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Fri Apr 8, 2016, 10:38 AM

The Rise and Fall of 'Free, White, and 21'

Free, white, and 21” appeared in dozens of movies in the ’30s and ’40s, a proud assertion that positioned white privilege as the ultimate argument-stopper. The current state of contention over the existence and shape of white privilege weaves back into the story of this catchphrase: its rise, its heyday, and how it disappeared. White America learned the same lesson as the society woman saying “free, white and 21” to the fugitive: you can’t be sure to whom you are speaking. Every time a movie character uttered this phrase so casually, they were giving black America a glimpse into the real character of American democracy. Decades before it came to a head, they inadvertently fed the civil rights struggle. The solution to this problem would be quintessentially Hollywood, and thus quintessentially American—a combination of censorship and propaganda that would erase “free, white, and 21” from films, from public life, and nearly even from national memory.

Yet it took women to popularize the phrase—or fictional women at least. The expression figures in romance narratives starting as early as 1856. Later, Dorothy Dix, the nation’s first advice columnist, would recycle it, directed to young women. If the primary sphere of influence for the white male was in the voting booth, for the disenfranchised white woman it was the home. Her privilege was narrow but vital: to choose which white male to share it with.

White newspapers said nothing about this. But when the phrase began appearing in movie after movie, the black press took notice. “There seems to be a tendency on the part of the moving picture industry to use the above phrase at every slight opportunity,” wrote Walter L. Lowe beneath the headline “Free, White, and 21” in the Chicago Defender in 1935. He wasn’t sure whether Hollywood used it because it was considered “timely and clever” or because it “further inflates the ego of their white patrons,” but, he continued:


Why, he wondered, would studios keep using a phrase that was “unfair,” “unsportsmanlike,” and, with “3,000,000 colored American moving picture lovers,” likely unprofitable? The saying, he concluded, “cannot substantially add anything to the pleasure of white moving picture-goers,” yet it “can detract considerably from the serenity and the pleasure of the colored people.”
http://pictorial.jezebel.com/the-rise-and-fall-of-an-all-american-catchphrase-free-1729621311

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Reply The Rise and Fall of 'Free, White, and 21' (Original post)
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 OP
HassleCat Apr 2016 #1
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #2
brer cat Apr 2016 #3
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #7
betsuni Apr 2016 #4
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #8
FrenchieCat Apr 2016 #5
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #9
OneGrassRoot Apr 2016 #15
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #19
OneGrassRoot Apr 2016 #22
JustAnotherGen Apr 2016 #16
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #20
greatauntoftriplets Apr 2016 #6
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #10
greatauntoftriplets Apr 2016 #11
Stellar Apr 2016 #12
greatauntoftriplets Apr 2016 #13
Stellar Apr 2016 #14
Number23 Apr 2016 #18
Number23 Apr 2016 #17
Kind of Blue Apr 2016 #21

Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Fri Apr 8, 2016, 10:46 AM

1. I remember it

 

When I was a kid, it was fairly common. As late as 1970, I remember one guy who used it all the time. Whenever someone disagreed with him, he would shrug his shoulders and say, "Hey, you're free, white and 21."

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Response to HassleCat (Reply #1)

Fri Apr 8, 2016, 10:59 AM

2. Early '70s, too, I found a racey book

book at the library, written some time in the early '60s. Read that line somewhere near the beginning of the story and threw the book across my room like it was poo-poo or something. The phrase is repellant to say the least but shows how in every sector of society the message was/is driven hard.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Fri Apr 8, 2016, 03:25 PM

3. It was in common use

when I was young...at least through the 1960's. Offensive and highly insensitive.

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Response to brer cat (Reply #3)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 12:50 PM

7. "Offensive and highly insensitive"

I had no idea that it was ubiquitous. My God, no pretense whatsoever that racism doesn't exist, from whites-only this to colored-only that, to using it in help wanted ads is a mind-blow for me.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Sat Apr 9, 2016, 07:09 AM

4. Interesting!

The first time I saw "Free, White and 21" was in my childhood favorite Little House on the Prairie book, "The Long Winter." The author's future husband says it a lot, but he wasn't yet 21 years old like he was supposed to be when he staked his claim on the damn prairie. Liar. I guess because it was published in 1940 it was written when the phrase was in fashion. I hadn't known it was so popular in the movies then. See, I always learn something here in the AA group. Thank you!

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Response to betsuni (Reply #4)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 12:55 PM

8. "Little House on the Prairie" setting around the 1870s/'80s

makes sense it appears in one of the books. The article states the phrase originated around 1828, ...when property ownership was removed as a prerequisite for suffrage, and voters needed only be free, white, and 21. It should have died with the passing of the 15th amendment in 1870, but of course racism is stronger than the law, and by the end of the century, legislators were working to bring the two back into harmony. In 1898, when Louisiana put forward its version of the grandfather clause, a judge asserted that the new legislation was simply a way of maintaining the “right of manhood,” deserved of all men “free, white, and twenty-one.”

And you're welcome, betsuni!

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 06:55 AM

5. racism tossed around

So effortlessly!

