Series: White People Homework (2)

This series for June of “White People Homework” I’ll be writing a post a day, sharing resources and readings. Today is Dr. Kendi’s article in The Atlantic, “The American Nightmare.” He reviews the history and impact of Plessy V. Ferguson, a Supreme Court decision that impacts our nation today, and wasn’t overturned until Brown v. The Board of Education on May 17, 1954.

If I was able to teach this unit (and what next year will look like is ever-changing), putting together how-tos on how to annotate texts with big questions. The “then and now” approach to teaching history makes the most sense to me. The essential or guiding question when studying Plessy v. Ferguson is how did this decision in 1896 maintain and institutionalize racism in our nation through today? I believe our nation is broken right now. Truly broken. The nightmare Dr. Kendi refers to is our nation then and now.

“We don’t see any American dream,” Malcolm X said in 1964. “We’ve experienced only the American nightmare.” A nightmare is essentially a horror story of danger, but it is not wholly a horror story. Black people experience joy, love, peace, safety. But as in any horror story, those unforgettable moments of toil, terror, and trauma have made danger essential to the black experience in racist America. What one black American experiences, many black Americans experience. Black Americans are constantly stepping into the toil and terror and trauma of other black Americans. Black Americans are constantly stepping into the souls of the dead. Because they know: They could have been them; they are them. Because they know it is dangerous to be black in America, because racist Americans see blacks as dangerous.

The American Nightmare by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, The Atlantic, June 1, 2020

When Plessy again refused, he was taken a half-mile down to Elysian Fields Avenue for booking at the Fifth Precinct Station. Members of the Comité met him, and a judge released him on temporary bail. The next day a story in a New Orleans daily described Plessy as a “snuff-colored descendant of Ham.” After a hearing, Comité member Paul Bonseigneur plunked down a $500 bond (raised by putting his own house in hock) to guarantee Plessy’s appearance for trial. Plessy was 30 years old. The future of constitutional rights for Blacks in America would ride on his day in court.

*Snuff-colored descendant of Ham: From Noah’s Curse to Slavery’s Rationale The use of Christianity as a means of racism, bigotry and justification to enslave others will be addressed in these posts. I have no opinion as a secular individual. Many of my friends practice a range of faiths; however, family members who have shown themselves to be Christian Nationalists are no longer welcome in my life.

Further Reading:

Plessy v. Ferguson
Zinn Education Project: Plessy v. Ferguson: The Organizing History of the Case
Plessy V. Ferguson: How ‘Separate But Equal’ Reverberates Through The 21st Century

The offer still stands: if ten people who reach out to me want me to buy them a book on the list, who will read it in good faith and love, I’ll be happy to buy you a book. If you want one for your classroom, you can message me on Twitter @mrskellylove