For leftists, the pie is finite; possible competition must be winnowed out by artificially dividing humans into fake “meaningful” categories.
The cold I wrote about is still bedeviling me a bit, so I went slightly Victorian and “took to the couch” this afternoon. I didn’t go full Victorian, of course, with smelling salts and vinegar compresses for my head. Instead, the dog and I tucked ourselves up under a blanket and watched James Whale’s 1936 version of Show Boat, which is currently playing on TCM. It is, in my opinion, way better than the 1951 version.
But let me back up a little bit for those who are not musical aficionados. Show Boat began life as a 1926 novel by Edna Ferber. A couple of years before, she’d heard about the show boats that plied American rivers beginning in the 1870s, although most were gone by the 1920s. Fascinated by the concept, she spent a few days on James Adam’s Floating Theatre, which worked the waters in North Carolina. This experience gave Ferber the material she needed to write about the life of the fictional Magnolia Hawks Ravenal, who was raised on a show boat and returned to it in middle age. I read the book in high school and remember thinking it was very good.
One of the main themes in the book is the anti-black racism that permeated the South in the decades after the Civil War. This is told mostly through the experience of Steve and Julie Dozier, the romantic leads on the show boat. Julie is like an older sister or aunt to Magnolia. However, Julie has a secret: She’s half black and is “passing.”
Eventually, in Mississippi, a scorned man reveals Julie’s secret, which could lead to Steve and Julie being arrested for miscegenation (i.e., a mixed-race marriage). In the most dramatic scene in the book, Steve cuts Julie’s hand, drinks the blood, and then attests, as do those who witnessed the act, that he has more than a few drops of black blood in a state that believes that even one drop makes one black. Steve and Julie escape arrest but must leave the boat because having mixed races on the stage is itself a criminal act.
True liberals (unlike today’s leftists) made the book a huge bestseller, helped by the fact that it’s a really good soap opera of a story. Eventually, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II turned the book into the well-known musical. Because both were true liberals, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, they too highlighted the negative racial aspects of life in the South.
The musical debuted in 1927 to phenomenal, and well-deserved, reviews. Until then, Boadway musicals had been mostly revue-style shows. If they had a plot, they were always comic romances or high-toned operetta-style shows. This was the first fully realized dramatic musical on Broadway, with songs that were integral to the story’s narrative. (Sixteen years later, Hammerstein repeated this feat with Richard Rogers, when they created Oklahoma.)
In 1936, MGM produced a black-and-white version of the stage play. The director was James Whale, a British man most remembered for directing the original Frankenstein movie and the even more famous Bride of Frankenstein. Whale was openly gay in Hollywood, a town that was more tolerant than the rest of America but that was still hostile to gays. They didn’t experience the same discrimination as the type facing American blacks, especially in the South, but gays were outsiders too. I think that’s why Whale was an unusually sensitive director when it came to dealing with black roles in the movie.
The movie stays very true to the original 1927 stage show (which is not the case for the 1951 movie). There’s a lot of material that got cut for time limitations, and some songs were added, including “Ah still suits me,” to showcase Paul Robeson, but what’s in there is mostly what people saw on the stage, including in the touring companies still making the rounds in America. It even had some of the same cast. Helen Morgan (Julie) Charles Winninger (Cap’n Andy), Sammy White (Frank), and Paul Robeson (Joe) reprised their Broadway roles. Irene Dunne (Magnolia), Allan Jones (Ravenal), and Hattie McDaniel (Queenie, although most know her best as Mammy from Gone With The Wind) reprised their roles in national touring companies. This was a stellar cast by the standards of 1936.
The most heartbreaking part of the movie is Paul Robeson. It’s not that his part is heartbreaking, although he brings tremendous power to it. It’s Robeson himself.
Robeson was born in 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, to a mixed-race mother and a black father who had been born into slavery, escaped from it as a teenager, and became a Presbyterian minister. Owing to a dispute with the financial supporters of his church, Robeson’s father lost his job and took on menial work when Robeson was two. Then, when Robeson was six, his mother died in a fire. By the time Robeson was 12, though, his father was a minister again, at an A.M.E. church.
Robeson excelled at sports and academics, and won a scholarship to Rutgers, making him only the third black student to attend the college — and the only black student during his time there. In his junior year, Robeson’s father became fatally ill. Robeson cared for his father until the latter’s death, even while still attending college. Despite this enormous pressure, Robeson graduated at the top of his class, becoming a Phi Beta Kappa and Cap and Skull member, as well as being voted class valedictorian. Robeson then attended the New York University School of Law, which was a poor fit, before transferring to Columbia Law School. He continued to play football throughout law school.
