Dear Kanye, The Same Impulse That Enslaved Black Minds on the Plantation Stokes Your Admiration for Trump

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Kanye West is a brilliant musician.

 

I start with that reminder because he’s also a jackass.

 

The same iconoclastic impulses that make him so fascinating to listen to on the mic make him almost impossible to take seriously anywhere else.

 

About a week ago, he took to Twitter to say the most controversial thing he could think of – that he still likes Donald Trump:

 

“You don’t have to agree with trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”

 

Say what you will, he got the mileage he wanted out of it. People’s heads exploded all over the place.

 

How can a black man (other than Ben Carson) support perhaps the most racist Chief Executive in the history of this country?

 

Trump was endorsed by David Duke (a former KKK Grand Dragon), his supporters include white nationalists (Read: Nazis) whom he refuses to criticize, he was a notorious birther refusing to accept any of the overwhelming evidence that Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen, and his real estate company avoided renting to African Americans and gave preferential treatment to white people. And that’s only the most cursory list! I could go on and on and on!

 

But Kanye loves him. Okay. How do you feel about James Earl Ray? When he shot and killed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did he, too, have Dragon Energy?

 

Perhaps Duke does – literally. Yet Yeezy ain’t tweeting him any support!

 

However, Kanye wasn’t done. Today on TMZ, he doubled down on his contrarianism:

 

When you hear about slavery for 400 years … For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.

 

And:

 

You were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.

 

Okay, Kanye.

 

Hold up.

 

Yes, slavery works by imprisoning minds as well as bodies. The same with our contemporary racial and economic cast system.

 

But to call slavery a choice – while true in a sense – minimizes how constrained that choice was.

 

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, most slaves had a choice between life in bondage or torture and death. They could try to run, try to organize and revolt or just try to survive.

 

What kind of choice is that?

 

Run and you might get caught – risk the little you have and risk the safety of anyone you care about for a dim chance at freedom.

 

And that was if there was anywhere to go. Without connections on the Underground Railroad or other sympathetic forces, the very idea of trying to free one’s self must have seemed next to impossible.

 

Sure, you could try to organize and overthrow your taskmasters – but that’s generally not how human psychology works. You convince yourself that going along is better, that if you just listen to authority, you’ll survive. It’s the same thought 6 million Jewish people had as they were being marched to the gas chambers.

 

I guess that’s your point. Human psychology is wrong. It’s better to fight than go along.

 

Then how do you explain your support for Trump?

 

You’re exercising your right to free thought by voicing an unpopular opinion – BECAUSE IT’S UNPOPULAR. But that’s not freedom – that’s merely thesis and antithesis. Everyone says THIS, so I say THAT.

 

I imagine plenty house slaves did the same thing back on the plantation. “The Master is kind and caring and he looks out for me.”

 

That’s really what you’re saying when you praise Trump.

 

One of the criticisms often leveled at rap music is how much it idolizes wealth and conspicuous consumption.

 

As a famous hip hop artist once said:

 

“ …And this rich n– racism
That’s that “Come in, please buy more
What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?
All you blacks want all the same things”
Used to only be n–s now everybody playing
Spending everything on Alexander Wang…”

 

That was you, Kanye, on “New Slaves” back in 2013.

 

The Yeezus who spouted those rhymes was criticizing exactly the kind of BS you’re spewing today.

 

Yeah, Trump is a symbol of having made it in America. But if he’s who you emulate, you’ve betrayed everything you used to stand for.

 

Fight the power – don’t befriend it!

 

Overthrow our classist, racist society – don’t defend it!

 

But who am I to criticize you? You’re a black man and I’m just a white observer. If you want to throw shade on your own people, go for it. If you want to trade in rebellion for a MAGA hat, you do it. That’s your right. Just don’t be surprised if no one thanks you for it.

