Danny Cardwell's picture

    Black History Month > American Exceptionalism

    The myth of American Exceptionalism starts with the Christian belief that God chose to bless this land and “our” forefathers more than the rest of creation. This myth asks us to believe that a loving God smiled down on the massacre of indigenous peoples, the brutal enslavement and murder of Africans, and the subjugation of women. History is full of dissent against this belief and the systems that dehumanized people for the sake of our “Manifest Destiny”. The chest pounding pride many Americans feel is based on an edited version of history and a skewed set of metrics that point to us being number one. When people say they want to get back to the days of America being united under God I shake my head. This Black History Month I want those seeking to quell the unrest in our streets to show me any period in American history where we were all united under God?


    America needs people out in the streets if we are ever going to be the utopia country singers write songs about. We have to come to grips with our past and the reality that we still exclude people from the dream. Unrest in the face of injustice is more valuable than any peace that allows indignities to continue. The myth of American Exceptionalism denigrates the courage exhibited by people who decided that accepting the status quo was no longer an option for them. Black history Month, at its best, forces us to acknowledge this reality, but too often the stories we hear about Black people’s move from slavery to “freedom” are drained of their rawness. I don’t fault people for wanting to embrace the myth of American Exceptionalism or its younger sibling post-racial society; the truth is much harder to process than a fairy tale: why else would we read them to kids? If you see enough slogans on hats and hear enough politically driven jargon fantasy can easily replace reality. I wish I didn't know Black babies were used as alligator bait in the Everglades, or that Thomas Jefferson was a serial rapist, or that Woodrow Wilson was a white supremacist. I wish these things weren't part of our history, but they are. 


    We should dedicate this Black History Month to destroying the myths about America that allow bigoted institutions to exist. Black people can only do so much when it comes to destroying the racist ideas that are part of the American narrative. People who aren’t affected by a particular bias have a moral responsibility to make the exercise of bigotry so uncomfortable that it dies. If men don’t allow human resources departments to discriminate against women: hiring practices based on gender would die; If heterosexuals decided tomorrow that we won’t tolerate any form of discrimination against people who fall outside of the heteronormative spectrum: that form of discrimination dies; and if white people decided that institutional racism can no longer be practiced: systems that have perpetuated the myth of white supremacy will die. Individual prejudices are the life’s blood of institutional bigotry. If the lady at the hardware store doesn’t like Black people that’s her right. I won’t waste my energy trying to convince her she’s wrong about her bias. She doesn’t have enough power to use her bigotry to harm those she dislikes; however, if the same woman became a judge or a cop her biases would be wedded to power in a way that could be injurious to Black people: this is where our fight is.  


    Race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation have always been factored into how receptive the American family is its individual members. We can’t have an honest discussion about America without discussing these classifications, and how they continue to situate people. Most of the beliefs we hold about each other were passed down to us by people who were taught by people who might not have known better. All of us are built on a foundation laid by our culture. Anyone claiming to have transcended preconceived notions and prejudice is either too naïve to understand how the subconscious works or too afraid to admit what lies in the darkest recesses of their heart. Having preconceived notions or prejudices doesn’t make you a bad person; however, choosing not to confront injustice makes you just as guilty as those who allow their bigotry and hatred to drive them to inflict harm on others. Prejudices become harmful when they cause us to ignore the injustices people face. If you see someone drowning me and don’t attempt to stop them it doesn’t matter that you didn’t harm me, or how much you wanted to help me: I’m still dead.


    We can’t continue wasting our time fighting people who don't have power. We should focus solely on fighting above our weight class. Calling out ignorance for the sake of calling out ignorance doesn’t solve anything. Every minute we spend fighting with people who can’t help or harm us is a minute lost. This doesn’t mean we don’t engage the world around us, but we can’t allow people who might not be equipped to discuss complex issues hijack our time: let's quit fighting trolls on social media and fight the ideas that fuel their ignorance. Black History month doesn't have to be a ritual. We can use this month to learn from Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash and then put their strategies in practice.








    When the CrookedPrez can give a speech opening Black History Month without mentioning slavery, discrimination, Civil Rights or MLK's assassination, I'm gobsmacked.

    On the other hand, especially during this crisis, I think your last 2 lines have it - I think it'd be much more useful to have a Black Future month - aside from Beyoncé having twins, a serious plunge into how to limit police brutality, how to open up blacks to more serious opportunity and participation in power, how to get past the Orangeman's crude stereotypes of inner cities, how practically to regain the vote and reverse gerrymandering. But more, a 2050 Vision of Black America, MLK's dream updated.

    It has to be more than white kids and black kids holding hands. It has to be past blacks being a "minority" and being simply American, the way Scottish, Irish, German, Italian Americans are American - no hyphen, no fear walking in the grocery store or facing a cop, given the benefit of the doubt and all ears in a boardroom, expected to do well in school...

