How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is a book that has the power to transform us. I pray it does. As Ibram X. Kendi said, “We need this book.” I hope everyone who reads this will get a copy and read it too.
I have known Clint’s work because I listened to the Justice in America podcast, which he did the first two years with Josie Duffy Rice. This week I’ve learned more about his poetry. Here he is reading two of my favorites: “Counting Descent” and “History Reconsidered.”
“History Reconsidered” is a powerful poem that I’ve been thinking about all day. I wrote this golden shovel poem using Smith’s line: “Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter.”
We Need to Write a New Chapter
We were lied to when we studied oppression
of enslaved American people. It doesn’t
count that we vaguely learned slaves disappear
when Civil Wars end. A moral, righteous and just
country would repent and repair wrongs because
white supremacy is evil. Truth. But you
can see from what’s happening today that many decided
to nurture white supremacy, and not
dismantle it in order to create a more perfect union. Some want to
halt the telling of truth, the new books that can teach
our children and adults that some Americans indeed proclaimed us
to be the land of equality and freedom, while simultaneously living the lie that
they owned other human beings. We need to write a changed chapter.
Smith’s book is full of new (and some known) content that is so heavy and difficult to hear, but Clint’s love and respect for people and his poetic language contribute to making the book a readable treasure that in fact we do need.
Here are just a few of the old quotes Smith includes that show some of the truths we were not taught:
“And if any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony.” Virginia Slave Code, 1705 (Footnote iv, Loc 1274)
“So far as history reveals, no other slave society, whether of antiquity or modern times, has so much as sustained, much less greatly multiplied, its slave population by relying on natural increase.” ~C. Vann Woodward, historian, 1983 (Loc 364)
“Louisiana looks to the formulation of a southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery.” ~Louisiana’s commissioner in a speech at the time of secession, 1861 (Loc 833)
I took a challenge from Jill Canillas Daley (@jcd118) to post seven book covers, one a day for seven days. No explanation, no reviews.
I accepted a challenge to post covers of seven (good) books that I enjoy: no explanations, no reviews. Each time I post a cover I'll ask someone to take up the challenge- one cover a day. On Day 4 I nominate @mrsdkrebs#kidlit#booklovepic.twitter.com/KCn6NsTyju
I joined in the challenge. (It reminded me of chain letters from a generation ago, for those of you as old as me.) Anyway, I decided to choose from the limited books I have in Bahrain and I easily chose seven good books. I posted them, as instructed. No explanation. No review.
However, I decided to also post a few book covers during the week with a bit of comment, and I’m including those here because they are too important to post without some explanation.
America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis
I had Jim Wallis’ book in my Kindle for a year before I got around to it. I bought it when it first came out, but when I started following #CleartheAir, I noticed I had work to do. I went back and read the book. It started me on a journey.
Robin DiAngelo was the next book that came to my attention. I was struck with new thoughts after a lifetime of living with my privilege and not really noticing it.
Quote: In my workshops, I often ask people of color, “How often have you given white people feedback on our unaware yet inevitable racism? How often has that gone well for you?” Eye-rolling, head-shaking, and outright laughter follow, along with the consensus of rarely, if ever. I then ask, “What would it be like if you could simply give us feedback, have us graciously receive it, reflect, and work to change the behavior?” Recently a man of color sighed and said, “It would be revolutionary.” I ask my fellow whites to consider the profundity of that response. It would be revolutionary if we could receive, reflect, and work to change the behavior.
Layla speaks directly to people who are holders of white privilege. I was confronted with my white apathy and white silence. She has to keep telling us white people the same things over and over again. When I went to her Instagram posts and read some of the comments, I see white people commenting on her posts who continue to center our world on whiteness, with blatant white superiority, tone policing (I could listen if you would say it in a nicer way.”), or white exceptionalism (“I’m a good white ally. I’m glad I’m not like those others.”) And the rest of us get away with casually viewing or ignoring because of our white apathy and silence. The world goes on, with us not doing this work with urgency and fidelity, comfortable in our own white supremacy and privilege.
Quote: The Me And White Supremacy Workbook is a one of a kind self-guided workbook and personal anti-racism tool that has been designed to help you to take ownership of your participation in the oppressive system of white supremacy, and to help you take responsibility for dismantling the way that this system manifests both within you and within your communities. This workbook is part education, part activation. It helps you to take a clear look at the different multifaceted aspects of white supremacy and how they operate in both subtle and direct ways within you, and within others.
This one hurt the most. It was difficult and important to read history through the eyes of a black scholar who has recognized white rage throughout our history, white rage against black people. I have read a precious few history books by authors of color.
We have a history that has never been repented of. We never made amends, and we are living with the harvest that comes from planting seeds of rage for hundreds of years. We reap what we sow, and until we rip out the crop, burn up the weeds, plow the ground, and get it ready for a replanting, we will keep dealing with the same ugly chapters repeated over and over again in new centuries.
It will be a lifelong and intentional battle to stop systemic, toxic, and endemic racism in our country. I’ve committed to joining the battle.
