A web page with information about Black women in the Civil Rights Movement shows how Critical Race Theory whitewashes Black history.
There’s a distinct trend in the re-telling of American history. Once, Americans celebrated their history as a march of destiny (a manifest destiny, as I recall), peopled by wise and heroic men and women dedicated to creating a powerful, strong, free nation out of whole cloth. At a certain point, this hagiography could no longer be maintained. America had to reckon with the dark side of her history, which meant her dealings with Native Americans and her exploitation of African Americans.
By the early 1970s, as I recall, the template was in place for Native Americans: They were presented as plaster saints, one-dimensional figures who were merely abused puppets in the exploitative drama of the American experience. That’s not true, of course. Although technologically far more primitive than the Europeans, that didn’t mean they were stupid. They lived in a constant state of tribal warfare and were happy to exploit for their own purposes alliances with the different European colonists (British, French, Spanish).
The Native Americans never had a hope of surviving, of course, because germs got to them (something impossible to prevent in a pre-modern era). Moreover, their diminishing numbers versus the European’s swelling numbers and their lack of modern weapons inevitably spelled doom. That’s a tragic reality. It doesn’t clear early Americans of culpability for many of the things they did but it’s still an objective fact.
I was in the Smithsonian’s new Native American Museum building shortly after it opened. What struck me was how empty it was. I was told that there would be more exhibits coming in but I recognized a more fundamental problem. Because North America’s Native Americans were living in a basic Stone Age state, had no writing, and (mostly) created shelters and objects of daily life out of materials that were so environmentally sound that they’d quickly decompose, they didn’t create lasting historic artifacts of the type that end up in museums. And while Native Americans can be admired for their efforts to maintain their cultural integrity against the inevitability of the European takeover of the land, that creates a rather negative history — we learn not what they accomplished but what they tried, and failed, to accomplish.
I haven’t yet been to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture (NMAAHC), but I suspect that it has much the same problem — an absence of material because it celebrates a people who, for centuries, were denied the opportunity to make history and create the material things that often end up in museums. And as with the Native American museum, there’s the plaster saint problem: History is reduced to a Manichean struggle between the utterly evil White people and the truly saintly Black people. Of course, given how Europeans brought Blacks to America solely to exploit them and the extraordinary abuse they suffered up until the Civil Rights era, there’s a lot of truth to this narrative. Up until the Civil War, Black history is reactive, not active.
The problems with the NMAAHC arise when we get to modern history. By the time of the Civil Rights Movement, Blacks were acting as agents in their own story and the prominent ones ceased to be terribly abused plaster saints.
For example, I believe that Martin Luther King was one of the greatest Americans ever. I also know that he made common cause with communists (because he had to) and that, as the 1960s progressed, he shifted further and further left which meant he started opposing American values rather than hoping to integrate with him. I also know that he was a compulsive womanizer and, apparently was fine with watching a colleague rape a woman.
Under the modern rubric, that last item would cancel him but it shouldn’t. However, his words and actions in the Civil Rights Movement earn him a well-deserved place in the American pantheon. Fortunately for MLK’s reputation, because he’s a Black Civil Rights leader, even the rape story hasn’t shaken him off his pedestal.
Other members of the Civil Rights Movement also had their flaws. For example, Angela Davis was a hardcore communist, which I happen to think is a bad thing–and she’s a hardcore communist to this day, spreading her poisonous political ideology at San Francisco State University. Oh, and there’s one other thing: Davis is a murderer for she was an important accessory to the takeover of a Marin County courtroom that resulted in the murder of a California Superior Court judge.
Davis has never expressed any contrition for that murder. The NMAAHC has gone one better and made it go away entirely. I was looking for an image to use for something I wrote and came across the NMAAHC’s webpage for women in the Civil Rights movement. This is the entire statement for Angela Davis:
Angela Davis (1944 – )
In 1963, Angela Davis joined the MCRM after the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls. Davis would be better-known for her participation in the Black Power Movement, Black Panther Party, and the American Communist Party in California.
I kind of feel that the fact that she was a murderer belongs in there somewhere. It feels as if Bill Ayers had a hand in writing that little squiblet.
Still, that’s how history is taught nowadays. It’s filtered through Critical Race Theory, which places everyone in America’s history in immovable categories: Whites are evil while everyone else is washed clean of sin. Or you could say, CRT has whitewashed Black history. That’s not just wrong, but it also diminishes people’s agency, which I find both boring and disrespectful.