Slavery Reparations Push Is Latest Consequence of Left’s Anti-American Education Crusade
California state legislators are reportedly moving forward with plans to turn their 1,100-page report on slavery reparations into payouts for black residents – marking the latest and perhaps most dramatic downstream effect of the left’s decades-long effort to distort and rewrite racial history in the United States.
“The California Reparations Report,” which was released late last month, recommends a slew of actions ranging from direct payments to black residents to a formal apology and dozens of policy changes. Although some conservatives predicted the report would be little more than a virtue signaling effort from the California legislature’s Democrat supermajority, a group of lawmakers in Sacramento are now finalizing a set of recommendations for Governor Gavin Newsom to sign into law.
As various commentators have pointed out, California never allowed slavery, with the state’s constitution expressly forbidding the practice. Moreover, California’s booming economy and tech and entertainment industries have long been a vital economic lifeline for black Americans, producing successful entrepreneurs and world-famous actors and musicians.
Nonetheless, other liberal states are apparently poised to follow California down the reparations rabbit hole. In June, New York (which outlawed slavery in 1827 and contributed some 465,000 men to the fight to end slavery – more than 50 percent of all men under 30 in the state at the time) passed a bill establishing a “New York State Community Commission on Reparations Remedies” to “examine the impact of slavery and subsequent discrimination and systemic racism against African Americans.”
As columnist Jason Riley pointed out in a June Wall Street Journal piece , the arguments for reparations are at best misleading and at worse historically illiterate. “Slavery was an atrocity, but all the slaves and all the slaveholders are long gone,” Riley writes. “The vast majority of whites living in the antebellum period, even in the South, never owned slaves. Most white Americans alive today are descendants of people who came to the U.S. after the Civil War.”
It’s worth noting that most of the California report’s sources are dated no earlier than 2010 – right when the left’s historical revisionism began building toward a new crescendo. Although reparations talk has been around in some form or another since the Civil War, it began entering mainstream political discourse again only in the last decade or so.
One necessary condition for this phenomenon was the erosion of the traditional interpretation of America’s founding ideals – the notion that the country was founded to protect freedom and equality of opportunity for all.
Beginning in the late 20th century, the American left began distorting that history – a crusade that has reached full fruition with the blatant indoctrination in classrooms today. Instead of teaching that slavery was an ugly stain on the country’s legacy which was eradicated in order to live up to America’s founding promise, a new radical class of leftists taught that the country was founded on racism and slavery.
No work captured this cynical outlook better than Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, first released in 1980.
Zinn, a historian and self-described socialist, wrote A People’s History as a takedown of patriotic values and an attempt to smear the legacy of America’s founders. Although the work has been roundly criticized by other historians for glaring omissions and reliance on obviously biased sources, it is still one of the most widely-disseminated textbooks in U.S. classrooms today.
Instead of cultivating patriotic attitudes, A People’s History is in effect an angry screed against the idea of American greatness. It is no surprise that Occupy Wall Street protestors and Antifa members who attempted to burn down an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility both quoted the book during their acts of anarchy.
On the book’s 40th anniversary, Dr. Mary Grabar, a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, wrote a book entitled Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation Against America which catalogues its historical revisionism and abuses.
For instance, as Grabar points out, to introduce his principal claim that American history was from the very beginning defined by slavery and racism, Zinn includes “a deeply felt account” by a Hampton Institute English professor. No historical chronicle, not even a single book authored by a historian, is a source of that claim.
Among other primary sources for Zinn are a diary kept by a plantation owner identified only by last name and state, and an unidentified plantation journal in the “archives” at the University of North Carolina. “Can we find a grosser violation of the American Historical Association’s standards for evidence?” Grabar asks.
Zinn, like his intellectual successors today, also almost wholly omits discussion of the fact that American slavery was far from the exception. In fact, research has found that a million or more white Europeans were enslaved in North Africa between 1530 and 1780. Slavery was a virtually universal fact of life throughout the world for all of human history until it was stopped in the mid-19th century – largely thanks to Britain, formerly a chief progenitor of the slave trade, leveraging significant financial and military resources to eradicate it.
None of these facts feature prominently in Zinn’s history, which is primarily focused on loathing the country that had just a few decades prior saved Europe from Nazi tyranny, freed Asia from the clutches of Imperial Japan, and was almost single-handedly holding the Soviet Union at bay.
As Grabar also points out, Zinn’s portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln and interpretation of the Civil War is also hopelessly flawed. Rather than the man who led the country to abolish slavery, Zinn accuses Lincoln of being a slavery financier by pulling one quote out of context from Lincoln’s time as a state representative when he was 28.
Zinn also claims that the United States only entered World War Two to save American capitalism – a claim pulled straight from Stalinist textbooks distributed throughout the Soviet Union.
Even more egregiously, Zinn accuses the U.S. of fomenting “Cold War hysteria” – outrageously claiming that the U.S.S.R. did not threaten the free world. While insisting America was a “neo-colonialist” power, Zinn completely ignores the Soviet Union’s forced conquest of its neighbors.
At least a part of Zinn’s motives can be explained, as Dr. Grabar documents, in Zinn’s sympathy for communism, an ideology that attacked “enemy number one” – the United States. According to FBI files, Zinn hosted a Soviet youth delegation and enabled the recruitment of American students to a Kremlin-sponsored youth festival.
As one former KGB high-ranking officer told this author, Zinn appeared more pro-Soviet in his heart than most of the top Soviet officials. Zinn’s chief claim that America was a racist country was a central tent of Moscow’s anti-American propaganda.
The officer further explained that it was once one of the crucial tasks of the communist parties throughout the West to distribute anti-American materials like Zinn’s work. “Soviets desired nothing more than that Americans would accept their history turned upside-down,” he added.
Today, the seeds of Zinn’s anti-Americanism have yielded potent fruit in developments like the reparations push that is further dividing Americans and stoking racial resentment. One disgruntled academic has helped spawn an entire industry of disdain for the United States and its history.
To fight back against this, Americans must not be afraid to tell the truth about their history and proclaim the greatness of their country. As is so often the case, ignorance is the most potent weapon in the left’s arsenal.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.