By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
The Labor Day weekend not only marks the unofficial end of summer but also marks the beginning of the school year across the country in the days that follow. The great American colloquialism for the basics pillars of education has always been, “The Three Rs” readin,’ ‘ritin,’ and ‘rithmatic.” Ironic as that may be, this year in may states the three Rs are getting an update, readin’ ‘ritin’ and racism.
In the wake of 2020’s tidal wave of racial and social justice awakening and activism, our country and its leaders were called to a reckoning with the racism of its past, present, and future. Attention must be paid. Accountability must happen. Action must be taken.
And backlash was inevitable.
Perhaps the most vile and insidious backlash has been states legislating against schools, teachers, and the truth. Rather than acknowledging the facts of American history and embracing a full complete telling of our true story, Republicans have once again created hysteria over a problem that doesn’t exist. It’s called Critical Race Theory, a graduate level law school theory; but they have made it out to be even the most fundamental lesson and or discussion of race or racism in the classroom. They’re white supremacy is so threatened by their children being educated about race they are now banning it from schools. ABCNEWS Nightline recently aired this report.
One of the states which has banned CRT as well as any and all of its derivatives ie race, racism, slavery, The Confederacy, The Civil War, Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation, Civil Rights, critical thinking for oneself, etc. is Tennessee, whose Governor Bill Lee last month tweeted,
In TN, our students will be taught unapologetic American exceptionalism.
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) August 11, 2021
To which Professor of African American and Public History, Learotha Williams replied,
— Learotha Williams (@learothawms) August 12, 2021
Therein lies the other dangerous problem, the myth of “American Exceptionalism;” it is holy and sacrosanct to them and to question or deny it is utter blasphemy. It goes hand in glove with their white superiority. To have the blood, sweat, and tears of four centuries of Black Africans credited with its success, let alone be due reparations for their labor is heresy. They ignore America’s attempted genocide of indigenous peoples and the theft of an entire continent on which it stands. And they conveniently forget the forced interment of innocent Japanese Americans in the land of the free and home of the brave.
American Exceptionalism is nationalism, white nationalism. The perpetuation of its mythology by banning the teaching of the facts and truth about racism, systemic racism, or CRT at the appropriate levels serves no purpose but to indoctrinate misinformation, foster falsehoods, and protect dogma. Now legislatures are passing laws threatening teachers who don’t embrace their opinions and instead teach facts and truth.
There’s a great irony that this should be happening in Tennessee as it was the epicenter of this same controversy almost a century ago. John Scopes was tried in 1925 for violating state law to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” It attracted legal titans, William Jennings Bryant and Clarence Darrow in a true trial of the century pitting belief and mythology against truth and reason in education that was broadcast to America on the radio.
So riveting and dramatic was the trial when Bryant took the stand in Darrow’s brilliant ploy, it became a Pulitzer Prize winning play and later film, Inherit the Wind with cross examination dialogue taken directly from the transcripts.
“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise.” Proverbs 11:29
If Republican lawmakers want to cling to their beliefs, it would server them well to heed all verses, not just the ones that make them feel entitled.
Being an American is something we should be proud of, but it cannot be based on the dangerous myth of exceptionalism or only the convenient parts of American history. Has America made exceptional accomplishments and achievements? Absolutely! We were the first to land on the moon; but we did it with the contributions of extraordinary Black women, who were hidden from history for decades. Has America committed exceptional atrocities? Yes, usually against anyone who wasn’t white and or Christian and without remorse or amends. To believe otherwise is not factual; it’s a myth and delusional.
To be truly American, we must be brave enough to embrace who we are and own the facts of what we’ve done as a country. We are our entire American history, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Living with a lie will fester and grow until it kills you; learning an ugly truth will hurt, but you’ll grow stronger from it.
(main photo: video still via PBS)