Historians, archaeologists, and skeptics of all stripes quickly condemned the History Channel for using the language of racial inclusivity, diversity, and justice while simultaneously airing programming that sends exactly the opposite message.
The History Channel is the current home of Ancient Aliens, a program that has spent ten years asserting that the world’s native and indigenous people were unable to construct monuments or develop cultures of their own without extraterrestrial help. While the series occasionally mentions alien help for Europeans, it is in terms of partnership or white appropriation of alien technology, while non-whites are described as overwhelmed by and submissive to alien overlords.
The History Channel and its former second channel H2 aired many seasons of programs like America Unearthed which claimed that Native people were not the true indigenous occupants of the Americas but had replaced a lost white race originating in Europe.
The History Channel has aired many programs, including America Unearthed and Search for the Lost Giants, that alleged Native Americans were the hybrid descendants of a lost white race, the latter show asserting that this lost race was physically superior. Its highest-rated show, The Curse of Oak Island, claimed that Native peoples worshiped white Europeans as living gods.
The History Channel has aired many programs, including Ancient Aliens, In Search Of, and many one-off specials, alleging that global indigenous cultures originated on Atlantis, a Greek-style lost civilization occupied by a lost white race. Such stories were based on Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, which specifically identified Atlantis’s people as white.
The History Channel and its spinoff channel have given platforms to so-called “experts” who have made either explicit or implicit racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic claims. One program, for example, praised Jan Van Helsing, a neo-Nazi sympathizer, for his claims about Nazi UFOs. Several of their hosts have, in their tie-in books or literary work, relied on racist material. Scott Wolter, in the book he published while a History Channel host, endorsed the work of fascist sympathizer and racist Jacques de Mahieu. Erich von Däniken of Ancient Aliens has repeatedly made offensive comments about black people, women, and Muslims. He once suggested that aliens invented white people because the black race was a “failure,” albeit a “musical” one.
The History Channel programs, especially Ancient Aliens, glorify the Nazis, routinely depicting them as possessed of supernatural power, having direct access to occult and extraterrestrial forces, and lying in wait to restore order to a chaotic world. America Unearthed explicitly claimed that Americans “have to admire” Confederate terrorists who attempt to spread white supremacy and slavery to Latin America.
The History Channel frequently features anti-Catholic conspiracy theories about nefarious Vatican coverups of the “truth” about Jesus, aliens, and God, recycling early Protestant attacks on Catholicism, a religion disproportionately associated with immigrants and Hispanic/Latin people.
The History Channel does not feature any African American hosts for its current slate of history-themed programming. To the best of my knowledge, they have not had a woman host a history-focused series, though I believe they had a woman on a couple of their reality game shows.
In short, the History Channel wants credit for sounding woke while profiting from old systems of structural racism that have been inherent in the fringe history genre for two centuries. I talked about this in my recent book The Mound Builder Myth, which documents the systemic racism behind America’s relationship to ancient American history and the perverse effects it had on science, scholarship, and, most importantly, relations with racial minorities.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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