Racism Then and Now

Racial minorities in the U.S. have very rich and complicated histories, and teaching it in public school has proven to be an issue. When slavery, the Trail of Tears, or the civil rights movement are brought up in classroom, they are never discussed within current contexts. The truth that racial minorities in the U.S. are incarcerated at alarming rates, impoverished, and grappling with decades of hereditary trauma that is apparent with the current material being taught. It's made clear that during the time of slavery, the Mexican-American War, or the Chinese Exclusion Act, people of color were treated as subhuman and reduced to the color of their skin. The way that this history is taught, it's also made clear that influential people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fixed the entirety of this problem. As we know, this is a false and unjust portrayal of history, which is what this lesson aims to combat. The history that's being talked about is isolated, and taught in a way that makes it seem distant and a thing of the past. This lesson dives into the history of racism in the U.S., and provides a structure for conversation to reflect on the narratives presented.

Our presentation begins with a discussion of racism, which we ask the students to define and explain. This introduction leads well into our timeline, a visual representation of hate and injustice against ethnic minorities. Beginning with the first enslaved Africans being brought to Virginia in 1816 and ending at present day, the timeline itself spans across three poster boards, with mere inches on the right side showing just how long ethnic minorities in the U.S. have been completely “free” from legal segregation.

In the classroom, presenters set up the timeline on the board and go through every event, explaining what happened and answering questions. The kids are always engaged; their hands are constantly raised with curiosity. Naturally they are intrigued by a timeline that provides a counter narrative and a visual representation they have never seen before.  This was our goal; we want them to understand how recent the history of racism in the U.S. actually is, and how it still impacts us today.

After the timeline activity, we split the students into smaller groups with one presenter and discuss what was learned and what emotions were brought up. We guide them through a conversation that develops awareness for oppressed identities and provides room for those who hold those identites to share if they wish. We close with the whole group by asking the question, “What can we individually do to help ensure that it is a world where everyone feels included and safe?”

If you would like to hear a more in depth description of our curriculum or have any questions, please reach out to us!