An African American and Latinx History of the United States—Paul Ortiz
"The wealth built up by enslaved African labor gave English colonists the resources they needed to challenge British rule and to subsequently contest European powers for hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. The slave plantation was the engine of early economic growth in the Americas, and the force behind the rise of global markets in tobacco, sugar, molasses, dyestuffs, cottons, and other commodities."
"Teaching American history honestly means ending the unforgivable silences surround the debts of gratitude we owe to Haiti, Mexico, and Latin America generally in demonstrating through words and deeds the meanings of justice and freedom."
Much like An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, this book is part of the ReVisioning American History series. Having just finished the former, I was stoked to see the latter on Edelweiss available for download and review, and immediately snapped it up.
This book covers the American Revolution through to present day, and covers everything from the juxtaposition of the American Revolution with the Haitian Revolution; the Civil War and Reconstruction; Jim Crow and Juan Crow laws; the New Deal and its aim at creating specifically a white middle class; and across the board, emancipatory internationalism.
Emancipatory internationalism was a new term for me, and I'm kind of in love with it now. (I know I'm a bit late to the game on that one...) Essentially, my understanding is that this pairs internationalism (basically the opposite of insular nationalism, and the idea that we're all global citizens) with emancipation, and the belief that freedom is not possessed by any nation to give or take away from others.
There were a number of larger takeaways, other than being truly schooled in aspects and viewpoints of history that were never covered in my public school education. It's truly a book (and a series, at least the ones I've read so far) that must be read to be truly appreciated. But here are the takeaways for me, in no particular order:
- The true realization that our country was NEVER authentically predicated on the idea of success and equality for everyone. Intellectually, I understood the concept, but don't think that I have come quite so face-to-face with the reality until I started diving deeper into history books not written by white men. (This quote from the book really brings it home: "Inequality in American life today is not the result of abstract market forces, nor is it the consequence of the now-discredited 'culture of poverty' thesis. From the outset, inequality was enforced with the whip, the gun, and the United States Constitution.")
- The idea of American exceptionalism (like most ideas of exceptionalism) is a harmful lie. It's been harmful in the past, it continues to be harmful now. ("Make America Great Again" is a prime example.)
- How much all of our movements owe to other movements across the globe. (This relates back to that whole emancipatory internationalism thing.)
- It feels like we are nowhere. So many of the things that were included in this book are events that could have happened yesterday. And it's fucking exhausting to think about.
- The system being stacked against African American and Latinx people of color, especially when it comes to socioeconomics, and specifically how that leads to continued disadvantage, is one of the most frustrating things, and a concept with which a lot of people have a hard time. Personally, my dad is one of them. I've tried to explain to him the concept behind reparations and the lack of inherited wealth, but for someone who came from a lower middle-class background, who didn't inherit actual money when his father died, explaining where that "inherited wealth" comes into his privilege is a frustrating endeavor for both of us.
- Black women have always been the harbingers and drivers of justice movements. FOLLOW BLACK WOMEN. ELECT BLACK WOMEN. SUPPORT BLACK WOMEN.
And with that, I leave you with a final "grab this book when it's released in late January" and this quote (of a quote) from a book:
"During her keynote address at the 1986 Black Women Writers in the Diaspora Conference, Black feminist Audre Lorde asked audience members to understand: 'Sisterhood and Survival demands that I ask myself as an African American, what does it mean to be a citizen of the most powerful country on earth? And we are that. What does it mean to be a citizen of a country that stands upon the wrong side of every liberation struggle on this earth? Let that sink in for a moment.'"