Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
There are many versions of American history, but if you listened to most of the speeches at the Republican convention last week, you would have thought there was only one.
It goes like this: My grandfather or father came to this great country from Europe and worked hard and passed down to me a work ethic that allowed me to become the successful person you see before you. Anyone can succeed with hard work.
This one-size-fits-all version of American history does not accurately reflect the experiences of many of our fellow citizens.
It certainly does not reflect the experience of those who were here first, the Native Americans. Nor does it reflect the experience of those who came here as slaves.
The Republicans were using a kind of doublespeak that signifies that the only version of American history that counts is the one that leaves out the strife, discrimination and struggles that different groups have endured — and still endure.
Similarly, Mitt Romney also trivialized the historic nature of the election of President Obama by saying, “If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”
Obama was the first person elected president who was not a European-American male. What millions of voters felt after electing Obama was not just excitement. Obama’s election was a great event in the multilayered history of the United States.
What everyone could see was that another great barrier in the progress of this country had been breached.
Voters of all backgrounds gained tremendous inspiration from his victory, and they felt that even in these contentious and difficult times, we could do something extraordinarily meaningful.
I voted at a fairground at a polling place staffed by black retirees. I’m sure they could remember the days when they would have been prohibited from voting, and now, roughly a half-century later, a black man was at the top of the ticket.
No matter what you think of Obama’s policies and his record while in office, this fact alone should transcend politics.
Romney doesn’t seem to understand that to ignore the multifaceted richness of humanity in the United States and to win the presidency at the same time is becoming a difficult task.
He may understand it better on Nov. 7.
Starita Smith, Ph.D., teaches sociology at the University of North Texas. She was an award-winning journalist at the Gary Post-Tribune, the Columbus Dispatch and the Austin American-Statesman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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