Friday, February 3, 2023

Backlash—Educators and Black History are Under Fire as Overt Racism Makes a Comeback

                            The official 2023 Black History Month poster.

The 1619 Project, a long-form journalism project developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine, came under attack.  The highly praised series and book re-examined the Black experience in the New World from the importation of African indentured servants” to the Jamestown Colony in 1619.  It clearly showed that the generational experience of slavery continues to put African-Americans at a social and economic disadvantage and laid the blame for that on the development of an explicitly racist ideology that still lurks not far below the surface of polite white society.  Now it has been adapted as a six part documentary on Hulu.

Streaming service Hulu is presenting a six part documentary adaptation of The 1619 Project.

Naturally the right wing propaganda machine is on a full-press attack on the series and on it’s authors.  Hannah-Jones was denied a tenured position at the University of North Carolina after the university’s board of trustees took the highly unusual step of failing to approve the Journalism Departments recommendation under intense pressure and threats to withhold state funding for the school and a boycott by wealthy white donors.

Republican governors like newly elected Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and GOP controlled state legislators rushed to ban the teaching of critical race theory after a campaign to stir up a social panic was whipped by Tucker Carlson and other Fox News propagandists and the right-wing echo chamber on social mediaLocal school board meetings have been stormed and disrupted; teacher, administrators, and parents have been threatened and/or assaulted; captive library boards are banning books

As one eight-year old observed in the related banning of the graphic novel Maus about the Holocaust, “The people who want to ban this are the ones who want to do it again.”

This editorial cartoon makes clear what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis intends. 

This year Republican Florida Governor and presidential wannabe Ron DeSantis has cashed in on the hysteria by announced plans to block state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as critical race theory (CRT).  He also blocked a new national high school Advanced Placement course from public schools and threatened sanctions of private schools that adopted it.

And now television stations are being inundated with protests and threats for airing Black History Minutes and other programing that have been routine for years.

The roots of the annual Black History Month observance stretch back to 1926 when Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be Negro History Week.  Woodson, who died in 1950, spent the rest of his life promoting historical awareness in both academia and the community.  There was plenty of resistance in the first case and the revelation of an untapped hunger in the second.

In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and especially the Black Power movement of the 1970’s Black history finally began to take hold as a recognized academic discipline and as part of the curriculum in public and private schools.  The first Black History Month was celebrated at Kent State University in Ohio.  By 1976 President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial.

Since then, Black History month has spread and now usually adopts a theme each year. This year the theme is Black Resistance.

By the early 21st Century the media and many corporations seemed to have coopted the month in an attempt to pander to the Black community and inoculate themselves against charges of institutional racism.  Ubiquitous Black History Moments on television promoted hero worship of individual “pioneers” often without any context to a broader struggle or the experience of ordinary Black people.  It has also drawn criticism for “ghettoizing” Black history and confining it to a silo without connection to American history as a whole.  Actor and director Morgan Freeman declared “I don’t want a Black history month. Black history is American history.”

Black History Month must always keep in mind the sacrifices of participation of the many in the Civil Rights movement like these women in the 1963 March for Jobs and Justice in Washington.  They made Dr. Martin Luther King's soaring rhetoric a reality.

I’m well aware of these pitfalls as a White writer, amateur historian, and hope-to-be ally.  Yet I think there is still much to be learned if Black History can be placed in its broadest context and include the struggles and sacrifices of the many as well as iconic figures.  That’s what Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flout will try to do for the rest of the month.

We will be assembling a wide variety of posts from many years on this blog, updating them as necessary and adding new ones.  Feel free to respond with criticism, questions, and suggestions.


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