Dear History, Why Are We So Hateful & Destructive?
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When I was growing up, I spent my life “being a slave”, according to my history teachers. For some reason, being the only Black student in the class, having “survived White suppression”, I apparently had some esoteric knowledge about American history that they didn’t. When I became a teacher, I finally understood why my teachers would teach us about social dynamics, then ask the class to write about what we felt we would be doing as kids during that time.
- “I would be playing ball with my friends.”
- “I would probably be learning how to make dresses.”
- “Mulattos worked in the house; so, I would be cleaning behind the White kids who made the house dirty on purpose.”
They never knew how to respond to this. Yeah. Please don’t do that to kids, teachers. Unless trying to purposely make my students feel uncomfortable, I stayed away from “experiencing” history in that way. Because of it, I hated American history and literature because I was constantly classified as a slave–as if that’s all I could be.
In college, I realized the value of history.
Not only because it helps us to critically think and problem solve, but because it’s essential to understand characterization in literature. When I started teaching, I start with history before we started reading any text. I wanted students to understand how the time frame affects how the characters behave. Most of us dislike texts because it offends us, or seems dumb for them to do what they do. But, we have to realize that certain cultures only tolerated certain things; it makes perfect sense to the characters to do what they did, even if it doesn’t to us.
Anyway, I had to come to terms with my love-hate relationship with history–especially war-ridden American history. I notice that we tend to focus on the negativities of history. I can’t deny: most things that make history are negative things. But, there are (semi-)positive things, as well. They say that we’re bound to repeat history. But, if we only know negative things, that’s what we’ll emulate. I wonder if this would apply to positive things, too.
In this post, I want to go over the top things we emphasize in history. Maybe, it can help us think about how much we traumatize ourselves with such negativity.
1. War & Rebellion
- No Taxation without Representation! — American Revolution (1750’s and 1760s)
- Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! — French Revolution (1789-1815)
- This is Sparta! — Battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.)
- God Wills It! — First Crusades (1095)
- Keep Calm and Carry On — World War II (1939)
We remember these kinds of rebellious slogans (whether they are accurate or not) more than we do the presidents of America and 9 planet names (I don’t care what scientists say, Pluto is a planet!). Why is that? Because they inspire us? Maybe they represent our core beliefs? Potentially because Warner Bros. Pictures showed us the hottie, mostly-naked Gerard Butler screaming it?
Well, I will never forget the Sparta one after seeing his glistening abs… BUT! Aside from that–
We remember these slogans because they are pounded into our heads when we study the many wars and few of the many rebellions of history.
For some reason, the first and last thing we learn about history is war. The raiding, invading, slaughtering, plotting, strategizing, betraying, abandoning, bleeding, dying reality of the world’s wars. If someone asks you about a well-known country, you’ll probably mention a war or something political first. Growing up, as far as most students are concerned, America is the epitome of the warrior who protects the world’s freedom. The warrior who rebels against oppression from others who stop us from oppressing those we feel justified in oppressing ourselves…wait, what??
Maybe that’s why? Maybe we mostly learn about war and rebellion because our national identity is built on it? Makes sense to me.
According to the VA, America has been involved in 13 “major” wars, comprising 93% of our national livelihood since 1776, says a WashingtonsBlog.com post. Wow. 93% of our identity is being killed and killing others. While some see that as something to be proud of, at some point, doesn’t it get tiring?
Is America acknowledged (and maybe even appreciated) for anything other than war and politics? Was France only their aristocratic drama? Is Britain only their monarchy? Was Germany only Nazis? Can the Arab world possibly not be terrorists? Korea only a threat? Australia only wild men and swampland? Norway only Vikings? Rome and Greece only mischievous gods? Mexico only illegal immigrants? Spain only Conquistadors? Native Americans only scalping warriors?
Everyone has done so much wrong–we can never deny it. But, we’ve also done so much right! And, that goes for every country!
