America's Racial History in Context
Slavery ended 152 years ago. Jim Crow segregation ended 52 years ago. Yet here we are, fighting the same battles as if nothing has changed.
A few white supremacists and Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, and the whole country is now on edge. The mistake we made is giving them attention as if they represent something more than a fringe of a fringe. They do not. Ninety nine percent of Americans – including the President – appropriately denounce them and their worldview.
The white supremacists are rejected by the mainstream media, the entertainment industry, colleges, universities, public schools, and the people, so how did 50 nut cases capture the attention of the entire nation?
First, extreme leftists went to the rally with sticks, bats, and the hope of having a violent confrontation. They were not disappointed. Three people died as a result. If no one had shown up to counter-protest and the media had simply acknowledged that they were there, it would have been the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one to hear the sound.
The sad truth is that the mainstream media needs this as much as the Nazis because violence and chaos bring ratings and money. Once bricks and bats and fists start flying and cars are turned into weapons, it’s an international story that no journalist can ignore.
There has to be a better way to solve the centuries-old problem of race in America. If not, future generations will be witnessing race riots in perpetuity. To the immediate issue -- the Confederate monuments and symbols -- it’s time to put them in museums and historical parks set aside for that purpose. At this point they are little more than a lightning rod for confrontations between white racists and left-wing extremists.
As an American of African descent, I am not a fan of the Confederacy. However, my wife and I visited the Confederate Museum in Richmond. It is part of American history and it is more complicated than the racial narrative. There was loyalty to family, friends, and state. There was the unresolved issue of where federal authority ends and state power begins. Many who fought for the South were brave and honorable, but they were on the wrong side of history. Most southerners who want to honor their heritage are not racists and haters. Nor can our Founding Fathers be dismissed merely as slaveowners.
We Americans are great at contextualizing our present: criminals, we are told, are the byproduct of poverty and black people's problems are vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow. However, we are very poor at contextualizing the past. America did not invent slavery, but the way our history is told, you would think it started here. Our Founding Fathers did not wake up one day and decide that it would be a good thing to enslave sub-Saharan Africans. They inherited the “peculiar institution” which was not peculiar at all for the times and is still being practiced today in some nations under Muslim rule. In spite of being steeped in the culture of slavery and benefitting immensely from it economically, America’s Founders wrote about its evil and debated how it should end.
Slavery almost derailed both the Declaration and the Constitution. Our Founders yielded to the need for unity rather than immediate moral correction. Had they chosen the immediate moral rectitude of ending slavery, we might not have a country now because at least two colonies adamantly opposed the mere denunciation of slavery.
That is why the treatment of the Confederate flag and monuments must be different from the treatment of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and our other founding patriots. Yes, these three were among those who owned slaves, but they also gave us the world’s greatest experiment in human freedom. They understood that freedom is the inherent right of every human being, even slaves, and they said so in their writings.
We all are works in progress -- learning, growing and getting better as human beings. Sometimes we see things differently as we grow older and presumably wiser. The Founding Fathers were also human beings navigating a complicated world. Despite their imperfections, they established the greatest nation in history. We are heirs to their legacy of freedom, and they deserve gratitude, not disdain.
Wanting statues and monuments of the Founding Fathers pulled down is the sentiment of those trapped in stupidity and ingratitude. We all live under what Dr. King called the “majestic words” of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Shall we strike those words from our history because a slaveowner wrote them?
Our Founders created a nation. The Confederacy would have divided it. These have two very different places in American history, but history is still history, the good, the bad and the ugly. It should be remembered and studied lest we repeat it.
The white supremacists and far left seem to want just that -- to repeat history and fight the Civil War again. We must not give them what they want.
E.W Jackson is a Republican Political analyst; a nationally syndicated radio host on American Family Radio & Urban Family Talk; Presiding Bishop of The Called Church; was 2013 Republican Nominee for Lt. Governor of Virginia; and is founder & president of S.T.A.N.D. [www.standamerica.us].