In February, an 8th grade social studies class in (wealthy) Brentwood, TN was given a homework assignment for Black History Month that required them to “create a list of expectations for your family’s slave.”
Shortly after the Brentwood incident, a school in neighboring Columbia, TN came under fire for an eager teacher who asked students “would you rather be a slave or shot and killed?” and “if you are a slave owner and one of your slaves is doing nothing what should the punishment be?”
Finally, less than a week ago, a Murfreesboro, TN magnet school made news when the father of an 11-year-old hit social media to rant about his daughter getting sent to the principal’s office for attempting to stop a classmate from doing Nazi salute at the end of his/her Hitler presentation.
Tennessee History Not So Far In The Past
Instances of racial ignorance and hate in Tennessee schools are not accidental. It would be intellectually dishonest to chalk it up to some extraordinary coincidence as to why Tennessee schools mimic the backwoods behavior we’re seeing from our state leadership.
The pipeline of racial insensitivity and disharmony begins at the state Capitol.
Tennessee is home to Donald Trump favorite Andrew Jackson, 7th president of the United States, owner of 150 enslaved black women, men, and children, and author of the Indian Removal Act that led to thousands of Indians forced from their land and dying along the way, known as the Trail of Tears. For more than 125 years, people from all over the world travel to Nashville to visit The Hermitage, home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson, to honor this guy. The Hermitage is also a field trip destination for thousands of Tennessee students.
(Full disclosure: I live in Hermitage, about 2 miles from Jackson’s home, but within short walking distance to the edge of the 1,000 acre property.)
Another much celebrated Tennessean is Nathan Bedford Forest, a wealthy Memphis businessman through the illegal acquisition and selling of Africans and thought to be the first grand wizard of the KKK. We actually have a West Tennessee state park named for him and a hideous monument in Nashville that can be seen (and can never be unseen) from the bustling I-65. Finally, a bronze bust of the illegal human trader lives in the taxpayer-funded state Capitol.
Also on the grounds of the state Capitol, one will find a statue of 11th POTUS James K. Polk, a Columbia, TN resident who benefited greatly from enslaved African women and men. Again, thousands of Tennessee students visit the state Capitol where Jackson, Forest, and Polk are immortalized.
When Red Means Hate
Tennessee is a red state. This fact doesn’t trouble me as much as the Trump breed of red that has proven to endanger 1.1 million black, 300,000 Latino, and thousands of immigrants living in Tennessee. Just as the bronzed men hoisted high above the general population, the current high-ranking state leaders and their compadres see little to no value in our agency. The GOP-heavy legislature craft and pass laws that squash our vote and voice, discriminate against immigrant children, and harbor racists, rapists, and philanderers to protect the party and please the president.
At this very moment, Glen Casada, the third highest-ranking elected official in the state is accused of lying, harboring racist staffers, protecting sexists and a child molester. He has disgraced the title Speaker of the House, clearly doesn’t give a shit about Black people and has little value for women. The worst part is that the Republican representative from Franklin, TN refuses to resign. Even as the current and immediate past governors, both GOP, have publicly shared a vote of no confidence in his leadership and members of the party have publicly distanced from the embattled politician. Casada refuses to resign because he knows this is a place that looks the other way where black people and women are concerned. He understands his privilege and fully intends to cash in on it.
Hate From On High
This is what leads us. From the Nathan Bedford Forest bust to the highly paid n-word slinging chief of staff of Glen Casada, the hate rolls down the Capitol grounds and infects our city leaders and institutions.
The poorly planned homework assignments in our schools are tragic but not shocking. Our state worships slave owners and murderers and provides cover for today’s racists, what else should we expect?
I’ll tell you what I expect, I expect the leaders to model love and tolerance for all Tennesseans. I expect them to remove Glen Casada (and Nathan Bedford Forest bust). Our children are watching. They deserve so much better.