Now I may have been a little late to this particular party but when I got there, they were singing the same damn song I like to call “Democracy and History be Damned.”It’s a love song about protecting the “fragility” of white kids and adults and preserving white supremacy by whitewashing American history and it’s been number one on Congress’ and the public school system’s billboard chart since forever.
But it looked like only a handful of people were hearing me. In fact, and keeping it real, I feel like for the longest, my song—and others’ that have been singing the same tune—has been falling on deaf ears and I’m trying to really understand why. Maybe our singing is worse than Jennifer Lopez’s and people just don’t want to hear it. I legit don’t know so that’s why I have this question:
How many more times do we need to be violated by these racist systems before we abandon them—specifically the public school system?
I broadly spoke about the dangers of suppressing history in schools last week but let me dive in a little deeper with a few others and how those same practices are showing up today as a control mechanism.
Now how does this look in today’s education system? That same indoctrination keeps us devoted to this system despite its harm to our community. It keeps our kids oppressed in these schools despite the fact that they’re undereducated, woefully and intentionally underfunded and under-resourced, disproportionately disciplined and over-policed and despite the fact that standards developed according to “white excellence” would suggest that they’re unintelligent or underachievers. But yet, we still put them on these educational plantations.
Also, we’ve all heard W.E.B. Du Bois’ quote, “The South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent”, right? Well, Du Bois didn’t just make those words up and that truth is evident in the backlash Black people receive, past and present, trying to attain an education.
If slave codes and Black codes during Jim Crow all made it illegal and punishable for Black people to be educated, what would make us think anything has changed today? But again, these are history lessons that haven’t been examined in most schools.
During the onset of the Civil Rights Movement (probably one of the most widely but basic pieces of Black history taught in schools), we may have heard about how Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools but there probably weren’t discussions about how that led to the firing of thousands of Black teachers, economically destabilizing Black communities and blocking representation and access to our history.
Meanwhile, we underestimate our ability to be educators and develop academic systems when, in actuality, we’ve been building it the whole pandemic. We also overlook or weren’t taught about how we’ve started and maintained our own schools throughout history when racism kept us out of white institutions. Yeah we hear about HBCUs but where was the education on Freedom Schools? I’ll answer—”conveniently” left out like how insurrections were left out of plantation Bible study.
That’s why I’m so passionate about these political microaggressions against Black people. This is why I go so hard for teaching true American history. And if the traditional system isn’t going to do it right—I don’t believe it will—I have to go extra hard for putting kids in schools run by us so we can give them the education they need.
And I just want to make a few things clear before I head out. I’m no psychologist or sociologist. But to me, part of this trust and compliance is attributed to the same conditioning fortified by historic oppressive and manipulative practices that have percolated through generations of Black people—something Dr. Joy DeGruy calls “post traumatic slave syndrome”.
I’m not calling Black people ignorant or irresponsible in our decisions to keep our kids in these schools. I’m also not saying that an exodus from the traditional public school system will be an easy lift. But what I am begging of us is that we pay close attention, connect the dots that have been designed to undermine our intelligence and self-determination and lean into temporary discomfort in abandoning the normalcy of oppression for future liberation in education.
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...