The Teflon Theory of American History says that anything that took place over 30 years ago is Ancient History. It has Absolutely No Effect on the present. Or not much. Unless it was something good like the light bulb or the Declaration of Independence. Therefore those who make a big deal of the bad stuff in the past, like slavery, are Living in the Past and need to Get Over It.
Jim Crow laws were overturned by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Therefore according to Teflon Theory the Jim Crow period is now Ancient History. It has Absolutely No Effect on how White Americans alive today think and act. None whatsoever. Or not much. So racism is pretty much dead.
Instead of Jim Crow’s effect slowly weakening over time like you would expect, Teflon Theory would have you suppose that it just disappeared like magic one afternoon sometime in the late 1960s. Even though many White Americans alive now were alive back in Jim Crow times. Even though many others were brought up and shaped by those who were alive back then: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, writers, film directors, television producers, news editors and so on.
Few sit on a mountain top to come up with their beliefs all on their own. Instead most people pretty much go along with what everyone else already believes with maybe a few twists here and there. Such beliefs come from the past.
So then why is Teflon Theory believed?
- Because of how American history is taught:
- American history is taught as dates and people and facts that have little to do with each other. Sometimes the Effects of the the Civil War or Industrialization are studied, for example, but not so for the evil stuff – like how slavery and genocide led to present-day White American wealth, power and racism.
- American history as taught rarely comes up to the present day. History becomes something in the past, in a book, not something we live in right now.
- Because of the needs of White American self-image:
- White Americans want to think they are Basically Good and their society is Basically Just. Without Teflon Theory that becomes laughable since it flies in the face of history, common sense and human nature.
- White Americans avoid honestly facing up to their past because deep down they know it is ugly. Teflon Theory acts as a guard against having to take it seriously.
- Because middle-class whites are protected from the ugly present:
- Those who live in Apple-pie America rarely see first-hand the injustice that their comfortable lives are built on. And what injustice they do see on occasion, like black ghettos or wars on television fought overseas in their name, they have already learned to not see as injustice. But being protected from the ugly present makes the ugly past seem like another world, like it truly is ancient history with no bearing on the present.