History of White People (or: where did everyone else come from?)

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Here we have an image that speaks to Americans everywhere. The founding of this mighty nation, immortalized in dramatic style. The problem with it is that our history also includes images like this:

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And this:

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And this:
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Now this post is not going to be about shaming white-people, but what it is about might be a little hard for some of my white brothers and sisters to stomach. Simply put, it is this: we need to let go of our cultural stranglehold on history.

For some people, my assertion that any such thing is going on will be a surprise. For others, this is yet one more in a string of perceived attacks on white-ness. Still others are mumbling at their computer screens “well of course we do Mr. Kriz. what has taken you so long to reach this obvious conclusion?”  Well to all of you I am sorry. I am sorry that myself and my fellow historians have for so long done you a disservice by whitewashing our national story, taking it from a masterful sculpture and compressing it into flaccid, two dimensional stick figures.

The simple fact is this: history is complex. It is so complex that no one can fully grasp the intricacies of decisions, the influences that drove people to do the things they did. This is the information we need to be teaching our students. No more of this history-as-a-straight-line nonsense. We need to present history as it is: a tapestry with threads that converge, split, and combine to form a complex work of art.

This means that we cannot ignore the negative parts of our history. We have to bring in the experience of the slaves, and I am talking about in more ways than a simple side-box about the underground railroad. We need to teach the Chinese and Japenese immigrant experience, more than the two dimensional mention they usually receive during a chapter on the gold rush, or the trans-continental railroad. We need to communicate to our students the position of the native american tribes that were brutalized by the westward expansion of the United States.

Without getting all sensationalist on you guys, we need to change it up. From where I am sitting, if we stop teaching a boring succession of triumphant events and crack open the meaty center of history, nothing but good can come of it.

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One response to “History of White People (or: where did everyone else come from?)

  1. I Iove the line, “we need to let go of our cultural stranglehold on history.” I think that’s a critical part of being culturally responsive. You make a great point about the images people see in their textbooks and the lack of diversity, not only in content, but in approach and in perspective, in the way we treat the founding of our nation.

    Like

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