Thursday, April 09, 2015

American Exceptionalism v Teaching History of Minorities

Ed. Below, the writer makes a good argument about history.  This is the background from which readers should insist that California revise its history texts to include Mexican American history.  See the prior post on how to support this effort.

by Jimmy Franco

American Exceptionalism Versus a True History of Minorities

The 2016 presidential election is now approaching and many candidates on the political right which include most Republicans are increasingly being asked a key question by nationalistic supporters that supposedly determines whether they are true Americans and patriots. That question is whether they believe in the doctrine of “American exceptionalism” and if they answer in the affirmative, which most do, then they have passed the test that allows them to enter the make-believe world of US historical romanticism and amnesia. The promoters of this metaphysical doctrine of American exceptionalism tend to be ultra-nationalists amd neoconservatives. They are adherents of a narrow method of
Manifest Destiny and empire building were supposedly guided by divine providence.
Manifest Destiny and empire building were supposedly guided by divine providence.
historical selectivity and strongly believe that the US has a very special and superior place in world history when compared to the supposed lesser achievements of other countries and peoples. To add weight to this ideological position god is often injected as an ally into this mystical American doctrine and exceptional force. An example of this national chauvinist belief is the opening paragraph of the 2012 Republican platform which described the US as having “a unique place and role in human history”. This could be dismissed as simply being a harmless and romanticized perception of the world, yet, this type of narrow ideological thinking is being disseminated within our society and when carried out in practice it negatively affects the way people think and behave. Such an ideological view and practice is often used in many of our current political discussions that pertain to racial, educational and economic inequality in addition to the US role of being the world’s policeman. Also, this subjective and mythical viewpoint promotes the undemocratic concept of a superior American People and distorts US History and our country’s past by either sugar-coating or denying certain aspects of it. Many negative historical events have left a deep historical imprint upon out present society and cannot be conveniently ignored nor covered over. This one-sided and nationalistic view of US History and our present society can be characterized by an old proverb which states that to make reality fit their narrow beliefs some people will ” cut the foot to fit the shoe”. 

