History

He Died With His Fro On

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An interesting little fact from The Guardian: Lawrence Dennis, one of the leading exponents of fascism in 1930s and '40s America, was a black man passing as white.

That isn't as ironic as it sounds. While I've never read any of Dennis' work, I have read the discussion of him in Ronald Radosh's Prophets on the Right, and Radosh says racism really wasn't a part of Dennis' brand of fascism. Indeed, his "fascism" was a quirky construct that doesn't match most modern uses of the word—by Radosh's account, he essentially felt the country was plunging inevitably into a fascist future, and he wanted to make sure we embraced a "good fascism" instead of a bad one. Some of this comes through in the Guardian piece, though in general its portrait of Dennis is very different than Radosh's.

Dennis wasn't the only black writer to flirt with fascism in the '30s. Here's Marcus Garvey bragging in 1937: "We were the first Fascists. When we had 100,000 disciplined men, and were training children, Mussolini was still an unknown. Mussolini copied our Fascism."

Bonus quote from the Guardian story:

In what may have been his most audacious act of defiance, or evidence that he had finally given up the pretence, [Dennis] eventually let his hair grow out. When he died, in obscurity, in 1977, he did so with an afro.

NEXT: R.C. Hoiles, American Original

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  1. he essentially felt the country was plunging inevitably into a fascist future, and he wanted to make sure we embraced a “good fascism” instead of a bad one.

    That’s not a bad assessment. That’s pretty much my position on my more grounded, small-“l” libertarian days.

  2. It would be better to speak of a biology-based group identity than of “nationalism” as the rallying point of fascism, because the latter term really does refer to allegiance to a nation-state.

    The end goal of all fascisms is a nation-state, but many specific examples, like the German-Austrian-Dutch-eastern Polish-etc. Naziism and the American White Separitist movement, don’t base their identity on a national loyalty but on a racial one.

    Loyalty to a theoretical, future nation, one which could only exist by destroying or weakening the existing nations that fascists come from, is pretty different from the commonly understood definition of fascism.

  3. er, “White Separatist” and “commonly understood definition of nationalism.”

  4. I think that most people’s impression of fascism focusing on race is primarily because of Nazism. Other facist states (e.g. Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, etc.) were explicitly nationalistic (not to a future state, but to the State in those countries) and were not overly concerned with race.

  5. “We were the first Fascists…”

    What about The Republic? I don’t think Garvey pre-dated Plato.

  6. Loyalty to a theoretical, future nation, one which could only exist by destroying or weakening the existing nations that fascists come from, is pretty different from the commonly understood definition of fascism.

    I disagree, entirely. You are only discounting it because you see the possibility of the formation of some sort of race-based nation as remote, and so you consider it hypothetical.

    While that might be the case in modern politics (or maybe not, who knows), it was not the case in the 1930s. Was Hitler not a facist before the Nazis gained power? At one point he was just another fringe crackpot with some new age racial identity philosophy. And there are cases of racial philosophies (like Tutsis vs. Hutus), that might not be understandable by us (I couldn’t tell the difference between a Tutsis or Hutu) but apparently that racial-political connection is strong enough to result in the death of hundreds of thousands. I don’t think the people murdered in Rwanda found race based nationalism any less destructive or more abstract that any other kind of nationalism.

    What you are saying is done from the perspective and good fortune to be born in a part of the world and a period of history where some sort of ethnic-nationalistic philisophy is extremly unlikely to sieze political power. But to many people in the world, and to many people throughout history, the arguement has been more than academic.

  7. Rex Rhino,

    “You are only discounting it…”

    You misunderstand – I’m not dicounting it, I’m calling it something other than “nationalism.”

    Nationalism is defined as “loyalty to a nation,” and a race is not a nation. Loyalty based on race or religion or tribe is a different -ism.

    It’s not a commentary on the seriousness or moral standing of other movements, just an attempt to use words accurately.

  8. Rex,

    My mistake, using “fascism” at the end of that sentence you quoted, rather than “nationalism,” which I meant, may have left you with the wrong impression of what I was trying to say. Hence, my correction.

    Does it make more sense with the correction?

  9. “Lawrence Dennis, one of the leading exponents of fascism in 1930s and ’40s America, was a black man passing as white.”

    yeah, but his momma was still a nappy-haired, point-guard playin’, tatooed ho.

