With Independence Day looming, Nike designed a patriotic sneaker, with the Betsy Ross flag, and started manufacturing for sale to the public. Colin Kaepernick, who’s built a second career as a self-appointed influencer of all things race- and slavery-related, made a phone call, and put Nike between a rock and a hard place. Continue, and risk Kaepernick going wide with allegations that the company, which markets heavily to the black community, was insensitive to the history of slavery? Or pull the sneaker, and risk accusations of anti-patriotism and of kowtowing to a rabble-rouser?

It chose the latter.

In doing so, it highlighted an interesting phenomenon, something that seems unique to America: that people take pride in hating on the nation’s history.

Yes, there are people of other nations that look back with shame or scorn or revulsion at misdeeds and atrocities in their nations’ histories. But, they separate those well-founded feelings from their broader sense of national pride and love of their heritage. I’m of Greek descent, and my fellow Greeks, Greek-Americans, and Greek-elsewheres are broadly and strongly proud of the great things found in our motherland’s history. This, despite the nation’s recent and current struggles, her repeated flirtations with communism and socialism and the ugliness that spawned, and so forth. Russians are a very proud and nationalistic people, despite the horrors of Soviet Socialism and the atrocities committed against their and their fellows’ ancestors. We find pride of heritage all over the world, no matter that every nation in the world has ugliness in its history.

Is there something uniquely ugly about America’s past, something that rises so far above other nations’ that it warrants this vitriolic and prideful hatred, to the exclusion of all the good that has happened in and been offered by America?

As is usually the case nowadays, complex matters are watered down to single, Twitter-worthy premises. In this case, the existence of slavery, and then Jim Crow, in America is sufficient. But, slavery wasn’t a uniquely American institution.

Not even close.

The slavers (many of them African blacks, it might be noted) took twelve and a half million people out of Africa to sell in the slave trade. Nearly two million of those perished in the “middle crossing.” Of the 10.7 million that survived, fewer than 400,000 landed in the Colonies/States. Several tens of thousands that landed elsewhere ended up here, bringing the total to about 4%.

The rest ended in the Caribbean, Central and South America. Brazil had nearly 5 million Africans land on her shores, more than ten times what the Colonies/States saw. Is there anything remotely resembling the domestic self-loathing in those nations, or are they as nationalistically proud as, well, almost everyone?

What of the post-influx history, one might wonder? At the time of the Constitution’s ratification, five of the 13 states had already abolished slavery. By 1800, the split was 8 free, 9 slave. 1821: 12/12. 1837: 13/13. 1861: 19/15. In 1861, the free states went to war with the slave states over abolition. Yes, there were other factors, and yes, it’s a complex issue, but since we are breaking things down to simple points, lets keep that simple as well. Nearly three million Americans fought, and 620,000 thousand died, over the freedom of about four million slaves. In 1865, slavery ended in America.

Meanwhile, Britain abolished the slave trade in 1772, but didn’t abolish slavery until 1833 (and not until 1843 in India). France’s colonies in the New World didn’t abolish until 1848. The Barbary slave trade continued into the early 1800s. Slavery was abolished piecemeal in Central and South America during their various wars for independence from 1810 to 1826, Colombia in 1851, Argentina in 1853, Puerto Rico in 1873, Cuba in 1886, Brazil, in 1888. That’s more than twenty five years after America’s slaves were freed.

The institution of slavery, which began 250 years before America came into existence, took about a century to be abolished around the Western world, and another century was needed to break the post-abolition biases that got institutionalized, here and abroad. For the sake of clarity and brevity, I won’t delve into the history of slavery in the East. The point, worth repeating, is that slavery has never been a uniquely American phenomenon or institution that warrants a unique degree of self-loathing, heritage-hating, and history-scrubbing. That a swath of the American populace takes an angry pride in its denigration of American history and heritage en toto is a case of geocentric arrogance, and a deeply ironic one at that, given that these are the folks who deride the idea of American exceptionalism and who look at other nations as examples of how to be.

Meanwhile, on the eve of Independence Day, it’s worth reflecting on America’s history of greatness. Her Constitution is arguably the greatest achievement of governance in the history of the world, and a model for countless other nations. Her economic might, born of liberty, has cascaded prosperity and improved living standards around the world. Her “greatest generation” fought and died for liberty thousands of miles away. There are many things to criticize in her history, but there are many to extol. And, there’s as much legitimacy in pride of homeland for Americans, of double-digit generational ancestry and of recent vintage, as there is for any other nation. Moreso, America has long been an aspiration for others, a place that millions want to come to and millions more want to emulate, and remains the leader of the free world.

Make no mistake – this is not an apologia for America’s terrible history of slavery and discrimination. It’s an assertion that there’s nothing so wildly different about that past, nothing unique about America’s wrongs, that this singular self-loathing of all things Americana is justified.

History is what it is. It is sordid at times, and magnificent at others. We serve ourselves by knowing the former, so that we don’t repeat it, and embracing the latter, so that we do more of it. Hating our heritage because it’s cool, or because it sends a message to others of one’s elevated morals, or because you’ve chosen to elevate one issue above all others, isn’t going to win hearts and minds. All it does is stroke your ego.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

0

Like this post?