Carol Anderson has written about race and equality (or the lack thereof) for many years now. I read one of her most recent books for adults, One Person, No Vote, and was blown away by the research and analysis contained within. While I have not read her work White Rage, her version for teens, We Are Not Equal, which was written with Tonya Bolden has impressed me just as much as One Person, No Vote, if not more. She presents an argument that every time our country takes a step toward racial justice, the response from those in power is to attempt to roll back those rights.
History is nothing if not complex. Our textbooks are often written from the perspective of the victor or the majority. We often overlook or skim over issues that might be painful or controversial, mostly because of fear not hate. I am currently reading Biased by Jennifer L. Berhardt, PhD, who notes that in a 2017 survey by the Southern Poverty Law Center, only 8 percent of high school seniors could identify slavery as the primary reason the South seceded from the Union (p. 220). In We Are Not Yet Equal, Anderson points out that we often skip directly from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement when covering race in social studies classes. If our coverage of slavery is so basic that students do not recognize its impact on historical events, there is no way that they will understand the need for the Civil Rights Movement or the effects that the slave trade still has on our nation today.
Anderson presents a much more complex picture of history than students are often exposed to in school. We always talk about how Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but we don’t often talk about how he wanted to send free black people to South America because he blamed their race for the Civil War. We talk about Brown vs. Board and students like Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine, but we rarely discuss the fact that educational segregation is still alive and well in our country because of policies put in place by local and national government policies.
We Are Not Yet Equal is truly a must read for students in high school studying American History. We are in a “roll back” period in history right now and we must make sure that this stops and that the, allow me to paraphrase, “arc of our universe bends toward justice” again.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Justice 12: I can recognize, describe, and distinguish unfairness and injustice at different levels of society.
Justice 13: I can explain the short and long-term impact of biased words and behaviors and unjust practices, laws and institutions that limit the rights and freedoms of people based on their identity groups.
Justice 15: I can identify figures, groups, events and a variety of strategies and philosophies relevant to the history of social justice around the world.
Common Core Standards:
RI.2- Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
RI.3- Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
RI.6- Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
RI.8- Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).