Guest Commentary: Parents Must Resist the Whitewashing of History

Written by admin   // September 2, 2010   // 0 Comments

by Tonyaa Weathersbee,

I didn’t want to write about Glenn Beck’s rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this past weekend. I didn’t want to give this gold-shilling huckster – abetted by Fox News and the angst of white folks who will never, ever get over the fact that the man in the White House is black – any more attention than he’d already gotten from YouTube and CNN.

But I got to thinking about something that a friend told me some time ago that made me change my mind.

This friend, a teacher, told me about how some black students at the mostly white high school she taught at would balk at honoring black history and black traditions.

Seems that their white classmates had duped them into buying into the ludicrous idea that to acknowledge their history amounted to them being racist – and that they somehow owed it to their white classmates, many of whom celebrate their Irish and Italian and European roots, to embrace invisibility.

That story made me think about how important it is for black parents – and black communities – to rear black children whose sense of history and pride is too strong for them to be that gullible, to be that lightly armed intellectually.

And unless we do that, our children will be especially vulnerable to this whitewashing of history that right-wingers like Beck have embarked on since Barack Obama was elected president.

For his part, Beck claims that it was divine providence, and not cynicism, that led him to pick the Lincoln Memorial – the site where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech 47 years ago – for his “Restoring Honor,” rally on Saturday.

I don’t believe that.

And the fact that he said that he and his mostly white minions – some of whom have carried signs depicting Obama as everything from an ape to a bone-in-the-nose witch doctor – were going to “reclaim the civil rights movement,” tells me that in spite of all the God-talk and all the troop honoring, Beck intended to conflate their cause with King’s.

No doubt, the tens of thousands who came to see Beck believe they are as oppressed as the black people who marched in 1963. There’s just one big difference: The protesters who gathered at the Lincoln Memorial nearly 50 years ago were marching to get access to rights guaranteed by the Constitution, while the people at the Beck rally were, in essence, protesting having to share those rights with people in a nation that is becoming blacker and browner.

Yet they want to use the symbolism of 1963 to remake history; people who now want to say that the 14th Amendment doesn’t mean what it says and that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was flawed. And Beck’s rally isn’t the first attempt at this. Just this past spring, the Texas Board of Education voted to revise its history textbooks to remove what some of its members deemed as left-leaning, anti-American views.

Among other things, it wanted to portray W.E.B. Dubois and Ida B. Wells as people who preached negative views about America – even though during their time, lynchings and segregation made life pretty negative, if not outright unbearable, for most black people.

Also this past spring, Arizona came up with a law that barred most ethnic studies from being taught. Its lawmakers, it seems, have no problem seeing Latinos when it comes to scrutinizing whether they are in the country illegally, but don’t want to see their struggles and their contributions to this country in classroom lessons.

In a way, it’s almost flattering that Beck, a racist who found his moment when America elected a black president, would look to use the symbolism of the civil rights movement to push his delusions.

But what’s dangerous about it is the fact that his rally, as well as things like the Texas history textbook changes, the Arizona ethnic studies ban, and even the attempts last year by some school districts to not show Obama’s back-to-school speech, amount to attempts to distort and minimize black history.

And while none of us can stop Beck or anyone else from having a rally at the Lincoln Memorial – it’s his right to do so – what we can do is make sure that when he starts popping off nonsense about reclaiming the civil rights movement, at least our children will know he’s popping off nonsense.

And be bold enough to say so to their classmates.

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