A Critical Race Reckoning
Updated: Nov 22, 2021
“When you make men slaves you deprive them
of half their virtue, you set them, in your own
conduct, an example of fraud, rapine, and cruelty,
and compel them to live with you in a state of war."
The Interesting Narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)
The “Big Lie” did not begin with Donald Trump. It began when Europeans emerged from their Dark Ages in a quest to explore, to discover and to conquer what was, for them, an unknown world. Andrew Hacker, in Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, writes, “Since Europeans first embarked on explorations, they have been bemused by the ‘savages’ they encountered in new lands. In almost all cases, these ‘primitive peoples’ were seen as inferior to those who ‘discovered’ them…the presumption was that these natives could never attain to a stage where they might emulate European achievements.” He maintains, “Indeed, there is reason to believe that most white Americans still share Thomas Jefferson’s belief that in terms of evolution and genetics theirs is the most developed race.” What twisted logic led Europeans to “discover” places that were already ancient and to define the peoples who discovered them when they were lost as primitive savages? The real issue is not that so many people believe the so-called “Big Lie,” but why do so many Americans crave lies in the face of objective, verifiable truth?
Sadly, people often fear what they don’t know, and most Americans don’t know the actual truth of their own history as Americans. They know what they have been taught. They know what they have grown up being told. In their minds, an America founded as a democracy cannot be a race-based society. Most Americans have no clue when it comes to the real story of how this nation was built. They cherish the professed ideals of the Founding Fathers. They ignore, dismiss, distort, sanitize, or simply deny the all too visible collateral damage caused by the betrayal of those very principles. The real problem is not about teaching Critical Race Theory in the schools, so much as it is about facing a critical race reckoning in this society. All white people are not racist, but in the revolutionary spirit of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, will a new generation of white activists challenge the pernicious mythology of whiteness that has been imposed on the modern world?
If the current discussions about the value of diversity or about ending racism are to become meaningful, they must begin to focus attention on the essential worldview that informs Western societies. This perilous inter-racial dialogue must be open and honest. It is not enough to only focus attention on the psychological, physical, and spiritual damage that continues to plague the victims of white supremacy. In her groundbreaking but still controversial work, “The Cress Theory of Color Confrontation and Racism (White Supremacy),” psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing contends the dis-ease of racism is a potentially treatable mental illness. Her theory is a plausible attempt to make sense out of observable behavior patterns that have always been senseless. It is on this very level that African Americans and other marginalized so-called peoples of color cannot be expected to resolve the toxic racial sensibilities that continue to wreak havoc on the quality of our lives.
In this post-George Floyd/Breonna Taylor world, white Americans must finally begin to speak to each other about the negative impact of racism in their lives. The painful difficulty of this in-group conversation notwithstanding, they must confront their own personal, as well as their group insecurities. They must ask, “How did the social system based on skin color as the essential requirement for advancement distort their sense of the true reality of what has always been a multi-racial world?” Welsing writes, “If they are sincere in their attempts to stop the practices of white supremacy (racism) …, whites may be able to find methods to do so once the cause is understood.” This is not about hating or shaming or blaming the current generation of white people. In the same way that black people must ask ourselves, “What kind of seeds did our ancestors sow such that we, their descendants, reaped dispersal, enslavement and colonization?” This present-day racial reckoning is about white people recognizing and accepting the mess their ancestors have left for them to clean up.
The human family has always been diverse and the people that describe themselves as white have always been in the numerical minority. However, as explorers and as colonizers, they fashioned an historical narrative that cynically transformed their brutality and their greed into the Big Lie of presenting themselves as the guardians of civilization. The hijacking of the North American continent, the near extermination of the indigenous peoples, the enslavement of the Africans and the exploitation of their own indentured servant classes have all been cast in the heroic language of democracy building and manifest destiny. It is on this basic level that Americans fear their own historical truths. They have deluded themselves into believing that ignoring or whitewashing the real story will make it go away. They depend on their victims to forgive and to forget in silent suffering. They have perfected the art of engaging in what can only be described as “strategic stupidity.” They have weaponized their ignorance into a willful blindness.
I imagine some readers will accuse me of being “divisive” or being “a racist in reverse.” I overstand. I can only say that this nation has been divided from the very beginning. America’s racial, class and religious divisions were established by the Founding Fathers. On that note, I leave you with these troubled thoughts from the Thomas Jefferson they neglect to teach in school. He understood seeds were being sown that would one day reap a bitter fruit:
“Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” ( Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782)
“I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time or circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind.” (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782)
“Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever….” (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782)
“What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment, or death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the
next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him thro’ his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.” (Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Jean Nicolas Demeunier, 1786)