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Historian Perfectly Calls Out White America’s Amnesia of Its Brutal History Toward Black People

A white historian is trying to understand how white Americans can seemingly forget about the overwhelming discrimination many nonwhite Americans have faced — and still face — in this country.

Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian and Columbia University faculty member Eric Foner has written extensively on the early days of the republic, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and he believes that “moments of great advancements for African-Americans have led to resentment and backlash on the part of whites.”

During a Dec. 28 CNN profile titled “How Racial Amnesia Played a Role in Trump’s Victory,” Foner said that the Founding Fathers were incapable of seeing the irony of discussing the inner workings of a free society while nearly a million Black people were still enslaved.

Even today, he said, many people have forgotten that racism and white supremacy were the foundation the nation was built upon. “Most people don’t have a very deep or complex understanding of American history,” he says. “We forget that at the very moment that the Declaration of Independence was adopted, there were a half a million slaves in these 13 states.

“We forget that our Constitution that establishes our framework of government also protected slavery.”

Additionally, the historian echoed the sentiments of others and attributed the rise of Trump to routine white backlash. “I think that one of the problems nowadays is that the news media has tended, since the election, to normalize President-elect Trump,” Foner says. “‘He’s just another politician’ and normalizing, in an odd sort of way, white supremacy.

“Nonetheless, it is important to remember the kind of campaign he ran. Because it has, I think, sparked very unfortunate impulses in parts of the country in some of his supporters.”

The “whitelash,” as CNN political commentator Van Jones called it, can be traced back to the election of Barack Obama.

“From the very beginning, Obama in the Oval Office sparked deep resentments among some people,” Foner says. “No other president was forced to reveal his birth certificate. The idea that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, that he wasn’t really an American, that’s because it was race.”

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