US Racial Cleansings, Denial, and Dominant Narrative

On an unrelated assignment in the 1990s, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot G. Jaspin noticed that, while there was evidence that there were once black people (slaves) in the county where he was investigating, he had not seen a single black person.  He asked some townspeople, and they insinuated that blacks had, years ago, been expelled and then blocked from returning.

He began to check census reports, and found that dozens and dozens of counties from the northern to mid-southern United States showed sudden disappearances of all black people.

Investigating further, Jaspin began to discover newspaper reports and conduct interviews that told of extraordinarily widespread racial cleansings, mainly from 1900 to 1920.  Whites had driven all black people from their counties, torturing and killing those who could not escape or wouldn’t leave.  Many of the counties, like the one Jaspin first discovered, remain entirely white today.

Records abound of harrowing escapes as white mobs fired at black civilians in their neighborhoods and burned down their houses, forcing people to flee through forests and creeks, hide in wells, or simply get on trains at gunpoint and go away.

Crucially, Jaspin documents why this history is almost entirely unknown: people either deny or try to explain away the racial cleansings, through tactics such as using euphemisms, making excuses, or blaming the victims.  He relates this to Holocaust denial, but notes an important difference: denial of US racial cleansings works – through the time of his reporting, these acts went unmentioned in reflections of the dominant extremist culture such as NPR, NYT, WaPo, and others – while Holocaust denial does not work.

Why is this?  In the case of the Holocaust, the whites who perpetrated it were an extremist minority faction and were stopped by the dominant number of whites.  As a conquered minority, the Holocaust perpetrators were thus unable to create a dominant narrative to excuse or deny their crimes by airbrushing them, blaming the Jews themselves, etc.  However, in the case of racial cleansings in the north and south of the US, the perpetrators have never been defeated – the dominant culture to which they are tied remains the controlling majority, and it is thus able to create for itself a narrative that never mention its own crimes, airbrushes them with euphemisms, and/or blames the innocent victims.  Since the majority participate in this, it, by definition, is the dominant narrative.

One denial tactic Jaspin encountered was people who would say that to talk about the history inflames tensions, etc., and thus creates trouble.  

Jaspin explains that the exact opposite is true: not exposing the history is what creates trouble; silence lets the criminals who remain in control preserve entirely their false narratives of denial, righteousness, moral superiority, and other such nonsense.  

This has crucial, wider implications for the as-yet militarily undefeated US (and West) generally, as its dominant, self-serving fairy-tales about its own “goodness”, various forms of supremacy, and so on, currently threaten to incite a nuclear war.

If ever there were a time to do something to try to correct the dominant false narrative or oppose the actions that flow from it, the time is now, as everyone’s life hangs in the balance.

Jaspin’s report, Buried in Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America , and a lecture about his findings.

Robert Barsocchini focuses on global force dynamics and writes professionally for the film industry.  Also see: Hillary Clinton’s Record of Support for War and other Depravities.  Follow Robert and UK-based colleague, Dean Robinson, on Twitter. 

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