Has America Ever Been Great? A Timeline of American "Greatness."
Updated: Sep 10, 2019
So I’ve heard a lot over the last year about wanting to “Make American Great Again” and “go back to the way things used to be!”
I have to be honest, I’m not sure America was ever all that great in the first place. If anything, I’d say America has been the greatest it’s ever been over the past decade in terms of general desire for equality. But the history of America is wrought with embarrassing atrocities and shameful racism. For some reason, we find it incredibly easy to forget about the things we’ve done and sometimes we even try to recreate the atrocities from the past.
America has been made “great” by white people climbing on the backs of black and brown people. There’s nothing more to it than that. If we need a reminder, here’s a timeline of how America has been great…
1492: Columbus comes to America and mistakenly calls its inhabitants Indians and now, 525 years later, we still call them by this wrong (and offensive) name. Can we really not be bothered to use the correct term for an entire group of people? They are not, nor have they ever been, Indian! Oh and he murders about a half a million of them.
1619: The first African indentured servants are brought over and slavery begins. By 1690, every American colony has slaves.
1763: We started a biological warfare campaign when we gave visiting delegates from the Delaware tribe blankets and handkerchiefs infected with smallpox. In his writings, William Trent said, “We gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.” We tried to passive aggressively MURDER an entire ethnicity.
1770: We still have slaves. We have literally enslaved an entire race of people.
1775: The Phips Proclamation in Massachusetts called for “subjects to embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.” More legal murder of Native Americans (who we still can’t be bothered to call the correct name, apparently).
1778: Colonists were paid for each Penobscot Native they killed. They received 50 pounds for adult male scalps, 25 for adult female scalps, and 20 for scalps of boys and girls under age twelve. We PAID people to murder CHILDREN.
1780: We still have slaves.
1790: The Naturlization Act of 1790 limited naturalization to immigrants who were “free white persons of good character,” meaning Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, and Asians were excluded from becoming citizens. We decided that ONLY WHITE PEOPLE CAN BE CITIZENS. I also find it wildly ironic that we wouldn’t let Native Americans, who actually lived here first, become citizens of their own land.
1800s: Time after time we broke our promises to Native Americans. In the course of American history, over 500 treaties were made with Native American tribes. Do you know how many were broke or changed? ALL 500. At one point there were 76 million Native Americans, which we dwindled “in a string of genocide campaigns” that killed “countless tens of millions.” There are now only 6.6 million Native Americans in the USA. It was the largest genocide in world history.
WE COMMITTED THE LARGEST GENOCIDE IN WORLD HISTORY.
Hitler got some of his ideas for Jewish extermination from America’s treatment of Natives. In his book, “Adolph Hitler,” John Toland said: “Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps…for the Indians in the wild west; he often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination- by starvation and uneven combat- of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”
1805: Oh and by the way, we still have slaves.
1830: The Indian Removal Act. Pretty self explanatory, no?
1838: The Trail of Tears. Andrew Jackson enforced an Indian removal policy where Cherokees were forced to give up their lands east of the Mississippi and migrate to Oklahoma. Over 4,000 died on the way.
1850: The Act for the Government and Protection of the Indians. Don’t let its name fool you, the act helped facilitate the removal of Native American culture and land, legalized slavery, and was referenced for the buying and selling of Native children.
Oh, and we STILL call them Indians. At this point, we’re just doing it on purpose. It’s like when someone knows your name but they still call you Linda, simply because they don’t like you and want you to know they don’t care about you and want to take as many digs at you as possible.
1851: California Governor Peter Burnett said, “A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.”
1857: SCOTUS says congress doesn’t have the right to ban slavery.
1863: Slavery finally ends (sort of).
1866: Black Codes are passed in the South. These laws were created to restrict the freedom of freed slaves and compel them to work in a labor economy based on low wages or debt (basically it was Slavery 2.0).
1868: Black people JUST NOW become citizens.
1870: Black men can finally vote. Women still can’t. Also, the first black member of Congress is elected.
1881: Jim Crow laws are passed, creating segregation that didn’t end for 84 years.
1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act passed, which provided an absolute stop to Chinese laborer immigration for 10 years. For the first time, Federal law banned entry of an ethnic working group on the premise that it endangered the good order of certain localities. When it expired in 1892, Congress extended it for 10 years with the Geary Act, which was made permanent in 1902. The 1902 policy also added that Chinese residents had to register as Chinese and carry a resident permit on them constantly. Failure to carry the permit at all times was punishable by deportation or a year of hard labor. In addition, Chinese people were not allowed to bear witness in court and could not receive bail in habeas corpus proceedings.