Racism Never Ended – It Just Keeps Evolving

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“One of our founding principles as a nation [is] that Black lives and Black bodies don’t matter; you see that in all our headlines today. This original sin lingers on, that’s why we got to call it sin… Slavery never ended, it just evolved. Mass incarceration is the current evolution of slavery.”
Jim Wallis  
 
 
“Even the most casual student of our country’s legal system should know that racism hasn’t existed since 1964 when we passed the Civil Rights Act. So obviously there’s no possible way for my statement to be considered racist if racism hasn’t existed for fifty years! I mean come on, racism? It’s 2015 people, racism is over.”

Antonin Scalia
 

When does brutality end – when it stops being practiced or when its effects stop being felt?

Neither condition has been met in the United States today. Black people still suffer under state-sanctioned barbarism just as the echoes of cruelty from years past continue to ring in our ears.

People of color – whether they be black, Latino, Hispanic, etc. – experience a much different reality than whites. They live under the constant threat of violence without justice. Their rights are continually being re-evaluated. They are subject to systems that wait for them to step out of line in even the most innocuous ways and then pounce.

And the white majority goes around blind to these perceptions while repeating the fairy tale that all wrongdoings were only in the past.

But it’s not in the past. Our history, written in blood, has never been allowed to dry on our forgotten chronicles of yesterday. When white eyes examine the facts, they often see a series of unrelated dots which they cannot – or will not – logically connect.

The Civil War is over, they say.

No. It’s not.

Slavery is over, they say.

No. It’s not.

Racism is over, they say.

No. It’s not.

We still are engaged in the struggle for basic human dignity. And the only way to even begin on that path is to recognize the truth staring us in the face.

Nothing has ended. It has only evolved.

 

THE CIVIL WAR

 

When did the American Civil War end?

This may seem a strange question to ask.

But when a country goes to war with itself, it may be difficult to discern when that conflict actually comes to completion.

History gives us many important dates to consider.

On April 9, 1865, commander of the Confederate armies General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. But there were still sizable Confederate troops left standing.

In fact, the bloodshed was far from over. President Abraham Lincoln was murdered a mere 5 days later by John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer. Andrew Johnson was sworn in as President on April 15, the next morning.

It wasn’t until April 26, that General Joseph E. Johnson surrendered nearly 90,000 Tennessee soldiers – the largest of a series of subsequent capitulations.

President Johnson declared the insurrection to be over on May 9. However, the last Confederate general didn’t surrender until June 23.

Which date shall we choose? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. The point is that the conflict clearly came to an end.

Clearly the Confederacy was defeated by the Union.

Wasn’t it?

The problem is how to tell.

The Southern states were brought back into the union. But the overwhelming reason behind their secession has not been settled.

Today partisans and talking heads will argue that slavery was but one of many reasons behind the split. But during the 1860s, there was no such confusion.

Four of the Southern states explicitly gave slavery as the impetus for the break.

But Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, removed all doubt when he said:

“The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions–African slavery as it exists among us–the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization.

[…] The general opinion of the men of that day
[Revolutionary Period] was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution [slavery] would be evanescent and pass away.

[…] Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

So if the war was fought over the issue of slavery and the subjugation of black people, its end can be traced to the date at which slavery ended and black people were treated as equals with whites.

That day has not yet come.

Outright slavery came to an eventual end, but – as we shall see – it was replaced with another institution. Moreover, in the aftermath of Reconstruction, we were left with Jim Crow laws cementing white supremacy. Most newly “freed” blacks lived in squalid conditions with few rights, little pay and education. Their situation was only slightly different in fact from their state under slavery. These laws had to be struck down by the collective actions of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.

Only then were black people truly permitted to vote en mass. Only then were they permitted in the same public spaces and offered some actionable protections under the law. But social and economic change still lags behind.

Today, more than 150 years since the end of the war’s military conflicts, we’re left to ponder: have things really changed so much?

