There’s this narrative floating around regarding slavery in the United States that is gravely inaccurate. These inaccuracies are both dangerous and damning to our nationally collective remembrance of our past, the very racially-charged country in which we currently live, and the hope for a one-day- post-racial future that we suggest to our students each day — particularly our Black and Brown students who, simply because of the color of their skin, are born into a racially inequitable world.
As I write this blog, former African-Americans who were slaves are depicted as content volunteer “workers” in textbooks in use in Texas. “In September, Bobby Finger of the website Jezebel obtained and published some excerpts from the new books, showing much of what is objectionable about their content. The books play down the horror of slavery and even seem to claim that it had an upside. This upside took the form of a distinctive African-American culture, in which family was central, Christianity provided ‘hope,’ folk tales expressed ‘joy’ and community dances were important social events.”
U.S. History is taught in fifth, seventh, eighth, and eleventh grade classrooms throughout the U.S.. Students in these grades are at crucial stages of their development. Their ability to critically think about and evaluate information is far from formed. The intake of compromised information under the guise of fact can have long-lasting detrimental effects on the way our students perceive themselves and the world around them. How do districts justify purchasing such offensive curricula and how do educators, in good conscience, teach these lies to the students who sit before them? Are the standardized exams that students must pass in order to advance from one grade to the next contingent upon the regurgitation of this derogatory information?
Of equally important probing is the negative impact that teaching of this fake news has on Black and Brown children. As it is, all students ever learn about African-Americans in the current U.S. school system revolves around slavery, Abraham Lincoln setting the slaves free (another lie), and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks (pretty much the only two Black leaders taught) fighting against Jim Crow laws under the threat of firehoses, savage dogs, and the Klu Klux Klan. For White students, being taught that their forefathers were all great men furthers White privilege and conveniently disconnects them from others’ realities.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee was recently revered by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as a great leader whose staunch advocacy for the secession of states from the union and the furtherance of slavery throughout the United States are to be esteemed, rather than abhorred. This article in the Washington Post quotes Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly:
“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly said. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”
Slavery led to the Civil War! Is this really a debatable fact? Apparently so! Compromise? What compromise, Chief of Staff Kelly? How many more Africans to enslave and torture and sell and exploit? “The reality is that the path to civil war was marked by numerous compromises on slavery,” the author Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out on Twitter Tuesday morning. In fact, the war started because of the people who wanted to maintain and expand the right to own other people as property.”
I conclude writing this post having more questions than answers. I’m outraged and just hurt. As Black people in America, our history and our lives mean absolutely nothing to the mainstream. Since the mainstream is teaching our children (80% of teachers are White), how is American history being presented to our students in their classrooms? It seems that if it were up to the powers that be, African-Americans would be written out of the history books altogether. I mean, we pretty much are when you think about it. How can we ever move forward when the events of the past are still not reconciled truthfully in the minds of so many Americans?