Is history racist?

BlueRidge

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How should history be used politically? How should it be taught at different levels in schools?

I saw a comment recently from a history teacher in a state where Republicans were passing legislation to ban teaching Critical Race Theory who said, "I just put the facts out there and let the students decide for themselves?"

Does anyone believe that is even possible?

Here's a look at history and the teaching of it:
The Fog of History Wars (New Yorker)

Once again, Americans find themselves at war over their history—what it is, who owns it, how it should be interpreted and taught. In April, the Department of Education called for a renewed stress, in the classroom, on the “unbearable human costs of systemic racism” and the “consequences of slavery.” In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a formal letter, demanding more “patriotism” in history and calling the Democrats’ plan “divisive nonsense.” Like all great questions of national memory, the latest history war has to play out in politics, whether we like it or not. This is especially true as we limp, wounded, from the battlefields of the Trump era, when facts were nearly rendered irrelevant.

History wars follow patterns. The subjects at their core usually carry visceral meaning for large swaths of the public. The disputes quickly invoke curricula, creeping into school boards and state legislatures with increasing stakes. The combatants then employ a kind of existential rhetoric, with all sides declaring surrender unacceptable. Political teams are chosen, and the media both fuels and thrives on the contestation. Authorities, whether in academia, libraries, or museums, try to fight for up-to-date research and interpretation. The politics of knowledge and the emotional attachments to country threaten to sweep up nearly all before them. Finally, someone declares victory, whether by creating or removing a monument, cancelling or curating an exhibit, or writing a book about a triumph of historical engagement. “Good” history can be both a result and a casualty of these wars.

What is "good" history?
 

rfisher

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Also, yes to the title. "History" is written by the dominate group. Moreover, it's been written and rewritten to promote a class, ideology, group or even individual. It's written to give legitimacy or authority to some group. A perfect example is the Mayan stela at Palenque. Palenque (was a person) is a classic Mayan site in Mexico. The third ruler for whom the site is named, rewrote his own history and the history of the site to give himself ancestry to the Gods and claim the throne. He literally had all the stella erased (except they didn't do a good job which is why we know what he did) and rewritten. This has happened in every culture and society that keeps written records and no doubt even those who rely on oral histories. If one understands the process, then one can examine the record with a critical eye and look for the opposing version. If not and one takes what is written at that moment in time as the story, a distorted POV is the result. This is where historians get together with other disciplines such as archaeology, geology, biology and other ologies to get a broader perspective and look at multiple realities.
 

BlueRidge

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Is history what is written or is it what happened?

LOL you guys are so literal, I picked the title just to get people to click not to limit the discussion. :drama:
 

Vagabond

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I saw a comment recently from a history teacher in a state where Republicans were passing legislation to ban teaching Critical Race Theory who said, "I just put the facts out there and let the students decide for themselves?"

Does anyone believe that is even possible?
Facts are meaningless without a context and critical analysis, which is what History is.
 

rfisher

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Is history what is written or is it what happened?

LOL you guys are so literal, I picked the title just to get people to click not to limit the discussion. :drama:
Oral histories are just as valid as those that are written because rewrites happen. And as to what happened, there are some facts: this war happened. As to why it happened, and to my the why is the more important element, that depends on whose reality is being asked to answer the question.

I have a history minor as an undergrad. By grad school in archaeology/anthropology we were deconstructing everything and deciding nothing was valid. So, I said screw the theory and just looked at was was left behind. :lol:
 

BlueRidge

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Oral histories are just as valid as those that are written because rewrites happen. And as to what happened, there are some facts: this war happened. As to why it happened, and to my the why is the more important element, that depends on whose reality is being asked to answer the question.
And that takes us back to history being written (or told) by the victors, as those with power are likely the ones whose reality will be reflected.

But obviously in the US that is being challenged, as power is being challenged.

Is it all a political struggle? Do historians feel they are trying to get at truths that aren't just a matter of what flatters the powerful?

I read a lot of history. Its interesting to consider the questions. Its also interesting to me to wonder about the teaching of history in elementary and high schools. Who decides what goes in, what goes out? School boards? Historians? Parents? Are there fair standards that can be applied or is it all power?
 

once_upon

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And that takes us back to history being written (or told) by the victors, as those with power are likely the ones whose reality will be
Yes. Imagine if Hilter had not been deflated. Or the Civil War was won by the South, or January 6 had been successful. Or if the Roman's were not successful during their age.

