Friday, December 13, 2013

White History


A little filler item I am 90 percent sure I wrote, from the February 8, 1983 edition of What's Up Elementary?, produced by me and my posse in Miss B.'s 3rd grade class,* a class-time-eating project I'm certain we badgered the kindly Miss B. into:
George WashingtonGeorge Washington is the Father of our country. From the time he was 20 to the time of his death, Washington was a great man. If Washington had not had the courage he showed, we would not be here today.
Now, it's not the writing I'm annoyed with -- I've seen worse by college-degree-holding adults who are paid to produce content for a living, right? (Although it does kind of make you wonder, hilariously, what kind of lesser-man shenanigans GW was up to before the age of 20.) No, it's the one-sided, whitewashed version of history it presents. Kids, then and now, are/were taught such white-hero-worshipping bullshit, completely lacking in nuance and perspective. And I don't know how to resolve this, even as it's becoming an issue with my own kids. 

For instance: The other day, Kid Gleemonex asks me on the way to swim practice, "How do you get to be Native American?"** I say it's not something you do; it's a matter of being a descendant of the peoples who lived on this continent before European "discovery" (yes I used air quotes) and colonization. "So they're still around today?" Yes, but in much smaller numbers than they would have been otherwise. "Because the Europeans killed them?" Yes ... "On purpose?" Well, yeah -- "But WHYYY?" [Ten-minute monologue on how the Europeans decided they liked this land and wanted it for themselves, and it didn't matter that there were already people living on it, and they said to get out and if the native people refused, they would fight and kill the native people, and they won most of the battles because they had guns and the natives didn't. Also smallpox, which may or may not have been on purpose.] Kid Gleemonex ruminates on this in silence. 

Then she has to go join her class in the pool, and I think I've just had a brilliant idea: A series of Real History books for kids. We don't have to go deep on the genocides, it doesn't have to be gory, but I'm deeply uncomfortable now with e.g. the "story of Thanksgiving" that they are taught, as if that's the whole story and everything was jake forever afterward between the colonists and the native peoples, la la la. I hate the lauding of Christopher Columbus (eeesh), the uncritical presentation of Manifest Destiny, the entirety of the way that the Civil War is taught. Gaah. These are the kinds of things I felt like such a fool, such a dupe, such a naive chucklehead about when I got to college, and lots of people never are forced to confront other ideas and narratives, so they keep going through life all "Christopher Columbus was a brave explorer! Wheee!"

Annnnnd ... I'm done writing but have made no point. Go fetch Gramma some more bourbon. 

*Incidentally, in several ways revealing a lifelong tendency to put me and my posse front and center in whatever journalistic enterprise I undertook, from this slim news volume to the high school yearbook to this very blog.

**At least now they're teaching them the term Native American, instead of Indians like back in my day.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home