Within the past several days, three bills have been introduced in the West Virginia Legislature, each of which in its own way is a back-door attempt to whitewash and bury the United States’ problematic history of mistreatment of Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and non-white populations.
These proposed bills (SB498, HB4011 and HB4016) are actually camouflaged efforts by arch-conservatives, led by the Heritage Foundation, to ban discussion of so-called “divisive concepts” or teaching that even suggests that race has played and continues to be a part of this nation’s history.
Don’t be fooled by language that — on the surface — may appear benign.
The real goal is to block presentation of the full history of this country. Teaching the American Revolution is fine, but not the Tulsa race massacre; teaching about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are encouraged, just don’t talk about them as slave owners — especially about Sally Hemming; Manifest Destiny drove the country’s westward expansion, never mind the indiscriminate theft from and killing of Indigenous people.
The bills carry such misleading titles as the “Anti-Stereotyping Act” (HB4011), “The Anti-Racism, Anti-Sexism, and Prevention of Political-Economic Bias in School Curriculum and Pedagogy Act of 2022” (HB4016) and the “Anti-Racism Act of 2022” (SB498).
The bills take an upside-down approach to reach their goal. Instead of banning “divisive concepts” or “uncomfortable subjects,” for example, they purport to ban the teaching of racism, of anti-Semitism, or that one race is superior to and/or more moral than another.
After all, who could possibly be against teaching those and similar things.
But the Devil, as we all know, is in the details, which in this case come straight from Hades.
How, for example, does one teach about times when this nation discriminated against or took advantage of people of different color, ethnicity, sexual orientation or in any way are different from the dominant, white, heterosexual population? What about times when government policy deliberately and knowingly did the same?
How, indeed, when the laws include such classic chilling effects as allowing any student or employee who objects to sue the individual and the agency, or put a teacher’s job in jeopardy.
Not all of our history is roses; there are weeds as well. But we can’t ignore the weeds or they will choke out the roses.
Those West Virginians who want the state to draw new people and new business — both of which are crucial to its future — must join to oppose this effort.
Accordingly, a variety of more than 300 organizations and individuals from across the state have come together as the West Virginia Coalition for Truth in History.
As West Virginians and Americans who respect the insight of the writers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equality and liberty to all, we must ensure that we keep aiming to do our best to form a more perfect union. This requires open airing and courage to see where we have fallen short and can do better.
• Is antithetical to the concept of academic freedom and intellectual inquiry.
• Leads to a repeat of the faults of our past and legitimizes them.
• Is an attempt to hide racist events such as the Tulsa or Wilmington massacres, Jim Crow laws, chattel slavery and more.
• Leads to suppression of any sexual orientation other than heterosexual.
• Prohibits discussion of the history of gender inequality and women’s rights.
Instead, teachers and other governmental employees and agencies should:
• Be free of fear of reprisal for open discussion.
• Be free to discuss our history and the equality for all people.
• Be able to address gender and sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.
It is crucial that this bill be rejected or our state will suffer both social and economic consequences for years to come. Our population will continue to evaporate and will our state be ignored by the very entrepreneurs it hopes to entice.
We would be wise to listen to the many people throughout history who have cautioned against ignoring the past, including Sir Winston Churchill, who said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
John A. Bolt, of Morgantown, is a member of the WV Coalition for Truth in History.