History is always written by the victorious.
 
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rfisher

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And that takes us back to history being written (or told) by the victors, as those with power are likely the ones whose reality will be reflected.

But obviously in the US that is being challenged, as power is being challenged.

Is it all a political struggle? Do historians feel they are trying to get at truths that aren't just a matter of what flatters the powerful?

I read a lot of history. Its interesting to consider the questions. Its also interesting to me to wonder about the teaching of history in elementary and high schools. Who decides what goes in, what goes out? School boards? Historians? Parents? Are there fair standards that can be applied or is it all power?
I think school boards for the most part with input or influence by parents (who voted the board in place). History, and archaeology, have been used to flatter the powerful far too often. There is a current study looking at Vikings across Europe. History has been interpreted one way, but new DNA methodology is telling a different story from Viking burials all across the continent. To be a Viking was more or less a job and not an ethnic group. Where the problem is has to do with the Viking settlements in Russia. The archeology and biology aren't telling the story the Russian historians have maintained. You see the same political issues in the Middle East. If the genetics tell a different story than the accepted history, there are political ramifications. So, there is a tendency to write what those in power want to be written. Sometimes at the time, and sometimes later. The history of slavery in the US or the genocide of Indigenous cultures is another. I went to grad school with someone who espouses the Bell Curve and comes up with warped models to support her research as a bioanthropologist with regard to NAGPRA. She was always fond of stories that lead with "well Native Americans warred with each other, so the Europeans didn't do anything they hadn't done to themselves." Yes, they warred and yes they killed other tribes over access to resources, but there was a significant difference between the two. She personifies how history (which is what archaeology is) is used to get what one wants.

I think there's always some element of bias, certainly in how the "facts" are interpreted. Nobody is a totally independent observer. This is part of the current discussion in US slave archaeology (there is really such a subdivision) about the bias of white versus black archaeologists. They do attempt to tell the "other side" as it were, but does racial privilege really allow that to happen?
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BlueRidge

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She personifies how history (which is what archaeology is) is used to get what one wants.
Can there be history that isn't just what some one (or group) wants though? How do you get that? Whose purposes does it serve?

As my question above, if history is what the dominant group wants to teach, are liberal states teaching what liberals want people to hear? That is certainly what conservatives say.
 

overedge

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Truth is relative, and there are multiple truths depending on who's telling the story or making the judgement. I don't think history is inherently racist, but when one narrative becomes accepted as the definitive account and it's not the full story, then that can be racist (and sexist and a lot of other things too).
 

BlueRidge

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Okay so the rightwing thinks you guys are the dominant group in society and your schools are indoctrinating kids with your biased history, which they refer to as Critical Race Theory.

Why are they wrong?
 

rfisher

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Can there be history that isn't just what some one (or group) wants though? How do you get that? Whose purposes does it serve?

As my question above, if history is what the dominant group wants to teach, are liberal states teaching what liberals want people to hear? That is certainly what conservatives say.
Honestly, probably. Is there a way around this, only by laying out as much truthed data as possible. What we need is to teach critical analysis where people evaluate the quality of every source and examine the agenda of said source. Once you do that, then you can make a choice to accept or reject. Who said it? Why did they say it? What are they wanting to achieve? Did they profit from saying it?
 

BlueRidge

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Honestly, probably. Is there a way around this, only by laying out as much truthed data as possible. What we need is to teach critical analysis where people evaluate the quality of every source and examine the agenda of said source. Once you do that, then you can make a choice to accept or reject. Who said it? Why did they say it? What are they wanting to achieve? Did they profit from saying it?
Well that kind of gets back to the teacher who said she just puts out the facts and let's the students decide, except she didn't talk about the part about giving the students the tools to do that.

But still, schools have only so much time to teach as @Dobre was saying so the teachers, or whoever approves the curriculum, is going to make selections of what to teach, even if looking at it critically is encouraged.

So we end up back with how much emphasis do we put on slavery as opposed to the development of governing institutions, for instance.