Certainly there are cosmetic differences. There are no open air slave markets, no rolling cotton plantations staffed by bare backed, lash marked, kidnapped Africans. But have black people really been put on an equal footing with whites? Do they enjoy the same freedoms and privileges? Are they truly free from bondage and oppression?

If we look with open eyes, the answer is no.

 

SLAVERY

 

Today no one is legally allowed to own another person. You can’t purchase human beings. You can’t deprive them of their liberty and rights. You can’t use them as a source of revenue for your own benefit.

At least, that’s what the law says. But it happens every day.

What is the modern prison industry if not a new form of slavery? No matter how you look at it, we lock up a higher percentage of our population than any other country in the world. The US represents 5% of the world’s population but has 25% of the world’s prisoners. And the majority of those inmates have brown skin.

Whether federal, state, or privately run, the result is a massive increase in incarceration for people of color. In fact, more black people are in prison today than were in bondage in 1865. That’s a higher percentage of the black population than South Africa locked up at the height of apartheid. Today one in three black males is likely to spend some time incarcerated. That’s not insignificant.

Technically no one owns these people, but they are deprived of their freedom. They are kept in prison and unable to leave. In lockup, they are forced to work and the profit from that cheap labor goes to the prison industry. Moreover, state and federal governments often farm out these prison services to private industry which then profits off that incarceration. In many cases, the government has a contract with these corporations to fill X number of beds or else be penalized with Y dollars. So the incentive is to provide a continual stream of persons bound to labor.

This looks a lot like slavery. It is a kind of plantation where big business is paid to keep people in chains.

However, one can anticipate the following objection: Slaves were born into their servitude. Prisoners are not. They are thrown behind bars because they freely broke the law.

This does represent a difference. But is it more than cosmetic?

People of color – especially black males – commit crimes at about the same rate as white people but are imprisoned nearly six times the rate of whites. They also get much harsher sentences than whites for the same crimes. They are often imprisoned for nonviolent drug violations. And once in the system, it’s hard to get out. To survive in prison, it is often necessary to become a criminal even if you weren’t much of one when you entered.

Even if you manage to get out, you now are a second-class citizen deprived of many of the rights and privileges of your neighbors. Spend any time in the system and you’ll increasingly be deprived of your right to vote and may find it difficult to achieve gainful employment. The chances of going back inside for someone who has already been there are huge.

That is not slavery. But it’s not far from it.

As Michelle Alexander writes in her landmark book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.”

 

THE EVOLUTION OF RACISM

 

Even for those people of color who have never been incarcerated, there is the constant burden of living in a racist society.

It’s not so much that white individuals consciously practice bigotry and hate in their daily lives. It’s the systematic abuse that’s built into the very fabric of our governments and communities. No one has to decide to be racist. They just go along with the status quo without seeing how that status quo puts black people at risk.

And it doesn’t take much imagination to recognize how the realities of today grew from the prejudices of the past.

 

LYNCHING

 

Before the 1960s, it was common for black people – especially men – to be brutalized and murdered with little to no provocation. A look, a word, even the suspicion of violating unspoken social codes could earn a death sentence. Nor was the accused even given a chance to defend himself or explain. That generally doesn’t happen today. Southern trees no longer bare such ‘strange fruit.’

But the same cannot be said for our inner city streets, playgrounds and churches.

It doesn’t take much beyond suspicion of wrongdoing, a suspicion that only requires the sight of black skin to justify deadly force. People of color still are publicly executed with little to no provocation. Black people have been slaughtered in the last few years for the following offenses: buying Skittles and iced tea, driving with a broken tail light, being suspected of selling loose cigarettes, selling CDs in a parking lot, being scared and running the other way or even just attending a house of worship.

Instead of a white robe, a disturbing number of their executioners wear a badge and police blues. Many of these hits were conducted by the very law enforcement officers that are charged with the duty to protect and serve. And when these incidents come before a grand jury, they rarely go on to criminal court. In the eyes of the law, an unarmed black person killed by police rarely inspires any suspicion of wrongdoing on the officer’s part. To the courts, it’s not even conceivable that a crime may have been committed.

