More often than not, people subconsciously judge the past based on their own present morality. It is a subconscious action that we don’t realize we are doing unless we are aware of it. People often believe that white slave holders in the South pre-civil war were immoral or that Apartheid in South Africa was evil in its very nature. Although in these cases we are dehumanizing the oppressors, we can sometimes flip this mentality as well: Rome was considered to be an all-powerful nation even though it expanded its borders to conquer and subjected more people every year. We also see the Egyptians as an incredible and powerful nation even though they forced their Hebrew neighbors, who came to them seeking refuge, into slavery. While I am not saying racism is acceptable nor that Rome was not a powerhouse in its time, I am merely trying to point out that there are two sides to every conflict in history.
One thing that we have done in the courses at Messiah College is to read primary sources from both sides. As historians, we read journals and letters from white plantation owners in the south as well as biographies of slaves. We read the oppressing white government constitutions along with political statements from the oppressed. The further you go back, however, the harder it gets: we read surviving decrees from Roman and look at stories, myths, or remaining documents from the people who were conquered. We read biblical and historical texts from the Hebrews as well as examining depictions and hieroglyphics from the Egyptians. As you can see, history requires a lot of reading. We NEED to analyze each of these items so that we can gain a fully developed and equal view of both sides of the story. However we are not hearing both sides so that we can properly place the blame on someone but rather so that we can understand how both groups of people felt and why there was conflict in the first place.
As Phil mentioned before, hindsight is 20/20 but too often people only see what they wish to see and ignore the rest of the evidence. Again I am not condoning racism or oppression but rather I am acknowledging the fact that it has existed in history and that, in order to prevent it in the future, we need to understand the emotions of both parties then so that we can hopefully be more open to the emotions of both parties now or in the future.