For such a large portion of the population to hide their heads in the sand about the country’s past—not to mention its current structural racism—is anti-American and just plain wrong. The 1619 Project’s reframing of slavery as central to our founding and our present, the Black Lives Matter movement’s focus on institutional bias in policing, and last year’s reckoning on racism have all illustrated that our country has never really lived up to the ideals set out in our founding documents.
This moment gives the U.S. an opportunity to view its history—and present—through a more equitable lens. Why don’t more Americans know about Greenwood or the Battle of Liberty Place? Why don’t students learn about the white mobs that have sought to upend our democracy time and again? Why is it that even after hundreds of symbols honoring the Confederacy, including statues and street names, have been removed, more than 1,500 remain?
Quinta Jurecic: Don’t move on just yet
Black Americans have been begging white Americans to look at the voluminous examples of systemic racism in our society for decades, and the U.S. still has not fully reckoned with how that racism affects the country. Even after the attempts to delegitimize the first African American president, the murder of Trayvon Martin, the brutal deaths of Michael Brown and Alton Sterling and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. Even after the Charleston Mother Emanuel Church massacre, Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling, the Charlottesville white-supremacist rallies, and the death of Heather Heyer. After the 1619 Project, record-breaking, diverse Black Lives Matter protests, and the debate over the veneration of Confederate symbols and monuments. Even after COVID-19’s disproportionate devastation of communities of color.
As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” Anything less would be unpatriotic.
Patriotism, after all, isn’t about wrapping oneself in the American flag and idolizing a version of the past that worked for only a few. Patriotism is standing up for the freedoms of all Americans and embracing our diversity as our greatest strength. It requires us to honor and learn from the richness and complexity of our entire history.
In the weeks, months, and years following the Battle of Liberty Place, Americans decided to look the other way. The country must approach this moment in history with clarity of thought and purpose, not just for January 6, but for the centuries of actions and inactions that led the country to this point. We cannot change our history, but we can surely learn from it. If we don’t, our democracy may be the ultimate lost cause.