In The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself: Racial Myths and Our American Narratives, David Mura lays bare the historical and fictional narratives that white America tells itself to justify and maintain white supremacy. Beginning with the birth of the nation and spanning the murders of black men and women by police officers, Mura weaves together history, literature, and his own personal experiences to show the ugly underbelly of America … where myth replaced true history and whites propagated false narratives.
Some whites, including some of our elected officials, are so invested in this false narrative that they try to influence what can and cannot be taught in our schools. As an example, he cites Arkansas Tom Cotton responding to curriculum based on the 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, and legislation he introduced prohibiting federal funds from being made available to teach the curriculum in elementary and secondary schools.
We often associate racism with conservative views – idolizing Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Robert E. Lee, for example, and Sarah Palin’s view that “our founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery” – when in fact they were slave holders themselves. Mura points out that liberals are guilty as well – many have difficulty recognizing the racism of Abraham Lincoln through their myopic view of the slave-emancipating Lincoln.
“When a society (but for a few dissident members) decides that it does not feel troubled, how can healing even begin?” Mura asks.
Mura also examines racism through the lens of literature, which is one of the ways that racist views are propagated. As both a writer and a critic, his examples are thoughtful and convincing. He references White Flights: Race, Fiction, and the American Imagination, by Jess Row who contends that white agency and privilege lead to the deracination of history and literature. White novelists Marilynne Robinson and Don DeLillo, and memoirist Annie Dillard, omit historical elements that involve race and ethnicity, sidestepping those narratives for ones that are more comfortable, he says. Not including BIPOC narratives is a “fantasy of deracination” and eliminates BIPOC individuals from the national narrative. Instead of writing white, authors of all colors should include the diversity of our actual existence, rather than remaining comfortable with their distorted world. Mura contrasts white writers against writers of color who, in order to succeed, must “always be aware of white people, their presence and power, however much these people of color might wish otherwise”.
The central theme of all the essays in The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself, is that white America has until recently been the only voice representing our past – in literature, in education, and in politics. Because of that, BIPOC stories have remained nonexistent for many white Americans, who continue to propagate false narratives to maintain a flattering portrait of themselves.
Mura ends his book with two essays one on the murder of George Floyd and the other on the murder of Daunte Wright by white police officers, as well as an appendix entitled, “A Brief Guide to Structural Racism.” Why does the murder of Black men (and women) by police keep happening? No amount of remorse will change that – only a concerted effort by white people to dissolve the myths and false narratives of their creation and fully acknowledge the stories and experiences of our BIPOC citizens.
The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself: Racial Myths and our American Narratives by David Mura should be required reading in all high school and college classrooms – and for all Americans. Mura presents a cohesive, comprehensive, and uncompromising look into how white stories about race erase our true historical narrative and foster racism in the present.