Perpetuating White Patriarchy Through Historical Figures

If you google search “best educational system in the world” within the top results you’ll find that a number of US news networks report that we are #1 — while if you choose sources from the international community the results are in concurrence, stating we are scored near the 23rd rating mark while Finland or Denmark are rated being the top two. America has to wake up — it’s no longer ignorance, it’s arrogance — the information is out there yet we refuse to accept the facts. Specifically, we perpetuate the idea of white patriarchy as we teach about historical figures.

I could not possibly better explain this point than Brandelyn Tosolt who was a white school teacher in public schools in Detroit but now teaches other white teachers to be abolitionists and fight against “Whiteness”. She explains that:

“Without a framework for understanding why the first Black woman in space came after 279 other American astronauts had already been chosen for and had reached space, students may well conclude that Mae Jemison was the first Black woman with the ‘right stuff’ to qualify for the position… The ceoceptulaizion of black and women historical figures is that of them being exceptional people, while that may be true to some degree, they leave out the fact that there was the possibility of others existing, yet white males in the dominant position of the time suppressed them.”

In understanding why Blacks and other minorities are still disenfranchised like they were in Mae Jemiin our society we can easily look to our educational systems and white-written history books, which preserve and protect white supremacy.

In only teaching the “good” a figure of history accomplished, we teach our children and ourselves that any good a person does is all that matters, and the “bad” is immediately annulled. In United States history we idolize our Presidents, founding fathers, and a number of the typical characters such as MLK, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and even those from other countries such as Gandhi. However, who else “were” they?

George Washington, shown here in an 1853 lithograph, oversees his slaves at Mount Vernon. (The Granger Collection, NYC)

Most of the founding fathers were racist, sexist, slave owners.

Nine of our Presidents were slave owners.

More than half of our Presidents were racist and sexist.

Martin Luther King Jr. was sexist.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was racist being known to state: “how much worse black men would be as voters than the white women” (Ginzberg).

Gandhi was racist as when in South Africa he wrote about how “‘white people there should be “the predominating race.” He also said black people ‘are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals ’” (Frayer).

Winston Churchhill was racist as he “did not really think that black people were as capable or as efficient as white people” (Toye).

I’ll be honest with you, most of the information from this list was new information to me as well, and unfortunately, it’s insignificant compared to the number of individuals in history. Why was I oblivious to these facts? Simply because I was never taught about any of this in our white and male-dominated educational system as it did not fit in with their ideal narrative.

In all of my series of posts I can foresee this one having the most arguments against it, so I will address the overarching white and male frailty in the room — yes, these men all did good things in history. These racist and sexist views, beliefs, and actions do not completely negate their efforts to improve the lives around them. Yet, if we truly took a look at it all of these actions were done out of their self-interest. “They were just men of their time”. Yes of course they were, they weren’t from the future — but in seriousness, in making this argument a person is belittling their own “hero”. The main characteristic of all of these men (and the woman that I mentioned but there are many more) is that they had the courage to stand up and make a change and address injustice in their time and world, yet they were only willing to go so far out of their comfort zone and only partially fix the world. Let’s stop decontextualizing our historical figures and allowing the anti-black and anti-women sentiments in our society and history books.

Works Cited

Ambrose, S. E. (2002, November 1). Founding Fathers and Slaveholders. Smithsonian.com. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/founding-fathers-and-slaveholders-72262393/.

Blake, J. (2016, January 18). MLK was a Republican and other myths. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/15/us/mlk-myths/index.html.

Frayer, L. (2019, October 2). Gandhi Is Deeply Revered, But His Attitudes On Race And Sex Are Under Scrutiny. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/10/02/766083651/gandhi-is-deeply-revered-but-his-attitudes-on-race-and-sex-are-under-scrutiny.

Ginzberg, L. D. (2011, July 13). For Stanton, All Women Were Not Created Equal. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/13/137681070/for-stanton-all-women-were-not-created-equal.

Tosolt, B. (2019). Dear white teacher: this black history month, take a knee. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 33(7), 773–789. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2019.1706198

Toye, R. (2020, June 10). Yes, Churchill was a racist. It’s time to break free of his ‘great white men’ view of history. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/10/opinions/churchill-racist-great-white-men-view-toye-opinion/index.html.

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