King Johnson, a young Chicago student, is awakening hearts around the world to consider their own truths when learning about history. From his school journal, he spouted his disappointment with his teacher not telling the truth about Christopher Columbus:
“Today was not a good learning day. Blah, blah, blah,” he wrote. “I only wanted to hear you not talking. You said something wrong and I can’t listen when I hear lies. My mom said that the only Christofer we acknowledge is Wallace. Because Columbus didn’t find our country, the Indians did. I like to have Columbus Day off, but I want you to not teach me lies. That is all.”
Closing his entry with one final question: “How can white people teach Black history?”
Unfortunately, instead of his teacher taking the opportunity to right their wrong and create an environment to discuss the truth of Columbus, they tried to downgrade his intelligence in HIS journal and say that they were “disappointed.” I must admit that I loved his response: “Ok.” He is okay because he knows the truth.
In a world filled with access to technological resources to dive deep into history, there is no reason why educators should feel the need to keep lying about harsh American truths: Columbus was not an “innocent explorer who colonized America”; instead, he was a murderer on a mission trying to fill his coffers and gain social status at the expense of anyone in his way.
As an educator and parent, it is vital to share and continue learning the truth about American history, and most importantly, your own individual history. If we are all willing to embrace the reality that the backbone of America began with the rich culture of our Native American ancestors who were slaughtered because a different group of people did not understand them, opportunities of enlightenment would arise to replace the “pretty exploration” stories with homage and honor for our true natives. As a woman mixed with Blackfoot Native American blood, African American blood, and Irish blood, it is crucial for me to share my family’s rich heritage with my children and the young so that they know the stock from whence they have derived.
Acknowledging and honoring our true history allows us to understand where we as a people have been and where we need to go in the future. Young people would take to heart to bear down a little harder and seek justice, a spirit of righteousness, ingenuity, community, and faith to build up and not tear down. They would not be so quick to sloth around unproductively, but use their minds for the greater good. Is it because we—the adults—have not embraced the truth ourselves that we allow a great majority of our young people to slowly sink in historical quicksand? If this is our current reality, we must take up arms to not just wantonly lower our heads, but instead, to accept responsibility and seek to know better and do better.
Understanding and speaking the truth about history is more than just about being WOKE. It’s about reframing all minds, ethnicities, and communities around the world so that the unjustified “pretty lies” are no longer deemed as the norm; but instead, the truth—no matter how raw and ravaging it may be—can allow us as people to take the warped scabs from our eyes and empower one another to return to our roots. And while it may sound idealistic, the truth will set us free to create a more empathetic future, embracing the spirit of our differences.