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Old 01-20-2020, 03:57 PM
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Racist "unwritten law"


I have this notion that the old White Supremacists, especially of the Confederacy and the Jim Crow era, based the 'truth' of their racist views on some kind of "unwritten law." Maybe it was "inscribed on human hearts", or maybe it was "written on the hearts of white people." My notion is a bit foggy. But the idea was that there was some kind of natural, unwritten law that amounts to an emotion that supercedes what the actual, formal law might say such that white supremacy is the higher level truth. Basically, it doesn't matter what anyone else says or even if the defenders of this can coherently articulate/defend it.

Like a good doper I have been trying to Google it up to find some concrete example of this, but I am striking out. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Am I maybe putting the wrong label on it or framing it wrong? I'll be darned if I just don't have a clear picture of white supremacist ideology.
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Old 01-20-2020, 04:14 PM
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The unwritten law was science--or more aptly, bad science--and it was hardly unwritten. "Natural law" was the touchstone for all such views, that "the negro" could be scientifically proven to be inferior (along with "the indian" and "the jew").

Alan Mendenhall has a good rundown on the philosophy that drove such ideas (PDF warning).
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Old 01-20-2020, 04:19 PM
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If you take 'law' as not just statutes, but the rules by which society seems to operate normally, such as for instance 'young kids should be seen and not heard', 'men should open the door for ladies', 'the police may have to sometimes break the law to uphold the law', and 'I'm female, of course I should be paid less' and so on, you are are talking about customary law, culture, social etiquette and habitus. These terms vary across disciplines. In all cases its socially constructed 'normal'.

Since racial difference and white superiority were entrenched in all aspects of Southern civil society, right down to the rightness of having segregated drinking fountains and where people thought it proper to stand/sit in relation to each other, and most people would have seen these as a normal part of their everyday world, then yes it could be called an unwritten law about how society conducted itself.

Last edited by Banksiaman; 01-20-2020 at 04:20 PM.
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Old 01-20-2020, 05:05 PM
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It's really not clear what you're asking for, here.
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Old 01-20-2020, 05:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
It's really not clear what you're asking for, here.
I think the OP is looking for documentation that white-supremacist culture explicitly appealed to some kind of "unwritten law". And I think they might be thinking of Ida B. Wells' 1900 "Lynch Law in America" speech:

Quote:
Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an “unwritten law” that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal. The “unwritten law” first found excuse with the rough, rugged, and determined man who left the civilized centers of eastern States to seek for quick returns in the gold-fields of the far West. [...]

Thus lynch law held sway in the far West until civilization spread into the Territories and the orderly processes of law took its place. [...]

But the spirit of mob procedure seemed to have fastened itself upon the lawless classes, and the grim process that at first was invoked to declare justice was made the excuse to wreak vengeance and cover crime.[...] No emergency called for lynch law. It asserted its sway in defiance of law and in favor of anarchy. There it has flourished ever since, marking the thirty years of its existence with the inhuman butchery of more than ten thousand men, women, and children by shooting, drowning, hanging, and burning them alive. Not only this, but so potent is the force of example that the lynching mania has spread throughout the North and middle West. [...]

This is the work of the “unwritten law” about which so much is said, and in whose behest butchery is made a pastime and national savagery condoned. The first statute of this “unwritten law” was written in the blood of thousands of brave men who thought that a government that was good enough to create a citizenship was strong enough to protect it. Under the authority of a national law that gave every citizen the right to vote, the newly-made citizens chose to exercise their suffrage. But the reign of the national law was short-lived and illusionary. Hardly had the sentences dried upon the statute-books before one Southern State after another raised the cry against “negro domination” and proclaimed there was an “unwritten law” that justified any means to resist it.
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Old 01-20-2020, 05:48 PM
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The OP should also consult, with one hand firmly pinching shut the nostrils, the oeuvre of Philip C. Friese, especially his 1869 Letter to the President and People of the United States:
Quote:
That there is a higher law,---a law higher than any human Constitution,---the Republican party, when Mr. Seward was its leader, loftily proclaimed. [...]

