“Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” – African Proverb
How ironic is it that the hunter is calling foul play now that the lion is correcting historical forgery?
The heated national dialogue around the removal of confederate monuments has cooled down—for now. There are just too many policy wars, scandals, investigations, tweets, etc. for us to stay focused on one thing for too long. However, over the next few months and years, this confederate monument issue will without a doubt push its way through all of the covefefe and take its place as a front and center issue important to the evolving demographics of our country.
And I am here for it.
Sayings such as “this is erasing history” or “you can’t rewrite history” were shouted from all corners of the internet, and political offices last year. As a counselor, I try to observe reactions like these from a mental health and wellness perspective. There’s a clear aspect of wellness tied to people of color seeing more positive images of themselves and their past; however, how does wellness tie into this issue for the white folks who are strongly opposed to the removal of confederate monuments?
To break this down from a mental health perspective, let’s start by identifying what sticks out. The well-established history of these monuments proves they are nothing more than a middle finger to reconstruction. Or, to use the term coined by Van Jones after the 2016 election, a whitelash. Knowing this makes the vehement protests surrounding the removal of these monuments scarily irrational, and when counselors deal with irrational beliefs, we will typically deviate to a cognitive behavioral framework.
Simply put, cognitive behavioral therapy says our thoughts dictate our emotions, which in turn dictate our actions. If our beliefs (thoughts) about a certain thing are irrational, then our emotional response and actions to this thing will also be irrational. But what dictates our thoughts?
What we read and watch, including what we were taught in school, help to build an informational database of sorts from which we pull to make sense of our world. If our understanding of history is inaccurate, then our contextual framework for certain events also becomes inaccurate. This contextual framework is how we interact with the world, and if it is based on historical forgeries, then there is an increased likelihood of irrational thoughts, emotions, and actions surrounding any topic linked to these falsifications.
These historical inaccuracies are perpetuated in several ways, one of which has a lot to do with in-groups versus out-groups. Think about the people who make up a large community or nation. Now, imagine if they unanimously agreed on the details of their shared history. Even when they naturally section themselves off into smaller cliques with more specific shared interests (in-groups), there is a deeper level of empathy that can take place toward the overall diversity of the broader nation or community. This is because, within their in-groups, the shared historical perspective is not undermined or modified to suit their needs but rather embraced and utilized as the collective informational database I previously mentioned.
When it comes to the example of confederate monuments, due to the decades of teaching inaccurate tales of the hunter (a.k.a. the typical US history class taught in any primary school on any given day of the week), multiple in-groups perpetuate false narratives that sympathize with white supremacy. In 2016 and 2017, we saw these in-groups combine to create a new larger in-group that eventually found its way to Charlottesville and demonstrated how irrational thoughts become irrational emotions and actions. And it all started with this database of false information about our history.
This is why I am convinced the most effective way to erase irrational feedback loops is through the implementation of a shared curriculum where history–specifically US history–is told from a brutally honest and accurate position. Imagine if the overwhelming majority of children in the US learned the truth about race, white supremacy, and manifest destiny. What would our country look like then?
Recently, I have been listening to the podcast Scene on Radio, and specifically getting into the Seeing White series within the podcast. Seeing White deals with the concept of what it means to be white—something I don’t think most white folks in the US care to think about or have a well-rounded understanding of due to the widespread acceptance of historical inaccuracies. During one of the episodes, titled Little War on the Prairie, the narrators spoke about the lack of a shared and accurate local history within a small town somewhere in Minnesota. It was a great breakdown demonstrating how the people of this in-group were not only misled about their history but how that forgery of information created a lack of contextual understanding for other situations—for example, how their town even came to be. One of the narrators, who happened to be from North Carolina, elaborated on a specific and especially poignant example of historical falsification involving North Carolina and the Confederacy that raised a lot of questions.
Here’s what he said:
And yet there’s no memory that white people opposed the Civil War. There’s no memory of General Pickett, of Pickett’s Charge. He came to Kinston, North Carolina, in 1864. And the first thing he did was he hanged 22 local white boys on the courthouse lawn because they were loyal to the United States government [the Union].
And you go down to Kinston now and you go out to King’s Barbecue, and you look down the row of cars at all those trucks and all those Confederate flag bumper stickers. And I just want to say, you don’t know who you are. They hanged your great granddaddy and you got their flag on your bumper. That’s kind of interesting.
So they reinvent a fake history for ourselves that doesn’t deal with the complexities… [a] kind of self-congratulatory history, that passes for heritage, [and] keeps us from seeing ourselves and doing better.
If the residents of Kinston, NC knew this history, would they still display the confederate flag with a deep sense of pride and exclaim its presence as heritage and not hate?
How would the conversation around the confederacy and these confederate monuments change?
With new heros to embrace, would it change peoples perspectives about what it means to be white?
Earlier, when I asked, “…how does wellness tie into this issue for the white folks who are strongly opposed to the removal of confederate monuments?” Well, this is how.
We can no longer wait to create and implement a shared historically accurate curriculum. The longer we sit on this, the larger these irrational in-groups become. It’s time for us to work through the complexities of our history, to embrace these new old heroes, and for some to deal with the ramifications of their manifest destiny. It’s time for an objective accounting of the hunt.