COLLECTIVE AMNESIA: AMERICAN APARTHEID
African Americans’ 400 Years in North America, 1619-2019
Eugene DeFriest Betit
Xlibris (502 pp.); February 14, 2019
An accomplished American historian explores the roots and effects of the mistreatment of African Americans in the United States.
Much of the history in Bétit’s (War’s Cost, 2016, etc.) carefully researched and thoroughly detailed chronicle makes for painful reading. Nonetheless, the story of the abuse endured by black Americans, from slavery to 21st-century racist political campaigns, should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the nature of race in modern American society.
Bétit begins his narrative with an analysis of modern concepts of race, which he traces to 17th-century
French, white physician François Bernier. He then points out how European colonialists transmuted the idea of racial divisions into a belief in white supremacy, which then became the “heart of the justification for American slavery.” With the precise eye of the historian and the captivating tone of the storyteller, Bétit details the persistent efforts of black Americans to forge their place in American society, often at risk of violence and death and always facing aggressive opposition. For example, the narrative traces how black soldiers resolutely fought discrimination to participate in every* American war, only to face more bigotry and segregation when hostilities ended. Six chapters are devoted to exploring the complexities of the Civil War, demonstrating how its heartbreaking aftermath led to the injustices of Jim Crow and the
powerful civil rights movement.
Bétit’s narrative is dense, exhaustive, and well-researched. Pages of references follow each chapter, and lengthy footnotes expand on such issues as the United States’ refusal to support a United Nations
resolution condemning “glorification of Nazism.” Perhaps the most forceful chapter is the last one, “Conclusions: Whither America?,” which recaps the chronology of racism against black Americans, points out the dangers of rising white supremacist groups, and poses important questions about what actions may be taken to heal the legacy of slavery and segregation. An extensive appendix details the 2016 findings of the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.
A scholarly and grippingly readable historical narrative of race relations in America.
* As Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun prohibited blacks from serving in the military. Kirkus is considering changing this sentence.
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