Editorial: We can repudiate racism without erasing history

By the editorial board of the Herald

Judging by recent attempts to rewrite history – or at least recast its narratives – we would really like to move away from a past entangled in racism, whether it be the national culture of Old South who embraced and died for slavery, or a more tacit acceptance of the simulating effects of racism.

Three examples illustrate these attempts to ignore or confront our past, the last of which strikes a balance that denies racism without erasing history:

Case one: Florida’s Republican-led state legislature’s passage last month of the “Stop Woke Act,” a law as educationally flawed as its name is grammatically painful. The law, signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made it a priority, prohibits the teaching of critical race theory or race and history issues that could encourage students to feel “discomfort, guilt, anxiety or any form of psychological distress”. Similar laws have been passed in Idaho, Arkansas and Tennessee.

But how do you teach US history — or world history and current affairs, for that matter — without causing unease about how people, cultures, and nations have sometimes brutally mistreated others? peoples, cultures and nations, whether Africans brought as slaves to the Americas, Native Americans driven from their lands or Uyghur Muslims forced into Chinese concentration camps.

Yes, such accounts are difficult to face; they or they are annoying. Yet these stories are how our sense of empathy develops and how we acknowledge past wrongs, even as we celebrate accomplishments.

Such a law not only does history a disservice, but it reduces our students’ ability to consider what they are taught, compare it to their beliefs, and learn from it.

A recent Washington Post commentary by two education professors and authors argues that students — teens, in particular — are hard-wired to argue and eager to weigh new information.

“Students confronted with critical views of American history with which they disagree will not melt away or suffer ‘psychological distress,'” write authors Robert Cohen and Sonia Murrow. “Instead, they will raise objections and challenge those views. We know this to be true because it has been happening for decades.

Their conclusion: “Debates and disputes about our past can spark a love of history and an awareness that history is truly intense debate informed by evidence and reason.”

Case Two: Last month, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that will replace the word “marijuana” with “cannabis” in all state laws to avoid the use of a word – used by Mexicans in the 19th century and disseminated by anti-drug crusaders. in the United States at the start of the 20th century – it is “pejorative and racist”, according to the lawmaker, Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, who first sponsored the legislation in 2021 before it was passed this year.

“Cannabis” is already widely used by the recreational marijuana industry and is the scientific term for the hemp plant, from which marijuana and cannabis products are derived. Thus, the use of the term scientific in the revised state code has some meaning. But there is disagreement over whether the word “marijuana”, due to its Mexican origins, reflects the racism of a negative reputation for cannabis and a direct reflection on Mexico and Latinos in the United States. .

“The idea that the word marijuana is racist, I just think is nonsense. Marijuana is just the Mexican word for the drug cannabis,” said Isaac Campos, a Latino history professor. American who studied the history of marijuana. told Seattle radio KUOW (94.9 FM).

“Marijuana,” Campos said, is similar to the word “salsa,” which is just Mexican for a sauce, but has come to represent a sauce specific to the United States.

“The fact that we use it for a certain type of Mexican sauce that goes with tacos just shows that Mexican cuisine has had a huge influence in this country,” Campos said.

And judging by the legal and social acceptance that recreational marijuana has already gained in Washington and several other states, and the recent vote in the United States House of Representatives to decriminalize cannabisthe negative links between marijuana and Mexican culture, if they ever existed, have long waned.

Case 3: The Washington State Supreme Court ruled this month that homeowners cannot ask their county auditor to remove race covenants from the public record of a home’s title and deed, thus erasing the history of past racism that was common across the state and nation and referred to as “redlining”, where blacks and other minorities were kept out of white neighborhoods.

A Spokane landlord had asked the Spokane County Auditor to remove a clause – even though it was no longer enforceable – that said “no race or nationality other than the white race shall use or occupy a building on land “.

However, the auditor determined that she did not have the legal authority to withdraw the recognizance, and a county superior court and state appeals court agreed with the auditor, the report reported. spokesperson-review.

In the meantime, the state Legislature amended the Race Pacts Act and allowed owners to file a “court remedy” to remove the wording of a pact from the chain of title while preserving a record. documents for historical purposes.

The state Supreme Court unanimously upheld the lower courts, returning the matter to the trial court, to enforce the recent change in state law.

“We must ensure that future generations have access to these documents because, although the covenants are morally repugnant, they are part of a documented history of disenfranchisement of a people,” Judge G wrote. Helen Whitener in unanimous opinion. “It’s our story.”

Whitener, who is black, continued: “It would only destroy the physical evidence that this discrimination ever existed. It would be too easy for future generations to look back at these property records without any physical evidence of the discriminatory covenants and conclude that the covenants never existed at all.

Such an alliance is not something many would encounter under most circumstances, and such blatant racism will certainly not increase a property’s resale value. But lawmakers and courts are right not to allow the historical record to be whitewashed to put away an act for the sake of appearance.

Our history – the one recorded in textbooks, our language and mundane documents – must be preserved, down to the smallest detail. Or we lose the opportunity to learn from it and instead preserve the risk of repeating it.

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