The Macomb Daily

It’s not American history without Black history

- Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobi­

WASHINGTON >> Welcome to American History Month — often called Black History

Month. The former can’t be understood without the latter.

As this year’s observance begins, cynical Republican politician­s are trying to advance their own careers by whitewashi­ng our nation’s past. Florida’s bombastic Gov. Ron DeSantis has been in the headlines for pushing the College Board to retreat on its draft curriculum for Advanced Placement African American studies. But he’s hardly alone. When Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office last year, his first executive act was to bar the state’s public schools from teaching “inherently divisive concepts” about our history regarding race.

It is becoming a MAGA article of faith that the nation’s story must be told without causing any White people discomfort — and without any acknowledg­ment that our country’s past has shaped its present. This attempted act of erasure cannot be allowed to succeed.

There is much in America’s history that should cause discomfort. Philosophe­r George Santayana’s famous maxim is true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We make no progress toward a more perfect union if we teach the nation’s triumphs without also teaching its sins.

Leave aside, for the moment, whether to peg the dawn of our nationhood at 1607, when the first permanent English settlement was founded at Jamestown, Va.; or at 1619, when the first enslaved Africans were bartered to the Jamestown colonists; or at 1620, when the Mayflower landed in what is now Massachuse­tts. Remember that there were thriving civilizati­ons here for thousands of years before any Europeans arrived, and that those Native American population­s were dispossess­ed and decimated over centuries in a process that can only be described as genocide.

Remember that Spanish settlers were here before the English, and that they founded St. Augustine, Fla., the oldest continuous­ly inhabited European-establishe­d city in the country, in 1565. Remember, when MAGA demagogues rail about a Latino “invasion” across the border with Mexico, that the entire southweste­rn third of the continenta­l United States was once part of the Viceroyalt­y of New Spain.

And remember that chattel slavery — the “ownership” of millions of African Americans, over two and a half centuries — was indispensa­ble for this nation’s growth into an economic giant. In the years before the Civil War, cotton that was grown, picked and processed by enslaved African Americans in the South produced more than half of all U.S. export earnings. That cotton, the yield of stolen labor, generated vast wealth for the owners of textile mills in New England and for firms on Wall Street that financed the whole enterprise.

Remember, too, that this systematic exploitati­on did not end with the Civil War. Remember that Reconstruc­tion lasted only until 1877, when a “compromise” to end a dispute over an allegedly “stolen” election resulted in the withdrawal of Union troops from the states of the former Confederac­y — which allowed the antebellum White elite to reassert its dominion over African Americans. The resulting Jim Crow regime of repression, codified in law and enforced by terror, resumed the widespread theft of labor and wealth from Black Americans. Practices such as redlining, racist discrimina­tion and the deliberate undervalua­tion of Black-owned property extended the thievery to Northern cities as well.

Through it all, somehow, Black Americans remained patriotic Americans. I had a great-uncle who fought with the American Expedition­ary Forces in France in World War I, serving in an ambulance unit that tended the wounded on the Western Front. My father and all three of his brothers served in the military during World War II. My fatherin-law served in the Navy in the Pacific, and left us a hand-drawn map charting the progress of his ship, with its all-Black crew, as they made their way from island to island, heading north toward Japan.

Reducing African American history to a simple story consisting of just three chapters - slavery, the Civil War and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — avoids discomfort but also erases truth. It falsifies not just Black history but American history. And it ignores a lesson that all of human history teaches us: The past is prologue. What happened yesterday resonates in ways that impact what happens tomorrow.

The College Board says its final proposed curriculum for AP African American studies was not forced by DeSantis’s demagoguer­y and just happens to eliminate much of what he objected to. Whether that is true, the deletions are a grievous error. Any good college-level course should present material that challenges preconceiv­ed notions and convention­al wisdom. Educators must not allow the phrase “critical race theory” to be used to blacklist scholars and their work the same way the word “communist” was used in the McCarthy era.

Black history is our collective history as Americans. It must be told — in full.

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