“But What Will We Tell the Children?

More than 30 years ago I was teaching a class of prospective teachers at a northern California university. The class focused on curriculum and methods. The class of almost all young, White women had just completed a reading that included the translation of Christopher Columbus’ journals by the Spanish priest, Bartolomé de las Casas. The students were shocked to learn of Columbus’ brutality—wantonly killing the indigenous people of what is current day Cuba, brutally working them from sunup to sundown, and even slicing off the hands of those who did not bring in the required amount of gold. Columbus’ savagery was responsible for the genocide of the Arawak people. After reading this information, one of the students asked, “But what will we tell the children?” I responded, without blinking, “The truth, I hope!”

For much of my career with adult learners I have heard story after story of how we can’t tell our children (read, White, middle class students) about the ugliness of racism. “It’s just too much”. “We don’t want to frighten them!” No one talks about the terror and fear that Black children experience as a fact of daily life. And this rush to protect the “innocent” White children from the truth is a big part of why we cannot make real racial progress in this nation.

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021 we saw yet another day that will live in infamy in the US. A mob of thousands of domestic terrorists stormed the doors of the US Capital to destroy, desecrate, and loot what is often referred to as the symbol of democracy. Much of this mayhem and destruction was visible to us on television. The Congress was in session in order to count the electoral college votes that certified the election of Joseph Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President. This mob breeched the building and ultimately one person was shot and killed, and 3 others died as a result of other injuries or underlying conditions. Members of Congress were shuttled to undisclosed locations deep within the bowels of the Capital. Ultimately, the protestors were forced out of the building where they continued to congregate on the Capital porticos and chant the lie that Trump won the election. One group swapped out the US Flag for a Trump flag to hang from the Capital and another person had previously paraded throughout the building with a Confederate flag. That flag never, ever flew in the Capital even in the midst of the Civil War!

As the situation was finally brought under control more and more outraged officials, generally White, declared, “This is not who we are!” The truth is this is EXACTLY who we are. Over and over when Whites have not received what they wanted they have visited acts of terrorism on anybody or anything they perceive to be standing in their way. Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 1700s are examples of Whites who did not want to pay taxes. Of course, the Civil War was the ultimate rebellion. The summer of 1919, known as the “Red Summer” was marked by acts of violence against Blacks at the close of World War I. By 1921 Whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma bombed, burned, and massacred Blacks in the Black independent business section known as Greenwood. According to the Equal Justice Initiative in the period between Reconstruction and World War II there have been 4,400 documented lynchings

 of Black citizens in the US.

What America saw on January 6, 2021 was a mirror reflecting back on itself. This is who it is and who it has been from the beginning. Now, we have educators wondering what to tell students about what transpired at the Capital. If the past is any indicator of what will be done, we will likely not tell the children anything. Instead, we will create a narrative about some “small group” of dissenters who were protesting the results of an election that had been settled. It will describe this as an “isolated incident” not connected to anything else. Telling the children this version of what transpired means we will continue to repeat these behaviors over and over declaring them to be unrelated to the very fabric of the nation. However, I have some clear perspectives on what we SHOULD tell the children:

  1. In this nation White protests are generally regarded as the legitimate right of the participants and without threat;
  2. Black protests are perceived as dangerous and warrant extraordinary police or military presence for control;
  3. The nation has been engaged in anti-Black racism since its founding;
  4. Because the nation refuses to deal directly with racism, its manifestation wax and wane over time. But, it does not go away;
  5. Racism is anti-democratic and as long as the US does not face its complicity in racism it cannot claim to be a democracy;
  6. The US has profited from racism through things such as free or low wage labor, different housing costs, differential health costs, etc.;
  7. The US has also economically disadvantage itself because of racism through lower productivity, poorer educational opportunities, under identification and utilization of talent.
  8. All of our systems—education, criminal justice, health, housing, environmental policy, symbol systems—are riddled with racism;
  9. The system only redresses Black complaints when it is certain that Whites will also benefit—e.g. Affirmative Action, public accommodation, school segregation;
  10. Tell them the TRUTH!

Stop saying this in not who we are. It IS who we are….

Stay Black & Smart!


4 thoughts on ““But What Will We Tell the Children?

  1. Pingback: Resources for responding to January 6th : Innovative Education in VT

  2. Pingback: This Week at Global Math – 1/12/2021 / Global Math Department

  3. Pingback: Supporting Our Students and Ourselves the Day After – Grouchy in Paradise

  4. I found this article very powerful and will be sharing it with the staff in my building. One request is to edit it so the capital is replaced with the correct spelling, Capitol. It is a minor error, until the privileged white use it as a reason to dismiss the message of the article. Thank you.


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