Should only black teachers teach black children about slavery?

Some time ago, I came across this post, https://solifegoeson.com/2017/12/20/white-teachers-who-teach-black-kids-about-slavery-piss-me-off/. I commented, however as my comment was not published I feel compelled to state my opinion here.

In the above post the author argues (essentially) that white teachers should not teach black children about slavery because they (the teachers) do not understand the experience of non-white people (the prejudice faced by those who’s skin is black). At the end of the post the blogger does recommend that one way forward is for those who teach to come from a greater diversity of backgrounds. However the whole tone of the article is hostile to the concept of the teaching of slavery to black children by white teachers.

I am not black. I am, however disabled (I am registered blind). Throughout history disabled people have faced discrimination. This discrimination manifested itself in various forms, including the forced sterilisation of those with disabilities on eugenic grounds. Eugenics reached horrific heights during the Third Reich when Nazi doctors, SS officers and nurses murdered the disabled under the T-4 programme. Indeed the use of gas was first employed on the disabled prior to it being used to exterminate approximately 6 million Jews (men, women and children). You can find out about Action T4 here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aktion_T4.

I don’t, as a disabled person, (nor as someone who holds a degree in history and politics) argue that only disabled people are capable of teaching about the T4 Programme. To argue thus would be narrow minded on my part. Yes, as a disabled person I face difficulties and (on occasions) discrimination not encountered by non-disabled people, however those possessing empathy/those of goodwill can understand (and teach) about such matters.

It concerns me that if we carry the argument promulgated in the above article to its logical conclusion, that only disabled people will teach about disability related matters, only women will lecture on the discrimination faced by women throughout the ages etc. This risks leading to a closed academic environment, one in which I don’t wish to live.

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22 thoughts on “Should only black teachers teach black children about slavery?

  1. Sam Catchpole

    I am completely with you on this, a teacher doesn’t have to have experienced something to be able to teach about it. I used to be a science teacher and I taught photosynthesis, yet I an not a plant.
    I know that is a ridiculous example but it illustrates the point. Teachers are trained and expected to be well informed. limiting who teaches what could mean that whole groups of children miss out on sections of history etc due to lack of availability of teachers

  2. BrionS (@BrionS)

    I think her main point lies in this quote, “The fact that I as the oppressed group of people was teaching the group of people who oppress was the problem. There is a power dynamic, a structure that is not balanced.”

    You argue than anyone can teach about Action T4, but I ask you: Do you think that a descendant of a Nazi officer teaching about Action T4 will be disinclined to sanitize the parts that are uncomfortable for him/her? Would the descendant of a disabled person who was subjected to Action T4 be more apt to describe the true horrors that disabled people endured? What about a teacher, such as yourself, who teaches about Action T4 from your own unique and invested perspective?

    Anyone can teach the words in a textbook but only a teacher who is willing to be uncomfortable as the beneficiary of oppression can do justice teaching about the said same oppression. If the teacher is unwilling to be uncomfortable and it teaching to others who occupy the same privileged position (as beneficiaries of the oppressors), then that teacher is not doing justice to the oppressed (historical and current).

    It’s the power dynamic that is the problem. It’s reduced when the one holding the power is willing to step away from their comfortable position to one of humility, but it’s still not quite the same as someone teaching from a position without power (especially to students who share that same unprivileged position).

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment. You draw attention to the following quote from the article as summing up the reasons why it is problematic for white teachers to teach black children about slavery:
      “The fact that I as the oppressed group of people was teaching the group of people who oppress was the problem”.
      While racism still exists, the labelling (in the above quote) of all whites as “oppressors” and all black persons as “oppressed” is inaccurate and unhelpful. Racism still exists and its (obviously) right that laws and education are used to combat it. Many white people are not racists and especially amongst the younger generation prejudice (in all its forms) is condemned. There is a steady growth in friendships (and dating) across racial lines, which is to be welcomed.

      I agree with you that survivors of the Action T4 Programme are uniquely placed to provide an insight into the horrors of Nazism, as are Jews who survived the “Final Solution”. Many teachers will use written and video testimony from survivors in history lessons and, on occasions invite survivors to address students. The latter is, however increasingly difficult as old-age claims increasing numbers of those who survived these horrific events.

      While survivors of the holocaust have a unique insight into the barbarity of the Third Reich, I, as a disabled person (born long after these events took place) do not possess the same deep feeling. I am, of course filled with horror but (not having experienced those events for myself I can not comprehend them in the same way that a Jewish or a disabled survivor can). Consequently I maintain my position that an empathetic and educated person of whatever skin colour can (and do) teach about slavery in an unbiased manner.

