Konch Magazine - Ishmael Reed Interviews Historian Gerald Horne

So all of your questions reflect the fundamental contradiction at the heart of U.S. history and about U.S. society. So that’s to say this country was started in the late eighteenth century as a revolt against the growth of abolitionism in London and in Britain generally. And also as a repudiation of the so-called Royal Proclamation of 1763, wherein London was seeking to stop expending so much blood and treasure as the settlers move west to take the Native Americans’ land, including real estate speculator
number one, George Washington. That was followed in 1772, June
by Somerset’s case where London fought to abolish slavery in
England. There was a fear that the decision would leapfrog the
Atlantic and thereby affect the settlers’ interest here in North
America, thereby nullifying the fortune in enslaved Africans that they
had accumulated and rather than to accede to that decision, they
revolted and set up this country known as the United States of
America. Now as it’s well known there were more Africans crossing
the Atlantic in the eighteenth century than Europeans, and that was
part of the demographic that this new “Republic” encountered and
so in many ways to explain the apparent conundrum of say the Bill of
Rights for example:  this document has to be seen as a kind of “combat pay” to attract settlers.
You have to understand that there had to be an enticement and inducement to Europeans entering a war zone, a combat zone, a part of which was a passel of rights, although that passel of rights, as we know, were not necessarily granted to all. For example the First Amendment guaranteeing Freedom of Religion was inconsistently applied to Catholics, not to mention to those who were Jewish, but in any case, they were rights on paper, which in some ways surpassed what many European migrants had been experiencing in Europe itself, and in many cases, as we all know, this concept of Whiteness, this identity politics, to coin a phrase, was rather elastic. That is to say it not only encompassed those with
roots in Europe, even those of Arab descent, ultimately were rushed
into the hallowed halls of Whiteness. But once again you can’t
understand that unless you understand the fierce challenge that the
settlers encountered from enslaved Africans, not to mention Native
Americans who were seeking to protect their land and not to mention
the fact that both of those groups were not opposed to aligning
with the antagonists of Washington. You saw that for example in the
war of 1812 where the great Tecumseh, who was rather unique in
trying to engineer a so-called Pan Indian alliance, was killed on the
battlefield while fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the redcoats, and likewise in August 1814 when the redcoats burned down Washington, D.C. and President James Madison and his garrulous spouse Dolly were fleeing into the streets one step ahead of the posse, they were assisted by
enslaved Africans.
Ishmael Reed: Yeah, you know, Gerald, what about Hamilton and
the British where he accused the British of stealing Negroes
from their owners and also, you know his negotiating a slave
trade. Why do you think this guy is armed so with musicals?
They’re teaching a course here at Berkeley based on that
musical .
Gerald Horne: Really?
Ishmael Reed: Yeah.
Gerald Horne: Who’s teaching it?
Ishmael Reed: I don’t know who’s teaching it, but I can send you
the clipping. It was announced that in the local press here.  This
is the university that taught “The Wire.” I had a piece in Playboy
where I talked about the teachers who were using
The Wire” as a guide to Urban culture. Of course this was
challenged by….So now they’re teaching “Hamilton.”
Gerald Horne: Well with regards to “Hamilton” I think it reflects that
fundamental contradiction. People are trying to have their cake and
eat it, too. That is to say that they do not want to confront the
contradiction of the slaveholders’ republic and how it was built in the
late eighteenth century, and therefore they have to construct this
kind of fantasy narrative in order to claim that they are walking in the
footsteps of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and
Alexander Hamilton and all of their nefarious deeds.
Ishmael Reed: How much does the school curriculum,or official
historians like Meacham and Schlesinger and Shelby Foote and
all those people have to do with this and also I mentioned
television, Hollywood. You know, the HBO is going to do a
confederacy series by the people who did “Game of Thrones.”
They’re doing a big rewrite of the confederacy.
