“What is the meaning of this?!” Not simply a question for the affronted patriarch anymore, but a question we should be more often asking of the histories we tell. Or in the words of filmmaker Raoul Peck, “we search for truth when we should search for meaning.” We are too often poorly served by histories that hang on claims of truth but offer only confused, distorted, or dishonest meanings. Take the familiar story from the U.S. standard version history of the enslaver who famously wrote that all men are created equal. Truth or falsity is not at issue here, the basic facts of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence are well enough established. It is rather how that standard version U.S history invests meaning in his words while eliding the obvious contradiction of enslavement, a contradiction with which Jefferson himself was all too familiar and involved. The result? We have inherited a national history whose purported meaning is not only at odds with its own truth but incapable of resolving the tangle of contradictions that is the historical legacy of American enslavement. As Raoul Peck reminds us, it is time we tell not just truer but also more meaningful histories..
To hear Episode 43 Truth Without Meaning, click on the link below:
Sources Referenced and items of Interest
Amy Davidson Sorkin, “What Do We Want in a First Lady?” ( The New Yorker, April 19, 2021)
(1776) THE DELETED PASSAGE OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
“Natural and Inalienable Right to Freedom”: Slaves’ Petition for Freedom to the Massachusetts Legislature, 1777
Omar Shareef Price, “Away to freedom : African American soldiers and the War of 1812” (2011)
Priya Satia, “An Epic Struggle for Mastery of a Subcontinent” (March 3, 2020 Los Angeles Review of Books)
“I do hereby further declare all indentured Servants, Negroes, or others…free that are able and willing to bear Arms….”
Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation 1775, a British offer for liberty accepted by thousands of enslaved Black men and women during the American Revolution.