Racism Never Left US Schools – Now It Takes Worrying New Forms – Al Jazeera English | Team Cansler

“As a district, we remain committed to teaching love, inclusivity, and compassion.” That’s how the Northwest Local School District administration ended its statement in response to a May racist incident at Colerain High School near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Some students had put up handwritten “Whites Only” and “Blacks Only” signs over two water fountains at the school, took photos of them, and then posted them on social media for public viewing. “NWLSD is fully committed to creating a culture of inclusivity, respect, kindness and compassion for all,” the administrators added.

Any of the more than 14,000 school districts in the United States could make your statement. Yet how true can it be in Ohio, where in less than two years Republican lawmakers introduced three bills attempting to ban critical race theory and discussion of “divisive concepts” like the existence of LGBTQIA+ people? How can that be true when Forest Hills (another Cincinnati-area school district) postponed its “Racial Diversity Awareness Day” and then canceled it because some parents complained that the event smacked of “critical racial theory” and was “natural.” from divisive” was?

How can this be true in a country where racist incidents occur almost every week after school? Just over the past two months, amid a legal battle over the practice, a lesson plan at a Los Angeles K-8 school that involved picking cotton to learn about slavery has come to light. Such was the case in a recent incident at a Massachusetts high school, where a white student posted a picture of himself holding a sign that read, “If I were black I would pick cotton.” But I’m white so I’ll take you for HoCo [Homecoming]“.

Indeed, the backlash against anti-racist books and efforts across the country, which includes The 1619 Project, has paved the way for the return of overtly racist, sexist, and queerphobic books to schools, filling the void left by so many bans on the “Critical.” Race Theory”.

The right-wing pushers for these bans are actually arguing against any schooling that involves reckoning with American racism and other evils. The argument: Learning inconvenient truths leads to psychological damage in white students.

Never mind that black, brown, indigenous and queer students – the majority of public school students – continue to face the annihilation and daily trauma of callous politicians and educators and the hypermasculine whiteness they practice and promote.

The result of such bans is also a further erosion of trust in public schools as a public good, while at the same time bolstering efforts towards privatization and school choice – pet priorities of the far right. Some black parents have already turned to homeschooling in response to the trauma and obliteration their children have faced in recent years.

The 2020 US Supreme Court decision Espinoza v. Montana only made things worse. School tax dollars in states can now fund religious (mostly Christian) private and charter schools and their inclinations toward patriotism, racism, and queer rights. Curricula designed for places like Hillsdale College and affiliated religious charter schools already claim that “America is an exceptionally good country” and that queerness is a phase young people are growing out of. A textbook used in these schools describes kidnapped Africans as “black immigrants,” as if people were willingly choosing intergenerational slavery for their future.

But the sad truth is that everyday racism in schools has never gone away. It’s like always.

The recent push toward curriculum mythmaking began well before former President Donald Trump’s 1776 commission called for “more patriotic education” in US schools. The past decade is full of examples of attempts at propaganda through curricula and textbooks. For years, school districts like Jefferson County, Colorado, and states like Texas, Tennessee, and Idaho have been adopting a more “patriotic” education while sidestepping discussions about slavery, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia. It is a deliberate obliteration of the world’s Black, Mexican, Arab-Muslim, Indigenous and queer senses.

If you look further back, you’ll find an evergreen history of politicians, educators, and even journalists substituting belief and mythology for facts and hard truths in US education.

In 1947, Washington Post editors published an arrogant rebuke to concerns raised by the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People (NAACP) and black Washington protesters about the racial trauma that the book Little Black Sambo was causing in then-segregated DC public schools.

The US edition of Scottish author Helen Bannerman’s 1899 children’s book featured African Americans as “Step ‘n fetch it,” big-lipped, big-grinning, diaper-happy idiots. The word “sambo” was once a common derogatory term on par with the n-word and “pickaninny”. Worse, Little Black Sambo ended up with the main character happily sitting down and devouring a stack of pancakes like Scooby-Doo. This was a racist stereotype of the turn of the 20th century, the equivalent of how many white people today see black people eating watermelon and fried chicken.

Washington Post editors “couldn’t believe that the humorless sensitivity reflected in these protests reflects the attitude of Negroes in general” and accused the protesters of “damaging a good cause by pushing it to the point of absurdity.” . Although Little Black Sambo was banned for use in DC public schools in the 1950s, it remained in many other schools across the country through the 1960s.

It is this legacy of trauma, annihilation and outrage for black, brown and queer students that today’s far-right politicians seek to keep alive through new legislation.

“We will make sure parents can send their children to school for an education, not an indoctrination,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said when he launched Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” March 28 Bill signed into law effectively bans LGBTQIA+ authored books and curriculum on sexual orientation, gender identity, abuse and trauma from K-3 classrooms. Combined with the equally controversial Individual Freedom Act, passed by the Florida Legislature in April, both have the effect of banning efforts for equity and inclusion in the state’s public schools.

Despite what DeSantis said, blanket prohibitions on what can be taught are forms of indirect indoctrination. Erasure is itself propaganda—the notion that any K-12 reconnaissance of the existence of black, brown, and queer Americans is evil beyond stereotypes and caricatures.

Those bans have already prompted at least one Florida teacher to quit his job in August after another staffer removed pictures of famous African Americans from his classrooms. All because the employee thought they were “age inappropriate”.

All of these efforts in Florida and elsewhere in the US encourage educators to continue selling the lie of education as being about what makes white Americans feel good about themselves and the history of the nation. All of this emboldens white parents and students who find discomfort in anti-racism and queer-affirming efforts to spotlight and marginalize students of color, straight and queer students.

All because hypothetical Johns and Janes and their parents might feel uncomfortable in the face of the truth, because of the story of exploitation, extermination, and genocide that’s as American as these attempts to deny, distract, and defend that story.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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