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LIES JAMES LOEWEN TOLD ME

March 15, 2009

schoen

By Eric Schoen

On October 28, 2008 several hundred student spectators crammed into the Massey Performing Arts Center to hear remarks from this year’s First Year Seminar keynote speaker, sociologist James Loewen. USA Today hailed his work Lies My Teacher Told Me (the FYS “common book”) as “remarkable” and the New York Times called it “a lively critique.” I wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, I found his complete disregard for cogency incredibly remarkable and I found myself offering a lively critique of my own while he delivered his keynote remarks. I found just about everything he said to be reprehensible, including his shameless self-promotion. Equally reprehensible was Belmont’s requirement that all FYS students attend this event. While the school did not require us to listen, I fear a great majority had their ears open.

Loewen opened his address, glorifying Belmont University for selecting Lies My Teacher Told Me as the common book, and proclaimed that, because we were studying his book, we were a step above most students – much more enlightened and intelligent. He then discussed how American history books flub certain details, purporting that we present history ethnocentrically. With that established, he got to the meat of the rest of his sermon—I mean “speech”: whites in America are fundamentally racist, and as a result, so is our historical approach.

James Loewen wants a marriage of racial history, cultural history, and important events. This marriage, in his view, is currently impossible to achieve because materialistic, ethnocentric, conservative America won’t allow it. He argued that our nationalistic pride is unjustified and nonsensical because our heroes are faulted people, and that American history – as told by Americans – created the worldview that screams, “White is Right!” Loewen’s thesis in a nutshell is that American nationalism is really racism.

Our patriotism is racism. Our foreign policy mentality is racist. He even claimed that Skymall Magazine is a racist publication because the majority of advertisements in it contain Caucasians, with only a few black people and “Japanese-looking children.” But Skymall doesn’t create the ads it publishes – the product-sellers do. According to its website, Skymall is a “multi-channel, direct marketer offering high quality, innovative merchandise from top direct markers and manufacturers through its [catalog].” Simply put, Skymall sells advertising space that targets a demographic of businessmen and other air travelers. Where does racism enter?

Loewen delivered his most acerbic comments during the Q&A following the event. Someone asked if the Bush Administration could be construed as a white supremacist regime in its approach to the war in Iraq. At first, he warned against labeling the Bush Administration as anything in particular (even though he labeled just about everything that night). He followed by saying that the Iraq situation was merely “misguided politics,” that Americans felt a duty to save Iraq from Saddam Hussein – misguided by a myopic white supremacist worldview. Loewen seemed keen to discredit Republicans as a whole, arguing that “since the Nixon Administration, the Republican Party has aligned itself with white supremacy.”

This is completely false. To say that a major political party is, in essence, racist—and has been for the last 30 years—is indoctrination. James Loewen should have apologized immediately for saying such a thing. I do not consider myself a Republican, but it offends me that he would be so glib to label an entire political party as racist, especially only six days before a presidential election.

The modern-day Republican Party, viewed through Loewen Goggles

The modern-day Republican Party, viewed through Loewen Goggles

Despite his scathing criticisms, I understand the educational need for this book. To be fair, he does uncover factoids that most American history courses do not explore. However, Loewen should re-work his presentation and take bias out of it. We should not blame Belmont University for his remarks. There is a distinction between James Loewen the man, James Loewen the required reading, and Belmont. I am sure that everyone who attended the speech made their own judgments about it; however, Loewen’s claims should not be left to memory.

Eric Schoen is a freshman Political Science major.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2009 1:00 PM

    Your argument is anemic and hardly a thorough critique of his work or lectures.

    When one opens a Skymall Magazine the disparity between class and race is made obvious by simply flipping through the pages. I’m a frequent traveler and have made note of this to several companions but also concluded with an understanding of where the demographic laid. Can’t always blame the market.

    His work as required reading? Perhaps not but a thorough investigation of the indoctrination of our youth through nationalistic fables — incorrectly disguised as history — should be analyzed and rewritten with facts.

    I love my country because of its people, regardless of the inherent flaws of its citizens or founders. None of us know what it’s like to establish this great experiment and none of us knows what it’s like to maintain it so as difficult it is to swallow the truth, we have to accept that we weren’t there in those times. One day, in the future, people will criticize our society for being so painfully entranced by advertizing and unrestrained capitalism but that’s how this epoch is.

    Also,the lack of research to counter Loewen’s arguments precisely proves his point, which unfortunately negates, null and voids your article. Criticism is very simple to do but it requires work. The formula goes like this: researched argument vs. researched argument then let your readers be the jury.

    No country in the world is perfect and even more progressive nations such as Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, and France suffered thorugh an array of atrocities and propaganda to be where America is today but to omit the facts of our history is not only negligent but nearly criminal because it denies the truth to so many who have become disaffected and disenfranchised.

    Admit the mistakes. Correct the mistakes. Move on stronger just like we always have. The truth sucks but we have to face it.

  2. December 11, 2009 12:10 PM

    This article, much like Loewen’s book, presents debatable facts.. I have recently read and analyzed Lies My Teacher Told Me and found the new ideals remarkable. Although, I wonder where some of his propositions come from. Multiple times he states what textbooks theorize and then states what is the “truth”, but I inquire as to what the platform is for that truth other than a simple theory of Loewen. Ultimately, I deduce that history is simply involved with its own “Great Conversation” that, without hard evidence, is suceptible to translation into whatever the authority sees fit to comprise their purpose. Loewen is right, you are right, I am right, but history is exact.

  3. Daniel N. permalink
    October 13, 2009 2:34 PM

    You would be well-served to study the history of the modern Republican party, especially in light of Nixon’s “Southern strategy” in ’68. You’re a little bit young to remember this, son. But Democrats had the Southern white supremacist vote up until LBJ and his Civil Rights Act. Nixon’s Southern strategy deliberately courted that vote, and little has changed since. Take a look at where the major power-brokers in the Republican party come from today, bub. Have you ever talked with a Republican about urban poverty? Try it sometime. These are not mere coincidences.

  4. John permalink
    September 1, 2009 9:35 AM

    I agree with your article. I recently had to read Loewen’s book and found it to be incredibly bias and wrote my analysis of it about how bias it is. He brings up some good points about histroy but with all his bias in there I really don’t care to learn from him because he could just be telling me lies as well as the text books are.

    • Joe permalink
      December 1, 2009 3:52 AM

      I think that James Loewen is expressing an substantial thing about America: If you will not leave your imperial way of thinking about yourself and about the world, America will perish. Your victory against communism aggravated wrong feelings and supported very bad policies in the USA and in towards to the world. You cannot succeed with the cold-war way of thinking when the Cold war is over. Obama and Loewen are people who are a chance for America, you should understand them and transfer their ideas into your and world’s success.

  5. March 21, 2009 3:11 PM

    It’s clear that you heard something different than we did. That being said, how is Skymall racist by targeting a demographic of wealthy business travelers?

  6. Pat permalink
    March 21, 2009 11:14 AM

    This article is terrible. Your comments about Skymall Magazine = FAIL. He wasn’t saying that Skymall Magazine is a racist publication. He was saying that the advertisement/marketing industry itself is structured to be racist. Your articles need some serious work.

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