A series of 5-myths via Daniel Flynn’s excellent book — Machiavelli said, “One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.”
- Daniel J. Flynn, Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation’s Greatness (Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing, 2002), 126-132.
MYTH #3: AMERICA IS A RACIST NATION
MANY AMERICANS BELIEVE that their country invented racism. That is the bad news. The good news is that this notion is built on a series of myths. The Left charges bigotry not from a longing to stem racism but out of a desire to use it as an issue to discredit the country they hate. The Left’s cynical and deceptive depiction of historical events validates this hypothesis.
The Left points to the fact that the Constitution counted each slave as three-fifths of a free person as proof of the malignant nature of America’s founding. This bespeaks a complete ignorance of what was at stake in counting slaves equally alongside free men. The proponents of slavery sought to classify each slave as a full person to enhance their representation in the House of Representatives and the electoral college, thereby ensuring the survival of their inhumane institution. It was the opponents of slavery who sought not to count slaves at all. The three-fifths rule was the result of a compromise between the two sides. The irony of all this is that certainly the slaves themselves would have preferred that they not be counted at all or that they be counted as three-fifths of a free man rather than be counted whole to enhance the political power of their masters. All this is ignored because the “three-fifths” myth makes for good propaganda. These critics similarly point to the Declara tion of Independence’s lofty words that “all men are created equal” to indict the American system for hypocrisy. Yet the Declaration’s ideal served as the basis for most antislavery rhetoric for the four score and seven years that followed. By appealing to the American tradition and invoking the nation’s most-quoted document, abolitionists gained converts and ultimately found success. The Declaration of Independence’s ideal of equality, which contradicted the actual legal condition of slaves in 1776, actually paved the way for emancipation. Had the slaveholder Jefferson made his words consistent with his practices, African Americans certainly would have been enslaved for an even longer period of time.
Just as the Left deliberately mischaracterizes the American founding, sins of commission and omission mark their presentation of the history of slavery as well. With slaves singularly portrayed as black, many have the mistaken impression that the global institution targeted one race. We forget that the term “slave” derives from the name for the widely enslaved “Slavic” people. A parochial view of slavery likewise portrays the United States as the world’s greatest purveyor of slavery. David Horowitz writes,
In the years between 650 and 1600, before any Western involvement, somewhere between 3 million and 10 million Africans were bought by Muslim slavers for use in Saharan societies and in the trade in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. By contrast, the enslavement of blacks in the United States lasted 89 years, from 1776 until 1865. The combined slave trade to the British colonies in North America and later to the United States accounted for less than 3 percent of the global trade in African slaves. The total number of slaves imported to North America was 800,000, less than the slave trade to the island of Cuba alone. If the internal African slave trade—which began in the seventh century and persists to this day in the Sudan, Mauritania and other sub-Saharan states—is taken into account, the responsibility of American traders shrinks to a fraction of 1 percent of the slavery problem.
What is truly peculiar about America’s “peculiar institution” is that a great number of people found it peculiar. Outside Western civilization, slavery was considered part of the natural order of things. Only westerners (besides the slaves themselves) questioned this order. “Never in the history of the world, outside of the West, has a group of people eligible to be slave-owners mobilized against the institution of slavery,” Dinesh D’Souza points out; later, he adds, “In numerous civilizations both Western and non-Western, slavery needed no defenders because it had no critics.”
Anti-American hatred motivates lies on more recent occurrences as well. A typical myth forwarded by racial demagogues is the story of Charles Drew’s death. Drew, who pioneered the effective use of blood banks, was critically injured in a 1950 car wreck. “Yet tragically,” a too widely used Afrocentric teacher’s guide maintains, “he encountered white racism at its ugliest—not one of several nearby white hospitals would provide the blood transfusions he so desperately needed, and on the way to the hospital that treated black people, he died. It is so ironic that the very process he developed, which had been saving thousands of human lives—was made unavailable to save his life.” Arthur Schlesinger observes, “It’s a hell of a story—the inventor of blood-plasma storage dead because racist whites denied him his own invention. Only it is not true.” No hospital turned Drew away; several white surgeons tried in vain to save his life. The graphic tale is a complete concoction. What else but base hatred for America motivated the architect of this canard?
