hart because you are made in the image of God and Christ died for your sins.

    This idea that I am pigeonholing Mencken because his words themselves show racism is really a black-white way of interpreting what I have been saying. And note that aggression toward those who disagree with authority figures or recognized traditions and black-white thinking are signs of authoritarianism–which appears on a continuum and in variety of ways. And if you do lean that way, we have to remember that part of Conservative Christianity pushes all of us that way. And so it is something we all need to recognize and resist lest, out of it, we take our wrath out on others. I have leaned that way in the past and am trying to recover.

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  26. curt, you still haven’t explained why racism is important to you. So there.

    And if I question whether racism is as important as our times allege, I am pushing back on the authoritarianism of today.

    Two can play the beware-of-authoritarianism game.

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  27. D.G.,
    I have answered it, the answer should be obvious to people who recognize their equality with others and Christians who know that all are made in God’s image and that racism hurts Christians as well as nonChristians. And, no, you are not pushing back on authoritarianism. Mere disagreement is not authoritarianism. Aggression because of disagreement with authority figures or traditions is. SO you would have to prove that my statements are acts of aggression rather than part of disagreeing. And no, it’s not a game. Authoritarianism in the conservative Church hurts its witness to the world.

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  28. Curt, so you refuse to read a writer who was racist? Lots of Americans do that. Just look at college campuses. Think Jesse Jackson circa 1988. Hey Hey Ho Ho, W. Civ has got to go.

    What an uninteresting way to look at the world. If you use that criteria, you cut of dialogue. How would you ever listen to a racist?

    So the racist card doesn’t do much for living together. And if the church employs it, it sets itself up on your pedestal and exchanges one form of authoritarianism for another.

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  29. D.G.,
    You seem to use questions to make accusations. Take your last question: ‘Curt, so you refuse to read a writer who was racist?‘ What caused you to ask that? After all, I never reduced Mencken to his racism. Nor have I spoke of racists as being a monolith since I stated that racism exists on a continuum. And, in fact, I stated that none of us can determine whether we are racists or not because the stigma of the label causes a conflict of interest. That must at least suggest, if not implies, that I have read writings from other racists.

    But even more than the above, I already wrote the following to you in a previous comment:


    Never said that things like racism, or that he is anti-Christian, implies one should stop reading him. Racism exists on a continuum and it is unlikely that we can detect racism in ourselves.

    So why ask a question I’ve already answered?

    In addition, if people are going to read Mencken, as well as others to whom it pertains, why is the knowledge of them being racist the kind of disclosure that causes you to be so aggressive? All of us, including our favorite people to read, have faults and sins. And the importance of knowing a couple of those faults and sins is to prevent us from putting these our favorites on pedestals while our own faults and sins should prevent us from attacking them. For the real danger here is putting people on pedestals. Because that can cause us to attack those who question the pedestals. And that is unnecessary division in the Church.

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  30. Curt, so being a racist is like being voting for Hillary? Just something that is part of a person’s package of attributes? You’re telling me that’s how our society uses the concept?

    If so, you are clueless.

    But you still haven’t brought up why you went right to racism with Mencken. As if it was not to discredit him (or me for liking him)? You bring up THE sin of our time but then back off — the way you so often do. Pose radical, exist conventional.

    And give up the pedestals nonsense. It makes you sound all the more like you place yourself on a pedestal (because YOU know where they are and how they operate). Condescend less.

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  31. D.G.,
    Comparisons are a tricky thing. The being compared is often selected to be persuasive. And racism could be like voting for Hillary depending on how many traits one is using in the comparison. So why not just say that racism is one’s accent, it is a part of one’s makeup? In either case, you can succeed in trivializing racism.

    But if you had paid attention to more of what I wrote, you wouldn’t be asking the question. For I have written the following:


    And, in fact, I stated that none of us can determine whether we are racists or not because the stigma of the label causes a conflict of interest.

    and


    you and me, are not qualified to determine if we are racist because of the conflict of interest that the stigma of being labeled a racists carries.

    So I have already stated more than the fact that racism is a part of our makeup. I have written that a couple of times. And yet, you reduce what I have said about racism to being merely a part of our makeup and then asking if I believe that society regards racism that way.

