Slavery must be taught like the atrocity it is

Cate Phipps, Humor Editor

Imagine if Germany spent the same amount of time teaching students about the Holocaust and the Nazi regime as the United States spent teaching slavery, Native American genocide and Japanese internment camps. Many would probably be in fear of a second Holocaust, but because of Germany’s educational efforts and awareness, most of these fears can subside. In America, however, these fears are alive and well because a lack of education has prevented our country from fully acknowledging—and therefore preventing—such disgusting acts of discrimination and hate. 

Germany rose in military might and entered the world stage under Hitler’s rule. The Holocaust and the Nazi regime are very closely tied with one of the country’s biggest turning points in terms of power. In my government class, I recently learned that slavery was an incredibly hot topic and focal point of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and about half of the people who wrote the Constitution owned enslaved people or profited from the slave trade. Slavery is very closely tied with America’s most prized document and one of our country’s most pivotal moments that shapes our nation even today. However, not once are the words “slave,” “slavery,” “enslaved people” or “slave trade” used in the Constitution, but replaced with euphemisms like “persons held to service or labor” and “such persons.” It is no surprise that this diction (or lack thereof) has provided a foundation for ignorance that is too often overlooked by educational institutions nationwide.

A friend told me that in her 8th grade government class in a different state, they discussed whether life would have been harder as a factory worker or a slave. All but my friend chose the side of the factory worker. When talking to some of my classmates who have taken advanced history courses, I found that they spent substantially more time learning about these atrocities than I did in my standard classes. Considering we are all part of the same nation, no student should be learning less about the injustices that plague our country’s history than another, nor should it be taught with bias towards the oppressor. 

With the increasing prominence of racist and hateful acts, the necessity of anti-racism has been emphasized and many people have chosen to educate themselves on the past and present realities of discrimination. This individual-level progress is crucial, but ending racism must go further: systemic problems require systemic solutions. While our own district has adopted an anti-racism resolution, committing to have “an equity lens for all future curriculum adoptions,” this is only one step that needs to be echoed around the country. Regardless of your school district, state or region, as an American (particularly one endowed with privilege) you inherit the duty to help prevent injustices by learning about them to the fullest extent. Our country as a whole, not just individual states, is responsible for the atrocities committed against people of color throughout our entire history; therefore, our country as a whole must be accountable for what we do to fix it. 

Trevor Noah wrote in his memoir Born a Crime, “Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and be rightly horrified. But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It’s harder to be horrified by a guess.” If we do not actively provide American students with the education to be rightly horrified at the history of atrocities inflicted by people of our nation upon other people of our nation, we are doing an injustice to ourselves that will ultimately stunt our growth and progress.