What Is the Tone of American History by Judith Ortiz Cofer?

Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “The Tone of American History” is a thought-provoking essay that delves into the complex relationship between race and power in American history. Through her analysis, Cofer examines how the narrative of American history has been constructed and how it has been used to marginalize certain groups of people.

The Theme of Power

One of the central themes in Cofer’s essay is power. She argues that those in power have historically used history as a means of maintaining their dominance over others. She notes that this has been particularly true for people of color, who have often been excluded from the dominant narrative of American history.

Cofer highlights how this power dynamic plays out in multiple ways throughout American history. She notes that even seemingly neutral historical accounts can be used to reinforce existing power structures. For example, she cites how textbooks often present a sanitized version of events that downplays the role of violence and oppression in American history.

The Importance of Perspective

Another key theme in Cofer’s essay is perspective. She argues that our understanding of historical events is shaped by the perspectives we bring to them. This can be particularly problematic when those perspectives are limited by our own experiences or biases.

To illustrate this point, Cofer offers an example from her own life. She recalls how she was taught about Christopher Columbus as a child and was only later exposed to alternative perspectives on his actions. She notes that this experience made her realize how “history is not a fixed entity” but rather something that can be interpreted differently depending on one’s perspective.

The Role of Language

Finally, Cofer also touches on the role language plays in shaping our understanding of history. She notes how certain words or phrases can be used to subtly reinforce existing power dynamics or exclude certain groups from the dominant narrative.

For example, she cites how Native Americans were often referred to as “savages” in historical accounts. This language not only reinforced negative stereotypes but also helped justify the violence and oppression they faced.

In conclusion, Cofer’s “The Tone of American History” is an insightful analysis of the ways in which power, perspective, and language shape our understanding of history. By highlighting these issues, she encourages us to take a more critical approach to the historical narratives we encounter and to consider the perspectives of those who have been marginalized by them.