Tag Archives: american history

History Wars

If your history teachers were like mine, they made it sound as if history is unchangeable.  If it’s in the history books, it is the correct and only version of what happened, right? Not so fast.

History is never that simplistic.  History is a written account of what happened. Until the 19th century, only the rich and powerful were literate.  They ensured history covered only what interested them, which was themselves.  As a result, history was primarily an account of kings, dynasties and their wars.  We learned almost nothing about the ordinary people whose work made possible the great lives told in historical accounts.

This traditional approach to history broke down in the 19th century when European and American governments decided that literate workers would make better factory workers.  Mass literacy brought fresh perspectives.  Ordinary people wanted to know about the lives of ordinary people from the past.

By the 1920’s, stories of ordinary people were in vogue, how they lived, worked and died. It’s still a popular subject given the number of Americans researching their family genealogy and getting DNA tests to learn “where we came from”.  But the closer we look, the more we realize how much was airbrushed out of American history books because the facts didn’t fit the preferred narrative of a good and righteous nation.   

Black people were brought here solely for the purpose of being slave labor. They were prohibited from learning to read and write because illiteracy was the easiest method to control them.  (Today, the Taliban has retaken Afghanistan and they will again ban literacy for females.)

Chinese men helped build the cross-continental railway, one of the greatest engineering feats in U.S. history.  Those Chinese laborers could not bring their families because the U.S. government didn’t want them settling permanently in the U.S.  They endured pogroms by anti-immigrant whites who saw the hard-working Chinese as job and wage threats.  (San Francisco’s Chinatown now offers tours of their escape tunnels.)

American Indian tribes were hunted to the point of extinction and forced onto reservations. Once on the rez, they were routinely starved and denied healthcare. Their children were kidnapped and placed in government-sanctioned schools in pursuit of forced assimilation. (Canada recently apologized for their forced assimilation programs.  The U.S. refuses to do so.)

These examples give a flavor of the countless facts of American history that were airbrushed from our history books.  History is often ugly and unpleasant, particularly in hindsight after social and political attitudes change.  Future generations will certainly take issue with things we do now as they uncover our unfortunate facts. 

Acknowledging these unfortunate facts does not diminish our country’s achievements and is not a rejection of our country’s history.  It means that we are mature enough as a nation to accept everything done by our predecessors.

As uncomfortable and unpleasant as it is to acknowledge past moral and legal wrongs, it would be so much worse to pretend they never happened.  We can never move forward until we acknowledge the good and the bad of our past.  Call it a 12-step program for the history wars and teach the kids the ugly stuff along with the glorious stuff in history class.  Ignorance is justice denied.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Filed under History, Self Savvy

Choose Love

Last month I unloaded my grief and frustration at our current pandemic on this page. Today, I have grief and frustration of a different kind. I am grief stricken and heartbroken over the continuing racism in this country which has led to more murder at the hands of those we trust to protect all citizens. I am frustrated by the responses of some people I know, and some I do not know. They are the folks who claim not to see color, who declare their discomfort at wearing a mask to protect those around them from an insidious, mysterious virus that is also killing people of color at a disproportionate rate.

I will not pretend to know all there is to know about racism. I don’t know even a fraction of what it is to be afraid to walk or jog or eat an ice cream cone or drive my car in traffic or any other normal, everyday task of life. But I do know that being afraid of doing those simple things is just wrong. I also know that it is wrong for large groups of people to be at a higher risk of infection with COVID-19 simply because of the color of their skin. And it is wrong to say you don’t see color and believe that makes you, “not a racist.” In fact, it is just the opposite.

This country has a long, complicated and ugly history when it comes to the treatment of people of color. That history must be acknowledged and recognized for what it is. And that begins first with, “seeing color.” We must see that which is in front of us. We must see that, while we should all be entitled to equal protection under the law, that simply is not the case for anyone who is not white. Surely this current pandemic has proven that to be true. And yet, there are those who will deny that truth and who will continue to move about their lives without wearing a mask, without concern for those around them, all in the name of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to do whatever makes them comfortable.

But real freedom comes with responsibility. We are not free to yell, “fire,” in a crowded theater. We are not free to fly on an airplane without passing through security. We are not free to drive in our cars without wearing a seat belt. And we should not be free to treat some people as less than and deny them basic protections because of the color of their skin.

Yesterday morning on The Today Show, I watched an interview with Reverend Michael Curry, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and I found some comfort there. He stressed the importance of recognizing that all people are, “children of God.” Regardless of individual spiritual tradition, or no tradition, I believe his meaning is that each of us is linked together as members of the human family. He invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools. The choice is chaos or community.” Bishop Curry said the way forward is through love and through working together for the good of each of us. And, he finished by showing his idea of a symbol for love. The symbol: a mask. He said, “I wear it to protect you, and you wear it to protect me. And when we do that, we all win.” I choose love. I choose community. I choose to wear a mask.


About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the current Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .

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Filed under family, History, Uncategorized