Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

LAST WORD: It's Time to Be Honest about Our Nation's Past

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

LAST WORD: It's Time to Be Honest about Our Nation's Past

Article excerpt

As many commentators have observed in the 15 months since the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, voices critical of the American government often have been condemned or silenced. For example, on various campuses, professors report that they have been reproached for criticizing the American government. One potential casualty of this atmosphere that should be of particular concern is an open discussion of Black history this month.

If we are to be honest about many aspects of our nation's history -- most notably, although not exclusively, its troubled racial past -- it is impossible to present an uncomplicated, celebratory narrative. Yet it seems that, in the name of "patriotism," we are being told to do so. Many public figures have argued that it is "inappropriate" in our post-Sept. 11 world to be critical of our nation's past. In his new book entitled Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism, William J. Bennett criticized Bob Chase, former head of the National Education Association, for noting after Sept. 11 that America had, during other periods of national stress, "vilified" some of its citizens and "cultivated prejudice and hatred." Bennett, by contrast, supports a view of "our national history not as `often shameful' but as morally purposive, self-correcting and glorious."

Similarly, various media commentators condemned the Rev. Jesse Jackson for giving a speech at Michigan State University in September 2002 in which he argued that true American democracy was not realized by the Founding Fathers but was brought into being with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In response, conservative African American minister Jesse Lee Peterson declared, "For Jesse Jackson to make a statement like this is like denouncing his citizenship." Peterson asked, "Why attack this country at a time when we're at war? Why now?"

The notion that we should avoid censuring our nation for its past and present shortcomings threatens the very basis of Black History Month. …

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