After reading the letter from Mr. Isenhower in which he refers to the 1619 project and other curriculum as “junk” history, my first inclination was to ignore it and chalk it up as yet another example of pushback to reality and truth. But I also know that to remain silent can be an act of endorsement and complicity.
I would first ask Mr. Isenhower: what exactly is “junk” history? Is it the fact that in 1619 there were African Americans forced to come to the New World as enslaved labor, ironically, one year prior to the Pilgrims arriving in search of religious freedom? Is it the fact that enslaved African Americans were considered property, even insured as such, and were sold, tortured, murdered, separated from family with no legal protections? Is it “junk” history to learn about the inhumane treatment given to indigenous Native Americans when being removed from their land, or the horrific destruction of Blacks and their property during the Wilmington coup of 1898, or the massacre of hundreds during the Tulsa killings of 1921, or the denial of basic rights through the Jim Crow years, or the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII?
Let’s face it, this “junk” history can and does fill volumes telling the story of the United States' growth as a country. Whitewashing our history over the past 400 years does nothing but perpetuate the myth that our country has been living out the ideals upon which it was founded. We are truly blessed to live in the United States; however, if we do not acknowledge that our country was in large part built on the backs of enslaved African Americans and systemic racism, we continue to view our history through a foggy lens of white supremacy and denial.
We do our children and ourselves no favors by promoting only the parts of history we feel validate the admirable qualities of our past. As award-winning songwriter John Legend stated, “The road to restorative justice is crooked and rough, and there is space for reasonable people to disagree about the best way to heal the collective trauma of white supremacy. But one thing that is not up for debate — one fact we must hold with conviction — is that the path to reconciliation runs through truth and accountability.”
We live in a country where change has often been brought about by the cries of people of conscience and concern for equity among all people. We can continue to do that.
Implementing a strong, honest history curriculum in our schools is a part of that process. It is way past time to get over our white fragility and move forward with the work of equity, unity, justice, and academic integrity.