In the United States we tend to take a lot of pride in being “the greatest nation on earth” or the “best country in the world”. While the U.S. has accomplished a lot of incredible things, sending a man to the moon, inventing great things like the lightbulb and the airplane, one area America shouldn’t always be prideful of is its history. Most Americans continue to insist that our nation is, and always was the “land of the free”, founded on the ideas of liberty and equality. But a quick dive into the truth of American history proves otherwise.
Now while most Americans know that slavery existed in the early years of the United States, few learn of its pervasive nature or the extent of its brutality. Few learn of the devastating failure of Reconstruction. How despite ostensibly being free, the pardoning of Confederates and lack of reparations left many blacks entrenched in poverty and stuck tenant farming the same farms they worked as slaves, while whites used violence and threats to suppress their ability to vote. Even fewer Americans know that our Constitution enshrined the slave trade for 20 years and only counted slaves in the South as 3/5ths of a person.
Some people try to excuse this as being "a product of the times” or saying that “that’s how the world worked back then” but that simply isn’t true. Dozens of countries outlawed slavery decades before the United States, through ways more humane than fighting a Civil War, or never allowed slavery at all. Even beyond slavery, America’s history is covered in dark spots we tend to glaze over. Consider World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans against their will and in violation of their rights. The Declaration of Independence labeling Native and Indigenous Americans as “savages”. The continual abuse of Native American Indians whether through unjust land acquisition, forced cultural assimilation through mission schools, or even slaughter in conflicts like the Dakota War. These events affect us today, whether we admit it or not, through events like the Dakota Access Pipeline and the perpetual racial violence criticized by Black Lives Matter. These events are manifestations of our past mistakes. Perhaps the reason we have been so unsuccessful in improving is because we have yet to reconcile with our past.
I recognize as a white male I’m in one of the most privileged places in society and will never understand the suffering oppressed groups have gone through. But I believe we all need to begin to look at American history not as something to blindly boast about. We need to begin to see America's true story, full of heartbreak, evil, and destruction, as well as moments of good and glorious victory. Until we understand our nations faults as much as its merits we will never be able to address the former or capitalize on the latter. All of our schools, universities, and even family dinner tables, need to become places not only of teaching about America's victories, but also of realistic and mature discussions over the flaws in America’s past.