Beloved lies about America
White supremacists love their narrative of America. They spoon-feed it to their children and force-feed it to people of color.
When Francis Scott Key penned lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814, calling America the “land of the free and home of the brave,” he crafted a stirring image of goodness and virtue. Who wouldn’t love and admire such a homeland?
But these sentiments were written by a racist and proponent of chattel slavery for Black Americans. Most disturbingly, the third verse of what would become America’s national anthem proposed a horrible fate for once-enslaved African Americans who were then fighting for the British in the War of 1812.
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror or flight or the gloom of the graves.”
These words were a clear call to slaughter people of color who dared to challenge the authority of white Americans.
America was never the land of the free. Just ask the descendants of the enslaved who had every manner of inhumane abuses handed to them, or the families of unarmed Black and brown men and women gunned down in great numbers across America by police in recent years.
But now, there is a movement afoot by white supremacists to gaslight not only Americans of color but the entire world that these injustices do not exist and never existed.
One particularly blatant example is the political maneuver by Virginia’s Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin, who claimed he would ban Toni Morrison’s book “Beloved” from Virginia’s public schools. This attack on a book that won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988 and whose author was 1993 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was clearly a dog whistle to the white supremacists whose votes he was courting.
While the pretext for attacking Morrison’s book was its explicit sexual references, it was not sex that sent white supremacists into a rage, but the embarrassing description of how enslaved Black people were treated in this “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The core of the story’s horror is based upon a true account of an escaped slave, Margaret Garner. Rather than allow her children to be returned to slavery by slave catchers who had tracked them down, Garner attempted to kill them all, but succeeded only in killing her 2-year-old daughter.
All of Garner’s children had been fathered by white men, including her owner’s brother, who had raped her. White fragility cannot abide a book that so unsparingly brings this type of evil to light.
Another attempt to keep the noble America fiction alive is the 1836 Project in Texas, a reaction to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, whose introductory essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones garnered the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.
While the 1619 Project laid bare the provable facts of slavery and racism in America’s past, the 1836 Project is a racist construct built of myth and undergirded by fantasy. Its ridiculousness is easily exposed by the most cursory reading of the 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas. After Sam Houston’s army defeated the forces of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna and halted the northward march of the Mexican army to abolish slavery in Texas, the mostly European American Texans formed a republic and installed a constitution.
Section 9 of the 1836 constitution of Texas read in part:
“All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude, … “[N]or shall Congress have power to emancipate slaves; nor shall any slave-holder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave or slaves, without the consent of Congress … “No free person of African descent, either in whole or in part, shall be permitted to reside permanently in the Republic, without the consent of Congress.”
All this attention to slavery was because Mexico had outlawed slavery in 1829 and the war surrounding the Battle of the Alamo was brought about because Texans refused to free their slaves. These are immutable historical facts. The racism of Texas’ founding fathers is there for everyone to see.
It is not America that white supremacists love; it is the fiction about this country that is dear to their hearts. And we must never accept their beloved lies as our truths.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.