Reggie Jackson: The lasting damage of America’s current Culture Wars
“Historians tell us where we’ve been, and give us insights into where we’re going. Historians remind us of the things that we’ve forgotten, and speak up about the things we’ve deliberately omitted. Historians reveal things that we never knew. Historians show us that we’ve been asking the wrong questions, and perhaps even giving the wrong answers. Most crucially, historians tell us who we are, because how we know ourselves in the present is intimately linked to the ways we remember ourselves in the past.” – Jason Steinhauer
“Those who seek history with an upbeat ending, redemption, or reconciliation, may search in vain.” – Raoul Peck
We are living in an age where the wheels of what we often call progress are in many ways screeching to a stop. The constant attacks on truth telling, particularly as it pertains to the nation’s history, will have lasting impacts. The fact that at least forty states have introduced some type of legislation which basically bans truth telling in our schools will leave lasting scars on the intellect and psyche of young people that will grow up in the dark, not having a clear understanding of how we got to be what America is today.
I do not have nearly as much confidence as I once, perhaps naively had, about the ability to move hearts and minds towards racial repair and reconciliation. This idea was planted in me by my mentor Dr. James Cameron, lynching survivor, founder of America’s Black Holocaust museum, and all around amazing human being.
I first met this amazing man in 1994 and began to volunteer at his museum in 2002. Over the last five or so years of his life, we became close friends. I saw him as a friend, mentor and most importantly as a father. Not a father figure. He treated me like a son and helped change the course of my life. I am on the path that has lasted some twenty years now, primarily due to his influence.
He survived a brutal lynching on August 7, 1930, where his two friends Abe Smith and Thomas Shipp were murdered by a mob of 15,000 in Marion, Indiana. I have visited the sight of the lynching on three separate occasions and paid honor to Abe and Thomas in the small cemetery in what was once Weaver, Indiana, where they are buried in unmarked graves.
Each trip to Marion, including the most recent one in April, reminded me that Cameron returned to Marion several years after the lynching, to interview witnesses to the horrific night where he was dragged out of the Grant County jail with a lyncher’s rope around his neck. Who would do this? Who would want to revisit that horrible night? Who would have the courage to do something that audacious? The answers to those questions tell you how incredible this man was. However, it is just a small part of his life. His memoir, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story, in its third edition gives you more about his life. I am proud to say that I wrote the afterword for that edition, documenting his life after he got out of prison at age 21.
He was 74 years old when he first opened America’s Black Holocaust Museum. His most lasting impact on me is that he strongly believed that the truth would be the pathway to repair and eventual reconciliation.
America appeared to be slowly moving in that direction after the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. What many did not recognize was that the path to telling the ugly truths about America is a very difficult road to travel. As I have said and written many times before, racism is alive and well. Those who hold racist views, whether they are conscious or unconscious, hold on to a mythology about America that is built on collective disregard for the truth about racism.
The culture wars occurring in school board meetings, school districts, schools and classrooms today are a clear sign of the desire that many have. They are choosing to gloss over, and now more openly, to simply ignore any attempt to cover up the ugly parts of the nation’s history. They claim that telling these stories damages students. What they really mean is it damages the relationships they have with White children who they prefer to continue to lie to about American history. They have no desire, in fact they ignore the children of color in our schools who deserve to hear the truth. They claim to be protecting children by lying to them.
The minds of many Americans over the years have been poisoned by schools that refused to give honest assessments of American history. When people of color began to more forcefully demand the inclusion of their stories into our history classes, history standards and history curricula, it was a shock to the system.
It did not lead to massive change though. Very little of the stories they demanded are included in social studies curricula and classrooms around the country. There are sporadic attempts by brave teachers to sneak in these stories. Most social studies teachers are White. They do not generally have a background in college where they studied the history of people of color. They are usually unprepared to teach these parts of American history, not because of intentional efforts to ignore that history. They are a part of a system, on the college level, that makes inclusive stories, elusive to those not actively seeking them. They must take classes as electives to learn about Native American, African American and Hispanic/Latino history.
The fear that has been induced into the hearts and minds of White parents across the country recently is based on a lie. No one is teaching critical race theory, a law school level series of courses, in K-12 schools. Very few schools are teaching much of anything about the history of people of color, and racism is pretty much unexplored in a majority of schools around the country. The fact that this is the case is drowned out in the narratives about what should and should not be taught in schools.
I find one particular part of the argument these people who are outlawing the teaching of the truth to be quite ironic. They claim that Marxism and communism are invading the schools by way of telling the parts of American history that are not flattering to the mythological story we are all taught. While this lie is being told in school districts around the country, something similar is happening in Hong Kong.
About ten years ago students in Hong Kong protested the attempt to revise a curriculum because they felt the curricula proposed by the government would brainwash them and strip critical thinking skills from the schools. They were successful in forcing the changes to not happen. Can you imagine the same happening here? I wish students had the will and foresight to do the same about the changes taking place around the country.
As is often the case, those wanting to implement those changes in Hong Kong, are now succeeding. As Hong Kong is now controlled by communist China, they are now imposing those changes the students fought against ten years ago.
“New textbooks have been written saying that Hong Kong was ‘occupied’ but never a British ‘colony.’ A list of banned books — which the government refuses to publicize — has librarians on edge. A school subject devoted to cultivating critical thinking and creativity will be replaced by one focusing on citizen values.” – Washington Post
The people complaining about communism harming our schools, are doing the exact same thing that the government of China is doing to schools in Hong Kong. How ironic and lost this is on most Americans.
One of the constant complaints in these culture wars is that systemic racism is made up. People of color were not awakened to systemic racism by the murder of George Floyd. We have lived systemic racism. We do not need to read a book, listen to a podcast, or take a class to understand it. Only White people are in that space. While more and more Whites are being indoctrinated into this false belief, some are using this time to advocate violence and murder of people of color. Telling lies, has led to mass murders throughout history. We saw it in Rwanda, in Cambodia, in Nazi Germany and through many generations of America. Don’t be surprised to see more of it here while we fight the culture wars of today.
“There is violence in the future, I’m going to tell you. And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can’t expect any differently.” – U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)