Several years back, Scholastic Publishing Company published a children’s book titled as you see above. The book told a story about how George Washington’s slaves baked a cake for him to celebrate his birthday. As you might imagine or remember, controversy erupted.
Although the author defended the story as well-researched and one that captured the complex relationships between the enslaved and the enslavers, it only took 12 days for Scholastic to pull the book from its catalog.
It was described as an “incomplete, even dishonest view of slavery” and “offensively sanitized version” of the history of slavery to be told to children.
It fell into the Happy Slave trope, one that walks hand-in-hand with the Lost Cause theology. Black people were better off as slaves, they were fed, clothed, and housed, they were grateful and loved their enslavers, they were valuable property and would never, ever be mistreated because who would damage their property …
Looking for the vomit emoji to insert into the text.
Real history says otherwise. The Federal Writers Project collected the narratives of the formerly enslaved to preserve them for future generations. There are the speeches of Frederick Douglas and others. There are the stories passed through the generations of Black people.
Black people were not happy slaves. Whitewashing their history helps no one for the history of Black people, the enslaved, is the history of white people, the enslavers. We must admit that. The institution of slavery in America is the history of white people, too.
But there are those who would deny that, which brings us to the controversy du jour in education–the chef’s special, you might say: Critical Race Theory (CRT).
CRT is not taught, nor has it ever been taught, in K-12 grades of any public school. It is a way of understanding history that was developed in the 1970s for graduate-level (master and doctorate university students) debate. This is a fact that is irrelevant to the protestors who storm school board meetings to demand an end to CRT in public schools, irrelevant to the politicians (hello, Glenn Youngkin) who don’t care because it’s a useful means of stirring up the kind of hatred that will storm the polls and deliver votes, irrelevant because the anti-CRT controversy has nothing to do with the actual theory itself.
CRT these days has become a catch-all label for any teaching about race that deviates from the traditional history text that deals with the slavery issue as one that had white people arguing in the 19th century lead-up to the Civil War (North good, South bad), a mention of the 1820s Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia (which frightened white people), and a wrap-up that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved Black people (spoiler alert: it did not).
Beyond that, nothing else was taught. Even 50 years ago, there was too much to pack into one course and students moved on to Manifest Destiny, which ignored the post-Civil War wars against indigenous peoples to settle … er … move across … er … conquer … er … take over all territory between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean south of the 49th parallel.
Manifest Destiny, the only history that the far-right, the nice-white, and the rabble-rousing elite want taught, all for reasons that promote privilege and wealth. God gave us this continent and it is our destiny to rule, which enables and authorizes any evil needed to do so, which we will not speak of. We forbid others to do so.
It is useless to ask the protestors what CRT is. They don’t know and they don’t care. The question is irrelevant. They want Manifest Destiny taught and anything that would challenge that viewpoint must be suppressed.
The enslaved were happy. They weren’t oppressed; they were being civilized. They were fortunate to encounter the white race and have this chance at being bettered. That’s the narrative and the far-right, nice-white crowd is sticking to it.
And … if you don’t like it, they will smash Mr. Washington’s cake in your face.