And here is where we begin the tragedy of Paul Robeson and America as a whole. With his unusual abilities, Robeson ought to have become a hugely successful lawyer. Perhaps he might have gone into politics. He might even have become the first black president of the United States. After all, unlike Obama the poser, who benefitted from affirmative action in lieu of actual academic accomplishments, Robeson was the real deal, a truly brilliant man.
Instead, Robeson left the practice of law after only a year, because racism made it impossible to do his job. He began work in the theater in New York, where his talents were recognized. He soon became a true star, acting in both dramatic and musical roles. Unfortunately, he cheated on his wife once too often and she, a woman scorned who had managed his career, attacked him publicly and in racial terms, something that haunted him.
For all his fame, though, Robeson was still a black man in America, routinely subject to true systemic racism, in addition to myriad and constant insults and indignities. In 1934, he entered the School of Oriental and African Studies, a part of the University of London, as is the Marxist London School of Economics. There, his Marxist friends assured him that, were he living in the glorious paradise that was the Soviet Union, he would be treated as an equal. On his first visit there, in 1934, Robeson said, “Here I am not a Negro but a human being for the first time in my life … I walk in full human dignity.” And so began Robeson’s love affair with communism.
For the rest of his life, Robeson balanced the theater and leftist political activism. The latter arose from his belief that America’s racist system was a great evil (and he was correct) and that communism was the answer (about which he was grievously wrong). He was so supportive of the Soviet Union that he hid from the world moral crimes about which he knew first hand. Eventually, of course, he found himself tangled with McCarthyism and ended up being blacklisted.
Robeson’s story is long and much more complicated. Wikipedia actually has a fairly decent summation of it all.
My point is that Robeson was a man of extraordinary talent who was never able to achieve the success due him because he lived in a time that, unlike now, had racism built into the system. Across America, laws were explicitly racist or allowed racists to deprive blacks of due process and equal access to just about everything. Had all of Robeson’s gifts been allowed to flower…who knows? He might have been America’s Winston Churchill or another Thomas Jefferson. Instead, he was a blighted man who clung to communism in the mistaken belief that the communists cared about him, without ever understanding that he was simply a pawn in the Cold War.
That racism deprived America of Robeson’s full talents, and allowed him to become a Soviet weapon against the West, is an important reminder that, every time we marginalize someone based upon external characteristics over which they have no control, we, as a nation, lose something. Even as the individual suffers, our society gives away whatever talent, drive, creativity, strength, or other virtue that individual could have brought to the national table.
And of course, thanks to American leftists, we’re doing the same thing all over again. However, this time, the talents we’re attacking and the societal benefits we’re losing come from white people, the target of the latest American foray into racism. And we lose the benefit of white men, the target of the latest sexism. And the benefits of straight people, the target of the latest sexual orientation-ism.
The problem with the leftists is the same problem that hate-filled people have always had: They believe that the pie is finite. For them, the economy, fame, or whatever else they value is a zero-sum game. If a white man gets rich, a black man stays poor. If a straight man becomes a movie star, a gay man doesn’t.
Leftists are wrong, of course. In a liberty-based, morally, founded, free-market society, as Daniel Webster is reputed to have said, “There’s always room at the top.” But race haters and Marxists don’t believe this. They never have and they never will.
So endeth my sermon.
But I am going to give a small coda to that sermon regarding transgenderism. A man who calls himself a woman, but hasn’t been castrated in support of that belief, was very angry because TSA scanning equipment found troubling the bulge in his pants. Since he was dressed as a woman, both the machine and the TSA personnel could reasonably have believed that he was hiding explosives or other weapons in his crotch.
Here’s the deal with people who deviate far from the bell curve of societal norms: You cannot eat your cake and have it too. In a free society, you are allowed to live as you wish, even if that means pretending to be a person of the opposite sex. However, if you are in the minority, while the dominant culture should not actively discriminate against you, that does not mean it has to bend to your specific needs.
I always use here the example of Orthodox Jews. They do not demand that every restaurant serve kosher food. They ask only that the government does not interfere with them when they eat kosher food.
The TSA is responsible for making sure people don’t bring bombs or other weapons on the plane. Everyone goes through the same machines. If you ping the machine, that’s just part of living in a broad-spectrum society that aims to serve the vast middle. Be thankful that the machine is sensitive enough to pick up things that might be bombs and get on with your life.
So endeth my second sermon.
And I’m really done now.
IMAGE: Paul Robeson leading Moore Shipyard (Oakland, California) workers in singing the “Star Spangled Banner”, September 1942.