Trump and the Re-Branding of American History

THIS IS AN INVITATION. It is sincere because I wish to lessen, if possible, fear in your mind and my mind.

Because of Mr. Trump’s comments before the graduating class of the Naval Academy, you and I need to have a difficult conversation about American history and collective identity.

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Defining the Landscape

Let me teach you a Five Percenter slang term: jewel. A jewel is a fact, a pearl of wisdom; a complete idea. It is useful information which, when applied, can change a mental or physical condition.

“Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.” From 1952, when he left prison, until 1965, when he was murdered, the man known as Minister Malcolm X popularized this jewel from his teacher, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad. The application of the jewel totally transformed the psychology of those in the “hellholes of North America”, as the Nation of Islam (NOI) calls ghettos. As a grassroots organization, the NOI’s presentation of American history greatly deviated from the mainstream public school system’s.

In many lectures, Malcolm promised, “You will learn more in 10 minutes with your brother, than all the years you spent in their schools.” His popularity among the 22 million (so-called) American Negroes soared as he delivered on that promise. For a variety of political reasons, the mainstream public school systems taught a version of American and world history filled with negative stereotypes about Original persons (Natives and Africans). Malcolm turned all those stereotypes on their head as he presented actual facts from one white scholar after another.

Because concepts of “good” and “evil” are culturally defined, by teaching history from the perspective of science, not politics, the NOI changed the “frame” those invited to their lectures employed to view themselves and local events.

In his most famous lecture, Message to the Grassroots, Malcolm decimated the 1963 March on Washington as an ineffective paid protest. Freedom comes with a cost, he argued, a cost it did not appear the Civil Rights leaders wanted America to pay. He labelled them House Negroes. He called himself, and the masses of Black people, Field Negroes.

House Negroes and Field Negroes responded differently to the opportunity for freedom. Because he or she was used to living near the settler/enslaver, and in many instances they were his children, the House Negro refused the call to freedom made by conductors of the Underground Railroad.

In contrast, the Field Negro, still sore from that day’s abuse, leaped at the opportunity to run away from enslavement. He or she doesn’t even ask where the conductor is leading them. “Any place is better than here!” Malcolm thundered.

It is in this manner that the binary categories of “good” and “evil” were applied to the tribal Ancestors. It is effective rhetoric, simple enough to remember, yet complex enough to expand into greater discussion. And, it fits the limited historical information possessed by his audience.

Not the Entire Story

American historians, almost across the board, are quick to yield the floor to a third, fourth or fifth perspective. The European settlers did not view themselves through the eyes of those enslaved in either the House or the Field. They were just trying to survive in what they considered a hostile environment, just like Europe.

For a variety of reasons, an uprising between white indentured servants, Natives and enslaved Africans happened in 1675. Bacon’s Rebellion resulted in the ruling elite passing and enforcing laws which protected them from rebellions.

Life after Bacon’s Rebellion was extremely stressful. Settlers learned to eat, sleep and breathe in hyper vigilance. If their guard slacked one iota, the enslaved were prepared to kill them. The only effective means of keeping the enslaved in check was to be ready to kill the enslaved, or anyone helping the enslaved defy the enslavers, at a moment’s notice.

Northerners, like John Brown, added to the hostility by coming down and trying to foster rebellion.

As hard as it is for the 2018 mind to accept, the settlers FELT just as trapped in his or her social position as an enslaver as the enslaved did. American historians struggle communicating this nuanced angle. However, it explains why Southerners call the period between 1860 – 1865 the War of Northern Aggression, instead of The Civil War.

The North sought to help the enslaved kill Southerners, using Enlightenment-based moral arguments against slavery. The abolitionists acted as if the Southerners deserved death for being enslavers; for trying to survive in a hostile environment.

Enter the Present

On May 25, 2018, President Donald J. Trump asserted, “A nation must have pride in its history to have confidence in its future.”

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“Together there is nothing Americans can’t do, absolutely nothing,” Trump told 2018 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy. “In recent years, and even decades, too many people have forgotten that truth. They’ve forgotten that our ancestors trounced an empire, tamed a continent, and triumphed over the worst evils in history.” [1]

If we take into account that Mr. Trump was 17 years old when Malcolm lectured Black America about Field Negroes and House Negroes, that quote makes sense. It is a jewel no different than the one Malcolm used, and, surprisingly for the same reason.

Trump was born in 1946. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and Dr. King dominated his tenth year of life and the next 13 years straight, until he was 23. It was terrifying.

Between Malcolm and Dr. King, American society was transformed from “just the way things are” to “the the average white person is an oppressor.” It didn’t matter that the average white person didn’t even know he was intentionally hurting anyone. He, or she, was just trying to live.

Yet, Dr. King and Malcolm X were media darlings. Just like those damn abolitionists, they used sublime Enlightenment arguments. Everything the average white person did to defend himself against their charges of racism and oppression fell on deaf ears. White people were framed as devils and force was necessary to move society forward.

No invitation was given. No agreement was signed. No consent was earned.

The angry faces of Little Rock’s white mothers and fathers, upset over their children being forced to accept integration, were plastered all over television proving the average white person was indeed an oppressor. Predictably, those images generated sympathy for the Black students, not the white parents. The federal government under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson was used to make the white parents submit to public opinion.

A close reading of newspaper editorials and articles from the time period reveal the anguish of the white citizens. Shame. Guilt. Low self-esteem. The Civil Rights Movement wanted white people to feel bad about being white people.

White men and women buried their faces in their hands exclaiming, “Slavery ended 100 years ago. When are we going to get past it?” Yes, they saw the “Negros” and “Whites” only signs. However, “I didn’t put them up. They were up before I was born. Why do I have to pay for what other people did before I was born. Why do you want to make me pay for their sins?”

It didn’t make any sense. How was Dr. King morally able to make his arguments about white supremacy and oppression when he earned a PhD and used bigger words than the average white person did. If America was so bad, how did he earn a PhD? And, now, he is being given a Nobel Peace Prize? For what? For inspiring a disregard for the rule of law? Why this vilification of innocent persons?

It’s a lie, the affected white person rationalized. The Civil Rights Movement has to be lie designed to sway public opinion so it became legal to hurt white people.

Or, better stated, this is the message Trump’s audience can digest with the limited information about American history they understand.

Shame is Not the Answer

The reality is: how history is told does affect the self-esteem of those who consume it.  What I hope you learned is: neither Black people nor white people wish to feel bad about themselves or be labelled with a negative stereotype. A new interpretation of what has happened in America is needed. A middle ground must be created, where the actual facts are shared without emotional charge, or physical consequences. We want to move ahead with a common goal, benefiting everyone in America. We just don’t know how to systematically do this.

I have suggestions, however, I charge $75 per hour to teach.

Words by Kokayi Nosakhere

 

  1. http://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-tame-continent-america-945121

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