      You are right also that a good teacher needs to know how to deal with feelings of discomforture. The descendant of a slave owning family who teaches about slavery might well feel a sense of shame at their family’s past. Likewise the descendant of an African chieftain who sold captives from another tribe (to the Europeans) as slaves might well also feel discomfort where he (or she) to be in the position of a teacher tasked with teaching about slavery. One must remember that the task of European slavers was rendered much easier by the co-operation they received from opposing African tribes. (That does not, of course in any way excuse the actions of Europeans in taking slaves. The trade in slavery is wholly barbaric but, in the interests of historical accuracy it must be acknowledge that the assistance of some black persons helped to facilitate slavery.
      Thank you for your comment. You draw attention to the following quote from the article as summing up the reasons why it is problematic for white teachers to teach black children about slavery:
      “The fact that I as the oppressed group of people was teaching the group of people who oppress was the problem”.
      While racism still exists, the labelling (in the above quote) of all whites as “oppressors” and all black persons as “oppressed” is inaccurate and unhelpful. Racism still exists and its (obviously) right that laws and education are used to combat it. Many white people are not racists and especially amongst the younger generation prejudice (in all its forms) is condemned. There is a steady growth in friendships (and dating) across racial lines, which is to be welcomed.

      I agree with you that survivors of the Action T4 Programme are uniquely placed to provide an insight into the horrors of Nazism, as are Jews who survived the “Final Solution”. Many teachers will use written and video testimony from survivors in history lessons and, on occasions invite survivors to address students. The latter is, however increasingly difficult as old-age claims increasing numbers of those who survived these horrific events.

      While survivors of the holocaust have a unique insight into the barbarity of the Third Reich, I, as a disabled person (born long after these events took place) do not possess the same deep feeling. I am, of course filled with horror but (not having experienced those events for myself I can not comprehend them in the same way that a Jewish or a disabled survivor can). Consequently I maintain my position that an empathetic and educated person of whatever skin colour can (and do) teach about slavery in an unbiased manner.

      You are right also that a good teacher needs to know how to deal with feelings of discomforture. The descendant of a slave owning family who teaches about slavery might well feel a sense of shame at their family’s past. Likewise the descendant of an African chieftain who sold captives from another tribe (to the Europeans) as slaves might well also feel discomfort where he (or she) to be in the position of a teacher tasked with teaching about slavery. One must remember that the task of European slavers was rendered much easier by the co-operation they received from opposing African tribes. (That does not, of course in any way excuse the actions of Europeans in taking slaves. The trade in slavery is wholly barbaric but, in the interests of historical accuracy it must be acknowledge that the assistance of some black persons helped to facilitate slavery.

      1. BrionS (@BrionS)

        I think perhaps the key part here that we are missing / talking past one another is that there are few examples (except perhaps the Jewish experience and I use that example lightly) where the descendants of enslaved people are *still* affected by not only slavery but the obliteration of Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, redlining, discriminatory hiring, profile and “broken windows” policing, uneven application of law and punishment as compared to white citizens, and ongoing discrimination and racism.

        We’re not talking about something that happened long ago and has been fixed. Slavery is a particular moment in history, but many (most?) white teachers are likely to teach about slavery as a thing that happened in the past. A Black teacher is far more likely to teach about slavery as the past foundation of today’s continued injustices and can help students (of all races) trace the line from slavery to mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline (so many articles – here is a Google search that has several relevant links on the first page: https://www.google.com/search?q=school+to+prison+pipeline )

        There is a fundamental difference to also be noted about slavery around the world prior to the North American Slave Trade. Slavery has always existed, but the the NAST was the first to classify slaves as a sub-human part of an economic engine and treated them worse than livestock and inanimate property, as if they were little more than replaceable cog in an economic machine (an expensive cog to be sure, but a cog nonetheless). The African slave traders may have been complicit because as stated slavery was always part of human sociology – but primarily around the notion of “the conquered”.

        As such, Black teachers are better positioned to teach about Black history and slavery than white teachers. I think you can agree that the OP’s *opinion* is that it should be taught exclusively by Black teachers because of the problematic nature of white teachers lacking the shared experience of their Black students. But opinion or no, that doesn’t change the fact that Black teachers *do* have a significantly different lived experience from white teachers simply because white teachers do not experience racism and discrimination in the systematic and pervasive way Black Americans do.

