Black History doesn’t need to make white people uncomfortable
**Guest Post from FC Consultant, Colin Stokes
If I heard that someone in my kids’ school district was working to prevent educators from making people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or…psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin,” I would assume it was part of a DEI initiative. As a white parent, I’ve been learning about how microaggressions cause dangerous levels of psychological distress. So I’d be on board!
Unfortunately, this isn’t a racial justice committee in Brookline. It’s the Florida Department of Education. And their proposed legislation is meant to reduce the effects not of racism or sexism, but of white guilt. It would make it illegal to make someone feel that they “bear responsibility for…actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.” Among the triggers for this distressful feeling, apparently, is Black history.
What is it about Black history that should make white people feel especially attacked? No one is worried that learning about the Boston Massacre would trigger British Americans, or that studying World War II is too sensitive for kids with German heritage. Any student can identify the moral heroes and villains of these struggles, and then identify with the former—regardless of their ancestry.
For some reason, though, racism is different. To these legislators, a white student learning about slavery can’t simply root for the enslaved person struggling for freedom. Better to censor history than to ask white kids to see “their” people on the wrong side of human rights. The implication underlying these laws is that white Americans can only identify with other white Americans—even when they committed evil acts.
I don’t believe this is true. All children can admire freedom fighters like Frederick Douglass and Harriett Tubman. What better role models for intellect, persistence, and being “created equal” than Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois? Add Pauli Murray and Bryan Stevenson to the list of the Constitution’s fiercest defenders. White students have no reason to feel attacked by these embodiments of the ideals of liberty, despite the fact that their antagonists were white. I draw inspiration from them every day.
The story of the Black freedom struggle is also packed with white characters worth identifying with. William Lloyd Garrison and Harriett Beecher Stowe aren’t the only white anti-racists who were pivotal in changing history. Look up Thaddeus Stevens, Frances Seward, Theodore Parker, William English Walling, Ann Braden, or Jane Elliott. If students need a white good guy to survive history class, these ordinary white Americans took risks to make their country better.
Black history makes me proud that my nation was shaped by geniuses like these. Their lives show me what’s possible as an American working to end racism today. Yes, knowing the depth of that struggle makes me distressed. The fact that so many leaders want to suppress that knowledge is a sign that the struggle goes on.