The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II last week marked the end of an era and the passing of a monarch who presided over the twilight of English imperialism, the dark shadows of which many formerly colonized countries continue to live with.
As Americans retrain their gaze on our shores, there is an opportunity to regard our own history of exploitation, degradation and abuse — specifically of people of color — as we strive to look clearly at our present and hope for a better future.
The United States was born in contradiction, its ideals of liberty and equality stained by slavery, an institution that is older than the country itself as African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619. Native Americans also bore the brunt of colonial supremacy with their population systematically exterminated.
Even after slavery was outlawed, our history continued to be littered with examples of privilege and prejudice, including the sustained oppression of Native Americans, Jim Crow laws, the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mexican American repatriation during the Great Depression and Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Beyond our borders, America’s involvement in Cold War-era regime change in Latin America and wars in the Middle East has affected the lives of millions around the world.
Recognizing and coming to terms with this history is not meant to foster disdain for the United States. Instead, it is crucial to understanding the ongoing cost to America as it struggles with racial disparities in wealth, education and the legal system.
The 2019 publication of The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which places slavery at the heart of America’s historical narrative, and the racial reckoning around the murder of George Floyd, pushed forward efforts to teach a more complete history — one where slavery was as essential to our country’s growth and wealth as it was to its near dissolution through civil war.
These efforts are necessary and must be celebrated and supported across the country. Instead, many leaders have pushed back in a misguided effort equating ignorance with unity, claiming that teaching how racism has shaped America is inherently divisive.
Several states, including Texas, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Tennessee, have sought to interfere in how that history can be taught. Neighboring Idaho passed a legislative resolution this year that promotes former President Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission and its “1776 Report,” which was condemned by the American Historical Association as an effort to “elevate ignorance about the past to a civic virtue.”
Knowing the truth, the good and the bad, does not prevent anyone from believing in America or its founding principles. It is all right to love a country — much as mourners can honor a queen — but only by more fully understanding our history can we hope to move on from the past.