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Conservative’s Choice — A White-Washed History

by Gary Janosz 11 days ago in history

There’s more to American History than what we learned in kindergarten

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

Everybody remembers the conservative version of history we got in kindergarten. Native Americans and colonists shared the first Thanksgiving feast, sitting around a giant, rustic table singing hymns while holding hands. We all got it again in the fifth grade, our second dose of sanitized American History.

I know. I was assigned to teach a fifth-grade class for three years. I did not care for the assigned textbook, so I supplemented it with excerpts from “A People’s History of the United States.” A book I had discovered over the summer in preparation for my fifth-grade assignment. By the time you take US History in college, you finally get an accurate portrayal. “A People’s History of the US” was a lot closer to the truth than the fifth-grade textbook.

The kids appreciated the unvarnished truth — they paid attention. My augmented history lessons went well for the first two years when I was teaching at a low-income school. If anything got back to the parents, they readily identified with the oppressed people we studied. But that next year, I was assigned to a school in a more conservative demographic. A few of the parents were not the least bit interested in the truth. Ultimately I was admonished by the principal to stick to the text, or the parents would take the matter to the school board.

Most kids don’t encounter much truth about American history until they reach high school or college. Then they learn that the Europeans took the land from the Native Americans because they wanted it and had the power to take it. The newcomers pushed the Native Americans off the land, and eventually put them on reservations to clear the way for westward expansion. Native Americans were viewed as savages to be tamed — sub-human. The European settlers brought the concept of land ownership, along with their European agriculture to the “new” world. The Native Americans had no concept of private property. Until the Europeans arrived, the Native Americans had lived a fairly ideal lifestyle roaming the land with no concern of trespassing. The Native Americans were continually pushed west as the Europeans claimed more and more for their uses.

Conservatives prefer the more traditional fundamental nationalist, glorification of country, version of history, from kindergarten on up. America is perfect, no mistakes, no missteps, just a straight arrow seeking virtue and light. A beacon on a hill for all the world to see. Even my fifth graders knew that was BS.

When it comes to Critical Race Theory, conservatives want to white-wash history the same way — transgressions just don’t fit their narrative. Instead, they would rather recall slavery as the time when early Black entrepreneurs came to America to grow tobacco and cotton, only to discover that the white Europeans were superior managers and naturally fell into a working relationship with their betters.

It’s impossible to make progress against racism when you refuse to face the truth. Our European forebears were ruthless with the American Indians, and they were brutal with the Black people sold into bondage as slaves. The Chinese immigrants were mistreated. The Japanese were herded into internment camps during WWII solely because of their appearance. No Germans were ushered into camps because they were white. The US has a sad history of mistreating people of color, any color but white. Unfortunately, the superior attitudes of the white majority have leached into every aspect of today’s institutions.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) contends that slavery and segregation of Blacks and the general sub-human treatment of people of color embedded systemic racism in the fabric of our institutions. CRT is an approach to understanding the history of white supremacy that subjugates people of color. It contends that the past has had an indelible influence on current American institutions — influencing all of our laws and systems. Critical race theorists believe that racism is an everyday experience for most people of color. Unfortunately, a large part of white society is oblivious to everyday racism. For the most part, systemic racism is invisible to whites, as are the benefits that accrue to them, so they see little need for change.

I don’t think CRT is that hard to understand if you look honestly at our past. Unfortunately, conservatives cling to the traditional glorification of country version of history, akin to burying your head in the sand and ignoring the facts — something conservatives are pretty adept at doing. But how do you deny 335 years of slavery and segregation? Slavery began when the first Blacks arrived in Jamestown in 1619 and ended with the Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. A decision that finally ended segregation in US schools.

When people are treated as inferior for over 300 years, the attitudes and thought processes of the oppressors become embedded in society. When you mistreat people that long the malignancy penetrates every pore of the culture. CRT holds that those distorted perceptions of superiority have corrupted our institutions — both government and commercial.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, laws barred people of color from testifying in court, especially if the case involved a white person. In the 1854 case of People v. Hall, the California Supreme Court held that its witness competency statute barred the testimony of witnesses of Chinese descent and all persons who were not white. It was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century that race-based witness competency rules were eliminated.

Red-lining is a process used by banks to refuse loans to people of color or anyone they deem undesirable. Red-lining draws a boundary around a demographic group to deny them services.

During the housing shortage of 1933, the federal government began a program designed to increase and segregate America’s housing stock. For decades U.S. banks denied mortgages to Black families — and those belonging to other minority groups. People of color were red-lined by a federal government agency called the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation.

Laws today are supposed to protect borrowers from discriminatory lending practices, but red-lining still exists. In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a $200 million settlement with Associated Bank over red-lining in Chicago and Milwaukee.

In September 2015 Miami brought lawsuits against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup, alleging that the banks were steering Black and Latino applicants towards high-interest loans.

In Los Angeles, lawsuits were filed against J. P. Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup for reverse red-lining, targeting people of color for predatory loans.

These are just a hand full of the many examples. Racism is embedded in the fabric of our society. We can’t ignore our history. It’s similar to when a judge in a court of law admonishes the jury to strike that last statement from the record.

Much as we’d like, we can’t strike 335 years of history from the record. But we can own up to it. Unless we examine our past truthfully, we can’t learn from our mistakes. Critical Race Theory is simply a tool to explore our past and hopefully chart a new and better course that is fair to all regardless of color. It won’t work if we refuse to face our longstanding mistreatment of people of color.


Gary Janosz

Grandfather, educator, businessperson, writing to understand our world and to make it a better place

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