America’s Problem with Prejudice

by | Apr 16, 2001

America faces the threat of a widespread, corrosive prejudice. I am not talking about racial prejudice — though racial politics has something to do with it. The prejudice I am talking about is aimed at something much broader, much more important than any racial classification. It is a prejudice against America itself, against its history, […]

America faces the threat of a widespread, corrosive prejudice.

I am not talking about racial prejudice — though racial politics has something to do with it. The prejudice I am talking about is aimed at something much broader, much more important than any racial classification. It is a prejudice against America itself, against its history, its heroes, its Founders — and ultimately, against its ideals.

This prejudice was highlighted on April 12, when a group of eminent historians, gathered under the Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Matter, announced the result of their investigation into the claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings. Their conclusion: the claim is unproven and highly unlikely. DNA tests touted with great fanfare a few years ago prove only that one of Hemings’ children was fathered by a male in the Jefferson family — a list that includes more than a dozen of Jefferson’s brothers and nephews. And the most convincing evidence points not to Thomas Jefferson, but to his younger brother Randolph.

But that’s not what we have been told. When the DNA tests, comparing the chromosomes of Hemings and Jefferson family descendants, were first released in 1998, press reports blared that they “proved” Thomas Jefferson fathered Hemings’ children. In their rush to judgment, the attitude of reporters, commentators and some historians was not, “How could this possibly be true?” — but rather, “Just as we suspected.”

This approach is by no means limited to attacks on Jefferson. A week ago, I spoke at a symposium on slavery reparations hosted by the law school of Wayne State University in Detroit. The statements of some of my fellow panelists, and the reactions of many in the audience, revealed the depth of this anti-American prejudice.

Hard-core reparations advocates believe that every part of American society is saturated with racism. And if a white person believes he is not a racist, they say, that’s because his racism is so thoroughly ingrained that he engages in “unconscious racism.” It’s like the old chestnut about the Freudian analyst who tells you that if you deny having an Oedipus complex, that’s the surest proof that you have one.

This view extends to America’s most hallowed institutions. One panelist declared that blacks should not celebrate or respect the Constitution, since it was a document that “sanctioned slavery.” The Constitution was, in fact, a battleground on the issue of slavery, containing several uneasy compromises between North and South. But above all else, there is the fact that the Constitution created the first government explicitly founded on and bound by the principle of individual rights — which would lead inevitably to the eradication of slavery.

But the vocal reparationists in the audience wouldn’t stand to hear anything good about America. When I argued, for example, that America paid a fearful price for slavery when it fought the Civil War, they were outraged. They believe, against all historical evidence, as a matter of unshakeable faith, that the Civil War was not fought to end slavery. “White America,” according to this prejudice, could never have done anything to help blacks.

There is an immediate, practical purpose for this prejudice. After all, if one is seeking trillions of dollars in reparations for the suffering of one’s ancestors, that suffering had better be unmitigated by any heroism on the part of their rescuers.

But there is also a more nefarious purpose behind the campaign against America.

Consider what, and who, is being attacked. The targets are all of the people, the institutions, and the events that serve as symbols of America’s dedication to liberty. Jefferson is the man who declared that all men are endowed with “inalienable rights” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; the Constitution was a charter to “secure the blessings of liberty”; the heroes who fought for the Union gave their “last full measure of devotion,” in Lincoln’s immortal words, for a “new birth of freedom.”

The purpose of attacking these symbols is not to renew our devotion to liberty; it is not to spur us to become more consistent advocates of individual rights. The real purpose is to claim that those who spoke these noble words did not mean them, that their ideals are empty and meaningless — and thus can be ignored.

In the early years of our nation, Thomas Jefferson was revered as “the pen of the Revolution” — the most articulate spokesman for the nation’s ideal of liberty. Today’s anti-American prejudice seeks, ominously, to silence that spokesman.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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