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The Narrative of Racial Divisions

How Whitewashing the History of Race Politics Has Masked Racial Systemic Oppression

When we open up to conversations about how we can guarantee unalienable rights to every person born, we need to talk about who is receiving the least rights in our current system. From class, race, gender, sex, to ability status, specific people are struggling to survive based on social norms and widely-accepted ideologies, and they make up a huge part of the world. According to the most recent statistics published by the Pew Research Center, there are more Americans who feel like we need to make more changes in our society in order to reach racial equality, but an even bigger number of Americans don’t believe systemic racism is a problem—or possibly doesn’t exist. In particular, the race in most denial of systemic racism (white) still agrees that more changes need to be made, but at the individual level. This kind of worldview doesn’t take into account how institutional racism reinforces and reproduces individual racism, and is in itself the root of the problem. It also reflects our nation’s official narrative of the history of race and racism, which works as a tool used to obscure the reality of institutional racism from those who are not victims of it, and prevents the working class from creating a unified revolutionary political force.

To explain this official narrative of the history of race and racism, we must understand how it was developed and is sustained. Throughout all the various ways a society functions—its social institutions—there needs to be consistency in ideologies and history for us to have social order; family, education, government, and economy all come together to form what we recognize as a society. For America, and many other countries who’ve been occupied and colonized by Europeans, all of the ideologies surrounding those institutions originate in Europe. Although our K to 12 public education system doesn’t exactly frame it well (or at all), the history of our institutions carries European ideologies like white supremacy, patriarchy, and ethnocentrism. We learn about the foundations of modern civilization and democratic government starting in Ancient Greece, and how those ideas allowed Rome to be a flourishing empire for centuries. Since our history is presented from the perspective of Europeans and their decedents, there are events often left out which preserve a narrative that is consistent with nationalism and patriotism. It becomes a commonly accepted narrative, or an official narrative, to the majority of people in our society.

The teaching of Brown vs. Board in 1954 is required across the country and it is taught in a series of Supreme Court decisions. The court decisions go from Dred Scott, to Plessy, to Brown. Together, they create a narrative explaining the rise of Martin Luther King Jr. and the dismantling of racial segregation. This series has become our nation’s narrative in regards to the history of race. That is where the lessons typically stop. If a child dares to question why these lessons are being taught in a classroom full of one race, that child, depending on the color of their skin and who is teaching the lesson, are either punished or given an answer that deflects the question. This cherry picked version of history is the bare minimum standard of learning about racism and civil rights; this version of history leaves out the systemic dismantling of integration initiatives between the 60s and 80s. Therefore, the mandated curriculum about race and racism reinforces white supremacy and also creates an environment which produces internalized racism for people of color.

White people’s migration from the cities into the suburbs—known as white flight—was occurring through the 1950s into the 1970s. Subsidies for highway development, deductions of mortgage rates, and funds for school construction all made it more appealing for white people to move into and grow suburbs. In an effort to further integrate schools, forced busing was used to take Black children to white schools. Descendants of Europeans, newly immigrated or long established US citizens, did not want their tax dollars to be used to educate these children. In response to forced busing, states began dividing school funding to specific districts based on class and race. When this was challenged in the Supreme Court case Rodriguez vs. San Antonio in the early 1970s, it was ruled that education is not a fundamental right, and that states could develop whatever system of school funding they wanted. This kind of information is withheld, mentioned lightly, or completely ignored by too many schools, families, communities, and politicians; it does not hold together the narrative that the majority has decided to accept.

Despite integration efforts, our schools are as racially segregated as they were in the late 60s, but the policies and curriculums of public education are not. Creating a universal standard for learning is necessary to reinforce the narrative as well as keep specific people within their socioeconomic position within the American caste system. Back in the 80s, a move toward standard-based education was started with the A Nation at Risk report. In the same decade, the Clintons reformed Arkansas’s education system to require students to take standardized tests and teachers to take competency tests. A couple of decades later, Bush Jr. gave us the No Child Left Behind Act, pushing the standards-based education reform even further. This is applied to every school, rich or poor, and has had disastrous results for people in lower socioeconomic classes for a multitude of reasons. More specifically, children of color are hurt the most. Since schools rely on standardized test scores to increase federal funding, struggling students are often coerced out of school in order to improve the school’s test results. Between low resources due to a lack of local funding, the reduction of education being focused on standardized topics, and the production of stressed/anxious student behavior, students of color are being expected to work way harder for an education than anyone else should ever have to.

Even though my focus in this piece has been race, there are dozens of narratives we are given while we grow into adulthood (and even early adulthood) and they all carry old and toxic ideas developed by white men—most whom have died thousands of years ago in Europe. This is not to say that nothing good has ever come from Europeans, but it is important to recognize that they have developed and sustained a system using ideas which bring a specific kind of social order to benefit only a small percentage of the billions of people we share this planet with. We cannot have a discussion about the revolutionary politics needed to fix this, or the future of the growing movement against our two major political parties, without first listening to, and taking seriously, the perspectives of those who our system fails the most—the ones who are ignored in our narratives. Until white/cis/male/able-bodied people recognize, learn more about, and openly criticize these narratives, we will only continue passing on the burden of our decaying civilization to the next generation.

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