“Someone has been stealing.”
One of the other students had gone to her during recess and told her that something was missing. In response, she delivered a speech for the ages as she paced back and forth across the front of the room. I don’t remember what the stolen item was. But the vision of practically every White student in my class looking accusingly at me is forever branded into my memory. It sounds insane, but I recall that their stares made me wonder whether I had stolen the thing, but just didn’t remember.
From this experience and many more like it, I learned to believe that I was dangerous, a second-class citizen who should be grateful I’m even allowed in the room. Other encounters left me believing that I wasn’t as smart as my White counterparts. That I should have been better at sports. That I was only fit to entertain them. And that I was whatever they told me I was. That I was beneath them.
Today, I know that school was racist. Back then, I just knew that I was going to school, which was something that one had to do in order to become smarter. In order to get a job and become a productive member of society.
What I also know now is that it wasn’t just classes that were racist; it was the entire White-centered school system. We learned about nothing in history class except for White people and their accomplishments. We were taught that the pilgrims and the Native Americans were friends who all joined hands and shared a big meal because Christopher Columbus, intrepid and true, had the good sense to discover the land upon which many nations already existed. The only times we ever discussed race and race relations were to praise, without context, Abraham Lincoln for “freeing the slaves” and to learn some of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s rosier quotes about unity.
Haven’t we learned to educate our children better than this?
I wish that my school system had offered critical race theory. It introduces a different perspective than the White-centered one that is baked into the crust of every U.S. system. Critical race theory tells a much more complete, more honest and more disturbing version of the American experience. I wish that I had been given a chance to know that my ancestors’ contributions to America were significant and lasting, and that my position as an American wasn’t a byproduct of White generosity. I wish that I had been taught that those who hold negative attitudes toward me because I am Black are dead wrong. I wish I had been taught that this isn’t just the way it is. I wish my White classmates had been taught this as well.
This week, the Texas House voted to protect White children from racism. More succinctly, Texas Republicans voted to protect White children from having to talk about racism. Texas House Bill 3979 is a Republican-led effort to ban or limit the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. The reasons that Texas Republicans are doing this are clear to any Black American who has gone through the U.S. school system. They want to keep White children ignorant. Because ignorance is now the bread and butter of conservative politics.
Because so much of the Black experience in the United States is rooted in racism, this decision is a big middle finger to Black children — and to the people trying to raise them. But Texas Republicans don’t want this history to be taught. They want our children to be all on the same page — the page that reads, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with America. Nothing to examine. Nothing to be fixed. Now get back to work.”
Taking critical race theory out of the curriculum won’t stop discussions of race in schools. The discussions will take place in the hallways, cafeterias and gymnasiums. These discussions won’t be pleasant. Because White children already know that they’re at the top of the U.S. caste system. And they will act accordingly. Black children will learn that they are an afterthought. They will learn not to raise a fuss and to accept a history that does not fully or accurately include them.
But history is always being made. Which means White children also lose. They are being denied the ability to understand a rapidly changing America.