The Great Texas Whitewash

I found a terrific meme on Facebook this morning.  Schindler’s List is on TV tonight,” it read, “followed by a rebuttal from Greg Abbott.”

This only makes sense as a reference to the controversy over the remarks made by Gina Peddy, an administrator with the Carroll School Board.  The subject was books.  Teachers wanted to know if it was safe, or even legal, to display books in the classroom or to mandate the reading of specific texts.  Peddy replied that teachers should abide by Senate Bill 3.  In particular, the provision that the subject matter of civics classes “shall, to the best of the teacher’s ability, strive to explore that topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

“Make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” Peddy told her teachers, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.” 

When a teacher asked what “other perspectives” there could possibly be, Peddy assured her that she wasn’t speaking hypothetically.  An actual complaint had been received.

Although she didn’t describe the nature of the complaint, there would appear to be only three possibilities.  First, the parent may have insisted that holocaust denial be taught alongside the standard view.  Alternatively, it may have been suggested that the holocaust should be taught as a necessary corrective (a view championed by a handful of January 6 insurrectionists).  Finally, the parent may have objected to any mention of the holocaust.

But Peddy’s reference to using books that give an alternative perspective, appears to rule out the third option.  This strongly suggests that a Southlake parent had objected to the way the holocaust was being taught and insisted that alternative perspectives be offered.  The parent may have been of the opinion that the holocaust was a myth, or that the details have been greatly exaggerated. 

Whatever the case, Peddy opined that the parent’s concern should be respected.

But HB 3979, and the more detailed SB 3, aren’t concerned about the holocaust, they are concerned about the teaching of America’s racial history.  In particular, they don’t want it to be taught at all.

Ostensibly, the  legislation is intended to circumvent stereotyping and bias: “No teacher, administrator, or other employee in any state agency, school district, campus, open-enrollment charter school, or school administration shall be required to engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of race or sex.”

But the legislation is extremely explicit about what it prohibits.  It is considered improper to teach:

  • That one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
  • That an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
  • That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex;
  • That members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;
  • That an individual ’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;
  • That an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
  •  That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex;
  • That meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”

That’s all from HB 3979.  SB3 incorporated these concerns and added a few more.  Civics classes taught in the great state of Texas may not suggest that:

  • The advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States;
  • Or with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality;

Oddly, it is also verboten for a teacher to suggest that a proper understanding of American history requires “an understanding of The 1619 Project.”

Critical race theorists do argue that racism is so baked in to the American psyche that members of the dominant class (that is, white folks) are virtually incapable of shaking its influence.  In fact, it has been suggested, white people, because they are located in the ebb and flow of a racist society, have a hard time realizing how racist they are.

It is highly unlikely, however, that this perspective has ever found its way into a Texas classroom.  Few Black activists would argue that white people are inherently racist in the sense of being incapable of growth and increased understanding.  The primary idea is that racism is a social phenomenon that infects every aspect of our shared life.  Therefore, it is assumed that traditional ideas about American history (the stuff one encounters in civics classes, for instance) will be distorted by white supremacist assumptions and ideas.

The 1619 Project was designed to place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”  Instead of focusing on the heroic white individuals who have shaped the American story, The 1619 Project tells the story from the perspective of the oppressed.  And when you look at the world through the eyes of the oppressed, the “great men” who dominate the story traditionally taught in American schools, appear as oppressors.  They may have accomplished great and noble things; but while they were at it, they owned slaves, condoned slavery, extolled the virtues of Jim Crow segregation, and were generally oblivious to the plight of non-white citizens.

Texas Democrats attempted to amend SB 3 by mandating the inclusion of prominent non-white Americans.  The goal wasn’t to impose The 1619 Project or Critical Race Theory; they simply wanted to broaden the focus a little. 

  • They wanted Texas students to learn about Sally Hemings as well as Thomas Jefferson. 
  • About the life of Frederick Douglass and his newspaper, The North Star
  • About the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850,
  • About the Indian Removal Act,
  • About Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists affirming their belief in state-church separation.
  • About William Still ’s Underground Railroad Records,
  • About the women’s suffrage movement
  • About the American labor movement. 
  • About Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a Dream speech and his Letter from the Birmingham Jail.
  • About Brown v. Board of Education
  • About the life and work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
  • About the history of white supremacy and Jim Crow.

And so forth.  You get the idea.

All of these suggestions were shot down by the Republican majority.  Their big concern was that heroic white people (the kind of folks who have traditionally been featured in American history text books) come off looking good. 

The working assumption here is that any historical text that makes white people look bad must be unbalanced and biased by definition.  You can’t talk about non-white people like Frederick Douglas and Dolores Huerta without providing context.  How can you talk about Ida B. Wells, for instance, without mentioning lynching?  And how can you mention lynching without raising serious questions about the dominant white society of the day?

Traditionally, subjects that might make white students feel uncomfortable have been downplayed or ignored.  That is the kind of history Texas Republicans like.  It is the only kind of history they will tolerate. 

Texas Republicans are mandating lies and distortions.  How can a teacher tell students about the holocaust without raising hard questions about the German people and the Christian faith? How can a teacher give her students an objective account of American history without raising painful questions about white supremacy?  When, exactly, did it disappear?  Did it disappear?  And if it is still operative, how might it be influencing the wealth gap, public health, crime and punishment and practically every other issue?

By Republican lights, non-white actors can only be allowed into the story when their presence makes white people look good.  That is, practically never.

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One thought on “The Great Texas Whitewash

  1. I love this piece. It’s ridiculously true!
    “Make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” Peddy told her teachers, “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”
    What other perspective is there? Sounds like the Trumpets of this generation, recount, recount and 1 more time for posterity! This country has learned nothing. A generational curse is the only explanation.

    For clarity, this is my perspective, you won’t find it on a shelf.

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