Vwelcome to White History Month! While February—the shortest of the months—is usually associated with a 28-day recognition of the historical contributions of African Americans, the truth is that this month, and every month, is actually a celebration of white history.
This particular February is noteworthy because of the controversy surrounding revisions to the first-ever Advanced Placement (AP) course in African American history. (It should be noted that the College Board, which administers AP courses, has been around since 1900 and is only now beginning to offer African-American classes.) Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantisused the occasion to fan the flames of racial fear and white resentment, prompting the Florida Department of Education to publicly reject the course because he claimed it had “significantly no educational value.”
In a deep profile of cowardice, the college board removed references to topics such as Black Lives Matter and reparations from the curriculum after Florida raised its complaints. (The New York Times documented the surrender process in article this month.)
DeSantis’ antics are nothing new. He is simply following the well-trodden path of earlier defenders of white racial grievances, such as the 1960s segregationist and Alabama governor George Wallacethe 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate Strom Thurmond, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and many, many others. Wallace most clearly identified and articulated the political power of white racial resentment when he told journalist: “I started talking about schools, roads, prisons and taxes – and I couldn’t make them listen. Then I started talking about [N-word] – and stomped on the floor.”
DeSantis found that in Florida, attacks on so-called “critical race theory” have many white people stomping on the floor. Last year he squeezed through legislation that seeks to protect white children from encountering the facts of white supremacy – mandates that “a person shall not be instructed that he or she should experience guilt, distress, or other forms of psychological distress for actions in which he or she is not played a part performed in the past by other members of the same race.”
Although the modern Confederate outrage machine would have you believe that American children are being bombed Philip Kahn Gotanda plays Speeches by Dolores Huerta and James Baldwin’s books, the truth is actually the opposite. California is the only state in the nation where ethnic studies is a graduation requirement, and this law does not go into effect for two more years. Arizona is simple selected as the state superintendent of human learning who in 2010 championed a law banning the study of ethnic studies in Tucson, Arizona. (A federal judge later threw out the lawsaying it was “motivated by racial animosity”.)
The 24/7 white nationalist propaganda machine is not limited to the nation’s classrooms. The 1939 film Gone with the Wind glorifies the Confederacy and portrays mass-murdering white nationalists as dashing leading men and charming leading ladies. The film continues to be the highest grossing film all the time (adjusted for inflation), and a 2018 PBS poll found the novel to be the sixth most a popular book fiction in the country, ahead of Charlotte’s Web and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Year-round celebrations of white history also take place in the capital of our country. Around the Rotunda of the US Capitol – the citadel of national democracy – are scattered 100 statues, which, according to the original Act of 1864intended to showcase leaders “famous for their historical glory” and “worthy of this national honor”, allowing each state two statues.
Among the statues that greet children, families and visitors to the Capitol are “19 Confederate statues, busts and paintings.” Every day of every month of the year, these white marble monuments to white supremacists stand proud and defiant, mocking the idea that America is anything other than a nation to white people. (The law allowing the statues was actually passed during the Civil War, when there were no Confederates in Congress, but after the war, southern states flocked to the Capitol building in honor of white supremacy.)
Aware that Germany has no Nazi monuments for a reason, Senator Cory Booker, Representative Steny Hoyer and other members of Congress tried in recent years to pass bills cleansing the Capitol of the visible stain of racism, but remarkably, those bills never became law.
I recently went on a reconnaissance mission to the Capitol to assess the situation. While the building does try to restrict access to the most famous racists like Jefferson Davis, its lesser known but equally white supremacists are still there, front and center, welcoming visitors from all over the country every day. every month – teaching, celebrating and honoring white history. In an attempt to do my small part to highlight the fact that many of these statues actually pay homage to white supremacists, I’ve put together short video on my recent trip to DC.
Despite the anger, none of this is surprising. The marginalization of the history, culture, and contributions of people of color has occurred for centuries. The dichotomy between Nicole Hannah-Jones’ Project 1619 and the only annual black history month highlights the country’s contradictions.
Hannah-Jones and the editors of the New York Times laid out “to reimagine American history by considering what it would mean to consider 1619 the year our nation was born. To do that, we must put the effects of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” (Project 1619 is now also a documentary series on Hulu.)
The revolutionary power of this proposal is that everything U.S. history needs to be rethought, but instead we settle for one month a year speaking at the mouth of Americans with more melanin.
So the days go by Black History Month, if we really want to teach the truth, we need to embrace the fact that every month is White History Month, and we need to have a national debate about how we deal with that. And then maybe we can make real progress in creating a multiracial curriculum that tells the truth about US history to the American people and to our children so they can improve it in the future.