Facing our “Heroes”
When grappling with history, truth is a difficult commodity to come by and contradiction is far too common. I believe that the learning process of history has the potential and power to teach lessons of identity, narratives of building community, and the necessity for people to choose to participate in society around them. But I find it crucial to add nuances to the stories of history. These stories are the very ones that hold this potential to bring growth to humanity. If they are over simplified and turned into “White and Black issues” then we will quickly find ourselves further from the gray truth from which we started.
This need for a multifaceted and nuanced telling of history was reintroduced with an experience this past week. In my human rights class last week, we were grappling with the history and formation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (led By Eleanor Roosevelt). Language in the declaration was changed from “race” to “nationality” so that the declaration would not include black and white segregationalist conditions that existed in the southern states at that time. Ms. Eleanor who was at the forefront of international human rights simultaneous quieted the NAACP because she knew legislation would not pass if southern senators thought their racist and discriminatory values were being challenged.
It was troubling to me that at the same moment that the Untied States was attempting to stop the discriminatory values of WW2, we were also domestically oppressing a whole race of people. At the same moment that we were taking the role of the “hero” we were also the perpetrator to a section of our own citizens.
Intellectuals have been airing the dirty laundry that our country leaves out of high school history books.
Unfortunately I didn’t know where to find this information until I started taking college classes. How informed would youth be about the history of our country if we taught more often that the same people who created the constitution (calling all men equal) also owned slaves or how Eleanor Roosevelt got angry at Du Bois and Walter White when they exposed The United States’ Racist values to the United Nations.
Carol Anderson highlights this hypocrisy even more when she writes, “for the United States the crafting of a new world order that denounced Aryan supremacy while at the same time protecting and privileging white supremacy in the United States was going to be a difficult (if not impossible) feat.” Ralph Ellison writes about the America’s struggle in the cold war to “reconcile democratic ideas within an anti-democratic reality.” W.E.B. Dubois in his Appeal to the World states that “it is clear that the negro in the United States is the victim of wide deprivation of each of these fundamental human rights.”
The Senator for Alabama takes this historical contradiction and blatant American hypocrisy even further when James O. Eastland out of Mississippi says that white Southerners were fighting in WW2 so that they could maintain “White supremacy and control over our election machinery.” This has to be one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Eastland ignores that we should try to prevent 12 million people from dying, ignores the facts of the world quickly being over taken by an evil dictator, and ignores the reality of yet another genocide occurring. Former Senator Eastland thinks we’re going to War to protect white Mississippi citizens from the danger of Black people in the south finally gaining the right to vote. It still scares me that there is legislation that was put forth by this very same generation of Southern illegitimate senators that were threatened by a declaration of human rights.
Without this nuanced history and without the moments in our past that makes us question our heroes and look twice at the choice between good and evil –and understand that the dichotomy is not that simple— we cannot fully understand and grapple with where our country is in the present.