Overt Racism in the Street and Quieter Racism in the Curriculum

tags: slavery, racism, teaching history, Protest

Alan Singer is a historian, Professor of Education at Hofstra University, and a former New York City high school teacher.

I have continually rewritten this blog as new events unfold to include “overt racism in the street.”

What student learn in school, what Donald Trump spouts, has life and death significance. Yesterday, a seventeen year old white teenager armed with an assault rifle murdered two people protesting against racism in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where police shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake, a 29 year old African American man. The teenager is an avid Trump supporter who was photographed in the front row of a January Trump rally in Des Moines, Iowa. On social media platforms, Kyle Rittenhouse posted images of himself with weapons and his support for Trump’s reelection. In not very veiled racist words and actions, Trump touts himself as the “Law and Order” candidate and attacks mostly peaceful protesters as terrorists and threatens to use the National Guard, not against white racist vigilantes, but against people demanding racial justice in the United States.

In response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team refused to take the court for an N.B.A. playoff game against the Orlando Magic. Other N.B.A. playoff games were canceled. Buck players issued this statement.

“The past four months have shed a light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American communities. Citizens around the country have used their voices and platforms to speak out against these wrongdoings.

“Over the last few days in our home state of Wisconsin, we’ve seen the horrendous video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, and the additional shooting of protestors. Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.

“When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.

“We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake and demand the officers be held accountable. For this to occur, it is imperative for the Wisconsin State Legislature to reconvene after months of inaction and take up meaningful measures to address issues of police accountability, brutality and criminal justice reform. We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3."


LeBron James tweeted, “And y’all wonder why we say what we say about the Police!! Someone please tell me WTF is this???!!! Exactly another black man being targeted. This shit is so wrong and so sad!! Feel so sorry for him, his family and OUR PEOPLE!! We want JUSTICE.”

This is the piece I originally planned to post about the “quieter racism in the curriculum.”

As a high school teacher, I had students read excerpts from the James Hammond speech discussed here without having the class examine who he actually was and what that tells us about slavery and racism in the United States.

According to the website of American Battlefield Trust, “James Hammond, a southern plantation owner, and U.S. Senator extolled Southern power. In his speech to the United States Senate on March 4, 1858, he put words to a long-brewing Southern philosophy: ‘Cotton is King.’”

“Without firing a gun, without drawing a sword, should they make war on us we could bring the whole world to our feet . . . What would happen if no cotton was furnished for three years? I will not stop to depict what everyone can imagine, but this is certain: England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South. No, you dare not make war on cotton. No power on earth dares to make war upon it. Cotton is king.”


The website for Teaching American History has a much longer excerpt from the speech, but no background information at all.

In The American Spirit (David Kennedy and Thomas Bailey, 2009), a document book aligned with the text The American Pageant, both frequently used in advanced placement United States History classes, in an introduction to the Hammond speech, he is described as a “bombastic owner of some three hundred slaves” (v. 1, 401). A recent edition of The American Pageant has a sub-section, “Cotton is King” (350), but no reference to Hammond.

In the pre-Civil War era, James Hammond was a proponent of the “Mudsill Theory.” He argued that every society must have a lowest class to perform menial labor beneath the dignity of the other classes. This was his justification for African enslavement. According to the “Mudsill Theory,” efforts to promote social, political, and economic equality placed civilization at risk. This view has new life today in the rants on Q-Anon. It seems to be Donald Trump’s position  about the structure of society as well.

Read entire article at Daily Kos

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