Eric’s most recent book, “Essential: How America’s Investment in White Supremacy Led to the Year That Changed Everything’, is an overview of the historical events leading up to the election of Donald Trump, and 2020, the year that changed everything.
We’ve all had rough years, but NOTHING compared to 2020. The American middle class was already hanging on by a very thin thread. Then came the global pandemic, leaving the economy on the brink of collapse. 2020 was also the fourth year of Donald Trump’s presidency, so most of us had gotten used to being on edge, constantly expecting the unexpected. But the murder of George Floyd represented a definite turning point for me. Watching as each day grew more chaotic than the one before, I couldn’t help but ask myself, how in the world did we get here?
Essential: How America’s Investment in White Supremacy Led to the Year That Changed Everything is my quest for the truth. How did Donald Trump become President? When did Christian and Republican come to mean the same thing? And what must be done to ensure that America never comes so close to authoritarian rule ever again?
The truth is, our nation’s investment in white supremacy has yielded returns greater than any other investment in history. These investments laid the red carpet for Trump, made Christian and Republican synonymous, and present the greatest threat to our democracy today.
American history curricula tend to severely undermine how much money slave labor represented. Slaves planted and sold America’s most exported commodity: cotton. But did you know that between 1820 and 1860, close to 80% of the global cotton supply came from the United States? By the time the Civil War began, the Mississippi River Valley had the largest concentration of millionaires per capita. Only after reviewing this time in history through the lens of economic return on investment does the truth begin to unfold.
Of course that’s not where the story ends. Immediately after the slaves were freed, Jim Crow Laws were put in place, politicians learned that race baiting was a very effective campaigning strategy, and for many years, (in certain neighborhoods), realtors were prohibited from selling homes to Black people and immigrants. More and more investments were made in white supremacy. And the returns have been enormous: many of our nation’s most fundamental policies and power structures — including the filibuster, run-off elections, and the Electoral College — are rooted in racism. We have created systems of oppression that cannot be changed with simple legislation.
Essential tells the story of 2020 and the events leading up to the disastrous year, but it also bears a warning and a call to action. White supremacy is NOT a Black issue that the rest of us have to sympathize with; it is a grave and present danger to ALL Americans. In September 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Homeland Security Committee: Within the domestic terrorism bucket…racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group. And within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that. While white supremacy might not have caused the coronavirus, white supremacy did put Donald Trump in office, and his negligence resulted in the deaths of more than 300,000 Americans.
What about abortion? one might ask. Isn’t a firm pro-life stance one of the foundational beliefs of the Religious Right? Well if that was the case, why did the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant organization in the world, initially support Roe v. Wade? In 1971 Foy Valentine, the head of the SBC’s ethics commission, signed a document for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice expressing support of abortion. And WA Criswell (President of the Southern Baptist Convention 1968–1970) also communicated his approval when the case was decided in 1973: I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed. It wasn’t until 1980 that the SBC reversed their position by adopting a resolution that called for a constitutional ban on abortion except to save the life of the mother.
The Religious Right would prefer if Americans remained ignorant of the fact that what really mobilized them as a movement was the motion by the IRS to rescind the tax-exempt status of the segregation academies in the South. These academies were private schools founded in response to the Brown v Board of Education ruling integrating public schools. For many years, the academies continued to operate. But then in January 1976, after repeated warnings to either integrate or pay taxes, the IRS finally rescinded the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, the fundamentalist college in South Carolina. This was what finally prompted white evangelicals to join forces with political conservatives. In 1979 they founded the Moral Majority, the organization tasked with denying President Carter a second term. And they were successful. In 1989 the Moral Majority disbanded, and eventually the GOP shifted from a focus on segregation to a “pro-family” one, opposing abortion and gay rights. But the fact remains: the Republican Party would not hold its current political power if not for the solid support of voters unified in their hatred of Black people and immigrants.
I truly believe that the United States has the potential to be the greatest country in the world, providing all of our citizens a stellar education, affordable housing, high-quality healthcare, and a fair-wage job. It’s a matter of priority, not ability. But America will never be the great Country that all the propaganda would have you believe it is until we confront our racist past. Since we aren’t taught the truth in school, we need to actively seek out nuanced perspectives on our own history.
Eric Curry is an author, activist, and small business owner. He is running for Congress in California’s 12th District.