History textbook authors writing about the failed January 6, 2021, uprising should not ignore the white supremacist underpinnings of the event. The influence of white supremacy on American history has been largely ignored by writers past and present, especially in Civil War narratives.
Too many of these books still waver on why the Confederates sought sedition, suggesting that “economic reasons” or “states’ rights” were an important part of the equation – failing to recognize that the driving force behind the Confederate rebellion was to preserve slavery and the undemocratic system of white supremacy that defined the South.
The absence of rigorous teaching on white supremacy has helped facilitate its proliferation today. If we really want to move on, let the history books clearly show – as clearly as the high-definition footage of the January 6 attack showed Confederate flags on Capitol Hill – that Trump’s bigoted supporters would rather live under supremacy white than in a democracy.
White supremacy did not disappear when President Donald J. Trump left office. Efforts to suppress blacks, immigrants, Jews and members of the LBGTQ community will not diminish because social media companies suspend the accounts of a known fanatic. While these actions may silence their voices, we must ultimately bridge the chasm of ignorance about racism and white supremacy with rigorous, fact-based lessons about the harms that systemic and interpersonal racism do to a democracy.
The foundations of Trump’s disastrous insurgency unfolded over the years as he boldly attacked our democratic norms and traditions. Remember that Trump suggested we should do away with due process when it comes to immigrants crossing the border. “When someone arrives,” Trump tweeted in June 2018, “we must immediately, without judges or court cases, bring them back where they came from.”
He unleashed the military on peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Washington DC following the murder of George Floyd. And his ridiculous attempts to invalidate votes cast last November in majority black cities including Detroit, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Philadelphia convinced millions of Americans that our free and fair presidential election was somehow rigged because he lost her. These are just some of the acts of betrayal and bigotry that historians must place in context to combat the harmful narrative that the insurgent rebels themselves have nurtured: the twisted notion that white supremacy and bigotry are patriotic and noble values.
It’s a notion that has long been embedded in history textbooks and social studies curricula. Explaining how blacks came to the United States, a 1903 textbook explained that “settlers bought them…and found them so useful for growing tobacco that others were imported, and slavery became a part of our history. It reads like a Western European immigrant romantic novel instead of a depiction of a pivotal act of the country’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, in an immoral way.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, history textbooks still skimp on the civil rights movement in favor of glowing accounts of white supremacist politicians, for example, or are just blatantly racist. A book published by media company Pearson Education, which was out of print in 2007 but still in circulation in some schools a few years ago, suggested that many slaves “may not even have been terribly unhappy with their lot, because they knew no other.”
To this day, the history textbooks circulating in many private Christian schools blame President Barack Obama for racial unrest; one states that “American views on race relations declined after Obama came to power”.
Lessons like these are internalized by current politicians who have continued to support Trump even after the harassment from the Capitol. Ahead of the 2017 special election for a Senate seat in Alabama, Republican candidate Roy Moore was asked when he thought America was last “great.” He replied: “I think it was great when families were united – even though we had slavery – they cared about each other… Our families were strong, our country had direction. .” You can’t blame that ignorance on Moore. He received 68% of white votes in this election.
Moore narrowly lost that Senate race to Democrat Doug Jones. However, countless politicians who have learned and believe a whitewashed version of American history have been elected or appointed to state and local school boards and undoubtedly believe that white supremacy and oppression were , and are, good for the country.
Because education is a function of states and there is no national standard on how to teach about slavery and white supremacy, there are vastly different curricula across the country. The battles still raging in the states over history programs will not end when Trump leaves office. Trump’s defeat has only emboldened people who deliberately confuse slaves with immigrants and would-be dictators with Democratic leaders.
Historians should be equally motivated to rewrite the wrongs of past history books. We need to know that racist children become racist adults. Granted, we can’t control what parents say to their children, but if educators deliver good, rigorous lessons, we can give a student an “F” for not understanding slavery, Jim Crow racism , systemic housing discrimination and Trump’s failed insurgency.