Gerald Horne: Well once again they are trying to deodorize, sanitize
 this rather smelly history of the United States, which I
understand because the alternative would be to tell truth and then
face marginalizing, and not to mention perhaps unemployment. I
understand. Then of course it’s quite lucrative
to construct these fantasies: this Lin
Miranda could have well told you and so I think it is rather simple to
explain why this takes place. But I think what’s happening now, of
course, is that history is kind of catching up with these false
Ishmael Reed: Is that because of people like you and some of
the women? There’s more people than so called “Others” that
are entering this profession? You know, I wrote a piece in
Counterpunch last year about meeting of the American
Historical Association, how they should have apologized for
those among their ranks who glorify the confederacy and all of
these atrocities against Native Americans. You know
Schlesinger didn’t even mention The Trail of Tears in his
biography of Andrew Jackson.
Gerald Horne: Well, I think number one is it is true that people like
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and her An Indigenous People's’ History of the
United States and my book The Counter-Revolution of 1776 and
some of the other books that I have written such as Negro Comrades
of the Crown, but they’re other books as well. I mean Robert
Parkinson’s book The Common Cause, which received a high award
from the Organization of American Historians and in some ways
tracks my 1776 book, although he does not go as far, and I would
say the same for Alan Taylor’s book, American Revolutions. Alan
Taylor is probably the most rewarded historian now writing ,Pulitzer
Prize Winner, and his book American Revolutions doesn’t go as far
as I do, but certainly it diverges from the traditional heroic narrative
of the creation of the United States, and so, yes I think that the fact
that Native Americans and historians of African descent are
beginning to take a whack at 1776 and the founding myths and
that’s trickling down to other historians and then there’s the
demographic transformation of the United States. That is to say that,
you saw the study the other day that so-called “White Christians” are
no longer the majority of the United States of America and so the
audience for the false heroic narratives is shrinking and people want
a new story to explain how we got to this point, and fortunately
those new stories are being written.
Ishmael Reed: in this attempt to glorify confederate generals like
Robert E. Lee who tortures the slaves, presided over the torture
of the slaves and said they needed “painful discipline” like he
was a male dominatrix or something and, you know, said that
slavery hurt White people the most, which, you know, echoes
with the rationale of today that racism hurts White people the
most. They’re the victims of racism. But, you know, I hadn’t paid
attention except for a couple of books in my house about this,
but somebody brought, and we’re publishing this in the same
issue, a Black historian and a Hispanic historian are doing a
rewrite of a textbook from the point-of-view of others, a
textbook, they mention a campaign in Mexico where Stonewall
Jackson, Robert E. Lee and all of them sort of like went to
school to learn how to slaughter people. I hadn’t even, you
know, that part is never mentioned. The fact that the Mexicans
didn’t want them to bring their slaves into Texas and the
Gerald Horne: Well, as you know there was an independent Texas
republic between 1836 and 1845 led by Stephen F. Austin and Sam
Houston and a rogues’ gallery of slave owners. Texas seceded from
Mexico in no small measure because in the 1820s Mexico who had a
president of African descent 180 years before the election of Barack
Obama had moved to abolish slavery.
Ishmael Reed: 1837 was the date and they said they couldn’t
import any more slaves.
Gerald Horne:  Texas in many ways tracks 1776 and 1861.
That is to say that 1776, which was driven by the attempt to escape
abolitionism and 1861 obviously was an attempt to escape
abolitionism and 1836 was an attempt to escape abolitionism. The
problem that an independent Texas faced was that it was under
tremendous pressure from abolitionist Britain and revolutionary Haiti.
In fact the fear in Texas was that Britain was going to, in their mind,
enact a Haiti in Texas. That is to say is to say engineer a mass slave
revolt with the Negroes taking over and so they crawled into the union
in 1845 because they couldn’t take the pressure, and this of course
brings us to 1861- and you see that part of the problem is that the Confederate
States of America, in some ways were walking the footsteps of 1776.
