TheGrio Daily

Black AF History

Episode 154

“Black people see America in a different way.” Michael Harriot wrote a book, y’all! Black AF History is the story of America through the lens of Black people. When it comes to history, we rely on historians to give us the facts, but because most of them are white, a lot has been left out. Slave revolts, the American Revolution, and the Obama presidency are just some of the historical events reexamined with a focus on life in the South.

Full transcript below.

Announcer [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] I wrote a book, y’all. Yeah, it’s called Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America. And today, I want to talk to you about what that book is about. The themes of the book. And that’s why I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that’ll tell you why we need a Black AF history of America. Yes. So I’m sure you’ve heard or maybe you haven’t that I have a book that has just been released called Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America. It’s available wherever you get your books, unless you get your books from like stealing them or from second hand bookstores. But everywhere else, you can find Black AF History. And I wanted to talk to you about some of the things in the book, because a lot of the themes in the book are also the themes of this podcast. So when we talk about history, all history is subjective because history is just stories, dates and events. But when we talk about American history, you can’t learn or know everything that ever happened in America. So simply what we choose to include and what we choose to leave out is filtered through the lens of the people who we deem historians. And most of those people, for most of the history of America have been white. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:34] So, for instance, when we learn about slavery, even the best history teachers may teach you about slave revolts. You know, when people grabbed machetes and weapons and revolted against their oppressors. But what we leave out when we talk about slave revolts are the other kinds of slave revolt, which I talk about in Black AF History. There were people who rebelled in their own ways. Running away is a slave revolt, refusing to work, or one of the tactics that people often use was slowing down, being lackadaisical. And that is a form of resistance. And those are the things that we leave out when we’re talking about American history. We leave out, for instance, how the Jamestown settlers largely failed until Black people came. And that’s what we include in Black AF History when we think about history books. We often think about two kinds of history, especially even as it relates to Black History. We present it in two ways. We either present a history of Black people that is oftentimes written by Black people. And I love those books, right? That’s what Du Bois did. That’s what Lerone Bennett Junior did in Before the Mayflower. And then we also have just regular American history, white people telling you about what affected white people. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:00] But this book is different. This book tells you about the things that we talk about in regular books. You know what affected white people. But from the perspective of Black people, because Black people see America in a different way. For instance, when you talk about the American Revolution, we might talk about the Black so-called patriots who fought for the Americans. Black people might talk about the Black people who fought for the British, because if we’re giving an accurate representation of history, more Black people, as many as four times as many Black people fought for the British as they did for the Americans in the American Revolution. But if you looked at the American Revolution, something that is largely part of white history, if you looked at it through the lens of Black people, then you have to ask yourself, well, why were the Black people fighting for the British? Well, for Black people, it was just some white people fighting about something that didn’t affect us at all. So Black people joined the side that would most likely affect their freedom. It’s American history through the lens of Black people. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:11] And one of the things that this book is based on is the idea that South Carolina is kind of the capital of Black America, and that I don’t say that just because I’m from South Carolina. But as we’ve talked about before, up to 40% of enslaved people came or disembarked in South Carolina. And if you include all of the Black people who were trafficked through South Carolina or who spent time in South Carolina, it’s as much as 90%, according to many historians. Instead of looking at history, for instance, through the eyes of the Northeast, you know, we usually learn about American history, we talk about Boston, we talk about Massachusetts, we talk about New York, we talk about Philadelphia. But the Black people were down south. So this book recenters America in the South, and it presents history through that perspective. For instance, during the Civil War, we don’t present it through the lens of the Confederacy or the Union, we present it through the lens of Black people in the South. We conclude that Black people freed themselves simply by refusing to work, by joining the Union Army, by escaping they took away the financial advantage that the South had. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:31] One of the statistics that you might be surprised to know and people are always surprised to find out, is that the value of Black people, because Black people were again, remember, they were viewed as property, so the value of the Black property in the South was worth more than all of the money in all of the banks in America, plus all of the railroads, plus all of the factories and manufacturers in America. So we present it not through the lens of all we want to show you a Black perspective, but if you view it that way, if you view the war for white supremacy that way, then you’re viewing it through the lens of the most important asset in a war that was about property. That’s one of the themes in Black AF History. And the other thing is that we talk about a lot of these historical events as it relates to ourselves and our families. I tell the stories of my family and how we learn history, how history shaped us. And a lot of times we don’t realize, as I’ve often said, that history is not a thing that happened. History is a thing that is happening. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:44] For instance, when we talk about the value of Black homes or when we talk about segregation laws or even when we currently talk about schools in Black neighborhoods being funded at lower rates than schools in white neighborhoods. And that’s because property taxes are the main funders of school districts. It’s because there are no standardized funding rates. But we often skip over the fact that history plays a great role in that. We forget that there is such a thing as Black neighborhoods because of the history of Jim Crow, slavery, segregation, and all of the things that white people dreamt up to give them an economic, social and political advantage. When we talk about Obama being the first Black president, well, we can’t even talk about that unless we talk about how Black people were disenfranchised for most of American history. We can’t talk about that without talking about gerrymandering or the terrorism of reconstruction. It is very likely that we could have had a Black president before, if not for all of that. So history is not just a recounting of the past. It is an explanation of the present. It is the fundamental basis for predicting the future. And that’s what Black Live history does. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:10] I talk about it in ways that we talk and relate to each other. So this book doesn’t list a bunch of dates and times and places and geography. Nah. This book talks about the beef between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois as a beef like Jay-Z versus Nas. We don’t differentiate between the English and the Dutch and the Spanish settlers, because when white people do it, they don’t differentiate between the Wolofs and the Mandinka and the Ashanti. They just call them Africans Black slaves. So in Black AF History, we recognize that if you are Black and enslaved, the origin story of the people who enslaved you or the people who surrounded you, even if they weren’t slave owners, they might be a slave catcher. They helped enforce the laws of slavery, so they were just white people, if you are Black. The War of 1812, if you were Black, was a conflict between one kind of white people and the other kind of white people. The Dutch settlers in New York are no different than the English settlers in Virginia or the Spanish settlers in Florida in this book because they were just white people. But the Black people, it is important to talk about where they came from, because you can’t understand how Virginia was the number one exporter of iron and Ironworks unless you understand that the people from Virginia, the enslavers in Virginia specifically went to places in Africa where metallurgy and Blacksmithing were taught and handed down as an art form and stole those people. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:54] You can’t understand how Rice became America’s first edible cash crop. Unless you understand that the people of South Carolina went to what they called the Gold Coast or the Rice Coast to get people who knew how to build the dams and levees and understand the horticulture and the growing methods that produced the wealth of South Carolina, the wealthiest English colony before the American Revolution. And those things are important to know because if you learn the white version of American history, you would think that they just went to Africa, got some people and taught them how to grow rice. If you learned a white version of American history, you might think that the only slave revolts were when people grabbed pick axes. If you learned the white version of American history, you might think that Jim Crow started in the South and not from policies that segregated trains and neighborhoods in the North. Even abolitionists practiced Jim Crow. They didn’t call it a Jim Crow. They were just calling it a form of racial separation. That’s why Black AF History is important. That’s why I hope you get this book. That’s why I hope you keep listening to this podcast and tell your friends about it. Download that Grio app and that’s why we always leave you with a Black saying. And today’s Black saying is, “The reason this history is Black AF is because America is Black as…” We’ll see you next time on theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review, download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and to share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at theGrio dot com. 

Announcer [00:11:45] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified. 

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