From racially motivated violence like the recent Charleston shooting to Trayvon Martin being murdered on a suburban street for wearing a hoodie, not to mention staggering incarceration rates of black Americans, a significant pay gap and pitiful access to basic services like a responsive police department, Americans just don’t get to pretend like it’s not dangerous to be black in America anymore.
Our country is built on a foundation of racial injustice over generations — we can’t be too weak to deal with that fact and do whatever we can to start to heal and move forward. Together.
Or you could take the route Texas is taking in its public school classrooms — completely whitewash American history to downplay the role slavery played in the Civil War and pretend like Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan didn’t exist.
That’s right, 5 million Texas public school kids will get brand-new social studies books this fall that pretend the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights” instead of slavery. Which is technically true; they just forget to mention the particular right the Southern states really, really wanted above all else — to own people.
Not only does this ignorant and childish approach to American history do a disservice to our kids entrusted to a system that’s supposed to teach them something — like, I dunno… American history — but this is precisely the kind of cheap politics that holds our entire country back from progress. And these historical facts have modern-day implications for these kids that they should know.
How about, for instance, that the Ku Klux Klan — the violent, racist, lynching, quasi-political group operating in the South to this very day — claims and flies the Confederate flag as a symbol of its cause? Maybe a high school kid in Texas might want to know that fact before wearing some stupid Confederate flag T-shirt to a party or putting a bumper sticker on his car. We’re supposed to teach our kids this stuff so they don’t look like idiots.
Or you could try to argue that Jim Crow laws no longer apply to modern Americans, but again, you would be completely wrong. Jim Crow laws, which were in effect through the 1960s in the South, made interracial marriage illegal, kept businesses segregated, banned black people from meeting in groups to keep them from organizing politically and made it difficult for people of color to vote — in some cases even levying large “poll taxes” on black people to keep them from exercising their right to vote.
Voter laws and restrictions to voting, like the “voter ID laws” being passed around the country, appear to many to be modern-day Jim Crow laws to deter Hispanic-Americans from voting for fear of being harassed. The so-called Arizona “show me your papers” law is another modern-day “Jim Crow” type law being made with the specific intent to marginalize Hispanic activity and movement in our communities.
Just two years ago, the Supreme Court struck down “preclearance,” a hallmark piece of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, incidentally, was passed to restrict Jim Crow laws, to clear the way for states — namely, Texas — to make their own, stricter voter ID laws without the oversight of the federal government to ensure civil rights were being protected.
How would an American with no understanding of Jim Crow or the Civil War or the other roots of our racial unrest be able to make an informed opinion on these issues? Maybe that’s exactly what Texas officials want.
Tweaking American history for millions of Texas kids is about more than making a couple of political types who influence school standards feel good. It robs our kids of the lessons Americans have already fought for, died for and learned. Who are a few yokels to take that away from them?
History, particularly American history, is filled with all sorts of unpleasant truths — just like modern-day America. And where our schools completely fail our kids, it’s up to parents to fill in the gaps. Let’s make it a priority to talk to our kids about race, about injustice, about the courage to stand up and fight for what you believe in. And in the case of the Civil War, about Americans who believed so deeply in a country that truly offered “liberty and justice for all” that they were willing to lay down their lives for the cause.
That should mean more to Texas than politics.