I spent part of last week visiting my parents in northern Mississippi, where I grew up.
They live on 40 acres, about 10 miles away from the closest town, having moved to the country when they left Memphis, Tennessee. (My dad made the commute to Memphis for decades; I graduated from The University of Memphis.)
I grew up in the South, but had forgotten how lush this part of the country is in the spring — green grass, trees, flowers blooming. I missed the azaleas, was too early by just a few days for the magnolias, but there were roses and gardenias; the strawberries were ripening and blossoms on the grapevines and blackberry bushes foreshadow a bumper crop this year. The barn where we played still stands, the old mule still in the pasture, kept company by a friendly duck and a gaggle of dogs and stray cats.
As always, I thought: Why did you decide to move halfway across the country? It’s beautiful here — so quiet and peaceful.
And as always, I got a jarring reminder.
The Tennessee legislature just passed a bill that bans teaching systemic racism in schools. The governor is expected to sign it. If a school insists on telling the whole truth of Tennessee’s troubled history, it risks losing state funding.
It means they can’t talk about white privilege — ironic, since the bill was sponsored by two white men who are the very definition of white privilege. They can’t talk about racism — as in, one race subjugated another (even though that’s what slavery in Tennessee was all about); they can’t teach that the responsibility for slavery and racism rests in the hands of white people.
It’s a kind of ignorance, embraced and given the stamp of legal approval, that nauseates me. How can we expect to heal from the past if we don’t even know what needs healing? It’s a way of sweeping transgressions under the rug so white supremacy can continue, unchallenged and unexplained, in public classrooms.
While Tennessee is far away from Colorado, there are other states considering similar legislation that would legalize the end of free speech, free discussion of our nation’s history, and an objective look at what the nation has done to others in the name of economic progress, manifest destiny or whatever label you want to put on what essentially is racism, sexism and classism in action.
Some of those states aren’t so far away. Some aren’t in the Deep South.
They are: Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia. In Idaho, Republicans refused to fund teacher salaries without amendments prohibiting schools from talking about social justice movements.
Whitewashing history will create an entire generation of children who don’t know about the nation’s racist past — or its racist present. It removes discussion of different ideas, different perspectives — and erases any opportunity that those discussions might uncover common ground and develop a common desire to move forward, equitably for all Americans.
Who would deliberately choose ignorance over enlightenment? Only those who love power and money over people and progress.
And those aren’t the people I want to be around.
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