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Who gets to write history? How do we pass that history down to future generations? This week’s guest is Michael Harriot, widely considered"one of the most eloquent writers in America" and frequent writer for The Guardian and theGrio.com, focusing on the intersection of race, politics, and media. He joins us today to talk about his most recent book, “Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America,” where he looks at American history through the lens of Black people in America.
The Racial Construct of History
Harriot points out that the major problem with American history as we’re taught it in school is that “we see history through a white racial construct.” He points out that when people talk about Africa, they often use Egyptian symbology, rather than pulling from the many other cultures found on the African continent.
Why is this? Because of geographic proximity. “We know the most about Egypt because white people told us about Egypt. We never hear about West African deities,” because Egypt was closer to Europe.
That’s why Harriot wrote “Black AF History.” “I wanted to write a book that’s not just the history of Black people in America; it is a history of America through Black people. A lot of people, I think, have written about Black people in America, but not necessarily about America through the lens of Black people.”
America is rife with romanticized myths, but Harriot points out that the myths his book dispels aren’t buried. Although there are some stories found in old newspapers, for the most part, “historians know this stuff is the truth. They just don’t teach it to us. They just don’t tell it to people in school.”
Many of those myths play into what we might call an American mythology. The American education system “has been romanticized into a kind of fairy tale that’s digestible and engenders this notion of American exceptionalism.” Instead of sharing the truth about how many original Americans were inept aristocrats from Europe, our history turns those same early Americans into capable heroes.
So why do we do this?
the stories we tell
Harriot acknowledges that “we like to idealize this grand conspiracy that is pro-white and anti-Black. But a lot of it is just about generations telling and learning this story. They think they know the real story.”
Many people perpetuate these stories, not as part of some grander plan, but simply because their textbooks told them that those stories were correct. “They really believe that the founding fathers were heroes who were smart and knew how to do things. They weren’t. But because that is so embedded, we created a society that has turned the myths into truth, and it has made us all dumber for believing the lies.”
Tune in to learn more about the myths we’ve learned in school, plus a new look into the making of the unresearched first American biography of Christopher Columbus!
Learn from more amazing leaders on Motivational Mondays, including our recent chat with Zani Sunshine, “Preparing for the Unexpected.”
Listen to this episode to learn about...
[1:43] The role of humor and sarcasm in Harriot’s writing
[3:34] The relevance of Michael’s new book to current debates over history curriculums
[8:39] Harriot’s history research for his book
[11:25] Examining recent surges in attempts to alter history
[15:54] The incredible origin of the Christopher Columbus myth
[21:11] Harriot’s commitment to truth as a journalist
[27:36] Michael’s argument for why Europe isn’t a true continent
Tune in to hear Harriot’s thoughts on the Montgomery Riverfront Brawl incident and how it may contribute to ongoing conversations about race.
Read the unvarnished stories from history that Harriot shares in “Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America.”
Learn more about Harriot and his work at MichaelHarriot.com.
Check out the channels Harriot follows on YouTube.
Listen to other Motivational Mondays episodes.