It’s Black History Month, wherein we as a nation belatedly celebrate the deliberately overlooked contributions of Black Americans, streaming services root through their libraries to create a temporary “celebrate Black excellence” sub-category, and, of course, snotty white people think they’re being super-clever by asking, “Oh yeah, well what would you say if we had a White History Month?!” Well, bring it on, said Amber Ruffin on Friday’s edition of The Amber Ruffin Show. In fact, bring on twelve of them, since, as she laid out with studiously funny efficiency, white Americans sure as hell aren’t learning much about their own history, and for the same reasons.
You know, as Ruffin explained, how everyone learns spiffy, inspirational lies about George Washington and that cherry tree without having to process the messy actual fact that the Father of our Country owned 18 slaves by the time he turned 18. Or how an even more universally lauded president in Abraham Lincoln not only delivered the Gettysburg Address, but also openly proclaimed, in a speech on September 18, 1858, an unequivocal support of white supremacy, ending with the damning statement:
And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
Both the date and substance of that quote are facts—history, if you will—but, as Ruffin explained, not the sort of history that gets taught in schools. (“Google it?,” Ruffin said, cringing.) Bringing her own, inconvenient appendix to the white, American exceptionalism book of history, Ruffin went on to explain how various white supremacist movements were the founders and guardians of a whole lot of what passes for history—and policing—today. Of course everyone knows (or conveniently claims to believe so they can get elected nowadays) that the KKK is bad. But, as Ruffin laid out in lockstep progression, the march from slave patrols, to the Second Amendment, to militias, to the Confederate Army, to the fact that Black Americans are subjected to wildly disproportionate harassment and violence by law enforcement are all part of the gool ol’ march of white supremacy in America. The more you know.
And then there’s that whole “teach history, but only the way that makes us look good” element Ruffin was talking about, a centuries-old movement she lay at the feet of the Daughters of the Confederacy. That super-patriotic (especially about the Southern perspective on things) organization that, as Amber noted, became so powerful that school boards and textbook companies found themselves having to ask for the okay before widely-disseminated and Confederacy-coddling history curricula were taught to kids.
By now, conservatives’ heads are shooting off sparks, so we’ll just let Ruffin’s advice guide anyone interested in learning the actual, complicated, intentionally obfuscated history of white people in America. “Just because they don’t teach that in schools doesn’t mean you can’t learn it,” Ruffin urged, adding the disclaimer that she, too, wished people didn’t have to “learn the real version from a fucking comedy show.” That sort of society-wide whitewashing is enough to drive a comedian to drink—while she explains why it’s total bullshit.