Tuesday, February 2, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt two)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Another constituent part of the lie involves lies about American history and about the trauma that America has visited throughout that history on people of color both at home and abroad. According to these lies, America is fundamentally good and innocent, its bad deeds dismissed as mistakes corrected on the way to “a more perfect union.” The United States has always been shadowed by practices that contradict our most cherished principles. The genocide of native peoples, slavery, racial apartheid, Japanese internment camps, and the subordination of women reveal that our basic creed that “all men are created equal” was a lie, at least in practice. There weren’t minor events in the grand history of the “redeemer nation,” nor were they simply the outcomes of a time when such views were widely held. Each moment represented a profound revelation about who we were as a country—just as the moments of resistance against them said something about who we aspired to be.

But the lie’s most pernicious effect when it comes to our history is to malform events to fit the story whenever America’s innocence is threatened by reality. When measured against our actions, the story we have told ourselves about America being a divinely sanctioned nation called to be a beacon of light and a moral force in the world is a lie. The idea of the “Lost Cause” as just an honest assessment of what happened after the Civil War is a lie. The stories we often tell ourselves of the civil rights moment and racial progress in this country, with Rosa Parks’s courage, Dr. King’s moral vision, and the unreasonable venom of Black Power, culminating in the election of Barack Obama, are all too often lies.

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