America is Structurally Anti-Racist

One of the emergent strategies on college campuses for destroying the United States is describing it falsely as a racist institution.  America is not simply “not racist.”  America is the most important and successful anti-racist political project in human history.  We can grasp this important fact with an empirical analysis. 

Initially, in the pathological dystopian academic tall tales, ‘America is a uniquely evil nation founded in 1619 upon slavery.’  The New York Times backs this project proposing that the arrival of slaves in America proves that our nation is essentially dedicated to slaveholding.  This mythology works best when one imagines that slavery is peculiar rather than endemic.  But slavery is a normative feature of many human societies.  Slavery continues to this day and we would do well to ask Ghislaine Maxwell or the human traffickers at the Mexican border more difficult questions about its contemporaneous nature.  Today, one out of 200 people globally are estimated to be living in slavery. In fact, slavery continues to be a serious problem in many African nations.  What makes the American political experiment specifically anti-racist is that it set in motion a powerful movement against slavery.  For Jacobin scholars, the fantasy that 1776 was an effort to preserve slavery is plainly a fantasy.  Princeton historian Sean Wilentz explained to the pain of Atlantic readers: “the colonists had themselves taken decisive steps to end the Atlantic slave trade from 1769 to 1774. During that time, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island either outlawed the trade or imposed prohibitive duties on it. Measures to abolish the trade also won approval in Massachusetts, Delaware, New York, and Virginia, but were denied by royal officials.” Moreover, in 1777 Vermont banned slavery upon early entry to the new colonial system.

Anti-racism took the form of African-American idealists at work in early America.  Lemuel Haynes was an African American who led a predominantly white Christian church and fought in the American Revolution. There are certainly other important examples.  Among the early Methodists, John Wesley baptized African Americans at least as early as 1758 -- including black women.  Black women are recorded as preaching in the Methodist church as early as 1808.  This is no small matter, because by 1790 African Americans made up more than 50,000 members of the growing denomination, attracted to the abolitionist message of the church.  Wesley’s dying words were written in 1791 to William Wilberforce:  “Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.” Harry Hosier was born around 1750 and became one of the most popular Methodist preachers of all time.  He was illiterate and a former slave and yet powerfully compelling to American audiences wherever he went.  These were all American embodiments of the political statements such as “all men are created equal.”  The failure to live up to those words are interesting because of a global preponderance and political tradition against these sentiments.  American founders authored idealistic statements, setting in motion armies of idealists committed to the abolition of human slavery.  That task continues today.

The Civil War was the deadliest war fought in human history to end the practice of slavery within a nation.  Up to 800,000 Americans died in the war.  Acknowledging that the South was defending slavery -- which it was -- requires acknowledging that the Union North was dedicated to its abolition.  The success of Union forces brought with it Reconstruction.  These efforts were enforced ends of racist practices in the South that required military occupation, not unlike contemporary military actions around the world today. William Tecumseh Sherman famously burned Atlanta and fought a brutal campaign of attrition believing that the surrender of the South was imperative. If the Civil War were to take place today, more than 7 million Americans would have to die to match the percentage of the population killed in the 1860s.  More than 2,000 black officeholders were elected in the imposing structures of Reconstruction. Dozens of black officeholders were elected to state legislatures like Georgia, where blacks were free to vote in large numbers.  At this time, the KKK emerges as a major terroristic force and focused upon attacking Republicans and black office holders. 

In the Jacobin imagination, this world eventually succumbs to the overwhelmingly racist disposition of the nation. At the forefront of that argument ought to be President Woodrow Wilson, who led the nation from 1913 to 1920.  He segregated the federal workforce and did not generally believe that blacks could avail themselves of collegiate work.  His progressive academic vision is the current precursor to replacing the Constitution with a utopian vision compliant with the racist intellectual foundations laid out by scientists like Charles Darwin in his famous work:  Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Wilson remains among contemporary academics one of the nation’s top ten Presidents.

After Wilson, Warren G. Harding was opposed by an academic historian who argued that Harding was not white since he had a black ancestor in his family tree.  Nonetheless, Harding and Coolidge were overwhelmingly elected in a tremendous loss to Wilson’s party.  Harding made a point of making these remarks in Birmingham, Alabama in 1921:  "When I suggest the possibility of economic equality between the races, I mean it precisely the same way and to the same extent that I would mean it if I spoke of equality of economic opportunity as between members of the same race... Whether you like it or not, unless our democracy is a lie you must stand for that equality." Looking at the black section of the segregated auditorium he continued: "I want to be looking in their direction when I say these things because I am speaking to North and South alike, white and blacks alike. I am never going to say anything that I cant say in every direction and to all people exactly alike.” Calvin Coolidge as vice-president made similar remarks in the South commending the patriotism and valor of black veterans. 

As President, Coolidge referenced the equality of black Americans in every single State of the Union message he made from 1924 to 1928.  In 1924, New Yorkers urged President Coolidge to oppose  black men running for public office.  Coolidge delivered this summary of his views and bearing on the ugly suggestion: 

“The suggestion of denying any measure of their full political rights to such a great group of our population as the colored people is one which...  could not possibly be permitted by one who feels a responsibility for living up to the traditions and maintaining the principles of the Republican Party.

Our Constitution guarantees equal rights to all our citizens, without discrimination on account of race or color. I have taken my oath to support that Constitution. It is the source of your rights and my rights. I purpose to regard it, and administer it, as the source of the rights of all the people, whatever their belief or race. A colored man is precisely as much entitled to submit his candidacy in a party primary, as is any other citizen. The decision must be made by the constituents to whom he offers himself, and by nobody else. You have suggested that in some fashion I should bring influence to bear to prevent the possibility of a colored man being nominated for Congress.”

Coolidge’s public affirmation of the innate equality of black Americans had a powerful effect.  Lynchings -- a noxious political expression of racism in America -- plummeted from 70 cases a year in 1917 to seven a year by 1927. Academics have nicknamed Coolidge:  Silent Cal.  This misnomer is appropriate coming from an academic community that makes a business of hiding America’s anti-racist history in order to foster the increasingly fallacious reception of America on college campuses. 

These are a few prominent historical examples of the structural anti-racism of America.  Universities are fostering a false memory of America as institutionally racist.  This false representation encourages the entrenchment of racist dogma and diminishes aspirations to further reduce the human harms of racism observable in American history. In so doing, racism thrives and comes to an ominous renaissance observable on all campuses.  According to Jacobin academics, Americans should understand themselves as being in racial categories.  The time to resist this false narrative has come. 

Dr. Ben Voth is an associate professor of Communication and Director of Debate and Speech programs at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  He is the author of three academic books.

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