Hoodwinked History: How False Civil Rights Narratives Distort Modern Freedom Struggles | The Root

Hoodwinked History: How False Civil Rights Narratives Distort Modern Freedom Struggles | The Root


-We all know how sanitized mainstream black history has become. Matin Luther King Jr.? Now he was a kumbaya preacher-man. Rosa Parks was a tired seamstress- she didn’t get up because
he feet were hurting. Can you blame her? Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, everybody loved Muhammad Ali. Turns out that this remixed, retelling of black history
is doing more harm than good. Today’s package: Whitewashing Black History. Over the years what we’ve come to refer
to as black history isn’t a true and full history of black people in the United States. The reality is that much of this history has been misused, whitewashed, led astray. One glaring example is the way we learn about American slavery and public schools. Long story short, it ain’t cutting it. According to the Southern
Poverty Law Center only 8 percent of surveyed
high school students knew that slavery was a primary cause of the Civil War. And 68% of them didn’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to put an end to the practice. With findings like these it’s no surprise that the way black history
is taught in schools is a little shaky. While some states have laws requiring black history be taught in K-12, only 7 states in the entire US-of-A have actual committees to enforce them. But beyond the classroom, celebrating and acknowledging
our black history is something that many
confine to merely a month. I’m talking 28 days, 29 if we’re lucky. How, Sway? -How, Sway? -And because we so often incorrectly learn the
Mickey Mouse versions of black freedom struggles of yesteryear it’s no wonder modern day movements are pitted against that false narrative. Just look at the civil rights movement. Civil rights history, as we learn it, highlights a handful of prominent leaders who struggled in the South, but through peaceful
protest and perseverance were victorious. But something tells me
there’s more to the story. I spoke with Jeanne Theoharis, distinguished professor
of political science at Brooklyn College. Her research focuses on civil rights and Black Power movements. She says what we know
as civil rights history is a tall tale. Professor Theoharis, you referred to the history
of the civil rights movement as a fable, why is this? -Part of what I talk about is the ways that a particular version of the history of the
civil rights movement has become crucial to the way that the United States talks about itself. And I argue it begins when Ronald Reagan’s long opposition to a
federal holiday for Dr. King shifts because they see
a political value now in supporting the holiday. And when he does that he talks about a couple of key things: It’s putting the movement in the past, so we had this struggle and then we took pains to correct it. The second is it’s about
courageous individuals, and particularly King and Parks. But, I would argue also stripped of who they were and what they actually stood for. And the third thing is it becomes a notion of
American exceptionalism. So Reagan says, “In many countries, people like Dr. King wouldn’t get to speak out at all.” -Would you consider then this fable to be a whitewashing? -Yes, in many of the ways that we tell the story of the civil rights movement is that it’s angry, and hateful, and spitting, and burning crosses, and certainly that was part of the opposition to the
civil rights movement. But some of the other opposition to the civil rights movement came in much politer means, but still means that people took to, for instance, make sure that school
desegregation didn’t happen in a city like New York City. -Civil rights history also places the movement in the South, but black folks were knee
deep in the freedom struggle across the country. In fact, the largest protest in
civil rights history wasn’t the march on Washington, it was in New York City in 1964. Nearly half a million
students and teachers stayed out of school to protest the city’s lack of a desegregation plan. Y’all, this is 10 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision said that separate was not equal. Yet somehow this protest often doesn’t make it into the textbooks. -I think a second kind of whitewashing is making it seem like
people like Dr. King were embraced in his lifetime. When Dr. King faced
relentless death threats, he faced relentless heckling, not just in the South but in the North. In 1966 three quarters of Americans said they didn’t approve
of what he was doing and his tactics. Dr. King believed in disruption, you had to bring the
injustice to the surface, you had to make it uncomfortable. Similar to how activists today- Black Lives Matter activists, climate activists, immigration activists-understand that until people are made uncomfortable many, many people are going to allow injustice to continue. -In the process of pitting King’s protest against groups like Black Lives Matter the complexity of his
legacy gets misconstrued. – When Dr. Martin Luther King and ambassador Andrew Young and Ralph David Abernathy
marched in protest they didn’t just go run on the freeway. – Bother, please! -They somehow have made a King that didn’t believe in
disrupting business as usual, when in fact, even if we think about
where Dr. King starts with the Montgomery Bus boycott. The Montgomery Bus boycott was a disruptive consumer boycott. It was meant to bring
the city of Montgomery to it’s knees. – And Martin Luther King Jr. isn’t the only leader whose
legacy is now domesticated. – Rosa Parks is arguably one of the most honored Americans today, and yet what we know about her traps her on the bus, when she was a lifelong freedom fighter. – Theoharis says that Parks, who was 42 at the time of her arrest, also worked on police brutality and political prisoner issues. Beyond that she also stood for
expanded affordable housing and reparations. Hell, Parks believed in Black Power, self defense, and even referred to
Malcolm X as her hero. In sum, Rosa Parks was about that life. Professor Theoharis says another way black
history gets whitewashed is when we remove the risks often associated with protest. -We like to imagine that all of us would have done it if we were there at the time, and I think we forget
how hard it was to do, what it took to actually do what, for instance, the young people of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee actually did, how they were often
opposed by their parents, many of them were in college, many colleges, including historically black colleges, opposed young people being
active in the sit-ins, or in the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee. -History isn’t mistold or forgotten just when we talk about a handful of civil rights leaders, it extends to athletes, too. Muhammad Ali, previously known as Cassius Clay, was a fierce boxer who famously spoke out
against the Vietnam War. – I will not go 10,000 miles from here to help murder and kill another poor people simply to continue the domination of white slave masters over the darker people. – Ali lost his heavyweight title for refusing the draft and was considered anti-American. It was even said that Muhammad Ali was the most hated man
in the world at the time. Fast forward a couple of decades and folks love them some Muhammad Ali. -But when you say, “The greatest of all time is in the room”, everyone knows who you mean. -Please! When it comes to the history of revolutionary black athletes I wouldn’t be surprised if history repeated itself. And y’all know who I’m talking about, Colin Kaepernick. In 2016 the former 49er took a stand against police brutality by taking a knee during
the national anthem. Four years after the protest
the QB is still unsigned. -So many of the reactions that people have had to Kaepernick people had to Ali in the ’60s. Even though Kaepernick, the NFL and many Americans continue to disparage Kaepernick’s stand, disparage his political convictions, I feel certain, whether it’s in 20 years, or 40 years, or 80 years we’re going
to see the same thing. -In short, when it comes to actually grappling with all that black history consists of America needs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. -Why don’t the writers of history want us to know these critical stories? – In the past number of decades we have seen a tremendous flowering of research on all sorts of aspects of African-American history, and the black freedom struggle over the past 400 years. The title of my book is drawn from this amazing quote by James Baldwin. And James Baldwin says, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything that anyone
has ever said about it.” And I think this captures the sort of history that we need, right? Which is it’s longer, it’s bigger, it’s much harder and more sobering, but it’s also more beautiful. And I think sometimes we
miss that aspect, as well. -The fact is that this country doesn’t want to confront the true history of the United States. After all, it’s ugly. And it would require a reckoning of a not so great country. A history that’s mired in hate and fear. It’s time that we tell the truth about who we are and where we come from, because black history is American history.

