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minority: this is the problem

i'm on a million listservs, and i just got this email containing a link to a very interesting article on yahoo, entitled: "Minorities seek history class changes." the article goes on to detail common misconceptions people hold because, as well all know, history is written by the victors. it says:

"American students often get the impression from history classes that the British got here first, settling Jamestown, Va., in 1607. They hear about how white Northerners freed the black slaves, how Asians came in the mid-1800s to build Western railroads. The lessons have left out a lot.

"Forty-two years before Jamestown, Spaniards and American Indians lived in St. Augustine, Fla. At least several thousand Latinos and nearly 200,000 black soldiers fought in the Civil War. And Asian-Americans had been living in California and Louisiana since the 1700s."

you can find the rest of the article here:


ok, so they've got me hooked with the first two paragraphs. and while it's not telling me anything new, its kinda nice to see old facts in the news if they are facts that people often deny, or at least skirt. but reading further, i came to this paragraph which absolutely made my head spin:

"Some tales have gone untold because, in the less-diverse America of the past, minorities didn't make the decisions on textbooks and other means of passing along history. And in many cases, minorities who had faced blatant discrimination wanted to discard evidence of past horrors."

the LESS-DIVERSE AMERICA OF THE PAST? i was under the impression that this article was about the little-acknowledged fact that america has always been a diverse place, and now needs to start acting like it. but apparently, i misunderstood. apparently, america has always had its token minorities, and now that today's token minorities are making noise and having rights and stuff, its time to make a bit of a bow to them, and throw them in the history books.

if the lesson of history is supposed to be that people of all sorts were here from the founding of america, then we can't say that some tales have gone untold because america was less diverse. the paragraph has it almost right: these minorities didn't have any say in what information was deemed true and valuable history, and what was not. i don't know why that less-diverse america of the past bit was tacked onto that paragraph, because those few words, in my view, undermine the work of the entire article.

what a small, harmless, blamefree phrase -- a phrase, that is, that refuses to admit of blame. as though a diverse america only recently happened, as though diversity is a new and surprising, phenomenon, as though we kind of like it, but we think the way it was back in the day weren't so bad either. as though we could take this new way or leave by the roadside. and minorities, minorities, minorities...it really kinda makes me sad that we use this word, that we are not more conscious of our word choices. minority--as though a living, breathing individual who works and contributes to society is, in fact, only a small part of it. funny how we apologize to pluto and several other smaller heavenly bodies and rewrite the definition of the word planet to offer them inclusion, and they can't even feel. but we don't fully rewrite the definition of citizen, because we don't care how people feel when they learn that their history doesn't matter. not that much. ok, maybe a little. but just a little.

we don't think before we speak, and that's a shame, because words are so powerful. obviously, they are powerful--powerful enough that slaves were forbidden to read, powerful enough that people who could not perfectly recite the lord's prayer could be hanged as witches in colonial america, poweful enough that joseph mccarthy could get books banned, powerful enough that the federal government has recently upped the fine for using "inappropriate language" on primetime television. minority is not just a figure of speech. cuz speech is voice is life. and life is what you make it.

and here's the rub: the silencing of the histories of millions of people is no small, harmless, historical anomaly that's really no one's fault. part of the work of telling the whole story has to be recognizing, openly admitting, the fact that that silencing was a choice on the part of society.

but folks, here's the good part, we can now choose to not remain silent. and we can choose to listen, really listen, when other folks choose to openly use their voice.

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About me

  • I'm call me aja
  • From nyc
  • 20something, black, woman, reader, writer, about to be a student again. i think i'd like to be heard (or read). child/grandchild of immigrant folk. yearning to travel. desirous of wisdom. a little bit ordinary, but working at being less so.
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