White Washing History

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This is the perfect title for this blog — Whites, white washing history.

I have written earlier about my humble beginnings on a farm in northern Indiana in the mid-20th Century. My high school education was foundational but pretty rudimentary — no brainteasers or unsettling themes on the required literature lists, and certainly no BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) authors. My cocoon was intact.

In my graduating class of nearly 400, there were five Black students — acquaintances, not friends. Our local newspaper assembled a few of us seniors (no Blacks) to talk about race in the aftermath of the Watts Riots and increased racial tension. A male classmate commented, “You can’t legislate love.” I suspect he heard it from his parents.

It was not until early this century that I read in a Los Angeles Times article that in 1930, the furthest north lynching occurred in Marion, Indiana, less than an hour from where I grew up. About twelve years ago I learned about the Trail of Death. Nearly 1,000 Potawatomi Indians were force-marched to Kansas from northern Indiana. The trail came south to my hometown of Logansport before heading west.

Having matriculated through Logansport High School, why was I not taught this history? I believe this wet-behind-the-ears teenager could have handled such information.

In May of 2020, George Floyd was murdered. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Not that I hadn’t noticed the higher rate of police and vigilantes (George Zimmerman) killing black men, but it was, like for so many, a turning point. I began reading and learning more about our history, not our White history, but our true history, our BIPOC history. I was ticked off that I had been denied so much of this history. And annoyed at myself because I never went looking.

Now there are movements to white wash our BIPOC history. Too many are saying tripe like this:

· Slavery was a long time ago.

· Jim Crow laws were a long time ago.

· Look at all of the land the Indians still have.

· There is no systemic racism.

· Everyone has an equal chance today.

· I wasn’t there. It’s not my fault.

· Look at how far we’ve come.

According to Michael Kraus, associate professor at Yale University, in a 1963 poll, Whites estimated the average wealth of Black families to be 50% of that of White families. The true number was 6%. In 2016, Whites estimated the Black family wealth earned 90% compared to White family wealth. The true number is 11%. Look how far we’ve come in fifty-three years, from 6% to 11%.

That is a shocking disparity in perception, which is why too many Whites believe there is no systemic racism.

According to a 2020 Northwestern University study, it is even worse among families with children. Median wealth among Black families with children is less than 1% of White families with children.

Given the nature of today’s White Supremacist, it would be a waste of time to present them with facts. Even if they heard you, they would not care. But younger, not yet brainwashed, wet-behind-the-ear students might listen.

Those who study the efforts to ban the teaching of America’s violent and unjust racial history in public schools, have a term for it — motivated cognition. Try explaining that to high school-only educated parents. Basically it means that motives, like pre-conceived biases or racism heavily influence the ability to recognize or accept new information. It means fugetaboutit. Put that in your cognition and smoke it.

If we do not talk about it, read about it, listen to a teacher or professor lecture about it, or see a video about it, it never happened. Not unlike the abusive husband, father or the sexual predator uncle. For too many family members, it never happened.

“Concerned” parents want to protect their little darlings from this history, saying teenagers are too sensitive to ugly images, especially if there is a BIPOC student sitting next to them. They might feel uncomfortable. I say teenagers because I am not aware of any BIPOC history or literature being taught in elementary or junior high. Don’t hold me to the junior high part. I’ll tell you what made me uncomfortable in high school — algebra or chemistry class, a blooming zit, or an attractive girl sitting next to me.

I call BS on these concerned parents. White supremacist parents want to have the sole responsibility of “educating” their darlings about race, and pass on what they never learned in school, nor did their parents, and nor their parents’ parents. How is it we keep hearing about racial chants and taunts at so many high schools, especially at sporting events? What’s that great song from South Pacific? “You have to be carefully taught.”

As for Critical Race Theory, please. As one high school teacher responded to a parent’s question as to whether CRT was taught in her class — “tell me what it is and I’ll tell you if I teach it.” “Concerned” parents do not even know what CRT is. They just know it has the word “race” in it. The words “critical” and “theory” completely stump them.

Katy, bar the door. CRT is coming to infect your children. Next thing you know, your son or daughter will be a Facebook friend with a black student. Worse yet, maybe date of the “them.”

I am certain that a large majority of high school students would vote to “bring it on” regarding CRT and LGBTQ topics. This is about the parents and politicians, not the students.

