I’ve been itching to write this post since my Sociology 1 lecture the past Tuesday. The theme of this week’s readings and lecture and discussion is how History is framed in America, and how it is more often than not a skewed and problematic portrayal. Hit Read More for my thoughts on the things I’ve learned. Historical figures to be covered: Helen Keller, George Washington, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of the three texts we have is called “Lies my Teacher Told Me”. So far it is a book that debunks or clarifies American History facts that are often improperly portrayed in the American education system. It starts off with a big, shocking kind of hook to exemplify how American History tends to Obscure facts and Heroify figures. If you watched the films or read the childrens’ books, would you know that Helen Keller spent the majority of her adult life, until her death, advocating for womens’ rights… as well as the working class… as a self-identified Socialist? I certainly didn’t know. The book doesn’t deny the story that the films and the short-and-sweet stories say about her youth being blind and deaf and learning to understand a form of language and going on to advocate for the disabled. The book emphasizes how we don’t know the REST of her story, a story that is just as important and significant as the story of her personal achievement in overcoming a disability. For Helen Keller, her disability was part of what made her identify so strongly with radical Socialism. As part of a marginalized and oppressed group, she strongly empathized with the plight of low wage industrial workers who were also being marginalized and oppressed by a privileged class. She even recognized that her chance to have a home tutor who taught her language, as well as the other support systems she had, were due in large part to the fact that she was born into a wealthy family. That kind of radical Socialism, the kind associated with the Communist boogeymen that we all fear so much, just doesn’t fit the character of the “All-American” Helen Keller. The book focuses on the idea of “Heroification”. Turning figures in history into one-dimensional do-gooders with no fault, not unlike a god in mythology. This kind of “Heroification” obscures important parts of their humanity, especially their faults. The book (and the professor during lecture) goes on to talk about America’s favorite national hero: George Washington. We all are taught at a young age to revere the founder of America. Perhaps when we get to AP US History, after two to three rounds of simplified American History, do we get hints that Washington was also a slave-owner, but that might usually be glossed over as a function of the time period. But, and I’ve yet to confirm this but I can’t, the Soc professor talked about how a subculture existed during the Revolutionary Era that flat out opposed slavery. So in some sense, it was a conscious decision of many of the Founding Fathers to reject the existing idea that no person should be enslaved, for whatever reason. The professor also went to on explain how much of the reasons for the Revolutionary War were very much not noble, but initially rooted in more greedy intents to gain more land and profits. Now personally, my education in American History DID in fact touch on many of these less savory parts of American History, including the horrifying effects of Columbus’s “discovery” of America, which brought untold amounts of death and suffering onto Native populations. So there is probably some variance between different schools, school districts, states, and textbooks. The book repeatedly emphasizes that it is not out to demonize America’s historical figures. It simply wants education from the beginning give a more holistic and fact based portrayal of these historical figures, laying out both the good and the bad, showing these figures to be imperfect and normal human beings, and allow for critical thinking instead of blind obedience. This is especially relevant following a week that celebrates the memory and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When my group gave a presentation about Racism last quarter, we talked about how King has become just that, a memory, frozen in time, on infinite loop. Today, we are taught an American History about this great amazing man who worked very hard to advance Civil Rights in American and bring equality for all the races. And that’s it. Like it’s over. As if the struggle for justice and equality started and completed with Dr King. Which I think, and I’m sure many other critical thinkers would agree, is a flat out falsehood and a embarrassment to the memory of Dr King. We are not in a post-race society, not after King, not after some Civil Rights bill, and definitely not after having the first African American President of the United States of America. Yes, there have been great steps and strides of progress, and that needs to be recognized and celebrated. That is the history that is told. But the other half of history is not told, and that is that there is still so much more work to be done. Racism is alive and kicking people into the dirt everyday in America, and that is unacceptable. If the book has anything to say about Dr King, I think it would agree that MLK Jr has been Heroified as this godlike figure who came and fixed everything and was totally nonviolent and nonconfrontational. The fact is, and the one I certainly didn’t know about, and many people don’t talk about, is that Dr King, towards the end of his life, was championing the cause of economic equality. He was on the verge of gathering together a nationwide movement inclusive of all races to target rampant economic inequality, which he recognized was inextricably linked to racism. At the MLK Symposium Lecture the other day, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown expressed his belief that if Dr King had not been killed, and had continued his work, we would not have needed the Occupy movement. That MLK fought for economic justice is a fact, it is History. But it is not a History that they’ll teach you, it is not a history that the GOP will tell. MLK recognized that American Individualism was not a whole truth, that institutional and structural barriers existed to the oppressed. He said that “true compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar… it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” They’ll also tell you that MLK was all about peace and nonviolence. But that is only half the truth. Yes, MLK fully believed in achieving social justice through nonviolent means, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t willing to be critical and confrontational about injustice. In fact, he organized and participated in nonviolent protest intended to be able to provoke arrests. He knew that calling his Senator wouldn’t be enough. But when the history textbooks and the mass media pushes this Heroified picture of Dr King, it distorts what he stood for and what he fought for. America today is so dismissive of protesting. I only need to check my Facebook to see how many of my friends have been so dismissive of Occupy and of student protesters as “idiotic”. America is still rather dismissive about real economic justice, and you only need to listen to a GOP presidential candidate to hear the (bulls***) “bootstraps” talk. When we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr, we should also be remembering and honoring these aspects of his memory in addition to the truly extraordinary work he did in advancing the cause of equality and justice, but we don’t, because we don’t even know these parts of him.