As Slate’s Chief Political Correspondent Jamelle Bouie put it:

“Our courts and juries aren’t impartial arbiters — they exist inside society, not outside of it — and they can only provide as much justice as society is willing to give.”

This phenomenon isn’t the same as the lynchings of old – but it’s awfully similar. In both cases, there is little provocation, no quarter given and no justice afterwards. In fact, the modern variety may be worse. US Police killed more black citizens in 2015 than were lynched at the height of segregation.

 

SEGREGATION

 

At first glance, one might assume segregation to be a thing of the past. There are no more separate lunch counters, separate bathrooms, separate schools, etc.

Brown vs. Board of Education made it illegal for public schools to be “separate but equal” because if they were separate, they were rarely equal.

Certainly progress was made in this regard during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. But as time has gone on, integrated schools just haven’t been a priority – even for the Obama Administration.

When you look at public schools today what you see is increasing segregation. Many districts are as segregated or worse than they were before the 1950s. So-called school choice initiatives have only made it worse with charter and voucher schools springing up that cater to one race at the expense of another. Cadillac charters open in otherwise economically diverse neighborhoods swooping in to provide white flight. Big corporations start cut-rate charters with empty promises for black kids while bleaching the student body at the neighborhood’s traditional public school.

But school choice isn’t the only problem. Economics plays a factor, too. Public schools often are funded based on local property taxes, so poor kids get much fewer resources for their schools than rich kids. And since most black students are poor, this provides a stealthy way to funnel more money and resources to the white kids than the black ones.

We don’t call it segregation because it doesn’t just affect minority children. It affects poor whites, too. Everyone agrees there’s a problem, but policymakers only propose measures that make it worse. Instead of fixing underlying inequalities, we punish under-resourced schools for the very academic problems they don’t have the resources to successfully eliminate. Instead of providing more and better equipped teachers, we hire lightly trained temps through Teach for America thereby reducing both the quality of education and the cost. Meanwhile private corporations line-up to start testing corporations, test prep publishers and for-profit charter schools at the expense of black and brown kids.

None of it would be possible without segregation. Our schools today are at least as separate and unequal as they’ve ever been. And no one in power cares.

 

VOTING RIGHTS

 

Perhaps the only progress we’ve made is in black people’s suffrage. At the time of the Civil War even in the North, blacks couldn’t cast a ballot or their vote was worth significantly less than that of white people. At least today people of color get the same say in the political arena as anyone else.

Or do they?

Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a plethora of states in both the North and the South have passed laws to make it harder for people of color to vote.

Voter ID laws have sprung up across the country requiring citizens to present photo identification at the polls. However, just any picture ID won’t do. These laws require exactly the types of identification black people are least likely to have. In addition, states pass restrictions on early voting making it difficult for black churches to help the majority of their congregations who don’t own cars to physically get to a ballot box. Likewise, polling places in black areas of town are closed forcing minorities to endure long lines to vote while people from white areas of town just waltz right in.

It’s not an outright ban on black voting. But it represents continued hurdles just as the Jim Crow laws of old required literacy tests, poll taxes and other forms of intimidation.

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

When we look closely at our society and how it treats blacks vs. whites, it becomes clear that something is terribly wrong.

There is deep inequality, deep inequity, deep assumptions about the relative worth of various peoples. In fact, our society creates and perpetuated these injustices. It’s baked into the system, taught to us in our unspoken assumptions, our prescriptions of right and wrong, propriety and norms.

If we step back and look at it from the long view, we can see exactly where this came from. It’s not new. It didn’t fall from the sky like a mysterious alien artifact.

The racism of today is merely the continuation of the racism of yesterday. We pride ourselves that we’re better than our forbears, but it’s only a slight matter of degree.