The higher law is God's law, thought, idea, word. [...] This creative word or idea of God embraces all general truth, all science, all art, as well as all law.

Man, created in God's image, has this creative word, or idea, as a part of that image, implanted in his heart. [...]

The higher law is an unwritten law, the common law of the universe. [...]

What, then, is God's thought, God's policy, in regard to the races? One word, separation, gives it full expression. This divine policy may be plainly read in the Bible, in history, and in the human heart. [...]

So vital, so essential, in the view of the higher law, is this policy of the separation of the races, that it is unremittingly enjoined by a divine instinct implanted in every individual, and making his association with another race mysteriously repulsive. [...]

[...] the white race, which is, and ever has been, the unwritten law's only human support.

The law, the unwritten law, is not only infinite, but also organic, putting forth from age to age over those of the white race who have wandered, or have been driven, from its shelter, a new protecting branch.
These arguments go back to pre-Civil War days, in, e.g., the writings of George MacHenry, but I've soiled my keyboard enough already with quoting this racist bullshit. Suffice it to say that the OP is correct that the (convenient) concept of an "unwritten law" requiring white domination of non-whites played a key role in defenses of white supremacist policies.
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Old 01-21-2020, 12:40 AM
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Yes Kimstu, I think that is it. Thanks for slogging through the sludge to seize the answer.

This has been nagging at me since 2015 or 16. I am subtly reminded of something I dimly recall by certain news events and stories. Here's one:
Quote:
By contrast, the White House’s “Answer of President Donald J. Trump” to the articles of impeachment, filed by the president’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and the White House counsel Pat Cipollone, does not read like a traditional legal argument at all. It begins with a series of rhetorical flourishes—all of them, to one degree or another, false. The articles of impeachment are “a dangerous attack on the right of the American people to freely choose their President,” the president’s lawyers write—as though the impeachment power were not a constitutional reality every bit as enshrined in the founding document as the quadrennial election of the president. The articles are “a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election” and are “constitutionally invalid on their face,” they write, as though the president’s right to extort foreign leaders for political services was so beyond reasonable question that it is outrageous that anyone might object to it.
To my eye, it appears to be a sloppy mess of bare assertion or ad hominem fallacies. Maybe you could look at some of it as an appeal to authority fallacy, as in, "I am the president and therefore I can do anything." In any case, they call bullshit on the impeachment articles without really any actual legal argument undergirding that. It's just for a TV soundbite, but is otherwise meaningless, but will have an outsized public effect because it will be covered and broadcast like all the rest of these TV games.
Quote:
The language is a little more lawyerly, if only a little. In Sekulow and Cipollone’s hands, Trump’s cries of “Witch Hunt!” have turned into “lawless process that violated basic due process and fundamental fairness.” His allegations that Democrats are a “disgrace” have turned into “an affront to the Constitution.” And Trump’s insistence that there’s a plot to destroy his presidency has become a “highly partisan and reckless obsession with impeaching the president [which] began the day he was inaugurated and continues to this day.”

But the message is unchanged. It’s not a legal argument. It’s a howl of rage.
See? Just a bunch of ad hominem accusations and deflections. Zero substance. Right?
Quote:
To the extent that there is an argument in the president’s defense, it’s that the president’s rage is more important than building a systematic legal case. Putting together a legal brief, after all, depends on a system of mutual understanding between the writer and the audience. The goal is to convince a neutral arbiter of the correctness of one’s point, within a structure of traditions and constraints. Trump’s howl of anger is a declaration that he doesn’t need to convince any arbiter, abide by any constraints, or reach any understanding, because his own emotions are the most important thing.
Well, when you look at it that way, it starts to sound like Trump &co. are actually following the "unwritten law". Looked at that way, it does kind of make sense. I say this not having found a lot of lenses for viewing the Trump administration that result in a lot of sense. It could be White Supremacy Itself, or more likely it is some modernized variant, I still don't get all the details. But, some kind of holy right to trample on any aspect of the system at their convenience? Sounds like "unwritten law".


