I’m working my way through a magnificent book called, Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery co-written by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah and my brain is ready to explode. This happens every time I read a book, an article, or a peer-review document that not only further explains something I always suspected to be true but it gives it a name. This isn’t confirmation bias because sometimes what I suspect to be true is proven wrong by research, as well. But, when something is defined and defined very well, it further validates objective truth and objective historical truth. This book does that exceptionally well in tackling the dehumanizing and murderous inception of western society as a church and state-sanctioned endeavor called the Doctrine of Discovery.
The ninth chapter of Unsettling Truths is titled Abraham Lincoln and the Narrative of White Messiahship. Here, Charles invests just a few paragraphs to debunk the triumphalist notion that Abraham Lincoln was all things good, great, and messiah-like because he pushed for the nation to abolish slavery. I, in my early stages of American history ignorance, believed this too. I now believe, and this belief is backed by history, that this man, this presidential bulwark, this white messiah of American morality and upstanding character, was not so great after all.
And listen, disclaimer here, I don’t believe Lincoln’s blatant white supremacist idealism and racist sentiments outweigh the benefits of the emancipation of black Americans. That was great. Believe me, it was three hundred years too late if you ask me. But here’s the thing, I believe we need to view people as people and not as gods.
“Honest Abe” was an upstanding fellow in his day but tried by the same moral laws he claimed to uphold he is found wanting. The scales are stacked against him and it shows.
Being triumphant and victorious for too long creates an aura of divinity that puffs a nation up and nationalism is masked over by patriotism and citizens are no longer able to distinguish between the two. And, given enough time and vibrancy, propaganda, and blood, the nation will be moved to conquer and erase any group that threatens their national stability and prosperity.
I wholeheartedly believe the United States of America has made Abraham Lincoln out to be a god-man for upstanding morality but this was only accomplished by masking over his indecent and blatantly racist sentiments toward people of color.
In 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump was endorsed by KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke, to which Trump denied ever knowing or hearing of the man. That alone is okay. But to hear that the man was and possibly might still be connected to the white supremacist terrorist organization, the KKK, would be enough to publicly denounce and distance oneself from such an endorsement. Knowing Donald Trump you know he dodged the question and quietly accepted the endorsement. Anything to win, am I right?
Anyway, Paul Ryan, then speaker of the house of representatives, denounced Trump’s inability to denounce Dukes’ endorsement by citing Lincoln and the Republican party as beacons of moral infallibility and superiority in the face of racists and racism with these words [emphasis added]:
“If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games. They must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry. This party does not prey on people’s prejudices. We appeal to their highest ideals. This is the party of Lincoln. We believe all people are created equal in the eyes of God and our Government. This is fundamental. And if someone wants to be our nominee they must understand this.”
And this is what triumphalism does to people. It blinds them to history and it blinds them to the evils promoted and committed by their national heroes.
Now, let us quote Ryan and the Republican party’s white-messiah, Abraham Lincoln, who just so happened to be assassinated by disgruntled actor John Wilkes Booth on Good Friday. This only makes his sainthood worse!
Anyway, here are Lincoln’s words on appealing to people’s highest ideals:
“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists… I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” Abraham Lincoln – First Lincoln-Douglas Debate – August 21, 1858 – Ottawa, Illinois
And again, almost verbatim:
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause] that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; … there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality… There must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man is in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. – Abraham Lincoln – Fourth Lincoln-Douglas Debate – September 18, 1858 – Charleston, Illinois
I don’t want to be a revisionist in the sense that we denounce every person in history who committed wrongs. People who committed crimes but in the same lifespan managed to accomplish great things.
That’s not it. That’s not what my effort is.
Again, to the extremist, I say, you’re foolish. To the ignorant, I say, you’re complicit.
What I want to state here and going forth is that we should not idealize or idolize, or perhaps, gloss our understanding of historical figures simply because they accomplished great things.
Abraham Lincoln promoted a Union that vowed to abolish slavery and after years of bloody combat, his army won the war.
What lingers, however, is that Lincoln’s white supremacist notions, would have survived even if he had not been assassinated.
He was on and off the fence on the abolishment of slavery, willing to go as far as to state that whether slavery remained or whether it was abolished was not the issue. What mattered to Lincoln was the survival of the Union. His focus was so much so on the preservation of a white majority, or better stated, a white-only-run nation that if it cost the lives of black people as slaves, then so be, inasmuch as peace and unity were accomplished within the Union.
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Abraham Lincoln, August 1862
So when we elevate and nearly prostrate ourselves before the statue of Lincoln we must understand that the man was an emancipator and a racist. Yes. We must use the word. He did a great thing. He committed to a cause that cost the lives of many Americans, white and black Americans, and even lost his life because of it but none of that dismisses the reality that even though his heart was somewhat right on one thing it was absolutely wrong and evil on something else.
Freed slaves in Lincoln’s America would have still experienced the insane levels of racism and discrimination from white Northerners and brutal terrorism at the hands of white Southerners.
Because the white supremacist ideology that ruled Lincoln’s heart was present in the nation before Lincoln, during Lincoln’s rise to power, and it remains a socio-cultural fiber of American society to this very day.
That is why it isn’t hard to find statues of confederate insurrectionists proliferating the American south and statues of Unionist racists domineering the capital of the nation today.
If you’re asking me if I’m an iconophile or an iconoclast I bend, heavily so, towards the latter.
I am in favor of maintaining the integrity of history in its entirety, books and schools allowing, but at the same time, I am in favor of demolishing, publicly demolishing every monument that represents an empire that vowed to subjugate blacks and non-whites to subhuman status.
An empire that was woven and profited from the dehumanization of people who just so happened to have a different pigmentation from them. An empire that triumphed over time be seen and culturally accepted as moral titans
Their names and faces can live on in museums and history books, properly so in documentaries as well where we learn about them in an appropriate setting.
But to visualize the statue of a man, or a woman, who saw me and my ancestors as lesser than simply because of the color of our skin, is a mockery we should no longer endure in an educated and culturally diverse democratic society.
The White-Messiah complex that holds Lincoln’s statue in place, that holds the Republican party hostage, that holds Ryan and willfully ignorant (complicit) conservatives as slaves, must come down.
He was a sinner just like us. A grievous one, who could have and would have used his power and authority to further decimate the colored population of the United States of America.
This is further demonstrated and verified by Lincoln’s Homestead Act and Pacific Railway Act which forced numerous tribes, either by force, coercion, or incursion, out of their homes to make way for the transatlantic railway. These edicts called for tribes to traverse desolate lands without help or support, and on one excursion, over 2,000 indigenous souls perished on the trek to their new and unwanted home.
His descent into infamy was only interrupted by a bullet to the head.
It’s time we revisit US history. Better yet, it is time we better explain US history.
Unsettling Truths are truly unsettling, but they’re true and must be taught and accepted as such.