I am currently reading The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris Chesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling. It is a business book, but we are using it to improve teacher effectiveness at our school this year.
Last spring our innovative principal told me about the book and how it would inform our goal for the new school year. He recommended it, so I bought the book. It has been a slow read because it’s not what I’m usually interested in, but I’m plowing through and always asking how we can use the concepts in our school. Our WIG, or wildly important goal, is to raise our ELEOT scores in two categories from 2.8 to 3.2 by June 2018. Clearly a measurable goal from x to y by when goal. Meeting this goal will mean that children will be given a more equitable and high expectations learning environment than they had last year. If we succeed, students will be more engaged in learning, with more opportunities for differentiation and higher order thinking. Continue reading “The Reading Game”→
Almost a decade ago, when Twitter and Facebook were still toddlers, most of us shared stories not by posting links, but by sending a link, story or image in an email. Many of us remember those days. The subject line would read FWD:FWD:FWD: YOU GOT TO READ THIS!!!!! or some such title.
One day I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper because sometimes one just has to do something when it is impossible to stomach reading another bogus email. The text is written below (and in the image above):
It would not be a compliment to be called critical. Who wants to be a critic? I like being nice, and I like being around nice people. However, today, I would like to take my turn and ask everyone to be more critical…critical in reading, I mean.
I admit, I read some forwarded e-mails, oftentimes with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. I’ve decided most are originated for one of two purposes: To mislead and falsely present one’s ideological agenda, or to cruelly experiment on society.
I imagine someone sitting, pondering, “Can I compose the perfectly misleading e-mail…? Something outrageous but credible enough so people will forward it?”
If we believed all the e-mails over the years, we’d be waiting for $10,000 from Bill Gates, printing $50 gift certificates from Applebee’s, and watching for other unexpected windfalls. Don’t you just want to shout, “C’mon, read critically before you forward those emails!”?
Twice as many? I was curious, so I clicked the link citing a Congressional Research Service document. There it was—the supposed “source” of the e-mail—but rather than respecting each brave soldier who died for our country, the casualty numbers for each were blatantly altered, manipulating them to mislead.
We have been at war in Iraq for five years, so not surprisingly there are more military deaths in this president’s term than the previous. Clearly someone lied to fake some political point, trusting that at least some gullible person would not read the source critically.
If my students did research like this, they would fail.
How about those touching stories we read and pass on?
I believe we need to read these critically, as well.
An old, but still-circulating, story tells of an Olympic diver, practicing in the dark because the full moon shining through the glass ceiling afforded him enough light to do that.
In taking his stance on the high dive, his eye caught the moonlit shadow his arms made on the wall. It looked like Jesus on the cross. He knelt and, after years of atheism, gave his life to Christ. Just then an attendant came in and turned on the lights, and the diver saw that he had been preparing to dive into an empty pool.
Is it true? I need only to read it critically to answer, “No.” What kind of Olympic diver would dive into a darkened pool? And how could that diver overlook the fact that the moonlight reflection was missing on the water below?
Is there truth in the story? Perhaps, but I fear the real truth that “Jesus saves in miraculous ways” is lost when we use manufactured stories in an attempt to convey that truth.
As a teacher, my constant prayer is that I help my students read critically, so I need to model critical reading.
One way I do this is by discontinuing the haphazard spread of illegitimate e-mails.
When I receive an e-mail that I suspect spreads untruth, I read it critically, having found the website Snopes.com to be a helpful resource. If the real facts differ from those purported, I share this with the person who forwarded the e-mail. If the e-mail turns out to be true and helpful, on occasion, I forward it on to people who would benefit, usually with a link to Snopes and a personal note.
I just wanted to challenge us all to be more critical…in the best sense of the word.
Now, I still believe everything I wrote almost a decade ago, but things have gotten more complicated, haven’t they? Social media has amplified the crazy “share” mentality a thousandfold. (Snopes is still an awesome source, and they are busier than ever!)
I teach fifth graders now, and we work hard on reading comprehension strategies including questioning and clarifying. Why, when it comes to social media, do some seemingly-educated people lose their way?
Hmmm…Interesting. Do we need Facebook, Google and others to determine what’s fake and not fake? Are we willing to admit defeat when it comes to critical thinking and let a corporation do it all for us? Or should we not take responsibility for reading news with a grain of salt?
Stephen Colbert shares some of the outrageous stories that were shared on and around election day.
Today, it seems there is another motive for creating crazy fake news–people are getting rich. Do we need to have Google and Facebook stop them?
For those readers who make the stories go viral, those people who share without reading critically, why do they do it? Eight years ago I thought there were two possibilities for originating fake stories: To mislead and falsely present one’s ideological agenda or to cruelly experiment on society. I guess the same is true for those “share”-happy clickers who fail to check the sources.
Critical thinking, critical reading, critical viewing, critical listening, critical voting. America, we need critics more than ever. Now, please.
If we’re not willing to think critically, maybe we deserve what we’re getting.
What do you think? Do we need social media outlets to police fake news? What responsibility do social media readers have?