So the question really is, how do we come to a place as a society where we have enough common ground to send our kids to the same schools and accept they are being taught something we can accept as the history of our country?
 

rfisher

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CRT really focuses on the intersection of race and the justice system. It's not really a theory any more than evolution is a theory. There is sufficient data to support the fact that race influences and is influenced by the law and justice system. The statistics don't lie. I don't see this as a liberal or conservative POV. This is how I show evidence of structural racism in US health care. It occurs here, and here and here and these are the consequences. I have students who want to deny it exists. My former Dean denied it. But, you simply provide such overwhelming evidence that they cannot deny. They may not care, but they will know the truth. And, you only hope someday they will begin to think differently.

Now, as to why some conservatives want to suppress it? They don't want to acknowledge it any more than liberals didn't acknowledge the invisible red line drawn in almost every town in America where people could live. Blacks couldn't get federal housing money to buy houses over that line.

The rejection of CRT is deeply held prejudice based on a lie. The only way to get around it is to demand that those who do not want this taught provide evidence that it is not true. They can't any more than creationists can provide evidence that evolution doesn't occur. So, they just scream liberal or conservative to deflect.
 

BlueRidge

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So CRT is one thing that is true? And it should be taught because it is true?

If you can provide evidence for CRT, then can't you provide evidence for other things being taught in history? If so, does history become more of a social science for which there are clear academic standards for evaluating the content being taught?
 

MacMadame

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Does that mean that the rightwing is right that history as taught in much of the US where liberals dominate is biased?
No, because they order textbooks from one of a handful of publishers and those tend to be middle of the road to conservative in order to sell to as many school districts as possible.

The textbooks I used in school and that my kids used and that are being used now in our district are definitely not radical versions of history based on critical race theory that teach that white people are bad. They have consistently gotten better over time but in every decade, they tend to be at least a decade behind our current understanding of history and/or present it as neutrally as possible even if that means glossing over some uncomfortable truths so as not to offend anyone.

Some of this is because school districts often don't have enough money to replace their curricula all that often. So, of course, a 15-year-old textbook will have been written to reflect the understanding of history at that time. But even when you get a new curriculum, it's often already old before it's even been published, so it starts out-of-date from day one. And the incentives to present an "acceptable" version of history still shaped it.

I have debated many conservative parents over many issues related to schools and my experience is that nothing will satisfy them and not be perceived as biased by them unless it tells the same lies they want to believe. For example, when it was time to replace the sex-ed curriculum, they had a cow because they wanted abstinence-only sex ed even though studies showed it didn't work and also was harmful to some kids. (It was also illegal to use in CA.) They had a cow over the new social studies curriculum because someone got a bee their bonnet that it was teaching CRT even though they clearly had no idea what that even is. But the new curriculum did talk about the many issues going on with the Civil War and with much less bias than what I was taught in the 60s in the North, so I'm sure they didn't like it and think it is biased. 🤷‍♀️
 

MacMadame

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This is how I show evidence of structural racism in US health care. It occurs here, and here and here and these are the consequences. I have students who want to deny it exists. My former Dean denied it. But, you simply provide such overwhelming evidence that they cannot deny. They may not care, but they will know the truth. And, you only hope someday they will begin to think differently.
That hasn't been my experience. They still deny. Or they come up with some convoluted explanation for it. So more Black kids get arrested than White kids (per capita) and they say that this is because they are Bad kids. Or that the differences aren't statistically significant. Or they change the definition of arrest so that the numbers change.
 

rfisher

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That hasn't been my experience. They still deny. Or they come up with some convoluted explanation for it. So more Black kids get arrested than White kids (per capita) and they say that this is because they are Bad kids. Or that the differences aren't statistically significant. Or they change the definition of arrest so that the numbers change.
Deeply held prejudice is difficult to overcome. But, if you reach one person at a time, that's one person who will influence another.
 

overedge

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So CRT is one thing that is true? And it should be taught because it is true?

If you can provide evidence for CRT, then can't you provide evidence for other things being taught in history? If so, does history become more of a social science for which there are clear academic standards for evaluating the content being taught?

I think the evidence shows up when multiple theories are combined, not when one set of views is examined in isolation.

I mentioned in another thread that Emmanuel Acho's Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man is a really good book. One of the things he discussed that I honestly hadn't thought about before was the economic impact of slavery on Black people today. He says that even after slavery was banned, freed people had hardly anything to their names, and there were still very restrictive laws about how much property they could own, where they could live, and so on. That put them at an economic disadvantage, and that meant there was less wealth and assets to pass along to future generations.

