My son’s partner’s mom has recently become acutely interested in the idea that division and hatred in the U.S. can only be combatted when the nation’s two sides (MAGA Republicans and Democrats) sit down and talk with one another. Which all sounds good in theory, except how can there be a coming together of hearts and minds when one side refuses to accept the reality of the past and wishes to redact the parts they don’t like?
For example, in my humble opinion, the foundation of this country, in all of its fetid funk, began when a group of Europeans made their way here by ship and audaciously decided to steal the land from those living on it for centuries—by any means necessary—killing, raping, and then forcing them to live in areas not of their own choosing.
A couple of hundred years later, those same European folks decided that the industry of buying, selling, and using enslaved people was way too profitable not to invest in. So for a little over 200 years, the country that became known as America by 1776 benefited from a thriving business that terrorized, tortured, and murdered millions of people while demanding they work without pay or freedom.
RELATED STORY: Cincinnati police officer relieved of her duties after body cam records her using N-word
After finally proclaiming the emancipation of the enslaved, the ancestors of the colonizers then created laws to keep the descendants of the enslaved separate and unequal and enforced the laws with brutality and murder. The echo of those laws remains today within law enforcement, housing, and unequal voting rights.
That’s the history. Like it or lump it. There’s no way to ignore it, and there’s no way to talk around it. It simply is what it is. You can try to outlaw the teaching of critical race theory, ban the authors who write about American history, or even deny the outcome of a presidential election, but as William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Or in this case, as foul.
The way I see it, the only way forward is not only to have some acknowledgment of the truth, but as Germany has done with its horrific past, I’d like to criminalize denial. That may sound harsh, but I think it’s the only way for this nation to truly progress.
Yad Vashem explains that the laws in Germany banning Holocaust denial and the promotion of Nazism are there to “prevent the resurrection of Nazism in Europe by stamping out at the earliest opportunity – or to use the phrase ‘to nip it in the bud’ – any public reemergence of Nazi views, whether through speech, symbols, or public association.”
It’s been written by numerous authors that a start for the U.S. could be modeled on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), founded to deal with the country’s dark history of apartheid for over 50 years.
Apartheid, which means apartness in Afrikaans, was a system of laws—similar to those created in the U.S. called Jim Crow laws—that preserved segregationist policies against non-white citizens.
According to History.com, the concept of apartheid began long before the Afrikaner National Party won the general election in 1948, but officially began after the passage of the Land Act in 1903 when South Africa gained its independence. This was the start of segregation, and Black Africans were forced to live on reservation-like land. It became unlawful for them to work as sharecroppers.
The U.S. Institute of Peace writes that the TRC was created “to investigate gross human rights violations” during Apartheid “including abductions, killings, and torture.” Additionally, the TRC was “empowered to grant amnesty to perpetrators who confessed their crimes truthfully and completely to the commission.”
Now, if we are to acknowledge and then require that ancestors of the colonizers confess to their part in the true history of America, then what’s next? Do Black Americans get their promised reparations of “40 acres and a mule?”
As reported by PBS, Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 read:
The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes [sic] now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.
Of course, we know Sherman’s order was never followed. PBS writes that Andrew Johnson, a Confederate sympathizer, overturned the order in 1865, returning the land to the farmers, many of whom were slaveholders and “the very people who had declared war on the United States of America.”
So, how should the great divide between those who either don’t believe the nation’s history or would rather whitewash it be closed?
How can we begin as a nation to come together and openly discuss our differences when lawmakers like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are determined to rewrite American history in the image they prefer rather than as it really was? How can the nation be whole if some of its parts decry law enforcement while others say they stand with the men and women in those uniforms?
Our nation is on a precipice. The question is, which way will we go? Will we decide to embrace our reality, or will we become a nation living under a false narrative and refusing to see the truth?