BLM and the Functions of Mythology: as History & as Founding Myth

In recent writings, I have made several claims in regards to what BLM is aiming to do. Chief amongst those reads as follows: BLM are attempting to lay down a foundational mythos to justify usurping the current ruling order and that, ultimately, this attempt will fail because their new mythos is too untrue. Now we can look further into how and why an untrue mythos is destined to fail. Through Cara Leigh Sailor’s “The Function of Mythology in Ancient Greek Society” we can observe the multitude of functions mythos plays in any given society. 

Mythos can function:

  1. As history
  2. As a vehicle for societal norms and values
  3. As an explanation for the unexplainable
  4. As a reason for certain rituals
  5. As a founding myth, or to legitimize right to rule
  6. As an answer to the question, “Where do we come from?”
  7. As an answer to the question, “What happens when we die?”
  8. As entertainment

First, we must remember that the BLM movement does not merely encompass the political organization of the same name. Those who do work in the name of its ethos(those who label themselves as “activists”) produce literature, history, and journalism that also must be seen as adjacent to, if not under the wider umbrella of, the BLM movement. The greater goal of replacing the nation’s founding mythos is indeed being spearheaded by BLM; however we must not ignore the entire cottage industry of “anti-racism” that doubles as reinforcement for this project as well as a money making machine for those at the helm. 

Now, let us delve into mythos as history(1) and as the founding myth(5). The greatest instance of an attempted mythologizing of history was The New York Times‘ “1619 Project” beginning in August of 2019. The beginning of the project coincided with the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing on the North American continent. This date was chosen as a reflection of the project’s function—a new history. The creator wanted to commemorate what she refers to “the true founding of America”. This is an admitted attempt at reframing American history. It not only vilifies and delegitimizes the European founders of the country, but also sets the first slaves, their kidnapping, and their forced labor as the act that should rightfully serve as the starting point and subsequent backdrop for the rest of American history. The New York Times themselves state that the project aims to, “…reframe American history…placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” The author of the project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was once asked by a reporter, “You say black Americans are the most American of all and are our true founding fathers?” To this she nodded, “Yes.” The author further states, “What we are arguing with this project is African-Americans have been the perfecters of this democracy.”

In the opening of her essay, Nikole Hannah-Jones writes, “ Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.” In this we can observe the reframing of history to show enslaved blacks as the true fathers and progenitors of American democracy. One may find themselves asking where the problem lies with reframing a little history? Fair question. It would depend on two things. First, the motives of the reframing must be stated outright. Then the historical accuracy of the reframing must be confirmed. Therein lies the problem with “The 1619 project”. Multiple historians of the American Revolutionary period have come out and lambasted the project as revisionist history and just plain false. The very historian hired by The New York Times to serve as the in house fact-checker has come out and said that some of the history is inaccurate. Leslie Harris, an historian at Northwestern University, claimed in an interview with “Reason Magazine” that, 

“Despite my advice, the Times published the incorrect statement about the American Revolution anyway, in Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay. In addition, the paper’s characterizations of slavery in early America reflected laws and practices more common in the antebellum era than in Colonial times, and did not accurately illustrate the varied experiences of the first generation of enslaved people that arrived in Virginia in 1619.”

The bottom line is this, ‘reframing’ is just another word for ‘replacing’. And the inaccuracy of the project renders it more myth than history. Therefore it is entirely factual to say that The New York Times is attempting to replace American history with a myth. Thus we can directly observe the “mythos as history” function. And since Nikole Hannah-Jones is attempting to not only rewrite our nation’s history, but the history of the country’s founding in particular, this myth also serves the “mythos as founding myth or legitimize right to rule” function.

At seemingly ever-increasing speed, the “mythos as history” function is being employed all across America. Chadwick Boseman was the actor who played the titular role of “Black Panther” in Marvel’s most successful movie of 2018. He did not write the story, he wasn’t actually a superhero, Chadwick Boseman played a role in a film. Despite the rather inconsequential, albeit flashy and cool, work of the man, there are now calls to erect statues of him where confederate statues once stood; the same confederate statues BLM activists spent the summer tearing down. They want to replace confederate war heroes with the image of a superhero from a mythological African nation. Again we see, “mythos as history.”

Washington DC’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, has made calls recently to rename the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. If these people are willing to condemn the father of the nation as slaveholders and erase their names from public, we can all rest assured there is no one living or dead they are not willing to erase and replace. What names will replace George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s? The city council has yet to announce their choice. Though if recent history is to serve as our guide, someone to buttress their new mythos will be chosen.

 Soon, 8th graders from around the country may be taking their class trips to visit the George Floyd Monument and the Breonna Taylor Memorial because history is being rewritten and the very founding myth of our nation is being reframed. Of this, there can be no doubt.

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