Another example occurred in the recent boogaloo pit thread. A poster I have no intention of pitting in GQ objected to criticism of the VA death threat issuers with the grievance, "They [the lawfully elected legislature] are falling back on the law is the LAW." At the time I was like, wtf? But, the better question is, when is the law not the law? One answer, just off the top of my head, is when it is the "unwritten law."

I think this could be what is actually the basis of GOP thought and policy these days, and explains the incredulous disconnect a lot of lefties have when trying to interpret contemporary righty behavior. I can probably dredge up more examples another day, but yeah, I don't like doing it either.
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Old 01-21-2020, 09:56 AM
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I suspect the best, simplest formulation of such an "unwritten law" can be found in the Dred Scott case:


Quote:
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order ...; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect

Substitute Democrat and Republican for black and white, and this sums up the entire attitude of Trump you discuss above. Democrats have no rights which the Republicans are bound to respect, no matter what that stinking Constitution has to say.
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Old 01-21-2020, 01:52 PM
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This is just my opinion but it seems to me that the real unwritten law is that the majority of people are racist/ discriminatory. Some anthropologists claim we may have killed off the Neanderthal. People are always looking for reasons, but they're just deluding themselves.

Last edited by furryman; 01-21-2020 at 01:55 PM.
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Old 01-21-2020, 04:20 PM
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Try2Be Comprehensive, were you just searching for some vaguely-related thread to drop that into? Next time, search in Great Debates or (preferably) the Pit. This is an official Warning for politicking in GQ.
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Old 01-21-2020, 08:00 PM
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Huh, sorry about that. No, I have been repeatedly reminded of this thing that I couldn't put my finger on for a while now. There's other things that have reminded me than the 2 examples I cited, also some things I've posted on here long ago show that I have been kind of groping around for it.

I don't know if that clears my name. I'll have to be more careful. It's all connected, man.
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Old 01-21-2020, 08:24 PM
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I think it's legit (of course IANAMod) to narrow down the question to something like "Is the Trump administration appealing to or dogwhistling the traditional concept of 'unwritten law', which could reasonably be expected to resonate with those of his supporters who espouse racist/white supremacist beliefs, to justify his legally questionable actions?"

Of course, that's a different question from the one you asked in the OP, so not sure where one should go from here.
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Old 01-21-2020, 11:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
I think it's legit (of course IANAMod) to narrow down the question to something like "Is the Trump administration appealing to or dogwhistling the traditional concept of 'unwritten law', which could reasonably be expected to resonate with those of his supporters who espouse racist/white supremacist beliefs, to justify his legally questionable actions?"

Of course, that's a different question from the one you asked in the OP, so not sure where one should go from here.
ISTM as Chronos pointed out one would go from there into a GD or Politics question -- in this OP question, once we get past the original request of examples of reference to "unwritten law" and we go into what is that supposed to mean, we're no longer dealing with a factually-answerable GQs, are we?
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Old 01-22-2020, 02:04 AM
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I recall there was some quote from Abraham Lincoln to the effect that "just because the Negro is inferior does not justify slavery" or something like that. Society of the day looked at people held down and judged their lack of education to be due to lack of brainpower. Indeed the original justification for slavery in the Americas, IIRC, was that it was a better thing for the Africans to be slaves exposed to the Christian gospels than to be free range heathens and "never know the Word".
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Old 01-22-2020, 03:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kimstu View Post
I think the OP is looking for documentation that white-supremacist culture explicitly appealed to some kind of "unwritten law". And I think they might be thinking of Ida B. Wells' 1900 "Lynch Law in America" speech:
Thanks for posting the link to the entire speech, Kimstu; I found it illuminating, humility-inducing, and harrowing, to list but a few of the emotions that overtook me in the reading.

I particularly enjoyed the acknowledgement in fine print at the bottom of the page: This collection of children’s literature is a part of the Educational Technology Clearinghouse and is funded by various grants.

It seems that the children’s literature I consumed as a child was maybe a bit watered-down.
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