Overlooked History

Although it has been roughly 240 years since we last dealt with slavery in our country, it still presents itself as an extremely tough issue to speak on for some and is often neglected because of this. It often makes white Americans uncomfortable as it brings up a very disappointing and ugly part of our history. The slavery that took place in our country long ago can not be overlooked because of this however. Slavery is such a major part of our nation’s history and was an instrumental part providing us with the freedoms and successes that we live with today as American citizens, and this must be known. Edward E. Baptist understands this and for 20 years has been trying to teach the history of slavery to college students reluctant to learn about the topic. Baptist writes, “college students today arrive knowing little about the way America’s history of slavery has shaped their lives. Avoidance of the topic is deeply ingrained.” It’s not only that students are reluctant to learn about slavery, but teachers and professors are reluctant to teach the touchy topic as well. Students exposed to this avoidance of the topic will continue to avoid the topic because that’s all they know and it’s much easier for them to do. In his time at UPenn in the 90’s Baptist writes about how it seemed like there was so much resentment and hatred among the whites while they were in a heavily black populated area. He then goes on to say, “This was the era in which public intellectuals seriously discussed ‘‘The Bell Curve,’’ which argued that I.Q. tests proved African-­Americans were intellectually inferior.” Baptist is conveying the ignorance of some that is “directly inherited from the history of white defenses of slavery.”(Baptist) Ever since the end of slavery, those people who are reluctant to learn and talk about slavery have been looking for excuses that sugarcoat the horrifying reality behind slavery. In this time at UPenn, Baptist had an interesting encounter with one student. He was finding it difficult to have the class discuss slavery and was getting awkward, excuse like responses from some white students that were most certainly attempts to avoid a realistic conversation on slavery. Because of this he then turned to the one black student in the room thinking that he would set the room straight but that’s not what he got at all. The student became uncomfortable as well and responded, “It’s not right to always look at one group of people to explain slavery.” Whites are usually uncomfortable speaking about slavery because it is such an ugly part of our past. That does not mean blacks would be more comfortable since they weren’t the oppressors but the oppressed. But we often look to them when trying to have a real, non-sugarcoated conversation on the topic even though they may be just as if not more uncomfortable with the topic.

In what ways could we make slavery an easier topic to teach and learn about? How can we rid of these faulty excuses made to almost defend whites in this issue? What ways can we ease conversation on the topic between both white and black students? Will we ever be able to comfortably speak on the reality of our history with slavery?