Days after his colleague claimed there's no racism in America, McConnell attacks and attempts to erase lessons that teach real history.
The irony in Republicans' complaints about "cancel culture" is that they themselves like to live with the lies, prefer storytelling to actual examinations of history.
A statue doesn't tell history. The statues of Robert E. Lee, defended by the right as being part of our nation's history, doesn't tell the story of his terrible treatment of enslaved individuals that were supposed to be freed (Lee had tried to refuse to honor his father-in-law's instructions in his will that they should be released from bondage) or that he overlooked the sexual rapes of a Black women by a local chapter of the KKK when he ran a university where they resided.
Look up the real history of Lee. There is almost no redeeming quality that warrants him, a traitor to this country, to have a monument.
The racism that Lee exemplified has not disappeared, but recognizing that fact appears to be the main complaint of the Republican Party this week rather than something we should try to eradicate.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), the lone Black senator within the GOP's ranks, gave a rebuttal to President Joe Biden's speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, in which he blasted the focus of some Democrats on history's lessons, and the continued talk about racism that exists in this country.
"Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country," Scott said.
The senator also said that it is "wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present."
But very few politicians within the Democratic Party are actually saying the U.S. is racist. Rather, they say that racism still exists, and the consequences of our nation's history with the subject are still being felt.
"No, I don’t think the American people are racist, but I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they are so behind the eight ball, in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunity," Biden said in response to Scott's words. "I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow and before that, slavery, have had a cost, and we have to deal with it."
Scott himself knows that racism is still something that has to be dealt with, as he's part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers attempting to tackle the problem of systemic racism in policing. But the leader of Republicans in the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), wants to do something about racism, too — deny that it's something that needs to be taught at all in our nation's classrooms.
McConnell wrote to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Thursday, urging him against promoting the 1619 Project, a report from the New York Times and several historians that aims to refocus some of our country's history by looking at the real consequences of slavery and racist policies over the past 400 years. The Senate minority leader believes the report does not include factual histories (it does), but seems to take greater offense at the fact that the history makes people feel bad.
This, from the party that told us, regarding complaints made about former President Donald Trump, "f--- your feelings."
"Americans do not need or want their tax dollars diverted from promoting the principles that unite our nation toward promoting radical ideologies meant to divide us," McConnell said, adding that "Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil."
The 1619 Project doesn't say America is evil, but it does correct the record on a number of items, including the misguided beliefs that slavery itself wasn't all that bad — a lesson that a significant number of Americans, including members of McConnell's own Republican Party, need to learn.
Earlier this week, while making similar complaints about lessons on slavery that McConnell made on the 1619 Project, Louisiana state Rep. Ray Garofalo (R) went viral over his whining that the curriculum didn't focus on positive aspects of the practice.
"If you are having a discussion on whatever the case may be, on slavery, then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery: the good, the bad, the ugly," Garofalo said.
When a colleague of his noted that there "is no good to slavery, though," the room erupted in laughter. But it's really no laughing matter — many people still believe the false notion of benevolent enslavers. It's a myth, in fact, that some of those who were enslaved were happy about their conditions.
It should be no surprise that Republicans have endorsed a different idea of history, the 1776 Project, which whitewashed much of the work that the 1619 Project sought to highlight with what it called a more "patriotic" vision of the U.S. The 1776 Project was riddled with falsehoods, however, and included no historians on its committee at all. Why did conservatives flock to this, then? Its committee was replete with right-wing politicians who backed Trump.
Whereas the 1619 Project is a recommendation for schools and colleges to consider, the 1776 Project received federal backing from Trump, who used his executive authority to make it official. The report was disbanded by executive order by Biden when he took office, for what should be obvious reasons.
Chicago State University history professor Lionel Kimble Jr. explains it better than I can: the 1776 Report "was ahistorical; it had no basis or standing in historical fact," he said. "It made these intellectual leaps that weren’t supported by anything. And I really felt like I wasted my time reading it."
Is the U.S. a racist country? I don't think we can definitively say that it is. What we have, however, is a country that has a lot of racism in it — and not just the overt kind, where white supremacists terrorize nonwhite communities or engage in rhetoric that is blatantly bigoted. There is racism that is systemic, where our institutions still favor whites over Blacks, and racism where privilege allows some in our society to benefit more than others.
Eradicating that racism may be impossible, but we should do what we can to limit or eliminate it as much as possible. Part of how we do that is by examining our education system, which is riddled with ahistorical fictions that we only correct (if we're lucky enough to do so) in adulthood.
Consider when you first learned about the Tulsa Massacre, or the Tuskogee syphilis experiments — these weren't taught to me in middle or even high school, and I'm willing to bet that you, the reader, didn't learn about them in those classes either (some of you might be learning about them right now!).
Does this make our country evil? No. In fact, learning about these things makes us better. That's the goal, isn't it? Improving our country as we move forward? We CAN do that. But denying our history, denying the racism that did and still exists, isn't the way we do better.