Up until now, I have spoken of blackwashing Hitler and blackwashing slavery. I have explained some motives for blackwashing and given some explanation for why it is historically inaccurate. I have only hinted so far on why blackwashing history is so dangerous to society.
My contention is that blackwashing history—characterizing past evils as even more reprehensible than they actually were—makes it easier for our present society to overlook how it is repeating the errors of history.
This is not an intuitive truth. One would think that a more dim view of the Holocaust and American slavery would cause us to hate those things even more when we see similar things around us. But this assumption misunderstands mass psychology. When we consider Hitler a hypnotizing demon, we assume his evils are special. In some ways, we assume his evils are unrepeatable. The same goes for slavery.
Society today considers itself to have progressed beyond the societies that once endorsed the Holocaust and slavery. We think we are better than those societies. So none of that could possibly happen again, right? Wrong. When you view historical evils accurately, you realize that our society is not essentially different from the societies that endorsed the Holocaust and slavery. And we are actually endorsing quite similar evils.
Consider the ideological similarities between the Holocaust and abortion. It is quite likely that some future society will look back at abortion and wonder the same thing about us that we wonder about Nazi Germany: how in the world did that society endorse such an obvious evil?
The central tenet on which the Holocaust rested was the idea that Jews were somehow less than human. In our own day, that continues to be the tenet on which legalized abortion rests: unborn babies are sub-human burdens on the family and the State and therefore do not have rights. A time is coming when we will realize how wrong we have been.
And consider slavery. We too have our slaves. Some of them are still African. The only major difference is that our slaves no longer live on our soil. Furthermore, we have slaves for the same reasons antebellum America had them: simple economics and an unwillingness to value anything above the bottom line. Each one of the people reading this enjoys the spoils of slavery. Physical or economic coercion define the population of oppressed workers who make most of the goods we use every day. From computers to phones to clothes to coffee, the majority of the people who spend their lives to satisfy the American demand for cheap goods are victims of humans rights abuses comparable to or worse than the human rights abuses of African slaves in antebellum America.
We can no longer rest on the self-justifying balm of blackwashing to tell ourselves we are different than the historical figures we demonize. Instead, we must recognize the ways we fall into the same errors of our forefathers. If we are brave enough to see history accurately, perhaps we will have the courage to see ourselves accurately as well. And perhaps we will work harder to right our own wrongs.