Episode 15, Season 2
The systems that enabled and perpetuated African and Indigenous enslavement in what is now the U.S. have much in common, and their histories tell us a great deal about the present. Professors Bethany Jay and Steven Oliver join us to talk about connections between the first two seasons and how to teach them, and we preview what’s to come in season three.
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Resources and Readings
- Teaching Hard History, Grades 6–12 Framework
- Teaching Hard History, Grades K–5 Framework
- Historians Against Slavery
- History, Salem State University
- Bethany Jay and Cynthia Lynn Lyerly (editors), Understanding and Teaching American Slavery
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, Slavery & the Civil War, Part 1
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, Indigenous Enslavement: Part 1 (Christina Snyder)
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, Slave Codes, Liberty Suits and the Charter Generation (Margaret Newell)
- National Park Service, Bacon's Rebellion
- Wikipedia, Yamasee War
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, Dealing With Things As They Are: Creating a Classroom Environment (Steven Oliver)
- Learning for Justice, James Baldwin: Art, Sexuality and Civil Rights
- Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
- Reverend angel Kyoto Williams, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation
- Reverend angel Kyoto Williams, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, Teaching Slavery through Children's Literature, Part 1 (Ebony Thomas)
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, Teaching Slavery through Children's Literature, Part 2 (Debbie Reese)
- Society of American Archivists, Protocols for Native American Archival Materials
- National Congress of American Indians, Are Native Youth Being Pushed into Prison? (PDF)
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, Using the WPA Slave Narratives (Lynn Lyerly)
- Teaching Hard History: Podcast, The Other Slavery (Andrés Reséndez)
Meredith McCoy: I'm Meredith McCoy.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Hasan Kwame Jefferies. And this is Teaching Hard History: American Slavery.
Meredith McCoy: A special series from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Meredith McCoy, we've reached the end of the second season.
Meredith McCoy: That is so hard to believe. I am just thinking about all of the different material we've covered, all the strategies we've discussed, all the cool people we've gotten a chance to talk to and learn from. It's been a lot of fun.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: It's been a lot of fun, and I have really learned so much. Not only about how to teach American slavery, how to teach the history of Indigenous enslavement, but really how to think about the past as well as the present.
Meredith McCoy: The fact that we're having these hard conversations and thinking really carefully about how to teach this hard history, if all of us as educators in higher ed and K-12 are thinking together about how to do this work, that gives me a lot of hope for the future. And in this, our final episode of this season, we're excited to bring together the many strategies we've discussed across both seasons for navigating those challenges, so teachers and students can develop a deeper understanding of the history and legacy of American slavery.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And to help us make sense of the history of the enslavement of African people as well as the history of enslavement of Indigenous people, we've actually done something really special. We've reached out to Dr. Bethany Jay, who is the co-editor, along with Cynthia Lynn Lyerly of Understanding and Teaching American Slavery. Bethany was also the first scholar in the very first episode of season one, and she's going to join us in this episode to help us really make sense of the connections, the parallels, the similarities, and those things that are different between the history of Indigenous enslavement and the history of enslavement of African people.
Meredith McCoy: I love that we're bringing it full circle here as we wrap things up. And I'm excited too, because today we're also going to be joined, both through some live calls and through some voicemails, by other educators who are also thinking about these questions, including a special educator from my alma mater who's gonna help us think about the role of librarians and archivists in these questions.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Well, let's dive right in.
Meredith McCoy: Let's do it.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Bethany, it is really great to have you back. Thank you so much for joining us for this last episode. I can think of no better person to close out this second season. So welcome back.
Bethany Jay: Thanks for having me.
Meredith McCoy: We're so glad you're here.
Bethany Jay: Yes, I am, too.
Meredith McCoy: So as we wrap up and reflect on where we've been and how we've grown in our thinking about this issue of teaching the hard history of enslavement, I'm wondering if you could help us start by thinking about trends and resonances that have come up across season one and season two. What have you noticed in thinking about these two seasons?
Bethany Jay: So for me, there are two big things that jumped out at me after listening. And the first is the artificiality of the way that we think about American history, the way that we talk about American history in our public culture and the way that we even deal with American history in our classrooms. The notion that American history begins with the Pilgrims is really complicated by these stories, but even more broadly, we have this narrative of the United States as sort of becoming multicultural, that somehow diversity is a product of modernity.
