“Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen, Chapter 5 (“Gone With the Wind”) pp. 131-165
I chose to read this chapter for my content area reading because I have taken a long break from Loewen and I wanted to get back into his piece, which I have enjoyed so far. This chapter focused on racism, which was next in my reading in this work, seemed pertinent to the concerns of racism with the recent presidential election.
This chapter goes through the ways that textbooks address (or fail to address) racism in American history. Although slavery ended, Loewen highlights how the “superstructure of racism has long outlived the social structure of slavery that generated it” (137). Loewen references the impact racism has had on our culture, arts, and what perceptions individuals have about important historical events and periods. Loewen argues that by making racism “invisible”, history textbooks deprive students of the ability and opportunity to critically analyze racism in the present.
3 Things I Want to Remember
- 1. The first non-native settlers in the US were blacks and Spaniards in 1526 (mouth of Pee Dee River in present-day South Carolina). Eventually the slaves rebelled against their mastered and escaped to live with Native Americans. Spaniards that survived retreated to Haiti.
- 2. “In omitting racism or treating it so poorly, history textbooks shirk a critical responsibility. Not all whites are or have been racist. Levels of racism have changed over time. If textbooks were to explain this, they would give students some perspective on what caused racism in the past, what perpetuates it today, and how it might be reduced in the future.” (138)
- 3. Loewen’s explanation of segregation (in a sociological frame): “a system of racial etiquette that keeps the oppressed group separate from the oppressor when both are doing equal tasks, like learning the multiplication tables, but allows intimate closeness when the tasks are hierarchical, like cooking or cleaning for white employers. The rationale of segregation thus implies that the oppressed are a pariah people” (155). Textbooks need to include this, and if not, teachers need to explain it!
2 Controversial Things/Things I Disagree With
- 1. “The very essence of what we have inherited from slavery is the idea that it is appropriate, even ‘natural,’ for whites to be on top, blacks on the bottom. In its core our culture tells us – tells all of us, including African Americans – that Europe’s domination of the world came about because Europeans were smarter. In their core, many whites and some people of color believe this.” (137) WOW!!
- 2. Many textbooks make the “bad people” anonymous – slavery happened, but it’s not specifically blamed on the whites; “there’s no one to be angry at” (138). There isn’t necessarily one person to blame, but responsibility needs to be placed on someone’s shoulders – in this case, white American society and culture.
- 1. Historically, some states passed and enforced legislation to write history textbooks in a certain way (include or avoid certain content). Has there been any recent – within the last thirty years – national legislation that addresses teaching all parts of history, even the bad parts?