Recently, and not the first or last time, issues involving the black community have been workshopped without input from one of the groups it affects most. On August 4, University of Virginia historian Allida Black, Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz, journalist Anne Applebaum, presidential historian Michael Beschloss, Vinay Reddy, and Jon Meacham, among others, met around a table with President Joe Biden. A few weeks later, Mr. Biden spoke about the growing fascist and authoritarian movement in his speech in Philadelphia; race and religion should have been at the top of the list. Someone was missing from the table in August. A black historian was needed to add perspective to a problem that directly affects the black community—the rise of white supremacy.
On the menu
There is an adage, ‘if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.’ When black Americans talk about institutional racism, there are clear examples. From Supreme Court decisions asserting separate but equal and Congressional debates about voting rights, black Americans have historically been the recipients of others’ decisions. I can almost guarantee not one of the historians summoned to the White House said anything akin to; I will not come if you invite a black historian. The vice is that it was probably never given a thought. Inclusion is so fearful for the groups inciting hate and division in American society, and now overwhelming politics that things once whispered in impolite society are mainstream.
As a black American, I hate explaining to my teenage grandchildren why people who subscribe to anti-Semitic and racist social media groups are allowed to run for office.
Unlike stories about the stork, birds, and bees, nothing short of the truth explains racism. Now that we can no longer count on schools and educators being allowed to put all of American history into context, what happens to our children? Are candidates like Blake Masters, who blames gun violence on black people, or Doug Mastriano, who has openly courted neo-Nazism, the new arbiters of historical truth and fairness?
Republicans have run to every friendly news outlet denouncing President Biden for pointing out what is apparent to us all—fascism is currently a prominent feature in GOP politics. GOP leaders have fallen on Lindsey Graham’s fainting couch and whined; how could he? Kevin McCarthy has called for President Biden to apologize. The hysteria has gotten so ridiculous a Republican pundit asked if Biden is trying to unify us, why hasn’t he endorsed a Republican? Jelani Cobb, Dean of the Columbia Journalism School and a staff writer for The New Yorker, appeared on NPR and was questioned about the White House historians meeting.
I have to question a historian who believes that Barack Obama ran a racist campaign. Dean Cobb directly called out a participant, professor Sean Wilentz who once said, ‘Barack Obama ran the most racist campaign in modern history.’ Where was the voice to keep Mr. Wilentz in perspective without a countervailing opinion? When America wants to discuss issues involving any marginalized group, a seat at the table with a voice is preferable to an apple in one’s mouth next to the centerpiece.
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