When will the evil of racism, white supremacy, and neo-nazism end? How have the extremists groups supporting such bigotry and hate operated in the U.S. historically? How are these topics handled in classrooms in America? Are we having adequate discussions with our students? The Rev. William Gardner wrote about these issues in 2009, saying, “Is there any way out of the tragic drama of our history of white supremacy? Can we make more liberating and humane choices about racial relations going forward?”
In the anti-racism curriculum he developed, Rev. Gardner delineated the history of white supremacy in America:
He describes how the term “white supremacy” defines the relationships of power between white people and people of color, how white supremacy is an “organizer of power.”
Beginning during the time of colonization, conquest of Native Americans, and slavery, white supremacy became both a mindset for social control and also a means for economic gain.
White supremacy set up a caste system in the U.S.
The horrific results that have impacted so many hundreds of lives for the past 400 hundred years remain with us today. These concepts were conveniently supported by the development of “race science,” social Darwinism, and many pieces of legislation that resulted in vast inequities in treatment and rights. These included dramatic disparities in post-war entitlements after World War II, in inequitable prison sentences for drug offenders, and, in essence, a genocide of African American males in the U.S. Evidence confirming the intentional design and impact of these devastating practices can be found in Michelle Alexander’s book the New Jim Crow. Her book details how our Justice System has tragically stripped away the rights of so many people of color and contributed to the ongoing oppression that is such a constant reminder of how many miles we have to go, of how much work remains.
What can educators do? In our search, CEI discovered one of the best resources for educators on the topic of racism and what schools can do. The non-profit organization Facing History and Facing Ourselves provides multi-media materials, webinars, blogs, and professional development. Their mission is to “engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.” A randomized controlled study with 9th and 10th grade students in 60 high schools has proven the efficacy of the materials provided by Facing History and Facing Ourselves:
Intervention students demonstrated stronger skills for analyzing evidence, agency, and cause and effect on an historical understanding performance measure; greater self-reported civic efficacy and tolerance for others with different views; and more positive perceptions of the classroom climate and the opportunities afforded for engaging with civic matters.
The CEO of Facing History and Facing Ourselves, Roger Brooks, has posted a message denouncing the racism, riots, and bigotry that occurred last week in Charlottesville:
In your discussions with students, ask them what echoes from history they noticed in the coverage of Charlottesville. Ask students, whether or not they’ve had direct experience with hate speech, why language and symbols can evoke such passion and pain. What do they feel responsible for learning in order to understand the hatred and violence that occurred in Charlottesville? How does our experience and memory of the past affect our choices and beliefs in the present?