(Excerpted from “Betraying Humanity“)
A truism in life – the truth hurts. Sometimes there is nothing harder to do than tell the truth. None of us like to hear about where we have messed up, or where we have inflicted harm towards others. We surely don’t enjoy hearing about a history of oppression and exploitation — with us doing the oppressing and exploiting.
So we don’t tell it. We tell at best partial truths that might acknowledge some poor decisions, but never by any means do we allow space for complete realities. We teach our youth Christopher Columbus discovered “the New World” and is worthy of our admiration. We leave out the ugliness of this “discovery,” or that it is impossible to discover something already inhabited. We ignore evidence that Columbus did not consider the indigenous of Hispaniola his equal or worthy of his respect as illustrated in his early correspondence with Spain after encountering the Arawaks, “They should be good servants …. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses.”
By 1560, less than 100 years after first contact, the Arawaks were extinct.
We acknowledge slavery happened and that it was a terrible practice, but this is typically the extent. We continuously hold our founding fathers up as models of citizenship and solid character. Nowhere do we discuss to any significant degree the fact that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many others actually owned slaves, or that the White House was built by slaves. Nowhere do we see any respect or validity given to the slaves that rebelled such as Nat Turner, or other Europeans who fought for complete freedom like John Brown; both of whom were truly freedom fighters, and worthy of acknowledgment.
We absolutely don’t consider the implications of structuring a nation without the voices of females, the poor, the LGBT community, or people of color being present. We don’t critically engage the United States foreign policy, and never wrestle with the idea that perhaps our motivations were not as pure as we were told they were.
Rather than try and tell these stories and right these wrongs, the realities and voices of marginalized communities are coming under attack. Texas radically manipulated their curriculum to remove slavery, and Arizona made ethnic studies illegal. It is now conceivable that in Arizona it would be deemed illegal to teach a lesson on the internment camps set up in this country for Japanese Americans during World War II.
These omissions and the glossing over is not accidental. If our historical narrative included the realities of all that make up this country, it would be hard to imagine the inequalities we see today being allowed to persist, if form at all. For example, if we told the truth regarding slavery and the number of whites and blacks that worked together to end the horrendous practice, if we told the truth about the label white being used to cause political division and the subsequent practices such as: red lining, the GI bill, and other housing restrictions, it is hard to imagine racial tensions, and race-based discrimination being as pervasive as they are today.