When state Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, says slavery needs to be discussed in schools, he is right, but not for the reasons he thinks.
If ever enacted, legislation sponsored by Haroldson would be the biggest “cancel culture” heist since the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected monuments to Robert E. Lee and other traitors. House Bill 177 rewrites public school curriculum, conforming with his belief that children aren’t “getting a fully well-rounded view of the founding of this nation.”
The legislation was defeated, but these things have a way of coming back and eventually passing. So, I initiated a dialogue to understand our differences. Haroldson said, “There are many more sides to slavery.” As conservatives are wont to do these days, he targeted the New York Times “Project 1619,” calling it “a very tainted view of the founding of our country.”
Follow-up emails asked him to explain what qualifications he has to judge as “tainted” the writings of Ph D level historians and sociologists, lawyers, Pulitzer prize winning journalists and award-winning authors.
For readers who don’t understand “white privilege,” you’re looking at it. A first-term legislator, having served about two months, a white man from 96% white Wheatland, whose bio says he studied biblical theology at a Pentecostal school and power plant technology at a North Dakota community college, wants to use his political position to impose an opinion that slavery is not a “black-white” issue as the basis for the education of our children, without consulting an African American.
I appreciate Mr. Haroldson’s contributions to our civil conversation. That doesn’t mean we agreed. Nor am I criticizing his qualifications. His education is not insignificant. But it doesn’t provide credentials necessary to change school curriculum based on his assertion that “slavery was not maybe what it has been painted as in this nation, completely.”
For those who don’t understand “white supremacy” or “systemic racism,” it’s what happens when bills like this become law.
Truthfully, slavery is not what it has been painted. It was worse. Worse yet, it never ended. Students can graduate from high school and college without knowing the truth. They are left with the vague notion that Lincoln freed the slaves by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Next thing they know, for some reason, African Americans like King and Malcolm X were stirring up trouble in the 1960s.
Today, many whites accept Hannity’s version of Black Lives Matter and the Trump view of “Project 1619” and say things like, to quote Haroldson, “We’ve created slavery into a place that has created a position of being stuck, in my opinion, for a people group and that was probably, in my opinion, worse than the slavery itself, because we have created a place where people cannot get free from because of their past.”
Experts are nearby. The director of the University of Wyoming’s Black Studies Center, Frederick Douglass Dixon, would be happy to educate legislators. Ask Dr. Dixon whether there are two sides to slavery.
He could tell Haroldson how, for African Americans, the past is not just 250 years of the brutally cruel practice of slavery (Google “cat dragging” or go to https://wordsfrom.us/2015/09/cat-hauling-threats-punishments-and-slavery/). Haroldson should learn how slavery never ended, but morphed into the post-emancipation Black Codes, allowing the South to maintain slave labor long after the Civil War. Slavery then evolved into lynchings and the annihilation of entire Black communities.
Does the legislator who thinks Blacks are “stuck in their past” know about the Tulsa Massacre, whose last survivors only recently died? Has he studied slavery’s transformation into Jim Crow, the mass incarceration of African Americans, the denial of life, liberty and the denial of other pursuits of happiness, such as voting, housing, education, employment and medical care to this very day?
White men want to tell an upbeat version of American history. Native Americans can’t. Latinos can’t. Blacks can’t. Women can’t. They want the truth. Mr. Haroldson and his white colleagues should learn more about the non-white-male American story before using white privilege to foist their views on my grandchildren.