It has now been 401 years since a ship appeared on the horizon near Point Comfort, a port in the English colony of Virginia. That ship carried more than 20 enslaved people to what would later become the United States. The stories of those first enslaved people and their descendants have long gone untold because the American education system does not recognize this profound and shameful truth as the seed from which we experience race in America today.
As we watch the latest public outrage stemming from the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other Black Americans by police, some may find themselves surprised that they had been so unaware of the history of policing, plantation capitalism, and racist government policies created to limit Black progress.
The American education system does not prioritize the teaching of the enslavement period or the ideas of race and racism. This is evidenced by the lack of knowledge surrounding the economic and political achievements of communities of color. Many of us navigate the K-12 school experience, which includes state-mandated assessments—and for some of us, honors and AP courses—and never learn about Black Wall Street, Black inventions, or Black theories.
As a result, many of us go through our school careers racially illiterate, uncomfortable when engaging in conversations about race, and ignorant that our thoughts and behaviors fuel white supremacy, even when we are the most well-intentioned. The reality is that our skin color and zip codes shape every experience in this country. They act as the determining factors for quality of life and life expectancy for those yet to be born.
STRUCTURAL RACISM GOES DEEPER THAN YOU THINK.
The roots of race and racism in America go back to 1619 when that first ship arrived at the colony of Virginia. Since then, America has built a system of racism that acts upon every aspect of society and permeates our lives every day. It is necessary to take a critical step back and recognize how American society has entrenched white supremacy deep into our collective psyche. Consider this: A well-meaning teacher, statistically a white woman, stands in front of a classroom filled with students of color. She tries to encourage them to do better in school, to graduate, and to enroll in college, so they can work and live in a better neighborhood than the one they grew up in. While she may not be aware that she is doing so, the teacher subconsciously equates a “better neighborhood” with a white neighborhood. “A better school district” is coded language for a whiter school district, and so on. We already speak in this coded language of race every day, so why not do so from a point of consciousness from which we can truly understand our impact and how it aids in the perpetuation of white supremacy? By exploring the resources provided throughout this project, you can start to build your knowledge of and emotional intelligence regarding the history of this country, which was founded upon the social construction of race.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi or Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
"Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?": A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity by Beverly Daniel Tatum
LET'S BETTER UNDERSTAND HOW INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES CONTEXTUALIZE RACISM.
In his work Courageous Conversations about Race, Glenn E. Singleton urges us to examine race through the personal, local, and immediate. This forces us to understand our own beliefs, values, and expectations about race. This exploration helps us to think more critically and empathetically about how we occupy any space. In American society today, it is difficult for us to connect our privileges—especially those that are invisible to us due to historically redlined neighborhoods and subsequent discrimination within real estate—with the oppression of communities of color. Even more, we buy into the idea that our privileges are earned due to “hard work” instead of critically interrogating the impact of generational wealth as a result of stolen labor and racist government policies designed to limit the progress of communities of color.
Our lack of exposure to how these oppressive systems work makes it easy to buy into the idea of American “meritocracy”, a fictional narrative that is often a tool of white supremacy. As we demerit people of color in our schools and workplaces by attributing their presence to affirmative action to maintain a sense of superiority, we must also recognize that the historic racial structures within American society have rooted a kind of “affirmative action” for white people in every aspect of life. As we consider our own experiences, studying the experiences of others can help us to better see how our false notions of success coincide with someone else’s oppression.
Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer Eberhardt
THE NEED FOR
The idea of a revolution might frighten anyone who has benefited from the racial caste system in America, but simply told, this country was born from revolution. Revolution against British policing of the American colonies led to modern-day America. Revolution against French colonialism in Haiti led to the first Black-led republic. Revolution against segregationists in South Africa led to the end of apartheid. And as long as the conditions that caused the American Revolution still stand, the need for revolution remains just as strong today.
Black people make up only 13 percent of our country’s population but have consistently forced America to actualize its founding promises. The civil rights movement demonstrated that the rights of oppressed people could be advanced through organized social and political action, laying the foundation for advancing women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. While we may look unfavorably at the practices of revolution when we apply the lens of race in this country, it has long been a vehicle for much of the progress we have made as a society.
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment by Partricia Hill Collins
We have been socialized in a system that privileges racial illiteracy. You can reach the highest office of this land without demonstrating a true understanding of race and racism or how policies continue to exacerbate the racial wealth gap. You can stand before students of color and measure their intelligence through how well they can recite a history that is not their own, using a colonial language not spoken by their ancestors. Neutrality is not an option in a country founded on genocide and the enslavement of millions. Our options are, and have always been, furthering racism or being anti-racist.
Engaging in a conscious re-learning and corroboration of what you know about the founding of America is our civic responsibility and the only way to become truly anti-racist. Anti-racism work is difficult and painful but so is the history of marginalized communities in America who will not be free until the overarching construct of white supremacy is dismantled.
We must unlearn the whitewashed curriculum we were immersed in for most of our lives and relearn the history of our country’s founding through a conscious lens to truly take anti-racist actions. However, unlearning is only the first step in our collective liberation.