Tag Archives: American History

The Gag Order Party

If you have not read the Penn America Center report on “Educational Gag-Orders,” you really ought to. Although the focus of state legislation described in the report rests on teaching about gender, sexuality, and Critical Race Theory, the language in the bills could have an impact on teaching and learning about Native America. Because so much of this legislation originates in Red States with rich Native American histories, the Penn America Center report is a sobering read.

            Each of the bills examined in the report “represents an effort to impose content- and viewpoint-based censorship.” They send the signal, the report argues, “that specific ideas, arguments, theories, and opinions may not be tolerated by the government.” Twenty-six of the bills “explicitly apply to colleges and universities.” Six of the bills failed, three have become law, and the remainder are making their way through the legislative process. Many of them prevent teaching that includes “CRT” and information presented in work like the 1619 Project. Some bills propose to eliminate tenure to ensure that instructors do not teach their students ideas and content that legislators find subversive or dangerous.

            A South Carolina bill, HB 3827, offers an alarming example. The legislation outlaws promoting or endorsing narratives that “the United States was founded for the purpose of oppression, that the American Revolution was fought for the purpose of protecting oppression, or that United States history is a story defined by oppression; or (ii) with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality”

            This is pretty rich from the state that fired the shots that began the Civil War.

            Think about this for a second.  How might an instructor in South Carolina tell her students about the “3/5 Compromise,” which counted each enslaved person as 60% of a human being, and gave slave states more representation in Congress, more electoral votes, and thus control of the national government? How might one teach the history of the Nullification Crisis without doing an entire injustice to American History? Or Secession, and the arguments that slavers made in favor of leaving the Union.  When I taught the America survey, my students read Charles Dew’s brief but incredible book, Apostles of Disunion. Secessionists are condemned by their own racist speech, their own frequently-voiced arguments that the Founders created a republic with white men in charge, and that white supremacy was worth fighting and dying for. But under this proposed legislation? A dutiful teacher might assert that South Carolinians were standing up for their state’s rights. But their right to do what?  Imagine, if you will, that you see your next-door neighbor packing up the car.  He is leaving his wife.  You are stunned. They seemed like such a wonderful couple. They had been together for ever, it seemed, close to four score and five years. Stunned, you ask what happened.  Your neighbor tells you he is leaving because he has the right to do so.  Nobody will find that a satisfactory answer. But that is what South Carolina’s legislators are contemplating.  Steer clear of controversial subjects.  Do not indoctrinate students.  Deny the racism of the past. Pretend it did not exist. Indeed, teach nothing that could make a student, somehow, feel ashamed of their race. Don’t talk about the gibbets in Charlestown, the trade in Cherokee scalps, and enslavement, which cuts to the marrow of South Carolina’s history.  Don’t talk about Nullification and John C. Calhoun and his views of the Constitution.  Don’t talk about Fort Sumter, and the Palmetto State’s embrace of lynching.  Lie to your students.  Tell them nothing that will upset their frightened parents.  Lie to them, and lie some more.  It is all good.  It is all progress. Conservative White South Carolinians are good people who need to hear that, over and over, it seems.  It is a message they will drill into the skulls of their children.  These lawmakers are so fragile and frightened that those who refuse to toe the line can expect termination.   Or worse.

I Want Off The Grid Of The Trajectory of American History

In the wake of the deadly attack on the Capitol building by a right-wing mob last week, I have found some of the rhetoric used by those who have condemned the attack as troubling as that used by those who provoked and encouraged it in the first place.

I was not surprised by what I witnessed last Wednesday. Many of our leaders, however, seemed absolutely shocked that a large group of violent imbeciles and cosplaying Punishers could assault this “beacon of liberty.”

Does anyone believe this anymore? While the Capitol dome certainly stands as a symbol of American power, that power has been deployed in the name of democracy far less often than many of our leaders seem to believe. The right-wing, racist violence we witnessed on Wednesday is as American as apple pie. Using violence to protect white power and white privilege is one of the things in which American lead the world, along side women’s basketball and incarcerating people of color.

The historian-turned-pundit Jill Lepore said in an interview on WBUR

On Point Presents: A Conversation with Jill Lepore
Time to Go Off The Grid.

that the events in Washington that left her feeling “speechless” were the sorts of things that occurred in other countries, not the United States. It was unfamiliar. “We are,” she said, “off the grid of the trajectory of American history.”

That is a mess of a sentence, but if it means what I think it means, I have to most adamantly disagree. No, Professor Lepore. What we saw on Wednesday was entirely consistent with American history. And from that trajectory and that grid, I swear to God I want off. That the United States is a nation committed to liberty and equality is the biggest lie in American history. Until we face that fact and address it in a meaningful way there is little hope for change.

This country was founded by treasure-seeking storm-troopers who carried with them across the Atlantic guns, avarice, steel and European religious bigotry. They enslaved and subjugated Indigenous peoples. The settlers who followed them came not for freedom but to extract a living from the soil. Whatever wealth they acquired was almost always built

Or Not: Ostriches Bury Their Heads in Sand
Americans Preparing for a Frank Discussion of Their History

upon the backs of millions of enslaved peoples who worked lands stripped away from their Indigenous occupiers at the point of a gun. There are many stories one might tell about Early America. Most of them are filled with exploitation, intolerance, violence, and greed.

It took a Civil War that killed more than 600,000 people to eradicate slavery, but in its aftermath Southerners and their conciliatory enablers rushed to reconstruct institutions that replicated the restrictions on African-Americans that stood before the war. Meanwhile, the armed forces of the United States continued to march against native peoples who refused to surrender their lives, liberties, and property to the United States.

Look around you. The United States, with less than five percent of the world’s population, is home to a quarter of its people who live their lives behind bars. When most Americans think about Indigenous peoples at all, they conjure images from the past. Few are willing to consider or are aware of the challenges these communities face today, and fewer still are willing to do anything to help.

On the same day that we learned that a stunning, multicultural coalition had elected the first Jew and the first African American to represent Georgia in the Senate, an armed white mob cried foul and stormed the United States Capitol, because they lost what all the evidence shows was a fair and free election. Those who stormed the capitol did not need to fear the inadequate police forces garrisoning the building. They knew, in their lizard brains, that law enforcement in this country too often and in too many ways acts to uphold white supremacy. They feared nothing. For that reason, among others, Wednesday’s violence was so depressing. Not because it was surprising or a new low, but because it was so familiar and so entirely predictable.