When Linda, a white woman from Newtown, CT, was sixteen years old she walked to the local mall and back with another teenaged girl from her neighborhood. On the way back, the young woman leaned over and said, “don’t look now, but there’s a Black man following us, and I think he wants to rape me.”
During her teen years, Linda dated a couple of different Black men. It was at this time that her sister shared with her that her parents had discussed her dating behavior with her. They were concerned that dating black men indicated low self-esteem. They insisted that if she kept it up, no self-respecting white man would ever want her.
Less than a decade ago, this same woman and her sister overheard their brother-in-law tell his son, “If you see a group of black men, cross the street”.
These are the messages that white parents gift to their children. The message that Black men are rapists, and that Black people are violent. The notion that associating with Black people is beneath them and the relationships they develop with Black people can taint them.
You may think that this no longer happens, or people like this don’t live in your neighborhoods. Yet, we all have seen Confederate flags hanging up in towns all across America. For all the gas-lighting about “states’ rights,” every one of those Confederate states was required to state in their constitutions that they would preserve slavery in perpetuity. We have people who proudly lean into that legacy trying to argue that they are simply honoring the history of our nation, all while perpetuating racist dogmas.
In fact, in board of education meetings across the country, “concerned citizens” often evoke the racist ideology of “uplift-suasion” – the hypothesis that if black and brown people can just lift themselves up by their bootstraps, they’ll do just fine. Afterall, if they-average white men—were able to work their way up the corporate ladder, anyone should be able to do it if they just have enough grit and perseverance.
What this ideology ignores is the figurative bootstraps that Black and brown people have to work with are frayed and keep breaking. The bar of acceptance gets lifted higher and higher. It ignores that our expectation of violence from Black people has police killing unarmed Black people in disproportionate numbers. This ideology has our Black and Brown school children being arrested, and sometimes incarcerated, for exhibiting behavior that white children get excused for “just being kids”. Our expectation of dishonesty from Black and brown children robs them of the option of the benefit of the doubt that is extended to white children automatically.
Even some of our politicians publicly lean into the lie that Black Lives Matter is a communist movement. A lie that has been told over and again since the days of Reconstruction. Lies about the dangers of empowering Black people who will then “take away the hard-earned money from white people” through reparations and welfare programs.
The state of Connecticut has put into place mandatory Social Studies curriculum to be offered as an elective at the high school level. One of these courses is a Black and Latinx history class that focuses on the history of these two (often overlooked) groups. At a recent BOE meeting in Newtown the board members decided that it was appropriate to vote on the curriculum. Even though this was a course that was state mandated. Some members of the board voted against the new Black and Latino course with the weak excuse that having the state set the curriculum was over-reach.
This was problematic for a variety of reasons. The most problematic, however, is that the local communities to not have the resources, or even the self-awareness, to understand the racist legacies that have been passed down from generation to generation. This is the very reason which the state has mandated this curriculum and why they used a group of educators who are highly studied in these disciplines to write the curriculum. They acknowledged that this is a problem and are working to disrupt this racist legacy.
Examine your ideologies. Think about the lies that your parents and mentors whispered into your ears, thinking they were protecting you from an imaginary bogeyman. Unpack your unknown biases and think about how you can undo the narrative from your upbringing and begin to break those legacies.