Anti-Racism in U. S. History: The First Two Hundred Years

By Herbert Aptheker | Go to book overview

Introduction

In the early 1970s, after I had concluded a lecture on John Brown before African American youngsters, one among them came to me. He said: "Did I hear you right? Did you say that John Brown was white?" Since I had never been asked that question before, I was somewhat surprised. "Yes," I replied, " John Brown was white.""God," the child exclaimed, "that blows my mind!" I decided then to undertake a study of anti-racism in U.S. history, concentrating on the appearance of this view among white people, though not ignoring the contributions made to the idea by Black people themselves, both through their activity and their participation in the argument.1 I found that there does exist a fairly extensive literature by scholars that deals with anti-racism to one degree or another; nevertheless, given the consequence of the subject, its treatment is insufficient. Furthermore, there is no single book devoted to the subject.

Anti-racism among white people in the United States (with influences from other lands) has been significant beginning in the colonial epoch and continuing through the twentieth century. The belief exists, however, that anti-racism has been rare and that racist thought has been well-nigh universal. A significant source of this view is prevailing historical literature that either omits or minimizes anti-racism or affirms racism's unchallenged acceptance. The truth, we repeat, is otherwise.

In rectifying errors, one must be careful to avoid exaggeration. This is a danger in all historical revisionist effort; the danger is intensified when subjective considerations are weighed. It is certain--indeed, painfully obvious--that racism has permeated U.S. history both as idea and practice. Nevertheless, it always has faced significant challenge.

Racism is not to be confused with ethnocentrism, nationalism, elitism, or male chauvinism. There are common ingredients in all, and no doubt this has played a part in racism's appearance, virulence, and persistence. But

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