By Another Name


Yesterday, I picked up Douglas Blackmon's book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. It's fantastic so far. But what's really striking about the subject is that despite how central the story of racial conflict is to the story of America, and despite how well-known certain key episodes in that history are, the shocking story that Blackmon has to tell here is virtually unknown.

I assume that this kind of thing forms part of the basis of black-white gaps in perception in the United States. The white version of American history certainly admits to the existence of racial oppression, but it's a very optimistic "up from slavery" story where the key figures are the heroes and the key episodes are the ones in which the good guys lost. But for fifty-five or sixty years following the collapse of the Confederacy, the cause of racial equality suffered nothing but setbacks. African-Americans are no doubt largely ignorant of these obscure episodes in a formal sense, but since it's literally part of their family background the history of backsliding and abandonment is going to color the black community's perception of progress made thus far.

It's one thing to recognize that America once tolerated great injustices and then put a stop to them. It's another thing entirely to recognize that the injustices came back and the whole period in which they did so has been expurgated from our official narrative.