Black people still are subject to a form of slavery in our system of mass incarceration. They are lynched – often by law enforcement – with little to no consequences for their killers. They go to increasingly segregated schools. And they often endure severe obstacles in order to vote.

Therefore, the battles of the 1860s and 1960s have never fully been decided. The Civil War is not yet over. Slavery continues in a new form. And racism is entrenched in our nation, communities and people.

But if we recognize that, we’ve taken the first step to building a new and better world.

American Public Schools Could Defeat Racism by Confronting Our Dark Past

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We’re a country of dreamers.

High ideals of democracy, fair play, and freedom are nothing more than our nighttime reveries forced into the light of day.

We look about us at a world of what could be and believe with our whole hearts that it will be so.

But we’re such good dreamers that we often don’t see the reality in front of us. We walk through the day with half closed eyes and never see the shadow and dirt in which we live. Our bodies lay in the mud while our heads are forever in the clouds.

That’s our problem. If you don’t also recognize what is, your dream will never be more than that – a mirage.

And so our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness. The American dream has become the American delusion.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with race.

So many of us – mostly Caucasians – don’t even think it’s an issue anymore.

“Hate crimes are a thing of the past,” says the police departments blaming Black teens for getting in the way of officers’ bullets.

“Everyone’s treated equally,” says a court system that disproportionately locks away people of color for the same crimes it practices leniency on for Whites.

“Racism is over,” says the US Supreme Court as it strips away much of the teeth of the Voting Rights Act.

“There’s nothing wrong with naming your sports team after a racial epithet,” says the Washington football franchise as it sues Native Americans with the temerity to be offended.

These are not issues of mere prejudice. This is out-and-out institutionalized racism.

Howard Prof. Denisha Jones explains the difference between the two:

“Using derogatory terms about a person’s race, attributing negative behaviors to a person because of their race, and treating someone poorly because of their race, are all examples of prejudice. Anyone can be prejudiced towards another person based on race. Black people can harbor racial prejudice towards White people. Latino people can harbor racial prejudice towards Black people. White people can exhibit racial prejudice toward people of color.

Now racism is more than just racial prejudice. To understand the difference you can define racism as prejudice + power. See racism is a system that confers advantages on one group while systematically disadvantaging another group (for every advantage there is disadvantage). In America, racism is a system of White supremacy that advantages White people over people of color.”

This is an issue that Americans, frankly, don’t want to deal with – in fact, most of us refuse to see it at all.

We’re finally a color blind society, I suppose.

No, we don’t treat people of color equally because we can’t see any reason to discriminate against them.

We treat them unequally because we refuse to acknowledge how our privileged actions and power affect them.

This willful blindness is so pervasive we don’t even see it under the most extreme circumstances – brutality and genocide.

Compare our attitude with that of the country most associated in the American mind with mass murder of ethnic groups – Germany.

Deutschland, or the Federal Republic of Germany, has a history of civil rights abuses and factory murder.

During WWII, Germany committed some of the worst atrocities against humankind in a century know for atrocity. As Hitler and the Nazi regime conquered much of Europe, his government was responsible for the systematic extermination of 6 million Jewish people and 5 million non-Jewish people. Taken together, we call this dark period the Holocaust.

We all know that. But, the United States has a similar history of racism and murder.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the US allowed legal chattel slavery of human beings stolen from Africa. These people were taken from their homes and families and sold into generational servitude. Of the 12 million enslaved people brought from Africa to the Americas, only about 600,000 were taken to the 13 Colonies and (later) the United States. The great majority of slaves were taken to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and Brazil where they were often worked to death and had to be replenished with new arrivals. Life expectancy was higher in the US and slaves often reproduced their numbers. By 1860, there were 4 million slaves in the country.

