America_Protests_Minnesota_77839

People stand around the fallen Christopher Columbus statue at the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul on June 10. Evan Frost/Minnesota Public Radio via AP

FALMOUTH — Our country has an issue. Much of what is taught in schools is focused on glorifying white leaders, while downplaying the same leaders’ malicious and hypocritical acts. We learn about Christopher Columbus and Paul Revere, two (white) men who get credit for things they really didn’t do. Yet history classes seem to disregard the spectacular story of people like Mary Bowser – a freed Black woman who sacrificed her freedom, went undercover and served as a spy for the Union while working as a slave in the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. We are asked to write essays explaining why slavery was not the cause of the Civil War – an effort to downplay the horrors of such a terrible institution. While studying the Second World War, we are taught about the heroics of the Allies, but seem to disregard these same “heroes” in South Africa passing apartheid into law after the war. We are even led to believe that the great American George Washington did not own slaves – something so far from the truth that it is quite disturbing.

However, I quickly realized there was no way I was going to be able to tackle this on my own. I reached out to Nikole Hannah-Jones, one of the country’s leading journalists, known for reporting on racial injustice. She currently works for The New York Times, and was able to make time for me despite recently winning a Pulitzer Prize for her work on The 1619 Project, a feature about the impact of slavery on American history.

Why teach about the heroics of Mary Bowser instead of the injustices of Christopher Columbus? “It is just more accurate,” Hannah-Jones replied. “You are not going to stay in Maine your entire life. You are going to go out into a diverse country, and vote for policies that don’t just affect people that look like you.”

If you are anything like me, that idea will stick. This isn’t about the individual. This is something for the holistic benefit of our country. Yet somehow, some people are unable to see this. In fact, a lot of people believe work like The 1619 Project to be un-American.

However, Hannah-Jones sees it as their having “a really hard time telling a complicated history.” By “complicated,” she means treacherous, racist and oppressive. A history where Americans have sugarcoated not one, but two genocides. A history so rooted in racism that modern-day schools go around the issue simply because it is not an easy history to tell. “How do you tell a story of America going abroad, to liberate people abroad, to ensure democracy to people abroad, and then denying democracy to the very soldiers that fought for it elsewhere?” Hannah-Jones asked rhetorically. The answer, per usual, is the truth.

“The fear is, if you’re honest about this truth” – she paused – “well, what people have said about me is that I want kids to hate America.” And here lies the biggest, most overwhelming issue of all of them: the idea that teaching the most difficult topics of American history will somehow lead people to dislike their country.

“If we truly are this exceptional country, why are we afraid to acknowledge the truth of what this country has done?” Hannah-Jones asked. It’s a hard question to ask, but for Hannah-Jones, hope lies in young people. “I happen to believe that youth are intelligent and capable enough to understand a complicated narrative about their country. And it doesn’t mean that you might hate your country, but you would start to see it more clearly.”

Boiled down, isn’t this the idea, the reasoning, the purpose behind education – to see things more clearly? So, no, Nikole Hannah-Jones is not scheming for the youth of our country to hate America. In fact, only by teaching a diverse history can we prevent future injustice. Let’s give a voice to those silenced by American oppression, and let’s encourage stories like Mary Bowser’s to be heard by millions.

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