Or maybe their insulting false statements about slavery are part of a deliberate effort to rewrite history for right wing political purposes?
While running from President in 2011, Tea Party standard bearer Bachman repeatedly made the ignorant and infuriating claim that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” Last October, months before she was slammed for using the n-word, celebrity chef Paula Deen responded to a New York Times query about slavery and racism in the South by saying (with a completely straight face): “…black folks played such an integral part of our lives. They were like our family! And we didn’t see ourselves as being prejudiced.”
Now, conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh has added to this flood of fact-free racial revisionism by telling white Americans to pat themselves on the back for all their hard work in ending slavery which, according to Rush, wasn’t really all that bad. White guilt was the focus of Limbaugh’s pontificating when he told his devoted listeners on the July 22:
“If any race of people should not have guilt about slavery, it’s Caucasians. The white race has probably had fewer slaves and for a briefer period of time than any other in the history of the world.”
Toward the end of his rant, Rush elaborated in bold, Bachman-esque style:
“It’s preposterous that Caucasians are blamed for slavery when they’ve done more to end it than any other race, and within the bounds of the Constitution to boot.”
Are we talking about the same Constitution that, at the insistence of Southern slave owners, designated black slaves as three-fifths of a person?
To illustrate his point that American slavery was no biggie compared to other systems of bondage, Limbaugh referenced slavery among Africans, Arabs, Chinese, Native Americans, the Roman Empire and the ancient Israelites in Biblical Egypt. I won’t go into a lengthy discussion about the differences between bondage in the United States and these other systems. Suffice it to say that in many other cultures slavery was more akin to second-class citizenship, often with built-in avenues for gradual integration into the dominant society. This differs dramatically from U.S. slavery which was an economic system developed to maintain a free, forced labor pool made up of people who were defined as subhuman because of race and who had no legal rights and no avenue to improve their lot in life.
So, American slavery was in some respects worse than slavery in other parts of the world and during other periods of history. Furthermore, Limbaugh’s comparative analysis is not only terribly flawed, it is an exercise in irrelevance since America is challenged to understand, learn from and respond to the legacy of her own history, not that of the ancient Romans et al.
Limbaugh further displayed his ignorance about history when he declared, “No other race has ever fought a war for the purpose of ending slavery, which we did. Nearly 600,000 people killed in the Civil War.
The Civil War was not an abolitionist crusade. The war was fought because the Southern states defied federal authority by seceding from the Union, and then launched hostilities by attacking FortSumter. The federal government was not committed to ending slavery. When he was inaugurated President in 1861, Abraham Lincoln went out of his way to reassure the South that — although he had spoken against slavery in the past — he would not try to end bondage. Lincoln made that point repeatedly with statement like:
“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
Furthermore, the Civil War had been raging for over a year and a half when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. And Lincoln did so explicitly for military reasons. The Proclamation’s wording states that it is “a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.”
No, Mr. Limbaugh, the Civil War was not fought to free my people.
I would love to dismiss the historically ignorant, racially insulting statements by Rush Limbaugh, Paula Deen and Michele Bachman – especially since the media has done a pretty good job of exposing them. Unfortunately, these are three influential public figures and their statements are part of a larger and very real threat. In 2010, Texas revised its public school curriculum to downplay the harsh realities of slavery. Last year, Tea Party groups pressured Tennessee to remove references to the Founding Fathers owning slaves. Add that to movements in Arizona and elsewhere to ban ethnic studies and the plot by certain white conservatives to destroy historical honesty and cultural inclusiveness becomes frighteningly clear.
Thank you for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.