None of this was repealed until 1943.
1913: The Alien Land Law was specifically created to prevent land ownership among Japanese citizens residing in the state of California.
1924: The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to only 2% of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia.
1932: The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male began, which was a “study” where the government used black men as guinea pigs, letting them die and suffer from syphilis (which was treatable) without ever even telling them they had syphilis. Or giving them any treatment for it. They monitored them and experimented on them to see how bad the disease would get. One of the lead doctors, Dr. Taliafero Clark, said, “Negroes are very ignorant and easily influenced by things that would be of minor significance in a more intelligent group.” Hundreds died, their wives and children were infected as well.
1942: Executive Order 9066 was signed. As a result, approximately 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were evicted from the West Coast of the United States and held in internment camps across the country. Over 2/3 of the people of Japanese ethnicity interned—almost 70,000—were American citizens. Many of the rest had lived in the country between 20 and 40 years.
AMERICAN CITIZENS were placed in camps. And yet no Japanese American citizen or Japanese national residing in the United States was ever found guilty of sabotage or espionage.
1950: The Commissioner of Indian Affairs began to implement ‘withdrawal planning’, or the termination and relocation of thousands of Natives to cities.
1953: Operation Wetback started. Guys, it has a racial slur IN THE TITLE. I guess that’s how you know they mean it? Hundreds of thousands of immigrants were deported, some just dropped into random parts of Mexico without food, water, or transportation. They even deported LEGAL US citizens. They were sent back via truck and cargo ship. The cargo ship conditions were described as a “penal hell ship” and it was compared to a slave ship on the Middle Passage. Immigrants that were dumped over the border by trucks were shoved into the backs “like cows,” driven into Mexico and dumped in the desert, again, with no water.
1955-1965: Black people fight for their rights while we continually try to persuade them (whether through laws or physical force) that they’re fine where they are and they should shut up.
1964: The Civil Rights act passed, meaning it only took us 100 years after slavery ended to say we shouldn’t discriminate against black people.
1972: The Trail of Broken Treaties was a cross country protest by Native American organizations designed to bring national attention to Native American issues, such as treaty rights, living standards, and inadequate housing. It brought to the national capital the largest gathering ever of American Indians presenting their hopes. They were immediately turned away by the President.
2001: 9/11 happens, everyone’s afraid of Muslims. Hate crimes against Muslims rise 750%
2002: Black people constitute more than 80% of those sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and serve substantially more time in prisons for drug offenses than white people, despite the fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the US are white or Hispanic.
2008: From 1980 to 2008 the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled from 500,000 to 2.3 million. The US is 5% of the World population yet has 25% of the world’s prisoners. Black people now constitute 1 million of the 2.3 million incarcerated population. They’re also incarcerated at SIX times the rate of white people. Black and Hispanic people make up 58% of all prisoners, even though they only make up 25% of the population. About 14 million whites and 2.6 blacks report using an illicit drug. Fives times as many whites are doing drugs, but blacks are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate.
2016- Everyone’s afraid of Muslims again. Hate crimes against Muslims rise to 9/11 levels.
2017- Trump praises Operation Wetback and wants to build a wall keeping out Mexicans.
When you say you wish things were like they were in the 50s, please remember, just because things were good for you DOES NOT mean they were good for everyone else. In the 1950s segregation was still legal, there was an immigration policy called Operation Wetback (THERE’S A RACIAL SLUR IN THE TITLE), Japanese Americans were still healing from the trauma of internment camps from World War II. You might've been sock hopping around at the malt shop, but other people were literally fighting for their lives.
America has maybe been great for white people, but it has never been great for anyone else. We have a long history of oppressing minorities to get what we want, to feel “safe” and to gain power. We have never genuinely been a nation of freedom, despite what we might tell ourselves. Sure, freedom for white people maybe, but that's about it.
So before you talk about how great America used to be, think about how great it is NOW for others. Think about how great America is to the refugee who escaped ISIS, to the Chinese exchange student who gets to learn at an American university or Mexican immigrant who can finally afford to put food on his family's table. America IS great to them. So please, don't take that away from them. Don't buy into the fear that they're ruining our country or planning to murder you. They're not. They just want the same chance you had. So let's resist racism, resist xenophobia.
And maybe for once in our history, American can really BE the land of the free and the home of the brave we've always bragged about being.