116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the decades, and here’s an important one: “Let’s just not talk about it” is the wrong way to deal with complex and important issues.
Yet that’s the approach many states, including Iowa, are taking when it comes to the history of race relations in our nation.
It’s an approach that guarantees history will remain condensed and filtered; that the stories from the past will not be fully known or learned.
America has a history like the history of most families — there are things to be proud of, to question, and to regret.
What’s the best way to deal with those realities? To be honest about them. To talk about them, and to debate them.
Consider the day in 1921 in Oklahoma where white leaders and citizens of Tulsa made the decision to bomb and burn a prosperous 35-block section of the Black community; the result of a 19-year old Black resident being accused of assaulting a 17-year old white girl.
Or consider the practice that began in the in the late 1800s of forcibly taking tens of thousands of Native American children away from their parents, and placing them in hundreds of so-called boarding schools in order to “civilize” them and “take the Indian out of the Indian.”
And, consider how America chose to deal with over 100,000 citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, by incarcerating them in internment camps in multiple states, and eventually apologizing and paying them reparations.
We are embarrassed to say that we knew little about these stories until recently. The educational system of the past, and in too many cases the present, has literally whitewashed history and kept these and other disturbing subjects from being fully understood.
These are stories of indifference, discrimination, and conflict among the races. They’re part of America’s past and, sadly, its present. Ponder what the past few years have been like when it comes to our nation’s harmful attitudes and outright hostility toward Muslims, Mexicans, Black and Asian Americans, Jews, etc.
Recently, Republicans with presidential aspirations have been in our state lamenting what they see as the decline of America. One of them, the governor of South Dakota, said that she “really hates” the current America, and that she “was proud of our history.”
Really? Hates America, proud of our history?
We’re not running for any office, so maybe it’s easier for us to say this — we don’t hate America. Nor are we proud of everything in its history.
We need to see candidates for president, or any office for that matter, have the courage to simply be honest — particularly when it comes to past and present relationships among Americans of different races, cultures, religions, sexual orientation and gender identity, etc.
Rather than limiting what is taught, courageous candidates would encourage teachers to teach; to shed light on topics that might be difficult or even painful, to expose students to ideas and issues they otherwise might never hear about, and to force them to think critically about their views and the views of others.
If we continue to censor what’s taught in order to meet the whims of the politicians of the moment, we should ponder a life described by George Orwell in his book 1984.
In 1984, a political party led by Big Brother controls all of government, and government seeks to control all thought. History is routinely rewritten by those who work at the Ministry of Truth, and the “news” is manufactured by the party. Anyone who is not blindly obedient is harshly dealt with by the Thought Police.
In 2021, we have many who seek to rewrite and enforce their version of history. 1984 is a cautionary tale that warns us what happens when information and people are manipulated by those who seek power, or who are desperate to hold on to it.
Let’s not hide from our history, and remember that those who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it.
John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy, consulting and communications firm. email@example.com