Although more and more Americans are going to college every year, most Americans end their education at the high school level. Consequently, high school is the institution at which the majority of Americans are given the tools needed to be responsible citizens and active members their communities. Because of America’s increasingly powerful role in the world, and the effect both internally and externally of every decision made by our government, it is paramount that all American residents understand the complexities of the world in which we live, and specifically the construction of race and its effects on our social order. It is simple to see how the world works, but it is essential to understand that the social structure in place was neither implicit nor intrinsic. For this reason, I propose that “Colonialism and its Consequences,” a course surveying, deconstructing, and understanding the long-lasting effects of colonialism and its direct role in racial formation, be a mand! atory course for all high school students.
The way we view the world has been incredibly shaped by the legacy of colonialism. Although popular American discourse denounces the idea of America as an imperialist and colonialist power, the history of genocide of an indigenous population and forced migration and enslavement of an alien population seems to tell a different story. Indeed, in many high schools African American, Latino American, and Native American history are often read as small blurbs in the larger context of White American Colonial History. These groups are overshadowed and ignored because their history does not blend well with the accepted narrative of America’s rise as the first truly free and democratic country. However, in order to understand the complex nature of race and class in America, it is essential to learn the gravity of the colonization of America, and place the experience of the internally colonized parallel to that of the colonizers.
Learning the history, however, is not enough. It is not only important to understand what happened, but also how this history has affected every institutional and social system in place in this country. Although widely accepted since Omi and Winant’s critical work “Racial Formation,” race as a social construct and a means of political hegemonic subordination has not trickled down to the high school level. America as a racial dictatorship until 1964 and the lasting effects of this racial hegemony are crucial concepts to which unfortunately most Americans never get access. That the American legal system institutionally constructed whiteness and implemented this construction in order to organize and restrict valuable resources for the elite is a vital fact when living and interacting with this legal system on a regular basis.
With such recent events as Hurricane Katrina, the War in Iraq, and compulsory DNA testing for all convicted felons, understanding the long legacy of race, colonialism, and imperialist epistemologies is necessary for any voter or community member. We can only live up to the expectation of the social contract set up by our “founding fathers” by truly understanding that which was founded.