The Illusion of the ‘wrong side of history’ narrative


The Illusion of History’s Justice in Gaza

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In the past nine months, the world has borne witness to what can only be described as a meticulously documented genocide unfolding in Gaza. This crisis has sparked global mobilization and profound disruptions in protest against the atrocities. Even within the United States, there has been significant outcry and protest actions against the government’s steadfast support for the Israeli Occupation Forces and leadership.

Amidst this outcry, a tired and ineffectual narrative has resurfaced. Many have condemned officials backing Israel, asserting they are on the wrong side of history and complicit in what history will remember as genocide. There’s a prevailing hope that history will eventually hold them accountable.

Yet, if those in power truly feared history’s judgment, the President of the United States wouldn’t be fielding questions about genocidal atrocities over a double scoop of mint chip ice cream.

This narrative emerges from a Western desire to placate collective guilt. It doesn’t stem from ignorance of history; rather, it often reflects an acute awareness. Those acquainted with history’s many tragedies and injustices often seek a higher justice—a justice more enduring than fleeting public opinion shifts and scathing editorials.

However, the “wrong side of history” trope undermines our capacity to confront present realities effectively. To move beyond viewing history as karmic retribution for the powerful, we must first reckon with our relationship to it.


There’s a tendency to reduce history to bullet points, neglecting its complex tapestry and the ongoing impact of past events on our present. This approach fosters a superficial understanding of historical truths.

As James Baldwin astutely observed in 1965, people who believe history flatters them are ensnared by it, unable to perceive or change themselves or the world. Baldwin’s insight holds true today, revealing how those in power actively work to shed the weight of historical guilt.

Consider the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During his lifetime, he faced widespread public disapproval. It was only after his death that popular sentiment began to shift. Some view this as proof that history can deliver the justice sought. Yet, this notion overlooks the grassroots efforts of the Black community that fueled that change.

Furthermore, Dr. King’s radical anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist principles have been sanitized in public memory, reducing him to a token of white guilt.

This distortion of history extends beyond individuals to broader narratives. Efforts to revise Black history in educational settings, such as in Florida, demonstrate how history can be manipulated to serve white supremacist agendas.

Recent years have seen the rehabilitation of leaders like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, despite their roles in egregious policies and actions. Their legacies have been refurbished, shielding them from accountability and perpetuating a sanitized version of their administrations.

It’s not that the powerful are indifferent to their legacies; they wield influence to reshape public perception while alive, knowing posthumous “civility” arguments will temper critiques of their actions.


Relying on history as an equalizer is perilous, as it dissuades meaningful action by offering an illusory outlet for our helplessness and anxiety.

To preserve an accurate historical record, we must organize and learn from past struggles. As historian Howard Zinn wrote, the memory of oppressed people cannot be erased, fueling ongoing resistance.

Memory and revolt are intertwined; those aware of their history actively shape it rather than passively observing. Holding the powerful to account demands collective mobilization against systems of oppression.

Expecting history alone to judge individuals for perpetrating atrocities underpins a dangerous complacency. It momentarily eases our discomfort but ultimately paralyzes us when urgent action is imperative.

Injustice isn’t naturally remedied by history; it’s confronted and dismantled by people mobilized for change.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are solely those of the author, Gerald Nesmith Jr., and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

By Naija247news
By Naija247news
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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