White-Washing American History

The perils of the attack on Critical Race Theory, and what we can do about it.

When Texas Senate Bill 3 passed last summer, removing the potential for racial equity in its K-12 curriculum, America’s black and brown communities braced for yet another bitter rejection in a season of historical reckoning and awakening. 

This season has brought with it some pleasant discoveries. The documentary, “Summer of Soul,” directed by Questlove tells the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. This little-known event featured seminal acts such as the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight, to name a few. Performed and filmed over the course of six weeks, the documentary uncovered one small slice of rich history previously overlooked. Conversely, the “Amber Ruffin Show” uncovered the history of black towns forcibly cleared and then quickly filled with water, creating lakes where black folk previously thrived. Oscarville, Georgia and Kowaliga, Alabama had proven quite prosperous. They provided opportunities for the building of black legacies. Yet, they were literally washed away. That is history that America is not eager to remember and is easily hidden.

Now, with the push of a pen, as in Texas, the floodgates are open to wash away more. 

What Not to Discuss

ABC News reported that the law would prevent educators from teaching that “’one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex’ or ‘feel discomfort, guilt, [or] anguish’ about privilege or systemic racism.” The term “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) has also been used as a target and seen as an educational concept that will poison young minds in the classroom if taught. Its meaning and how it is implemented in education is an additional layer to the conversation. Central to that conversation is the very fact that CRT isn’t taught in elementary and secondary school settings.

“You generally don’t find CRT taught in K-12 education. There are aspects of it being taught without it being called by name,” according to Abel Bartley, Ph.D., a professor of African American and Urban History at Clemson University. Yet, the Texas proposal sought to remove the teachings of “the history of white supremacy,” “women’s suffrage,” and even “the civil rights movement,” among other topics in history. The bill, signed by Texas Governor Abbott, further prohibits teachers from linking racism to the “…founding principles of the United States.”

This isn’t the first time that politicians targeted tutelage of America’s youth in an attempt to sanitize history. “The South ran a big, dual school system in in the early 1900s in order to suppress the education of blacks,” said Bartley. Segregation of the South’s school systems was the most effective method used, and that was just a few generations ago. Now, we see a replay. But instead of segregating people, this time it’s a separation of particular chapters in this country’s history, even though we need to be seeing the whole picture.

Where Does it Stop?

The precedent establishes a wide-ranging field, ripe for cherry picking. What is, therefore, valuable for instruction in history is left to the interpretation of a conservative minority. What could come next? 

“[It’s] the idea that the United States has not always been a land of opportunity and the dream, detailed by America’s forefathers, that purposefully left black and brown folk out of that dream” said Bartley. “I also believe that the elevation of black heroes throughout history and the idea of integration being a threat to those in power, will be targeted.”

What to Do If It Happens to You

As black America and its allies uncover more of our history—some terrible and some edifying—individuals will wrestle personally with the significant efforts to undo the enlightenment that has already been accomplished. Some, like Sydney Freeman, Ph.D., professor at the University of Idaho’s College of Education, Health and Human Services, believe that teaching history, despite these efforts, is the best way forward.

“I am hoping that we develop a supplemental curriculum that tells the real story,” said Freeman. “My team is working on pre-colonial teaching of black history. We need to strengthen our black institutions and educational organizations. We have to teach our black children about their history.” 

White Lies

The spiritual implications of these events are profound. Tim Golden, professor of Philosophy at Walla Walla University, detailed how, in order to deliver salvation to humanity, God intervened in history on various occasions. 

“Spiritually speaking, then, if God is so interested in history for the sake of deliverance, but we are trying to omit America’s history of racism and oppression in public education, that says something deeply troubling about our social and cultural ethos. Namely, we are going against God.”

The suppression of history and oppression goes hand in hand. Golden continues, “God was attentive to history to deliver people from oppression, but those who are seeking to eliminate the teaching of America’s record on civil rights and oppression want to ignore history to maintain oppression.”  

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Jordan Smart is a storyteller and independent journalist in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area. He attended Andrews University where he obtained his B.A. His work focuses on culture, psychology, storytelling, and how they intersect with society at large. You can find more of his work at smartjordan.net


This article is part of our 2021 November/December  Issue
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