By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
Has America ever been “exceptional?”
There are reporters who are bemoaning the “loss” of America as they have known it, and the questioning of “American exceptionalism.” But when it comes to the bare facts of how this country has treated many people that descriptive phrase seems misplaced.
The core of America is white supremacy, the belief that White people are superior to all others – but not just any White person. This country’s eugenics movement made it clear that the scientists of the day believed that the truly superior human White person was he or she who had Nordic features.
In the quest to create a master race in this country, women of all races were sterilized against their will, people were subjected to classification as “moron” or “feebleminded,” or “imbecile” and more, and those so labeled were considered to be unqualified to be parents, and were isolated from the rest of society and many were sterilized.
One of the most famous cases was that of Carrie Buck, who filed a lawsuit to fight a court order that she be sterilized. Her case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which upheld the right of the state of Virginia to sterilize her. US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” in writing for the decision, as reported by American Experience.
When one reads about how Native Americans were forced to walk from Georgia to Oklahoma, along what is now known as the Trail of Tears under the direction of President Andrew Jackson, there is some exceptionalism being displayed, but it is not admirable. It shows a nation whose leadership and citizens were willing to subject human beings to abject cruelty.
In this voting season, we are reminded that White people have historically used violence and racist suppression tactics to keep Black people from the polls. The account of how Black people in Wilmington, North Carolina were attacked and killed following the publishing of a newspaper article in 1898 about how White women were willing participants in sexual relations with Black men was the spark that lit a fire of fury amongst Whites who had long resented Black people gaining power and status as they used their right to vote. The violence they used against Black people. When the debacle was over, many Blacks had been killed, their homes destroyed, and were forced to leave the city. The building where the article had been published was burned to the ground, according to The Atlantic.
When the Eastland, a cargo boat onto which hundreds of Chicago immigrants walked to get to an island for a holiday picnic sank resulting in the deaths of over 700 people, city and state officials were silent, Smithsonian Magazine noted. The story of that ship was never a part of Chicago history, including the reports that the businessmen who had engineered the trip and ignored certain warning signs which should have kept them from putting so many people on that ship were never prosecuted for their negligence.
No country, no government is perfect, but this country’s dishonesty about what we have been about and how we have treated people makes people hold onto the myth of American exceptionalism as a moral reality when in actuality, the “exceptionalism” has been more tied to the fact that people could come here and make money. It is America’s capitalism which has been exceptional, giving people from around the world an awe of this country and inspiring them to come here to make a new life.
That is exceptional. But none of America’s capitalist opportunities precluded or prevented America’s work of making of laws and policies that adversely affect so many Americans was not worthy of claiming to be more moral than any other nation. Throughout our history, our moral decay has pushed through. And it is now completely above ground, with 40% of Americans proudly standing in favor of leadership which is scooping America’s decay and serving it without abandon.
That is not exceptionalism, which is admirable. It is the mythical exceptionalism that stands in stark contrast to the lofty claim of America that she is and always has been “better” than other countries which treat their people poorly.
Perhaps the phrase we have used for so long should be discussed and dissected a little more. We cannot change our history, but we can do the hard work of making this country truly exceptional by being able to admit its flaws and weaknesses and do the work of making a truly exceptional and unique nation.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. Her latest book, Rest for the Justice-Seeking Soul, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She is available for speaking. Contact her at email@example.com.