We must accept the horrific past of racism to change the future

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In the 1960s, I remember a conversation with college friends about the history classes we took in high school. We all rolled our eyes at the abrupt end of our studies when the school year ended – some of us made it through World War I, others into WWII. None of us had studied the Korean War. There has always been too much “old” history for our teachers to pay much attention to the 20th century.

I had a fairly unsophisticated understanding of history at the time. Maybe I even thought the story was all facts and dates. First this happened, then that, then something else.

As an adult, I was surprised by the story that I did not know. For example, I only learned at university that Japanese Americans had been interned during WWII. No one had ever taught me that. I didn’t know about the women’s suffrage movement until I visited Chautauqua, New York, on a family vacation. I had no idea that arrested suffragists were force-fed in jail until I saw the 2004 film, Iron Jawed Angels. Until I read Killers of the Flower Moon with my reading group, I didn’t know the Osage people of Oklahoma were wealthy, until a determined group of their neighbors started killing them for their sake. oil-rich property. I had never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre until this year, the 100th anniversary of that event.

I’ve learned that the first step in understanding history is knowing who wrote it. The second step is to ask the question “Who are these stories not being told?” The third step traces these buried or untold stories.

This brings us to two hot topics: Critical Race Theory and Project 1619.

First, Project 1619. This was a long article published in the New York Times in August 2019. It takes its name from the year the first African slaves arrived in the colony of Virginia. Researchers, historians and journalists working on the project sought to reframe North American history by paying attention to the consequences of slavery for all aspects of the birth and growth of the United States, and by taking note of the contributions of black Americans to the nation. .

The 1619 project sparked a lot of controversy. Academics joined in a vigorous debate on several issues, including the extent to which slavery shaped the American Revolution and Abraham Lincoln’s views on race. The debate spilled over into academia and the public realm, as political figures spoke out on whether the work truly reflected the role of race in American history.

And around that time, we started hearing about Critical Race Theory (CRT) from outlets like Fox News.

Unlike Project 1619, CRT is not new: it first appeared in law schools in the 1980s. CRT examines the role of racism in legal and zoning codes, arguing that institutionalized racism limits opportunities for people of color. CRT asserts that the breed is socially constructed, not biological; that racism is ingrained in our culture in ways that we do not always recognize; and that racism affects everyone’s life.

Indeed, the CRT is a lens through which we can study our history and take note of the parts of the history that have been omitted or deleted.

But now school boards, parents and right-wing politicians are pissing off the CRT like something bad. Most unhappy people with CRT would have a hard time defining it, or saying exactly where it is invading school curricula, or saying why it is threatening – other than to say that by examining racism, it throws a bad light on schools. Whites. .

Maybe white people need to own that.

But remember, this is an academic tool, not a credo. CRT is NOT a way to demonize whites, or throw all social problems at the gates of whites. All Americans share the same culture of institutionalized racism: observing how this culture affects us is not a blame game. It is a reality check.

Moreover, the CRT is neither the equivalent nor the catalyst for diversity training in schools and companies. Diversity training owes more to demographic change than to the clouding of academic theory. The population of racial minorities in America is growing faster than the white population. Diversity training recognizes this reality and strives to eliminate unconscious and overt racism.

It all comes down to history, in my mind. If we are to truly understand our nation’s history, we have to look at the nation’s mistakes: slavery, denying the vote to women, locking up Japanese-Americans, tolerating violence against people of color. It is all part of our history. If we don’t understand this, we risk making the same mistakes again.

– Community Columnist Barbara Mezeske is a retired teacher and resident of Park Township. She can be reached at [email protected]

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