What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About the History of America

“Most of us got an education that said, ‘Europe is awesome.  That’s all you need to know.”

 

That is a quote from a conference I recently attended on race, class, and the kingdom of God.  And it resonated with me.  As a white girl growing up mostly in the South, I was not taught the history of America in the way I am learning about it now.  I was taught that Native Americans were happy about Thanksgiving.  That Christopher Columbus was a hero who “discovered” America.  That slavery was a low point in our history, but that is over now. People of all races are free citizens and have equal rights and we can all pursue the American Dream… Right?

 

Wrong.

 

I wish someone had told me (before I entered into my 30’s) that what is meant by “discover” was that we found land that was already inhabited and we ethnically cleansed it, then forced its native people into reserved areas.  I wish someone had told me about the part of the constitution that called Native Americans “savages”, or the part that labeled black Americans as 3/5ths of a person.  I wish someone had really explained the Jim Crow laws to me, and how that has affected our country to this day.  I wish my schools had taught me about the history of slavery post-Civil War and about the racial legislation that enabled systems of control over people of color.  I wish they had told me about how police forces originated as Slave Patrol and that they were allowed to arrest freedmen, force them to work when they could not afford to pay fines, and criminalize minor offences.

 

I wish someone had told me about how these hostile systems have not actually diminished, but how they have continued through mass incarceration, incentives given to keep prisons full, red lining in the cities, and the fact that black Americans were not legally able to purchase property until 1969.

 

“Schools do not reveal truths, they conceal them.” – Zakiya Jackson (Arrabon Conference)

 

It makes me think of the show Revenge.  I watched it a few years ago.  It’s honestly not a very good show, but I was hooked nonetheless.  I have a strange attraction to bad television – I don’t have the most refined taste in that area… forgive me ;).  Anyway the premise of the show is that there is a group of people and one family in particular who did something very terrible in the past.  They didn’t want to admit what they had done and they didn’t want to face any consequences (they lived in fear of losing the power and wealth that they had), so they had to cover their tracks.  Instead of owning up to what they had done, they moved on by building an entire life and future off of lies.  They raised their children in lies and they constantly spun the truth to make it seem as if the victim(s) deserved what was done to them and their own hands were clean.

 

Honestly (and painfully) – that is also the story of America.  One group of people did some really terrible things to other groups of people.  They didn’t want to admit what they had done and they didn’t want to face any consequences (they lived in fear of losing the power and wealth that they had), so they had to cover their tracks.  Instead of owning up to what they had done, they moved on by building an entire life and future off of lies.  They were the ones in charge of writing text books and teaching history to the generations behind them, so it wasn’t too difficult to raise their children in lies and spin the truth to make it seem as if these other groups of people deserved what was done to them and that their own hands were clean.

 

We “Pursue the American Dream while ignoring the American nightmare of how we even got here.” – Zakiya Jackson (Arrabon Conference)

 

The truth can be ugly.  And it can be so painful.

 

The truth is that America has been built off the bloody, broken backs of oppressed people groups.

 

Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t necessarily change anything in the world.  It changes my perspective and my understanding, certainly.  But ultimately the bigger problem here is not an information problem, it’s a love problem.  I remember someone recently saying that if anyone had the information about how oppressive and racist the system is – it was slave owners.  They knew.  But that didn’t change anything – they still owned slaves.  It takes love to make change happen.

 

Like the love Jesus showed when he came and bore the weight and punishment of sin on His bloody, broken back.  Love that invites us to repentance and completely takes over our soul so that we cannot help but change. His love can forgive all, conquer all, and heal all.

 

*This means that we can admit to our faulty past and the past of our ancestors with broken hearts and wet eyes.  Because there is a Savior.  He cares about justice and He is good.  He cares about reconciliation and He calls us to it.  In a step by step journey of repentance and faith, He brings His people – the multiethnic people of God – into closer intimacy with Him, peace with each other, and His kingdom to Earth as it is in Heaven.  There is something so much more beautiful for the church than anything we have experienced before and it involves people of all tribes and tongues and skin colors and backgrounds living in relationship with one another, revealing to each other more about the Character of our Artist God, and pursuing justice for the oppressed in the world around us.

 

I wish someone had told me that.

 

These are the things I will tell my children as they grow up.

 

 

 

 

KM.

 

 

 

*Ephesians is one book in the Bible where we see God’s heart for reconciliation between different groups of people who were hostile towards one another and the call of God’s people to pursue this reconciliation.  1 Corinthians, specifically chapter 12, teaches us about God’s vision for what a church of many different people should look like and how it should function.  Revelation is a great place to see God’s vision for His Kingdom, being full of people of all nations and tribes and tongues.

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