Failing to discuss black people in schools has continued to keep white people ignorant and lacking empathy for how truly hard their lives are. I would buy the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson if my son's school would teach it.

It contains all of the history and knowledge that past, racist educators systematically removed from our textbooks and general educational activities.

That loss of knowledge for white Americans is why America is systemically racist. A person doesn't need to know the ideas they learn are racist to preserve racism in the lives of black Americans. American teachers teach a curriculum influenced by previous texts and planning, perpetuating racist beliefs.

People in power in the United States actively chose to make laws, textbooks, reading material, community activities and much more all enforce, or at least agree with, their racism, thus making it a country where the SYSTEM is racist.

The racist ideas of the people buying textbooks joined with the racist textbook producers, and the racist school curriculums became a part of the operation of all schools.

The result of the textbooks and communities designed to be racist, even if teachers, by themselves, weren't racist, by being a part of the system created by racists, means that the teacher unknowingly teaches racist lessons regardless of being aware of racism's presence.

When I was a German exchange student in the 90s, the father of the family who hosted me showed me his textbooks from class when he was a child during Nazi rule. Entire pages were blacked out whenever anything objectionable was on the page. The ink seeped through the page so that the back of the page was blacked out, too. The text that remained said things like "New York City is a place in America and is full of Jews. It's filthy." (A few years later, standing in Washington, DC's Metro, which I consider one of the cleaner ones I've been on around the world, I overheard someone speaking German who said, "This city is so dirty." I have always wondered if it was the German education system more than the person speaking that inspired the remark.)

While reading Wilkerson's book, Caste, I realized that the only real difference between American textbooks and the German texts is how much more professionally the Americans handled censoring to inculcate racism.

I learned that the Nazis got most of their ideas to control Jewish populations straight from the US. Committees from South Africa came to the US to build a perpetuating system for racism.

They wanted to negate the effect of individuals who disagreed. Both the Nazis and the designers of Apartheid learned the techniques from Jim Crow laws, but the South was not their only source. The north is full of communities that encouraged or just forced bankers and real estate agents to push black people into our ghettos.

Americans didn't invent ghettos. We borrowed the idea from Europe, forcing Jews to live in overcrowded and unhealthy slums in the middle ages.

With systematic racism, the formal tools of education and living arrangements need a second, benign way to get cooperation from everyone, not just active racists. The system develops racial language. Innocent words spoken without a racist thought cause explosions felt only by the targeted groups. Children playing or a dinner conversation becomes a "minefield" for the non-dominant groups.

As a child, one of my favorite Christmas gifts was what was then called a "ghetto blaster." This past Christmas, my son brought it down from my childhood room, and I called out, "Where did you find my old ghetto blaster?" Immediately I was ashamed that I had said something so racist. Worse was the realization that anytime I talked about my music player, I unknowingly dropped a hurtful idea. But that's the appeal of using language to reinforce the system of racism.

My parents taught us to hate racist lies and slavery. Even still, the system joined the horrors committed against black people in ghettos and a rural kid's portable music player so that whenever I mentioned that player, I reminded any person whose history included ghettos about their status and place in America. That's sick.

When white people say they don't think about race very often and black people should stop talking about it, they fail to consider the encoded language designed to fly under our race radar and strike only their intended target. "Turn on the ghetto blaster!" strikes the target every time.

These tools only work through the dominant culture's ignorance. White America isn't ignorant about black American culture by accident.

The American pastime, lynching, was either done secretly or sometimes the act was secret, but the crime was left to be gruesome discoveries in the morning. Sometimes, the lynching was part of a community picnic where the bodies were dismembered to send pieces home with the children as souvenirs. Such an event proves the system was severely toxic. But, even if one didn't support racist mob behavior, everyone in the white community was an accomplice in the oppressive result.

If any spoke against such a public "family" activity, scoffing relatives gaslighted the offender. Planners made every white parent and child actors in the psychotic symptoms of America's original sin. The real audience kept apart, got the message. Those hanging, dead, in a tree, could have been any one of the survivors.

The systems and controls, however, vary by location, place, year and individuals.

Caste revealed that I am an ignorant fool about black people. I don't like that fact, but no doubt some readers already knew without me saying it.

Juneteenth was a huge surprise to me when it appeared in the national conversation. If we planned it now, I think we'd celebrate another milestone in the bumpy road toward freedom with tacky decorations and mild public drunkenness. There would be a rousing reenactment of that moment when Union soldiers finally reached Galveston, Texas, in June 1965 and enforced the end of slavery. Yet, I went half a century without tripping across the idea.

We need to do some widespread updating. Scrub the curriculum to free it to speak without garbage ideas. Let teachers teach the ACCURATE and difficult truth about who we are. What else can we do?

The work is complicated because we do not know who we are. That must change. We can't accept human flesh as souvenirs or "strange fruit" in our trees. (A term I learned in a musical context by a jazz singer, not any of the places that should have been first to tell me about it.) But most of all, we can't lie anymore about who and what we are. Our systems were designed by and for racists. Living in many parts of our country causes us to learn to be racists despite our personal preferences.

I have had many conversations with European friends about racism in the United States. I can't believe what I used to say. Confident as if I knew what America was. I don't want ignorance to continue to be one of the defining features of Americans when foreigners describe Americans.

But most of all, I don't want black people to be treated in such a way that they and we all absorb racist ideologies. I don't want kids to continue learning racism just by being a part of America. I love freedom too much to deny freedom of thought, especially about the value of human lives, to myself or any other American, again.

The people who designed all of it are long dead. The system they built to impose it on the rest of us should be, too.



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Sharienne Weidner

Sharienne Weidner

A medical mistake 20 years ago allowed me to think over my life and the world. I critique US medical system and politics. I want to break the system.