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BOOK REVIEW: Red, White, and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 6/12/2021 David Freddoso
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If you are looking for that must-read book in the second full summer of wokeness, I recommend the antidote to trendy racialist ideologies — the new book Red, White, and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers.

The book includes more than two dozen essays by academics, historians, and intellectuals, most of them black. The Washington Examiner was proud to publish the first drafts of about a dozen of these essays in February 2020, in collaboration with the Woodson Center, as part of a special supplement intended to rebut the New York Times’s historically erroneous 1619 Project.

It is fascinating how, in the intervening 16 months, that original collection of essays has become so much more relevant than it was at the time we first published it. And the new material is also well worth the read.

Today, the entire Left has lost its mind in its embrace of critical race theory, an ideology premised upon the idea that the civil rights movement failed and we effectively still live in the Jim Crow era.

Yes, this is all crazy talk. Yes, the vast, vast majority of people are not even old enough to remember Jim Crow, and fewer ever lived in a part of the country where it was in force. Obviously, no living person experienced the race-based chattel slavery that characterized the antebellum South. Yet the delusion of critical race theory, that things are as bad as they ever were, suffuses contemporary academia and passes for a serious school of thought.

The historical ignorance required to accept that central doctrine is enormous, profound, and gargantuan. It casts Martin Luther King and the entire pantheon of civil rights history as dupes and failures. So, it is no surprise that, in schools and on college campuses everywhere, they are now attempting to undo their work and reintroduce racial segregation, often even invoking similar ideas about preserving the integrity of the races!

As crazy as that sounds, you might begin to wonder, after exposure to so much of the racialists’ gas-lighting, whether you aren’t the crazy one for thinking that race relations in America are vastly superior now than they were when “separate but equal,” public lynchings, and the Ku Klux Klan's terrorism were commonplace. So, it is reassuring to hear a variety of intellectuals, including bona fide liberals, affirm that you are indeed sane.

My favorite essay from our original run is that of Clarence Page, which appears in chapter 14 of this new volume. For context, Page’s left-wing opinions annoyed me throughout my adolescence whenever I saw them reprinted in the South Bend Tribune. But his presence in this volume reassures us that there are center-left thinkers whose brains have not been rotted by the pandemic viruses of intersectionality and self-victimization.

Page writes that the myopic focus on the oppression of black people is depriving them of agency. It degrades and casts aside the great accomplishments of what he calls “black overcoming.”

“We must disrupt the long-held stereotypes of black people as helpless bystanders in their own history,” he writes. It is incredible that such common sense cuts so sharply against the grain today.

Page, a native of the same Ohio town that inspired J.D. Vance to write Hillbilly Elegy, also takes issue with the assertion that slavery led directly to the modern “challenges facing particularly inner-city blacks.” This is, he says, a lie. And he proves it by drawing insightful parallels between the plight of poor rural whites and that of impoverished inner-city blacks.

As Page puts it: “Similarities between Vance’s life and mine showed me how much we Americans need to desegregate our poverty discussion to learn across the lines of race and class the true causes of poverty and inequality — and, more importantly, what works to solve them.”

Are the critical race theorists so blind that these similarities are invisible to them? Generally, the answer is yes. That’s probably one reason why Donald Trump was elected president and they were so utterly blindsided by it. It is perhaps also one reason why Trump did better with black voters than most Republicans tend to do.

If many of the modern maladies of the inner-city black community are not race-specific but shared with poorer whites and perhaps other nonwhites as well, then what is the basis for wallowing in the racial misery pity-party of critical race theory?

In February 2020, Page’s arguments represented what I saw as a challenge to leftist orthodoxy. But as of June 2021, they have become outright courageous and revolutionary — career-enders, surely, for any liberal lacking Page’s impeccable credentials.

Among the newer material is an essay by John McWhorter, who takes issue with the woke world’s black-and-white approach to historical figures. The Scarlet Letter, McWhorter observes, “is used in schools as an object lesson in how censorious obsessions of the moment can lead to unthinking cruelty. However, the 1619 Project puts forth that this kind of moral absolutism is correct in the case of American slavery.”

In other words, just as Hester Prynne’s adultery effectively negated in the minds of her peers all redeeming qualities she might have had as a human being, so are today’s absolutists unable to appreciate or honor the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers, even of the ones who supported abolition, given their toleration of slavery as part of the nation’s founding.

If anything, McWhorter understates the case. Not even yesteryear’s outspoken abolitionists and desegregationists, whose opposition to slavery and racism put their actual fortunes and lives at risk, can possibly meet the “woke” moral standards of today’s empty-headed and unaccomplished moral arbiters. This has led to the vandalism and destruction of monuments to everyone from the obscure abolitionist Hans Christian Heg to the well-known Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, and even Frederick Douglass himself. The arrogant and ignorant attitude of the woke assumes by default that anything old is probably bad.

Yes, Lincoln made some insensitive racial jokes during his debates with Stephen Douglas. Does his dogged commitment to preserving the Union and ending slavery count for nothing in absolving him of a few glib comments?

The modern puritans hold that it is no excuse, not even for truly great men who introduced new universal rights and freedoms in their time, that the people of the era were conditioned to view slavery in a way we find appalling. This simplistic worldview guts the complexity of characters such as Thomas Jefferson, who agonized and feared the judgment of God for his embrace of slave-ownership, yet was never brave enough to make himself live without its benefits.

For all his faults and contributions to a morally evil system, Jefferson was unique only for having a conscience that bothered him. Contrast that, for example, with Daniel Defoe's passages about slavery in Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. The fictional Crusoe goes from slave to slaveholder over the course of the book, yet he appears to learn nothing from the transition except that he prefers to be the latter.

There is far too much to Red, White, and Black for me to do it justice in this short space. Suffice it to say that this book transcends the shallow political back-and-forth that typically accompanies discussions about critical race theory.

But the book also doesn’t fail to address this toxic ideology’s practical implications — such as the need to check its spread in the education system and to pull it out of all government functions by the very roots.

The American ideal, and the modern ideal of racial equality, imply a belief that no individual man is responsible for either the accomplishments or the crimes of people long-dead just because their complexion vaguely resembled his own. This is a belief that only white supremacists and critical race theorists reject. Indeed, it is surprising how much these two groups hold in common.

Tags: Opinion, African Americans, Race and Diversity, Racism, History, Books, Education, Critical Race Theory

Original Author: David Freddoso

Original Location: BOOK REVIEW: Red, White, and Black: Rescuing American History from Revisionists and Race Hustlers

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