TheGrio Daily

Some of the Biggest Myths Throughout History

Episode 31

“The most common myth about America is that it is a democracy.” August is not over, so White History Month is still in full swing and Michael Harriot is informing white America about the biggest myths in white history that you were not taught in history class.

You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] I remember, like, I don’t know, maybe in 2003, it was probably, like right when it started. And I went to New York, right? And, you know, I was hanging out with some friends. And I came home – I went back to the hotel, and I noticed, like, damn. Right? Like, my clothes don’t smell like smoke, you know, I smell fresh like I did when I went out. And that’s because that was the year that New York had banned smoking in the club, right? And I remember when that happened because people were outraged. Then it started spreading around the country. Now, you might be too young to remember when people could just, like, randomly smoke inside. Like, people used to smoke on TV on the Tonight Show. You couldn’t go – every, like, convenience store smelled like smoke. Every time you went to the club, you left smelling like Hennessy, weed and Newports. And then when things changed, when they banned, basically smoking inside, nobody complained because we got used to it. Now, if you go to a place now and somebody lights up a cigarette, you look at them like they were crazy. Now, what the hell does that have to do with anything? Well, it has to do with history. See, people get used to history. And then they can’t remember, what it was like in the past. And so kids now, think that, no one smoked in the past. And that’s a myth. And that’s why we’re here today on theGrio Daily to expose the myths of white history. Welcome to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that knows that Jesus didn’t smoke in the club. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:55] I’m Michael Harriot, world-famous wypipologist, and this is theGrio Daily. 

Michael Harriot [00:02:04] So today we’re going to talk about the five biggest myths of white history because, you know, like, of course, schools have outlawed history. So people don’t really know what real history is. And it’s not just now, right, because we were always taught a white version of history. A lot of us have come to believe certain myths that were never true, right? They just wrote them down in history books and told us to believe them. It’s like, I don’t know, like, many things that exist in life, like, once you believe it, once people start saying it, then it becomes true. Like, for instance, the Rolling Stones called themselves the world’s greatest rock and roll band. You know who started that? Calling them that? The Rolling Stones. Like, history is like that, too. Like, once people start saying a thing, it automatically becomes true. Like, George Washington chopping down a cherry tree. George Washington got 11 slaves given to him when he turned ten. So, you know, no white boy at ten years old wasn’t going to chop down a cherry tree if he got 11 slaves, who could do it for him. And that’s how history is, right? Like, we just start accepting myths as fact, and then it becomes embedded into the culture. And soon it will become true. And there are a lot of myths like that. Like – so we’re going to go through five of the biggest ones, five of the myths that your history teacher never told you, but they’ve never been true. Now, the first one – we’re going to go in chronological order, not the, you know, the top five, because this ain’t Billboard Magazine. Do I look like what’s that dude’s name? I was going to call him Dick Gregory, but I know his name is – you know the dude named Dick who used to have a countdown show? I don’t know, I watch Soul Train. You know who I’m talking about, the white dude who always wore the suit. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:07] The first one is the myth of how America began. Now, I know everybody thinks that like Christopher Columbus came over here and then people came from Jamestown to settle and then they worked hard and built up this country. But, that’s not how America started, right? So first, we’ve talked about this before. You have to know about the idea of headrights. When the first people came over here, the first white people. They didn’t know how to do things, there’s no easy way to put it, they weren’t smart. They didn’t know how to grow food, they didn’t know how to build houses, they really, legitimately thought that they were going to find gold growing from the trees and diamonds growing in bushes. So, when they started starving to death, after they began eating each other – that’s like a real thing, like, the first Jamestown settlers were cannibals. They decided to cure this problem or to solve this problem by instigating this thing called headrights. And so they said, well, if you bring people over here to work, they’ll work for you for seven years, and then for each person you bring, we’ll give you 50 acres of land. Until in 1638, this dude named George Menefee figured, well, instead of getting some white people from England who were artisans and craftsmen to work for me for seven years, I can just bring some Black people over here and never set them free. And so George Menefee brought 50 enslaved Africans here and got 3000 acres of land. And the headrights boom began. And that’s how the rich and powerful families of this country became blue bloods. It wasn’t that they brought enslaved people over here to do the work for rich people, it is that people became rich by bringing enslaved people over here. That’s how they became blue bloods. So, never believe that myth about hard work, about religious freedom, about, you know, wanting to settle this country and expand the British Empire. It was about money. It was about slavery and it was never about hard work. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:37] Now, the second biggest myth, is that only a “few” people benefited from slavery. Now, it is true that, like, you know, fewer than 10% of people, white people, owned slaves. But, that doesn’t accurately describe slave owners, right? Because, like, first of all, we have to realize that only men were allowed to be owners in most states. So when those deed books describe the owners or recorded the owners of slaves. That 10% didn’t include the wives and the children, like, you know, that’s like saying, well, only 30% of Americans own cars. So, 70% of Americans must be walking? Nah, ’cause my daddy got a car. My mama got a car. You know, those slaves were owned by families, not just white men. They were controlled by families and not just controlled by the families, right? There were slave supervisors. And the reason that slaves didn’t run away, is because all of the white people were enslavers. White people had invested interest in preserving slave slavery and keeping slaves bound and cuffed. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:00] For instance, if you were a merchant, and you sold shirts. You had a shirt store. I don’t know, like, I don’t think there was a gap back in the 1830s. But, if you had a shirt store, you had invested interest in slavery because you sold products that was made from free labor. Right? If you owned a ship. A shipping company. You had – you might not own any slaves, but you had invested interest in the slave trade. If you owned a grocery store, if you brought vegetables, if you even ate food, you had invested interest in slavery because the free labor that harvested, that grew, that cultivated the crops that fed the entire country, kept those prices low. So you were able to eat. You were able to gain a profit. You were able to prosper economically because there was so much free labor that built this country and it provided generational wealth. So even if your family didn’t own slaves, you could marry into a family that owned slaves and profit from that general – generational wealth. Even if you married into a family that previously owned slaves, you benefited from the generational wealth that those previous generations of slavery provided. Right? So, never believe the myth that just because 10% or a certain percentage of white people, technically own slaves, that all white people didn’t benefit. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:53] The third biggest myth is that Jim Crow was a “Southern” thing. Nah. And we talked about this in a previous podcast, but Jim Crow didn’t start in the South, like Black people and white people lived in closer proximity in the South during slavery, than they did in those so-called free states. You know, Black people rode the trains with their masters because their masters knew that if they let them out of their sight, they were going to take to the wind. They were going to get out of there. I know I would. I mean, I think I would have? Like, I can’t say it because I know that white people had a lot of guns back then. But, Black people in the South and white people in the South lived in very close proximity to each other. So that proximity wasn’t necessarily terrible for white people right after the Civil War. In fact, you know, segregation. Segregated neighborhoods. Segregated streetcars. Segregated public transportation is a thing that really began and was codified because of segregation in the North. Right? Like, there was this dude who talked about being kicked off of a train. 

