Hi, I’m Kathryne, a student at Johns Hopkins who interned at the Freedom Archives this summer. For the past couple of months, I’ve watched documentaries, read papers, and listened to audio recordings pertaining to a number of different topics. These topics were not necessarily closely intertwined geographically or chronologically, but ideologically and in the greater scheme of historical developments- absolutely. I discussed with Nathaniel the not-totally-unsurprising parallels between the development of the states of South Africa, Israel, and the United States, at the expense of their indigenous populations. So the historical parallels were laid down, objectively, and objectively, there is little moral difference between the ways in which Western imperialists colonized their respective stolen lands.
But objectivity is a non-factor: of course there is a moral difference – at least from the perspective of an American teenager who grew up in the United States consuming its media, its history education, its news, its values.
As hours and days and weeks passed at the Freedom Archives it became very clear that it was my responsibility, in order to become an informed citizen, to unlearn the destructive thought processes that made the Boers’ Great Trek and American Manifest Destiny somehow wildly different; the latter was justified and at the very least, pure history, with no bearing on the United States in the 21st century. I found that unlearning is much more difficult than learning. For the first few weeks at the Freedom Archives, I read a number of feminist papers, perspectives which I found easy to accept. I had no issue with bell hooks’ explanation of patriarchy because she was simply articulating what I already knew to be true. But regarding other topics outside my own realm of experience there is a kind of mental block formed of everything the public school system and mainstream media have ever taught me.
I think I fully understood the concept of doublethink when I consciously recognized it in myself – and therefore in the vast majority of other young Americans who were inculcated in the same culture. So many of us can clearly condemn the murder of Palestinian children, but are unwilling to specifically condemn Israel for its actions, unwilling to specifically assign the title of “aggressor” to any party (except, often, Hamas), unwilling to note the United States’ support for bloodshed. So many of us could explain why Boston Tea Partiers were heroic for fighting for self-determination against a tyrannical power, and at the same time absorb the depiction by the media of rioters in Watts in 1965, in L.A. in 1992, of protesters in Ferguson today, as completely out of line and irrational, as not indicative of any real problems. I have learned a lot as an intern this summer at the Freedom Archives, but I’ve also learned the value of unlearning.