AuthorHiggins, Maeve

It has long been known that American exceptionalism is little more than a marketing ploy, yet the world cannot look away from this troubled, young country. This year's presidential election had millions around the globe glued to the results. As day after agonizing day crept by, the fascination only grew.

From Senegal to Finland to New Zealand, the world did not hold its breath, but it certainly inhaled sharply a number of times throughout the tense week between the election and the result.

The day Joe Biden was announced as the winner, a friend in Iran messaged me saying the U.S. presidential election results may have more effect on his country than ours. The United States, through a combination of military might, neoliberal capitalism, and cultural exports, still dominates much of the world.

Am I falling into the hero complex so often exploited by Americans when I insist our responsibility to do better is not just for ourselves, but for the world? Our slide toward total fascism has been halted. Is this temporary? I hope not.

In any case, I do have an idea of how we can do better--perhaps even, in the words of our Lame Duck First Lady, "be best." It's not complicated but it is difficult: To have a better future, we must reckon with the past.

Critical history can illuminate so much about the moment we are living in today. The history I am thinking about critically today is one of the foundational horrors of this nation. Chattel slavery is unlike any other form of slavery humanity has known, yet it has for far too long been erased from the American discourse.

"The story of the African American is not only the quintessential American story but it's really the story that continues to shape who we are today," said Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, in The New York Times' 1619 Project. The legacy of slavery has to be interrogated, understood, recorded, and constantly considered.

As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about critical history: "From time to time, however, this same life, which uses forgetting, demands the temporary destruction of this forgetfulness. For it should be made quite clear how unjust the existence of something or other is, a right, a caste, a dynasty, for example, and how this thing merits destruction."

Surely the legacy of chattel slavery is such a thing; it needs to be destroyed. Instead, the racial oppression codified into the formation of the United States has been tinkered with, modified, lessened...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT