“People don’t know very much about anybody but the Founding Fathers, unfortunately,” Lepore said in an interview. “You might think people in the tea party would be really interested in ordinary people, but in fact, they’re not. They are interested in elitist intellectuals, like Madison and Jefferson.”
She recounts an example from 1975 in which a similar disconnect existed between the followers of a movement and the historic events that they invoked. During a re-enactment marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, participants hung a poster out of a window complaining about an unrelated, contemporary issue: They protested the forced busing of African-American students with the saying, “We’re right back where we began 200 years ago.”
Two hundred years ago, of course, African-Americans were slaves in this country and had no access to education.
“The Whites of Their Eyes” makes for complex reading because of its multiple story lines and settings. Nevertheless, the book gives an engaging presentation of politics as historical theater. The moral of this story, as with the American Revolution, is that history isn’t simple — even if, for political reasons, it is sometimes presented that way.