To the Editor:
The 1876 election was one where the winner had fewer popular votes than the loser. Which is all I knew about it until a few years ago, when I learned its outcome was the result of a political compromise which ended federal oversight of the former confederacy, and effectively ended Reconstruction, thereby allowing a new era of terror and oppression for Southern Blacks. If you are white and did not know this because you were not taught about it in schools, that’s not your fault.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted Social Security while excluding domestic workers and agricultural workers, thereby disproportionately excluding many Black workers. Collectively, whites gained from Social Security more than Blacks. If you are white and did not know this, that’s not your fault.
The G.I. Bill was a key driver for increasing college education and home ownership for veterans. But Blacks were denied admission to most colleges, were denied mortgages more frequently than whites, and benefited less from this otherwise great program than whites did. If you are white and did not know this, that’s not your fault.
You may not have learned these things in school, and that’s not your fault. But if you deliberately work to stop today’s students from learning about the less pleasant parts of our history, that is your fault.
Is it divisive to talk about when our country, in the past and in the present, has not lived up to our best ideals? Only if you stand on the other side of the divide, wanting to pretend that everything is fine and has been fine, being unwilling to acknowledge the full truth, good and bad, of our history and present.
How can we avoid division and have unity? We can all agree to ignore unpleasant truths and unify around a myth of perfection. Or we can unify around the reality that our country’s founding embraced admirable ideals that we have slowly, painfully, been working to put into practice, to form a more perfect union. This is the divide, the bridge, I am asking you to cross. Not to destroy our country and community, but to improve it, and to bring it closer to its potential. Will you take the first steps?