Imagine a near-genocide played out over three-hundred ninety-nine years. One that seeks not to ethnically cleanse or eradicate, but rather to subjugate and abuse; to steal the humanity from a body of people. Now imagine that it happened, but that we’re forgetting that it happened, one generation at a time.
“If we are to move past our racial differences, schools must do a better job of teaching American slavery and all the ways it continues to impact American society, including poverty rates, mass incarceration and education,” said Maureen Costello, a former history teacher who is director of Teaching Tolerance. “This report places an urgent call on educators, curriculum writers and policy makers to confront the harsh realities of slavery and racial injustice. Learning about slavery is essential for us to bridge the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”
Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Most didn’t know an amendment to the U.S. Constitution formally ended slavery. Fewer than half (44 percent) correctly answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.
Teaching America’s ethnic history during and beyond slavery is critical. Ending the discussion at 1865, or even 1877, leaves out the worst aspects of American racism, and worse, of American ethnic struggle. While the practice of chattel slavery left both master and slave brutally aware of their place, bigotry at the close of the nineteenth and all of the twentieth centuries left American people of color wondering what fresh hell they’d find next.
Yet at no point in my early education did I learn about the end of Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow laws, or the plight of black Americans who escaped the South to find more insidious forms of discrimination in the North.
Redlining in housing and employment, predatory lending and lease agreements, segregated schools, eateries, rest rooms, and transportation, as well as rampant violence at the hands of white supremacists were routinely visited upon African-Americans throughout the twentieth century, throughout America. Richard Nixon rode his southern strategy to the White house, invoking fear of a resurgent black populace among white Americans in the wake of Civil Rights reforms in the 1960s.
During Nixon’s administration and after, white American politicians promoted getting tough on crime, a euphemism for locking up black men and women for violating laws purposely aimed at their communities. The disparity in prosecution and punishment for possession and sale of crack cocaine vs. that for the pricier powdered form more prevalent in white communities is but one of the more glaring examples. Recent attention to police brutality against people of color, and the deaths of unarmed young black men at their hands show that ethnic struggle and the idea of racism, legacies of slavery both, are still very much with us.
That ethnic struggle and racism are two very different things needs to be taught, as well.
Even today we’re assaulted by fools who claim, we’re all equal before the law since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Laws are easy, hearts and minds much less so. Education is the key to furthering equality.
All of this should be taught in stages according to age, throughout elementary, middle, and high school. The result might be fewer white folks whining about handouts to people of color, fear of immigration, and more recognition of the racial atrocities visited upon men and women brought here against their wills, and their descendants. These folks were treated first as property, then with scorn, and at all times as the other.
(Thanks to Marsha for bringing the SPLC’s report to my attention.)
#ethnicity #race #bigotry #whiteness #otherness