Reclaiming the Narrative on Black History

We must articulate a conservative view of black history and achievement.

By Jonathan McGee


After a recent visit to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History, I was reminded that, while conservatives have had victories against DEI and Marxist views of race, we still have a long way to go to reclaim mainstream institutions like the Smithsonian and shift the narrative on the history of race in America. The key to winning this fight is not merely refuting DEI advocates. The key is articulating our conservative view of black history and achievement. 

The Smithsonian Museum, unsurprisingly, parrots a standard left-wing narrative about race in America. The first floor of the museum claims that the United States was “forged by slavery.” The museum’s website echoes these sentiments, claiming that “[i]n the absence of making antiracist choices, we (un)consciously uphold aspects of white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society.” The Smithsonian uncritically regurgitates Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, the belief that oppression increases if an individual belongs to multiple “oppressed” groups.


Letting the Narrative Slide

Conservatives let this victimhood narrative flourish for far too long, allowing it to permeate public schools and other institutions. Many people, unfortunately, accept this narrative unquestioningly because they trust mainstream cultural institutions like the Smithsonian.

Conservatives have succeeded against critical race theory and DEI in education and business. But simply refuting the Left’s lies about American history won’t be enough to change the culture and beliefs of millions of Americans who pay little attention to politics. Instead, conservatives must tell stories of African Americans like Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Clarence Thomas, who rose above their circumstances to better themselves and contribute to the greatness of America. All three of these men overcame true oppression through hard work, faith, and belief in the goodness of America. 


Black American Excellence

Booker T. Washington was the founder of what would become Tuskegee University. He urged his fellow African Americans to cultivate the virtues of hard work and honesty. Washington said, “No race can prosper until it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem,” and he lived out these principles through having his students literally build the university at Tuskegee, instilling a sense of pride in their accomplishment. 

Another great African American was George Washington Carver. He urged Americans to serve others rather than themselves. Carver said, “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts… It is simply service that measures success.” Carver certainly served poor farmers across the South. Throughout his carer, he created over 300 peanut products and over 100 uses for the sweet potato. 

Finally, Justice Clarence Thomas serves as a modern example of a man who overcame extreme poverty and racism to become one of three African American Supreme Court justices. Regardless of competing views on his judicial philosophy, Thomas undoubtedly received this honor through pure grit and determination. He credits this worldview to his grandfather, who frequently said “Old Man Can’t is dead—I helped bury him.”


Black History is American History

The values these men embodied should sound familiar. They’re the same values which built America and lie at the heart of conservatism and Western civilization. 

Changing Americans’ views on race requires role models, people who buck the Left’s assertion that people cannot rise above their circumstances without affirmative action and other DEI initiatives. Conservatives should tell the story of African Americans who embody the spirit of America. Their story is the story of America. It’s a story of a country of hardworking, virtuous people who built the greatest government and economy the world has ever seen.

It’s not enough to counter the Left’s narrative on race. Conservatives must do the hard work of educating everyday Americans about the great men and women of all races who built this country. Doing so gives conservatives an opportunity to reclaim the narrative on African American history and race in the United States.


About the Author

Jonathan McGee is a Grove City College alumnus and a former Marketing Fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom. He currently works as the Assistant Director of Publications & Pro Bono at the Federalist Society. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his employer. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.