Confront true history

After progress in 2020 to bring racism to the heart of our national conversation, we are now seeing major pushback in the opposite direction. Groups worrying about “critical race theory” are discouraging the teaching of our actual American history in favor of a rosy and glorified Euro-centric version that starts in 1776 and ignores both the reality of slavery and Native American genocide, as well as their ongoing effects in the present day. 

To clarify, “Critical race theory is the highly researched academic framework that teaches racism as being ingrained in modern law and institutions rather than something that exists only as a belief humans hold,” journalist Kendi King writes. “When you make racism something dependent only on a person, you discount the larger ways in which it works in our schooling, prison, mental health and just about every other publicly accessible system in the United States.”

What do we gain by forgetting our history or by gaslighting our neighbors into believing their past traumas should be irrelevant to the present? These actions make white people feel comfortable, while fostering the conditions that allow racism to fester and flourish. Recent use of a hate symbol during a school board meeting to imply that our school district officials are the fascists while the people forced to wear masks are the victims is a total misrepresentation of history. It also minimizes the extreme trauma caused by Nazis and the ongoing harm active white supremacist groups are still perpetuating throughout our country.   

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) members of our community have long been speaking up to share their experiences dealing with micro-aggressions, racist “jokes,” offensive imagery like “The Chief” statue and open use of racial slurs in the workplace. These experiences make them feel unwelcome and unsafe in Durango and the surrounding communities, and have led many to move away  altogether. When white-presenting members of the community – those who are perceived as white regardless of their racial and ethnic heritage – both ignore these lived experiences and organize around their own feelings of persecution, this reopens wounds and retraumatizes our neighbors who already feel unwelcome.

By not learning our actual history, it’s easy to perceive inconveniences to individualism as oppression, and a lack of complete power as righteous victimhood. This is exactly why we need to teach and confront our true history so we are not doomed to repeat the past. 

The idea that racism is embedded in our institutions and isn’t just an interpersonal problem, challenges the ideas of individualism, and this is where the rhetoric runs up against our other hot-button issue of late, COVID-19.

Certain individuals within our community have become very vocal in the name of “loving our children” while publicly slandering others and simultaneously employing rhetoric steeped in hatred. They push a narrative that masking – during a global pandemic that has caused the deaths of some 5 million people – is somehow “cruel” and “unsafe.” They assume that COVID restrictions are a ploy to “seize control” and not to provide for the actual safety of our children and community members during an extremely challenging time. The reality is that the 9-R School District is one of the only surrounding districts that has been able to remain consistently open this academic year without large numbers of quarantines.  

We must recognize that the welcoming of slander, racist symbols and false statistics in our community is casting a shadow over all of us, including our children. Our children are stronger and more resilient than they’re given credit for. They can endure the inconvenience of wearing a mask in order to keep their community safe. And if given the chance to truly learn about America’s complex history, they can use this knowledge to become a generation that will move us toward a more just future.

– Melissa May, Kristen Schoradt, Jodi Underwood, and Sarah Sánchez Armstrong,

La Plata Showing Up for Racial Justice in Durango