Professor Richard J. Jensen
Recently I have come across multiple references to what widely seems to be a losing battle between a conservative history revisionist and a child history buff, regarding the 19th century. This is significant not only because the kid pretty thoroughly spanks the old white duffer, but because revisionist history is a key political agenda item for the right, ranging from their policies to propaganda.
It must sting, being routed by a mere girl, a liberal.
In particular denial of very real discriminatory and violent victimization of certain groups, such as native Americans, blacks, progressive waves of voluntary immigrants, and those persecuted for religion (Catholics, Jews and Mormons, and more recently Muslims) is a key point on which the right are relentless. The past intolerance of conservatives haunts them, even as they continue that intolerance and bigotry in the present against all of those groups as well as against women. Consistently, bad historians like Jensen want to discredit the very real bigotry these groups suffered, while at the same time consistently playing the bogus white victim card. Jensen is very keen on ‘nativism’, which is the bias of established immigrants and their descendants, against new immigrants.
This provides a fascinating lens through which to view a range of controversies, from the revisionist history the right has attempted to foist on advanced history classes in high schools for qualification for college credit, to the political campaigns on the right dealing with issues of discrimination in voting rights and on the topic of immigration.
The two adversaries in this particular informational and intellectual battle are a 14 year old girl in the 8th grade at the same school attended by the Obama daughters, Sidwell Friends, which some might consider a bastion of elite liberal education. While the retired professor was previously predominantly teaching in Illinois – the state from which Obama was elected president. Professor Richard Jensen taught at the University of Illinois, Chicago, from 1973 to 1996.
Jensen is also an editor at Wikipedia, which notes he has strong ties as well to Conservapedia, a right wing revisionist source noted for errors of fact and for promoting widely disputed and discredited theories. (Pithily put, Conservapedia is a sh*t source.)
President Obama taught at the very prestigious University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004, and began his career in state government representing Chicago in the state legislature from 1997 to 2004. While it is impossible to know if the two men ever met, they clearly represent the opposite sides of both the educational and the political spectrum from that geographic area, a difference now being continued by a new generation.
I find this new battle over revisionist history particularly interesting from a personal perspective, because when I took high school honors history around the same age, back in the days of the dinosaurs, as it seems now, my own teacher, a PhD in history, REQUIRED that we do research into primary sources, much like that done by this 14 year old, ‘for fun’.
In doing similar research, I found not only very much the same information as this young woman, but additional primary source material in the historical museums at the state and local level, that documented fear and discrimination against most of the large waves of immigrants that tended to overwhelm those who were already established. I’ve SEEN this kind of evidence myself, at her age, on this topic (more generally on 19th century anti-immigrant bias) without using google, seeking out primary sources. So this story particularly resonated for me.
Each wave received its own discrimination, not only the Irish, but also Germans, Scandinavians, southern and eastern Europeans, and the Chinese, to name a few, with additional religious bias against Catholics and Jews associated with the southern Mediterranean and eastern European / Russian Jews getting singled out for particularly virulent bias. As a general rule, anyone who was not a native speaker of English as their first language was targeted then, as now, by those who were bent on bigotry and fear of the ‘other’. Anyone who was more WASP – (perceived as)white anglo-saxon protestant (Christian) – received less demonizing than those who were perceived to be more different in key categories. For example, up until the last century or so, Irish immigrants were not considered ‘white’, to give an example of crazy justification for bias, even though they are clearly primarily a Caucasian ethnicity, and spoke an accented English dialect. From wikipedia (ironically) by way of Upworthy. (Let me know if this looks like ethnic and racial bigotry to you that would likely lead to job discrimination, of the kind Jensen is denying, that would carry over into employment as well as other aspects of normal civil life.) If you can read the small print, note the references to superior/inferior races:
So while you probably won’t witness much Irish racism in 2015, the reverberations from that suffering surely still exist.
The evidence for these waves of discrimination are frequent, and obvious. To deny them or to ignore them requires a massive effort of ideology driven intellectual dishonesty, which is what we are consistently seeing from the right, and it is more extreme the further to the right the ideology. This is nothing less than a denial of large collections of evidence. This is on a par with claims that slavery was benevolent and good for black Americans in history, and denials of the facts of evolution or that the earth is only 6,000 years old. They might as well claim the earth is flat, or that the sun orbits the earth.
Here is one link of many to the specific story from the Smithsonian: