Zinn Reading Response

Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” does much more than the average history textbook, and it serves to tell the more complicated side of American history. Textbook production in the United States is monopolized by the textbook industry in Texas, and for that, most textbooks that circulate around the country are whitewashed, uncomplicated, and partial versions of history. This book would add a lot to the American history that high schoolers learn in school. In textbooks, minority histories are written in the sidebars. On the other hand, some histories solely tell the stories of the victims or the oppressed and fail to mention the larger political and cultural narrative of history. Zinn strikes a balance between these two ways of addressing history. He writes, “my point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners…in the long run, the oppressor is also the victim” (10). Along the same vein, Zinn’s outlook on studying history aims to look at “the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.” This is a unique perspective on history, for the discipline of history disproportionately focuses on the blood, wars, death and the oppressed.

Zinn criticizes the metaphor that is frequently made about America as a family with a complicated past. He writes, “nations are not communities and have never been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and works, dominators and dominated in race and sex” (10). This critique is epitomized in the the way that the history of lynching in the South has been ignored and covered up, just as family would cover up the complicated aspects of the past. However, the “covering up” is solely committed by the Southern whites. The “family” in the metaphor represents the whites, while blacks have no place in this family metaphor. Zinn’s critique of American history as the history of a family is relevant. Americans would benefit from recognizing the flaws in this narrative, and instead work towards trying to uncover the repressed stories of the past. Overall, Zinn raised some crucial points about the flaws in the popular narrative of history, and the average Americans’ take on history would improve in fundamental ways if they were taught Zinn’s more holistic version of the past.