NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 17: The new book by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” is displayed at a New York City bookstore on November 17, 2021 in New York City. First published in The New York Times Magazine, “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” was written to center the effects of slavery and the achievements of Black people in the history of the United States. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Tennessee has recently been engaging in a crusade against so-called “critical race theory” in primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools.
This follows a national trend. A recent study published by PEN America found that 1,586 books were banned from July 31, 2021, to March 31 of this year. This follows the trend we’ve been seeing of so-called anti ‘woke’ education legislation, most of which has been taking place on the state and local level.
The Tennessee Legislature recently adopted rules that limit the teaching of books and history about racism in primary and secondary schools. Even Tennessee college students like me have been targeted with a new “divisive concepts” bill that would allow students to sue their professors if they feel they were made uncomfortable by discussing racism.
So why? Legislators that have been pushing these policies argue that conversations about racism discriminate against white children by making them feel uncomfortable about their ancestors’ actions. But what about the Black kids’ whose identity and history is the one being discussed?
As a Black college student whose identity has been the topic of discussion in class many times, I can say from personal experience that our perspective is often left out. These everyday happenings combined with the rising tension over critical race theory have become too stressful.
At a certain point, I had to stop looking at the news. How would you feel if every day you turned on the news the topic of discussion was whether other people learning about your history was worth it? Too divisive?
And I’m not alone. An extensive study conducted by researchers in the University of California school system as far back as 2000 found these same occurrences to be happening inside and outside of class. Students who were part of the study talked of feeling invisible and how professors would avoid acknowledging racism in their teaching at every turn. Fancy jargon and metaphors were used to describe these topics instead of calling them what they were: Racism.
Banning books and legislation that prohibit conversations about racism are the most deliberate attempts to make students like me invisible. When you exclude Black history from your textbooks, you exclude my identity from existence. How can I expect a professor to talk about the racism that affects me today if they can’t even teach about the racism that got us in this situation yesterday? Ignorance is bliss for those who don’t have to know, and nothing but unspoken pain for those who must know.
I understand the want to reflect on the positive parts of American history. But where are a lot of those positive parts found? They are found in the marginalized people of this country’s ability to overcome and progress towards a more equitable future. We should all want to be part of that positive progression, and not aid in the forces that produce our darkest moments.
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