Treatment, however, was severe. Beatings and rapes were commonplace. Punishments often included whipping, shackling, hanging, burning, mutilation, branding, and imprisonment. It was most often meted out in response to disobedience or perceived infractions, but sometimes abuse was carried out simply to re-assert the dominance of the master or overseer over the slave. Most captive laborers weren’t allowed literacy or to congregate in large groups – except for church services – for fear these things would inspire thoughts of rebellion or escape. The economic prosperity of a large section of our country was built upon the blooded and beaten backs of these people.

But that’s not all.

Furthermore, the United States and its precursor British government practiced outright genocide against Native American peoples living here before the arrival of European settlers. The extent of this brutality is hard to calculate. Estimates of the pre-Columbian population for what today constitutes the U.S. vary significantly. More recent efforts put the number at approximately 18 million. As of 2010, only 5.2 million US citizens claim Native American ancestry. Of that, 2.9 million claim to be descended solely from indigenous peoples, while 2.3 million claim some combined heritage.

Arguments explaining this drastic plunge in population are numerous and heated. Certainly Native Americans weren’t able to cope with European diseases such as Smallpox. To what extent this was exacerbated by purposeful attempts to murder First Peoples with primitive biological warfare (“gifting” them smallpox infected blankets, etc.) is hard to determine. But since 1830, the national policy turned from assimilation to outright displacement. The Indian Removal Act authorized the government to forcibly deport tribes west of the Mississippi. But as Europeans encroached even further, this resulted in the genocide or near-genocide of many tribes, with brutal, forced marches including the infamous Trail of Tears, which alone caused 4,000 casualties.

Over time, the United States forced indigenous peoples into smaller plots of land until they were on reservations where they were coerced to change their hunter-gatherer life-style to a more agrarian culture which neither they nor the lands they were forced to live on were suited. Mass starvation was common. It wasn’t even until 1924 that all Native Americans were even granted US citizenship.

The point is this – no matter how much the depopulation of Native Americans can be attributed to natural causes, there was certainly a large factor of purposeful, government-sanctioned racism, and murder involved.

The bottom line? Both Germany and the United States have a history of brutality and genocide. It is not important to determine which atrocity is worse – American Slavery, Native American Genocide or the Holocaust. That’s irrelevant. Murder is murder. Genocide is genocide.

The crux of the matter is that both countries have a dark history of aggression and inhumanity to face. But each chose a much different path to do so.

In Germany, there is a policy of education and acceptance. They don’t hide from their past. They teach it.

The Holocaust is a mandatory, binding subject in all schools.

Students begin studying the Nazi persecution of the Jews between ages 12 and 15. At that point all students study the history of the 20th century – in general – and National Socialism – in particular. The Holocaust is a central topic of this instruction. So much so that students who who pass the Abitur exam (prerequisite for university) take it up again at age 18.

German-sanctioned genocide pervades the entire curriculum – not just history and civics, where it is central. It is also frequently taught in classes on German literature, religion, ethics, biology, art and music. It’s not uncommon for science classes to disprove racist theories, art classes to study works produced by Holocaust survivors, etc. Students engage in long-term educational projects that often focus on these issues, as well.

Finally, students continue to learn about the Holocaust outside the classroom. Numerous class trips are scheduled to the nearly 100 memorial museums every year. Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen have several hundred thousand visitors – most of whom participate in guided tours for students and teachers.

But that’s Germany.

Q: How does the United States deal with its dark past?

A: Haphazardly.

In the USA, there is no such systematic educational approach to either American Slavery or Native American Genocide. While neither subject is completely ignored, there is no national push to ensure anything but a superficial knowledge of these events.

American school children know that we used to have slaves; they may even know that we didn’t treat the Native Americans so nicely. But they don’t know nearly the scope and fallout of these events.

Slavery is one thing. The Civil Rights movement is another. They may have some vague connection, but little is taught about the generations of nationally-endorsed racist laws that kept African Americans from voting or exercising the same freedoms available to White people. And after the Civil Rights movement!? It must have been all good, because there’s little else you’ll learn about it in most schools.

