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Everything Wrong With John Kelly's Version Of History

This year’s Halloween proved to be a bit scarier thanks to comments made by 45’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly. The scare began in an interview on Fox News, (surprise surprise) while discussing the removal of Civil War plaques, plaques that are being removed in response to the white supremacy fest that occurred in Charlottesville this year. He began by saying that, "history is history," and that "there's certain things in history that were not so good, and other things that were very, very good." O.K. Not a terrible thing to say, right? Blissfully ignorant, but not terrible.

The retired four-star Marine general then wandered off into the whitewashing-of-history territory by saying that “...the lack of an ability to compromise led to civil war.” He continued by saying "And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand."

Aaaaaand there’s the problem.

Perhaps Kelly is in need of a history lesson or two, because “lack of an ability to compromise” did not lead to the civil war in the U.S. Slavery, however, did. Before slavery was completely abolished, it was practiced in states that fought to keep slaves, and even threatened to become their own union. In layman’s terms, Northern and Southern states could not come to an agreement on keeping or abolishing slavery, thus causing Southern states to rebel and go to war. The problem with saying that the civil war was caused because states couldn’t compromise, invites the idea that there can be a compromise on the freedom or the ownership of black bodies.

What compromise should there have been? Where does that discussion even begin? To make matters worse, when the President’s Press Secretary was asked to clear up any confusion on what Kelly said, she responded by saying she won't get into "debating" the Civil War, but there is a "pretty strong consensus" that there could have been a compromise. The problem facing men from the North and the South was whether or not to keep black people, and if you believe that a compromise can be reached on that problem, that is textbook racism.

Another perfect example of textbook racism has got to be Robert E. Lee, a man who fought to keep slaves. John Kelly, in his own words, believes this man to be an upstanding guy. "I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man," he continued. "He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it's different today." Kelly is right here. Things are different today. In 2017, Lee would be considered a traitor because he fought against the Union. In 2017, black people should not have to put up with the celebration of people who wanted to keep them as property. To say that a man who tortured black people and fought his own country to keep black men and women as slaves is "honorable" is a slap in the face to black Americans. Colin Kaepernick is not a patriot for protesting against police brutality, but the men who fought to preserve America's original sin are??

Black people are used to hearing white supremacy’s version of history, but not directly from our government institutions, or major players in a President’s administration. Sugar-coating what happened during the civil war is very similar to Trump’s comments on Charlottesville. This idea that “both sides” are innocent or excusable is dangerous. It teaches a twisted version of events, and unfortunately, makes racism ever more acceptable.


banner image via The Roosevelt Review