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Response to FrenchieCat (Reply #5)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 01:08 PM

9. What gets me is that it's the government

military precisely that told Hollywood to stop it that had nothing to do with our plight, but because The African-American press had enjoyed pointing out that Adolf Hitler admired America’s discriminatory policies, and as the next great conflict got under way, there was a widespread effort to keep such evidence from view... Though it continued its segregated practice but needed to promote the pretense of integration to the world

And The African-American press, again, also used the saying to critique the contours of the privileges being asserted. Leftist critics at these papers saw the expression as another tool of capitalist oppression. “As the distance between the poor whites and the rich whites widens,” the Philadelphia Tribune noted in 1930, the former will have “nothing to look forward to in life save the dubious satisfaction of being free, white, and twenty-one,” a privilege that is “considerable when there is no other” but nonetheless serves primarily to keep them from growing “restive under exploitation.” ‘I’m free, white, and twenty-one.’ Such arrogant assumptions on the part of a minority in world status is bound to bring reprisals, and Russia has seized upon this weakness in our democracy to exploit it.”

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #9)

Mon Apr 11, 2016, 08:27 AM

15. Damn...

You're another one, KoB, who posts such fascinating, rich material. You know I love you.



I had never heard this phrase until I saw your post -- but I notice it made the rounds at FB last week.

I just cannot comprehend how any sane, rational, thinking person can deny the deeply embedded racism in our society and institutions -- in the past and in the present.

It sounds like other countries have been more aware of it than many of our white citizens. I want to remember to search later to see if any essays or articles have been written comparing our general perception of other countries' racism, versus the reality of what we're immersed in here that many white people seem oblivious to because the country's touchstones are white.

But I don't think it's limited to white people. The post brer cat recently shared mirrors a few others I've read recently in which the authors basically said, as black people living in the US, they absorbed the supremacist messages that are all around. They started doubting that incidents were racist; they felt something was wrong with them, and indeed wrong with the AA culture in general.

Friggin gaslighting.



I wish more people would read Joy DeGruy's book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. It is seriously one of the most enlightening and educational books I've ever read.

http://joydegruy.com/resources-2/post-traumatic-slave-syndrome/

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Response to OneGrassRoot (Reply #15)

Tue Apr 12, 2016, 11:58 AM

19. Yeah, I got it from Jezebel.

I just cannot comprehend how any sane, rational, thinking person can deny the deeply embedded racism in our society and institutions -- in the past and in the present.

It's why I love the indispensible researchers and writers who do so much digging to prove the disease is prevasive, constantly morphing to protect itself, 'cause certainly knocking out that insidious phrase didn't stop racist feelings.

You bet it's friggin gaslighting! I read one UCLA study showing that the disease does, indeed, infect PoC. Flashing photos of blacks to whites caused the amygdala - the portion of the brain that's conditioned to perceive threat and react - fired off in both black and white participants. http://www.strategicleadershipinstitute.net/news/your-racist-brain-the-neuroscience-of-conditioned-racism/

I haven't read any of DeGruy's books yet. But, thanks to you, I've listened to many of her lectures online. Frankly, some of the history she's relayed has really disturbed and depressed me like no other. So I'm a little of reading her books. Got to build up some fortitude for DeGruy!

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #19)

Tue Apr 12, 2016, 12:35 PM

22. That's true...

It is disturbing and depressing, certainly for PoC.

Over the last year I've been more immersed in my shadow work (I think that's what they call it?), excavating the ick, and have been amazed to discover how so many things from my past -- events and traumas which I didn't hide from and thought I had full awareness of -- have impacted my behavior in ways I wasn't aware of.

That's what I glean from Joy's work; how the horrors of the past (many of which obviously continue in some form) are impacting behaviors today, in very, very specific ways. It's a vicious cycle, this intergenerational trauma.



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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #9)

Mon Apr 11, 2016, 11:08 AM

16. Son of eyotch!

You kidding me with this?

Naaaah - you totally aren't.

The African-American press had enjoyed pointing out that Adolf Hitler admired America’s discriminatory policies, and as the next great conflict got under way, there was a widespread effort to keep such evidence from view...

We oughta be ashamed of ourselves as a country - but we aren't!

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Response to JustAnotherGen (Reply #16)

Tue Apr 12, 2016, 12:03 PM

20. It really is cool finding that the AA press

has been laughing for years as we continue the SSDD. Our sense of humor keeps us sane - I think.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 09:04 AM

6. I remember hearing that awful line in 1950s movies.

This was usually when someone was trying to seduce the virginal heroine.

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Response to greatauntoftriplets (Reply #6)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 01:11 PM

10. You know, I don't think I can

even watch Turner Classics anymore

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Response to Kind of Blue (Reply #10)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 01:20 PM

11. LOL, I was watching them back in the 1950s and 1960s.

I don't have cable, so have never seen TMC.

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Response to greatauntoftriplets (Reply #6)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 01:51 PM

12. Off topic....

Love your siggy!

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Response to Stellar (Reply #12)

Sun Apr 10, 2016, 01:53 PM

13. Thanks. So do I.

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Response to greatauntoftriplets (Reply #13)

Mon Apr 11, 2016, 12:20 AM

14. hear, hear!



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Response to Stellar (Reply #14)

Mon Apr 11, 2016, 11:57 PM

18. Ooooooh, Good God. How I wish we could!!!!!



That would almost make the abject misery and stupidity of this primary worthwhile. Get rid of EVERYBODY running and keep the guy that's already there in for another four years.

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Response to Kind of Blue (Original post)

Mon Apr 11, 2016, 11:56 PM

17. How fascinating! This is so interesting

I only vaguely remember hearing this phrase but yeah, it kind of says it all about how this country works.

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Response to Number23 (Reply #17)

Tue Apr 12, 2016, 12:08 PM

21. Yeah, let it all come out.

And all can't come out fast enuf for me!

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