In A Distant Mirror, Ronald Takaki argues that the contributions of a large number of different racial and ethnic groups were essential to the construction of the future United States. Understanding what constitutes American history requires looking back before the arrival of white Europeans to North America. The multiple roles of hundreds of distinct Native American groups helped shape numerous aspects of American society, including the very survival of the first prospective colonists. Equally important to the development of the new nation that was declared in 1776 are the contributions of African American people. These include Africans taken from their homeland to the Americas against their will and their descendants born in the colonies.
What Takaki calls the Master Narrative, he shows, is not only wrong but misleading. Rather than simply omitting mention of diverse groups’ roles in creating the United States, white Americans have deliberately removed all others from their writing of history. There are multiple reasons for such erasure.
By downplaying or denying the importance of these other groups, the descendants of white colonists could avoid explaining the violence and racism that were intrinsic to the colonial experience. The future nation depended first on genocidal policies and practices, as Europeans killed countless Native Americans to take their land. From 1619 onward, the enslavement of Africans and African Americans continued to be a primary method of labor control, which facilitated the agricultural production on which the economy depended. Only by “whitewashing” history could the nation’s leaders justify the ongoing exclusion of non-whites from governance.