Discover more from Things We Don't Talk About Like Politics & Religion
The History Wars Part II
The White Christian History We All Learned
I have just finished reading the newly released book by Robert P. Jones, The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: and the Path to a Shared American Future. This book is a brilliant exposition of American history starting even earlier than 1619. He gives the 1619 Project great praise for shifting the narrative, but suggests that our history has its origins in the 15th century, in the “Doctrine of Discovery.” I’ll write more about this in the coming days.
What I found so profound and interesting was a section at the end of the book where he iterates the type of history that white Christians seem to want to have our schools teach and reinforce to our children. It is the same history that you and I learned when we were growing up in the white schools we attended. It is the same lie we have all learned about our mythical beginning as a nation.
But, without truth, there is no reckoning, and without reckoning there is no reconciliation.
I just published a piece on “The History Wars.” I believe the history wars are part of a larger cultural-political discussion and decision we are facing as a nation. What we decide will shape the course of our nation for generations to come.
This excerpt from Jones’s new book will give you a context and perspective for what we are facing. The rest of this article comes from Jones’s book. Jones grew up in the South and was a Southern Baptist. He has now come to a very different conclusion and interpretation of history.
The following is my attempt to give voice to the half-conscious narrative I inherited and relied upon, for far too many years, to dispel the ghosts of other American histories haunting the edges of my awareness. I believe it is not too far off the mark from the history many contemporary white Christians are demanding at this moment, or at least the history we actually want to claim even if we cannot bring ourselves to assert it as straightforwardly as our forebears.
We would like to hold these truths to be self-evident:
That we bear no responsibility for the actions of our ancestors, nor for the effects of their actions on the present. That hard work and individual merit are the keys to understanding both the path to the present and the possibilities of the future; the haves and the have-nots of today received what they deserved based on the virtues of their individual past actions. It follows that no one, particularly hardworking white Christian people, should be made to feel uncomfortable because of what we now have. If anyone asserts otherwise, we are the ones being discriminated against.
This land is our land, from California to the New York island. We deserve to keep everything we’ve worked so hard to take. We have deeds in safe-deposit boxes with our names on them, the veracity of which are guaranteed by a notary seal and a state we created for this purpose. As for the vast amount of wealth locked away in individual trusts and institutional endowments, we have histories that document our industriousness and our cunning, along with quarterly and annual statements that testify to our now long-held legal ownership. Furthermore, what we have done, we have done with the ultimate authority. Jesus is one of us. In case there was any doubt, we made a likeness of Jesus in our image the most widely distributed portrait in human history.
We insist, both for ourselves and for others, on an inevitable present, one in which what was leads to what is, and what is will always be. It is not that we are against history. We know the importance of a good origin story. History, done rightly, explains how we got here—with our fences transforming land into property, our ledgers turning labor and crops into capital, and our hands holding the receipts. The history of America, founded in 1776, is a genesis story justifying the divinely ordained now, not a sloppy mess of narratives with multiple beginnings and contingent outcomes.
Those who looked like us owned the publishing companies who hired our writers to tell us the story of how we came to be America. Those executives also had the right connections to sell those packaged narratives to our public school boards, who handed books and lesson plans to our teachers, who in turn faithfully taught these stories to our children. And the circle remained unbroken, by and by, Lord, by and by.
We know that slavery was a blemish on the country’s record and that this was, mostly, the cause of the Civil War. Still, there were good and noble people fighting on both sides. Even though slavery wasn’t always as brutal as Hollywood depicts it, we’re glad that that sinful practice has ended and that the whole unfortunate episode is behind us now. What we didn’t get right after the Civil War was finally rectified by the good Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose eloquent words we now read in our churches and whose birthday we celebrate alongside Robert E. Lee’s.
On the occasions when we think about it, we also feel bad about what happened to the Indians. But we also share Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sentiments about the land in the early days of the country: “[T]here were no people there. Only Indians lived there.” In any case, we weren’t personally a part of all that. And it was, after all, our missionaries who brought the Indians, with their primitive and savage ways, out of the darkness and into the light of Christian salvation. It was our government and our churches that coaxed those lost children out of the woods and into boarding schools, saving their souls and disciplining their bodies for more industrious pursuits like farming and factory work. We still honor their history with our athletic team names, mascots, and, more recently, with the occasional “land acknowledgment” ritual at public events. We did finally give the Indians reservations of their own, and they seem to be doing fine now with their casinos and government-provided health care and welfare subsidies.
Finally, though of course there have been times when some Christians acted badly, they were acting against and not with the spirit of our faith. No true Christian would kill or steal or lie.
Jones, Robert P.. The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: and the Path to a Shared American Future (pp. 305-306). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.