Yes, racism is a “deviation”, but it must be taught as a persistent reality
This Tuesday, January 18 column is sandwiched between two Texas holidays. Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, first observed by Texas in 1986. And Wednesday’s holiday? If you don’t already know, you’ll have to read to the end.
Due to COVID-19, San Antonio, for the second year in a row, did not hold its massive and joyful MLK march on Monday through the city’s traditionally Black East Side. So I instead read and pondered Senate Bill 3, passed by the Texas Legislature last year in its second special session.
This is the bill that makes it illegal to guilt or shame elementary and high school students for America’s racial history. It contains good things. For example, children may *not* learn that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex”, that “an individual’s moral character, status, or worth is necessarily determined race or sex of the individual”, or that “an individual, by virtue of his race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. sex”.
It’s also good that the law requires that, when age appropriate, children learn “the history and significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”, as well as the 13th Amendment ending slavery .
But one sentence jumped out at me. It prohibits a teacher from suggesting “in regard to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations, betrayals, or breaches of the genuine founding principles of the United States, which include freedom and equality.”
I am grateful that the bill is against slavery and racism, defining them as failures up to the “authentic founding principles of the United States”. But to define them as “deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to” these principles seems to me to suggest that slavery and racism are aberrations in the otherwise benevolent history of our country.
The reality, of course, is that slavery and racism have been woven tightly into the fabric of our nation since its founding and we have yet to unravel many of their threads. When “betrayals” are massive, persistent and socially fundamental, can they be considered “deviations”? It’s important to teach America’s ideals, but isn’t it just as important to teach its reality?
To see what I mean, let’s take a quick tour of the still shocking (low light?) highlights of US and Texas history.
1787: The US Constitution firmly establishes slavery in the nation. Southern states with a slavery-based economy defined enslaved people as non-voting property, but wanted them to be fully counted as persons in determining the size of state delegations to the House of Representatives. The northern states, some of whom opposed it, compromised by allowing three-fifths of the slave count. This gave Southern states inordinate power to block anti-slavery measures.
Additionally, the impact of the three-fifths rule on the number of presidential electors allocated to Southern states enabled the presidential election of Thomas Jefferson who, as the author of the inspirational Declaration of Independence and owner of more than 600 slaves, could be called founding deviation and betrayal.
1836: As Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his army massacred Alamo defenders, Sam Maverick, a land speculator, slave owner and later mayor of San Antonio, rushed to Washington-on-the-Brazos , where a convention was required to enact a declaration of independence and draft a constitution for the new Republic of Texas. He would arrive in time to sign the first and help shape the second.
If you are confident that slavery was not a major factor fueling the rebellion against Mexico, consider these provisions written in the document as Santa Anna led his army to its doom at the Battle of San Jacinto. Slavery and racism were core values entrenched in the Constitution.
“All persons (except Africans, African descendants, and Indians) who resided in Texas on the day of the declaration of independence shall be considered citizens of the Republic and shall be entitled to all the privileges of those -this. »
“No free person of African descent, in whole or in part, shall be permitted to reside permanently in the Republic, without the consent of Congress.” Additionally, owners who wanted to free slaves could not do so without the consent of Congress unless the owner deported them.
1857: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 in the Dred Scott decision that “A free Negro of African race, whose ancestors were brought into this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.” The Chief Justice wrote that society at the time the Constitution was drafted, and therefore the ratifiers themselves, believed that black people were “so inferior that they do not ‘were no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and which the negro might justly and legally be enslaved for his profit.
1861: A special convention meeting in Austin brought the issue of secession to the voters, who overwhelmingly ratified it in an election a few months later. The convention issued a “statement of the causes which compel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union”. A clear majority of the document dealt with slavery, including a statement accusing the Northern states of promoting the “doctrine of the equality of all men, without distinction of race or color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the clearest revelations of divine law.
1896: The Supreme Court of the United States renders its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, firmly establishing the constitutionality of the “separate but equal” segregation of races.
1923: Texas passes ‘White Primary Law’ allowing political parties to bar racial minorities from participating in their primaries, barring black people from voting in Democratic primaries who have won every election for more than a century after the end of the reconstruction. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, but after the Democratic Party declared on its own that only white people could vote, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that as a “private organization” it could apply this rule. It was not until 1944 that the Supreme Court, transformed by FDR appointees, was overturned.
1934: Congress establishes the Federal Housing Authority with the power to guarantee mortgages. This made long-term, low-interest mortgages possible. From the beginning, the FHA “underwriting manual” included these requirements: “The assessor should survey the areas surrounding the location to determine whether or not incompatible racial and social groups are present, so that an intelligent prediction can be made regarding the possibility or likelihood of the location being invaded by such groups. and “Recommended restrictions include… no occupation of properties except by the race for which they are intended.” The federal government has thus contributed massively to housing segregation and the ability of white people, but not black people, to build generational wealth through the value of their homes.
1944: The Veterans Administration home loan program helped millions of returning veterans buy homes, but until civil rights legislation in the 1960s, the program was run the same way as FHA loans, severely limiting black participation and further contributing to the wealth gap. The benefits of GI education are also discriminated which adds to the wealth gap. A 2019 Federal Reserve study found an average net worth of white families of $188,200 with black families of $24,100. (Hispanic families: $36,100.)
This is not an exhaustive list of “deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to” the genuine founding principles of the United States. The subject could take up an entire high school class, but it would probably be illegal in Texas. It’s too bad, because most of us parents don’t think of our children as snowflakes that would melt away if they were taught not just American ideals, but also the fullness of American reality.
They must also be taught that deviations, betrayals and failures are not all in the past. Consider, if you’re reading this on January 18, the day it was published, this article about an event tomorrow that will repeat itself every year for the foreseeable future:
1973: The Texas Legislature established “Confederate Heroes Day” as a holiday on January 19, the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Lee’s birthday had been a holiday since 1931, but the 1973 legislature wanted to add Confederate President Jefferson Davis. State workers have a paid holiday to celebrate two men who, in order to maintain slavery, went to war in an attempt to destroy our nation. How does this fit with “the genuine founding principles of the United States, which include freedom and equality”?
Members of the Black Legislative Caucus last spring introduced two bills during last year’s session to eliminate vacancies. Neither bill was even heard by a committee. In the wake of the murder of Texan George Floyd, Confederate statues across the country have been toppled and the names of Confederate “heroes” removed from buildings.
Yet Texas leaders and a majority of lawmakers, while defining racism as “deviation,” refused to stop a state-funded celebration of armed slavery advocates.
If racism is a “deviation” and a “failure,” we need to teach our children that we’ve come a long way to fix it — and we still have a lot of work to do.