A Week of Black History Distortions

Recent public statements from Black commentators should be troubling, but not surprising

Publisher’s Riff
Image result for candace owens, house hearing

by Charles Ellison | @ellisonreport

Two fascinating and troubling public events converged earlier this week which, again, stressed the urgent need for a Black History reclamation.

The first was unapologetic testimony before the House Judiciary Committee from Black conservative commentator and firebrand Candace Owens that the infamous Republican “Southern Strategy” effectively deployed throughout the 1960s - 1980s was a “myth.” Said Owens, “[Black conservatives] have the audacity to think for ourselves and become educated about our history, and the myth of things, like the Southern switch and the Southern strategy, which never happened."

The second, less high profile assertion was from New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow - also Black - who appeared to equate the legendary 1831 slave rebellion leader Nat Turner with “serial murder[ers].” Besieged by incessant outrage from Black Twitter, Blow has spent much of the week struggling to clarify the statement (it seems he deleted it at some point, but provides screen shot here as part of a complex apology … of sorts)

Here we have two examples of rather prominent Black “public intellectuals” with substantial influence over public discourse offering distorted interpretations of key moments in Black History. In that moment, neither left or right side of the political aisle have ownership over that distortion.

It is reflective of a larger problem, however, and not just isolated to Owens or Blow. There is a real lack of understanding, awareness and comprehension of Black History, a systematic public whitewashing that has accelerated with the normalcy of an alternative fact industry. Fortunately, there was enough push-back, much of it centered on social media, to correct those distortions. But, it’s not surprising that they occurred in the first place. Take a glimpse of Roper Center surveys on such topics as Confederate paraphernalia …

Americans support for actions around Confederate symbols

More concerning is that a majority of Americans believe “states rights” as the cause, explanation or rationale for the Civil War …

Americans beliefs about causes of Civil War 2011

Support for the Confederate flag, as evidenced in a 2018 Winthrop Southern Focus Survey, has declined somewhat …

With the battle flag question, 58 percent of African Americans said they view the flag unfavorably, while only 44 percent of the white respondents felt that way similarly, a majority of African Americans saw the battle flag as a divisive image, while a majority of whites saw it as a representation of “Southern pride.”

Yet, those still reflect disturbingly high favorable numbers - even for African Americans - despite the assumption that progress has been made in clarifying and expounding on the historical record. But as a 2018 Southern Poverty Law Center study of K-12 social studies shows “… schools are failing to teach the hard history of African enslavement”

Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War; Two-thirds (68 percent) don’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery; Fewer than 1 in 4 students (22 percent) can correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.

“History,” or the current teaching of it in modern American society, is already written by the predominant White demographic, despite calls for more diversity, inclusion and cultural competency in curriculum. However, that struggle to ensure all citizens accurately capture the fullness and richness of Black History (versus the fiction around it) continues and shows no signs of slowing. Black communities can’t wait on public educational institutions to correct this. They must move quickly and vigorously towards reclaiming, recording and having full ownership over their story.