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Hey Kanye, I'm an English Teacher But I've Got a History Lesson for You

Welcome to my class, Kanye. Before you arrived, I read this quote from you telling me that learning is important to you and that you are good at absorbing information. “I was never really good at anything except for the ability to learn.” Therefore, I’m excited to have you here. Recently, your comments that slavery is a “choice” were met with cheers, disappointment and outrage from people all across the country. You seem to view the pushback you received as an attack on your right to free thought. In actuality, there have been many defenses of your right to free thought. What we all would like you to know is that, yes, free thought is a right, but the dissemination of those thoughts from a platform as elevated as yours should be handled with great responsibility. So, while you are here in my class, I would like you to take some notes. This will only serve as a start in your learning process, but perhaps may allow you to understand some of the challenges you’ve received to your claims. You said that people who would remain enslaved for hundreds of years were, in essence, choosing that fate. Please understand that there is a reason that it is called the institution of slavery. Families were separated to discourage escape. And I have no words to describe the centuries of murder and violence that were used as control tactics. Did you know that while American history books may include a brief Harriet Tubman or Nat Turner footnote there have been slave rebellions for as long as slavery existed? And while huge slave revolts may inspire a book or a movie, slaves rebelled every single day. When slaves sang, “Swing low, sweet chariot. Comin’ for to carry me home,” within earshot of slave owners, they were communicating with each other that the next wagon that came for delivery could be used for escape. Did you know that slaves knitted blankets and quilts that had codes and maps on them and that slave owners had no idea? Clearly, people who originally spoke different tribal languages but learned to communicate were anything but passive and accepting. Do you know of the risks they took to learn to read so that they could use that knowledge not only to escape but to remain free once they escaped? So this is why. This is just a small piece of why people are upset with you. You have simplified an institution of brutality in such a way that blames those who were victimized, those who were traumatized, and those who were brave and intelligent enough to resist every day. This is also why the White supremacists are clamoring to sit next to you in class. You’re completing their assignments for them. You just validated their arguments that your ancestors were weak human beings who deserved slavery because they failed to do enough to fight it. Even worse, because these claims come from you, others who unfortunately will not research history will see your words as the truth, so the cycle of ignorance continues. Your homework is to read. Read. Then read some more. But also know that while reading can give us so much information, we will never know the full brutality of slavery, and we will never know the full brilliance of slaves. Then, for extra credit, visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Stay awhile. Hold firm to your “ability to learn.” Then, think hard before you utter the next words from your platform. Class is dismissed.
Monica Washington is an instructional coach for BetterLesson. Previously, she taught English III and AP English III teacher at Texas High School in Texarkana where she served as department chair. She has been in education for 20 years and has taught grades 7-12. She has served as adjunct professor at LeMoyne-Owen College and Texarkana College. Monica became Texas State Teacher of the Year in ...

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