In a multiple part series, Madison365 columnist Matthew Braunginn will be analyzing the history of the United States to explore ideas of change, from the European invasion of what became the Americas, to the enslavement of Africans, racial oppression, the Civil Rights Movement, to the current day changing demographics in a shrinking world facing a new crisis of climate change and what the United States, and, in turn, the world are facing today. (-Ed.)
We sit here having recently celebrated Juneteenth Day, the day that the last of enslaved Black Americans learned they were free, in a changing United States. Quickly after Reconstruction started, there was push back against the change the war brought. Today, the United States is changing again, people of color are growing in political and social impact and importance. The election of Trump was a push back at this, an attempt to secure the eroding rule of a white male society. This and its impact will not be going away anytime soon. In fact, this rejection of change is a continuation of a battle that has been waged since this country’s inception.
America has its two original sins of genocide and enslavement, which created a society that uses great violence to maintain itself all the while hypocritically condemning those that use it to assert their humanity. The increase in political violence, mostly from right-wing extremists at the moment, and the ongoing state violence that shows no signs of slowing down, has long been established in this nation.
There is a belief of triumphant American progress, however. We teach it through the historical markings of “settlers” escaping religious persecution, the Revolutionary War creating a “free” nation, the Civil War “freeing” its slaves, the Civil Rights Movement securing long fought for rights of African Americans … with it all culminating in the election of Barack Obama. With the defeat of the Nazis, victory over democracy-threatening Communism, and fight against terrorism placed in between as myths of a nation forever fighting against the forces that would destroy the greatness of democracy this nation put forth into the world.
This is the history we teach, the history in our textbooks, a nation of progress, with liberty and justice for all. Where capitalism and democracy are the pinnacles of humanity.
It has been almost 50 years since 1968, the year Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, during the height of his unpopularity, by white men (there is lots of smoke and embers around the coordination between local PD and the FBI) and a social marking of the end of the Civil Rights Movement. This movement, a movement of change, of inevitable change, is a great telling of America.
Examining the Civil Rights Movement, in comparing its truth and entirety with the myths and lies we teach far too many, is a great lens to begin to understand why we are where we are today. The Civil Rights Movement and its progression into the Black Power Movement, were violently shut down and incomplete, by both state and non-state actors. Their progress has largely been overstated and even turned back in some cases. But what is taught is a victory of civil rights and violent extremism of the Black Power Movement. Victory was won, racism was vanquished.
However, the violence by state actors and the systems it set up to destroy those movements still exist to this day. But these systems didn’t originate then, they were only retooled to fight the battle that was being fought at the time.
The United States was a nation that seemed to burst into history during a period where there was explosive change throughout the world. Humanity was changing, and European nations were determined to stand atop of it when all things shook out. It was the last great migration of humanity throughout the world, where through colonization and the creation of a new nation that Europe (or those of European descent) conquered most of the world. In doing so building great wealth off the backs and lives of the colonized and invaded.
This expansion of Western Civilization also created the conditions for its own crumbling. They had to rule the world that was just conquered, creating systems to prevent inevitable change. The war machines that were built for conquering were used to protect these nations from any and all forces threatening this order. And at times, the machines turned on each other to decide who would be the crown jewel of this world order.
“This change is inevitable, change is a universal constant. It is futile to fight against the tide of change. ‘Traditional’ American culture will end and that is OK. In fact, it is a good thing. It is good that ultimately the system of white supremacy set up within this nation will falter and that a new social order will take its place. Black Americans and Americans of color don’t have a sense of revenge, surprisingly so, but there is a vision of equity, equality, and justice for all. Not a replication of oppression.”
Today, in the United States, forces are resisting another rising tide of change. The shrinking of the globe to further their capitalistic endeavors, immigration to help fuel it, and the forced migration of Africans, created the conditions of change that are cutting away at the coastline of white supremacy, like our rising ocean levels.
There is great fear of a changing order throughout the world right now. Change, not progress, is the key word here. Change is not progress, but there can be progress in change. There is a great fear of change throughout the United States. Industrialization, which was the engine to conquering, is changing our climate and causing migrations throughout the world. Neo-liberal economics, which are really evolved colonial economics, is also a fuel for migrations. The use of violence to build and sustain these empires is fighting back in the form of terrorism. And natural demographics change, through migration, through intermixing, through differences in birth rates, are all coalescing together to threaten the current civilization.
This change is inevitable, change is a universal constant. It is futile to fight against the tide of change. “Traditional” American culture will end and that is OK. In fact, it is a good thing. As anything that doesn’t change and evolve as the world is changing around them is bound to die. And the history of violent oppression and genocide of the “other” by the United States, in fact, makes it a good thing. It is good that ultimately the system of white supremacy set up within this nation will falter and that a new social order will take its place. Black Americans and Americans of color don’t have a sense of revenge, surprisingly so, but there is a vision of equity, equality, and justice for all. Not a replication of oppression.
The idea to conserve a culture is an impossible task. One can conserve the myths, art, lore, history and more of a culture, but to conserve its living essence is impossible. Civilizations and societies rise and fall. Just as planets and stars live and die, change will happen. The very idea is one of impossibility for white America, but as it pushes back, as there is an attempt to conserve this, real dangers present themselves.
This idea will be examined over the coming weeks by exploring the conquering of the world by the United States and the rest of Western Civilization. A conquering fueled by fear of the other, fear of change, fear of loss of power. Just as much as it was fueled by change, change that it now resists. It will be an honest view of its history and structures, exploring who they benefited, who did they hurt, and for what. The series will end by laying out a vision of where we could go, where change can be progress, even with the real possibilities of a failing republic and global warming.
The history of humans show that those that embrace change are the conquerors, and right now there is growing space for the first time in a generation, to conquer. Not through physical space, but one of ideas. The old world is dying and a new one will be birthed from it. This is the history of the world.
But to make sure this change, this conquering, is one that doesn’t replicate the sins and mistakes of the past and present and to make sure we build something that is sustainable through understanding not just the sins, but one that understands the constant that is changing … we must study our past to understand how we got here and by understanding our present we give ourselves a path forward to the future.
A future and a new world that can be far more than anything we built in the past.