The real attacks by white conservatives on public education began when public schools were integrated. The current attacks by white conservatives on public education and our public school teachers must be understood within this context.
The fight against so called “critical race theory” and the cries for “school choice”are the 21st century echos of the fight against the full integration of our public schools. Like the “white flight” to the suburbs in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, “school choice” and suppression of the discussion of racism have become the white flight of our time.
The consistent and persistent white backlash in the United States during any time of perceived progress for persons of color points clearly to how white supremacy permeates the very social fabric of our nation:
- Emancipation of black persons after the Civil War and their increased participation in the political process during Reconstruction was met with the white backlash of Jim Crow laws and voter suppression.
- Economic successes of communities of black persons were met with the white backlash of the organized white terrorism of the KKK, lynchings of thousands of black persons, and massacres such as the one in my home state of Oklahoma at Tulsa’s Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street.
- The legal success of school desegregation and the legislative successes of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were met with the white backlash of systematically underfunding urban schools and gerrymandering districts and creating new voter suppression strategies to perpetuate underrepresentation of persons of color in the political process.
- The Great Society of LBJ was met by the white backlash of Nixonian appeals to law and order, Reagan’s trickle down economics and bipartisan welfare reform, and the war on poverty was met by the white backlash of the war on drugs that perpetuated injustice and unequal treatment for persons of color through the nation’s criminal justice system.
Trumpism, the outcry against “critical race theory,” the banning of books in public school libraries, the attacks on public education and increasing calls for “school choice,” and the mistreatment of immigrants and refugees we are experiencing today all represent the white backlash to the Obama presidency and the Black Lives Matter movement in an attempt to hinder the creation of a just and pluralistic society.
It is important to fully recognize that what we are witnessing in the United States today is yet another expression of white backlash in a very long history of racist white supremacy, and unless we as a nation honestly confront our original sin of racism, we will never be able to move forward to a flourishing and anti-racist future.
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Indeed. Those who want to “Make America White Again” would have our students live in blissful ignorance of the Original Sin of racism. History only matters if it fits a narrative of American Exceptionalism. So you hear this often from the Right, “Let’s move on.” After January 6, the worst attack on our democracy in American history, Republicans refused to participate in the investigation of that dark day after 147 of them voted not to certify the results of a free and fair election. “I’m focused on the future” said one lawmaker recently, as if strategic amnesia is a virtue. When I was in the 8th grade, my history teacher taught a semester on Germany in the 20th century. She never mentioned the Holocaust. George Orwell knew the power of rewriting history in 1984. Whatever did not serve Big Brother never happened. Those who forget history (or never learn it) are doomed to repeat it.