Whitewashing history

Recently, the NAACP, LULAC, and the Legislative Black Caucus held yet another protest rally at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, in opposition to the State Board of Education’s new standards for social-studies courses in the public schools. The adopted changes are a blatant attempt to distort historical fact in order to teach Texas and American History from a conservative perspective. What made these groups believe that the State Board members, who are simply following the lead of their conservative constituents, would change their minds and do the right thing?

Conservative white America, where I would argue the majority of the racists are now housed, has never voluntarily done the right thing for black people in this country. They are not going to change their perceptions of what history should look like in the school history books to satisfy protestors. One fact they do understand is that history helps shape one’s culture, and pride in that culture is necessary for a healthy race or ethnic group. They cannot afford to have their history written and taught as it actually was. They do not want their children to know that a young black man was brutally lynched in Money, Mississippi, in 1955 because he spoke to a white woman. They do not want their children to read about the lynching in Valdosta, Georgia, in 1913, when a pregnant black woman was strung up to a tree, doused with kerosene, and while she burned, the baby was cut out of her and stomped to death. They certainly do not want their young ones to discuss in class the fact that the Ku Klux Klan controlled every elective office in Dallas County in 1922, and the grand wizard of the Klan was from Dallas. If you reveal to them, through a true depiction of history, that two of the worst cases of mass murder in this country took place in Atlanta in 1906 when 26 blacks were murdered and in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, when more than 300 Blacks were slaughtered, it would damage that race pride.

The State Board of Education will not include this true history in their curriculum, but instead they will tell their children, and unfortunately, our children also, that the Black Panthers practiced violence against the white police in Oakland, California, when in reality they were only protecting their communities against the atrocities that police have committed against black folks throughout history. The Panthers knew what happed in Atlanta in 1906 and in Tulsa in 1921.

These truths distract from the determination to maintain the myth of “American Exceptionalism,” and in doing so our children have to suffer. In his work, The Ideologies of African American Literature, Dr. Robert Washington writes, “The ruling class typically controls not only the subordinate group’s economic and political life, but also its cultural representations — namely the ideas and images inscribing its social identity in the public arena.” The white conservatives control Texas and the State Board of Education. They are not about to change the image of themselves in history regardless of how distorted it may be.

What has changed, however, is the black community’s ability to take control of their children’s own education in institutions that stress the black perspective. In one of his many essays, the great novelist Ralph Ellison wrote, “A people must define who they are, and Blacks have the responsibility of having their ideals and images recognized as part of the composite image which is that of the American people.” That is exactly what is being done in other major cities such as Chicago and New York. There is no need for us to protest the lies; we know they are just that, a total distortion of the truth. But we can teach our children from a positive perspective, absent the necessity to tear down another race. Whereas they teach their children (and ours right now) to admire the courage of Patrick Henry who was willing to die for liberty, we can teach our children about David Walker, who did die for writing a political tract that informed slaves it was all right to fight, kill, and die for their freedom. Whereas they teach their children (and ours) the meaning behind the Gettysburg Address, we can teach our children the meaning behind Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech.

Stop these attempts to convince people who do not care about us and are not going to alter their program. If they were of that mindset then we would not be forced to struggle with the dilemma of how to save our children from another 10 years of conservative brainwashing propaganda. •

Frederick Williams is a founding member of Black Men United for Reading and Writing.

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