In school, many history courses assume a strong undertone of the inequality endured throughout time. Whether it be those of Jewish faith or African American slaves, almost every group possible has been subjugated due to their appearances and/or differing beliefs. It is through the analysis of this repeating pattern — regardless of country or era — we instill tolerance in young minds of the various groups of people alive on this planet.
I employ tolerance because we have conveniently removed emotion from textbooks. We have transformed antiquated names, faces, stories, and souls into placeholders of time during movements that “no longer apply to us.” We use their stories to differentiate them from us as opposed to unite them to us. We examine them in a vacuum, cutting out the bloody and unjust evolution from Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in 1850, to the ratification of the 13th amendment at the end of 1865, to Dr. Luther King’s non-violent protests between 1957 and 1968. We look at events in isolation rather than as a 138-year span (longer than any human being has ever lived) of racism, segregation, and violence regardless of what the constitution said.
Why didn’t we study that?
The majority of society’s lack of enforcement of the constitution?
And, when I say majority, I presume it’s the majority because we didn’t learn about those citizens who remained silent and why. Was it that they didn’t agree with maltreatment and did not practice it within their own lives, but were too afraid to speak out against viciousness when they passed by it because they were more afraid of what an angry person might do to them than they were passionate about fighting for the betterment of the human race?
Regardless of what the preamble states — that we are all created equal — throughout the life of our nation, we have overlooked the constitution to the disadvantage of subjugated groups of individuals. But, as of the last 10 years, it’s not so much that we are overlooking it to the detriment of one group of people. Rather, we are overlooking it to the detriment of all.
We have not established new systems to make the acquisition of automatic weapons illegal even though we have hard evidence (dead bodies) that children of all colors and creeds are dying at what they thought was just another day at school. We do not even ask the government for a consolation prize of increased security in these places that house children for eight hours each day. Rather, we (are forced to) stand by the second amendment and await the media storm about why the government is not protecting our children from violence to pass.
The majority of us watch in silence. Or, at least, that’s how they write it.
Right now, during COVID-19, we are relying upon the media more than ever. But, why? Because we’ve been taught to? Because they have more access to information than civilians? Why is that? What makes them more equipped to digest information before we do? Is it because we assume that they do their due diligence to fact check even if it costs them time and views?
Who has fact checked history? Who has the time, energy, or desire to reexamine what we’ve been told by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt?
Since we can’t go back in time to see what really happened for ourselves, we have to start taking everything we read with a grain of salt, and analyze the broader strokes for ourselves, even if we don’t feel like it because something is missing from the national argument.
How unpopular would it be if an article said, “We can’t really tell you the numbers since we don’t really know which countries, hospitals, labs, and cities are being honest or not?”
Where would that leave us, the people? The people who were told to memorize facts from a textbook to get an A on a test so we could succeed with the power of knowledge?
Confused and scared. Confused and scared because, then, what is knowledge and what is truth if it doesn’t come from the media, textbooks, or the government?
We are supposed to trust our government and the interpreters of current events (the media) to be honest with us even though we have perfectly good reason not to. Not because Bill Gates supposedly wants to stab us all with needles as has been popularized by alternative outlets. But, because history shows us.
How is it that our ancestors overlooked Jim Crowe laws and the maltreatment of a single race even though, on paper, they had their freedom? How is that honest, truthful, or informed? How is it that it took 568 years — from the time African captives first landed in the Americas during, what is now to be believed, the 1400s until Martin Luther King Jr.’s death in 1968 — for us to treat another human being not only with love but without fear?
Well, I would argue that we did not lose fear and replace it with love.
I would argue that it takes that long for a collective to change.
I would argue that it costs us that much bravery and injustice before we start to look at things differently.
I would argue that fear is embedded in this soil, whether we are afraid of the original inhabitants of this land and their respect for its strength, intelligence, and resources because of its alleged “primitive viewpoint,” or of someone who wears a jihad in 2001.
Right now, fear has taken on a new guise. That of a faceless predator from an unknown land. It belongs to no belief system, race, gender, or country. The perfect scapegoat that “we haven’t seen before.”
But, oh, we have.
In Michel Foucault’s, “Panopticism,” he recounts the strategy of officials used during a plague in the late 1600’s.
“First, a strict spatial partitioning: the closing of the town and its outlying districts, a prohibition to leave the town on pain of death, the killing of all stray animals; the division of the town into distinct quarters, each governed by an intendant. […] Meat, ﬁsh and herbs will be hoisted up into the houses with pulleys and baskets. If it is absolutely necessary to leave the house, it will be done in turn, avoiding any meeting […] Only the intendants, syndics and guards will move about the streets and also, between the infected houses, from one corpse to another […]. Each individual is ﬁxed in his place. And, if he moves, he does so at the risk of his life, contagion or punishment.”
“Every day, too, the syndic goes into the street for which he is responsible; stops before each house: gets all the inhabitants to appear at the windows […] Everyone locked up in his cage, everyone at his window, answering to his name and showing himself when asked — it is the great review of the living and the dead […] The magistrates have complete control over medical treatment; they have appointed a physician in charge; no other practitioner may treat, no apothecary prepare medicine, no confessor visit a sick person without having received from him a written note ‘to prevent anyone from concealing and dealing with those sick of the contagion, unknown to the magistrates.’ The registration of the pathological must be constantly centralized. The relation of each individual to his disease and to his death passes through the representatives of power, the registration they make of it, the decisions they take on it. […] This enclosed, segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a ﬁxed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded, in which an uninterrupted work of writing links the centre and periphery, in which power is exercised without division, according to a continuous hierarchical ﬁgure, in which each individual is constantly located, examined and distributed among the living beings, the sick and the dead — all this constitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism. The plague is met by order; its function is to sort out every possible confusion: that of the disease, which is transmitted when bodies are mixed together; that of the evil, which is increased when fear and death overcome prohibitions. It lays down for each individual his place, his body, his disease and his death, his well-being, by means of an omnipresent and omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted way even to the ultimate determination of the individual, of what characterizes him, of what belongs to him, of what happens to him.”
What Foucault is saying is that, during a virus, we surrender our privacy and our rights out of the fear of our personal lives, not the fear of others losing their lives. So, why would we challenge the outcome of certain death by leaving the house? This is a colorblind, universal mandate by “the magistrates” “who have complete control over medical treatment.” They are doing it to protect us. It is not a matter of racism (which we now know is immoral?). But, a matter of whether we are willing to overlook our rights, and another’s rights — just as white people did when they saw a fellow brother or sister being hung — so as not to die ourselves.