Toward a Usable Black History

John McWhorter in City Journal:

Picture addition: Azra RazaYou brought me here in CHAINS! You brought me here in CHAINS!” James Baldwin exclaimed to a white interviewer in the late 1960s, summing up the sense of our history that most blacks have. Yes, we pay lip service to our having “survived” in this country, but the image most resonant to us is being brought here packed in ships, treated like animals for 250 years, and pushed to the margins of society for the next 100. Many black thinkers downplay even the “survival,” depicting modern black America as a variation on slavery and dismissing the progress we’ve made since the 1960s by condemning successful blacks as “house niggers.” The result: for most of us, “black history” summons images of endless degradation—slavery, the quick demise of Reconstruction, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Klan, lynchings, the beatings of civil rights activists, Dred Scott, Emmett Till.

Not to attend to such things would be folly; but a history only of horrors cannot inspire. What could be more demoralizing than Mba Mbulu’s Ten Lessons: An Introduction to Black History, for example, a chronicle mostly of slavery and segregation, with “White People’s Attacks on Other People” and “Back in Our Place” as typical chapter titles? Except for a little dollop of blacks’ contributions to what is called “White History,” the overall message is a grim saga of victimization. This kind of history is deeply damaging to blacks. When “Learn your history” means “Don’t get fooled by superficial changes,” today’s New York City Street Crimes Unit can’t be distinguished from yesterday’s Bull Connor, and our aggrieved despair over our sense of disinclusion from the national fabric remains as sharp as ever. Could any people find inner peace when taught to think of their own society as their enemy?

More here. (Note: At least one post throughout the month of February will be devoted to Black History Month. The theme for 2022 is Black Health and Wellness)