History is written not only by the winners, but the oppressors. Racial inequality has plagued the United States since its inception, yet current American history only depicts the successes of this country’s white forefathers. Students can tell you about George Washington crossing the Delaware River, yet slavery is but a blip on the U.S. historical timeline. The displacement of indigenous people is summarized as the Trail of Tears, and Chinese migrants building the transcontinental railroad is skipped over. Instead of glorifying the rich white men who thrived off the labor of BIPOC, it’s time we reframe history to depict the truth.
Slavery is an atrocity that is downplayed in the school curriculum. Any chapter on slavery I've read depicted it as a necessary evil and said that slaves were "well taken care of."
That’s it. That’s always the end of the chapter.
The forced migration, the whipping, the starvation and the dehumanization is completely left out as students begin to learn about Abraham Lincoln "freeing the slaves." Instead of discussing the evil in America’s past, schools glorify a white hero saving a marginalized community. From the moment kids step into school, we’re conditioned to believe that white is good and white is right.
Black history is not yet mandated to be taught in schools. Some states neglect to teach any Black history at all. It’s disappointing that after 13 years in the K-12 public school system, the only Black historical figures I could name were the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.
Instead of learning about Bessie Coleman, the first Black American and Indigenous American woman pilot, we learn about Amelia Earhart. Even though Chinese-Americans built the west coast, the Chinese exclusion act was put in place to stop migrants from "stealing white jobs," yet schools merely mention the gold rush. Teachers celebrate a fictitious Thanksgiving where whites and Indigenous Americans broke bread, yet we undermine the cultural demolition indigenous people underwent through forced assimilation in the 1880s.
This erasure of BIPOC from history textbooks has devastating effects. White becomes a heroic ideal, while children of color, specifically Black children, develop low self-esteem and disdain towards the color of their skin since their community is not properly represented. Not only do children not see their community being celebrated in schools, but they begin to see the lack of opportunity for their race.
History often leaves out the mountains people of color had to climb in order to do the same thing a white person was allowed to do. The majority of popular actors and actresses in Hollywood are white. Barbie and other dolls are white, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Canon American Literature is written by white men. Successful politicians are often white. Children begin to see from their environment that being white means being pretty and smart, talented and successful. All because the public education system fails to value people of color.
The University of Georgia takes part in the whitewashing of history. The university prides itself in being "the birthplace of the American system for public higher education,” but it fails to mention the history of Linnentown, where an entire Black neighborhood was destroyed to build the Russell, Creswell and Brumby residence halls. UGA promotes its massive football stadium while the gentrification of Athens-Clarke county spreads. The university gets millions of dollars from the state while Athens-Clarke county remains one of the poorest counties in the state. Oh, but they won’t mention that on the tour.
Just recently has the Athens area made progress in addressing its racist history. Only after the Black Lives Matter movement was reawakened in 2020 did downtown Athens finally remove the confederate monument. Merely a year ago, the university renamed its College of Education for Mary Frances Early, making it the first college named after an African American alumnus.
UGA’s history is steeped in white supremacy, as demonstrated with the mishandling of the 105 African-American remains found under Baldwin Hall in 2016. Still, the university fails to address its wrongs and continues to harm the BIPOC community the school profits from.
White saviorism is not accurate history, but it’s all we teach. Our education system fails to elaborate on the consequences of slavery and its relationship to the racism felt by people of color today. School curricula will push students to memorize the 43 white presidents and the one BIPOC president of the United States, but students can't name one Black inventor.
As our country grows more diverse each year, is it really appropriate to have history books written by white people, for white people? The BIPOC of the past built this nation. They grew the crops, built the infrastructure, created the life-changing technology and fed the rich. It’s time their truth gets told.