In a world where slaves are misidentified as “workers” during the Atlantic slave trade, is it too much to ask to teach a balanced view of history? Would doing so reduce racism? It depends on who is asked.
According to Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, topics like Critical Race Theory would only result in making “white kids feel bad for being white.”
If this were true, one can easily wonder then, “How do you think black kids feel while learning American history?” (We also have a blog post looking at why black history gets the silent treatment in schools, read it here).
Numbers Don’t Lie, People Do
History is what it is. As with math, this topic is often not a matter of opinion and you can’t very well argue with numbers.
Before Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) officially freed slaves more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, at least 875,000 American slaves were forcibly removed from the Upper South to the Lower South due to migration. And that still doesn’t touch the 12.5 million Africans who were captured and shipped all over North America, the Caribbean, Mesoamerica and South America during the Middle Passage.
This image is believed to have been taken in the 1800s at a cocoa bean plantation. It is not clear if the people in the images were slaves, or they had been freed. Source: Social History Archive
By the time they were all freed, too many were forcibly removed from their spouses, their children, their parents, their homes, their language and their culture. Where else were they supposed to go? (Check out our other blog post on the influence enslaved Africans had on America)
Should these statistics make a student “feel bad”? Yes, if they have a conscience, it should. But the truth is this actually happened. This isn’t a matter of opinion. This isn’t something someone made up for shock value. This is part of American history.
However, the child sitting behind a desk learning about American history is no more responsible for centuries-old slavery as (s)he would be for the 40 million people who died in World War I, the 75 million people who died in World War II or even the 4,000 people who died during the Trail of Tears. Only those who take it upon themselves to make it about them instead of learning from the history that once was would be against teaching CRT.
The Problematic Perspective of Groupthink
Still, Rice cannot fathom the idea that students can separate factual stats from personal opinions.
“One of the worries that I have about the way we’re talking about race is that it either seems so big that somehow white people have to now feel guilty for everything in the past,” said Rice. “I don’t think that’s very productive. Or, black people have to feel disempowered by race. I would like black kids to be completely empowered, to know that they are beautiful in their blackness. But in order to do that, I don’t have to make white kids feel bad for being white.”
Here’s the bigger problem with this statement—besides just sympathizing with white children. The assumption that one must “feel bad” implies that all who read and learn about history will automatically be blinded by a guilty conscience. But if you didn’t personally do something, why in the world would someone assume this person is drowning in guilt?
Here’s why. This is yet another frustrating habit that (especially) African-American people constantly do. We too often bunch up one person’s behavior as a sign of the entire black population, when it really was that one person who made that bad decision.
Interestingly, it is rare for white people to see someone white doing something monstrous or even simply off-putting and decide the entire white population is responsible for this issue. What do we hear most often about why reparations should not be paid for? “I didn’t own slaves, so why should I pay?”
If Rice takes into consideration the difference between groupthink and independent thought, then this makes CRT even more important to teach. These independent minds can walk into a classroom, hear something they do not agree with and choose to not have that mindset. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to hear something bad, feel bad about that situation and choose to improve. Ignoring it altogether makes one easily ignorant enough to repeat the cycle.
Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Shamontiel L. Vaughn.