Michael Harriot [00:11:08] Like, in the North from, going from Boston to Philadelphia. And that dude, he wasn’t, you know, in the South when that happened – he was in the North. And his name, some dude, I don’t know, I know you probably never heard of him some dude named Frederick Douglass. But, again, Jim Crow and segregation and segregated schools – it was a nationwide thing that was exported from the North to the South. Black people weren’t voting in large numbers in the North even before the Voting Rights Act. Right? And here’s another myth, right? So, you know, Republicans especially will tell you that, “Well, Republicans, they voted for the Civil Rights Act and Republicans voted for the Voting Rights Act, and the Democrats, they didn’t do it.” Well that’s not actually true. See, if you look at the voting tallies from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Democrats and Republicans from the South voted against the Voting Rights Act and Democrats and Republicans from everywhere else voted for it. So it was just a white people thing, it wasn’t a Southern thing. 

Michael Harriot [00:12:26] The next biggest myth was the myth of the “nonviolent” Civil Rights Movement. But, you know, if you listen to white people, or if you read a social studies book, they’ll have you believe that Martin Luther King told all the people – he got all the Black people together in a Zoom meeting, I guess. I don’t know how they got all them together because, you know, everybody didn’t have telephones back then. I guess they had a Zoom meeting and everybody agreed, like, we’re just going to take our whippings and just hope that white people give us civil rights. But, that’s not actually how it worked. The Civil Rights Movement, first of all, it was not “nonviolent” because, like, white people were really violent. You can look at the movies and the film footage and see that white people were pretty violent during the civil rights’ era. So it was not a “nonviolent” movement. And the other thing is “nonviolent resistance” was a protest tactic. It wasn’t like, not like a way of life for most black people who disagreed with segregation and Jim Crow. Right? So, when they would go to a protest, they would prepare themselves. That is why organizations like the, you know, SNCC and the NAACP had to have nonviolent training sessions because most Black people did not adhere to a daily principle of nonviolence. 

