The latest reminder of the centrality and primacy of the white worldview happened for me on January 15, 2022, the day Glenn Youngkin was inaugurated as the 74th governor of Virginia. While I haven’t lived in Virginia for a long time, it is my home state. I wanted to hear what the new governor had to say.
Not far into his inaugural address, he said, “We will remove politics from the classroom.” Attendees jumped to their feet. It was the sentiment that parents, not the government, should control what is taught in schools – particularly regarding racial history — that pushed this never-elected-to-any-office candidate into the Virginia Governor’s Mansion. Then he continued, “We will teach all of our history, the good (here he paused) … and the bad.” The crowd sat, seemingly deflated.
Stop. Rewind. Had he actually said that? Yes, those were his words. I wrote them down; I was so surprised. Was there some chance that he had thought about it and decided to do the right thing? In his inaugural address, was he ready to signal, no, actually state, that Virginia was not only going to take down Confederate statues, Virginia would also teach the completeness of its history and that of the country?
No, of course not. Upon reflection, how could I be so naïve? Hopeful, I guess that he had thought deeply about his earlier position, understood another side, and decided to make a major turnaround in his first public address as governor. Yes, I was naively hopeful.
Youngkin’s remarks were simply political theater. He said those words just before issuing Executive Order Number One (2022):
“Inherently divisive concepts, like Critical Race Theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims.”
It goes on to read,
“The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall review all policies within the Department of Education to identify those that promote inherently divisive concepts. Such policies shall be ended.”
And, he knew he had the right person to carry out this directive. I checked. As Superintendent of Public Instruction, he had named the former Wyoming State Superintendent of Schools, a person who had been very public in her opposition to teaching Critical Race Theory.
Race is the lens through which life is viewed by many, including Glenn Youngkin. It energized his campaign and was his out-of-the-gate issue as governor.
Race used to sit quietly in the corner, but not anymore. Now, many, including Youngkin, want to put it back in its place – invisible, not discussed, unaddressed.
For our country to truly achieve its founding promise, we must understand and address our history. It is that history that has made America what it is today. History has been taught from the perspective of white people who control textbooks and decisions about curricula. Our country’s history has been whitewashed, sanitized to glorify whites, while denigrating or completely ignoring other races.
Just think about the number of people who had never heard of the Tulsa massacre until Watchmen streamed on HBO in 2019 or the number who’d never heard of the Tuskegee syphilis study until the use of Black men as research subjects was revealed in 2020 as the root of some African Americans’ concern about COVID vaccinations, or others learning — this year — about Emmett Till through the recent ABC series Women of the Movement. I am glad that racial history is being revealed through art and the news, but it should be taught in the classroom, not something one can choose to watch, but in-school subject matter required to be learned.
The claim by Youngkin, and others, that they want to avoid the divisiveness caused by teaching what they refer to as Critical Race Theory is simply a smokescreen. In fact, the current approach to teaching our country’s history, focused on the individual exceptionalism of a few, but not on the racially motivated actions of many or on the racist federal, state and local policies and societal practices that have shaped this country, contributes to ignorance, an ignorance that feeds racial hostility and separation.
Speak up when your government is doing the wrong thing.
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
— Martin Luther King, Jr., December, 1959