Why I Mentally Clocked Out of History Class in 10th Grade

In high school I spent most of my lunches in the library. I would just get a book, hide in a corner, eat my free-lunch with a side of whole milk, and spend the hour there.

notesonvaI had finished a series and wanted to start on a new one. Then a title caught my eye: Notes On Virginia. It was essay papers by Thomas Jefferson. I swiped through and landed on a page because the word “slaves” caught my eye. What I read next changed me in a way I can’t really begin to explain that well.

“The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man? Besides those of colour, figure, and hair, there are other physical distinctions proving a difference of race. They have less hair on the face and body. They secrete less by the kidnies, and more by the glands of the skin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour. This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat, and less so of cold, than the whites…”

My eyes widened.

“…But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture.”

I was sick, angry, and horrified. I sat in the floor unable to eat my unappetizing-to-begin-with free-lunch. For years Thomas Jefferson was taught to me as a man for equality for all. As someone to look up to as a model citizen. Teachers justified him owning slaves to me by saying he “couldn’t change how things were” and he “was kind to his slaves”; which is an issue altogether to justify slavery. Then there I was realizing that was all bullshit. These were words directly from his mouth. No filters. I had questions.

If he abhorred us and considered us so inferior, then why sleep with a black woman? How could he say that we couldn’t be articulate and as educated as him? How dare whites go into African & Native territory, write down the medicinal techniques that was more advanced than their own pharmacology, and say we were basic? He compared us to orangutans and then he was taught to me as a man that gave a damn about my presence as an American.

I had a hard time paying attention in history class after that, because I didn’t believe anything told to me.

I would later on learn in college the large gaps, false truths, and twisted lies told to me over the years after that moment.

  • Lincoln didn’t actually free the slaves due to some moral dilemma, but as a political move to win the war.
  • The work of Frederick Douglass was a key player in the slave emancipation legislation effort. Black people did participate in their own freedom.
  • The Black Panthers weren’t some violent “racist” group but people who were tired of being trampled and empowered their communities.
  • Our government systematically targeted Civil Rights leaders (harassment, imprisonment, assassination, etc.)
  • There’s a huge loophole in the 13th amendment that allows slavery of prisoners (see Mass Incarceration).
  • Benjamin Franklin was racist and so were all of the “fore fathers”
  • The revolutionary war as quoted by Assata Shakur was “just a bunch of rich white guys who didn’t want to pay taxes”.
  • Columbus orchestrated mass murderer of natives and so did George Washington.

The list goes on and on. Our little black boys and girls are forced to absorb a story that doesn’t reflect them AT ALL. They are given standardized tests that are articulated from a euro-centric and racist point of view and we get surprised as they struggle with these absurd notions. Ancient Africa led the world in knowledge of math, science, medicine, etc. Africans today and African descent people are still doing big things. Yet this is rarely mentioned. I was given Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Mark Twain all the time but rarely black authors. When I did get a black author it was usually a book surrounding black internalized racism (The Bluest Eye) but no empowering conversations followed. Black people were never taught as a significant contributor to humankind in my K-12 education. If it wasn’t for the Reading Rainbow I would have never been exposed to other narratives of black experience and wit.

Having more resources and knowledge have been a blessing to me. I now feel proud to be a black woman. Even though I feel like years of black pride were somewhat stolen from me, I feel extremely grateful to know the legacy that is black people. A people who Jefferson determined would go extinct someday under “white superiority”. We wrote, created, unified, fought, and participated in and brought about our freedom. We continue to do so to this very second.

My fore fathers/mothers are Sojournor Truth, W.E.B. Dubois, Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, and all the slaves of the Americas who died living hell on earth. They made the sacrifices and bled for me to be here. Not no damn Thomas Jefferson.

Inspired by the books: Miseducation of the Negro, AssataA People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Presentand the Souls of Black Folks.

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2 thoughts on “Why I Mentally Clocked Out of History Class in 10th Grade

  1. Great piece! I love it. I must say I did not get exposed to the truth about the fallacies of American history in my K-12 education till I was in college, it was when I took African American Studies that I learned about the lies spewed to children in ways to socialize them into obedient/uncritical citizens. And it wasn’t until I was 22 that I learned about some of the vast and complex histories of Pre-Colonial Africa. I always find it amazing to hear Black people’s stories about when they began to see the lies in American history and start to notice the covert racial rhetoric. Thank you for sharing your story.

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