Black History Month: Why So Many People Think Eli Whitney Was Black
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From Slate:

Why So Many People Think Eli Whitney, Cotton Gin Inventor, Was Black

By Ruth Graham

… Commenters from Georgia, California, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Kansas, Florida, and Massachusetts insisted online on Wednesday they had been taught in school that Whitney was black. … As of this writing, 55 percent of respondents to a BuzzFeed poll posted Wednesday say they have always believed Whitney was black.

There’s a general effort in the U.S. to massively inflate the contributions of black inventors in the mind of impressionable children. As I pointed out last year, if you type “American inventors” into Google, you’ll will see pictures of inventors, the great majority of whom are black. Here’s Google’s current Top Ten:

Screenshot 2017-02-03 00.10.09

Thomas Alva Edison in 8th place and nine blacks. So it’s hardly surprising that Americans would grow up assuming that if Eli Whitney was an American inventor, the odds are he was also an African American inventor. I mean, didn’t blacks invent practically everything we were taught about in school.

One might hope that this effort to mislead the public would inspire young blacks to be more inventive. But it’s worth noting that blacks have long held an inflated opinion of their inventiveness without it having much real world payoff. For example, Evelyn Waugh noted in his 1938 novel Scoop, when William Boot goes to get his visa for an Ethiopia-like country:

The Consul-General turned off the music and began to talk.

“The patriotic cause of Ishmaelia,” he said, “is the cause of the coloured man and of the proletariat throughout the world. The Ishmaelite worker is threatened by corrupt and foreign coalition of capitalistic exploiters, priests and imperialists. As the great negro Karl Marx has so nobly written …” He talked for about twenty minutes. The black-backed, pink-palmed, finlike hands beneath the violet cuffs flapped and slapped. “Who built the Pyramids?” he asked. “Who invented the circulation of the blood? … Africa for the African worker, Europe for the African worker, Asia, Oceania, America, Arctic and Antarctic for the African worker.” …

“Who discovered America?” demanded the Consul-General to his retreating back, in tones that rang high above the sound of the wireless concert. “Who won the Great War?”

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