Likewise, students learn there used to be a whole civilization of Native Americans before Columbus arrived. They might learn a bit about a few of the skirmishes and disagreements between the US government and the indigenous peoples. But genocide!? That concept is usually reserved for WWII and European history when it could equally be applied to events at home.

You’d think the Common Core State Standards – our ill-conceived de facto national norms – would have solved this problem. However, they are exceedingly general when it comes to social studies and history. Criterion focus on “conflict and cooperation,” “evaluating patterns of change” and “interpreting historical events.” No emphasis is placed on particular historical occurrences.

It’s ironic that when it comes to skills such as Language Arts, the standards are – in fact – too specific. They prescribe things like close reading, an emphasis on nonfiction texts, comprehension without context, and the New Criticism literary point of view of the 1940s. But when it comes to fact-based pursuits like Social Studies, the standards are as watered down as weak tea. How else could they pass political muster for all concerned?

None of this stops individual teachers, schools or states from being comprehensive and specific. In fact, some states such as Virginia have their own state standards that emphasize local history and norms. For instance, one Virginia benchmark prescribes studying “the effects of segregation and ‘Jim Crow’ on life in Virginia for Whites, African Americans, and American Indians.” That’s a far cry from “evaluating patterns of change!”

Let me be clear. I am not advocating a rigid national curriculum. But I am in favor of a national desire to have some specific social studies standards at some level. Those standards should definitely be fleshed out by states and school districts, but the national emphasis should be on confronting our past, not ignoring it. Otherwise, our students will continue to be left with a vague idea of these events and their importance.

So I’d like to make a suggestion.

If the United States is serious about its ideals – if we really want to achieve our dreams of freedom and equal opportunity – we need to be more like Germany.

We need a comprehensive educational program that teaches our history – all of our history – even the nasty parts.

We need to emphasize American Slavery and Native American Genocide the same way Germany emphasizes the Holocaust.

Starting in middle school, students should learn about the events leading up to both tragedies.

Lessons should be plentiful and multidisciplinary. It shouldn’t be something that’s only the prerogative of the social studies classes. Literature courses should teach texts such as Beloved, Native Son and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in this context. Biology classes should do experiments to discredit racist theories of eugenics. Music and art classes should examine the rich heritage produced by these two peoples.

Schools should institute field trips to former slave markets, plantations, reservations, battle sites and massacres. This, in turn, would necessitate turning some of the historical sites into museums of equal quality to those explicating the Holocaust in Europe. No more fond reminiscences on life in the Antebellum South. They would show in stark detail what it meant to be a slave, how these people were housed, worked, penalized, etc. Battle grounds, in so much as they exist, wouldn’t just be about numbers killed and instruments of war, but instead show in detail the inhumanity practiced by our forebears.

The point is not to rub our children’s noses in the brutalities of the past. The truth of history should be inescapable, yes, but we must also teach the value of tolerance and acceptance of those different than us. To do this, we need a comprehensive program of ethnic studies. We need to teach the stories, histories, struggles and triumphs of people of color on their own terms.

For this to have any lasting effect, it is essential that such courses occur at all of our schools – not just those made up of mostly minority students. Our children need to know that it’s okay to be who they are. There’s nothing wrong with being non-White just as there’s nothing particularly special about being Caucasian. We’re all people. We all deserve respect, acceptance and love.

Isn’t that really one of our most cherished ideals?

We hold these truths to be self evident – that all men are created equal.

They are endowed with certain unalienable rights.

That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

If our actions matched our words, maybe then we’d finally realize the American Dream.


NOTE: A shorter version of this article appeared in the LA Progressive.

My heartfelt THANK YOU to the following people without whom I could not have written this piece: Dr. Mark Naison (Fordham Univeristy), Dr. Yohuru Williams (Fairfield University), Dr. Denisha Jones (Howard University) and Traci Churilla. Any faults are my own.