    2. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      You state that:
      “A Black teacher is far more likely to teach about slavery as the past foundation
      of today’s continued injustices and can help students (of all races) trace the line from slavery to mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline”.
      Teachers are there to teach and not to indoctrinate students. The view that there is a direct connection between the problems faced today by some black people and slavery is a matter of opinion. Teachers are there to encourage students to think (which includes considering issues surrounding slavery, not merely slavery itself), but I am disturbed that you think it acceptable for teachers to feed students a particular opinion as fact.

      We are all individuals, and it is as uniquely important individuals that we should be treated irrespective of the colour of our skin. The experience of black people can not be generalised in today’s democracies. Some will experience discrimination/racism while others will not. I think it is dangerous when people claim to speak on behalf of a whole group of people, whether that group be black people, disabled persons or those who are gay, as we experience the world primarily as individual human beings, not as part of a homogenous group. Of course culture, upbringing etc will influence us but, at bottom we are individuals and to view us otherwise risks degenerating in to various forms of collectivism, whether that be of the Fascist or Communist variety.

      I am a believer in liberalism (with a small l) and to argue that only black teachers should teach black children about slavery is profoundly illiberal and something which I can not support.

      1. Brent Snavely

        I perceive that some people (i.e., “White people”) get to be Individuals rather than members of “the White race”, and it is through this invisible and unstated (and unmentionable) group membership that White people see clearly identifiable racISTs as existing separately from all other “White people”.

        Chenjerai Kumanyika: It’s like, the experience of living as white is a lot about being an individual. And to even be lumped into the group, that’s, I think that’s part of why when you call someone white, part of the injury is not just that whiteness is understood to be evil, exploitative, whatever, but also just like, Are you putting me in a group? I’m not part of a group! I’m me, I’m an individual, you know.

        36:08 – 36:31
        http://podcast.cdsporch.org/episode-40-citizen-thind-seeing-white-part-10/

    3. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      I agree that there is something unique about the transatlantic slave trade. I recently wrote a poem, “Slavery Museum” (which is reproduced below. I would draw your particular attention to the third verse:

      “Walking around the Museum of Slavery, in Liverpool
      I come face-to-face with the cruel
      Past
      Where ships crossed the ocean vast
      With their human cargo.

      Many a negro
      Slave
      Paid for beautiful properties to be built
      By Liverpool merchants who gave
      Generously to charity
      To set themselves free
      From guilt.

      Its true
      That slavery isn’t new.
      It was practiced in Greek and Roman time,
      Yet the crime
      Of the transatlantic slave trade
      Has made
      More of a mark
      Perhaps because those of lighter skin
      Committed the sin
      Of taking those of dark
      Complexion
      From their native land,
      Which was a rejection
      Of the truth that beneath the skin
      We are one in nature
      (Or god the creator),
      Depending on your view
      Of what is true.

      Our love died long ago
      And I know
      Not what Happened to you.
      But I remember walking through
      That place
      Just Two lovers of different race”. …

  3. Brent Snavely

    I’m not sure how you took the cited post (White teachers who teach black kids about slavery…..piss me off!) and turned it into “Should only black teachers teach black children about slavery?”, but the fact that you did indicates you miscomprehend racISM.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment. The import of the post to which I link, is anti the idea that white teachers are able (in an unbiased way) to teach slavery, hence the title of my article is, I believe justified.
      On what do you base your assertion that I “miscomprehend racism”?

      1. Brent Snavely

        >On what do you base your assertion that I “miscomprehend racism”?<

        Through your use of analogizing "disability" with "race".

      2. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

        Thank you for the clarification. I am well aware of what constitutes racism. Racism is the belief that a given race is superior to other races, which often manifests itself in less favourable treatment of those other races and (in extreme cases) genocide). The point I was making is that both disabled and black people have faced (and continue to face) discrimination. I was not saying that racism and discrimination against people who are disabled are one and the same. They are, however both forms of prejudice so the comparison is a valid one. As I say in my post, the fact that disabled people have experienced discrimination (and under T4 genocide), does not mean that only disabled people should teach about such matters (nor does it mean that only black teachers should teach black children about slavery).

    2. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      So, Brent, you don’t regard yourself as an individual? You perceive yourself as merely part of a particular race? That appears to be the import of what you are saying. You appear to be obsessed with race rather than regarding people as valuable human beings who are worthy as just that (people).

      1. Brent Snavely

        “Race is a social construct” and as such requires the presence of social, rather than individual, power. You raised the race issue through your blog, but apparently have no desire to address that issue.

