Wed 25 Feb, 2009
The Standard-Times of New Bedford has graciously printed a letter to the editor, “Liberals harm individualism,” in response to their article covering my lectures in New Bedford and Fall River two weeks ago.
This letter, by Stephen Grossman of Fairhaven, Mass., was obviously written by someone who had not attended any of my talks. While I sympathize with his concerns, he exhibits a number of mistaken assumptions about my attitudes and beliefs, as well as my goals in presenting information about the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination to the general public.
I’m en route to a conference in New Mexico right now, but my quick response to the letter is below:
I wish that I could say I’m surprised by Mr. Grossman’s response to the lectures I gave two weeks ago.
However, I’ve come to expect reactions like this when I speak about slavery and discrimination. We as a people have allowed ourselves to forget certain basic truths about our nation’s history and the foundations of our economy and society today. Many people naturally find it uncomfortable to confront unfamiliar facts which can unsettle our understanding of our shared history and the sources of the privileges of contemporary American life.
This may explain why people are so quick to jump to the worst conclusions.
Perhaps Mr. Grossman could reflect on the fact that, contrary to his assumption, I don’t feel any guilt about this subject. Or that I haven’t any form of redistribution to address this, or any other, injustice. He simply assumed these and other things about me.
Individualism, merit, and hard work have been, and must continue to be, at the core of our success as a nation. History, however, teaches us that darker aspects of our history were also essential to our present success. I simply believe that we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge and understand how our history, good and bad, has shaped our present circumstances.