“As American As Cherry Pie”


H. “Rap” Brown (now  Jamil Al-Amin) at a Washington, D.C. press conference on July 27, 1967
(Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

What H. Rap Brown actually said, in his 1967 speech in Washington, D.C. was “Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie.” Brown was speaking to violence against African-Americans, and as the recent trial for the homicide of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia has demonstrated, not much has changed. Whether the targets are African-Americans, indigenous peoples, Jewish-Americans, the poor, the homeless or simply innocent folks enjoying a parade in Waukesha or a 25-year-old man who was murdered while eating Thanksgiving dinner with his family in Norristown, Pennsylvania, we see evidence every day that H. Rap Brown’s accusation, extremely controversial when made, is exactly right.

Most of American land was seized by violence from Native Americans. Slavery, the underpinning of half of America’s economy for decades, was enforced by violence. Segregation, America’s version of apartheid, was enforced by violence and the threat of lynching. Chinese immigrants were driven out of their gold mines in the West. Japanese-American citizens – citizens, mind you – were locked up without cause in 1942 and held in concentration camps for three years. Consider current police homicides of persons of color:

Racial GroupRisk of death
African-American Men100 in 100,000
American Indian/Alaska Native58 in 100,000
Latino53 in 100,000
White39 in 100,000
Source: PNAS, “Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex,” 2019

State-authorized violence against racial minorities is as real as a heart attack and just as serious.

Vigilantism, citizens taking the law into their own hands, is yet another form of violence. The lynching campaigns in the American South during the Jim Crow era are another example of violence being used to preserve nominally un-American values.

What’s different today is that a part of the American public is trying to draw attention to that awful history. The only chance to move beyond violence is to educate ourselves on that history, to acknowledge it, as a step in the difficult path to overcome it. Part of that effort is teaching the real American history, not the sanitized, Bowdlerized version that WC was taught. The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that the problem exists.

But our Republican neighbors don’t want that. To the extent that the Critical Race Theory bogey man argument has any substance, it involves a Republican effort to stop the teaching of America’s violent past. Just another kind of denial.

Back in Fairbanks, in the 1960s, WC’s family friend Bill had a very serious drinking problem. At a dinner party, he could single-handedly polish off an entire bottle of whiskey. When the teen-aged WC raised the matter with his parents, he was told it was Bill’s business and not his, and not to mention it. Less than a year later, Bill, at age 51, was dead. The failure to intervene isn’t a good solution. In fact, it’s a proven failure. But that doesn’t stop our right-wing from forbidding students from being taught America’s true history.

In a real way, denying school kids the knowledge of America’s history of violence is yet another form of violence, because it only perpetuates the problem. We pretend we are the Land of Opportunity. We assert we are all equal. Our history teaches us something else entirely. Refusing to allow that history to be taught isn’t going to solve America’s violence problem. On the evidence, it’s only going to continue it.

4 thoughts on ““As American As Cherry Pie”

  1. It is all beyond words, and sadly, is a pattern and culture being repeated over and over again in more and more places around the world as one group or another seeks to deflect criticism of its crimes by turning another group in a “convenient” scapegoat behind which they can hide. *sigh* 🤬

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  2. Yup … The assertion should be “we all should be equal” …. some who I call “Christians in name only” forget or “conveniently” ignore that Jesus told us he came for “all” and to love our neighbor as ourselves and that everyone is our neighbor.

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  3. Another brilliant piece of writing. At Boise High School the neglect (aka “censorship”) of Black Nationalist writing was palpable. I took it upon myself to read Franz Fanon, Eldridge Cleaver, Malcom X. When I brought this up to a teacher she told me to stop making trouble and gave me a lecture about me not setting myself apart from others.

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  4. Glad to see CRT brought up. The issue pretty much determined the VA guv race. As usual the Dems’ messaging was terrible. Reading John McWhorter Woke Racism. A lot to think on.

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