Throughout our careers, we’ve always played different roles—one of us an offensive tight end, and the other a defensive safety—and we’ve almost always played on different teams. Now, we’re both on the same team, taking the same position, pushing for more anti-racism education in our nation’s schools and fighting recent state and local gag-order policies to keep educators from telling the full truth about our nation’s history.
Folks are loudly fighting anti-racism education in our schools, and in the course of doing so, are actually showing how wrong we’ve gotten things as a country, without this knowledge. We believe in what is right and how important it is for all of our students to study the full history of our country. This includes anti-racism education if we ever want to see true justice in our nation’s future.
Anti-racism education is not a novel concept. Just as categorizing and viewing a hierarchy among “races,” the essence of racism is not a new concept. Martin Luther King Jr., in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail, wrote, “The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice … who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” Long before MLK, the work of Ida B. Wells and Carter G. Woodson and so many others underscored the need to highlight these issues. Then, as now, placid acceptance of the status quo—a deviation to order rather than justice—and failure to provide clear, robust, accurate and full education—will not uproot racism in the nation.
This is not about teaching hate or teaching groups to be ashamed. It is about choosing to acknowledge the full story of this nation’s founding. If we continue to choose ignorance over knowledge we will only fall further behind the ideals and morals we so boastfully claim. We must provide a full, complete and accurate education for our children. This is essential for all of us to advance a just future. This is the “more perfect union” for which our nation must continually strive.
We love our country, and that is why we cannot tolerate our schools sharing inaccurate versions of history. Anti-racism curriculum is important because it engages students with the full, honest version of our nation’s history, which includes the racism in our past and present. It is integral to us advancing as a society. We should all reject teacher gag order proposals (like Idaho HB 377, enacted April 28; Arkansas SB 627, enacted May 3; Oklahoma HB 1775, enacted May 7; Tennessee SB 623, enacted May 25; and Iowa HF 802, enacted June 8). Omitting the truth does a disservice to everyone because we know the present is a result of the past and sheltering students from this prevents the collective response needed to address the racism-related challenges that we face in America today.
This is not the first time America has had the opportunity to make right on these wrongs. We would not be in a position today, fighting to keep history from being hidden, if we had acted in good faith before. If America had made good on reparations or if America hadn’t reinstated slavery, in the form of black codes, convict leasing, redlining, Jim Crow and multiple massacres like Tulsa, Wilmington and Rosewood there would be less unlearning to do.
As a country, we have not yet made an effort to educate the populace on the true nature of our rise as a global power and this is why we have such difficulty doing it now. If full and accurate information about our nation were incorporated in every school in the U.S., we wouldn’t be currently fighting against misinformation. Instead, we’d all have a shared understanding of our past and our present, and a shared opportunity to create a better future for all. We could find patriotism in an honest narrative rather than division in a false one. Fortunately, we still have time to make things right. Let’s win the future and let’s start right now by standing together on a truthful education for every child in America.
For a truth-centric, experiential curriculum, unpacking the issues that have vexed our country for centuries, see Black History 365, an educational entity whose purpose is to create cutting-edge resources that invite students, educators and other readers to become critical thinkers, compassionate listeners, fact-based, respectful communicators and action-oriented solutionists.
Malcolm Jenkins is an activist, entrepreneur, New Orleans Saints safety and co-founder of Players Coalition, a social justice nonprofit.
Benjamin Watson is a former NFL tight end, Super Bowl Champion and 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year finalist. As a Players Coalition task force member, Watson focuses on education and juvenile justice.
The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.