When I was growing up, the man who delivered coal to our school jokingly warned me that if I didn’t study hard and get good grades, I would also end up delivering coal.
It was a joke. But it also wasn’t.
Working with coal was hard and dirty. Even if all you had to do was deliver it. And, there, far removed culturally and geographically from America and its old minstrel shows, coal dust meant hard work.
Once upon a time, the Left romanticized coal dust and the coal miner as symbols of the oppressed working class. Then it degenerated into a movement of university bred urbanites with contempt for hard work and a calculated ignorance of the “brown energy” that makes their lives possible.
The disdain and ignorance reached a fever pitch with two media articles conflating coal dust with blackface. The Arizona Republic, ran an editorial by Rashaad Thomas, a self-described poet, essayist and Buddhist thinker, who was offended by a photo of Welsh coal miners hanging in a restaurant.
“Phoenix restaurant says this is a photo of coal miners. But I see offensive blackface,” Thomas complained. “My concern that the photograph of men in blackface was a threat to me and my face and voice were ignored. A business’ photograph of men with blackened faces culturally says to me, ‘Whites Only.’ It says people like me are not welcome.”
The photo is actually of Welsh coal miners from a century ago. And its political context is a million miles away from the case of Governor Ralph Northam in Virginia and mockery of African-Americans.
It does have a political context, but one that has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with class. The inability of Thomas and Arizona Republic editors to immediately grasp this encapsulates how detached they are from the working class.
Old lefties would have recognized and understood the political meaning of the photo. It was taken during the great coal strike of 1910 and 1911. The early twentieth saw massive strikes by coal miners both in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Tonypandy riots, which is the context for the coal miner photo, was one of the larger and more explosive confrontations which spiraled into a larger strike and culminated in Churchill, then Home Secretary, sending in the British Army as backup.
The strike would grow until one in six miners in South Wales were part of it.
The photo depicts coal miners in Cwmbach, Wales, discussing the upcoming strike. The coal boom had transformed Cwmbach, but working in the coal mines was risky with mine collapses that killed dozens. Cwmbach became part of the strike fairly early which actually started when the mines stopped allowing miners to take waste timber for their own homes. The men in the photo are relaxing in the pub, knowing that they won’t be going down into the mines again, but also that they won’t have any work.
They’re having a drink while knowing that it may be a while before they will be able to afford one again.
The significance of this is lost on the Arizona Republic’s Buddhist poet who writes, “The photograph shows coal miners’ faces covered in soot. The context of the photograph is not the issue.”
But the context is an issue. It’s just an issue that his fellow lefties once embraced, before abandoning.
The strike is still commemorated in the UK, where the romanticizing of a working class that actually worked with its hands still lingers a little, but strikes in the US invariably involve municipal workers.
Driving through Los Angeles in the rain a few weeks ago, you couldn’t escape men and women in red bellowing through megaphones outside schools to demand that their 6% raise be a 6.5% raise. And the usual teachers’ union obsession with destroying charter schools, testing and student education.
Read the full story from Front Page Mag
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