Black History Month Reveals the Deception Behind White "Discomfort"Roundup
tags: Black History Month, teaching history, critical race theory
Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of Stokely: A Life and The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
This year, Black History Month commemorations will unfold alongside efforts in numerous states to ban the teaching of its content. Efforts that purport to bar the teaching of "Critical Race Theory" have evolved into a full-scale assault, with Republican lawmakers unleashing attacks on Black History under the guise of protecting White children from "discomfort."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who seems intent on riding anti-CRT sentiment all the way to the White House, has made national headlines by backing a bill that would prevent any content that would make students or state employees feel "guilt" about their individual identities. Meanwhile, Virginia -- home of the capital of the Confederate States of America -- also banned CRT.
And now, Glenn Youngkin, Virginia's first Republican governor in a decade (whose victory was largely orchestrated by his savvy participation in race-fueled culture wars), has now created a tip line for parents who object to the content being taught in public schools. Unsurprisingly, the line has already been flooded by memes using sarcasm to state the obvious -- this isn't about preventing teachers from making kids feel uncomfortable. This is about avoiding discussions of racism -- and by extension, Black history -- altogether.
Republican lawmakers in multiple states and counties have effectively set out to cancel histories that White parents may find uncomfortable and in the process are seeking to cancel Black History Month and discussion of other uncomfortable histories, including the Holocaust and murderous campaigns unleashed against indigenous peoples as a result of settler colonialism.
Black history offers the nation an unvarnished origin story -- one that transcends the mythology of America's founding and conveys the lived realities of native peoples and Black Americans and their centrality to the United States we live in today.
Sharing these stories with school children in an age-appropriate manner is not something we should fear. But the erroneous narrative that teaching Black history provokes anxiety, discomfort, guilt or anger for White children has insidious roots. Let us not forget that the classrooms of White children have been a battleground before, and that the cry of parental rights and choice were the order of the day back then as well.
Today's children should have the chance to know and relate to the Black school children, mostly young girls, who braved White mobs during the 1950s and 1960s -- and experienced their own anxiety, fear and trauma. That history deserves to be reckoned with by new generations of school children, irrespective of the manufactured concerns of Republican Party officials or White parents.
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