America’s cultural education also needs an upgrade of “truth”


Think about the enduring vision of the post-Civil War West, defined for generations by audiences raised on the John Wayne films, which is so revered that it has an airport named after him. (And if you love “The Duke,” check out his 1971 Playboy interview riddled with fanatic stereotypes about blacks and Native Americans; his unwavering belief in “white supremacy” is terrible enough.) For years, with a few notable exceptions, westerns have erased the stories of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans, except in stereotypical roles . It is only in recent years that more people have learned, often across Hollywood, of the exploits of Nat (or Nate) Love, also known as Deadwood Dick, rodeo pioneer and actor Bill Pickett, and Law Enforcement Officer Bass Reeves, whose stories were more dramatic than most.

America has just commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which many only learned about when HBO’s “Watchmen” recreated it. Life has become art has become life.

Change the story

Because the stories we tell become the world we live in, a diverse group of creators are building a new and needed legacy, with the hindsight and criticism expected of those who believe the discredited versions of the story and the art that enhanced it were fine.

Politicians already know how culture shapes the narrative of America that people have in their heads and hearts, which is why it is called a “culture war.” In Texas – of course texas – there is a new battle of the Alamo, in fact a law designed to entrench in education and at landmarks a sanitized myth embodied by Wayne “The Alamo” of 1960, a myth which omits the role that the protection of slavery played in the battle and the history of the state.

In Washington, DC, post-pandemic visitors can experience a new vision of who deserves the honors. The House voted this week to remove from the Capitol display the bust of the late Chief Justice Roger B. Taney – who is the author of the infamous Dred Scott ruling that black people were not US citizens – as well as statues and busts of Confederates and white supremacists. Taney would be replaced by Thurgood Marshall, the first black judge of the Supreme Court. We will see how the proposal fares in the Senate.


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