I often wake up with a song playing in my head. Usually, it weaves itself through my thoughts until I sing it out loud or play it on the piano. A couple of days ago, it was a song I learned in elementary school, Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny. As the lyrics unfolded from my memories, I had an epiphany: this is how racism is taught.
As an elementary school student, I didn’t have the critical thinking skills to ask why a slave would want to return to the place where he “worked so hard for ole Massa.” I didn’t question him returning to where he was born into slavery.
And before anyone brings up cancel culture, three things: 1] the facts of slavery should be taught in history classes, 2] slavery should never be sugar coated, and 3] songs like this, and like those of Stephen Foster, should be taught as what they are, propaganda.
It is only a little ironic that I woke up with this song and these thoughts on a day that Ron Johnson was trending on Twitter for saying that he wasn’t afraid of the white nationalists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6t, that bludgeoned a policeman to death, but he would have been afraid if they were Black Lives Matter protestors. He is perpetuating another myth: that black people are more dangerous than white people.
This myth helps us understand why Dylan Roof, armed, was taken alive, but 12-year-old Tamir Rice, with a toy gun, was shot before any questions were asked.
The benevolent master of “Carry Me Back … ” was one of the myths that white people used to justify slavery. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work for a man who owned you, who could sell your family away from you, who gave you a shack in which to sleep in exchange for letting you live and work yourself to death?
Until and unless we examine the ways that racism is taught and perpetuated, we will never get past American racism. We must examine our school curricula, our art, our culture, and our hateful politics.
America was built on the backs of men and women who were owned and used. It is being maintained in the same way, with unions being hobbled and employers who don’t pay a living wage. Racism and classism are alive and well.
It is way past time for us to confront the system.