11 thoughts on “Hoodwinked History: How False Civil Rights Narratives Distort Modern Freedom Struggles | The Root

  1. All you bootleg black people that work for The Roots You are stepping on your ancestors and Grave you are spitting on your ancestors grave sticking a pole in your ancestors grave.

  2. Report on you guys history how y'all got your s*** took I got rape babies the Catholic Church scene has messed all the way up Heaven.

  3. Rosa Parks, her husband, her father and her Brother’s were all about that life. The Rosa Parks boycott was planned and organized by the NAACP before it got hijacked. There are a lot of things history and our ancestors have told us that whites minimize, cover up, change facts and lie about because they are afraid. They killed, and burned many books, documents and maps to cover up the truth. Because they want to be able to say this land is theirs. But they know it belongs to ADOS because not only did we build it but we were here first.

  4. Love the topic, but can we have black experts tell the history? Using the phrase 'whitewashing' seems ironic. The optics look odd.

  5. Anyone notice how alot of African or Caribbean women come into this country and try to diss black American men in their political movements or in movies?

  6. So lets get this straight, only 8% of the population (love to see how they determined that btw, I'm certain its so accurate) some VERY SIMPLE parts of history despite 100% being taught it, but you geniuses want to make it more complex for them to understand it? Why? So you can then complain when they understand it even less?

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