Ishmael Reed: They said that. They said that they invoked that
they were the true patriots because the settler nation was
founded for White men. They said that they were aware of that.
Gerald Horne: Right. This is why the put George Washington on the
currency. See what happens is that by 2017 slavery,
understandably, has an odious reputation. But people still want to
cling to the founders and the framers, and so therefore they engage
in these acrobatics and Ju-Jitsu to shoehorn the past into a
American framework of the present.
Ishmael Reed: Well Romain Gary, you know Romain Gary the
French writer who wrote a novel called White Dog he said that
the nouveau Whites, you know, who weren’t considered White
maybe sixty, seventy years ago, would rather identify with slave
masters than with their humble and wretched immigrant
Gerald Horne: And then there are the historians also who sort of
mangle the past. They also ignore obvious comparisons. For
example, Canada did not rebel against the Crown. But yet our
friends on the left, who often accept the myth of 1776 in whole cloth,
repeatedly tell us that in terms of taking care of the citizens that we
should be like Canada with single payer healthcare, for example.
Likewise, there were settler revolts in Algeria in the 1950s and in
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1960s with Ian Smith leader of the
runaway settler rebellion in Rhodesia saying explicitly that he was
walking in the footsteps of 1776. This is one of the reasons why
there were many so-called White American mercenaries attracted to
the battle in a failed attempt to maintain that settler republic. What
that also points to is something that we already know, which is that
historians tend to award winners irrespective of how despicable their
cause was. But if you win, like George Washington et all did, you
receive a bouquet from historians, and if you lose like Ian Smith, you
don’t necessarily receive a bouquet from historians.
Ishmael Reed: Well Shelby Foote, remember who narrated “The
Civil Wars?” And you know, Ken Burns was honored by the Sons
of the Confederacy because Leon Litwack said that it used the
Gone with the Wind justification, that this was a war of Northern
aggression. Well Shelby Foote had a Jewish grandfather and he
compared the Klan to the French Resistance.
Gerald Horne: Well certainly if you accept the idea that a slave
owner’s revolt is legitimate, well then it becomes difficult to
repudiate the Confederate States of America and it becomes
understandable why there would be those who would attempt to
rationalize and justify even the Ku Klux Klan. What’s happening in
the United States right now, like with this controversy about
confederate monuments, etc., once again history is sort of catching
up with the country and it’s unclear what’s going to prevail, this sort
of fantasyland history that has been forced upon people for
decades, if not centuries, or if the United States may try to seek
something new, which is a dose of honesty.
Ishmael Reed: This president compares himself with Andrew
Jackson, and you know he was a deporter himself, like this guy
wants to be. You know all of those tribes in the Removal Act of
1830, you know the Cherokee and Chickasaw were removed
from their homelands. There’s a book called Nixon’s Piano about
the racial attitudes of the past presidents. They talk about
Andrew Jackson covering up the murder of a Black woman, you
know, trying to do a spin on her murder and trying to justify it.
But there’s something that I did not know and that’s the
anti-Semitic part. Now this president has been chummy with
anti-Semites and I write for “Haaretz” that Israeli newspaper and
they’re really jumping on some of the Jewish members of the
cabinets and everything because they consider the president to
be chummy with anti-Semites. I didn’t know that Andrew
Jackson was into that stuff about the global conspiracy and the
Rothschilds and all that stuff.
Gerald Horne: Well that was the problem. I mean, I guess you’ve
heard Gary Cohn, the chief economic advisor to Trump who was
touted to replace Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve. He’s
now in the doghouse because he reprimanded Trump after his
Charlottesville comments i.e. Trump drawing a moral equivalence
between fascists and those who were protesting against fascists.