      2. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

        The “race issue” was raised in the post to which I link, (my article was a response to that post). I live in the United Kingdom which (rightly) has laws prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race, disability, sexual orientation, gender etc. Other advanced societies, for example the USA, also have such legislation. I assume that you are (as indeed am I) a supporter of anti-discrimination legislation. If you are in support of anti-discrimination measures, how can you argue in favour of the view that only black teachers should teach black children about slavery? (which is, in effect what the article to which I link contends). To prevent and/or discourage the employment of white teachers in the teaching of black children is racism as it is discriminating against those of light skin in favour of those with dark skin. Discrimination is wrong when it takes place against black people (it is racist) and its equally racist when it is employed against white people. The definition of racism does not simply apply to those who are not white (it applies to any situation when a person, of whatever skin colour is discriminated against due to there race).

        It is, of course a fact of history that white people have (in general) held greater power than have black people. That is an excellent reason for having anti-discrimination laws, it is not a reason to treat any group (whatever their skin colour) more favourably merely because they have suffered unfair and/or degrading treatment in the past.

        I notice that you didn’t answer my question as to whether you regard yourself as an individual or part of a race …

      3. Brent Snavely

        I’ve no idea where this will wind up in the layers of the thread(s) as you have apparently limited the layers available, but I’m responding to your reply that starts with “The “race issue” was raised in the post to which I link,…”

        As an attorney in the US of A who has represented quite a few clients pursuing race, sex, gender and disability discrimination claims, on the professional and individual levels I see such matters as systemic notwithstanding the involvement of individuals (myself and others). Given my studies, I note the UK does not have clean hands relative to any of the aforementioned issues.

        It may be that you simply do not comprehend the nature of Chattel Slavery and the manner in which US public schools have (or have not) taught about that subject in the US.

        You might listen to the “Seeing White” podcast series to get a better idea of what “Race” entails in the US of A. http://podcast.cdsporch.org/seeing-white/

      4. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

        Nowhere did I imply that the UK has “clean hands”. The point I was making is that anti-discrimination legislation is to be welcomed and that said legislation should apply (equally) to people irrespective of their skin colour. Racism is racism irrespective of whether the person being discriminated against is black, white, asian etc (its equally wrong). Where a school or other educational institution to adopt a policy of only allowing black teachers to teach black children about slavery, this would be discriminatory as it would be excluding anyone with a white skin from employment in this field. To reiterate, its wrong to discriminate on the basis of skin colour and the best person for the job (whether they be black, asian, white etc) should be employed. Returning to the issue of “clean hands”, the article from the “Gleaner” (which I link to) quotes a black historian who argues that African involvement in the enslavement of their fellow Africans was far more widespread than is often acknowledged. That does not (in any way whatsoever) detract from the guilt of the Europeans of the time (there is no justification for slavery), it does, however show the complexity of the issues involved. Virus-free. http://www.avast.com

  4. Brent Snavely

    There may be intersectionality, but racISM in the US of A and in nation-states that developed or maintained chattel slavery is the backdrop against which a comparison of what led to slavery versus other prejudices, generally, abjectly fails.

  5. Irene

    I think the fact that from the beginning of the article you quickly focused it to being about you in regards to being discriminated against due to being disabled is wrong since the original topic is about RACE specifically. It’s very unfortunate that you are disabled but it is very important to understand that being discriminated against for a disability vs. the color of your skin is very different! Also, the problem with teachers teaching about topics they do no have a personal experience with is they tend to make assumptions that they know EVERYTHING about that topic and the reality behind it which is not true at all and this goes for any topic! Especially when it comes to white teachers teaching about race! There is a large difference between researching facts and actually knowing what it is like to life live as a person of color. You also need to learn that there are topics you as a white person or any other white person might not ever understand or be able to relate to since you will never experience what it is like to be discriminated against due to the color of your skin which is why you need to learn from somebody of color who actually knows what it feels like to have experienced racism.

    1. drewdog2060drewdog2060 Post author

      Thank you for your comment.
      You are correct that I will never know what it is like to be discriminated against for the colour of my skin. However as an empathetic human being I can (and do) feel anger when I read of (or encounter discrimination.
      Both black and white marched together in the Civil Rights movement, which is a cause for celebration. Of course the white marchers didn’t know what it was like (in literal terms) to be discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. However, as I said above, they could, as empathetic human beings understand the gross injustice of the colour bar.
      In short, to argue that only black teachers should teach black students about slavery is fundamentally illiberal and is not a position I will ever endorse.

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