If the freedom to expose historical wrongs ends up delegitimizing the common American story of the enlightened founding of a constitutional republic by deconstructing it into the mere bad faith of slaveholders, then the very conditions for addressing and correcting the legacy of those wrongs will dissipate.
To be sure, systemic racism, fortified by class, still rears its ugly head. But it would be pure folly to dismiss the historic project of the Founding Fathers who declared independence and drew on the best lessons from Greek democracy and the Roman Republic (also slave states) in their aspiration to forge a system of governance that, however imperfect, would ultimately serve to preserve liberty and protect the rights of every citizen.
Despite personal failings of the authors, the institutional frame of popular sovereignty tempered by checks and balances and separation of powers is one of the epochal contributions to the self-government of free people.
However twisted the road toward perfecting the union has been, there is enough truth content that remains in the founding American story to sustain it. Abraham Lincoln interpreted the “self-evident truths” cited in the Declaration of Independence as the basis for his Emancipation Proclamation. It was the appeal to that promise upon which Martin Luther King Jr. led the charge for civil rights, that stands behind the women’s rights movement, Cesar Chavez’s unionization of Latino farmworkers, the path of Barack Obama to the presidency and the still-unfinished struggle that animates the Black Lives Matter movement.
The present divisive discourse over school curriculums touches heavily on this very issue. While there ought to be plenty of room to fill out the true picture by adding the missing race dimension to what had become a caricatured narrative, nothing should be subtracted that would eclipse its original significance. Critical race theory should always be complemented by, let’s call it, “critical constitution theory.” If America is to get on and get along, its founding mythology must still stand as the core of its common story, tarnished as it may be.