“Truth-telling is not the cause of the divisions in the country. A refusal to accept the truth is the cause.”
– Reggie Jackson 2021
“Legislators in Iowa and Florida have introduced bills that would install cameras in classrooms for parents to monitor what is being taught to children. A proposed Oklahoma law would allow parents to sue teachers for up to $10,000 for teaching material that is “in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students”, which is generally believed to be a reference to LGBTQ content. A bill in Florida seeks to restrict in-classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in public school classes for younger children. Yet another proposed law in the state would prohibit public education or workplace training that makes people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin”, echoing language from similar provisions passed or proposed in Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas.” – Christopher Rhodes, 2022
We have been exposed to teaching that has made us feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, and psychological distress on account of race, color, sex, and many other things for all of American history and it has not killed us. It has made us demand truth be taught. It has led to social movements that have made America what it is today. The pain and anguish of the distorted history we’ve been taught made us stronger.
To think that today, a segment of this society wants us to believe that teaching the stories of the marginalization of Americans is somehow dividing the country is disturbing. It’s clearly a sign of the continual disrespect of the people who America has not honored, and maintains the status quo.
Despite what you might have heard, few schools teach honest history. You would be led to believe that schools everywhere are going all-in during Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (May), Jewish American Heritage Month (May), Hispanic Heritage Month (September), LGBT History Month (October), and Native American Heritage Month (November). The fact is that few school districts, schools and teachers honor and even acknowledge these celebrations. The lived experiences of those groups are routinely left out of classroom lesson plans and state curricula.
As we have come closer to understanding the importance of celebrating marginalized communities and their contributions and struggles in America, there has been a strong pushback in the form of lies, misinformation and bullying to make these things illegal. Imagine what it feels like when someone pushes to criminalize the teaching of your history, while claiming to not be racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, or homophobic. It is clearly a sign of how systemically these issues are embedded in the America that claims to be free of bias.
I remember not learning much about Black people in school all the way through 12th grade. I never heard the name of Malcolm X in school. I was told the greatest Black person that ever lived was Booker T. Washington. I heard nothing about Ida B. Wells, and the Black suffragettes that fought for women’s right to vote.
Emmett Till’s story was left out of my history classes. I never heard a peep about lynchings or anti-black race riots. I was told slavery was “not that bad.” I was told that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two men who collectively owned nearly 1,000 Black people, were honorable men in every way, shape and form.
I was told that Abraham Lincoln “freed the slaves,” but no one mentioned his plans to send those freed people away from these shores in his colonization schemes. No one told me about the racist things President Andrew Jackson said about Native Americans or the impact of his Indian Removal Act. No one found it important enough to mention the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. I never learned about the mass deportations of Mexicans, including Mexican American citizens. No one mentioned redlining or racial restrictive covenants which allowed Whites to build generational wealth and keep their communities all-white.
I missed out on hearing about the way America refused to allow many Jews fleeing Nazi Germany to come here to save their lives. I never learned about the persecution of the gay community. I never learned that Henry Ford was a rabid anti-Semite. I never heard anyone mention Charles Lindbergh and his connections to white supremacy.
“Now it is perfectly obvious that a high type of people will not result from indiscriminate marriage, or from the mixing together of all classes and races. We will not create better children by mating white with Negro, or by throwing America and Europe open to the Asiatic. On the contrary, we must choose with the utmost care. We must surround ourselves with people who add quality of mind and strength of body to our community, with people whose sons and daughters [blood] we are willing to have mixed [mix] with the blood of our children… Thus, and thus only can Democracy endure.” – Charles Lindbergh 1938
Our schools have disseminated a version of American history that has been intentionally biased. It is not by accident that the ugly parts of American history have been kept from all of us. The myth of America does not allow an honest appraisal of the country. In fact, it makes an honest appraisal seem downright unpatriotic. The strong desire to maintain this approach is clear in the words and deeds of those who want to criminalize the telling of truth today. They call it “divisive concepts,” I call it the truth.
They want to scare teachers into fearing for their careers if they teach the truth. They want school districts to be defunded if they teach the truth. I’m amazed at the irony of the anger about defunding police coming from the same people who threaten to defund schools over teaching the truth.
Truth is complicated in America. America has never had the ability to be honest because it began with the theft of Indigenous people’s land and enslavement of practically every Black person in the thirteen colonies. The words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution’s Preamble were suspect because they intentionally ignored that reality.
Unless America collectively tells the truth about its past, truth will have no real meaning in this country. Far too many people have been, and continue to be, content with being lied to. Marginalized people don’t belong to that group for the most part. Some marginalized people have been given a large enough piece of the American pie that they are content repeating the lies America tells.
The anger and demonstratively childish behavior by adults who wish to quash the first amendment rights of others by yelling that the truth will not set us free is a sign of how far America still needs to go to honor and value all of us. The attempts to create compromising laws and intimidate people into silence are leading America down a very slippery slope. There is an organized effort to silence Whites who have come to learn, understand and articulate the history of systemic racism in America.
The nation is no more divided than it’s ever been. America has always been divided. White people in America are more divided than they’ve ever been. Those White’s that have had the courage to cross the line to support marginalized and discriminated against groups is what has led to the fear so present in those who want to “Make America Great Again.” The old “we’re all in this together” trope that kept Whites in an advantageous position is not nearly as popular as it used to be.
There is now a huge crack in the armor. That crack is because people have been exposed to a different version of events in a way they never have been before. Denying the reality of racial bias is no longer tenable. There is far too much evidence to the contrary. The voices of the marginalized women, LGBTQ+ members, and multiple racial and ethnic groups are louder and clearer than they’ve ever been. People who refused to pay attention in the past are now listening to those voices.
America is changing for the better, and it has led to a vocal pushback by those who think America was fine the way it was before “those people” started to speak their minds. Silence is complicity. Making the teaching of the stories America is ashamed of illegal is complicity.
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
– Mahatma Gandhi