The Cowardice Of Hiding Black History

Nikole Hannah Jones sitting on steps
Nikole Hannah-Jones

America, as a whole, has always had problems owning up to the less savory aspects of our history.

It is not all the fault of the American people. For example, many Americans never learned about the cruelty of the Indian schools, where Native American children were ripped from their parents and forced to go to boarding schools to “kill the Indian to save the man.” They suffered all kinds of abuse and these schools were operational into the 1980s.

Black American history is full of terrible moments. The coup of 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, where a white mob overturned a fair election, is one example. Slavery, to say the least, is another.

These moments do not reveal an evil nation, but instead, reveal a complex one. The American story is full of good and bad, of light and dark. This is the nation that produced a man, Thomas Jefferson, who said “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits” while at the same time, owned slaves.

Banning that part of the story has become an obsession of Republicans. White Boot Enthusiast Ron DeSantis is perhaps the most famous of the book-banning bastards, but the effort to make Black history illegal is not just limited to Florida.

I guess Hulu does not care about being viewed as “woke” by these cretins, so they are streaming the television version of The 1619 Project, writer and educator Nikole Hannah-Jones’ seminal work of Black history. The New York Times first published The 1619 Project as an online module and part of their magazine. Via a series of essays, it looked at how the first slaves landing on American shores in 1619 could be viewed as the beginning of our nation, how the effects of slavery linger to this day, and told a story about the deep contributions Black people have made to American society.

It was almost immediately met with attacks because of course it was. The usual suspects, white people in the center and right, went at it with the kind of rage that is unique to racism. There were also legitimate criticisms, and to her credit, Jones has invited critics to speak to her class at Harvard.

The Hulu documentary is in six parts, and it is a compelling companion to her New York Times module, podcast, and book. It gives Black Americans a voice in their history, interweaving interviews with Black Americans from all walks of life. The subjects range from voter suppression, how capitalism benefits from racism, the fear induced into Black Americans via policing and political intimidation, and culture.

By the way, if you are a music lover, the episode “Music” about the many tuneful contributions Black Americans have made to our culture is a must-watch.

It may be uncomfortable viewing for some, but like all similar instances where a white person feels put out by truth in our history, that says more about the person than whether we should talk about that history. It is also not about making white people feel guilty. Jones herself points out that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, vital to the lives of Black Americans to this day, could not have been passed without white votes because no Black people were allowed to serve in Congress. That does not sound like a person bent on white guilt.

Nor should the cries of “we need to move on” be paid any mind. So often, that is nothing more than a tool to let bad actors get away with it, to harm the victims by silencing them, and needless to say, it is some spineless bullshit. The thing is, if your ancestors are white, there is a chance they either held some unsavory ideas or did some unsavory things. That is real, and anger does not have the magical power to change the reality that some seem to think it does. Denial often is a very bad reflection on that person.

Take for example the photos of people laughing and pointing at dead bodies swinging from trees during lynchings of Black people. Those folks did not crawl out of the ground – they were someone’s meemaw and peepaw, great aunt, cousin, etc.

And those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Look around at the present moment…is this a country where we can afford to forget because there’s no chance to repeat our mistakes?

So we learn from our past as we progress. The American story is a complicated one, a tale of beautiful dreams and horrid nightmares, of profound goodness and yes, some evil. Creating the world’s first multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy is extremely difficult, and our history demonstrates just how hard that will be to pull off. In fact, we are seeing that right now.

So, buckle up, buttercup, and tell the whole story, warts and all. It is a helluva tale.

The last word goes to Marvin Gaye.