History suggests that humans basically go to war–that’s it. However, there are so many non-war-related things happening in the meantime. Those things aren’t learned–unless you’re in a specialized class that needs to know it. That’s not fair. Why can’t we be proud of our countries for doing nonviolent good? There are many people in the world who did just that. While the acts may not expand our countries, I’m sure it made a change in many of its citizens’ lives.
While our history books soak ALL our flags in blood, I would like to believe that the stitchings are threaded with our good.
2. Persecution & Oppression
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All throughout history, in almost every country, there is someone who was persecuted (cruel and unfair treatment for being different) or oppressed (persecuted for a prolonged time frame) in every country. Why? Because that’s what humans do. There are a plethora of reasons why people feel justified in persecuting others–even to this day. And, we plaster it all over history curriculum to remind everyone that only rich, straight, white males will make it past the security checkpoint.
Hey, it’s good to teach about persecution and oppression so we can know what others have done to one another, and why it’s wrong to do it. Right?
Exactly. For anyone to learn what to do, (s)he has to learn what not to do, as well.
It’s very necessary to learn about persecution and oppression. And, why it happened (according to our records) so we can identify those behaviors. However, we aren’t necessarily teaching why it may be wrong. I know, doing so is crossing a boundary where parents feel we are teaching morals. But, teaching that it’s unjust persecution and oppression is already dancing on the edge.
Does anyone like dark-skinned people? According to history: no. Does anyone like Jewish people? No, but we feel bad for them. Does anyone like Russian people? No. Does anyone like non-Catholics? No. Does anyone like the poor? No. Well, for that many to dislike so many others, there must be a good reason why, right?
When kids learn about persecution in class, they tend to finish the course with a paranoia that everyone hates them–no matter how old the matter and events. This, in turn, skews cultural identity and values; perpetuates cultural misunderstanding; promotes paranoia and hate; and fuels eventual intolerance and destruction.
There are very few instances when different demographics of people actually like each other in history. But, maybe if we capitalize on those moments, maybe if we teach people that others are likeable, we won’t spend our time obsessing about why we should.
Or, maybe it won’t. I don’t see the harm in trying.
That moment in history American history when you learn that a small portion of the Disney Pocahontas movie is actually true. Or, when you realize that the Indians that you sat with during the Early America play in primary school were later killed by you and your fellow pilgrim and colonist community. Ooo…right in the childhood.
Yeah, so, everything you learned in your childhood is a lie. No biggie. Whatever you learned, just keep in mind that it was driven by the desire to have what someone else had and/or to have more than what you had at the time.
*Pinching nose bridge* Okay, so let me get this straight:
- Mother Teresa hadn’t “experienced her “call within a call” to devote herself to caring for the sick and poor”? She was just making a profit?
- Those involved in the Underground Railroad were not helping slaves? They were just making a profit?
- The Jesuits didn’t “offer themselves to the pope for apostolic work” because they believed conversions are good for others? They were just making a profit?
- Mulan didn’t fight in the military to protect her father and save her country? She was just making a profit
- The Catholic parishes didn’t have holy days every other day so they could have feasts to feed everyone? They were just making profit?
- Saint Nicholas didn’t give gifts to the poor, sick, and needy because he had a good heart? He was just making a profit?
While some of those (arguably) are actually the case about the profit, others are exactly what we learned. Research and find which is which on your own. How can we tell the difference?
I just don’t understand why Alexander the Great just needed more land. The Egyptians had to have perfect structures. American colonists just had to check out that New World gold. Henry VIII had to have a girl for every night of the week. The French aristocrats wouldn’t dare have the money they stole from the poor be stolen from them by the monarchy!
No, no, no…you don’t understand. These things are essential to life for them. How else would they have made it in our history books if they didn’t stand out by having more than other people?
Alright, I get it. Being different does increase influence.
But, let me ask you this: did anyone do anything for intrinsic motivation? Did anyone do things because they believed in morals they felt were good (and actually were)? Did anyone do anything because they actually were helping someone else?
