Ken Burns Says Race Is the Central Theme of American History

Ken Burns Says Race Is The Central Theme of American HistoryEver since I saw his Civil War documentary, I’ve LOVED Ken Burns. . . . here’s another reason to love him today:

We were founded on the idea that all men were created equal, but oops—the guy who wrote that owned more than 100 human beings and didn’t see in his lifetime to free any one of them; didn’t see the contradiction or the hypocrisy. And so it set us on a journey where we are constantly having to struggle not with race, but racism.

It’s definitely worth your time to watch this whole clip of Burns on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. His words on the importance of Jackie Robinson in our history are profound, as is the great clip with the Obamas.

Too much, I fear we relegate people of color, people like Jackie Robinson, or Sojourner Truth, or Maya Angelou, to the position of exemplars of a race when really what we should be doing is admiring them as exemplars of the best of what it is to be human.  We take someone like Jackie Robinson and taint both his accomplishments and his punishments by implying – or directly stating sometimes – that he is only great because he was the first black man to accomplish what he did. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we, instead, recognized that his greatness is even more profound because he WAS a black man who had to overcome more than any of his white colleagues and who still stood out for both his athletic prowess and his strong, gentle spirit?

I hesitate to say we should try to imagine a world where race is not a factor because we too often act as if that is the case now instead of actually recognizing the racism that hinders us all.  But at the risk of feeding the delusion of the color blind, I do for a moment imagine what Jackie Robinson, Nat Turner, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou would have accomplished if they did not first have to overcome white supremacy and racial hatred.  What would the world look like if we’d actually gotten out of their way and let them do their thing loud and hard?  Oh what a world that would be.

Did any of you see Burns’ documentary on Robinson yet? If so, what did you think?