Lately the lyrics to the Crosby, Stills and Nash song “Teach Your Children” have been stuck in my head. This is coming off a recent trip I took to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., where I witnessed the history of terror our society has inflicted upon African American slaves and citizens: the domestic slave trade that forcefully separated families; the cold-blooded lynchings; the segregation of our businesses and schools; and of course, the unjust laws that have been written to protect both racism’s practices as well as white people’s feelings.
Forgive my being blunt, but N.C. House Bill 324, which desires to set guidelines for what our teachers can teach regarding our racial history, stands in perfect harmony with the pattern of controlling the truth in order to keep white people comfortable … and white supremacy in control.
Allow me to explain: The attempt to protect (white) children from the episodes of our disgraceful history does not only deny them the knowledge of our painful history, but also denies them the opportunity to face our future with the courage to change it. The attempt in and of itself to pass such a law is an example of the craftiness of white supremacy. The desire to pass a law about limiting racism to individuality while ignoring how racism is embedded in our laws and institutions should be an obvious signal for what is going on and a prime reason that our teachers need to teach it.
While House Bill 324 claims its motives are to protect our children from “indoctrination,” it stealthily reinforces the myth of white supremacy that most of us who are white have already inherently absorbed. (Anyone else in this camp?) The bill supported by Senate leader Phil Berger and Co. is nothing more than a repeated politicized pattern of concealing the truth to protect white supremacy under the illusion of “protecting” our children’s minds. If it is our children’s minds we are concerned about, maybe passing a law about limiting our children’s screen time would be more effective?
As the Crosby, Stills and Nash song states, is it not up to our teachers — and all of us — to teach our children well according to what is true, as horrifying or as ugly as that might be? In the words of Maya Angelou, “History, despite its wretched pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
While I obviously disagree with a bill that attempts to control critical race theory, I can also understand why it exists. It is a shameful and embarrassing part of white America’s legacy that spills into our present time and current age. Without being able to control what is being taught in school, our children might wake up to the notion that we aren’t the good guys we once thought or told ourselves we were.
How do we define patriotism? What about pledging allegiance to the flag? It could raise uncomfortable questions and then what? Well, we will have to face the discomforting truths together and dig deep to do so with courage. Our children may begin to teach us if we are willing to listen, and then we may possibly have to admit what has been, and continues to be, flawed about our system.
So perhaps it’s the second verse that I appreciate:
And you of tender years /Can’t know the fears /That your elders grew by
And so, please help /Them with your youth /They seek the truth before they can die
Teach your parents well /Their children’s hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams /The one they pick’s the one you’ll know by
If I’ve learned anything, it is that white supremacy is rooted in an either/or concept. Either one group is superior, or one is inferior. The seed of such toxic thinking grows in the soil of fear and ignorance. The only way teaching critical race theory will make our children feel “inferior,” as argued by the bill’s supporters, is if our children are already unconsciously attached to the myth of white supremacy in the first place. And who would desire to protect that?
We cannot protect ourselves or our children from the truth — past or present. May we have the courage to teach our children well, so our wretched past is not lived again.
The Rev. Jonathan Gaska is pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem.