402 years after the first group of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans were sold on American soil, the United States is still struggling to acknowledge its dark and racist history. In fact, the fight to finally address this nation’s original sin is taking place in Texas right now where Texas Republicans are pushing to pass House Bill 3979 in the legislature. If passed, HB 3979 will limit educators to teaching their students about the country’s great rise to freedom and prosperity without including the very real, painful experiences that other minority communities endured throughout the nation at the time.
This isn’t a dispute that’s limited to history books, either: because history continues to repeat itself with continuous onslaughts fighting against civil rights through new voter suppression legislation, ongoing discrimination against black farmers, and widening racial dispariteis healthcare. America should be looking to take a step forward, not backward. But instead, legislatures are doing everything they can to resist long-needed change.
This time, it’s in education. Republicans across the nation and the state are fighting against the critical race theory, which they coined as a new term after New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah Jones released her Pulitzer Prize-winning work The 1619 Project. The Project became a seminal work last year after the NYT and Jones exposed slavery’s inescapable legacy in the U.S., starting with the year most Ameicans think of as the early arrival of the United States and its ideals. Educators and historians across the state have denounced the passage of HB 3979 and wrote that bill puts teachers and students at an academic disadvantage.
To understand why many Republicans are so upset by the project you first have to know some key components. Here are some key points of the project:
“Point Comfort” was the trading port in Virginia that traded 20 to 30 Angolan citizens who were bought from Jamestown colonists as property. This small group of Black people would grow to become over 12 million enslaved Black people owned, beaten and stripped of any rights designed in America’s democracy.
The project also highlights when Thomas Jefferson was writing America’s founding document the Declaration of Independence which reads that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”, slavery was alive and well in the United States. So, it gives the idea that when our founding fathers were writing this document based on freedom and the American ideals, Black people were not to be included. They were property. Even more, as Jones points out, there were generations of enslaved people who were bred and died in slavery long before America’s independence from Britain. Which raises the question: were they any less American than the framers who were writing the documents? And did they deserve rights, too?
In the piece, Jones also emphasizes that the Revolutionary War was fought to keep the institution of slavery in America, rather than it being centered around freedom from the British empire. According to Jones, Britain had started to recognize the horrors of slavery and wanted to ban it, but the framers knew ending slavery would completely dismantle the America’s agrarian industries. At that time, the economy was booming because of the mass production of goods like sugar cane, rice, and cotton. America’s capitalistic foundation and wealth was quite literally being built on the backs of Black people.
The project also highlights how the founding fathers used the idea of white supremacy and black inferiority as a tool to justify the means of chattel slavery. Jones writes that “this ideology, reinforced not just bylaws, but by racist science and literature, maintained that black people were subhuman, a belief that allowed white Americans to live with their betrayal.” With the rise of groups like the Proud Boys and the Ku Klux Klan still being an active organization, this belief of white superiority over Black people still remains true in American society.
Next, the piece follows Lincoln’s mindset during the Civil War in 1862. Lincoln knew the war wasn’t going well and wanted to make a change. So, according to Jones, he met with five Black men at the White House to talk about abolishing slavery, but there was a catch. At the meeting Lincoln came with a proposition that once he agreed to free the slaves they had to leave the U.S. He even hired a man named James Mitchell whose sole purpose was to organize and administer Black people out of the county. Of course the five Black men didn’t agree to the terms and fought for Black people to stay. So after the proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment were signed, the south would undergo a Reconstruction era that slowly, but surely started to help Black people live a normal life.
According to Jones, Black businesses were being created, Black people were in positions of political power, Black people could vote, and Black people owned land. It seemed that Black people at the time were living the American dream but that quickly ended after President at the time Rutherford B. Hayes decided to remove troops in the south. Therefore, Black bodies being hung from trees and lynching parties on ever corner was normal. According to statistics, nearly 4,400 Black people were lynched from 1877 to 1950.
The piece also points to white people and Black people’s differing experiences in the healthcare system. According to the Project, Georgia physician Dr. Thomas Hamilton used black bodies to research and prove that black bodies and white bodies were physiological differences. He believed that black skin was “thicker” than white skin. Like Hamilton, another doctor, J.Marion Sims, used black women as subjects to practice reproductive surgeries. According to his findings he wrote about the pain the women endured as he cut their genitals over and over. And still, Black women mortality rates during childbirth and pregnancy are much higher than other races.
These bills against the critical race theory and the 1619 Project are nothing new to the racist system the U.S. has upheld for years. The ideals for America were never meant to include the Black community and we see it day after day with the push of legislation across the nation against minority communities. The bill is in its last stages of development and soon will be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
Photo: The New York Times / Wikimedia Commons