[Editor’s Note: This column originally ran on the blog “Write Some Shit” on Feb. 1]
Today marks the first day of Black History Month when many white people will start sharing their limited knowledge of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks as if no other Black people ever existed. During this month, white people are often encouraged to learn about Black History, which extends well beyond 28 days but stretches throughout history. Black history is simply history. However, this month I am challenging white people not to focus solely on our history, but I encourage white people to focus on their history— the real history of white people in America. Not the myth, not make-believe, not the fables and falsehoods, but reality.
Many in this nation do not want to face the truth of white history in America. White people have clung so firmly to a false narrative that telling them the truth is seen as an insult. I was having a discussion with a friend of mine, who is a white man. I asked him to tell me any place in the world that is better off for the people who lived there because white people came to it. And he was thinking for a very long time, and I could see tears come into his eyes. Finally, he said, “I cannot think of one place.” Then I said, “Any place that white people have gone in the world, destruction and pain has followed for the people that live there.” That ended our discussion as he sat in tears and silence. I could understand his tears because I knew he saw himself in the time that he spent reflecting. He didn’t see himself individually but as part of this collective race that has caused unimaginable pain. That is the foundation of white history, and everything that comes out of that first begins with the pain and suffering of others.
When I shared this post on Instagram, I was faced with some resistance because it is a harsh reality to pause, look in the mirror, and admit to yourself that the worst crimes against humanity have not been done by any other race — but, in fact, have been committed by white people. It hurts to realize that almost everything you have been taught and told about your race is a lie. In fact, it is not that white people were born to be victors, but in reality, white people have victimized everyone for the betterment of themselves.
However, white people have worked diligently to construct and sell a history of themselves that is simply not true. For instance, people can inherently understand the horror of enslavement. However, entire organizations were established, such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the late 1800s, to construct and disperse the lie that slavery was benign, and slaves were happy. They worked to spread these lies in textbooks and continued recycling the lie to young children until the reality of slavery was whitewashed. White America has turned villains into heroes, murderers into monuments, and rapists into warriors. They have written and rewritten their history so often, they actually believe the lie even when the truth is staring them in the face. We even see that today when we look at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead, one of them a police officer. Immediately white people attempted to construct a narrative around those that tried to overthrow an American election calling them patriots. But we know an attack on our government in an attempt to disregard a legitimate election is not patriotic. And had any other race done this, it would be condemned by the very people that are now calling this group patriotic. This is how the lies white America believes about themselves start.
The reality is white people have committed the most egregious crimes against humanity.
In Louisville, I am currently working on a project called the (Un)Known Project, which will highlight the unknown names of Black men, women and children that were enslaved in Kentucky. As I discuss this project, I am often shocked that many people do not know that Kentucky was not only a slave-holding state but, in fact, Kentucky was the second-largest exporter of slaves in the country. Louisville’s proximity to the Ohio River made it a significant player in the slave trade, selling enslaved Black people down the river where they would be auctioned at slave markets such as Forks of the Road, in Natchez, Mississippi. One of the top three slave traders in the United States was Rice Carter Ballard, who worked with the large slave-trading firm of Isaac Franklin and John Armfield and lived in Louisville. While Kentucky attempts to act as if it did not choose a particular side when it comes to slavery, the evidence is clear that Kentucky was intricately involved in the slave trade, and slavery was the foundation of its economy.
White America has hailed white men, such as James Marion Sims, as pioneering and the “father of modern gynecology” when, in fact, Sims operated on enslaved Black women without anesthesia and without their consent. White America continues teaching our young people about Christopher Columbus, portraying him as a benevolent man that had a beautiful meal with Native Americans when we know Columbus didn’t discover America. We know the reality is that Columbus sold people into slavery, gave enslaved women to his friends to be raped, committed horrific crimes like ordering a woman’s tongue to be cut off. The list of his crimes is almost endless, yet America continues to tell this lie, even having an entire day to celebrate Columbus, who we know was a brutal tyrant. America continues to sell this nation a lie that law enforcement is here to protect and serve, and every officer is Officer Friendly when we know police departments’ origins are rooted in slave patrols, which is why in 2021, we continue to see officers abuse and murder Black people. What happened historically is just happening currently. It is fruit from the same tree.
As stated in my article, “This Is You,” you enslaved innocent Black men, women and children. You murdered innocent Black people. You raped a nation of its resources for your profit. You lynched Black people and took pictures smiling as their bodies hung from trees. You lynched and burned Black people and called them barbecues. You glorified lynchings and put these images on postcards. You raped Black women while your wives pretended not to see you. Your wives brutalized Black people then called themselves the victims. You gave enslaved Black people to your children as gifts. You bought and sold Black people for your financial gain. You continue to profit off the backs of Black people. You continue to profit financially from slavery. You kept Black people in zoos for your entertainment. You stole millions of acres of land from Black people to create your beaches. You performed medical research on Black people without their consent and withheld treatment. You sterilized Black women without their knowledge. You stole human cells from a Black woman and used them to advance medicine and your profits, all without her consent. You burned entire towns of Black people. You terrorized Black children that simply wanted to go to school and get an education. You turned your back on America and bombed Black American citizens. You walked into schools and slaughtered innocent children. You have committed some of the most heinous, egregious crimes against humanity, and what is listed here is just a small fragment of the horrors you have inflicted on people who only desired the right to be.
This month, while I appreciate you learning about Black people, I am challenging you to learn about white people. Take the time to learn the TRUE story of white history. Don’t take the time to believe the made-up history, but look at white people’s reality in America. Don’t take the “this isn’t me” route, but look at white history as a whole. And go into it knowing the history will not be pretty. It is not a history laced with lemonade and apple pie. It is not the history that you have been taught in high school textbooks. But it is a history that is filled with murder, mayhem and pain. It is a history filled with the unimaginable suffering of Black people at the hands of white people. If white people take the time to do that, everything you wanted to know about Black people will become evident. You can never know me and the truth of Black History in America until you are ready to face yourself.
Hannah L. Drake is an author, poet and spoken word artist. Follow her at writesomeshit.com and on Twitter at @hannahdrake628.