Sunday, March 22, 2009

Why Is Big Tex a White Cowboy?: Race, Gender and the "Other Texans" (a rough draft, Part 4)

Native American historians have, in particular, utilized an intriguing approach based on post-modern theory that relates to whiteness studies and the generational approach taken by Garcia. Ethnogenesis traces how specific ethnic identities are created and recreated over time. Gary Clayton Anderson made the best use of this approach in his work "The Indian Southwest: Ethnogenesis and Reinvention, 1580-1830" (1999). Anderson describes the Southwest as an “emerging ethnic stew” in which dynamic Indian cultures maintained dominance for more than 200 years, even shaping the encroaching European cultures they encountered. Where Anglo historians traditionally have viewed Indian history from a teleological lens, depicting Indians as gradually worn down to the point of cultural or literal extinction, Anderson sees societies that, under the pressures of genocide and ecological and economic change continually created new identities from the fragments of decimated nations. Instead of depicting them as clinging to the past, as some of the scholarship on Native Americans suggested, Anderson’s historiographic perspective described the Southwest Indians as being cultural innovators up until the onslaught of European invaders overwhelmed them in the early 19th century.

The defeat, domination and expulsion of Native Americans in Texas, and the racist ideology underlying this policy, raises questions that could perhaps be best answered by comparative history. Anderson, in "The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875" (2005), explores whether the policies of the Texas Republic and the subsequent Texas state government towards Indians constitutes genocide. Anderson prefers the term “ethnic cleansing,” first widely used to describe Serbian atrocities during the 1990s civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. “ . . . [T]he situation in Texas fails to rise to the level of genocide, if genocide is defined as the intentional killing of nearly all of a racial, religious, or cultural group” Anderson writes. “. . . Rather, Texans gradually endorsed . . . a policy of ethnic cleansing that had as its intention the forced removal of certain culturally defined groups from their lands . . . Texans would have been pleased had the groups they wanted removed simply left without violence. But these groups did not. The conflict in Texas was over land; indiscriminate killing, while common during the fighting, never became prolonged, strategic, state policy on either side.” Anderson reduces this ethnic cleansing to a cold-hearted campaign of greed and one might think that racism was irrelevant to the Anglo-Texan’s motives. One wonders, however, if the land Anglos desired had been filled with Czech or German immigrants would the ethnic cleansing have been as bloody and ruthless.

Anderson made a reasonable case for not describing Texas’ Indian policy as genocide. Unanswered, however, was why genocide did not occur. Here comparative history might be instructive. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, in his controversial study "Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust" (1997) , suggests that over centuries German culture developed an “eliminationist” style of anti-Semitism – the idea that Jews were so alien and so dangerous to the German nation that only extermination of the Jews could keep the Reich safe. Consistent with post-modernist theory, Goldhagen places racial discourse at the center of his compelling narrative. For centuries before Hitler, Goldhagen contends, religious leaders, politicians, and even leftists social constructed an image of Jews as racial outsiders who poisoned the body politic and would kill their host society. The omnipresence of anti-Semitism in German culture led to a widespread acceptance and complicity on the part of average Germans in the Holocaust, Goldhagen argues. The mass murder of Jews was not pursued by Hitler in spite of the desires of the German majority, he says, but with their enthusiastic participation.

What is striking about Goldhagen’s book is how closely the German eliminationist discourse resembles the social construction of Tejanos, Mexican immigrants, and Native Americans in Anglo society from the mid-19th century to the early twentieth century. (The same could be said at different times about Anglo attitudes towards African Americans and straight perspectives on gay men and women in Texas.) Like Jews in Germany, Anglos at times perceived these outsiders as unassimilable, as unfit for citizenship, as prone to crime and violence, and as posing a danger to Texas in spite of their relatively small numbers. What accounts for the difference between Texas, where ethnic cleansing became policy, and Germany which embraced genocide? Any answer would be speculative, but without some theories ventured about the choices made by Texans, Anderson’s work seems incomplete.

Perhaps because two important Hispanic organizations, LULAC and the American GI Forum, originated in Texas (in 1929 and 1948 respectively), the Mexican American experience in Texas has attracted national scholarly interest. This is not true of the African American freedom struggle in Texas. Civil rights campaigns in the Deep South, and the leaders of the movement in that region such as Martin Luther King, Jr. unfortunately overshadowed voting rights and integration battles in Texas. This is unfortunate because Texas offers an illustration of how geography and a multi-racial environment uniquely shaped the Texas freedom struggle. Recent scholarship indicates that this state represented a key battleground in the fight against segregation and disenfranchisement, but the field remains underdeveloped.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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