We need to learn more history, not less
Anchor Staff Writer
Three Rhode Island State Republicans introduced bill H.6070, which would ban the teaching about racism, sexism, and any other “divisive history” a couple of weeks ago. It is highly unlikely this will be passed, but the fact it was so much as introduced is a disgrace. By banning the discussion of less than pleasant parts of our country’s past like its history of genocide, slavery and voter suppression, this bill would in effect ban all history from being taught except for that about straight white cisgender men, the only history that would be considered acceptable under this bill.
The defense of this bill is that it will keep people from feeling guilty about their race and sex. The defense is pathetic. Reality does not change just because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Anyone who actually cares about the implications of the privilege they have can take action to create greater equality in their community. Otherwise, they should try to, at the very least, learn a thing or two.
The implications of this bill, however, are even more insidious than simply erasing minorities from history. It is often said to understand our present we must understand our past and this could not be more true. To erase the less flattering parts of our country’s past, we eliminate the ability to understand the numerous inequities that are still occurring today. This is likely the true intention of the bill.
Take the extreme wealth inequalities between White Americans and Black Americans today. Economic inequality did not simply end after slavery. Most of us know about Jim Crow, but last year was likely the first time a lot of us, myself included, heard about what happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. “Black Wall Street,” a thriving and affluent Black community was massacred by a mob of White rioters. Over 300 Black Americans were murdered and the businesses and homes that they built were obliterated. This incident was one of many over our country’s history that we don’t talk about in schools. The majority of wealth held by White Americans is generational. Not only have African Americans historically been conned with “jobs” like sharecropping and consistently only offered low-wage positions regardless of qualifications, but every time Black Americans were able to build wealth despite those numerous racist impediments, it was destroyed. To understand income inequality in the present, we need to know this history.
In another example, it is important to understand the many ways the United States government has demonized Asian Americans throughout our history. This is particularly crucial to understand right now, as hate crimes against Asian Americans continue to rise. This demonization has ranged from the “Yellow Peril” fear-mongering that began in the late nineteenth century to the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. Asian Americans have consistently been scapegoated and punished throughout American history.
Another part of our history rarely taught that is crucial at this moment is the United States' routine experimentation on communities of color. There are many examples of this, but among them is the Tuskegee Experiment in which the United States government knowingly infected Black men with syphilis while claiming they were providing free healthcare. The United States government also sterilized Native American women without their knowledge or consent during the 1960s and 1970s. These events, unsurprisingly, do not make it into our U.S. history textbooks. From these examples, we can understand the valid reasons for vaccine hesitancy among communities of color even when we direly need Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are countless examples of how the worst parts of our country’s past directly impact our present. Far more than I could name. What it comes down to is the same: to understand our current reality, we need to understand the reality of our ancestors no matter how unflattering that reality may be. These parts of our past should make us uncomfortable because they are uncomfortable. More than that, they are horrifying and despicable and we need to know that so we do not repeat it.
We need to be learning more history about Americans who are consistently left behind by the school system. Americans of color. Women. LGBTQ Americans. Americans with disabilities. Every American should feel represented in their education and get to know their history. Furthermore, knowing the history of marginalized communities can actually help those with more privilege foster empathy and understand where members of these communities are coming from when they speak up or protest for their rights.
Knowing our history benefits everybody except for those who aim to oppress others. The three state legislators who proposed this bill have demonstrated in which of those groups they fall.