    In addition, I also already discussed why I referred to Mencken’s racism. I actually gave a couple connections between discussing racism and viewing a group as a monolith:


    So I will ask again, in your view did Mencken view the poor as a monolith? Certainly he had racist views and that is demonstrated by his comments about several races which I previously listed as well as comments from his personal diary as reported in LA Times. We might also note regarding racism, one can be in favor of more lenient treatment of people of a particular race and still be a racist. Back in the 1800s, some who opposed slavery still believed that Blacks are inferior. The same applies to some who opposed the discrimination Blacks experienced after slavery. So again, did he view the poor as a monolith?

    and


    What racism has to do with portraying a group as a monolith is that there is a tie and strong similarity between stereotyping a group and thinking of a group as a monolith on a limited basis. Racism involves the stereotyping of groups.

    The latter answer addresses what Mencken said about the poor above while the former answer notes similarities in how racists view racial groups they hate with the concern of my question of asking if Mencken viewed the poor as a monolith. And one could add to that that racial groups that have been the target of racism and the poor are marginalized groups. Seeking relief for them does not imply that one views them fairly. Of course, we should celebrate any seeking of relief for marginalized groups. But we also need to go farther.

    Now you finally answered the question as to whether he viewed the poor as a monolith and you gave a legitimate answer. So why you are asking questions I have already addressed, I really don’t know except to guess that you are angry about what I have written or asked about Mencken.

    And finally, the pedestals statements are very important. And considering I have not said anything here that places mmyself on a pedestal, my guess is that my discussion about pedestals also angers you.

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  32. Curt, so if you and I can’t really determine if someone is racist, why bring it up? To find out if Mencken views a group as a monolith? Horrors!!!

    This is where you need to get out an protest more. Your reasoning is losing its edge.

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  33. D.G,
    Note how you changed the language. You went from statement saying that we can’t determine whether we ourselves are racist because of the conflict of interest to saying that we can’t determine if anyone is a racist.

    For whatever reason, you are angry that I called Mencken a racist despite the evidence I supplied. And rather than being explicit in admitting to that anger, you keep asking questions I have already answers or try to twist words to provoke a response.

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  34. Curt, be real. If you can’t tell whether you’re racist, you then trust yourself to tell if someone else is? Why all this himming and hawing. Just be a social justice warrior and rage away. Don’t qualify. Yell.

    And don’t think you know me. I am tired of the cheap cant that surrounds race, identity, and victimhood. Think or accuse. You can’t do both.

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  35. D.G.,
    It is rather an distinction to make when that someone in question makes explicit racist statements throughout their career. So whether one can tell if another person is a racist must be determined on a case by case situation. And in contrast to oneself, unless there is either positive or negative bias for or against the person in question, there is no conflict of interest in determining racism. The problem with determining one’s racism when it is so stigmatized is that there is a conflict of interest. The in determining the racism of the two different groups, others and oneself, the some key variables are significantly different.

    And this is my final comment on this thread. If the subject was some secret flaw in Mencken or someone else, it is best to let sleeping dogs lie provided that the dogs are sleeping. But we don’t do ourselves credit when we try to hush up a well-known flaw. Neither do those do themselves credit if they reduce the person to that flaw. Did Mencken push for some rights and opportunities for minorities? Yes. But did he believe in White Supremacy? Yes. Did he have other strengths and weaknesses? Yes.

    We should note that the authoritarian will either focus solely on a person’s weaknesses or strengths. An objective person will take all information into consideration.

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  36. Curt, think about it. Mencken did not promote white supremacy when he took so many swings at the white Americans around him. One should not let thought get in the way of one’s self-righteousness.

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  37. D.G.,
    Again, his statements show the belief in White Supremacy. And we could say the same about some abolitionists that you just said about Mencken. Some abolitionists believed in White Supremacy. So should their abolitionist activities and their White Supremacist views cancel each other out in our understanding of them? Or should we include both factors in how we understand such people? In addition, some of those abolitionists who believed in White Supremacy promoted White Supremacy in other ways.

    Did Mencken promote White Supremacy in more subtle ways than the racists around him did? We can certainly celebrate those instances where he opposed the racism that occurred here just like we can celebrate the efforts those abolitionists who believed in White Supremacy expended in order to eliminate slavery. But again, did they also support White Supremacy in more subtle ways? For example, doesn’t the mere expression of such views promote them?

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