“The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased with the Black man’s misery.”

Frederick Douglass

Another battle in the fight against racism being fought is whether, and if so, how schools should teach the history of slavery and racism. Given that these issues remain particularly contentious, coupled with our increasingly polarized society, it is no surprise that the issue has been highly politicized. At the center is the concept of Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Before moving forward, let’s be clear about one thing. Critical Race Theory is not being taught in our grade schools and high schools. Claims to the contrary are false. It is, however, taught in law schools. CRT, as an academic concept, posits that racism is a social construct and not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice but is embedded in legal systems and public policies. Given the crux of the theory, it makes perfect sense to teach the subject in our law schools.

Again, to reiterate. Claiming that CRT is taught in our grade schools and high schools is utterly disingenuous and false. Worse, it is pretexted to discourage or outright ban the teaching of our nation’s history relating to racism. The result has been numerous state legislatures proposing and passing bills to ban its teaching in the classroom. The idea that we cannot even acknowledge our sordid history of racism, slavery, and Jim Crow as part of American history because it might make White folks “uncomfortable” is perhaps the most blatant example of White fragility.

I fully understand that people of all faiths and political persuasion are entitled to their opinions and beliefs. But working to deny the ability to teach US history with little mention of the role that slavery and racism have played in that history is irresponsible and dangerous. It shows how White fragility can cause us to avoid recognition of our responsibilities as White people, not simply to work towards eliminating racism and injustice in our society but for even making the effort to understand the root and causes of those injustices.

How can we teach basic, fundamental US history without referencing slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement? We cannot. The institution of slavery is often referred to as America’s “original sin”. It is a fundamental bedrock pieces of our collective history. You can’t ignore it. It happened. This is another example of Whites having to deal with the world as it is rather than how we want to believe it is…or was.

This begs the question. What are we afraid of? If, as we like to say, “I didn’t enslave or lynch anyone and don’t actively perpetuate racism,” why would we cover our ears and close our eyes to that history? 

These events, issues, and policies all happened. They are historical facts. They are a part of our collective national story. It’s time we faced that head-on. You can’t sweep our common history under the rug as those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. The fact is, we, Blacks and Whites, have been, are currently, and forever will be, bound together as Americans. Our history is a shared history, warts and all. If there has ever been an example of the possibility of “the truth setting us free,” this may be it.

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