The Left slanders America by claiming that the country sent members of minority groups to fight the Vietnam War while whites avoided the fray. This myth is so widely accepted that it even finds its way into mainstream pop culture references. One thinks of the hilarious scene in the movie South Park, for instance, when the cartoon soldiers directed to do the actual fighting are conspicuously all black. The commanding officer directs the other troops, who just happen to be all white, to stay in the rear. The humor works because it relies on a grievance that many believe to be justified. Yet there is no truth to support the claim that minorities disproportionately died in the Vietnam War. No significant statistical deviation exists between the percentage of blacks in the general population during the Vietnam War era and the number of blacks who died in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, blacks made up more than 13% of the draft-age population but constituted 12.5% of the servicemen who perished in the war. Blacks served admirably in the Vietnam War, just as they have in other wars. The assertion that generals sent them to their deaths to save whites, however, is pure calumny.
If racism in America is so bad, why are self-described an-tiracist activists compelled to lie to make their point?
Such rhetoric and inventive stories serve neither truth nor the common good. Racial propaganda inevitably results in engendering animosity. Susan Sontag, no doubt having imbibed a steady stream of the fiery racial rhetoric of the times, wrote in the 1960s, “The white race is the cancer of human history.” The University of Massachusetts—Amherst’s Radical Student Union held an event in the spring of 2002 titled “Abolish the White Race.” Amongst self-styled intellectuals, a new field called “whiteness studies,” dedicated to denigrating Caucasians, has emerged. A recently launched journal in the field, Race Traitor, boasts the motto “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” It does not require a great deal of imagination to ask the inevitable question: What might the reaction be if one substituted “black” or some other racial or ethnic category for the word “white” in any of these examples?
As racial discrimination has abated, more than one observer has noted, public discussion of racism has paradoxically reached unprecedented levels. “Conditions are worse—much worse—for the masses of black people,” maintained activist Frank Kellum at a reunion of the Black Panthers, “than they were 35 years ago. And from the way it looks, they’re going to get worse.” In some key areas (e.g., crime, illegitimacy, and drug use), Kellum’s statement is valid. For the most part, however, blacks are much better off than they were a generation ago. This is especially true in areas where racism had traditionally affected opportunities in a major way. With discrimination marginalized culturally and, in some instances, outlawed legally, previously locked doors are now open. An objective look at economics, political rights, law, and education shows the remarkable progress that blacks and all Americans have made in just a few short decades.
President Timothy Jenkins of the University of the District of Columbia, a predominantly black college, recently pointed out that not a single African American was registered to vote in Alabama’s overwhelmingly black Lowndes County in 1965. Jenkins’s story, unfortunately, stopped in 1965. Today a black man, Congressman Earl Hilliard, represents the people of Lowndes County in Washington, D.C. According to cynics, nothing has changed. Yet would even a handful of blacks living in Lowndes County prefer residing there in 1952 instead of 2002? Times have changed. No person in Lowndes County, Alabama, or anywhere else in America is any longer denied the right to vote on account of skin color. With unrestricted access to the ballot comes political power. Today, African Americans serve as the secretary of state and the national security adviser. A black sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. And African Americans, including Earl Hilliard, occupy 37 seats in Congress as well.
Educational opportunities have increased. Apart from the obvious departure from separate but unequal schools in various parts of the country as a result of 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, educational opportunities abound. In 1967, a mere 13% of college-age African Americans attended college. Today, more than 30% do. No other ethnic group has experienced as dramatic a rise in college enrollment over the same period.
Black economic gains have been dramatic as well. African Americans have the fastest economic growth for any major group in the United States over the course of the past three decades. In inflation-adjusted terms, black per capita income has more than doubled since 1970. Blacks still lag behind whites and Asians (though not Hispanics), but the income gap is getting smaller, not larger.
Black people in the United States are wealthier than black people anywhere else. Per capita income for blacks in America is 30 to 40 times higher than per capita income for blacks in Africa. The income gap between the inhabitants of the poorest countries on the African continent and black Americans differs by a factor of 100. There is no country in which blacks find more success than in the United States.
Nonblack minorities, such as Vietnamese, Cubans, and South Asian Indians, continue to achieve success in America as well. The incessant waves of non-European immigrants that have reached our shores for almost four decades find greater tolerance and acceptance than some European immigrants, such as the Irish, experienced 100 years ago. America, always a melting pot of various ethnicities and hues, has never been so welcoming.
Like every diverse nation, America has its share of racial problems. Considering ethnic wars in Sudan, Yugoslavia, and Rwanda; race-based expropriation in Zimbabwe; government-enforced discrimination against minority groups in China, Iran, and Ethiopia; and vestiges of the caste system in India, things could be a lot worse.