Triple H: History Held Hostage

I’m sure that the opening title of this article raised at least one eyebrow as to how this would correlate with history. The only correlation that I can connect besides the famed wrestler turned business executive known by Triple H to history is that history is currently experiencing the wrestling holds and choke-slams synonymous with the wrestling world itself. 

For the past few years, we have witnessed the erasure of history and often the people associated with its story right before our eyes. From the challenging and often hurtful rhetoric of the past presidential and state government administrations to the current legislature, history and its story has been a heated and highly political debate.  But what seems to be devoid of this conversation is the longstanding impact that such erasure will cause on the studies of history and humanities.

Since the beginning of 2021, the following states have filed and supported the signing of such bills: Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York,  Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia. What’s scary is that these bills would impact the teaching of history in primary schools, colleges, and universities. If you want to include symbolism in this matter, we’ve almost reached the exact number of states that originally formed the United States. But let’s be clear, it’s a specific type of history and conversation that has been the catalyst for creating these suppressive bills and laws.

Despite a few name changes to the bill based on states, most of the bills and laws supporting historic history teaching alternatives have centered around the omission of teaching race-related topics, sexism, and inequality in primary schools. Many think this foundationally helps the conservative wave that has washed up on America’s shores and slowly rescinded since the Post Obama era. But we as individuals and intellectuals know that this is not true. This phenomenon is historic.

I can recall vividly how many discussions from scholarly to radio centered around America being a “post-racial” society because we’d elected the first African American president. Yet, it was smoke and mirrors. We’ve just embarked on another historic win for presidential history in the United States with the election of the first female vice president, and that has not stopped or shifted the conversation of race relations and injustice in this country. The best example of all of this talk is summarized perfectly in the 2019 critical insurgencies book, “Teaching with Tension: Race, Resistance, and Reality in the Classroom, when the authors state:

“The stigma of race informed by the various ways it has functioned in this country became an easy castoff, and the accompanying post-racial narrative became an attractive one because it denied the recognition and consequence of white supremacy.” (Bolton, Smith & Bebout 2019, 325).[1]

Essentially by banning truthful history, despite the horrors and uncomfortable moments it often creates, we are doing many generations a disservice. As a history scholar, I learn more about history in every project and theme I research. Yet, suppose we fail to tell our youth in primary education and young adults in higher education that most everything they witness today is from suppressing historical accuracy and exposing the tears within the veil of our nation in terms of injustice. They are destined to repeat the same hurtful and detrimental mistakes of the past.

What’s even more concerning is that the desire to learn about cultural history has either dwindled or stalled in terms of higher education degree conferring. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,

“as with bachelor’s degrees, history’s share of all master’s and doctoral degrees declined dramatically over the 1970s and early 1980s and then remained close to this reduced level through 2014. In 2014, history degrees represented 0.5% of all master’s and first professional degrees, down from a high of 2.4% in 1967. At its height in 1970, history accounted for 3.5% of all Ph.D.’s, but in 2014 the discipline’s share was 1.6%” (Unknown, History Degree Completions). [2]

The desired ban on cultural and race theory-based history has expanded beyond the primary level as we know. On May 6, CNN reported updates to Idaho lawmakers’ efforts to pass a bill that would ultimately ban critical race theory in all public schools, extending to the university level. (Asmelash, 2021). [3] What’s interesting is that the founder of critical race theory, Kimberle Crenshaw, expressed to CNN in 2020 that the force behind the ban on critical race theory is:

“an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it”  (Karimi, 2020).[4]

In addition, history already carried a bad reputation in American schools by some youth by being boring or uninteresting. In a world with the insatiable need for receipts, I can quickly provide a few. Just do a quick Google search, and you will find that The Washington Post, EducationWeek, and The Atlantic, to name a few, have published articles and op-ed pieces on the topic since 2014 until as recently as last year. But if you would like an academic read, check out Rosie Turner-Bisset’s article, Learning to Love History (2001) in the Teaching History Journal. She highlights that the educators even expressed a dislike towards history based on their own experiences with history. (Turner-Bisset 2001, 36).[5] Essentially, the roots of liking or disliking history begin with the primary level, which sets the tone for higher education.

So, after all of that, what’s next? What’s required, and what can be done? Well, let’s start by shifting the conversation from this being a conservative issue or political issue. People from both sides of the aisle have expressed support in de-funding academic programs that teach topics deemed as divisive, sexist, or exclusionary. Next, we need to take off the cartoon filter that suggests teaching history with the mindset that history is not that “bad.”

