If growing up in a predominantly white area has taught me anything, it’s that a lot of white people aren’t fully aware (whether intentionally or not) about the severity and frequency of contemporary racism. This isn’t news, it’s to be expected. Racism is a targeted behaviour and they’re not usually the target, that’s not their fault.
However, white people believing that racist things aren’t happening just because they aren’t happening to them (or not wanting to accept they occur because it upsets their world view) is their fault. That’s wilful ignorance, and from my experience this mentality is the due to the side of the race issue they relate to. Of course not every white person is racist, but most white people (excluding those with minority family) probably relate more directly to the fear of being accused of racism than they do to the feeling of actually having racist acts committed against them. In these cases, the reflex of downplaying and minimising racist occurrence evolves from an instinct towards self-preservation. It becomes a display of mental gymnastics, all sorts of “That could have meant anything!” and “I think you’re blowing this out of proportion” and – my personal fave – “It’s 2016. That doesn’t still happen!”
When this mentality is brought to bear teaching the very overtly racist history of interactions between indigenous people and colonisers it doesn’t just disappear, it subverts. Whether people want to admit it or not, slavery is a big deal. No, no black person has gone through it first hand, but slavery is one of the main reasons black people go through what we do go through in terms of race (we’ll talk a bit about that later.) A lot of teachers adopt the belief that teaching slavery is just teaching history. They’re wrong. It’s not just a history lesson, it’s a life lesson, and anyone who finds the concept or reality of racism uncomfortable or has an instinct towards undermining it isn’t fit to introduce its progenitor to children who’ll never be able to divorce themselves from these things.
For black children, Slavery isn’t just a history lesson, it’s a life lesson.
Teaching slavery is teaching the foundations of contemporary racism. When discussing the first draft of this article, I was told that the connection between slavery and racism was “going too far” and that the reader “couldn’t see the connection”. I explained that this was like not seeing the connection between a horse’s face and it’s tail. Slavery is not an isolated thing, it didn’t occur in a vacuum. The racist attitudes that black people experience today were established back then (and I say “back then” like Jim Crow segregation laws weren’t abolished in 1965.) The stereotypes and the base belief that black people were lesser was nationalised, institutionalised and internalised through many things, but slavery was it’s main vehicle. Slavery taught the world racism.
Words by Ashley Alleyne
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