I often think to myself that there is a lot of background racism in the United States. By background racism, I mean racism that is so steeped into the culture that it isn't even noticed unless pointed out by outsiders. One example sprang to mind after reading Robert Scoble's post Did China beat Christopher Columbus by decades? where he writes

Speaking of Chinese, I'm reading a book "1421 The Year China Discovered America" that makes a darn good case that Christopher Columbus didn't discover America. He's done a ton of work that shows that the Chinese were actually here 60 years prior and that Christopher Columbus actually had copies of their maps!

That basically throws out a whole ton of history I learned in elementary school.

What I find interesting is this concept of "discovering America". There were already people on the North American content when Columbus [or the Chinese] showed up in the 15th century. So "discovered" really means "first European people to realize the American continent existed". Now every child in America is brought up to believe that Europeans showing up on some land that was already inhabited by natives is "discovering America" and introducing it to the world. 

This makes me wonder how much the history lessons I received growing up in Nigeria differs from the version British kids got about the African colonies. Perhaps there is also some white guy celebrated for having "discovered Africa" and civilizing the black savages who he met when he got there. At least whatever tribes that welcomed whoever he was aren't extinct today, too bad you can't say the same for the tribes that greeted Columbus.    


Tuesday, 06 July 2004 10:37:02 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Actually Vikings were first, in about 985 (http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/vinland.html). So what "discovering america" really means must be something like : first "modern" europeans realized America existed.
Tuesday, 06 July 2004 11:25:09 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Nope, the people who really discovered America (when it was human-free yet) were ancient asians and most likely they came to America via Bering Strait.
All latter ones were just newcomers.
Tuesday, 06 July 2004 12:50:59 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
British kids actually get taught very little about the former African colonies. This little island has a great deal of its own history and has been both the source and recipient of many migrations of different peoples. The whites are Romano-Celtic-Anglo-Saxon-Scandinavian-Norman; History lessons tend to focus on those, on 20th century history up to about 1950 (not much Korean War or Suez Crisis), the Industrial Revolution and on social upheaval (I recall studying the Suffragette Movement, for example). We did cover some material on slavery, but little on people involved. The emphasis is very much 'this happened - and this is why it was bad'.

This focus is unfortunate, but the white population of the UK is about 92% (2001 Census). So lessons tend to focus on the history of the white population.
Tuesday, 06 July 2004 13:07:25 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I was born in England and lived there until I was 13. The only history I can recall being taught at school was about England itself: the various conquerings by Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and finally Normans (which was only 1,000 years ago and so is not forgiven yet); and then iterating through the huge number of Kings and Queens, lingering mostly on Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. I don't remember anything about the sun never setting on the British Empire, but that might have been saved for older children.

Then my family moved to South Africa and the history I learned there was all about the European explorers to Southern Africa - the Portugeuse first, then the Dutch, and finally the English. And the wars between the settlers and the Africans and between the Dutch and English settlers. Like here in the U.S., not much about the natives, except where they got in the way of the white folks. I'm sure they now have a much more balanced view that includes the African peoples and the spectacular end to apartheid.
Tuesday, 06 July 2004 15:20:04 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
That's not racism, it's historical perspective. The "winner" gets the honor of writing the history.

I'm not proud of what my ancestors did, but I enjoy what this country has become. We don't think that way anymore. In fact, I can remember arguing the same thing with my history teacher back in elementary school. I don't think I've ever actually celebrated the "discovery" of America.

Plus, isn't that how patents work? It doesn't matter who the first person was to know about something, it's the person that shares it with the world first that gets the spoils.
Tuesday, 06 July 2004 17:38:51 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
What about species-ism? Wasn't it the trilobytes or single celled amoebas that discovered america?
Tuesday, 06 July 2004 23:20:06 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I think you might be basing your opinion on an idealized remembrance of a U.S. education system of old. Since the late seventies, the agenda at public schools has changed 180 degrees. My history education (in a relatively rural area) from sixth grade on was basically a continual diatribe against the racist, imperialistic, chauvinistic old white men who ravaged the land. Some particular items I learned in my history classes:

* My ancestors used disease-ridden blankets as gifts as biological warfare to reduce native American populations
* We tricked the poor natives into giving up manhattan in exchange for a handful of beads
* We deliberately instigated spanish-american war so that we could expand territory
* Thomas Jefferson had slave children
* Andrew Jackson was a dangerously imbalanced man who killed many innocent native American women and children with glee
* Black people used to count as 3/5ths of a person
* Interracial marriage was illegal until 1950
* We did extensive units on all of the civil rights history, fredrick douglass, slave rebellions, harriet tubman, maya angelou, rosa parks
* People with blue eyes and crew cuts killed all of the Jews
* Religious fanatics are dangerous
* Women are still disenfranchised
* Our technological lifestyle is killing the planet. Rachel Carson's book was required reading
* Other cultures are more peaceful and balanced than ours; for example, we learned about the gentle Tibetans (but not the slaves the God-king kept)

And the list goes on, and on, and on. I believe that my school was not at all an anomoly, and in fact was more conservative than most. I believe that the american public education system as it exists today is far more critical of its host nation than any other educational system in the world.
Wednesday, 07 July 2004 00:21:43 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
"I believe that the american public education system as it exists today is far more critical of its host nation than any other educational system in the world."

I don't see the supporting evidence that lets you jump from "it's a critical system" to "it's the MOST critical system IN THE WORLD!".
Baldrick Jameson
Wednesday, 07 July 2004 03:41:58 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

I base this on my limited knowlege of other cultures' educational systems. For example, I have moderatley deep knowlege of China's educational system, which is immensely more patriotic than the U.S. I have also read, for example, a children's primer from Cuba, which lionizes "Nimble Fidel". And from what I have learned, the Japanese educational system dwells not at all on such things as the rape of Nanjing and other atrocities committed by Japan (the rape of Nanjing would be cause for an orgy of educational guilt-mongering in the U.S. -- compare to "trail of tears"). Actually, you may have a point, in that I believe modern educational system in Germany is filled with German-loathing nearly competitive with America-loathing. The memory of holocaust is not ignored in teaching German schoolkids, which is probably a good thing.

Anyway, I would point out that the level of self-critical questioning represented in modern american public history education is also mirrored in the media. I do not see nearly the level of self-critical attitude in European, Asian, or Arab media. Teachers and journalists in america get away with many statements which would cause them to disappear in the rest of the world.
Wednesday, 07 July 2004 15:58:10 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It’s an interesting question whether institutionalized national self-loathing has a net positive effect or negative. Germany is supposedly experiencing a resurgence of white-supremacist thinking, and the stridency of the far-right in the U.S. could be attributed to the shift toward political correctness in public education.
Comments are closed.