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22. Strikebreaking, Citizenship, and Privilege

OK, so what, so where does this get us? I think there's a few possibilities. One is it gets us to new ways of thinking about strikebreaking, I'm going to make a huge jump here. One of the things that we know is, about these people is that when they get to northern cities, not only Chicago but elsewhere, many of them become, at first, strikebreakers. There are many strikes between 1917 and the early 1920s, and in most cases black workers do not side with the union. In fact, I got into this at the beginning, because I was interested in strikebreaking. And in the early 20th century, employers were looking often looking for strikebreakers.

But it gives us a new way of thinking about strikebreakers because for a long time, anybody who, any blacks especially, who broke strikes, who thought about it, were considered passive.

The bane of history and English teachers is the use of the passive voice, and here is the perfect example of how the use of the passive voice has structured how we thought of these people. The narratives that you see always say, "Negroes were brought in to break the strikes, Negroes were used to break the strike." In other words, the impression always is that black people somehow were just these people sitting around and somebody went and gathered them all up and brought them in to break these strikes. And what we realize is that if the migration process itself wasn't passive, that they had all of this active decision making, that these people made all of these kinds of-the process of weighing this versus that, how is it that they would suddenly get trucked into someplace to break a strike without thinking about it? It's very unlikely.

The focus on citizenship, I think helps us to understand the communities' political struggles. It helps us to understand the difference between, and now I'm going to go back to that word privilege, "wanting all the privilege that the whites had", the phrase one keeps seeing and wanting to be with whites. Because one of the things that comes out of the civil rights movement, especially in the fifties and the early sixties is a sense, especially among many whites, that what the civil rights movement is about is black people wanting to be with white people, that that's what integration is all about. And if you go back to the Great Migration, what you realize is that that's not what they meant by privilege. What they meant by privilege was access. Integrated schools, for example, seems to have been be a goal not because of the simple desirability of a mixed classroom, but because it was very easy to figure out that the presence of white children in the school signals the provision of resources. And if you were coming from the South you especially understood that.

It also helps us to understand what happens when some of these goals are frustrated, so for example, when the right to vote doesn't translate to political power or when advancement in the workplace has its very clear limits, which I think helps us to understand much more the appeal of Marcus Garvey in 1920s and eventually the dynamics of the civil rights movement.

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