This exceptionalist doctrine whitewashes the negative aspects of US History
The narrow ideological world view that underlies this mythical doctrine of American exceptionalism is being applied by conservative supporters to our educational system as well as to social and political policies. Recently, many politicians and educators who are proponents of this chauvinist doctrine launched a broad attack upon the College Board and its new American history Advanced Placement exams by accusing it of teaching a “revisionist” 
Exceptionalist doctrine denies the importance of slavery & conquests of indigenous & Mexican territories.
Exceptionalist doctrine
denies the importance of slavery & conquests of indigenous & Mexican territories.
interpretation of the major events that have forged our society. This accusation of “revisionism” by these right-wing lawmakers and nationalistic educators alleges that the positive viewpoint of America’s exceptionalism and greatness is not being emphasized enough in these tests. In addition, they charge that any focus and analysis regarding historical injustices that occurred in this country are somehow un-American and should not be discussed nor emphasized. In other words, they are opposed to both positive and negative aspects of US History being taught by an objective approach within our schools and in the College Board’s exams. Instead, they want this valid approach replaced with the traditional version of historical amnesia which glosses over many key events from our past. For example, the popular 18th century US nationalist doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” which proclaimed that providence destined the US and the white race to expand and control all of the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific is acceptable to these historical deniers since according to them this led to ‘America’s greatness’ even though it entailed brutal conquests and suffering. The current support for this retrograde exceptionalist doctrine and interpretation of history is infused with aspects of nationalism, racism and colonialism and if implemented in our schools would merely become a brainwashing tool to teach that issues such as ethnic domination and white supremacy were actually positive aspects of our history. Such an attempt to blur and liquidate factual events is in contradiction to a diversified historical approach as this chauvinist doctrine needs to be countered with objective facts so that it may be exposed and rejected once and for all. 
A liquidation of minority history reinforces a foundation of white supremacy
The political and educational proponents of this exceptionalist doctrine claim that teaching about past events such as slavery, indentured servitude, the US conquest of Native-American, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Hawaiian territories, white supremacy and segregation are a negative ‘revision’ of US History and should only be mentioned slightly. In their view, the majority of American History should primarily emphasize the greatness of the US in human history led by its “unique” white majority. This sanitizing of
The white-washing of historical injustices prevents us from resolving our present social problems.
The white-washing of historical injustices prevents us from resolving our present social problems.
facts is also a retrograde trend in other countries such as Japan where the atrocities committed in World War Two by Japanese fascism are presently glossed over in nationalistic-dominated history books and ignored in that country as if they never occurred. The opposing scientific historical viewpoint and method holds that the history of racism, conquests, lynching and segregation were real and major events within our country and need to be given equal weight when US History is taught and analyzed. Ignoring a thorough and all-sided discussion of these past events prevents us in the present from understanding many of the deeply ingrained economic and educational problems that still persist within our society and obstructs the process of developing unified policies to resolve them. This neocon campaign to promote American exceptionalism is in essence an attempt to also eliminate the written historical experience of minorities within our society and ignore their achievements and struggles for justice. This is why ethnic studies programs need to be defended and further expanded. Such a shallow exceptionalist interpretation of history will leave present-day students with a romanticized and half-distorted story of our country’s past and have harmful implications for our future social well-being. This type of historical selectivity also promotes a false conclusion and justification related to past US territorial conquests, discriminatory restrictions faced by minorities and the educational and income inequities that presently exist within our society. This justification ignores any past social and racial injustices within society and views our present unequal playing field as being the result of American whites being naturally smarter, working harder and having more capability, all of which is a simplistic explanation for their current domination of the economy, politics and the media. This exceptionalist doctrine with its dogmatic thinking and incorrect conclusions can only lead to a reinforcement of white supremacist ideology, views and practices within our society. 
This doctrine promotes the US role of constantly having to police the world
From the period of the 1800’s when “Manifest Destiny” was proclaimed and popularized to the present promotion of American exceptionalism, both doctrines have encouraged and been accompanied by military conflicts against ethnic peoples domestically and by periodic interventions in the affairs of other countries. While a godly providence was credited with assisting US expansion and conquests of the 1800’s, today’s belief in a Pax Americana and the 
Constant wars and interventions are  influenced by American exceptionalist thinking .
Constant wars and
interventions are influenced by American
exceptionalist thinking .
supposed need and right to police the world with US military force also mixes religion into the exceptionalist doctrine. With our military-industrial complex as a foundation, the constant wars, American interventions and internal meddling within other countries is explained to the US public as being a part of our ‘unique’ responsibility to monitor the world and reshape it into a servile and orderly place that resembles the US system and its values. This type of thinking has led to an aggressive foreign policy which presently has the US involved in over seven military conflicts and widening clashes with Arabs, Russians, China, Iran and several Latin-American countries. The Muslim countries that have been previously invaded or bombed apart by US military actions such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Syria now resemble a broken hornet’s nest that has spawned an outbreak of violent and nationalistic-religious resistance by fanatical groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS and fueled violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The negative blowback from these constant American interventions is usually followed by failed US attempts to put out the political and military fires and this ends up costing us valuable funding and lives while creating more hatred and resistance against us abroad. In summary, the nationalistic extolling of US greatness by this doctrine of exceptionalism negatively affects three sectors within our society. The first being the undermining of valid historical methods used within our schools and the blurring over of minority histories and factual events coupled with the opposition to ethnic studies courses and programs. The second is the use of this doctrine by right-wing politicians to ignore the past and create a false justification for existing discriminatory social and economic policies and totally blame the working poor and minorities for their present situation. Lastly, this idealist and reactionary doctrine fuels more US military and political aggression internationally and wastes billions in scarce funds on armed and destructive conflicts rather than on constructive civilian needs. It is time to expose and reject such an illusory belief and enter the reality of the 21st century. 
Reposted with permission.
Copyright, April, 2015: Jimmy Franco Sr.

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