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Our Whole History

“On May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was killed, that was something that changed every person. Whether it was folks for the first time who really saw what persistent inequality looks like or a catalyst to continue to talk about systemic racism — it was not possible for any of us to look away...”~ Karol Collymore, June 11, 2021

A year ago the world was reminded that systemic racism exists in America with the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Coopers’ encounter in Central Park in New York. Businesses, organizations, and schools posted Black squares and wrote letters committing to antiracism. Where are we a year later?

Over the last few months, we have seen community members in Oregon run for School Board seats on platforms that support eliminating comprehensive sexuality education and racial literacy (Beaverton and Bend-LaPine). We have also seen organizations like Private School Village write open letters imploring school leaders to continue the work of creating institutions where our Black students can both thrive and strive; while Asian adults raise their voices for safer school environments for our Asian children. We have also seen state government officials attempt to:

“ ... ban critical race theory, the academic framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism. In other states, lawmakers have tried to restrict specific kinds of antiracism training or the teaching of “divisive” concepts. The picture is varied, though, and other states are adding ethnic studies courses or incorporating more about people of color into their learning standards.” ~ Cathryn Stout and Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee, June 9, 2021

We are at a choice point. Will we embrace our whole history? Will we be critical thinkers? Will we make our country and our educational system one that centers on teaching children how to think rather than what to think?

When I attended the University of California at Berkeley in the 1980s my parents charged me with studying something practical. I immediately set my sights on attending the Haas School of Business (back then it was the Business School). Before being accepted to the Business School, I was required to take classes that focused on history. Luckily, I had the option of taking ethnic studies courses to fulfill my history requirement. I found myself learning about history that was never offered during my high school years. With new knowledge and an exposure to unshared histories came anger and resentment for my high school teachers. I asked other students who had attended public and private schools if they were having the same experience. They confirmed for me that our experiences were similar. During Professor Ronald Toshiyuki Takaki’s office hours I broached the topic with a lack of elegance and a large dose of judgment. Professor Takaki listened as I raged about the incompetence of high school history teachers. I remember his long exhale followed by this response: “Don’t be angry with your high school teachers for teaching what they didn’t learn. Direct that anger towards changing the education system so all teachers will know.”

Dr. Takaki modeled compassion and understanding while charging me to be the change. In our classroom, Dr. Takaki taught me to think critically and see the nuances of our history. How have you created a whole history for your current and former students? How will you create an even more complete history for the future generations of students that you will teach?

It starts with you. Here are some pieces to consider:

Debra Adams Simmons provides a brief look at the history we have not been taught and offers us Elizabeth Alexander’s startling and provocative essay titled, “This Is How We Can Envision Black Freedom”. Alexander calls on the voices of the ancestors including Nina Simone to have us consider the history we know and don’t know.

This interactive experience cannot possibly show the vitality of Black Wall Street and Greenwood, the area that surrounded it. It does offer an idea of the scope of destruction and violence visited upon the area by White attackers.

The strategy of threatening, intimidating, and murdering Black people has frequently been used to suppress them. In unearthing my own family history and trying to find out what prompted my family's movement to Texas from Louisiana, I learned about the Opelousas Massacre.

A combination of history, memoir, and essay is offered by Annette Gordon-Reed to help us understand the meaning of Juneteenth. It is short enough to read on Juneteenth and enjoyable enough to savor for the days between Juneteenth and the 4th of July.

Actor and director Tom Hanks offers his perspective on a fuller version of history as a White man who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in Oakland, California. He focuses on the Tulsa Massacre as a historical event that Americans should know. The readers’ responses to Hanks' opinion piece can be found here.

Learn about the Alphabet Rockers and their new release for Juneteenth.

Note: The song does not explain that Juneteenth 1865 is the date when word of the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) reached enslaved Blacks in Galveston, Texas.

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