Slavery gets all but erased

We don’t always even notice the racist symbols, and that’s kind of the point.

Aspirational depictions of a city upon a hill and liberty and justice for all lose their luster when they’re juxtaposed against the systematic genocide of indigenous peoples, or an intricate slave-based economy rubber-stamped by revolutionaries fighting for their own freedom. But more dated history textbooks rarely provide that level of insight around how minority communities were treated during the country’s early years, and slavery gets all but erased – “there’s no discussion of what life was like in the United States prior to 1860, or if it is, it’s just African Americans were enslaved in this country, and the civil war freed them,” said Berry.

A lot of people – white people mostly – roll their eyes at this kind of thing, but…to belabor the obvious, they (we) shouldn’t. It’s all too easy to ignore oppression and exploitation in daily life because it’s hidden away. We don’t go looking for it, most of us, so we don’t see it, so we don’t realize it exists, so when we’re told it does we bristle or yawn and say it’s not true or it’s in the past or it’s a step on the way to prosperity.

It’s this inconsistent retelling that has allowed for the veneration of deeply flawed characters, whose biographies are often cherry-picked for effect. Many of the founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were slaveholders, despite waxing poetic about how the institution was a “moral depravity”. Even Benjamin Franklin, revered as an early abolitionistowned enslaved people for much of his life and ran ads selling others in his newspaper.

Champions of these men often attribute their moral failings to the sociopolitical environment in which they lived. But “just because slavery was accepted among white elites or even the broader white population at the time does not mean it was accepted by everybody, because everybody includes Black people who were enslaved, indigenous people who were pushed off their lands in order to expand plantation slavery,” said Akiboh.

That’s a very important point. It’s all too easy to think “People didn’t realize,” but the people who didn’t realize were the people it didn’t happen to.

That’s one reason artifacts like Gone With the Wind are so insidious: generations of Americans got the impression from that novel and film that slaves were happy and like members of the family, and that’s before we even get to the part about the KKK and lynchings.

When earlier this month Nascar hosted the first major sporting event with fans since the coronavirus pandemic, a plane with a gargantuan Confederate battle flag flew across the skyline to protest against the new ban.

Heritage, yeah?

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