The Whitewashing of Black History

Kaitlyn McClearen, Opinion Writer

As February marks the beginning of Black History Month, it is important we talk about the whitewashing of Black history. The Google definition of whitewashing is “the deliberate attempt to conceal unpleasant or incriminating facts about (someone or something).” This has become so common that we can be completely unaware of it, and are rarely taught what really happened.

Whitewashing history helps preserve the white savior complex. So, what’s the white savior complex? It is a common trope in media in which a white person is depicted as saving or helping a person of color who doesn’t need their help. This is a prominent teaching in our schools. It is a very damaging mindset to have and has been around for hundreds of years. One prime example of the savior complex in history and the effect it has on our worldview is the imperialization of Africa. Where Europe colonized Africa and split it up into as many pieces it could have. It has been taught that Europe brought order and stability, that they were helping them. Obviously, they weren’t. Because of Europe’s unnecessary step into Africa, much of the continent is still recovering today.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “But I was taught about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, so how is my history whitewashed?” And yes, you were taught about those things but we are often taught limited, sanitized and cherry-picked versions to make what happened to Black people not look as bad as it was. One of the most prominent examples of whitewashing is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We are taught about him in school as being someone who preached peace, and he did, but he was way more than the I Have A Dream speech. Did you know the FBI threatened him? You can find the letter that was sent to him with a simple Google search. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about many things that weren’t just about peace. Normally Dr. King’s words are handpicked and not given full context, which erases his original meaning. It’s harmful and fuels the white politician’s agenda, allowing them to criticize any sort of confrontation that disturbs the daily lives of the public, considering it not peaceful, which was never Dr. Martin Luther King’s message.

Whitewashing also literally erases Black people who need to be talked about in school. We all know Thomas Edison, the so-called “inventor” of electricity. When actually Thomas Edison stole the idea for himself from Lewis Howard Latimer, a Black man. We should be taught about him in school instead of Edison, point blank, period. Lewis Latimer wasn’t the only Black inventor; Benjamin Montgomery created the steamboat propeller able to work in shallow water, even though it was not a new idea just improved greatly by him, and the only reason he was denied a patent was that he was a slave. Augustus Russell Pope, another Black inventor who also was a woman created the first electric alarm system in 1853. Lucky for her she did get her invention patented, but there is very little mention of her even when you Google her own name. Their names belong in our history books, and they deserve to be taught. American history desperately needs diversity.

The whitewashing of Black history isn’t accidental; it is to cover up the awful things that have happened in the past, and it all comes down to the fact that white America doesn’t want to take accountability for their mistakes. History should not be changed because someone feels uncomfortable talking about it. It doesn’t matter how guilty you feel it needs to be talked about and taught. It is important for everyone to be taught true history. How can we grow, learn, and fix the problems in our system when we aren’t even given the right history to be held accountable for?