    *nothing to see here. Just went TOO FAR.

  10. I think statist/libertarian works better. You can always add the element that makes a movement fascistic (ethno-, theo-, corpo-).

  11. joe, you are making a very common mistake re: nation. Today, we think of a nation as a primarily a political entity. Instead, see the following definition from the OED:
    nation, n: A large aggregate of communities and individuals united by factors such as common descent, language, culture, history, or occupation of the same territory, so as to form a distinct people.

    Therefore, inherent in the concept of nationalism is some communality of the people, in other words, nationalism consists of ethnic identity (or, to be sloppy, race identity).

    The United States, BTW, is not a nation, it is a country, or a state, but not a nation for it can’t even manage a common language.

  12. That means, hier you were arguing against the pussofascistic elements in present day, contemporary society of today?

    [ducks]

  13. Italian Jews originally joined the Italian Fascist party in large numbers. Later Italian fascists succumed to Nazi anti-Semitism.

  14. GinSlinger,

    I don’t dispute that the word “nation” has that fairly common second meaning – African Nation, Red Sox Nation. Similarly, “semite” can refer to both Jews and Arabs.

    However, “nationalism” refers to loyalty to a nation-state, just as “antisemitism” refers to racism directed at Jews.

    I also disagree that a country without a common language can’t be a nation. Switzerland is a nation, with a common identity. Language is often part of a national identity, but it doesn’t have to be.

  15. Sorry, joe, that is the first meaning for nation–your meaning is second, at best (at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary). Furthermore, from the OED:
    nationalism, n.: Advocacy of or support for the interests of one’s own nation, esp. to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. (See my post above for the definition of nation.)

    And, BTW, Switzerland is not a nation, but a confederation.
    Confoederatio Helvetica
    Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft
    Conf?d?ration suisse
    Confederazione Svizzera
    Confederaziun svizra
    Swiss Confederation

  16. DAMN THE SWISS! WITH THEIR HOLY CHEESE AND THEIR CHOCOLATE AND THEIR MILKMAIDS AND THEIR ALPS…but praise their milkmaids’ alps!

  17. The OED is for English pansies. Of course, there’s always the New Oxford American Dictionary.

    Free Scotland!

  18. Fine, PL, have it your way. From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary:

    nationality n, pl: a people having a common origin, tradition, and language and capable of forming or actually constituting a nation-state.

  19. I don’t dispute that the word “nation” has that fairly common second meaning

    That is its first meaning. It was with the idea of the US as “one nation” where the concept of nation = state became commone.

  20. GinSlinger,

    Very well, then, I stand chastised.

    So this means that the phrase, Gator Nation is an accurate one?

  21. PL, more accurate than joe’s phrases, yes.

    Earlier comment not meant as chastisement–forgot that the internet cannot convey mild amusement.

  22. No, it can’t. I was just making an OED joke because I saw the opportunity. Honestly, I’m probably the most guilty of committing non sequitur acts among the regular posters around here. What’s this thread about again?

  23. “What’s this thread about again?”

    Bater nation.

  24. VM:

    That means, hier you were arguing against the pussofascistic elements in present day, contemporary society of today?

    I’d call em Gynofascistic

  25. Always with the autoerotic waves Viking Moriarty, always with the autoerotic waves.

  26. 🙂

    grrr! A’m gonna join the American Testerofascistic Weightlifting Association of America

    ATWAA.

    and we’re gonna flex and grunt and make comments. And we’ll make the petite mauve soccerballs (or wherever those twaddlenocks were from the other day – the Pelosi thread – are from) look like little UNofascists.

    speaking of which, eurowimpofascists (soccerofascists) will be happy that the only team they really know, Manchester United, is winning 4-0 in its champion’s league match against Roma.

    GRRRRRRRRR!

  27. Ginslinger,

    I think the important part of the definition is “capable of forming or actually constituting a nation-state.” Before Zionism, there was no Jewish Nationalism, even though there was loyalty to and identification with Jewishness as a identity and philosophy. If there isn’t at least a vision of a nation-state defined by the ethnic or cultural common identity, it’s not nationalism, but something else. Although I take back the bit about loyalty to a future, desired nation not counting as nationalism – Pan-Arabism and Zionism were both nationalisms centered around states-to-be.

    BTW, “confederation” refers to the Swiss political system, not national identity. There’s nothing inherently contradictory about identifying with both a larger group and a smaller sub-group within it.

