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Prejudential

Black America and the Presidents

Prejudential Buy Now
Format Paperback Ebook Audiobook
ISBN 978-1-58642-248-6 978-1-58642-249-3 978-1-58642-260-8
Published Feb 4, 2020
Imprint Truth to Power
Category Black/African-American Interest Cultural Destinations Domestic Politics Multicultural & Languages Museums Politics Politics & Law United States History

“This book is an effort to shed light on the truth. . . . To the extent that our leaders embody aspects of who we are as a people, studying how each president has participated in our nation’s complicated and often shameful treatment of Black people is as good a place as any to start.” — Margaret Kimberley from the Preface

“Margaret Kimberley gives us an intellectual gem of prophetic fire about all the U.S. presidents and their deep roots in the vicious legacy of white supremacy and predatory capitalism. Such truths seem more than most Americans can bear, though we ignore her words at our own peril!” — Cornel West, author of Race Matters

PREJUDENTIAL is a concise, authoritative exploration of America’s relationship with race and Black Americans through the lens of the presidents who have been elected to represent all of its people.

Throughout the history of the United States, numerous presidents have left their legacies as slaveholders, bigots, and inciters of racial violence, but were the ones generally regarded as more sympathetic to the plight and interests of Black Americans—such as Lincoln, FDR, and Clinton—really much better? And what of all the presidents whose relationship with Black America is not even considered in the pages of most history books? Over the course of 45 chapters—one for each president—Margaret Kimberley enlightens and informs readers about the attitudes and actions of the highest elected official in the country. By casting sunlight on an aspect of American history that is largely overlooked, Prejudential aims to increase awareness in a manner that will facilitate discussion and understanding.

Praise

Prejudential belongs on the shelf next to the works of Howard Zinn and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. It should be required reading in every school."

--CounterPunch

Excerpt

Author’s Preface

“In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no ‘two evils’ exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.” — W. E. B. Du Bois, 1956

Once upon a time there were millions of people living on a continent. They were invaded by people from a distant part of the world. These newcomers killed them via military attacks, infectious diseases, and outright theft of their lands. The invaders also kidnapped other human beings from yet another part of the world and enslaved them on the stolen land. More than two hundred years after the invaders appeared there was a war that ended slavery but accelerated the extermination of the indigenous residents. More invaders came until they had claimed the entire continent. The political and economic system of this land was built on these crimes.

These are undeniable truths of American history that can be asserted and summed up briefly, but the devil is always in the details. Americans like to think of themselves as an exceptional people bound together by noble ideals. This belief is challenged, however, when history is taught more honestly and fully, without omitting facts or telling outright lies. Presidents are outsized characters in America’s narrative about itself. Children attend schools named after them; there are monuments dedicated to them in every state. They have their own national holiday, Presidents’ Day, which presents an opportunity for the country’s virtues to be celebrated. We are conditioned to feel a deep connection to these men hundreds of years after some of them have died.

The language used to create and protect presidential images is telling. The first several presidents are known as the Founding Fathers, a term that affirms patriarchy and white supremacy. George Washington is more than just the first president; he is the “Father of Our Country.” Regardless of our group affiliations and histories, we are taught to see these people as benevolent figures no matter what actions they took in while in office.

Most Americans are taught from childhood, for instance, that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were brave and brilliant men in any number of ways, but that both men owned human beings as slaves is rarely mentioned in telling their stories or assessing their character. Americans are not taught that the British offered freedom to the enslaved people who fought on their side in the Revolutionary War. Abraham Lincoln, widely regarded as the great liberator, initially sought to limit the spread of slavery rather than to end it, and actively considered the option of deporting or segregating black people in order to make America a whites-only society. Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy are considered to have been “good for black people,” even though they constantly feared antagonizing southern segregationists and failed their constituents.

It is particularly difficult to write about America’s history without giving in to the notion of patriotism, which includes suppressing certain narratives. Even those who think of themselves as progressives base their arguments for systemic change in terms of obedience to the cherished myths of great men. Despite claims to the contrary, Americans are highly indoctrinated to the belief in American superiority. Though the democratic progress usually amounts to a series of compromises and incremental steps, emphasizing only those facts of history that make our “great men” look good undermines the creation of the sense of inclusion and understanding necessary for the lives of all citizens to improve.

This book is an effort to shed light on the truth. George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth, as is commonly believed, but he did take teeth out of his slaves’ mouths. He may not have chopped down a cherry tree, but when Philadelphia became the capital of the United States, he deliberately rotated his slaves out of Pennsylvania in order to avoid their becoming emancipated, as the law would have required.

The very foundation of this country, the celebrated Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, was tainted by the fact that some delegates to the Second Continental Congress were keenly focused on the continuation of slavery. The case in which James Somerset, who was brought to London by his Bostonian slaveholder, was freed in 1772 threatened the future of slaveholding in the thirteen colonies. He won his freedom based on the argument that the law of England did not support slavery. Many feared that the precedent might “cheat an honest American of his slave.”

All of the men who became president were able to reach that high office in part because they swore allegiance to American ideals that were built on tenets of conquest and enslavement. These truths are self-evident: The founding of the United States continued the conquest and genocide of the continent’s indigenous population and protected the practice of slavery. The legacies of predatory capitalism and anti-black racism are a huge part of our collective story. None of this is ancient history that can be dismissed in the twenty-first century. These themes run deeply in our culture, and they should be acknowledged and understood. Aristotle said: “If liberty and equality, as thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.” More than twenty-three hundred years later, we’re still not there. Americans need to recognize the malignancies that have threatened the healthier aspects of our shared history and continue to do so. If we are ever to have the opportunity to be fully realized as human beings, capable of living in peace among ourselves and the rest of the world, we need to be honest with ourselves. To the extent that our leaders embody aspects of who we are as a people, studying how each president has participated in our nation’s complicated and often shameful treatment of black people is as good a place as any to start.

About the Author

Margaret Kimberley

Margaret Kimberley is a New York-based writer and activist for peace and justice issues. Dr. Cornel West has called her “one of the few great truth tellers who, along with Glen Ford, Adolph Reed, Jr. and Bruce Dixon, preserved her integrity during the Obama years.” She has been an Editor and Senior Columnist for Black Agenda Report since its inception in 2006. Her work has appeared in the Dallas Morning News, Consortium News, American Herald Tribune and CounterPunch. She is a contributor to the anthology, In Defense of Julian Assange. She is a graduate of Williams College and lives in New York City.


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