The legacy of U.S. slavery is defined by more than just brutal discrimination, stolen lives, and the enrichment of a few on the backs of many — it’s also a narrative of half-truths, historical omissions, and outright lies that hides America’s true past, perpetuating a “freedom and equality” myth that the nation is still struggling to live up to.
That was the message delivered Friday by Ibram X. Kendi, a professor at Boston University and director of the school’s Center for Antiracist Research, at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute conference “Telling the Truth About All This: Reckoning with Slavery and Its Legacies at Harvard and Beyond.” Kendi, the acclaimed author of “How to Be an Antiracist” and the National Book Award-winning “Stamped from the Beginning,” said that higher education was complicit in manufacturing and promulgating lies that enabled slavery and that the residual effects can be seen today in falsehoods about voter suppression, textbooks, gun control, and climate change.
“We are living in times when some people are constantly calling what is obviously harmful positively good,” he said. “They are lying and saying fossil fuels are positively good for the environment. They are lying and saying banning books is positively good for young readers. They are lying and saying police and prisons are positively good for Black, brown, and Indigenous communities…. And they are lying and saying that ignoring the legacy of slavery at Harvard is positively good for Harvard. They are lying and saying that ignoring the legacy of slavery in the United States is positively good for the United States.”