TRUTH IN ADVERTISING ALERT: The title of today’s post is another instance of “bait and switch” promotion.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING ALERT #2: I began drafting this post on July 7. And as is often the case, I had no idea where the discussion would end up. Many times the act of putting pen to paper (another Dr. ESP anachronism), rather than documentating the creative process, becomes the impetus for further further exploration, restating the initial thesis and finding more unrelated connections. All of which eventually results in the concluding question or declaration.
The Americans at heart are a pure and noble people; things to them are in black and white. It’s either ‘rawk’ or it’s not. We Brits putter around in the grey area.
Donald Trump seldom tells the truth, but when he does, he is usually spot on. One example was during the March 18 White House briefing on the coronavirus, when Trump labeled himself a “wartime president.” That he is. Since declaring his candidacy in June 2015 he has been at war with:
- The Truth
- Members of His Own Administration
- Judges Who Follow the Law
- The U.S. Intelligence Community
- The News Media
- Barack Obama’s Legacy, and now
- Members of His Own Family
And as of the Fourth of July, he is at war with history, taking on what has become known as the “cancel culture” movement. When in fact, the term “cancel culture” more appropriately applies to the way American history has been portrayed since the arrival of the first Europeans on the North American continent. Rather than “puttering around in the grey areas,” much of what my generation was fed in social studies classes was a sanitized version of our culture with more more attention paid to a chopped down cherry tree than slavery.
The story of America, for most of its existence, has been painted in black and white. The earliest white spaces are covered with tales of adventurous sailors who mastered the Atlantic Ocean, colonists as white as the powdered wigs they donned bringing civilization to a “savage” frontier and soldiers, who armed with an overwhelming advantage in firepower, cleared the landscape of indigenous people.
NOTE: This is where the July 7 draft ended and today’s thoughts begin.
For too many years, examples of what fills the black spaces in this metaphorical portrait of the United States, were few and far between. Then, as is so frequently the case, events that alter the historical landscape come from the most unexpected places. Until four days ago, I would have asked, “Who would have ever imagined the death of an unknown 46 year-old truck driver and security guard would make America confront the lasting legacy of slavery and Jim Crow?” To some extent, George Floyd’s murder at the hands of those sworn to protect and preserve, not kill us, focused on the present and future. How could this still happen in 2020? What do we do now?
Something was still missing. What was the intersection between where I was heading three weeks ago–the history of America in black and white–and the seismic shift in the attitude of many, particularly white Americans, about the lingering effects of once viewing African-Americans as first property, and later, as second class citizens? And as suggested above, the answer came from the most unexpected of sources, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. While Donald Trump and his apologists accuse those who question how we first allowed and continued to tolerate the honoring of traitors who violated their oath of allegiance to defend the Constitution, Cotton is the one who has made cancelling culture a cause celebre. Not simple by opining about his view of America’s chronology, but attempting to legislate it.
On July 24, Cotton introduced the Saving American History Act of 2020 which “would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project by K-12 schools or school districts. Schools that teach the 1619 Project would also be ineligible for federal professional-development grants.” For those unfamiliar with the project, the series was published in the New York Times in August 2019, 400 years after the first slave was brought to the New World. It is a detailed narrative about slavery in America and its consequences. Staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, who pitched the idea to the Times editorial board, has since been awarded a MacArthur “genius grant” and a Pulitzer Prize for her efforts. Editor-in-chief of the Times Magazine Jake Silverstein described the series as an opportunity to view American history through a different lens “by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year.”
Who could possibly argue a constant re-examination of history is a bad thing? You guessed it, Senator Cotton. In a July 26 interview with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writer Frank Lockwood, Cotton doubles down.
As the founding fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.
So, as I research my forthcoming biography of the Arkansas senator titled I Wish I Wasn’t in the Land of Cotton, I plan to ask him the following questions.
- Senator, I Googled the question, “Which founding fathers described slavery as a necessary evil upon which the union was built?” The only name associated with the quote is yours. Can you clarify which founding father made this claim and when?
- Senator, even if the founding fathers had said that, wouldn’t a more appropriate answer be, “They were wrong then. And they are wrong now.”
- Senator, why did you take the phrase “on the course of its ultimate extinction,” out of context and add the phrase, “the union was built in a way?” At the time he delivered what became known as “The House Divided” speech, upon accepting the Republican nomination for president in June 1858, Lincoln said that America faced two futures. One in which the South prevails and slavery is legal in all states. Or one in which the “opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it when the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction.”
- Finally Senator, if you subscribe to the idea “the union was built in a way to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction,” why do you oppose removing the statues of men who violently opposed that course?
Which brings us full circle to the topic of looking at American history as being either black or white and its relationship to one other issue du jour which has flooded the TwitterSphere, “cultural appropriation.” Conservative publications were quick to criticize Democratic congressional leaders for donning ceremonial Kente cloth during a press conference at which they announced proposed police reform legislation. According to Forbes contributor Seth Cohen, “In doing so, they meant to honor Black lives. Instead, they appropriated African culture.”
So, where is the outrage when Tom Cotton appropriates what can only be described as the American experience by Blacks from 1619 to 1865 to justify his claims it was “necessary.” I look forward to Cotton’s foray into cinema with his production of White Men Can’t Build Nations.
However, the ultimate misappropriation of culture comes from none other than Donald J. Trump. Remember when the man “in the white hat” was the hero who came to the rescue. The villains wore black. This convention was popular between 1920 and 1950, and though not specifically racial in nature, “filmmakers expected audiences would understand the categorizations.” (Source: Investigating Information Society) In the case of the Lone Ranger, he even wore a mask before it was mandated. Now that’s what I call a positive role model.
In case you have not noticed, the current occupant of the White House may be perpetually orange, but he has switched the hue of his cranial attire. When Trump pinned his hopes of re-election on RED states, he would always wear a similarly colored MAGA cap. But as those once reliable jurisdictions turn more purple or even blue, Trump feels the need to more closely identify with his only remaining demographic. Presto, the new ALL WHITE cap, a clear case of a bad guy appropriating the good guy culture. Ironically, Fortune magazine reports the WHITE version, while assembled in the United States, the material is made in RED China. Xi whiz, who could have predicted that?
The Lone Ranger must be spinning in his grave. And Tonto, too.
For what it’s worth.