Above are photos of just a few people who’s stories are not widely known by Americans, especially older white Americans (Click on the name under each person’s photo to go to an article about their life). They are the stories of those who spent part or all of their lives working for human rights. These are the stories I was never told. Purposefully, never told. Rather we, our country, centers and thus teaches us about the white wealthy imperialist voices as if they are the voices of history, the voices to learn and celebrate. This is how we keep capitalism and imperialism alive and strong. It’s deeply wrong, immoral, infuriating, and it took living half a century before I began to learn them.
While white Americans (and Europeans and Australians and Canadians) are in no way shape or form victims, I feel it is appropriate to share that the system that lied to us is also the system we benefited from. As the saying goes, “The winners are the ones who tell the history.” Their history. I have always wondered why my kids learned about the Revolutionary War over and over again during their years of schooling but never learned about World or US History of the 20th century. As the internet makes learning history and differing perspectives easier, many of us “boomers” are angered by what we are learning. Sadly though, it appears not enough of us are as angered as we should be. It’s so much easier to believe the lie than to confront that lie and the fact that you believed it most of your entire life.
Growing up, white middle class, I was taught and so I learned, that capitalism was the envy of the world. That socialism and communism were bad and that they were equivalent with authoritarianism and dictators who wanted to take freedoms away. Who’s freedoms? I never learned the words colonialism or imperialism or neoliberal. I went to Catholic schools and public schools. It didn’t really seem to matter. I won’t go into the blatant racism I was taught as well as the times I was taught to ignore it. Thankfully it didn’t take the internet for me to know how wrong they were and that experiencing them never felt right.
Years later, my quiet son grew up. He took to reading everything he could get his hands on about all the shit I was taught. It began when he was in 3rd grade and he was taught that women who have abortions kill their babies on purpose. Yes, he learned that in school. As we sat and talked about this incredibly difficult topic, he being a 9 year old and me being a teacher at that school, it became clear to him and me that the necessary depth of discussion to understand controversial topics were not given the time they needed. As he grew older and realized he wasn’t being taught the things he felt important, he took his education into his own hands. The internet, as well as a few good college professors adept at open and honest discussions and explorations, opened portals into other times, perspectives, opinions, countries, and beliefs. We have always had long conversations where I explained many things to him. But when he left home and began to explore on his own, it was him explaining to me. The things I learned from him, things that I was taught and he found to be untrue; well, it’s quite humbling to learn from your child the truths about the lies you were taught.
This brings us to the photos above of a few great people we never learned about. I left out the many we were lied about. If you don’t know them, take a minute to click on each name under their photo and read a little bit about them. If you find one to be interesting, read about the United States policies in their country at their time.
Here is the conclusion I have come to after the years of conversations with my son, years of reading online, and years of working to understand why we are so damn racist. My conclusion is that I was educated with propaganda that supported the belief that our country, the home of the free and the brave, was the greatest country to ever exist. That propaganda was all encompassing and purposefully left out facts. Many facts surrounding the horrid reality and history that our country was founded on stolen land. We carried out large scale genocides and enslavements of people, many, many people. But it didn’t just happen here, we spread this colonialism and imperialism around the world through our use of the largest military in the world. We were told the military was to keep us safe. I believed it. Then as I began to connect dots I wondered, why, if we were the best country on Earth, the country everyone envied, did we need so much military might to be safe? Safe from what? From whom? What we did not learn was that this military was in fact used to extract the natural resources from other countries. And if the leaders of those countries, such as those mentioned above, tried to protect their people and natural resources from our grab, well we would overthrow them, often via coups. We were taught that they committed human rights violations and that’s why we intervened. Wait, what? We are condemning other countries of human rights violations?! After our history of atrocities? And we are still doing it. This education was as far from the truth as could be. While our country was founded by rich, educated, white European guys with property and who could speak and write very well, they never intended the “for all” part. That was the biggest lie. So the fact that we began by stealing land from peoples who lived here, then through early colonialism, continued with westward “expansion”, and then expanded world wide by criminalizing those world leaders who had the insight and tenacity to nationalize their resources so their people, rather than our government backed corporations, could benefit from them. Well, here we are, understanding the lies we were taught.
That is what I have learned.
In honesty and peace,