With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Why Were the Historians Advising Biden All White?

When President Biden spoke on Sept. 1st, to tell the nation that democracy is in danger, his warnings echoed the words of many who have been paying attention. Especially those who study the past.

Not a month earlier, the president met with a group of handpicked historians who told him that democracy was teetering, hanging on by a thread.

After The Washington Post reported on the historians meeting, it didn't take long for some to raise questions, not about the fact that democracy is in peril, but about the monochromatic makeup of those delivering that message.

It seemed the Biden administration had only invited white experts to advise the president — four historians and one journalist: Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, University of Virginia historian Allida Black, presidential historians Michael Beschloss and Jon Meacham, who is also an occasional speechwriter for Biden, and journalist and Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum.

But it wasn't only the lack of diversity in that group, it was where that lack of diversity seemed to lead.

"They compared the threat facing America to the pre-Civil War era and to pro-fascist movements before World War II," read the Post's sub-headline.

Those comparisons leave out important parts of U.S. history that resonate today, says Kenneth Mack, a professor of law and history at Harvard.

"We don't really have to look outside the United States, nor do we really have to look all the way back to the Civil War to think about things like voter suppression, demagoguery, and fascist tactics," he says.

Read entire article at NPR