Yes. Some beautiful aspects of history have more often than not experienced exclusion because it wasn’t viewed as necessary.  Yet, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there are moments in history that unfortunately cross multiple generations that were not great. Unfortunately, racism and injustice have been weaved into the fabric of this country, much like the nation’s flag creation. Furthermore, racial and gender inequalities and injustices span across every discipline. And guess what, every field, whether education or science has what: history.

Last but certainly not least, we must accept and acknowledge that racism, sexism, and violence in America are very much a part of American history. Does that make someone unpatriotic if they state this? No. It makes them a realist that supports the concept of retelling and educating truthful history. Factually, history has been told from two perspectives that support the top-down approach and the idea of omitting or reworking factual information, almost like a spinoff, if you will. But in our society’s quest to make things “easier” for the conscience and digestion of fact, the delusion is at an all-time high. Many people are in a rush to state that they “don’t see race” or they “don’t see one gender as inferior or superior.”

On the surface, they hear and see themselves as an ally and accepting, but in reality, they are showing that they have refused to deal with their own biases. By default, everyone develops discrimination based on their social surroundings and teachings. We choose to decide what is right or wrong throughout life and how it makes us and others feel. But by stating you don’t see race or gender, you are part of the problem. The overwhelming consequence of this statement is that the nationality and gender of people have and will remain historically silenced. Perhaps the greatest example of this matches the discussion surrounding Asian Hate and Native American injustice and trauma. It’s often quiet and unseen because the historical narrative has been to brush the relevance of this being a problem behind them.

Now, this article is not intended to be a chastisement towards anyone and their views towards history. But its focus is intended to draw attention outside of simply viewing this as a race relation and injustice teaching problem to what it is. It’s our coping mechanism for accepting alternative reality over reality, much like society’s obsession with reality television. Most of it isn’t real but yet a crafted reality. So while state and government legislators and representatives flex their hand muscles much like the wrestlers flex their signature moves, a complex and lengthy look needs to be had with the siege over telling the factual history and current events in American schools. Instead of holding history hostage to escape unwanted conversation, we must encourage our educators and provide examples to the youth and young adults. Although history may be challenging to discuss, it can be taught and learned in a constructive manner that educates and clarifies today’s issues in hopes of supporting change.

Bibliography

Asmelash, Leah. Idaho Moves to Ban Critical Race Theory Instruction in All Public Schools, Including Universities, April 27, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/27/us/critical-race-theory-idaho-bill-trnd/index.html.

Bolton, Philathia, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout. “Conclusion: Back to the Classroom.” Essay. In Teaching with Tension: Race, Resistance, and Reality in the Classroom, 323–30. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2019.

Karimi, Faith. “What Critical Race Theory Is — and Isn’t.” CNN, October 1, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/01/us/critical-race-theory-explainer-trnd/index.html.

Turner-Bisset, Rosie. “Learning to Love History: Preparation of Non-specialist Primary Teachers to Teach History.” Teaching history, no. 102 (2001): 36-41. Accessed May 13, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43260389.

Unknown. “History Degree Completions.” American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Accessed May 13, 2021. https://www.amacad.org/humanities-indicators/higher-education/history-degree-completions.


[1]Philathia Bolton, Cassander L. Smith, and Lee Bebout, “Conclusion: Back to the Classroom,” in Teaching with Tension: Race, Resistance, and Reality in the Classroom (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2019), pp. 323-330, 325.

[2]Unknown, “History Degree Completions,” American Academy of Arts & Sciences, accessed May 13, 2021, https://www.amacad.org/humanities-indicators/higher-education/history-degree-completions.

[3]Leah Asmelash, “Idaho Moves to Ban Critical Race Theory Instruction in All Public Schools, Including Universities,” Idaho Moves to Ban Critical Race Theory Instruction in All Public Schools, Including Universities, April 27, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/27/us/critical-race-theory-idaho-bill-trnd/index.html.

[4]Faith Karimi, “What Critical Race Theory Is — and Isn’t,” CNN, October 1, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/01/us/critical-race-theory-explainer-trnd/index.html.

[5]RosieTurner-Bisset. “Learning to Love History: Preparation of Non-specialist Primary Teachers to Teach History.” Teaching history, no. 102 (2001): 36-41. Accessed May 13, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43260389.36.

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