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What Will Republicans Ban Next, Your Grandparents?

Now that the election is over, this space is returning to its previously scheduled programming: History! Black History! American History! A few jokes! But mostly history!

Some family postcards sent in the 1900's and 1910's.

Today, let's talk about why Republicans are afraid of Black history. The short answer is: They're racist. The longer answer is too long for a blog post. The medium answer, which is addressed pretty well in this Atlantic article, for example, is that after centuries of promoting themselves as the "good guys," white people can perceive more critical, more accurate, and less one-sided depictions of themselves as an attack on their very existence. This is not because white people are being discriminated or murdered out of existence -- as Black people actually were -- but because white people choose to equate existing with being in power. Our positive (and dominant) self-image created a lot of wealth and privilege over time, when we were in control of telling the stories. Naturally, it's harder to listen to the truth, and engage with another cultural perspective, and tell new stories, and possibly give up some privilege, than to stir up voter outrage about scary things like equality and words.


At first, these culture wars struck me as toothless (no pun intended), because I've been talking about race and whiteness for more than twenty years. Here's a piece I published as a graduate student in the '90s. I don't recommend reading it: It's classic, overwritten and hypercritical graduate student work. The point is simply that race theory and race studies in general had already filtered down into mainstream coursework and textbooks. Lots of us were trained according to its truthful tenets. It seemed unfathomable to me that this progress could be erased.


Now that Republicans are going after mainstream coursework and textbooks, however, I accept that I underestimated their commitment to fragility and stupidity. Instead of moving forward as a nation to repair these problems, they're dragging us back down into their cesspool of rotating defensive white responses to racism: "It didn't happen. It wasn't that bad. White people have done enough to fix it. Attacking whiteness is racist. Our kids shouldn't have to feel bad for what their dead ancestors did." And one of my personal faves: "It wasn't my white ancestors who did the racism, so it's not my job to fix it."


The trouble is, it's not just courses and textbooks. It's everything, everywhere, all at once.


Recently, I was flipping through a pile of postcards that my husband Mike inherited, through his mom, from his Italian grandmother. A very little kid in the early 1900's, his grandmother was raised in New York City by an Italian immigrant father and a Portuguese-English mother, who called Frances the "brown one" because she had darker olive skin. Frances was sent out of the city sometimes during disease outbreaks to live with country relatives. From these visits and other family travel, she derived (and kept) a thick stack of postcards that visually reflect how various parts of the country were being advertised or marketed or otherwise depicted in that time period.


The vast majority of her postcards depict scenic landscapes or adorable ethnic celebrations or architecture. But some of them reflect the culture of racism that Americans and Europeans not only printed and disseminated, but bought and sold, and sent to their very small children. I'm placing these images at the bottom of this post, rather than with the more benign Americana at the top, because some readers might not want to look at them. For those who do look -- well, don't tell Ronald DeSantis because he might pass a law against Mike's grandmother for proving that racism is real.


I'm mostly preaching to the choir on this blog but I feel we need more words about this topic than less: White supremacy did happen. It was that bad. White people haven't done enough to fix it. Attacking white privilege is not racist. Our kids should feel feelings about it, because those feelings will make them better people. And even if your family came from Ireland as stowaways, never lived in the South, were Quakers and Jews, and multi-Slavic working people who also experienced discrimination, they participated in and benefited from racism. I just described my own ancestors, and I now own property in a mostly-white suburb that was founded on racist deeds and redlining. I make this point to say -- it's not about Mike's ancestors versus mine. I'm not picking on one group of problematic white folks over another. Even with my strong academic background, I have to do a lot of reading and talking and learning just to keep a check on my inherited privilege and subconscious racism, every day. If you want to learn more about this topic, here's a short video. Let's keep talking and writing. We have many rivers yet to cross.






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