As the debate about police killings of unarmed black men rages, public officials decry such occurrences. Yet many of these officials talk from both sides of their mouth. They hedge their criticisms of police racism by simultaneously accusing those who protest this racism of blowing things out of proportion, insulting the police or inciting riots.
Even the name “Black Lives Matter” is under assault, critics claiming that the group believes white lives have no value. That’s ridiculous. Given the nation’s history of racism, it’s clear the black lives matter outcry means that black lives also matter.
The battle to solve this problem has spawned demonstrations and other necessary actions. Still, if we want to uproot racism from our society for the long-term, we also must develop a clearer view of how, beginning with our nation’s birth, racism was woven into the country’s fabric, thereby making it one of the nation’s founding ideologies, regardless of the founders’ lofty sounding principles.
The new history needed to correct this must be relentlessly honest. I’ll give two examples of what’s required.
One: July 4, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, was not only the day the colonies declared independence from Britain, it was also the day they sentenced the American Indians to death.
The imposition of capital punishment on the continent’s native peoples wasn’t because they’d committed a crime, but because they were in the way. The history of the continent’s occupation by Europeans was a history of the displacement and elimination of the indigenous inhabitants.
From such activities, a “democratic” nation was created. Its foundation was made of native corpses killed because without their land the newcomers couldn’t build towns and cities or claim the right to use the continent’s resources however they saw fit.
Two: The American Revolution was not a revolution. It was a civil war among two European factions — colonizing settlers on the one hand and their distant government in England on the other. This civil war was motivated by each group’s desire to control North America’s land, natural resources and trade. Neither faction was concerned with the indigenous inhabitants’ wellbeing or the rights of black slaves destined to play a major role in the new nation’s economy.
Why the 1776 Civil War has been mislabeled a revolution for over two hundred years is traceable to its being written about primarily from a Caucasian perspective — i.e., in terms of the conflict’s relationship to evolving European concepts of freedom. It was necessary for historians to depict the colonists who rebelled against British rule as revolutionaries driven by a single thought: the right of all human beings to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Like their opponents in England, the colonists viewed North America’s indigenous peoples as inferior and the continent as “there for the taking.”
These facts make two things clear. First, the Declaration of Independence was essentially a white power document. Second, our so-called revolution was a civil war between two contending white factions for the “right” to control the continent.
Although we’ve built a more expanded (yet still limited) democracy on these shaky foundations, our failure to admit racism’s centrality to our nation’s birth and later history cripples our ability to end it.
Robert Bohm is a freelance writer who focuses on cultural, racial and global issues.