My Turn: The great far-right whitewash of history

  • mactrunk. mactrunk.

Published: 5/17/2023 8:13:58 PM

The two continents on which we Americans live were quite fully inhabited, for the most part, with long-established societies having languages, art, music and rich cultures of their own, all of which newcomers today would find fascinating and engaging.

Not so, those coarse men of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, who were narrowly interested in precious metals, dominion over land, free labor and sex with the native women.

Innocently, they brought with them hitherto unknown diseases, like smallpox, which killed 90% of all with whom these men came in contact. Disappearance of free labor that could be forced from the native people can be said to have contributed to the business of stealing away Black people from Africa for that purpose.

Anyway, that’s how the United States and the other countries of the American continents got started — by white-skinned people giving little or no thought to the common assumption that if we paid to get here and managed to get title to land from which to harvest a living, it didn’t matter that that land had been taken from what was called an inferior race of people. It was understood that we white people deserved it.

Then there was a group of people, most of whom came here with more wealth to start with, and nearly all of whom bought slaves, and used them to become wealthier, and who thought they’d have more freedom and more wealth if they could stop sharing it with a king across the waters.

This was risky thinking, because the king had an army. They took the risk, and gathered young men to fight the fight. While they were at that, they met to consider what sort of country they would design. Learned men, they took ideas from the ancient Greeks, and also from the Iroquois Indians.

To define how they would govern, they wrote a constitution. It offered a lot to the white people. Indians were mentioned only three times, though at that time they numbered a quarter-million in 80 nations living east of the Mississippi River. The 70,000 slaves in the country were not mentioned. For purpose of congressional representation, slaves would be counted as “three-fifths” of a person.

Their choice of words in the Constitution they composed could have been more precise, like when their wording allowed slaveholders to have armed militias to keep their slaves from running away, and that poor phrasing somehow permitted a circumstance to develop in which the country had more guns than people and little children were frequently shot when they came to school.

But these “Founders” more carefully defined their personal interests. The voting would be done by the men, men who owned property. The people were not to be trusted to select the “right” person to be president. That would be done by a selected group of men in the states. We still have this thorny problem. The people don’t directly elect the president. Lately, as often as not, the winner has been the loser.

Now come Republican-controlled state legislatures to make rules about what teachers cannot teach in our schools.

Subject matter may have ventured into the historic wrongs done to persons of color. That’s no longer allowed. Florida’s Stop Woke Act prohibits classroom discussion of subjects that could cause someone to feel guilty or ashamed about the past actions by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.

Sweeping and vague, it is meant to silence. Radical Republicans in legislatures in Idaho, Iowa, and other states are rushing to close the door on even limited discussion of controversial aspects of our history.

Now come rules about what children should be taught about the country’s past. There has always been a false American narrative —  the Pilgrim story, George Washington and the cherry tree, all that rubbish. Increasingly in charter schools, “patriotic education” is favored over truthfulness.

Slavery in their curriculum is labeled barbarous, but the rape of slave women by owners and overseers, the selling away of slaves’ children, the breakup of families, the being sold and chained together in coffles to walk a thousand miles to a new plantation — is left out.

A Black Amazon worker reports his low-wage job is like those who had to pick a quota of pounds of cotton from a field, to “pick” in the warehouse a quota of products — or he will be punished. Our history casts a shadow we’d best understand.

Charlemont resident Carl Doerner is an author and historian, currently editing his new work, “Breaking the Silence: Revisioning the American Narrative.”


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