I‘ve written plenty about how the conservative war on critical race theory proves the merit of the academic study. And, next to the blatant attempts by Republican legislators to redistrict their states’ congressional maps to dilute Black voting power, there’s possibly no clearer example of this than the passing of laws that prohibit teaching any lessons that might cause students racial anguish or discomfort—because those laws are demonstrably made for the benefit of white students, and no one else.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis set the tone for this through his anti-woke, pro-white fragility protection bill that purports to stop teachers from making all students feel racial discomfort, not just white students, but then he turned right around and approved lessons that teach enslaved people benefited from slavery and accepted learning materials from a proud racist who teaches that Frederick Douglass would have agreed with America’s choice to prioritize white supremacy over ending slavery—Black student discomfort be damned.
We never hear about these state officials ditching right-wing-friendly lesson plans like these once Black students and parents start complaining because those policies aren’t for us. But all that has to happen for pro-Black literature or lesson plans to get the axe in these school districts is one or two white people have to complain. That’s it.
In July, we reported that scholar, activist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates quietly attended a Lexington-Richland Five School Board meeting prompted by the South Carolina district’s decision to end a Chapin High School AP Language teacher’s lesson on Coates’ 2015 nonfiction bestseller, Between the World and Me, a book that took the form of a three-part letter from Coates to his teenage son chronicling his lived experiences as a Black man in America. A few students reportedly complained that the lesson made them “uncomfortable” and “ashamed to be Caucasian,” and that was all that mattered. Now, it has been reported that the teacher at the center of the controversy has been ordered to stop giving lessons on the book after two students and two parents complained.
According to the Washington Post, six months ago, two students reported Chapin High School English teacher Mary Wood to the school board for giving her all-white class a lesson on Coates’ book.
From the Post:
The students wrote in emails that the book — and accompanying videos that Wood, 47, played about systemic racism — made them ashamed to be White, violating a South Carolina proviso that forbids teachers from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.
Reading Coates’s book felt like “reading hate propaganda towards white people,” one student wrote.
At least two parents complained, too. Within days, school administrators ordered Wood to stop teaching the lesson. They placed a formal letter of reprimand in her file. It instructed her to keep teaching “without discussing this issue with your students.”
Here’s a simple truth: Black people really can’t tell our stories without white people getting deep in their fragile feelings. This has always been the case.
There’s no Black historical story that can be taught in its entirety while omitting any references to white supremacy. It’s impossible. All of the achievements of Black figures and heroes throughout American history happened in the face of systemic racism. White people are the antagonists in our stories—our true stories—and that doesn’t sit right with them. So, our stories need to be invalidated and hidden from the classroom unless they are watered down until white people are satisfied. That’s what is going on here.
And, again, in South Carolina, all it took was a small handful of Caucasian complainers.
Wood, who is white, was only able to teach lessons on Between the World and Me for two days before white fragility put an end to it. Former students of hers recently told the Post that most students found her lessons engaging and students were allowed to debate and share dissenting opinions, and that Wood never took sides. But other students were salty and disengaged, so the students who appreciated the lessons simply didn’t matter.
“I understand in AP Lang we are learning to develop an argument and have evidence to support it, yet this topic is too heavy to discuss,” one opposing student wrote. “I actually felt ashamed to be Caucasian.”
“I feel, to an extent, betrayed by Mrs. Woods,” the second student wrote. “I feel like she has built up this idea of expanding our mind through the introduction of controversial topics all year just to try to subtly indoctrinate our class.”
It’s interesting how the complaining students knew just the right language they needed to use in order to sound just like the Republican politicians who are doing their damnedest to make non-whitewashed Black studies illegal. And, again, all it took was these two white students.
A teacher in South Carolina was reported by her students for teaching Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me.”
The students explained that the book made them ashamed to be White, violating a clause forbidding teachers from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish,… pic.twitter.com/fjYkqnBSS6
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) September 19, 2023
Wood was ordered to immediately stop teaching Coates’ work and was given a formal letter of reprimand. for many parents, that wasn’t enough. They wanted her fired. Wood is still employed but now, according to the Post, she is reluctant to give any lessons that might be deemed controversial. And there it is.
This is exactly how white supremacy works. This is what CRT examines. This is the America that makes Black people feel racial anguish and discomfort.
But that doesn’t matter.
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