I’ve read and researched and listened over the last few years to understand better the racial divide that exists among us. In that process I’ve uncovered misinformation I’d been taught, and information I should have been taught.
At points I’d find myself thinking:
- “How is it that I never knew this?”
- “What other distorted history have I been fed?”
- “What other delusions do I have planted in me?”
- “Who’s responsible for my mis-education?”
- “Why was this done?”
A few examples of the misinformation I was taught:
- Black people are content to be on welfare
- Slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation
- The playing field is level – the American Dream is available to everyone equally – just need hard work
A few examples of the information I wasn’t taught:
- Statistics show that the stereotypical “welfare queen” is far more often white vs. Black
- At the end of the Civil War, instead of compensating enslaved Africans for generations of slavery, Southern plantation owners were compensated for their loss of “property” – about $300 per slave.
- Black Wall Street was a thriving Black reality until it was wiped out in a government-supported slaughter (more on that another time)
Where did all this misinformation start? And why?
One snippet of history gives a clue:
In 1676, Bacon’s Rebellion was an uprising in Jamestown VA of all the oppressed classes. Enslaved and free Blacks and whites banded together to demand justice. These “lower” classes had much in common with each other. They intermarried, and often lived side-by-side. The rebellion was stifled, but the petrified land owners determined to set these people against each other as a way to defuse the unified threat to their control. Through education and law, they set the poor whites above the poor Blacks, so that the whites would identify and align with the white land owners. It worked. The whites began to act against their own self-interest by aligning with the landowners. They became brainwashed!
A few centuries later, that same strategy still exists. Here are a couple of more recent articulations of it:
Lyndon Johnson : “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him someone to look down on and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Lee Atwater, Nixon advisor, articulating the Southern Strategy in 1981: “You start in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’. By 1968 you can’t say ‘Nigger’. That hurts you. It backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff and you get so abstract. Now you talk about cutting taxes and these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that’s part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, we are doing away with the racial problem one way of the other. Obviously sitting around saying we want to cut taxes and we want this, is a lot more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than nigger, nigger. So anyway you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.” (The Nation, 2012)
This Southern Strategy successfully converted the Democrat strongholds in the South to GOP Red. But the subtle message of white elitism worked equally well in the North, feeding on the racial bias already embedded in our minds.
I grew up in a society saturated with this misinformation, and sheltered from critical facts about our history. Brainwashed. This has been a well-documented process, impacting both white and Black minds. The challenge I see is to shed light on the convoluted information that is embedded in me, and to seek and absorb the information that is missing. This is also preparation for understanding what I need to do to counteract the impact of this intentional deception.
How to follow up:
Article: Nicholas Kristof, NYT (Link): “A History of White Delusion”
- “White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness” Maurice Berger
- “Slavery by Another Name” Douglas A. Blackmon
- “Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class” Ian Haney-Lopez
Uncover the beliefs you’ve absorbed about race. Research those beliefs. Check them out. Seek opportunities to re-educate. Check out The Baobab Cultural Center on University Avenue for educational events at this link: Baobab Cultural Center.
“A strong opinion is not the same as informed knowledge.” Dr. Robin DiAngelo