Since my son’s been in pre-school, Social Studies, I’ve learned, has nothing to do with time. I guess I sorta understand why given that young children, even when they can tell time, don’t appear to understand it. In my son’s case, I usually say that he speaks of time in biblical terms. Thus, he might say something like, “I want it to be my birthday for 40, 50 hundred minutes.” When children begin to glimpse time through the sun and the moon, summer can be hell because when you try to keep them on a consistent 8:00 bedtime schedule, they recognize that it’s still light outside…but back to Social Studies. For three years, Social Studies has meant lessons about community, culture, transportation, the Post-Office and other very rudimentary things about how a very generic society functions. So now that he’s in first grade, I was very curious about the Thanksgiving lesson he’d receive. When I was in school, the lesson involved Pilgrims, Native Americans, maze, and a feast. Here’s what my son says he learned:
The Pilgrims came over. They enslaved some people who taught them how to survive. The slaves taught the Pilgrims
to fish. They buried the fish in the ground and that produced the food they ate. The end.
Miles’s story had little bits of American history that I can get with. Some Europeans came to a place, committed violence through enslavement, and used the knowledge of those they enslaved to sustain themselves. I have no idea how the dead fish produced food, but he told me he couldn’t explain it, that’s just what he’d “thought [he] heard the teacher say.” I don’t know what those other kids learned but it sounds like Miles took a little bit of what he learned from his teacher–Thanksgiving and Pilgrims–sprinkled in with the stories I read to him that feature slaveholders and enslaved people, and rounded the story up with a little bit of the bible (that’s the only sense I can make of the fish).
Miles’s version works for me–especially in the aftermath of Darren Wilson’s free pass for killing a black unarmed child. When I saw this photograph
of a white police officer in Ferguson hugging this crying black child, I became sick to my stomach. Sentimentality is no substitute for justice. Next week, we’ll be reading about the same boy in this photograph being put into a chokehold by a police officer unfamiliar with the knowledge that black children were no longer demons for the men and women who take an oath to serve our communities. Thus, I like my son’s narrative because it paints a picture of the America that Malcolm X saw; one where these sentimental photographs of police officers hugging black people as the same BS that it is. It’s been almost fifty years since Malcolm was with us but his words reverberated in my ears over this Thanksgiving holiday. He spoke pure truth when he said, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, the rock was landed on us.”
…I can get wit’ it