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They Want to Erase Black History

erasing black history

They Want to Erase Black History

I will never forget when I was in middle school and my social studies teacher was trying to do her part for Black History Month. She was telling us about Frederick Douglass, the great orator and abolitionist… who couldn’t read or write.  My mother, bless her heart, had been making sure that we knew the basics of black history, so of course I raised my hand and said – ‘cause I was quite impertinent as a child, disdainful of ignorant teachers and quick to correct them – “You’re wrong. Frederick Douglass could read and write. He wrote several books.”

When both Nikki Haley (a minority in her own right) and Ron DeSantis said that the US is not a racist country because its ideals were based on equality, I cringed. What is happening in Florida right now, specifically around black history – I could write a whole other blog about transgender issues – cuts deep. How can you tell the story of Rosa Parks without saying that she was black? It makes no sense if you leave that part out. It removes any chance of understanding segregation and how purposefully demeaning it was to African-Americans. It removes any chance of understanding how we have been systematically subjected to mistreatment even though slavery ended nearly 150 years ago. And it destroys the possibility that white people would feel some sense of responsibility for the results of Jim Crow laws, and the effects of institutional racism.

I get it. Many white people – and many other minorities – do not want to feel any sense of responsibility for what was done in the past. “I didn’t do it, so what does it have to do with me? Why should I be blamed?” Or, “Why should I be responsible?” Or, “Why should my tax dollars have to go toward reparations?” And then there is white privilege. Goodness, so many white people do not want to wear that mantle. How many white people say, “But my life hasn’t been easy!” As if to deny that white privilege is the ABSENCE of the effects of racism on a group of people.

I get it, but I don’t like it. I remember when Bernie Sanders was running for president with his emphasis on economic justice. And one white person tried to explain to me that racial justice was a subset of economic justice. Nope, not even close. Economic justice does not stop racial profiling. Economic justice does not stop white women from being afraid of a strange black man in an elevator. Economic justice does not keep property values from dropping when a neighborhood becomes integrated. Economic justice does not change the fact that some white people – and other minorities – don’t like black people, don’t want us around, or are quick to believe the worst of us, even if they know some black people or even have “a black friend” who is nothing like the stereotypical image in their minds. Ahmaud Arbery was not poor, but he’s still dead.

I remember when the concept of Critical Race Theory came out. The idea that every aspect of American prosperity and history had some tie in with African-American subjugation is very threatening to many white people. Because, once again, there is the possibility that they will be expected to take responsibility for the effects of racism. And maybe, just maybe, reparations should be on the table.

Weren’t they quick to squash it. The irony, that Critical Race Theory is taught at the collegiate level, didn’t register. They wanted to make sure that grade school children did not learn that the white heroes that have been part of the curriculum for generations were flawed.

You do not learn the concept of flawed heroes in when you are young. In first grade, things are either good or bad, and not in between. There is no gray in first grade. So you don’t learn that Washington beat his slaves or that one of his slaves ran away to fight for the British Army. You don’t learn that Jefferson forced a teenaged girl to bear his children because she was related to his dead wife. You don’t learn that Lewis and Clark took a slave with them when they trekked across Western America. And if you’re in the South, you don’t learn that “States’ Rights” was a code word for continuing the institution of slavery because it created wealth, and allowed poor white people to consider themselves better than slaves.

I was traveling in the Midwest last year, and heard something that reminded me of the reality of white resistance to Critical Race Theory. A white man was complaining about the new school curriculum and how it has become so infused with the contributions of minorities, and the bad things that white people did to them, that he felt today’s children would not learn about white American heroes.

So, at what age should a child learn that white people did some very bad things to minorities? Often in the name of profit? Sometimes in the name of convenience? And occasionally just because white people had been taught not to like minorities?

Definitely by high school, probably by middle school. I am okay with sugar coating history for 1st and 2nd graders. But at some point, it has to stop. America has a very complicated history, and it has not all been good. Manifest Destiny is a sick concept, the American Dream is out of reach for many minorities, and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was never meant for everyone.

The only benefit for white people when it comes to understanding white privilege and black history is to learn the truth so that there is the possibility of change. They say that the truth shall set you free. All children should be taught that people, including our heroes, are complicated, with some good and some bad. I think that’s the only real way to prepare children for the world.

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