Commentary: We still must teach inconvenient truths about race

Inside the Texas House Chamber before the start of session, 2019. (File Photo / Eric Black)

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I grew up in east Dallas and attended S.S. Conner Elementary and W.H. Gaston Middle School. But it wasn’t until I attended Skyline High School that I heard much about Blacks in history.

Besides slavery, I was equipped only with knowledge about the civil rights movement and popular civil rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks.

It would be many years before I learned of the Tulsa race riot. It would be even later I knew of Juneteenth. And it was only recently I opened my own eyes to the ever-present realities of systemic racism in America.

Texas Legislature and critical race theory

Just days before the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, the 87th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3979, banning critical race theory from being taught in public school classrooms. Critical race theory includes the belief America is inherently designed to promote and support systemic racism and social injustice throughout every institution.

False descriptions of critical race theory have ranged from teaching whites are inherently racist to a form of Marxism seeking to destroy the ideals of American exceptionalism. But what critical race theory does is hold a mirror up to a nation that fails to embody the standards it swears to uphold.

Critical race theory was never about making people feel bad. When it does, that emotional reaction should make a person see the humanity in someone else.

History lessons about race

America’s history lessons all but ignore the contributions of people of color. As a result, the country continues to suffer from a case of narcissistically led amnesia.

When teachers are forced to ignore the past, avoid current events, and keep to a lesson plan that seeks to avoid challenging the thoughts and ideas of our day, we fail our students, and we create an ignorant populace.

What those in power are afraid of is you knowing enough about your history to want to change the status quo.

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Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said, “America is not a racist country.” But data, as it relates to health, academics and police engagement, say otherwise.

Many years ago, I thought like Sen. Scott. Many other Americans think the same way. I thought those complaining about racism and prejudice merely were not working hard enough. I felt those who had a problem with our white counterparts were not putting in the effort.

It wasn’t until years later I met a mentor and friend, Gerald, who opened my eyes to the realities of poverty, prejudice and pain in the Black community.

Gerald was the first teacher in my life ever to help me understand systemic racism still was prevalent, even in the office where he and I worked together. But it was so covert that bringing it up made you seem insane.

Our conversations expanded from civil rights to Jim Crow, to redlining, segregation and more. It wasn’t long until I realized America still had a race problem, and it was more severe than I thought.

Facing the truth

Instead of contributing to the fragility of the American psyche by pretending it’s not a problem and placing the onus of America’s racial and social grievances on the laps of people of color, I chose to speak truth to power, because good teachers around me spoke up and told me the whole truth, not a watered-down version of it that fit the narrative of alternative facts.

I ignored it for most of my life because of the bullying from my Black peers and self-hatred that arose from their remarks like, “Why do you act white?”

In retrospect, I realized the bullying resulted from their lacking a solid foundation in their own identity. What HB 3979 does is make it so those starving for identity are gaslit with the question, “Why are you hungry?”

Lost in the sea of counterintuitive cultural rhetoric used to gear up a conservative base are real people who suffer from the callous and shameful behavior of those in power.

Taking up the truth

When history is not told in its full context because parts of it make us uncomfortable, one of two things should happen to a sane person. You choose to be a part of the solution, knowing your attempts to grow will come with pain and progress, or you decide to be a part of the problem by staying silent and complicit.

As a Christian, I find sad irony in the Texas Legislature seeking to keep people from being uncomfortable with the sinful realities in our society.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I’m reminded daily of my sins being forgiven and the grace imparted to me. But what kind of a believer would I be if I didn’t want Jesus to challenge me on my daily living? And what if I declared I “never sinned?” I would make God into a liar, and my good news would be fake.

Teachers who are free to share thoughts and ideas challenging, uncomfortable and conducive to classroom discussion keep people educated, not bound.

What the majority of the Texas Legislature did as it relates to critical race theory is snub teachers in their effort to prevent the history of systemic racism from repeating itself.

It will be up to communities, leaders and other gatekeepers of truth and facts in private and public venues to tell the history our children will not receive in the halls of public schools.

Kendall Lyons is on the staff of a Christian college in Texas. The views expressed are those of the author and not intended to represent any institution.

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