I. The Humiliation of Etiqutte
As a form of social control, etiquette is one of the best. It is a largely unverbalized but widely understood system of rules for social interaction which distributes power and governs social distance and intimacy. While the Emancipation Proclamation unshackled the Black population from the legal ownership of Whites, it did not free them from the rules of racial etiquette forced upon them by custom and enforced by violence and disenfranchisement. Not only did this system of etiquette (which set rules for glances, sidewalk positioning, the use of titles, the volume of the voice, handshaking rituals, and more) keep the Black person "in his place," it also made the Whites feel the superiority which they were increasingly desperate to maintain.
"The etiquette gave a moral sanction to slavery and racism and reassurance to members of the master race. By demanding not only deference from the black, but connivance also, by insisting that the black not only accept his inferior status but also act as if he too believed in it--for this is what the fawning ritual of race relation required--the white man was asking for and receiving confirmation that his subjugation of the Negro was right and proper."
[Arther Sheps in the introduction to Bertram Wilbur Doyle's book The Etiquette of Race Relations in the South. New York: Schocken Books, 1971. (Originally published in 1937). Quotation taken from page xii.]
. . . . . . . . . . .
II. Informal Rage and Extra-legal Violence
Southern Whites reluctantly conceded their defeat in the Civil War which led to the abolition of slavery and the constitutional enfranchisement of the Black person, but they would not tolerate the idea nor the experience of the equality of the Black person to the White person; instead they strictly enforced a racial etiquette based on a theory of Black inferiority to White supremacy which forced Black deference and self-humiliation. Violation of these norms--even before the years of legislated Jim Crow--was met with the retribution of violence. Fear of a violation of these norms, fear of "the assertive Negro," was perhaps the greatest impetus for the legislation of segregation laws in the first place. Even the thought of a Black person to share the dinner table with a White person was enough tinder for the racist rage.
"Like the strengthened taboo against sex between white women and black men, taboos against eating and drinking with blacks remained strong in the postemancipation South and, for many white southerners, became deeply ingrained. 'If anything would make me kill my children, it would be the possibility that niggers might sometime eat at the same table and associate with them as equals," one woman told Clifton Johnson in 1904.'"
[Jennifer Ritterhouse, Growing Up Jim Crow: How Black and White Southern Children Learned Race. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Quotation taken from page 42.]. . . . . . . . . .
III. Effectual Re-enslavement
Between the Civil War and World War II, at least 100,000 Black people were "leased" as convicts: the re-enslavement of a people promised freedom by their country, then imprisoned on flimsy accusations such as "illegal voting," and sold to the cruel owners of burgeoning industries in the South, forced to labor in inhumane conditions, earning neither their wage nor their freedom.
"If workers tried to flee, Smith [former Georgia state senator and expansive business owner] relied on deputy sheriffs to recapture them and his own overseers to inflict brutal punishments. 'They had dogs to trail them with so they always got caught, and then the whipping boss beat them almost to death,' Hill said. 'It was awful to hear them hollering and begging for mercy. If they hollered "Lord have mercy" Marse ["Master"] Jim didn't hear them, but if they cried, "Marse Jim have mercy!" then he made them stop the beating. He say, "The Lord rule Heaven, but Jim Smith ruled the earth." "
[Douglas A Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Doubleday, 2008. Quotation taken from page 91.]
. . . . . . . . . .
IV. The Courageous Christian
In this era of unprecedented racial equality in the history of the United States, it is impossibly difficult to accurately imagine the pressure that all people experienced (even in the North) to concede to the prevalent racism, to indulge the popular sentiment of prejudice, to give up the movement for Black suffrage, to be quiet in the face of political disenfranchisement and regularly published hate speech and all too common violence perpetrated and sad neglect of a downtrodden population. But this easy road was not the road of the true Christian. Despite the harsh social and economic consequences, the Christian was not to compromise with the oppressive racial etiquette or the intimidating political movements.
"No matter what the gain or the loss, we must act nobly and courageously in the sight of God and our Saviour. Let us as Christians who accept the principle that all men, white and black, are free and equal, adhere to this principle, and not be cowards in the face of the world, and in the face of the heavenly intelligences. We should treat the colored man just as respectfully as we would treat the white man. And we can now, by precept and example, win others to the true course."
[Ellen G. White, Manuscript 7, "The Colored People." (1896) Quoted on page 111 of Ronald D Graybill's book E. G. White and Race Relations. Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald, 1970.]. . . . . . . . . . .
V. And today? . . . .