Then: Conquistadors were heroes; Now: Racism isn’t systemic; it’s just a bunch of individual racists.
I recently posted a column, “The revelations of a road trip,” which was sub-headed, “How a drive in Florida reminded me of what I learned and didn’t learn in school.” You can read the column here: https://around-the-block.com/2021/06/04/the-revelations-of-a-road-trip/.
Among the comments I received was this one from a reader named Laura who wrote,
I was fortunate to have had a mother who majored in history in Brooklyn College,. Daughter of immigrants, both of whom lost family members in the Holocaust, my family was very vocal about the injustices before, during, and after the Civil War, and many horrifying stories of the Holocaust from the few letters they received before hearing nothing. My maternal grandfather went to Poland to get his parents and sister out. They refused to go, and it haunted him for the rest of his life. My father, born in Warsaw, was somehow politically active, and strangely secretive about it. So I grew up knowing more than most of my teachers, which displeased them greatly, since I often chose to reeducate them… another story. I am grateful to say that our sons were fairly vocal about the truths of history.
I was taken by Laura’s words and the fact that she, unlike many of us, learned more about the history that was either covered up or mis-taught in my school during the ’50’s. Unfortunately, much of what she learned was the result of a family history of suffering and tragedy.
Laura ended her comments with a challenge: “So, what are your suggestions as to what we might do to further right the written and taught wrongs?” Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to take on her challenge.
I spoke to a few of my great-nieces and nephews about what they learned or are learning. Clearly the Holocaust is part of the curriculum in the schools they attended. (Although two years ago, the principal of one of the largest high schools in Boca Raton was fired for saying, that (Holocaust) lessons are “not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs.” as if the Holocaust was a “belief.” And at least one of my great-nephews told me he had learned that the Spanish explorers whom my generation were taught to revere for their courageous exploits were, in fact, proselytizing, genocidal, disease-spreading “conquerors” (the literal translation of “conquistador”) out for personal fame, glory and riches. (Actually, not his exact words…more like my interpretation of his words).
So, do I feel better? Has the gap in my early education been filled by what’s being taught in American schools now? Have we finally gotten back on track, teaching our youth the truth, unencumbered by prejudice and cover-ups?
And then this (from The Washington Post):
In push against ‘indoctrination,’ DeSantis mandates surveys of Florida college students’ beliefs
After banning public schools from teaching “critical race theory” two weeks ago, Florida is reshaping civics lessons and addressing what its governor says parents worry about when they send their children to college — indoctrination.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) says he is concerned about the free flow of ideas on campus and whether higher education stifles free speech from conservatives. Under a law he signed Tuesday, which will take effect July 1, public universities must assess “viewpoint diversity” on campus each year through a survey developed by the State Board of Education, a requirement that a free-speech expert predicted as a model for other conservative-led states.
“We want our universities to be focused on critical thinking and academic rigor. We do not want them as basically hotbeds for stale ideology,” DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday. “That’s not worth tax dollars and not something we’re going to be supporting moving forward. Please be aware, I’m not picking on my favorite(!) governor here; that’s actually too easy. A similar law was also signed by the GOP governor of red Indiana.
And, take a look at this map in which some sort of ban on teaching critical race theory or other right-wing third-rail social issues has either been introduced or enacted. Virtually every act has been sponsored by a GOP official.
Now, there’s not enough space in this column for a full exploration of the pros and cons of critical race theory and whether racism is systemic (I think it is) or just demonstrated by individual people with prejudices (yes, like the KKK, just a bunch of individual people with prejudices). But whatever you call it, doesn’t it make sense to teach our students that there is a distinct possibility that racial inequality is embedded in the founding of, and in the structures of our society and our nation? Critics call it divisive. I agree; it is divisive. Divisive because it exposes issues that a large segment of our population believes, and virtually all elected politicians on the right don’t want us to know but would rather bury, than “divide” us.
As written in 1995 in “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement,” this way of thinking “compels us to confront critically the most explosive issue in American civilization: the historical centrality and complicity of law in upholding white supremacy.” And when you critically confront the issues, some people. almost entirely on the right, don’t want to hear about it.
Compelling us to confront issues critically…you know, THINK, is not a bad idea. Shouldn’t our students be given the opportunity to confront the issues, think about them and draw their own conclusions?
Divisiveness is the right’s smokescreen. What they’re really afraid of is losing their base and losing their cozy jobs. They’re afraid of the truth, and letting our students in on that truth. Can you imagine their electoral prospects if these kids were taught the truth and then started thinking and voting that truth?
Let me close with this astonishing essay, from which the “Whitewashed Elephant” image at the head of this column was taken.
From what I gather about critical race theory, it serves to tell the inner truth about race in our country’s history. This obscure academic concept is more complicated than that, but conservatives are turning the perceived threat of CRT into the next boogeyman to thwart any discussion of American racial history in schools.
Never mind for now the confusion of CRT.
The bigger question: Why shouldn’t we tell the truth about American history? Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t whitewash the elephant in the room. Give it to us straight.
Who can’t handle the truth?
Alabama lawmakers, of course. No surprise. Many of the same still think Trump won the election. State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile), was in such a hurry to ban CRT he pre-filed the bill before he even knew what it was!
by J.D. Crowe
So what’s astonishing about this piece? It was published on a site called AL.com (AL = Alabama). Yes, Toto, there is hope ’cause this doesn’t sound like we’re in Alabama anymore!