SOL Tuesday: Ignorance Walks

A student comes into the library and requests a novel that features a portrayal of Native Americans as “savages”. The novel was written by a white woman and published several decades ago. The student was referred to this title by her current English teacher.

This happened.

This continues to happen.

Over and over and over again.

It’s a pattern that plays out in hundreds of variations in school curricula, library selections, in homes. The demand for racist literature sustains itself over decades. But is it a demand specifically for racist literature?

Oh, of course not!

Rather, what it is and stays is a well trod ignorance; a pair of heavy blinders that prevent the clear perception of any racist baggage or intent. Not racist, maybe outdated, some might say.

Well, racist literature exists in all eras and is published with remarkable frequency although it is seldom seen that way.

Here’s how I think this happens: we are accustomed to whitewashed history, a penchant for happy endings, and the separation of multiple, concurrent forms of oppression; as a result we compartmentalize, dissemble, and prepare our escape routes from uncomfortable truths.

The US is built on slavery, genocide, theft and cruelty.

We decide it’s time to do something about our ignorance of Black history, so we read some books and forget that the genocide of native people played a role in that same history of how the United States came to be. We learn to finally acknowledge white privilege as an actual thing but can’t quite grasp what folks mean when they claim that American society is definitely White Supremacist. We keep our biases contained, or so we believe.

Instead, it’s true that our ignorance walks. It talks, travels and welcomes comfort. It asks for neat packages, clear story lines, uncomplicated histories. Not surprisingly, we have whole industries dedicated to satisfying these specific demands.

So it was that a child could make a request for a firmly racist story at the recommendation of a well meaning teacher and some of us see a cycle repeating itself, while others see nothing at all.


4 thoughts on “SOL Tuesday: Ignorance Walks

  1. Yes, this is happening in schools everywhere … and will continue to happen. What are the conversations we can have to push for change? Is there space for a conversation with the teacher to point out the racist depiction of Native people? (Or, perhaps we call it the “problematic depiction” because it’s so hard for anyone to hear anything after you say the word “racist”?) Appreciating your awareness and wishing you luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your response. I’m sure it would be wise to say “problematic” in place of racist. Good point. In having such conversations, it is vitally necessary to stay curious and keep asking and then reliably listen. That can be the really hard part when folks demonstrate all their white fragility. But persist we must if we want the change we say we do.


      1. Yes to all of this! These conversations get so hard, however, and I get so tired. In my office building (I work in city government), we have a biweekly discussion group about race, and white fragility was last week’s topic … and it was a rough one! Sending you the energy and patience to keep the work moving forward!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, this happens everywhere. We fight for equality and believe we have it then something happens and we realise some things never change. In today’s newspaper I read about how women are somehow withheld from studying medicine on the grounds they will not continue in their profession after marriage and pregnancy.

    Liked by 1 person

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