–From the National Archives
(Think about a zoo. Okapi are the coolest creatures and giraffes often like to stick their necks out like I do. What about Achara, the cutest baby elephant roaming in Oklahoma right now? Read DocHoc’s ambiguous take on the Oklahoma City Zoo in tomorrow’s irreverent and biting The Lost Ogle.)
Western Europeans colonized what is now known as the United States, murdered many of the indigenous people already living here, removed them from their land under the term “settlement” and then to this day has discriminated against them because of basic hatred and bigotry.
Through the 19th century, Africans, such as the Igbo in Nigeria, were kidnapped and tortured, ripped from their families, placed on ships and brought primarily to the southern United States to work as slaves on cotton plantations so white “settlers” could increase their wealth. It is well documented some of the slaves were lynched for trying to run away or whipped ruthlessly for any supposed transgression against the cruelest institution ever devised and perpetuated by humankind.
All of this was done primarily under the then-moral strictures of Christianity.
After the native people were removed from their lands and slavery ended in the 19th century, the United States went through an extended period of 100 years or so when non-white people were systematically denied basic rights and economic opportunities.
Some people would argue, and I’m one of them, that although the Civil Rights era in the 1950s and 1960s brought much legal protection to non-white, straight people, systemic institutional bigotry continues full force in the United States. Black and Hispanic people are profiled by police and, in some notorious cases, still legally killed or tortured. Legalized discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community-again defended by Christian values-continues in full force here in the United States despite recent advances and the increasing number of states that allow same-sex marriage.
As much as we want to believe the United States’ first president George Washington was almost godly in all his majesty or its third president Thomas Jefferson was a first-rate intellectual genius, each one of these great American mythical figures owned slaves. As much as we want to believe the country’s so-called “Greatest Generation,” who defeated the monster Hitler in World War II is sacrosanct, they did so for an immoral western Europe, for institutions such as the British Empire, which had for centuries exploited and committed vast atrocities throughout the world. What about Belgium’s activities in Africa’s Congo basin, alone, from the late 19th century through the 1960s, which were horrific? Some scholars argue millions of native people were killed and enslaved in the ivory and rubber trade.
We can assume it’s these facts and ideas that concern some Oklahoma lawmakers , predominately Republican, who want to do away with Advanced Placement history classes in our schools because they supposedly do not stress American exceptionalism enough. The Oklahoma House Education Committee voted 11 to 4 to pass the bill this week. The bill will surely eventually die or get rewritten in the legislative process, but its philosophical implications are enormous on an existential level. It’s the eradication of truth about the eradication of people.
The United States, now the world’s largest military power, has done some good in the world, but it has its own sordid and, yes, evil history, and its overall international policies have absolutely never ever been completely based on altruistic grounds.
Studying history is not about stressing greatness in one’s own country, although there’s nothing wrong with learning about real heroes or kind deeds committed by dedicated, moral people. It’s about intellectual discovery and curiosity. It’s about finding the truth in a sea of competing arguments. It’s about trying to interpret facts that are sometimes murky. It’s about, and some academic historians might disagree with me, advancing our culture and shining the light of enlightenment on the dark shadows of ignorance and hatred.
The bill, introduced by Republican Dan Fisher of El Reno, will dumb down our students to say the least, but in this particular legislative session that seems to be the least of anyone’s worries. The state faces a growing budget shortfall of more than $600 million, a major teacher shortage and a myriad of health issues and poor medical outcomes. More tax cuts for the rich?