When I was in high school, the only American History I learned was through the end of the Civil War. We never really discussed Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the continuing oppression and degradation of the Native populace, or the exploitation of the worker and the rise of the labor union. We brushed over WWI, watched Tora! Tora! Tora! for our lesson on WWII, then two obscure made for TV movies for our lessons the Korean Conflict and Vietnam.
At home, though my family was very political, they were very racist and very anti-union. They believed in the goodness of the businessman, that he was honest because he worked for his money. The businessman would treat his employees fairly, if only the government would get out of his way. Another oft taught lesson was that non-whites were all lazy and just wanted a handout from the government, non-white immigrants came to this country because they knew they could get on Welfare and never have to work. In short, my family were the type of people who would have gone to Trump rallies and would still be supporting him today. They would be the people mocking the wearing of masks and getting into altercations at Costco over it.
In short, my knowledge of anything in post-Civil War United States, with the exception of the period I lived through, is abysmal.
History is also not my favorite subject. It seems odd because I love to learn about sociology and how people behave. History is a living picture of sociology. Maybe it was growing up in an alt-right home while going to school and learning an opposite way of thinking, a different way of viewing people, that would eventually put me at odds with most members of my family when the conversations would come up. And, if the American public has learned anything over the past four years it’s that you absolutely cannot reason with anyone on the alt-right, especially using facts and logic.
Now, however, I am finally going to take my required American History units. I have spent the last several weeks immersing myself in a portion of history that is completely new to me. I have learned a lot—mainly that it’s depressing and probably why I prefer nature documentaries.
In all seriousness, American history is essentially a horrifying series of oppressive acts carried out on behalf of the white male ruling class by their lackeys in DC. The defeat of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow; the battles against unions for exploited coal mine workers; the methodic caging of Native Americans onto smaller and smaller Reservations; the actual military attack on peacefully protesting WWI veterans in DC in 1932, to name just a very few. In America, if you aren’t a rich, white, straight, cis-gender male, chances are you will never be anything but oppressed.
One theme plays out over all of this oppression, the division always sown between the races and religions by the white male ruling class. This has always been the way they control us. Divide and conquer is the most successful method the rich have used to keep their power. In every story of repression, they use the poor, white, working-class people to help keep the minorities down. The promise of the poor whites being given a leg up out of poverty in the South or the promise of poor whites being given free land that formerly belonged to the Native Americans has always been the type of thing that was enough to keep us split apart, keep us from organizing.
When all poor unite, nothing terrifies the white male ruling class more. We see this in 1932, where President Hoover ordered the Armed Forces to corral the WWI veterans of the “Bonus Army” protesting in DC to try to get money promised them after the Great War. General MacArthur (of whom President Eisenhower would write “I just can’t understand how such a damned fool could have gotten to be a general.”) went in and attacked them, burning their shanty town to the ground.
The thing that alarmed the ruling class more than the demands, was that there were no racial lines in the movement. Minorities and whites protested side by side, lived side by side, shared the same amount of food from the same pots, and all the other signs that the poor, white people had finally realized that the rich white male ruling class is not their friend, and never will be.
Today it seems plain that not one thing has changed. When we look at the way the current protesters of police violence against minorities–often a mix of races, but always with non-whites in them–are treated in comparison with the Trump-supporting all-white protesters who stormed an actual capital building carrying actual weapons that could actually kill a lot of people, it becomes obvious that the tone and tenor of the white male ruling class has not changed. They allow the working class whites to protest, so long as they unquestioningly do the ruling class’s bidding, but the moment a white person aligns themselves with a minority, there will be violence demanded and provoked by the ruling class.
There is one other lesson from history, and it might be the most difficult for people to stomach. Change takes time and doesn’t happen at all if people stop fighting for it. From the “Bonus Army” protest, eventually Congress conceded (after hundreds of these same veterans were killed in a hurricane while working for the Conservation Corps and the government tried to cover it up) but even then they had to override President Roosevelt’s veto. (You recall Roosevelt, the working class’s President? Not so much.)
In the opposite plane, as soon as the working class whites gave into the rich ruling class’s demands, at what became the end of Reconstruction, almost every inch of ground gained was lost and had to be fought for again by minorities. To get anything from the rich, white, male ruling class, those they oppress often have to give their own lives.
The working class whites blindly believe that the ruling class is on their side because of the color of their skin. The truth is, if this country had no minorities, if we were only white, the working class would be suffering the same fate that all the minorities are suffering. But the rich continue to use our gullibility and our ridiculous notions of race, religion, and gender to keep us all down.
Meanwhile, the rich feast while the working people starve. They live in peace while they mock the working people who live in terror. And they continue to elect the same sort of leader, over and over and over.
We have to open our eyes and see that nothing will permanently change unless working class whites once see that minorities are not our enemy. We must all join together for change that will benefit the true majority. United action is one of the first conditions for emancipation