History is a Weapon: Learn How to Use it
By Arun Gupta (July 23, 2019)
I have a little quiz for you. The questions are related, but by no means comprehensive. I could add many others. From memory only! No googling.
1) What do you know about the origins of American policing, in both the South and the North, particularly in the 19th century?
2) What was the Great Upheaval?
3) What is a Sundown town? Do you know if you grew up in a Sundown town
4) What do you know about the origins of the Texas Rangers and the role in served specifically during WWI
5) Which pogroms of African-Americans can you name from 1910s and 1920s?
6) What is eliminationism? What was the Rock Springs Massacre?
7) What is producerism?
8) How many U.S. citizens were deported to Mexico during the Great Depression?
I know many of you can answer most or even all these questions because you are scholars or have studied these subjects in depth. But otherwise very few Americans could answer even one of these questions.
I was a history nerd from a young age. I learned exactly zero of this by the time I graduated high school. I learned a little of this in college, where one of my majors was U.S. history. But only in the last decade have I learned about all these topics. Largely because I was interested in exploring the social and ideological construction of America as it happened, not the fantasy version spoon-fed in school, the media, and Hollywood.
If this was a college exam, I would add essay questions on Bacon’s Rebellion, the Dred Scott Case, Reconstruction, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Indian Removal Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act. And I haven’t even touched on the post-WWII era.
This brings me to the point I want to make: History is a weapon. Learn how to use it.
In America those who claim to love their country the most are the most profoundly ignorant of how it came to be. They live in a fantasy shrouded in myth cloaked in lies. They imagine themselves as avatars of goodness besieged by enemies all around them.
In reality, they hate everyone who isn’t part of their nativist, xenophobic, fundamentalist, murderous horde. They hate women, they hate Black people, they hate Mexicans, Muslims, the indigenous, Jews, immigrants, queers, teachers, intellectuals, scientists, free thinkers, and everyone who has ever fought for liberty and justice. They hate virtually everyone and everything decent that has happened in this land.
They revere rapists and murderers. The founding fathers were slave owners and massacred Indians.They were smugglers, tax evaders, and traitors. They were all hardened criminals. Nearly all of them idealize Confederates, too, every last one of which should have been shot for being traitors, among other crimes.
History is a weapon. Use it to beat back and shut down the racists and fascists rallying to Trump’s white nationalist order. When they talk about “law and order.” Make them own that legal history of slavery, genocide, lynchings, reservations, pogroms, Jim Crow, forced pregnancy, second-class status for women, the criminalization of LGBTQ people.
They hate the Constitution. They hate the free speech of Colin Kaepernick. They hate the free exercise of religion by Ilhan Omar and all Muslims. They hate the ideas of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
When they talk about “illegals” coming over the border, hit back hard. The only criminals are in the Trump administration. Under U.S. law, it’s illegal to deny asylum-seekers entry onto U.S. soil to present their claim and stay while it’s adjudicated. It’s illegal to return them to Mexico. It’s illegal to break up families. It’s illegal to kidnap children or hold them for more than 20 days. And it’s certainly illegal to torture them as the Trumpkins are doing now. All of this is illegal under U.S. law. Nearly all ICE raids are illegal because they use administrative warrants to violate people’s 4th Amendment rights.
And when they get worked up, anticipate their responses. If they say Democrats were responsible for Jim crow and the Klan say, “Sure, and the moment they abandoned that in the 1960s, the Republican Party welcomed all the racists with open arms.”
When they blame harsh immigration policy on Obama, tell them, “I opposed it then. I didn’t see you at any protests. I don’t support a party or a racist grifter for President like you. I support justice and liberation for all people, everywhere.
I don’t believe in reclaiming the flag or patriotism. The former is too blood-soaked, the latter too stepped in reactionary sentiments. But shutting down the Trumpkins can work. You don’t need to win them to your side. You just need to discourage and confuse them. To make them feel they can’t articulate their ideas, which are a jumble of rage, misogyny, authoritarianism, and racism more than coherent thoughts anyways.
Learn the history and learn how to shut them down.