History Should Be Honest?

Featured, History & Politics, In My Opinion

It’s been a couple of weeks since California’s State Assembly passed a bill that would require “schools to teach at all grade levels the historical contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people” in the public school system. Democratic State Senator Mark Leno who introduced the bill claims that, “It’s no different than instructing students about the historical role of an African-American man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fighting for civil rights and being assassinated for his efforts than teaching students about a gay American man by the name of Harvey Milk fighting for every man’s civil rights and being assassinated for his efforts.” Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill that would revise laws that prohibit discrimination in education, stating, ”History should be honest”.

Now, I can’t disagree with either the senator or the govenor – the contributions of all Americans should be included in American history. But if we are talking about being honest, can we get the REAL history of the descendants of African slaves? Sure there is a section of middle school history that focuses on the Transatlantic slave trade; and of course no history curriculum is complete without the stories of Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King. But what about the lives of African people before being enslaved? What languages did they speak and what religions did they practice? What was their economy like? How were they targeted for slavery and who was involved in the negotiating the sale of humans?

Additionally, how did American Creole culture come about? What were quadroon balls and the placage system and what effect did they have on the southern population of free blacks? I wonder why nobody ever discusses that.

Furthermore, what about the other black nations that heavily populate the U.S.? How did they get here? I’d love to hear about the excursions of Ethiopians, Dominicans, Belizeans and other groups of color that reside in the U.S. in large numbers. 

I would also add the history of brown people in this country requires some editing as well. I distinctly remember being asked by one of my middle school students, “Where were the beige people during this time?” I chuckled at beige, but I got her point. Nowhere in California’s public school history books will you find the Lemon Grove Incident, or much informaion on discrimination against Hispanic Americans.

The history of people of color in this country has always been fed to us in fractured pieces, with us having to seek out the information on our own, have it passed down from our parents, or have some “scholar” on a university campus feed it to us. At what point will American history truly be honest to all its citizens and give us our place in the books?

I won’t hold my breath.


2 Comments on "History Should Be Honest?"

  1. JCB3 Aug 2, 2011 · 9:22 am


  2. JWood Aug 9, 2011 · 1:43 pm

    I think you make a good point, but remember history is an endless universe of information and primary and secondary school can only deciminate so much of it and should therefore focus on that which is most relevant to all students before it focuses too much on individual groups. Remember white Americas also have a great varieties of ethnics histories that could and maybe should be taught (we often think in terms of white and black American history, but the difference in the respective American histories of English colonial Americans and Italian Americans, not to mention Spanish, German and French, is enormous and, as with African-American history, largely untold in school). However, there is a substantial amount of African-American history lodged squarely within that main artery of American history which we all learn that is not talked about. The black revolutionary war heroes, the black senators and judges of the reconstruction era that nobody (black or white) seems to know about. There’s so much black influence from these central American eras that is not taught that should be. Instead the most I got in school was a passing reference to Crispus Attucks. But I will hold my breath. Our experience shows we have the power to make things better.

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