“Snowflake” History 101
The Roots of White Supremacy
Our Legacy of Racism
(NOTE: In light of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observance yesterday it seems appropriate that I begin "publishing" a series of essays I began writing in late 2018, as winter set in and I reflected on the state of our (dis)Union, heading into the last two years of the Trump presidency. Ours is a history of racism and genocide, whether we like it or not, but that's not always taught in High School history and, of course, most folks have long forgotten whatever it was that was taught during their junior year. So, here's a "refresher" course, as it were. Hope it provides some insight and is, at the very least, interesting to read. Comments are encouraged. Thanks for reading.)
When I started teaching U.S. History as an Intern at Greenwich (CT) High School in the Fall of 1972 there was a general “understanding” that one should “get to the Civil War by Christmas” if you ever hoped to “cover” all the content necessary by June. Fresh from a summer of preparation in Colgate’s Master of Arts in Teaching program I was ambivalent about simply “covering content,” to say the least. Enthusiastically buying into Paolo Freire’s description of the prevalent “banking method” of teaching (the Teacher makes “deposits”—of facts – later making “withdrawals” --- through tests and essays, ultimately leaving the student just as “empty” as s/he was at the beginning of the course!). I did not want to simply plod through dates, facts, battles, and wars.
Over my 42 years in the classroom ---teaching U.S. History and then teaching aspiring teachers about how to teach U.S. History --- I developed an array of strategies for teaching the story of our nation. The series of essays that will be published in The Blast here in early 2019 are an attempt at better understanding “how we (the U.S.A.) got here (Trump et al).”
The Trump phenomena did not come from nowhere. What is distressing is that the white supremacy, the misogyny, and the racism we now see on a daily basis was lurking oh so close to the surface of our national character all along. Trump simply showed us who we are --- and who we have been for 400 years (slaves first arrived in 1619!). The Obama presidency was not the beginning of a post-racial society --- rather, it incited long-harbored prejudice and long hidden hatred, bringing out the worst aspects of our national character and national history.
The following essays would undoubtedly be labeled “snowflake” or “libtard” history by alt-right/white supremacist/Trump voters, no doubt. As we know, facts have never stood in the way of our President or his supporters. Nonetheless, there is a through-line in American History that directly connects our past to our present in vivid and visceral ways. The objective of the following essays is simple: people need to honestly examine our history, study the facts, and reflect upon what they mean.
My last year in the classroom (2013-2014) I taught Advanced Placement United States History in New York City. My initial question to my APUSH classes was the one I alluded to earlier: “How did we get here?” After joking about taking the #1 Train or the M-Eleven bus, we began to examine the social, political, economic, and cultural aspects of the society we lived in. The essays that will follow in the next few days contain U.S. History “content” --- facts. Facts are always open to interpretation but they have to be the starting point for an honest and critical (as in “serious,” not “negative”) examination of “how we got here.”
Tomorrow: 1619-1850 - The Roots of Institutional Racism