History Worth Remembering
Just in case you’ve been under a rock, earlier this year Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell designated April as Confederate History Month. Mr. McDonnell believes that we should be honoring the people who tried to tear our union apart and fought the good fight to allow the southern states to secede. If it were anyone else we would call them traitors. Here in America, there are a lot of people from the racially generic dominant community that is predominantly white want to celebrate this special brand of traitors. And if people are so misguided, I guess that’s their right.
But in his announcement, Mr. McDonnell dismissed any reference to America’s history of the institutionalized enslavement of people of African descent. When asked why no mention of slavery, Mr. McDonnell simply shrugged his shoulders and said that as far as he was concerned, the enslavement of the Africans simply didn’t rate any attention in the history of the Confederates. And just like that, with a stroke of his pin, Mr. McDonnell whitewashed America’s history to remove the great stain that served as the foundation for racial relations.
Some white guy in his ivory tower somewhere has complete control of what is important from his own narrow perspective. Essentially, Mr. McDonnell is saying that he is white and that he supports the telling of American history so that the Confederacy doesn’t appear as despicable as it truly was. Most people of all racial colors see the omission of slavery from the Confederate History as a grave error. A lot of people asked questions and voiced concerns. And a few days later Mr. McDonnell amended his announcement to correct his oversight. Dude’s still a big racist in my book.
But this whole affair is a grade “A” example of why it is so important that we not allow one community to dictate history for everyone. Somebody might one day think that the fact that the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just isn’t important in the telling the story of World War II. The fact that the United States is the only country to use nuclear weapons in war could be meaningless to somebody in a position to declare what is and is not important in teaching history. That’s one of the reasons why we need to make sure we teach history from a variety of perspectives and never leaving anybody’s story out because somebody else doesn’t think that particular part of the story is important.
Just in case you’re still under your rock, last month Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a measure called the Arizona Ethnic Studies Law. This law targets school districts that dare to teach ethnic studies programs. The rather narrow minded impetus behind the law is that ethnic studies can promote racial resentment toward white people while at the same time promoting a climate of segregation by making students of racial minorities better aware of the history of their race, ethnicity, and culture. The measure prohibits any classes that advocate ethnic solidarity, any classes that are designed primarily for students of a particular race, or classes that promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group.
Arizona state officials believe that African American, Mexican American and Native American studies that focus on history and literature and include information about the negative impact of the European American group on these communities. The fear is that these programs will teach that non white students will learn that their people were unfairly oppressed by white people and would lead to resentment. Therefore, ethnic studies are not allowed. This law comes on the heels of Arizona’s immigration law that requires law enforcers to question people who might be undocumented residents in this country. But there’s no risk of resentment to a certain ethnic group here.
Will this law make the teaching of the conflict between America and Japan during World War II a violation? Will anyone think that teaching the fact that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor would lead to ethnic resentment. Not at all. Who cares if the Japanese look bad? Would a Japanese American history class that explores the discrimination associated with the Japanese internment camps get a pass? That would be doubtful because it might foster resentment against a certain ethnic group.
Mr. McDonnell in Virginia and Ms. Brewer in Arizona are guilty of trying to manipulate history. Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. State officials who actually make a conscious decision to deny certain segments of our history to be told in order to protect the image of a certain ethnic group. State officials go out of their way to pass laws and make announcements to minimize the detrimental impact of our dominant community.
But whitewashing history and denying events isn’t the solution. In fact, there will be more resentment against the dominant community when we make selective choices for who’s history is worth telling and who’s history is not. And if a certain ethnic group has made mistakes in the past it should quit trying to hide behind a veil of ignorance. Let’s bring everything out in the open and study it. And after it has been studied and we learn to take responsibility for it, maybe then we can develop honest solutions to keep it from happening again.