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“What they’re worrying about is your kids learning about what white people did.” Michael Harriot looks at the changes to school curriculums in places like Florida and Tennessee and finds that states aren’t erasing Black history; instead, schools are leaving out white people’s role in Black history.
Full transcript below.
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Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Guys, I know you’re worried. I know you’re worried that your children in Florida are going to learn that slavery was like a worker program or that Jim Crow was just a little phase America was going through. But that’s why I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that will tell you that there is actually no movement to erase Black history. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know you’ve heard all that stuff about the Florida curriculum, about how Ron DeSantis is erasing Black history, how states across the country are doing it, you know, passing these anti-woke laws, these laws to fight CRT. But I was thinking about it, and if you look at the actual curriculum, that’s not what they’re doing. They’re not erasing Black history. Black history ain’t never got to go nowhere because they’re not even afraid of Black history. What they’re doing is erasing white history. So, what do I mean by that? Well, if you look at the curriculums and the laws that they’re passing to make white children feel comfortable, first of all, they’re not opposed to children learning stuff like the civil rights movement was an effort to gain equal rights. They’re not even worried about your kids learning about slavery. What they’re worrying about is your kids learning about what white people did. That’s the thing that they’re worried about.
Michael Harriot [00:01:40] For instance, the Tampa Bay Times recently submitted a FOIA request for basically the notes from those meetings that determined the Florida curriculum. And what they found was that they really weren’t objecting to the Black parts of Black history. They were scared of the white parts. Here’s a quote, “for example, a lesson in the advanced placement course focused on how Europeans benefited from trading enslaved people and the materials enslaved laborers produced.” The state objected to the content, saying the instructional approach, quote, “may lead to a viewpoint of an oppressor versus oppressed based solely on race or ethnicity.” End quote. Well, as you can see, they actually addressed European slavery. Right? But they just didn’t want you to know about the oppression part. And the oppression part is what white people did. According to the articles, the specific complaint was that the unit may not address the internal slave system/trade within Africa, and that quote, “it may only present one side of the issue and may not offer any opposing viewpoints or other perspectives on this subject.” I didn’t know that it was two sides of slavery. I mean, I guess technically, there are two sides of slavery. There’s the side that says slavery was a brutal, inter-generational, constitutionally enforced, legal form of human subjugation that reduced human beings to chattel property based solely on race. And the other viewpoint is, I mean, yeah, but we really needed some slaves, though.
Michael Harriot [00:03:23] So what they think will make children feel uncomfortable is the racism part. Like there was another story that Tennessee objected to lessons on Ruby Bridges because, you know, Ruby Bridges actually integrated schools, but they didn’t want to know about the parents who lined up outside of the schoolhouse when Ruby Bridges was entering school and yelled at her and spat on her. So they’re cool with the Ruby Bridges part, right? Ruby Bridges is an uplifting story about how one brave little girl triumphed and gave freedom for her people. But they don’t want you to understand what she triumphed over. They are cool with you learning about the civil rights movement as long as you don’t know what Martin Luther King and those civil rights protesters were fighting against, they are cool with you learning about, for instance, redlining, but not how white people benefited. Oh, that’s actually a part of the Black Studies AP program that Florida objected to. They objected to this sentence, “despite the growth of the Black middle class, substantial disparities in wealth along racial lines remain. Discrimination and racial disparities in housing and employment stemming from the early 20th century limited Black communities’ accumulation of generational wealth in the second half of the 20th century.”.
Michael Harriot [00:04:54] Now, that is an objective fact, right? There is nothing to argue about it. But the state reviewers said it was against their state law because it, quote, “failed to offer reasons outside of systemic racism and discrimination for the wealth disparity between Black Americans and other groups.” Well, what are those other reasons? I guess you could argue that Black people are just lazy. Or maybe you could argue that Black people are just dumb. Or maybe you could argue that these systemic barriers don’t exist because white people were never racist. In any case, the arguments on the quote, other side, are lies. But instead of telling the students lies, they just don’t want you to learn what white people did. They don’t want you to learn about the systemic barrier part. They don’t want you to learn about the discrimination part. They don’t want you to learn about the structural barrier and structural racism part because that’s what white people did. That’s not Black history. That’s what white people did.
