Why the History we are not taught is more significant than the History we are exposed to!

As a Black person born raised in the West the truth has very often been a mystery to me. The truths of my origins, the truths about my worth and the truths of my identity. The cultures I was surrounded with all had different versions of mistruths and some of those mistruths are only now being disentangled over a period of time; and for many of us it is still a mystery. The unravelling of my ethnic history has taken me all over the globe and the cultural influences of my western education tempered by its relationship with its colonial background adds another level of disorientation. I sometimes wonder as to how much of all the influences I have had growing up have influenced me positively or negatively, but I guess that my curiosity as to the nature of those influences and how I deal with it; is always a good sign.

I recently watched an old movie that I remember enjoying when I was much younger. Westerns, very often, had a way of reducing life into the good the bad and the ugly and sometimes this was literally Black and White. This genre clearly reminded us of who were the good guys and who were the bad guys, just in case we were confused. The good guys wore the white hats, and the bad guys wore the black hats and generally speaking those not White were considered inferior in some way or another and painfully etched out in some awful stereotype.

“ She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” was the movie and starred John Wayne, the all-American hero for those who don’t remember this old-time icon of American movies. In the film Wayne was seen loping through the American landscape with a homespun wisdom that made us believe in him and the principles he stood for. Even the Native Americans had a deep respect for him despite his contributions to their attempted genocide and he even spoke their language and was portrayed as being more familiar with the landscape than the Native Americans who had been there for several generations. Nonetheless in the movie, John Wayne and the 7th cavalry managed to defeat the combined army of all the native American nations by surrounding them, confusing them and sending them back to the reservation like naughty children. Strangely as a child I had little sympathy for these Native Americans whose land had been stolen from them, who had suffered countless indignities, and whose history had been relegated as the incoherent ramblings of uncivilised peoples and the term very often applied was “noble savages”, a weird, backhanded compliment! Is this deranged perspective not reflected in the way we now see the slaughter of people of a different complexion as nothing more than collateral damage and for the greater good, and how we fail to recognise the genocide of African peoples and other “ethnics” by European nations which is thinly referenced in our history books.

The relationships between European nations and Black people in the western world is not that much different than how the Europeans saw the Native Americans. France, Belgium, Germany, Spain the UK and other European countries have shameful histories that should be characterised as war crimes and the west only chose to properly catalogue those circumstances where crimes are between White European nations and the atrocities perpetrated by so called “civilised” nations on those seen as less “civilised” are seen as bold adventures by heroic explorers. Let us remember that a 20th century British Prime Minister is quoted as saying: “I don’t believe that we have made a great wrong to the Red Indians of America or the Black people of Australia because they were replaced by, a higher race, a stronger race, a more world wisely race”, chilling words. Also, let us not forget that the training ground for the Holocaust was established in Africa and given scant recognition even now and the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Islamic Slave Trade were responsible for the death of millions of Africans.

So, what is the impact of this disassociation from the truth on the mindset of those whose forebears came from those histories. The school curriculum has chosen to ignore those historical truths labelling them as “political” and too many of us have chosen to buy into this misinterpretation. So, what shall we do with these forgotten and unspoken histories? Should we accept them as irrelevant and should we allow our children and our children’s children to continue to live with these falsehoods. The real problem that we have is that too many of us cannot be bothered and we are far too happy to live the lie and become comfortable with the narrative of the colonisers.

The real danger is that truths always return to haunt us and it may not be today ,it may not be tomorrow but someday the consequences of our compliance will have an impact and we already see some of that in the here and now with people in our own communities happily rejecting who they are and submitting to this new interpretation of ourselves with those painful truths excised from our consciousness.