Michael Harriot [00:13:54] If you walked up to a Black person and started something, they were ready. Black people had a lot of guns, and they were not taking any joke – like W.E.B. Dubois, for instance, right? Like, I’m sorry. Like, I always call him “Da-Boy” because, you know, it sounds like that. It looks like that’s how it should be pronounced, but it’s actually Dubois. So Dubois, during the 1906 Atlanta riot, when, like, white people went H.A.M. In Atlanta. Dubois patrolled his house with a shotgun. Right? M.L.K. This is like a story I always like to tell about M.L.K. When someone came to talk to him about the concept of “nonviolent resistance,” and they sat down and they were talking about Gandhi, and it was like, “Why is this chair so uncomfortable?” And Martin Luther King is like, “I keep my gun under that pillow.” So, they were always believers in self-defense. And “nonviolence” was a protest tactic, a resistance tactic. It was not like, “if white people come here, we just going to let them beat them.” Like, Ida B. Wells told everybody to keep a Winchester rifle above their fireplace. The Deacons for Defense protected the protesters. You know, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization was registering voters with guns on their hips. And that’s when the phrase, “white power” became prominent in the Civil Rights Movement. So, don’t believe that, like, all the Black people decided one day during, you know, a Google Meet invite, or came together at a national cookout and said, “you know what? We’re going to take beatings.” No, the Civil Rights Movement believes simultaneously in self-defense and nonviolence resistance. It was not that they were nonviolent. They used nonviolent resistance. See, they resisted, like a motherf*cker. 

Michael Harriot [00:16:02] But, the most common misconception and myth about American history is that America is a “Democracy.” Now, to explain this, first, we’ve got to know what a democracy is. Merriam Webster, ya’ll know our girl Merriam. She describes it as, “A government by the people, especially the rule of the majority, or a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly, through a system of representation, usually involving periodically held, free elections.” Well, I mean, let’s be honest. That’s never happened in America. First of all, like, there’s never really ever been a free election in America. And I’m not just talking about, you know, voter suppression and voter ID. I’m talking about for the most of American history, women couldn’t vote. For most of American history, Black people couldn’t vote. Right? For most of American history, Native Americans were excluded from voting, for most of the history of this country. Legally. Right? 

Michael Harriot [00:17:15] And then they had to pass laws or amend the Constitution to protect the rights of people who were eligible to vote. But, that ain’t even what I’m talking about, right? I am talking about the idea. The definition of democracy. See, it’s not just about voting. It’s about representation. And I’m not talking about felony disenfranchisement, which is a take away from democracy. I’m not talking about the people whose votes are suppressed, which is a take away – which is a take away from democracy. But, I am talking about people who live in U.S. territories. Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, none of those people get to choose the president. It’s a crazy idea that we never talk about. There are 20 states that are smaller than the number of people who don’t get to participate in the Electoral College, who don’t get representation in the Senate, and they have to adhere to the laws. Right? 

Michael Harriot [00:18:21] So, if you think about it, that is a perfect example of how America is not a democracy, because, here’s the thing about those states – about those territories. See, all of those territories are more than 90% non-white. And, if the people in those territories voted just how non-white people across America voted? If they had electoral votes, Hillary Clinton could have been president. Al Gore would have been president. George Bush would have never been president. Donald Trump would have never been president. And, the filibuster wouldn’t matter. Right? We’d have laws protecting the right to vote now because those laws have been stalled by the filibuster. We’d have police reform now because those laws, those votes have been stalwart in the Congress or in the Senate by the filibuster. But, if the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico or Guam had congressional representation or representation in the Senate, we’d have police reform. We’d have protected voting rights. We pass probably a stimulus that gave everybody the right or the money to buy an extra container of seasoned salt. Right? We wouldn’t have crazy laws that protect white people. We wouldn’t have CRT laws because, America would have been a democracy. That’s another myth that we’ve been fed by white history. And, the way that we can stop these myths from being perpetuated into the future is to vote. It’s to stand up, it’s to download theGrio app. To subscribe on your favorite platform and to tell a friend. And remember, we’re going to leave you like we always do with a Black saying. History is written by the victors. And how many Black dudes named Victor do you know? Thanks for listening to theGrio Daily. We’ll see you next time. 

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