    The Black Vision thing can't be all negatives and reaction to negatives - people get worn out. They need hope, optimism, not just an absence of fear. While there's much more to learn about black history, it's still the past. There was a flourishing in black culture discovering details of where they came from, and it was reflected in music, clothing, speech, philosophy, religion... but 50 years on, it's largely a trip to Williamsburg to see the colonists.

    Yes, whites carry that past with them in that assumed God-backed manifest destiny, but blacks aren't going to find a similarly delusional and inspiring meme -more peace of mind and understanding and hopefully spurred creativity. History isn't just the breakthroughs - it's also the beauty of movement and changing styles and identity - it's an appreciation for sociology too that goes along with science and architecture and, yes, awe about wars and cruelty and natural disasters.

    There's a lot of interest in Kurzweil's supposedly coming Singularity - are blacks part of it? (whether whites are as well is another discussion). Where will they be with nanotech, biogenetics, smart energy, evolved medicine, new ways of education? Consumers? Or co-Creators? 

    I guess it was Hemingway with his famous "the Past isn't dead - it isn't even past". How do blacks go back to the future, how do we as whites help them (and ourselves)? When do we evolve into a "we're all in it together" vibe? It's coming, but it's taken a long damn time.

    Thanks for the kind and thoughtful words. We've come a long way and it's because people of good will and intentions made themselves uncomfortable enough to address issues bigger than themselves. I have been fortunate to have some very supportive friends who have helped me survive the craziness that is the south. Thanks for being the kind of person who's willing to be uncomfortable!

    Hmmm, I thought I was the one who made *others* uncomfortable... ;-)

    Another excellent post. The first thing that came to mind was the vast differences that Christians have in their interpretation of the Bible. There are for example vast   Disagreements between white Evangelical Christians and Black Evangelical Christians, especially when it comes to issues of justice.


    Progressive Christians might point to Martin Luther King Jr aa a source for their Biblical ideology. Steve Bannon, would point to Russian Alexander Dugin, a white traditionalist, as the source of his moral code. Traditionalists believe that moral and religious truth comes from devine revelation and that truth is perpetuated by tradition. Dugin is an adviser to Putin. Dugin supports the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Bannon is not fully pro- Puti, but he does accept some of the ideology of Putin's adviser, Dugin.


    Bannon believes that traditionalism in the form suggested by Dugin will prevent the United States from being destroyed vy Liberalism and Islam. The Trump adviser praised Putin's message about the value of traditional values. 

    Trump and Bannon do believe in the view of the United States as the Christian city on a hill. They are willing to use extreme means to shape the country to fit their vision.

    We are in perilous times. 

    I'll have to do some research on Dugin. Thanks for taking the time to add some context and perspective to this post. I appreciate it!

    Reverend William Barber was on "A.M. Joy" this morning. He notes that Trump was able to make a mockery of the National Prayer Breakfast by asking for prayers for "Celebrity Apprentice" because the breakfast is sponsored by white Christian Evangelicals who support Trump. Trump got the votes of 80 of white Christian Evangelicals. The Bible is. A message t the oppressed. Oppressors have captured the Bible and now we have so-called Evangelicals talking about a prosperity gospel.they are indifferent to the poor.The National Prayer Breakfast is now a perversion. 

    Reverend Barber expands on his message in an op-ed on MSNBC.


    ​In an article about the differences between black and white Evangelicals, author Lisa Sharon Harper explains the capture of the Bible by the oppressors, an idea expanded upon in her book "The Very Good Gospel:  How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right"

    Link to article


    Link to the book


    Thanks for the links! The battle for the soul of the Christian spirit wages on. I have the utmost respect for Reverend Barber. 

    A Politico article I just posted "In The News" gives Rev. Barber a great deal of credit, as well as a path for Democrats to follow going forward.

    Barber’s “Moral Monday” protest movement has by now gained national attention, but with the defeat of McCrory, the movement can finally point to an electoral success. And it has continued to gain momentum: In December, after a week of protests in response to the Republican power grab, in which approximately 20 protestors were arrested in acts of civil disobedience, commentators across the media sphere were discussing whether Republicans in Raleigh had lost their minds.


    The take home message from Trump and the Republican legislators in North Carolina is that Republicans want a dictatorship. Trump blasted a judge with Latino heritage during the Primaries. He is now blasting a white Republican judge. He does not want an independent judicatory. Trump views the media as his enemy. He views Democrats as his enemy. The protestors are his enemy. In North Carolina, the Republican legislature attempted to strip the newly elected Democratic Governor of most of his power. Modern Republicans are falling into line. Our fellow citizens who support Trump will not resist the dictatorship. We ignore this fact at our own peril.

    Trump statement about Judge Gonzolo Curiel 


    Praise for Trump's racist statement from Steve Bannon's Breitbart site.


    Trump settled the Trump University case for $25M


    North Carolina coup 


    The coup is now being battled in court





    The Trump administration is eliminating tracking of violent white supremacists to focus solely on Islamic radicals.


    White supremacists are celebrating 



    Latest Comments