Gary Cohn is Jewish,
but Steven Mnuchin who is also Jewish, took the opposite tack and
is not in the doghouse. But I think part of the problem too, with some
of our liberal friends and their acceptance of the myths of U.S.
history is that number one they have to create a precedent for the
“Make America Great Again” slogan because they tout this creation
of the slave holder’s republic being great for humanity. They tend to
sweep under the rug the dispossession of the Native Americans and
the genocide against the Native Americans, which was particularly
intense as you know in the state of California.
Ishmael Reed: The Iroquois have a special name for Washington. He
destroyed these Native American villages and to this day when
some of them hear his name they tremble. The children run and
hide because he was so hard on the Indians.
Gerald Horne: It’s like this debate over the Dreamers right now. I
think some of our friends on the left fail to acknowledge in many
ways the base of the Republican Party, which in many ways is to the right of the
leadership where often our friends to the left look at it the other way
around. The leadership is driving the base. I think actually, like
immigration, in the Dreamers, the base has shown over the years
that it will not accept any kind of compromise on the question of
immigration and I think the base in some ways are reflecting the
origins of the United States of America. That is to say it was
constructed as a White man’s country. They feel, even though they
may not acknowledge it explicitly that it still should still be a White
man’s country, and therefore they are reluctant to accept all the
changes of the past half Century or more and right now it’s kind of
unclear how this is all going to shake out in 2017 and going forward.
For example, I’m not sure given the revolt of the Trump
base whether or not some kind of compromise on the Dreamers will take place,
even when it entails spending for a border wall will actually take off.
Ishmael Reed: If they want an armed revolt how do you think
that they would fair against an armed force that’s forty percent
Gerald Horne: Well you’re putting your finger on one of the reasons
why all the Pentagon chiefs issued a statement repudiating Donald
Trump’s Charlottesville remarks and why Rex Tillerson  is also
in the doghouse, according to today’s New York Times,i.e. why he
issued a statement putting some distance between himself and
Trump’s Charlottesville remarks. You know, obviously that’s
formidable talking about forty percent and it’s going to be a difficult
hurdle for a mass White armed revolt to overcome, but-
Ishmael Reed: This sheriff called their bluff in Montana. They
backed down.
Gerald Horne: You might have heard that Mr. Bundy was acquitted.
Ishmael Reed: Yeah, I heard that. I heard that, even though they
trained their shotguns on federal officers.
Gerald Horne: Right. Right. So, you know, we’re all familiar with this
stuff. The fact is that there could be jury nullifications as apparently
happened in eastern Oregon and so even armed thugs can escape
justice given the composition of a jury such as the one you had in
eastern Oregon.
Ishmael Reed: Well, let me end with this question. You know the
Washington National Cathedral is removing the pictures of
confederate generals so It looks as though, you know, I think the
optimistic thing is that there is a national conversation about
American history.
Gerald Horne: It’s long overdue and as I said there are books
trickling out by mainstream historians that are increasingly
challenging the myth. I think part of the problem right now is that
sadly some of the mainstream historians are to the left of the left
when it comes to the understanding of U.S. history.
Ishmael Reed: There were two women: Nancy Isenberg and Lyra
Monteiro from Rutgers who challenged the “Hamilton” thing.
Gerald Horne: Right, and I think part of the lesson needs to-it
reminds me of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and a critique of him in the
Chronicle of Higher Education where he was railing against
multiculturalism and part of the critique was that he didn’t want to
read more because he would have to work harder.
Ishmael Reed: His father finally apologized for leaving the Trail
of Tears out of his Jackson bio. He said that he was young when
he wrote that book.
Gerald Horne: Right, and I think that’s part of the problem now. I
mean, people are not keeping up. You wouldn’t go to a doctor or a
lawyer not keeping up with the medical literature or not keeping
up with federal court decisions and Supreme Court decisions. These
political activists don’t necessarily keep up. So they’re operating on
the 1950s frameworks, which makes it difficult for them to
understand what’s going on, not to mention providing the
prescriptions of how do we get out of this mess.
Ishmael Reed: Okay, I want to end it there. Thank you, Gerald