What’s most troubling is that 100 years later the racism depicted by Griffith in his epic, while far less egregious today, still remains remarkably routine.
President Woodrow Wilson wasn’t shaking his head at “remarkably routine” racism but in fact was nodding in agreement with the offensive depictions of blacks in the 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation.
President Wilson wrote in 1901:
An extraordinary and very perilous state of affairs had been created in the South by the sudden and absolute emancipation of the negroes, and it was not strange that the southern legislatures should deem it necessary to take extraordinary steps to guard against the manifest and pressing dangers which it entailed. Here was a vast “laboring, landless, homeless class,” once slaves, now free; unpracticed in liberty, unschooled in self-control; never sobered by the discipline of self-support, never established in any habit of prudence; excited by a freedom they did not understand, exalted by false hopes; bewildered and without leaders, and yet insolent and aggressive; sick of work, covetous of pleasure, — a host of dusky children untimely put out of school.
Reconstruction disenfranchised “the better whites”:
Negro majorities for a little while filled the southern legislatures; but they won no power or profit for themselves, beyond a pittance here and there for a bribe. Their leaders, strangers and adventurers, got the lucrative offices, the handling of the state moneys raised by loan, and of the taxes spent no one knew how. Here and there an able and upright man cleansed administration, checked corruption, served them as a real friend and an honest leader; but not for long. The negroes were exalted; the states were misgoverned and looted in their name; and a few men, not of their number, not really of their interest, went away with the gains. They were left to carry the discredit and reap the consequences of ruin, when at last the whites who were real citizens got control again.
The Birth of a Nation notes in an excerpt from Wilson’s History of the American People:
[T]he white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation . . . until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the south, to protect the southern country!
In the film, whites are turned away at the ballot box while a black man secretly slips an extra ballot into the box. In the statehouse, blacks are imbecilic drunkards. On the streets, black men prowl for white women. One young white female, pursued by a crazed black, escapes his clutches by jumping to her death.
Given these characterizations, it’s no wonder that a black boy falsely accused of murdering a white girl could be tried and convicted in a day and executed less than three months later. It’s unsurprising that a black boy could be murdered for flirting with a white girl. It should come as no shock that activists have been murdered for registering voters and working to end segregation. After all, we’ve seen what blacks are capable (and incapable) of when given power.
Whites take pride in constitutional guarantees but decry equal guarantees for black people:
When whites had rifles in their homes, the Constitution gave them the right to protect their home and themselves. But when black people even spoke of having rifles in their homes, that was “ominous.”1
Perhaps Reconstruction has been romanticized:
The historical period following Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War has been called by many historians the period of Redemption, implying that the bigoted southern slave societies were “redeemed” from the hands of “reckless and irresponsible” black rulers. Professor John Hope Franklin’s Reconstruction or Dr. W. E. B. Dubois’ Black Reconstruction should be sufficient to dispel inaccurate historical notions, but the larger society persists in its own self-serving accounts. Thus black people came to be depicted as “lazy,” “apathetic,” “dumb,” “shiftless,” “good-timers.” Just as red men had to be recorded as “savages” to justify the white man’s theft of their land, so black men had to be vilified in order to justify their continued oppression.2
Slave merchants ripped blacks from their homeland and stripped them of their identity:
The devil white man cut these black people off from all knowledge of their own kind, and cut them off from any knowledge of their own language, religion, and past culture, until the black man in America was the earth’s only race of people who had absolutely no knowledge of his true identity.3
Malcolm X recalled a seventh-grade history lesson that covered black history in a single paragraph and decried the consequences of ignorance:
It’s a crime, the lie that has been told to generations of black men and white men both. Little innocent black children, born of parents who believed that their race had no history. Little black children seeing, before they could talk, that their parents considered themselves inferior. Innocent black children growing up, living out their lives, dying of old age—and all of their lives ashamed of being black. But the truth is pouring out of the bag now.4
Black puppets seem to want to pour the truth back into the bag:
Today’s Uncle Tom doesn’t wear a handkerchief on his head. This modern, twentieth-century Uncle Thomas now often wears a top hat. He’s usually well-dressed and well-educated. He’s often the personification of culture and refinement. The twentieth-century Uncle Thomas speaks with a Yale or Harvard accent. Sometimes he is known as Professor, Doctor, Judge and Reverend, even Right Reverend Doctor. This twentieth-century Thomas is a professional negro . . . by that I mean his profession is being a negro for the white man.5
I wonder what Malcolm X would say about the likes of Ben Carson who must be smart enough to know that barbs dug into President Obama echo statements made by patriot John Wilkes Booth, who plotted “to rid the country of this ‘false president,’ who clearly was ‘yearning for kingly succession.’”6 I wonder if Carson knows, or cares, what white puppet masters really think about him.
Malcolm X once said to “[o]ne particular university’s ‘token-integrated’ black Ph.D. associate professor”:
Do you know what white racists call black Ph.D’s?
1 Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine, 1992, 361.
2 Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Vintage, 1967, 36.
3 Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 162.
4 Ibid., 181.
5 Ibid., 243
6 David Herbert Donald. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995, 586.
7 Ibid., 284.