The Politics of Time: A Distortion of History

ImageBy Devon Douglas-Bowers / Politics & Government / June 13, 2013

As time shifts, so does the political landscape, as matters are bought up from the past while other events are just as soon forgotten. However, the use of time is extremely important in politics, and in shaping our current thoughts of places, peoples, and countries. The ignorance of certain aspects of history is not being bought up in a variety of places, from the classroom to the news room. This only has the effect of creating a skewed narrative and allows ignorance and stereotypes to prevail.

A serious problem with the use of political time is the issue of freeze framing in which things are frozen in time, as if in suspended animation. Two examples that jump to mind are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. With regards to MLK, the mainstream media consistently revels in his I Have A Dream speech, with one of the most famous quotes being “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Yet, this image of MLK is completely incorrect as it completely ignores MLK after this speech and how hebecame increasingly more and more radical. By acting as if he was nothing but a dreamer, it dilutes his message, pushing it from reality to being based on flights of fancy and ignores the work that he and countless others engaged in. Malcolm X is quite the opposite as he is usually either ignored or demonized as a racist. This utterly fails to take into account that during the latter years of his life, Malcolm “spurned his past as a white-hating separatist and Nation of Islam spokesman to become an orthodox Muslim and an international figure” and pushed for the rights of all people, not just black.

Another use of political time is forgetfulness, when important instances are left out from history. This happens on a regular basis, not just on a national level, but also with books and other media as well. A major example in regards to the United States is the omission of the convict lease system that occurred after slavery. The narrative usually goes that after 1865, slavery ended with the passing of the 13th amendment, however, the fact of the matter is that the 13th amendment states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Emphasis added) Thus, it is clearly stated that slavery is completely legal if it is for convicted criminals, however this ‘small’ omission leaves people to believe that slavery is over when in fact the US still has slaves, its just that they now in the prison system rather than out in the fields.

A third and final use of political time is that of distorting the narratives of events, groups, or people, which can be done historically or with current events. An example that readily presents itself is the ongoing conflict in Syria, where the rebels are generally portrayed as mainly freedom fighters against the brutal Assad regime. This is quite far from reality as it has recently been revealed that most of therebels are not seeking a democratic government. In addition to this, the rebels have committed war crimes, yet there are those in the US such as John McCain who still want to back the rebels. This distortion of current events creates a situation where we find ourselves believing in myths and hearing what we want to hear rather than facing the hard realities of the situation.

The manner in which events, people, and groups are portrayed in such a manner as to support the status quo and have an ideological basis which seeks to not get as close to the truth as we can. What amounts is not only revisionist history that supports the current power structure, but also it allows for generations upon generations of people to be inculcated with what is at times factually incorrect information and thus the people are inculcated with myths and cannot fight to free themselves. Yet, on a deeper level it degrades the value of history as we can’t truly say that we have a history if it is based on myths and lies.

It’s time to stop distorting history and tell the truth.

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