Education Week Magazine sums CRT up succinctly: “The core is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” (See the book, The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein.)

University of Illinois, Adrienne Dixon, associate professor in the department of education said this: “CRT is not taught in K-12 education. Most students will only ever experience CRT examined formally in graduate courses (law school, graduate education), and even then, CRT remains mostly an elective course.”

CRT should certainly be offered as a college course.

The anti-CRT movement is basically a trumped-up political movement buttressed by purposeful, widespread misinformation. The Press, like they treated the Tea Party, functions more like a steno pool, and happy to stir the pot.

A Republican won the recent Virginia governor’s race on this issue alone — and coming soon to an election near you. As with every election since I can remember, Republicans find at least one hot social issue to rail about. The last one was “Defund the Police.” In 2022 it will be CRT and anything around that concept. (Stay tuned, there is still time for them to find another divisive, stir-the-pot issue.) As consistent with the long-range plan, the funding will come from the wealthy and corporations committed to spending billions to keep their paid-for- politicians in power and the tax cuts coming. I repeat myself — follow the money.

The brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the Between the World and Me, writes about two contemporary kinds of racism. Oafish racists are individuals who express and act explicitly. Think David Duke. Think Tucker Carlson. (Carlson wants to see LSAT scores of Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson.) “Elegant racism is invisible, supple, and enduring. It disguises itself in the national vocabulary. Elegant racism lives on the border of white shame. Elegant racism was the poll tax. Elegant racism is voter-ID laws.” I think Ta-Nehisi is too clever times two with his terms. How about jackasses and knee-on-the-neck racists?

If a public high school offered a course called “Racism in America,” the school board would be recalled and their safety would be in doubt.

Tennessee fired a high school teacher for teaching a Coates essay. As for book banning, the expanding list includes To Kill a Mockingbird, A Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Catcher in the Rye, The Kite Runner, “Between the World and Me,” and a more than one Toni Morrison novel. Granted, most of these bans are pretty localized, but BIPOC books and LGBTQ books are recent targets. A Texas State Representative recently put 800 books on a watch list. No doubt he has read them all.

I have a list of continued systematic racism examples, far too extensive for this blog.

Here is a different kind of list, and I am miffed that I was never taught about any of these massacres. Partial list:

1866 — Memphis, Tennessee Massacre

1868 — Opelousas, Louisiana Massacre

1871 — Los Angeles Chinatown Massacre

1875 — Clinton, Mississippi Massacre

1888 — Thibodaux, Louisiana Massacre

1890 — Wounded Knee Massacre

1897 — Lattimer, Pennsylvania Massacre

1908 — Springfield, Illinois Massacre

1918 — Porvenir, Texas Massacre — Mexican Americans

1919 — Elaine, Arkansas Massacre

1920 — Ocoee, Florida Massacre

1921 — Tulsa, Oklahoma Massacre

1923 — Rosewood, Florida Massacre

Other than Wounded Knee, this list does not cover the systematic extermination of the Indigenous Indians. I find it hard to watch “How the West was Won.” I am totally done with John Wayne.

The Tuskegee Institute has recorded the lynching of 3,446 blacks between 1882 and 1968.

(I write about the Marion, Indiana lynching in my novel, Blackberries Are Red When Green.)

One hopeful survey says that 80% disagree with banning books that criticize United State history, including slavery. Yet state legislature after state legislature and school board after school board is doing just that. Libraries are being targeted. Will any of the 80% show up at a school board meeting and push back against the White Supremacists? Will they campaign against or turn out to vote against candidates Coates would label “elegant racism?” The Tea Party was a small minority yet they won a lot of seats in 2010.

Actually there is an increase in what Coates called “oafish racism.” They also are running for office. Twenty years ago those would have been fringe candidates with no shot at winning. Now we have several oafish racists in Congress and hundreds in state legislatures. In 2022, their numbers on the ballot will be the largest ever.

I close with this gem, compliments of The Daily Kos web site. A librarian by the name of Erin Kennedy made the point that a lot of passages in books are out of context. A passage from the Book of Ezekiel says: “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like those of horses, so you longed for the lewdness of your youth when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled.”

I need to read the Bible more, before they ban it.

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Keith Frohreich

Writer of books, blogs and newspaper columns. Due to the current threats to our democracy, my blogs, for now, will focus on those threats. If not me, who?