That's the sort of multiple perspectives that I think should be taught when slavery is addressed in history courses. Not just "slavery was bad and then it was banned and now everyone can be equal".
 
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DORISPULASKI

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A huge chunk of relatively accurate History is to be found in accounting ledgers. People like to keep their personal copies accurate, especially in the days before income tax.

Plantation owners had extremely detailed accounting books,

It is always interesting to look at history through different eyes.
 

overedge

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There are some very interesting discussions going on in Canada about understanding the history of residential schools, prompted by the horrible discovery of the remains of 215 children buried behind the residential school site in Kamloops. https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/history-of-residential-schools/

One is about how much non-Indigenous people actually know about the residential school system. IME most people know that it was bad because it took Indigenous children away from their parents and essentially tried to erase their Indigenous culture. But not as many non-Indigenous people know the extent of how abusive those schools were, and how the impact of the abuse has caused inter-generational trauma.

Another is trying to understand the extent of the abuse at the schools. Since the discovery in Kamloops, there have been quite a few stories about Indigenous communities knowing that some kids went to the residential schools and never came back, but that was usually written off as folklore by non-Indigenous administrators or researchers, or as Indigenous people trying to make the residential schools seem worse than they were :rolleyes: There is discussion of doing the same kind of ground-radar searching at other school sites as was done in Kamloops, but there are cultural sensitivities that need to be respected and incorporated into that process. Not surprisingly, the Indigenous communities want to be in control if that happens.

There's also the very practical matter of trying to identify just how many kids might have died at the schools. The government kept one set of student records, the churches who ran the schools kept other sets of records, and given that the kids were pretty much treated as savages that needed to be civilized, the record keeping wasn't always accurate or descriptive. Plus, if the funding for the schools was based on the number of students, there wasn't a big incentive to keep accurate records of how many kids passed away or ran away.
 
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once_upon

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Does that mean that the rightwing is right that history as taught in much of the US where liberals dominate is biased?
No, I think that it is human nature to want to put oneself/one's culture in the best light. And the right-wing is trying to hold on to the "truth as they know it". There is so much history that has come to light in the past years, it's necessary to learn about it.

In a way, the real cancel culture happened to the minorities. The white population (and i include myself here), did not/do not want to recognize the truth that people of color have endured, we don't want it in our face because that means we have tough truths to face. Unless there is a strong base in family/culture structure-even poc have lost what was/should be, and without oral history are just as unaware as the white person.

I take Juneteenth as an example. I wasn't aware of it, other than I thought it was a made up holiday for parades and picnics for the African American until probably 6 years ago. That speaks to my not wanting to learn, but also to the white wash of my American History classes. I never heard about Tulsa Black Wall Street Massacre until last year. Again not in any history book and really on me that I didn't seek out better history sources.

Even after several day immersion into harm we did to Native Americans, I didn't understand what is meant by reparations. I still don't, but heard descendents of those killed in Tulsa talk about it, heard a little on an NPR story and getting a tiny pinpoint drop of understanding. But I dont think many, even poc understand it.
 

Japanfan

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History used to be and probably still is to some extent about white men in power, as told by white men in power. His story.

For example, in the 60s and 70s we learned nothing about Canada's indigenous peoples. They were whitewashed out of the history textbooks.
 
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caseyedwards

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History needs to be based on the facts of what happened! Certainly no history class should ever ever contain students taking about what it’s like to be the race they are. That’s not history. That’s sociological stuff. Why should that ever be in a history class?

If you want to teach why did whites go to africa to buy slaves instead of enslaving whites you can talk about whites believing superior to other races and also non Christians too. But also they were so cheap. They were offered for very low prices by other African tribes so sometimes.

One thing I would teach that I never saw until looking at newspapers was classified ads for slaves for sale! I was taught slave auctions not classified ads for Slaves. Men women and children listed by name and role on farm or plantation. I agree with expanding what is learned.
George 40 field hand
Laura 23 nurse house
William 12 “likely boy”

That’s real history. Not made up theories or “would you enslave someone based on racial or religious differences?”


And students should not be taught 1619 lies like Washington jefferson adams etc founded america because they were afraid king George was going to abolish slavery. That’s nonsense. There is no supporting evidence for that.
 

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