Michael Harriot [00:05:58] Have you ever heard people object to when you say enslaved people instead of slave? Why do they object to that? Like why do they want to say slave instead of an enslaved person? Well, when you say a slave, that’s a noun. That’s just what a person is. But if you say an enslaved person, then that infers that somebody was doing the enslaving, and that’s why they object to it, and that’s why they object to a lot of stuff. But it’s really not the Black history part of it, right? The Florida curriculum, for instance, it has this part where it talks about slave owners, but the only slave owners they list were Black slave owners. And it is true that Black people owned slaves, but 99.5% of slave owners were white. As a matter of fact, if you look even deeper, the Black people owned slaves, technically, a lot of them weren’t enslavers. Well, what do I mean by that? Well, a lot of states allowed enslaved people to purchase their freedom. And some of those people, even when they were emancipated or what they call manumitted, they would work and buy the freedom of their wife, their children, or their loved ones. But if you were a free Black person and you bought your wife out of slavery, technically, that was just a slave trade, right? So she was still enslaved technically, and your children were still enslaved because you technically owned them, right? But those people were counted as still being enslaved. So it’s probably even higher than 99.5% of white people owned slaves.
Michael Harriot [00:07:40] But, let’s say it’s 99.5%, to teach both sides is to teach a lie. Right? You can teach that a dog says meow and cows bark because somewhere on the globe, there probably is a cow that can bark. There probably is a dog that sounds like a cat. So if you’re teaching both sides, you got to say, well, not all dogs bark, but if you are educating someone, the sound that most people will hear coming from a dog’s mouth is not a meow. So, teaching both sides is miseducating people. And what these laws do is advocate for the miseducation of white people. White people want their children to be miseducated. Well, why? Well, you think about this. Say you are a white kid going to school or riding across town, and you pass through the Black section of town. It is easier to tell that child that, well, these people don’t work hard, these people don’t value education, these people are more violent, and that’s why they live in a place like this. It’s easier to tell them that than it is to say, Hey, your grandmother and your grandfather and all of your ancestors supported a system that corralled Black people into these areas using a system called Jim Crow or segregation, and they stood for it. Even if they didn’t actively support it, they didn’t try to change it. Then, you have to teach them about redlining. Then, you have to teach them about all the other systemic problems. Your grandfather moved to the suburbs because he got a government handout. It was called the New Deal.
Michael Harriot [00:09:30] It’s easier to teach them that Black people cause their own problems than to teach them that most of the people in the society that they live in, in the country that they call the freest country in the world, supported a system that gave them a systemic advantage at the expense of Black people’s humanity, at the expense of their freedom, at the expense of being equal. Well, that flies into everything they know. How could they say the Pledge of Allegiance? How could they sing the national anthem if they know that about their country? It presents a moral and philosophical dilemma that it’s hard for a child to understand. So they erase the white history. They erase what white people did. But it’s not that they’re trying to obscure what Black people accomplished. It’s not that they tried to obscure the Black past. They tried to whitewash what white people did. They’re trying to make sense out of a system of brutality, of inequality, of racial terrorism that cannot be married with living in the greatest, freest country in the world. And the only thing that they can do is lie. And the only thing that we can do is fight against the lies. Of course, we also can subscribe to this podcast. We can tell our friends about it. We can download that Grio app, and we can always learn a new Black saying. Like, “A lie don’t care who tell it, and neither do white people.” We’ll see you next time on theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five-star review, download theGrio, subscribe to the show, and to share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions, and compliments to the firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Michael Harriot is an economist, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His New York Times bestseller Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America is available everywhere books are sold.
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