Tuesday, September 30, 2014

As it Were

Flickr Credit: Lee Coursey

If you’ve heard at all about the recent controversy regarding the AP U.S. History censorship issues in
Colorado, let’s just say I’ve seen some of the stuff going on.

If you haven’t heard you can Google your own articles, but the principle of the matters it that the conservative school board is considering a review of the APUSH curriculum, and most people are considering this an attack on history and an attempt by the school board to try and control the amount of liberal material students will receive.

There’s a lot of things to be said about the issues, and I’m not going to pretend I have everything figured out. Do I think APUSH should remain uncensored? Absolutely. Does that instantly make the school board evil? No.

But I still know what is going on. A board member named Julie Williams has said she wants a curriculum that “present positive aspects of the United States,” “promote patriotism” and “should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” (source)

Is that necessarily a bad sentiment? I don’t think so. Patriotism is a noble goal.

My argument is against the second part of that sentence.

You cannot promote patriotism without explicitly delving into events that involve “civil disorder, social strife, and disregard of the law.”

We don’t have to condone it.

Slavery is a black stain on the American flag. Atrocities committed during the Civil Rights Movement, presidential assassinations, Jim Crow, abortion, Hiroshima, legal actions during the Great Depression, denial of the freedom to marry, pollution and our mistreatment of the environment, our actions in Vietnam, management and mistreatment of the mentally ill, Prohibition, messy embargoes, concentration camps and anti-Semitism (yes, I’m still talking about the US of A), blatant crimes against Native Americans, the Salem Witch Trials, prominent drug use, McCarthyism, the World Wars—these are things that mar my country’s history.

Americans have killed. They have been unfair. They have supported injustice and even gone against the very principles brave men and women founded this country upon.

I don’t feel guilty about it, because I’m not responsible for wars that took place fifty years before I was born. I had nothing to do with that.

But I do feel sadness—whether I was born or not, these events changed the people who lived during those times, which changed their children, which eventually changed the people who have raised me. Now I am who I am in part because of this. It is part of my heritage. It is part of my culture.

I am not proud that America has caused so much strife.

I am proud to learn that many of those obstacles we have overcome.

And I am ready to have faith that if history is to repeat itself, those telltale stains which still blot our everyday lives will continue to fade as we fight for justice and equality and freedom.

This is my pride as an American. This is what I hope students in Colorado will still have the right to learn, whatever the school board does or doesn’t intend, and I wish it just as much for every other student in America.

We are a great nation with a great many sins. We must not take pride in our sins, but still know them, because no matter what the future brings, the people who are alive (regardless of what country to which they belong) have a responsibility to all the other people who are alive, a greater responsibility to those who have died to get us here, and the greatest responsibility to those who will next be born.

What is that responsibility?

I’m sure everyone has a different opinion. All I know is this—we’re not going to solve today’s problems by sweeping yesterday’s problems under the rug.

So show me my American sins. I am not afraid.


  1. Oh, I had no idea there was even an issue like this. It really bugs me — speaking as an Asian and more specifically Chinese — that the USA is held up as THE example of free speech and stuff, and exceptions are pretty glossed over in foreign countries. Whereas here, the tiniest thing can spark a very, very, very long tirade. So thanks so much for an extremely informative post that is both opinionated and ambivalent!

    1. The issue was trending on Facebook for a few hours (true "fame"), but in reality I can imagine that most people wouldn't know about what's been going on with Jefferson County's school board. But if it's any solace, America isn't a perfect country in the slightest—and somehow we make it work. In fact, knowing what's been going on in Hong Kong right now, Colorado's problems don't seem nearly as important. No one's been tear gassed here.

      But I'm glad you enjoyed the post—it was tricky to write, if you'll believe it!

  2. I completely agree with you, Heather. America has done a lot of things we shouldn't be proud of. Iran, Iraq, half the Central American countries - and we should help them. But we shouldn't slander America because of those atrocities - that's the problem with Howard Zinn. But we shouldn't glorify American patriotism either. That is nothing less than nationalism. Nationalism was the root of the misery of Europe in the 1800s and 1900s. We can just learn to accept it, and accept others for who they are. By acceptance will we learn to move on.

    1. Yes, yes, yes. I think it is hard because it is very easy for people to label countries, as America is "good" and Britain is "good" but Iraq is "bad" and North Korea is "bad." And by taking away those labels it isn't that the circumstances present in Iraq and North Korea become good, but it does mean that we stop classifying the human beings that live there as convicts. I mean, there's good people everywhere, and sometimes the country they live in doesn't reflect that.

      America included.