I’m reading a book called Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. There are questions at the end of each chapter. I decided to write my answers in an effort to dig a little deeper. Writing helps me clarify my thinking. I’m writing for better understanding for myself, but decided to share as blog posts in case someone else might find my wandering thoughts interesting or useful.
The late historian Ronald Takaki referred to the history taught in American schools as the “Master Narrative,” the version of history told by Americans of Anglo descent. Think about what you did not study. Did you learn about Lincoln’s views on enslaved black people? Anti-immigration laws of the nineteenth century? America’s laws regarding who could and could not gain citizenship? The Native Americans who had once lived on your town’s or school’s land?
As I think over the history that was taught in my schools, it was definitely the Anglo version. It was also history told by wars with history being written by the victors. All historical periods were marked by a war or some type of expansion. Europeans came to this country and settled and it was Manifest Destiny. Indigenous people were taught as expendable as I recall, very cowboys and Indians. I don’t remember learning anything about Native cultures and certainly nothing related to colonialism or the genocide that took place. I didn’t learn about the horror of the boarding schools where Native children were sent to become “Americans” in an effort to destroy their culture.
The Revolutionary War was a fight for freedom from tyranny only. I recently saw a documentary that made the case that the Revolutionary War also was waged to preserve slavery. Abolitionists in England were making a strong case against slavery and people were listening. Many slave holders in the colonies did not want to give up owning other human beings for profit, so it was an added incentive to break away from England.
I remember studying the Civil War, but I don’t remember learning much about slavery, and certainly not learning Lincoln’s views. Lincoln was portrayed as a great president without any critical or negative thoughts. He freed the slaves and saved the union and that was all that mattered.
World Wars I and II were global conflicts. World War II was portrayed as a fight for the soul of the world. We learned about the horrors of the Holocaust and the murders of six million Jewish people throughout Europe. I don’t think our lessons on the Holocaust included the murders of people with disabilities, gay people, or gypsies.
Interestingly, I recently read an article that argued that people in the US appear to be comfortable using the Holocaust as a reference point instead of using US history to illustrate issues of genocide and terrorism. Recently Facebook was full of remembrances of the liberation of Auschwitz. And we should remember, of course we should. It was a terrifying period of history and millions of people were murdered. But the point of the article was that the US also has terrifying periods of history with the enslavement, torture, and murder of millions of people. There were estimated five to fifteen million people living in North America in 1492, and by the late 19th century, approximately 238,000 indigenous people remained. (https://www.history.com/news/native-americans-genocide-united-states).
We didn’t study these atrocities in school in the same way we studied the Holocaust, maybe because it’s easier to point out the horrors perpetuated in Europe as opposed to admitting and coming to terms with the evils committed here.