Paul R. Lehman, Bachmann’s take on history and slavery misguided

January 31, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, Media and Race, Race in America | Leave a comment
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When many Americans witness an injustice, like a bully picking on a smaller kid, it affects them immediately. Some folks are moved to address the injustice at once, while some wait for someone else to render aid. What if the injustice committed is not as obvious as a bully picking on someone smaller than him? What if the injustice is committed by an elected official? What if the official does not know that he or she is committing an injustice? What should the responsible American citizen do in such a case? The reason for all the questions is because recently an elected congresswoman made a speech to a group of citizens in which she misrepresented the truth of history. Three possible reasons for her act include the fact that she is ignorant of history, or that she simply relied on what she thought history should be, or she was trying to manipulate her audience into sharing her perspective of history.

Representative Michele Bachmann (R) from Minnesota was credited with making false statements regarding our nation’s Founding Fathers and slavery. She made the claim that”…  it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly — men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.” She added that” It didn’t matter the color of their skin. It didn’t matter their language. It didn’t matter their economic status.” She continued by saying that “It didn’t matter whether they descended from known royalty or are of a higher class or a lower class. It made no difference. Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn’t that remarkable? It is absolutely remarkable.”(CNN)

Her comments underscore that fact that the history of American slavery is misrepresented as well as the role of the founding fathers in that regard. Did she falsify slavery’s history on purpose or is it that she really does not know the facts? As a nationally elected official, she took an oath to “support and uphold the Constitution of the United States.” Why would she swear to an oath with which she is bound to uphold if she is ignorant of what it says? The United States Constitution states in Article I, Section 2, and paragraph 3 that “…including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” For anyone familiar with this language, he or she knows that it is a reference to slaves. This three fifths number was a compromise offered by James Madison to get the Constitution ratified. How could anyone familiar with the Constitution not know the reasons for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendment? Recounting the numerous historical occasions created specifically to deal with the issue of slavery would serve little purpose here because Rep. Bachmann seemingly has no knowledge of them or their relevance.

Could it be that she was merely recalling slavery’s history the way she learned it? If that is the case then we should take a close look at the educational institutions she attended and check to see if they are still misrepresenting history in the same way. If so, they need to be informed and advised to change their approach and concept of American slavery because they are polluting the minds of their students with false information. One would think that at some point in her educational experience Rep. Bachmann would have come into contact with historical information that conflicted with her concept. Maybe she did but ignored it. The problem regarding an injustice is one that focuses directly on the congresswoman, apparently her educational experiences has not served her well. Her perception of American slavery places her at a disadvantage in society, and more specifically, in congress. How can she do the people’s business without knowledge of the people’s history?

Maybe this whole episode with the false historical information was a deliberate ploy to manipulate her audience to share her view of history. If that is the case, then the injustice does not end with Bachmann, but continues on to the people who look to her for valid information and direction. If what she says is believed by her supporters then many other people are moving around in society with a warped sense of American history relative to slavery. Her supporters would probably defend Bachmann’s view of slavery because they trust her and follow her. And that is the injustice– to follow someone who knows not where she is going or is going in the wrong direction.

The irony of this situation is that no one from her party has stepped up to criticize Bachmann’s statement and label it as a misrepresentation of American history and slavery. Sure, some members of her party will smile and pass the incident off as something of little concern, but none call her to task for not knowing her history. To them, it seems that accuracy in such a little thing as history can be forgiven or over looked. Unfortunately, many of her supporters take her word at face value and believe that when she speaks, she knows where of she speaks. Now the rest of America knows that is not the case.            

 One final injustice affects the American people in general and Rep. Bachmann’s constituents in particular in that they are not getting the quality representation needed and wanted from her. When elected officials fail to meet the expectations required of office everyone loses. As American citizens we can call attention to this injustice and do something to address it, or we can leave it to someone else to address it. A number of network host in the media have taken her to task, but correcting the historical misinformation is not sufficient if that is all that happens, Rep. Bachmann needs to know that what she has done affects others as well as her and that she needs to get her house in order.

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