Richard T. Hughes’s Great American Myths: Now Including White Supremacy

In the following excerpt from his book “Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories That Give Us Meaning,” Richard T. Hughes explains how he came to reevaluate his understanding of the 5 Great American Myths to include the primal myth of white supremacy.

“At the invitation of Professor Raymond Carr, one of my students when I taught at Pepperdine University, I participated in 2012 in a panel that reviewed James Cone’s pathbreaking book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, at the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion that convened that year in Chicago. As part of my presentation, I explored the five American myths discussed in the first edition of this book and explained how, from an early age, those myths had shaped not only my view of the American nation but also my understanding of black people and of race relations in the United States. When I concluded my remarks and took my seat alongside the other panelists, the late James Noel, a professor of African American Christianity and American religion at San Francisco Theological Seminary, leaned over and whispered, “Professor, you left out the most important of all the American myths.”

“And what might that be?” I inquired.

“The Myth of White Supremacy,” Noel replied.

After James Noel’s criticism, Hughes reassessed his previous theory that there were 5 Great American Myths. In this second edition, Hughes corrects his previous assertion, claiming there are, in fact, 6 myths that lie at the core of the American experience. Hughes argues that the Myth of White Supremacy is the primal myth of America, and that the other 5 myths work to simultaneously protect and obscure white supremacy.

  1. The Myth of the Chosen Nation: the Myth of the Chosen Nation asserts that America was chosen by God to enlighten the rest of the world. America’s democratic freedoms were only extended to white Americans, excluding people of color. The belief that God would choose a nation founded upon systemic racism for a special mission supports the Myth of White Supremacy.
  2. The Myth of Nature’s Nation: the Myth of Nature’s Nation maintains the belief that American ideals and institutions are rooted in the natural order, specifically the natural order of God. Since foundational American institutions and ideals were rooted in racial discrimination this myth supports the idea that white supremacy is the natural order, the way things are meant to be.
  3. The Myth of the Millennial Nation: the Myth of the Millennial Nation upholds the notion that the United States, following the natural order, is destined to lead the rest of the world into a new millennium of freedom and self-government. However, since the United States did not extend the rights to freedom and self-government to all of its population, excluding people of color in various ways throughout US history, the only way to maintain the Myth of the Millennial Nation in spite of these contradictions is to embrace the Myth of White Supremacy.
  4. The Myth of the Christian Nation: the Myth of the Christian Nation claims that America is a Christian nation that is consistently guided by Christian values. Since Christianity, by definition, transcends ethnicity, nationality, and color, it cannot be considered a guiding value in a nation that constructed its wealth, identity and power in racial subjugation. To accept the notion that America is guided by Christian values necessitates the incorporation of white supremacist ideas into Christianity, creating a new version of American Christianity.
  5. The Myth of the Innocent Nation: the Myth of the Innocent Nation is the conviction that the United States is consistently redeemed by its nobility, rendering the United States innocent, though other nations may have blood on their hands. In order to render the United States innocent after its long, detailed history of racial discrimination, one must maintain the idea that whites are by nature superior to blacks, centering the Myth of the Innocent Nation on the presumption of the Myth of White Supremacy.

Find out more in Myths America Lives By: White Supremacy and the Stories that Give us Meaning. Get 30% off now through October 15 using promo code 30FALL.

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