On the Tennessee Tea Party Controversy: Why Our Project Matters—Now…

Disclaimer: While the blogosphere has pumped up the Tennessee Tea Party’s mandate to advocate for changes to Tennessee’s American history  textbooks-much like the folks in Texas wanted to change the history books, the story is really a year old.  The point here is that there is a reason for this project and others efforts to educate people about slavery and its effects in American society and culture.  —MWT

Before we go much further here is the quote from a member of the Tennessee Tea Party on American history textbooks in the state:

“Neglect and outright ill will have distorted the teaching of the history and character of the United States. We seek to compel the teaching of students in Tennessee the truth regarding the history of our nation and the nature of its government.”

Translation:  We are angry that multiculturalism is now a well integrated approach to the way we study history and culture in this country.  The emphasis of our history prior to the poison of Civil Rights and the late 20th century was just fine.  The books were perfect—white male and might make America right– and that’s just a fact.  This is not a country for the “others,” its ours.  People of color, women, sexual minorities, know your place and shut up.

and this gem:

“No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”

Keywords–“actually occurred,” “Founding Fathers,” “majority of its citizens,” “…including those who reached positions of leadership.”

Translation:  Racial chattel slavery as perpetuated against people of African descent and the annihilation and removal of Native Americans, are no reason to violate postulate 1: white male and might make America right…We wish to absolve American society as a whole even though those directly unconnected benefited from these practices.  In addition to the Founding Fathers, we would like to include all great men of European American heritage who made this country work for them and them alone and we would like to de-emphasize the role that enslaved Africans and African Americans and Native Americans played as Founding Fathers and Mothers themselves….

Bigger Translation: your ancestors don’t count, your stories don’t count, your history doesn’t count…you…don’t count…

So if you’re asking why we’re doing this project—we are giving a face and a name to a small subset of these groups who really lived and breathed and were effected by the complex internal struggles of the Founding Fathers and the “majority,” who obviously struggled with not only slavery and “Indian Removal,” but with their own complex emotions about their relationships with people of color.  How do you eat with people, play with people, grow up with them, have sex with them, laugh at their jokes, imitate their dances, their words, EAT THEIR FOOD and develop a taste for their tastes and yet have a society that is legally dedicated to their permanent and indefinite submission and subjugation.  That’s extremely complex and its a story that was going on all across the Americas, and would eventually play out in the century of colonization in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

I am leading this small team of Black, White and Latino searchers because I don’t want to hate anybody.  I don’t want to hold a grudge against anyone…I don’t want to get in the face of the people who owned my family and cuss them out.  I want to know if the Table of Brotherhood is real. I want to know if reconciliation is real.  I want to know if healing is real.  I’m doing this for my ancestors.  They need to know their lives meant something more than just the money they helped make but never saw.  Their lives were more than a sideshow, entertainment, scapegoat experiences.  I don’t want to promote hate–and the best way to make sure that happens is to tell the truth and fight ignorance like the words of these arrogant, idiotic, hateful apologists for the cultural genocide of my people.  I don’t hate them–I just want to love them with the truth.

A few years ago a Virginia legislator angrily suggested that Virginia need not express regret for slavery and the Commonwealth bore no legacy from the institution.  Virginia did express regret, but this person….felt no need to apologize, express regret or otherwise except responsibility.  I am the descendant of enslaved Virginians—and hearing what he said was akin to Holocaust denial.  You cannot be in peace, reconciliation and wholeness when you deny the truth.

Our foodways are the one thing we can’t deny. They didn’t get here out of thin air—they were created by specific people in a specific institution and in specific place.  This is the truth.  We’re putting a face on an aspect of enslaved people’s culture and lives that can be comprehended, that lets us into their interior world, and forces us to connect the enslaved with the lives we live today–not only in what we eat but the lived experienced of all people–all Americans who eat what they eat partly out of their rootedness in the Old Country as well as the American and global  culinary experience.    This project is about giving access to a world that if the Tea Party members in Tennessee would have it–would disappear from our cultural memory.

I teach about the Holocaust in my Hebrew school.  How interesting huh, an African American Jew teaching about the Holocaust–genocide and orchestrated hatred–what it means for people to have complex issues with a group that lead to acts of oppression…and yet those people resisted, joined forces with others for freedom, and constantly and consistently denied the alternative reality of their oppressors.  As we make our way through Elie Wiesel’s Night, I remind my students that power is in the story as much as in the survival expressed in those pages.  Many of the survivors of the Shoah wear a “Zakhor” pendant in Hebrew on their lapels.  Zakhor means “to remember” or “memory.”  Without that memory we are doomed to a recycled oppression.  To me what goes on our plates is zakhor in edible form.


One Reply to “On the Tennessee Tea Party Controversy: Why Our Project Matters—Now…”

  1. Excellent post. This same tactic was attempted in Europe also, laughed at, and failed miserably.

    If we don’t like what the history books say about us, then we need to stop doing those things so that our future history books finally have a change in theme.

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