Racial history is apparently evolving, starting with Texas.
Last month the Texas senate passed Senate Bill 3 which would remove educational requirements on racial equity in K-12 education. It seems that as America is uncovering more of its history a simultaneous embrace and rejection of that history is happening.
Some of our collective American history, including often untold African American history, is great to remember. For example, musician Questlove directed the recently released documentary “Summer of Soul” to tell the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, a little-known event featuring seminal acts such as the Isley Brother, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight. This documentary brought this history to light and gave black history another chapter that has been overlooked.
Conversely, the Amber Ruffin Show recently covered another sad chapter in American history. She traced the story of Black towns forcibly made vacant. These prosperous towns such as Oscarville, Georgia and Kowaliga, Alabama provided opportunities for wealth. They carried with them potential for enduring black legacies. Yet, with inhabitants forcibly removed, the towns were quickly filled with water, creating lakes where black folk previously thrived.
Those towns, and their stories are hidden away, or largely forgotten. This is the kind of history that America is not eager to remember.
Critical Race Theory Absent
Now the push to suppress history is happening in Texas. ABC News reports that the law would prevent educators from teaching that “’one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex’ or should ‘feel discomfort, guilt, [or] anguish’ about privilege or systemic racism.” Conservatives target “critical race theory” charging that it is an educational concept that will poison young minds in the classroom. They take issue with the meaning of the concept, and how it is implemented.
“You generally don’t find CRT taught in K-12 education,” however, said Abel Bartley, PhD., a professor of African American and Urban History at Clemson University. “There are aspects of it being taught without it being called by name.”
Senate Bill 3 would remove the teachings of the history of white supremacy, women’s suffrage, and even the civil rights movement. Texas Governor Gregg Abott has signed HB3979 which says that teachers are banned from linking racism to the “…founding principles of the United States.”
As we look on the fight over history, it’s important to note, this is not the first time historical fact faces challenge in our educational systems.
“The South ran a big dual school system in the early 1900s in order to suppress the education of Blacks” says Bartley. Segregation of the school systems was the biggest method used just a few generations ago. Now we are seeing a different kind of separation today, the separation of particular chapters in this country’s history, while we need to be seeing the whole picture.
From a practical standpoint the Texas law whitewashes the defining impact of American racism on its people. This system of redaction reaches into fundamental truths of history, and removes the moral flaws with respect to racism from view and analysis.
“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,” if taught at all, would now be off the books, 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.”
“It is problematic because students will not have the opportunity to get a proper accounting of history, period, not just black history” said Sydney Freeman, Ph.D, professor at the University of Idaho College of Education, Health and Human Services. “There has been a big reawakening for white America due to the blatant injustices seen by all. [Now, though] there has been a general push against this history being told.”
To Tell the Truth
As we uncover more of our history—some terrible and some edifying—there are significant efforts to undo the enlightenment that has already been accomplished. However, what can those that want to continue telling the full history do? Freeman believes that teaching history despite these efforts is the best way forward.
“I am hoping that we develop supplemental curricula that tells the real story. My team is working 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.”