The historical narrative was simple, and easy to understand. Slavery was evil. A Civil War was fought. Slavery ended. National reconciliation, disturbed from time to time by political opportunists who wanted to take advantage of a beaten and downtrodden region.
That is how textbooks read when I was a kid. The heroic Abraham Lincoln, the best President in our history, was assassinated. His chosen successor, Andrew Johnson, tried to carry out Lincoln's moderate, healing, policies. He was thwarted by radical Republicans led by New York Representative Thaddeus Stevens. They oppressed the South for many years. They impeached Johnson on bogus charges and failed by a single Senator's vote to remove him from office. A healing track continued after that. Slavery was replaced by lynchings and violence, which moderated into Jim Crow oppression. It took until the 1960s, but discrimination disappeared after that.
It is a wonderful story. And it is largely untrue, a caricature of what actually happened. Andrew Johnson was a relentless foe of racial tolerance. The idea of equality between former slaves and former slave owners was an abomination to him. The Freedman's Bureau was an administrative structure set up by Lincoln to safeguard the rights of black people. One of the major "oppressive" measures of the Bureau was allowing black people to testify in court. Johnson tried to abolish the agency, but he was overridden by Congress. Johnson spoke out against equality at every opportunity. His fiery speeches were sometimes followed by the strange fruit of later song: black bodies swinging from nooses off the branches of trees.
The Freedman's Bureau was ended as part of a deal in 1876 to install Rutherford B. Hayes as President, in spite of the fact that the other fellow, Samuel Tilden, got more votes. In the 1880s, slavery was re-established in the south. The institution of involuntary servitude, slavery, petered out in the 1940s. It survived that long by being ignored by the federal government. The unrefined fuel was a public craving for an end to the issue of war and slavery.
That craving accounts for the false history we were taught. Historians were captives of the same slavery fatigue. They provided the raw material for what ended up in the textbooks of the next generation. And so we were taught polite lies. Only now is diligent historical research digging up the truth.
We have a new national narrative, building on the old falsehoods. America has entered into a post-racial period. The original sin of slavery and racial injustice is gone. All that are left are small little puddles of mild prejudice.
We don't want to see the truth. It is hard to admit the degree to which current right wing rage, the sort which drowns out reasoned conservative voices, is fueled by the same raw racism that has been with us since the beginning.
Not all, to be sure. But one hell of a lot of it.
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--I wonder what future geberations will say about today's world, --our world-- and our exponentially growing prison systems which are becoming a massive industry that warehouses human beings and uses them not unlike a raw material.
And really, the same narrative (with some difference to detail) applies to people of every other race except white, women, queer people of every stripe, the disabled, prisoners (thank you, SJ), low class workers and the underclasses in general, and I'm probably forgetting a good dozen or so, at least.
The Establishment narrative on all these situations at the moment is "yeah, maybe there are a few problems here-and-there, but aside from a few incidental details, everything's just fine." This, with merely a few cosmetic changes to the wording, has been the unchanging position of the Establishment stretching back to the time when black people and women were legally the property of white males.
It's been wrong all those times up through the present, and shows no sign of changing its tune in future.
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