White supremacists love their narratives of America. They spoon feed it to their children and force feed it to people of color.
When Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner” in1814, stating that America was the “land of the free and home of the brave,” he crafted a stirring image of goodness and virtue. Who wouldn’t love and admire such a homeland?
But these high-minded sentiments were written by a racist and proponent of chattel slavery for Black Americans. Most disturbingly, the third verse of this song that would become America’s national anthem, proposed a particularly horrible fate for the once enslaved African Americans who were then fighting for the British in the War of 1812.
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror or flight, or the gloom of the graves.”
These words were a clear call to slaughter people of color who dared to challenge the authority of white Americans.
America was never the land of the free. Just ask the descendants of the multitudes of the enslaved who had every manner of inhumane abuses handed to them. Or just ask the families of innocent and unarmed Black and brown men and women who have been gunned down in great numbers across America by police in recent years. This is the factual history that is woven into our culture, and this is the reality with which we live every day.
But now, there is a movement afoot by white supremacists to gaslight not only Americans of color, but the entire world that these injustices do not exist, and never did exist.
One particularly blatant example was the political maneuver by Virginia’s Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin when he claimed that he would ban Toni Morrison’s book “Beloved” from Virginia’s public schools. This attack by Youngkin on a book, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and was written by the 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was clearly intended to be a loud dog whistle to the white supremacists whose votes he was courting. Youngkin’s campaign dug up a controversy from more than eight years ago to successfully whip his supporters into a frenzy of grievance politics that would drive them to the polls.
The truth of this matter is that while the pretext for attacking Toni Morrison’s book was its explicit references to sexual activity, it was not the sex that sent white supremacists into a rage, but the agonizingly embarrassing description of how enslaved Black people were treated in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
There are too many currents in “Beloved” to give a full account of the book here. But the core of the story’s horror is based upon a true account of the actions of an escaped slave, Margaret Garner. Rather than allow her children to be returned to the abomination of slavery by slave catchers who had tracked them down, Garner attempted to kill them all, but succeeded only in killing her 2-year-old daughter.
All of Garner’s children had been fathered by white men, including her owner’s brother, who had raped her during her years of enslavement. This revelation in “Beloved” rips the flesh from the mythical America of goodness and virtue. White fragility cannot abide a book that so unsparingly brings this type of evil to light with such glaring intensity. It pains the worshipers of the false god of white supremacy to see that its feet are made of clay.
Another attempt to keep the fiction of a noble America alive is the 1836 Project in Texas. Described by historians and educators as “propaganda that seeks to erase the role of slavery as a driving factor in the Texas Revolution,” the 1836 Project was a reaction to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, whose introductory essay, written by Nikole Hannah-Jones, garnered the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
While the 1619 Project laid bare the provable facts of slavery and racism in America’s past, the 1836 Project is a racist construct built of myth and undergirded by fantasy. The ridiculousness of the 1836 Project is easily exposed by the most cursory reading of the 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas. After Sam Houston’s army defeated the forces of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna and halted the northward march of the Mexican army to abolish slavery in Texas, the mostly European-American Texans formed a republic and installed a constitution.
Section 9 of the 1836 constitution of Texas read in part:
“All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude, provide (sic) the said slave shall be the bona fide property of the person so holding said slave as aforesaid.”
“Congress shall pass no laws to prohibit emigrants from the United States of America from bringing their slaves into the Republic with them, and holding them by the same tenure by which such slaves were held in the United States.”
“[N]or shall Congress have power to emancipate slaves; nor shall any slave-holder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave or slaves, without the consent of Congress, unless he or she shall send his or her slave or slaves without the limits of the Republic.”
“No free person of African descent, either in whole or in part, shall be permitted to reside permanently in the Republic, without the consent of Congress.”
All this attention was given to the issue of slavery because Mexico had outlawed slavery in 1829 and the war surrounding the Battle of the Alamo was brought about because Texans refused to free their slaves. These are immutable historical facts, and unless Texas destroys all copies of its 1836 Constitution, the racism of Texas’ founding fathers is there for everyone to see.
It is not America that white supremacists love; it is the fiction about this country that is dear to their hearts. And we must never accept their beloved lies as our truths.