I read with interest Rebecca Mattis’ analysis of Critical Race Theory and if her description is accurate (and I have no reason to doubt it is), it is damning. But, to me, it is a side issue. The real issue is, who owns history? A comparison between the way we treat our history and the way Germany is treating its mid-20th century history, by Michele L. Norris published in the Washington Post, is revealing. Norris claims the Germans are confronting Nazism straight on. We have not confronted slavery or racism at all.
My wife spent a year in a Tulsa junior high school where she studied U.S. history for half a year and Oklahoma history the other half. She had never heard of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. Why is that? If one were to watch the Ken Burns documentary on The Civil War, one would be treated to numerous comments from Shelby Foote, a leading historian in the Lost Cause tradition, an apologist for the Confederacy. I think it is fair to say that, in part, the United States became a great power through the enslavement of one race and the extermination of another. In short, we have yet to come to grips with the dark side of our history.
The purpose of doing so is not to elicit hatred of our nation or shame on our part as its white citizens, but rather to recognize our failing so as to first correct the consequences of them and to avoid their repetition. As George Santayana said, “Those who are ignorant of their history are CONDEMNED to repeat it.” As long as we continue to sugarcoat our history, as long as we approach our history as a series of heroic tales, we will never be able to confront and remediate the consequences of our past. There is much to be proud of in that past — and there is much to regret.
Charles Pregger lives in Fair Haven.