Granderson: Texas keeps trying to make slavery sound less slaveryish

·4 min read
An American and Texas flag fly from the tops of cranes near an oil rig by the site where President Donald Trump delivered remarks about American energy production during a visit to the Double Eagle Energy Oil Rig, Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Midland, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Texas kids could handle learning about slavery along with the rest of American history, like the heroic struggle to end slavery. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Involuntary relocation.

That’s one of the euphemisms a group of educators in Texas came up with as part of the curriculum that would introduce the transatlantic

slave trade to second-graders.

Now, fortunately the Texas State Board of Education rejected “involuntary relocation” — which sounds more like what happens when your car gets towed, not centuries of government-sanctioned kidnappings. But the fact remains that these educators are tasked with finding a way to make slavery sound less slavery-ish.

If this group allowed “involuntary relocation” to reach the public, that makes me wonder what they’ll come up with next.

Then again, Texas is where a ninth-grade social studies textbook rebranded the enslaved as immigrant workers, in a caption that read: “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” Because slavery wasn’t an inhumane institution; it was hundreds of years of employment opportunities in a foreign country.

The Lone Star State also had a fourth-grade history book that bragged about Texas’ population growth in the 1840s. It failed to mention who the immigrants were.

So at least “involuntary relocation” suggests a conflict of some sort.

As shocking as the attempted euphemism may be, the truth is Texas has been in the game of whitewashing its racial history for so long it’s possible some of these elected officials don’t know what they don’t know.

Take Gov. Greg Abbott for instance. He’ll be 65 in November — born in 1957 and educated in Texas. The Dallas Morning News used to publish a little comic strip called Texas History Movies, which began in 1926. As the title suggests, the strip was designed to teach young readers about the state’s beginnings. Teachers from across the state started incorporating the comic strip to supplement their lesson plans. For 30 years it was distributed to students in the state. Among the whitewashing hits: Gen. Gordon Granger freed the slaves in 1865 and “the law provided for the education of Negroes even while they were slaves.”

You can see how “immigrants flocking to the Republic of Texas” got into the classroom. Or why someone like Abbott, who was alive while Texas History Movies was still being sent to classrooms, is not a fan of the 1619 Project.

W. Caleb McDaniel, who won the 2020 Pulitzer for history, said of the full hardback edition of the comic strip: “It contained no mention of the over 200,000 slaves living in Texas at the beginning of the war, and no mention even of emancipation after the war.”

Today, Texas educators are spending part of their summer trying to figure out a way to make slavery sound even less awful because Republican lawmakers are afraid white children are going to feel bad when they learn the truth. Those aren’t just my thoughts but the message of Rep. Steve Toth, a member of the Texas House of Representatives who wrote the bill opposing critical race theory and forcing more whitewashing of Texas history.

“We don’t need to burden our kids with guilt for racial crimes they had nothing to do with,” he said.

I love it when the villain starts to monologue. Makes figuring out their diabolical plans so much easier.

Toth’s assumption is white children will be prone to identify more with the white enslavers and enablers than with the white abolitionists who risked their lives fighting to free those held captive. It’s quite a disheartening view of future generations.

Pick any era — from the Civil War to Reconstruction to the civil rights movement to whatever the hell we’re living through today — and with each turn of history’s page there are countless examples of white people fighting systemic racism. Heroes worthy of honoring and remembering in the history we teach our children.

That’s the history Toth is afraid might be taught.

His response is like banning Superman comic books for fear kids might feel guilty after learning about Lex Luthor.

Just to make sure history makes no appearance in Texas classrooms, people like Toth pretend there’s a threat from critical race theory — which even before his legislation wasn’t being taught in Texas schools. They hope to prevent a clear-eyed look at history that might lead white children to see the Confederate flag differently from how their parents and grandparents did.

Perhaps we should give the Texas education board credit on two counts. This isn’t a repeat of “brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States,” that travesty that made it to print. State officials did have enough sense to send “involuntary relocation” back to the drawing board, and hey — at least the group got the “involuntary” part right.

@LZGranderson

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.