  28. Regarding the meaning of “nation,” this confusion is common. I have to pull something from the archives that actually originated in the future:

    —————-

    To understand this period of world history, it is necessary for the student to become familiar with certain terms, some of which are now obsolete:

    Country – A particular geographic region, as variously defined by a common climate, terrain features, or artificial or natural boundaries.

    Nation – An extended group of people who feel an affinity with each other on the basis of common culture, common descent or other shared trait they hold as important. Similar to “tribe,” but usually applied to a larger group. A nation may be largely confined to a particular country (Texians) or it may be widely scattered (Jews).

    State – A criminal syndicate that claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force for creating and enforcing rules within a certain geographic region. (Local states may be allied in a pattern of fealty with a larger, over-arching regional state.)

    Patriotism – Love of one’s nation, usually combined with affection for the country which that nation inhabits.

    Modern readers often have great difficulty in understanding the Warring States period (1789-2019) because writers of that time often used the terms “country,” “nation” and “state” interchangeably — sometimes in a deliberate attempt to confuse and deceive, but more often simply out of an unquestioned habit of mind. During that period, most of the world was ruled by states, each of which indeed claimed to rule a particular nation inhabiting a particular country. For example, during that period the “French nation,” the “country of France” and the territory and people ruled by “the French state” were essentially one and the same. Because of this close identification, many patriotic people also closely identified with the state that ruled them — absurd as this may seem to us today. At the same time, those who dissented from their ruling state were often accused of “lacking patriotism.”

    — from Western Culture: The Roots of Modern Civilization; Volume 8: Wither the State
    English edition
    Uploaded 2112 Adam Smith University Press
    http://ssww.asu.ay/pubs/westernculture/8_state
    Urbital of Alta Ayngrad
    Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth
    Cislunar Orbital Zone

  29. Uploaded 2112 Adam Smith University Press
    http://ssww.asu.ay/pubs/westernculture/8_state
    Urbital of Alta Ayngrad
    Anglo-Yankish Anarcho-Commonwealth
    Cislunar Orbital Zone

    heh!

    Stevo, you *are* my hero!

  30. I am the wind beneath your seat.

  31. That was one Nappy Headed Fascist!

  32. Thirty plus posts and not one reference to the Chapelle skit about the blind black guy who joins the KKK because he didn’t know he was black. The skit ends with him going to a national KKK rally and finally being told that he is black. He then divorces his white wife because she was “a nigger lover”. It was hysterical and subversive in so many ways.

  33. kainthom kicks off this discussion well: “a popular movement, that is reactionary, and highly nationalistic, and that seeks to have the state oversee all aspects of the lives of the citizenry.”

    I agree with most of this (with reference to Mussolini) except for two.

    1. I would leave out or redefine “reactionary”. How do you define “reactionary” in a state as newly incorporated as 1919 Italy?

    2. I would insist that a fascist movement must also be anti-democratic. We have endured a number of populist statists who wriggled into high office: both Roosevelts, Wilson, Hoover (in bumbling fashion), LBJ, Nixon (for self-serving reasons), and George W Bush. I am not willing to call them all fascists; although, I would be willing to bestow this title upon Louisiana kingpin Huey Long.

  34. Hey John, you left out the part when an audience member’s head explodes after Clayton takes off his hood.

  35. Rex,

    Easy to tell the difference. Tutsis are tall, thin, and fine featured. Hutus are short thick nappy headed ‘hos (and bullet heads).

  36. JD:

    “Hey John, you left out the part when an audience member’s head explodes after Clayton takes off his hood.”

    why did I think this involved a mishap with the live studio audience at a taping of “Benson”?

    hrumph.

  37. John C Jackons 3 | April 10, 2007, 4:07pm | #
    That was one Nappy Headed Fascist!

    It was only a matter of time.

    Now, how about an Anna Nicole baby-daddy thread?

  38. The “bronzed” Lawrence Dennis was apparently of mixed racial heritage – common in the USA. Only the “rules” of race in the US would cause one to consider him “black” although of “African descent” (partially) would be accurate.

    At the time Dennis was “passing” for White, Wallace D. Fard, of East Indian descent, claimed to be black and founded “The Nation of Islam.”

    As bad as the racism in America has sometimes been – what a country where you can pick your race and people will accept what you say!

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