Wednesday, February 3, 2021

History isn’t here to make you feel good

     The mistake people make about history is to treat it as a crutch to prop up their sagging egos. It starts in childhood, when kids meet a parade of airbrushed heroes. But you grow up, or should, and the pretty story learned in second grade must become a jumping-off point, the branch you fly from, toward the stars of what actually occurred. 
     To stay on that branch, preening your feathers, is to risk ending up an affirmation junkie, able only to process another hit of flattery.
     And we know what that looks like.
     In September, Donald Trump denounced as a “twisted web of lies” the simple reality that racism is baked into the crust of our American apple pie. He created the 1776 Commission to promote a happy gloss of American history to help his supporters feel better about themselves.
     But before we sluice away the plagiarized slop that Trump’s commission squeegeed together, since this is Black History Month, it might be worthwhile to wonder if the inclination to sugar-coat the past is limited to unreflective white folks.
     It is not.
     Which is too bad. Because once you break free from the need for history to lick your hand like an affectionate pup, you are primed for a clearer understanding of what went on back then and, as a bonus, what is going on now and what might occur in the future.
     For example. The election of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black mayor, is generally presented as a seismic breakthrough and triumph. The power structure that previously served up an unbroken chain of 41 white mayors bowed its head and deferred to the rising might of African American Chicagoans as manifested in the personhood of the joyful “Here’s Harold!” Washington.
     Pretty to think so.

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10 comments:

  1. Obama created Donald Trump?

    Well, at least he did something positive.

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    1. Really? What did you like best, the brown children in cages, the insurrection and deaths at the capital, the betrayal of our Kurdish allies, the 400,000 and counting deaths through incompetence and indifference, the attempts to undermine health care during a pandemic, the worst Annual G.D.P. growth rate in modern presidential history? Or perhaps you have a favorite of your own.

      Great article Neil. I recall the Shelby County v. Holder ruling, in which the Roberts court announced that institutionalized racism had diminished to the point that no more federal protections were needed to protect minority voting rights. Within 5 years nearly 1,000 polling places had been closed in the U.S., with most of the closed polling places in predominantly African-American counties.

      Now, of course, we have the spectacle of elected officials, ex post facto, trying to take African-American votes away. Disgraceful.

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    2. I paused before letting Cappy's quip go through. Typically I pare away rank idiocy. But he's new, assuming he isn't one of the exiled loons incognito, and spoke his foolishness simply and directly, and I thought if nothing else it might spark reaction, which it has. But it's still an exception to the rule. I don't want this to be a place where doofuses can parade. Excepting myself, of course.

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  2. But fairy tales are so much more pleasant and comfortable than reality.

    john

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  3. It's instructive that conservatives absolutely lose their shit whenever anyone mentions slavery. They can't deny that it happened or that it was evil, so they hysterically attack anyone who brings up the subject as "divisive."

    As for Washington, it's instructive that when confronted with an obstructionist City Council, he didn't get mad; he got busy. He nurtured a coalition that gave him a Council majority in the next election, and that gave him smooth sailing until his tragic death.

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  4. That moron is up early.

    Anyway...great piece.

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  5. I'm old enough to remember Harold. With some fondness I might add.

    If my addled brain serves me at all Jane was the primary winner over Bilandic because he slept through a snow storm , pouring sand in the gears of the machine. She barely won the general against her republican challenger and if they'd have put up someone with a pulse she would have lost

    Harold won the primary because that same machine had lost its power due to Shackman , and couldnt deliver for richie the way they did pops . Who when confronted by an african american challenger could split that voting block by enlisting an AA cronie to run as well.

    Those were the days. Whatever happened to primaries? Now they all run on one ballot you don't declare party affiliation and we've ended up with two mayor's that are closer to moderate Republicans than liberal democrats.

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    1. You are correct about the snowstorm, but Byrne crushed Wallace Johnson in the general with 82 percent of the vote.

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    2. Wow! Landslide! Like I say addled.

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  6. As that eminent Victorian and Virginia Woolf's daddy put it. "No good story is entirely true."

    For an amusing treatment of historical facts distorted in the telling see Josephine Tey's "The Daughter of Time." Called the greatest mystery ever written by the British Crime Writers Association.

    Not sure I can agree with David Axelrod's suggestion that Obama paved the way for Trump by failing to prepare the electorate for a female candidate. Don't know what more he could have done to elevate Hillary's public stature than make her his Secretary of State. The downside of that of course was that events gave Republicans the opportunity to "Benghazi" her.

    Tom

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