If you let history tell it, humans are only greedy. We have no pure intentions. And, as one of the seven sins, every human deserves hell. (Yeah, I know, that’s asking for an argument, but, please don’t.)
Well, I feel different. Humans are pretty bad–as history has shown. Nevertheless, I feel like there is just enough good in humanity that makes it beautiful to be a human (I hope, at least)!
4. Racism & Sexism
So, we had this thing as kids where we wished we were born in another era. But, when we got older, we realized how bad that would be. I’m a working, light-skinned, Black and Native American woman, from a lower-class, single mother home, and now married to a white man. I’m the bottom of the food chain! If I was from any other era than my own (which is still a struggle despite our social progress), I would have been eaten alive.
The two top persecuted demographics are females (of any age or background) and any ethnic race (non-Anglo-Saxon). Yeah, you heard about criminals and homosexuals, and non-Christians and all that jazz. But, in the face of craziness, it was worse to be a woman or minority. Don’t even try to survive being both at the same time. Just curl into the fetal position and wait for your fate.
I remember there always being tension in class.
How the women were weak and knew their place, and even when they tried to be strong, they still can’t do what a man does, blah, blah, blah. I’m no feminist. To me, everyone has a role for which (s)he is better equipped. I handle the money, my husband does the cooking; however, my husband points the gun and I carry the kids. There are expectations, double standards, and suppression on both sides now that women gain more rights. But, after history class, girls and minorities are (arguably)“more entitled” to leniency because of our oppressed past. And, In not trying to argue about it! Just ponder it!
Why do we only focus on such racism and sexism? Why do we focus on non-consensual marriage, and ignore the fact that men felt their lives were incomplete and unable to move on without the woman? We focus on how the woman wasn’t allowed to work but ignore how many women nowadays hate working. Similarly, we blame the white man for the slave trade, but forget that many of the slaves were sold by other African tribes as prisoners of war. Not to mention, we emphasize the war between Christian and Muslim extremists but disregard the wars within Christianity that created the denominational sects.
Don’t misunderstand me: no matter where it starts or what perpetuates it, oppression and discrimination are NEVER justified.
Not to mention, there are plenty of powerful women and minorities. No matter how they are depicted in media, the great Egyptians are Black (but we’re both light and dark). In many Native American tribes, it is a matriarchy because the woman gives life.
Well, evolutionarily speaking, the woman is built weaker and the man more strong in a physical manner. Maybe that’s why women are treated like we’re weak. Yeah, there are plenty of women who aren’t. But, part of that is from a change in our biology from being bombarded by hormones, not so much natural reasons. In all reality, if I hear a noise outside or even see a spider, I’m screaming for my husband. But, I’ll take you down if you touch my little ones.
I can’t deny that many Anglo-Saxon nations were living in full houses, establishing social systems and institutions that resemble our current ones. Meanwhile, many minority nations were still half-naked in huts, making sacrifices, and using rudimentary skills and resources to survive. It worked both ways, and each lifestyle had its better benefits. But, ethnic brethren, if you had an opportunity to go back and live like your ancestors, would you do it and honor that life before the”white man’s way” came? I’m not gonna lie, I prefer my indoor plumbing and Starbucks.
Women and minorities ARE held down. But, I am proud that my ancestry and genders are also proven beyond worthy of praise in some cultures. Those are the moments that establish our pride.
Those are the moments that establish our pride.
We tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies if we only learn limited things about ourselves. However, if we learn positive things, we’ll emulate those things.
Personally, when I learned about the slaves, I was proud of how loyal, enduring, tolerant, loving, and devout the Black women were. The Black women now harp on how abused “we” were, and I like to remind them that we still lived through it–proving how amazing we are.
I’m glad we’re starting to acknowledge those prideful moments for women and minorities in history now. We still have a long way to go to make it mainstream knowledge, but, we are making progress.
So, let’s take a second and think back. Why are these four areas what we study most? And, what do you think we should do to add more positive things? Problem solve with me below.
Let’s not argue about what is right and wrong, but identify a problem and solution in our history that may change the course of our future nations.
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