It Happened

You cannot make this country great (again) by ignoring its painful history.

Is it fear that separates us?

Is it fear that divides us, where some would rather go without than allow us to be considered equal?

What is so threatening about the history of racial inequality in this country that some would want it to not be taught because it might… make white kids feel bad? Shoot, if only feelings had been the concern of the past, maybe we wouldn’t even need this discussion.

It gets a bit confusing for me, the desire to silence the past as if a whitewashing of the road laid before us would even be possible. The annals of the past cannot simply be tossed aside simply because they might make your ancestry look less than amenable to the right side of history.

The 1776 Project is one of those strange attempts at revising history. There’s a big issue working against those who are working on “changing the future of our American History Education”: you cannot change your future by rewriting your past.

You cannot make this country great (again) by ignoring its painful history. It’s only by learning from the past (which you cannot edit) that you can dictate the course of your future.

One can re-make the past in their own rose-colored images, but that recreation doesn’t make it a new history. It still is just re-imagined. It’s not reality.

It happened. That’s reality.

Slavery happened.

The denial of The 1619 Project doesn’t erase the fact that in 1619, men, women and Children from Angola, treated less like human beings and more as human freight arrived in Jamestown, Virginia to languish as slaves for the remainder of their existence. They didn’t come here on luxurious cruise ships, either. They came bound by iron shackles around their arms and legs, crammed into small spaces and unaware of what was happening to them, where they were going, or if they’d ever return to the only life they had known.

That reality cannot be altered.

When white Americans stole the land from Native Americans, they then gave it to… nearly exclusively white Americans. Heather McGee describes this in her book The Sum of Us how 160 million acres was freely given to 1.6 million homesteaders in the 1862 Homestead Act. Only roughly 6,000 black Americans were rewarded with such generosity from the government.

That’s in the past! Some may shout, it’s not who we are now, it wasn’t my fault! Well today, 46 million people are descendants of those who benefited from the Homestead Act. It’s not exactly just in the past.

The history we’ve been told is that it’s the poor black people who are ones with their hands out begging for free stuff. The cries for welfare reform have racial undertones. It’s not the hard-working white people that want handouts, it’s the black moms who keep having babies just so they don’t have to work. It’s their fault.

White people without a college degree ages 18-64 are the largest group of people who benefit from welfare. In 2019, the highest percentage of SNAP recipients were white, at 35.7%, versus 25.1% who were black, 16.7% were Hispanic.

Reality tells us what really happens. Is that what some do not want told?

What is it that White America doesn’t want you to know about history?

White Americans have historically benefited from government handouts in ways that black people have not: Great Depression-era affordable mortgage loans, minimum wage and overtime laws, the GI Bill of 1944, the creation of the suburbs from the investment in the highway system, subsidized private housing developers that received contracts after ensuring that “whites only” would be eligible.

These are just a few examples. In fact, white Americans have historically benefited so much from governmental handouts and giveaways that it’s almost come to be expected. It just sometimes looks a bit different nowadays. Tax cuts, for corporations, for the wealthy, for those who look the part, are one example. Just the other day, Senator Mitt Romney was lamenting the possibility of new taxes on billionaires. Instead of investing in the stock market, billionaires would be forced to purchase paintings instead.

This comes from a man who has an elevator for his cars in his house. Sometimes privilege becomes a weight too heavy to bear, I guess.

When history has been dictated to us by those who wish to maintain power and wealth, they can write it any way they want.

Fear is such a damaging force.

It drives people to give up things that may benefit them if it means that someone else might benefit too.

In her book, McGee outlines how communities in the ’50s and ’60s would close public pools once they became open to black kids. This wasn’t a one-off. It happened in cities ranging from Montgomery, Alabama to Baltimore, Maryland to Warren, Ohio to New Orleans to St. Louis to Jackson, Mississippi.

They’d rather close the pool than swim with black kids. We are talking about cities with hot summers. They’d rather go without as long as the others went without too.

This is a history that some would rather you not know. They’d rather this sort of American history not be told. It might make them (I mean, their kids) feel bad.

Fear can really make people look silly, can’t it?

Perhaps we should learn an unfiltered history, free from the edits and rewrites from those who have profited from it.

The saying goes that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

We can, as John Mayer sings, wait for the world to change, or we can accelerate that revolution by being knowledgeable about how we got here in the first place.

Don’t let fear drive you.

-JG