"It is the innocence which constitutes the crime:" thus ends James Baldwin's powerful indictment of the American public. The charge he lays at our feet is of a collective refusal to be aware of what we are doing, and what we have done. And can we disagree with this? I've heard excuses before of "we didn't know what was happening," "it's just what had always been done," "we were only doing our duty;" I'm sure you have, too. Have you ever, once, known them to be true?
In 1962, a Gallup poll showed that 85% of whites said that "black children had just as good a chance as white children to get a good education in their communities." In 1969, another Gallup poll showed 44% of whites saying that "blacks had a better chance than they did to get a good paying job." Look at those dates for a moment, and think about the world then. In retrospect, those statements look like complete madness. Were they any less nonsensical at the time? No: they were completely obvious back then, too. But there was a strong urge not to look.
This article is an excellent, and serious, discussion of the things we have been unwilling to look at.
Coming on the heels of Memorial Day, I find this particularly important. America has achieved many great things, but it has a deeply ingrained habit of ignoring the many terrible things it has also achieved. The country (like all countries) is very good at establishing an "official narrative" of what happened and why, a narrative we all learned in school, one which suggests that mistakes were made but everything is fine now.
The reason we can't ever let ourselves accept this is that when we ignore past actions, we blame the wrong people. When we ignore present actions, we cannot fix them.
Many people like to wave around the phrase "my country, right or wrong!" as a meaningless patriotic slogan. Remember the full quote: "My country, right or wrong: if right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right." It's not an admonishment to ignore any flaws; it's a reminder of our shared responsibility to
our country, to understand what is right and wrong with it, so that we can preserve the former and repair the latter.
This article is an excellent introduction to some of the things which are and have been, undeniably, wrong. We don't need to make excuses for it; we just need to recognize it, understand it, and fix it.
h/t +Jürgen Hubert