Bethany Jay: But here we see that this land was vibrant, diverse, a multicultural space even before Columbus. And as we look at this land, even after European colonization, we continue to see it as a multicultural space occupied by many diverse groups of Indigenous peoples, European colonists, Africans and all of these groups' descendants. So this notion that multiculturalism or diversity is a buzzword of the 20th century and the 21st century is really wrong. And if we want to understand the lived experience of people in the past, we need to acknowledge and understand this diversity and the varieties of experiences that all of these different groups had with one another. The lived experience of people of the past is that they're living with people of African descent, they're living with Indigenous people. I love Margaret Newell's discussion of colonists and Indigenous people in and out of each other's houses in early New England. I think our students and my students who are going to become teachers often think of these as sort of siloed groups that don't interact with one another. We have to pull apart those silos, and that means inserting, allowing Indigenous people, allowing people of color into the curriculum throughout the continuum, and also changing that chronology too, so that we're beginning this story in a different space.
Meredith McCoy: For your students who are then going themselves go out into their own classrooms and teach social studies, how do you think about helping them reframe their curricular materials, their resources that might have just that sort of very traditional narrative that you're talking about working against when you are helping them to think about histories of enslavement?
Bethany Jay: One of the challenges that I was considering as I was listening to this season is the way in which state frameworks are imagined. And I know for Massachusetts, for example, in the high school frameworks, within the context of US history, no course goes before, like, 1763. American history begins with the sort of French and Indian War in the Massachusetts frameworks. And so part of what I think we need to do to sort of reframe this history is choose a different beginning. And that beginning can't be this moment before the United States is about to become an independent nation, which is how it's framed here, and I think in a lot of other curriculum frameworks. That beginning needs to really be where we have multiple nations, including sovereign Indigenous people, who are all existing in this space and all playing different roles, and all who have power to wield within this space. So I think we really need to sort of think about American history. And I encourage my students to think about American history as a history that always includes diverse peoples right from the start, and not just in moments where it's easy to talk about those histories.
Meredith McCoy: I've been thinking a lot about this issue of how, when I was teaching US history, and for many of my students coming into my classroom now at the college level, they only have learned about enslavement in the context of the Atlantic seaboard. And so I think part of what we've been doing about thinking about the Midwest and the West Coast, thinking about enslavement under the Spanish Empire as well as under the British Empire, we've really tried, I think, in this season to sort of blow up our understandings of where does slavery happened and when to slavery happen. Particularly in the Christina Snyder episode and in the Andrés Reséndez episodes, that there are some really provocative opportunities for us to think about expanding our understanding of who has experienced enslavement.
Bethany Jay: Yeah. Listening to this season has really been sort of surreal, because when I listen to those episodes on Indigenous slavery, so many of the stories are stories that I know, but not in the context in which we're talking about them in season two. When we think about it within the larger narrative of slavery, it's happening in a different chronology, it's happening in different spaces. We have the Spanish in Central and South America, for example. The second season underscores that the history of Europeans enslaving people in the Americas begins in the 15th century and not in the 17th. In some places, native slavery was outlawed well before the 13th Amendment, and in some places it persisted well after the 13th Amendment. But there were also throughlines that are the same: the exploitation of people to extract labor for profit, the use of violence as a mechanism of control. But even more importantly, the persistence of slavery. I think it was Christina Snyder in one of the first episodes started talking about slavery, the way that it mutates and transforms as almost viral. The fact that, despite legal, political or even moral barriers to enslavement, the institution persists.
Bethany Jay: It persists for Indigenous people with things like debt peonage and apprenticeships long after the institution was supposedly outlawed. It persists in ways that mirror what we know as, quote unquote, "slavery by another name" in African-American history. And it mirrors the way slavery persists today. I often, when I start my US history classes, I begin them taking a sort of much wider view of saying, look, it's not predestined that the United States is going to occupy this landscape. So let's think about what North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, looked like in this space and in this moment. And when we take that view, we really do start to see the very different ways and the different chronology of slavery emerge. I love teaching with the requirement, Christina Snyder talks about the requirement. And the requirement becomes one of the first ways that my students are like, wait a minute, this doesn't make any sense, this sort of legal mechanism to enslave people, that they have no idea what you're saying. It lays so bare some of the nonsensical legal ways in which people are enslaved.
Meredith McCoy: That's so right. And in that way, you know, sort of unsettling for students, that perceived inevitability and permanence of settler colonialism is a really important, I think, classroom tool for helping students to imagine alternative ways that history could have gone, and therefore also alternative futures for where we might go from here.
Bethany Jay: And I think that concept of settler colonialism is so powerful because I know my students, and I'm in New England, we often think about English settlers as being refugees from empire, and not really agents of empire. And I think it's really interesting to shift the lens and think about those sort of early English colonists, not just as fleeing from the British, but as agents of them, in the way that we might think of 19th century British imperialism. It's a whole different sort of lens to flip on. And I think it makes it easier for our students then to see the different power players, you know, on the continent and to see the multiple motives that English settlers had.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I tell you one of the things, Bethany, that really stuck out to me as well, was this notion of the persistence of slavery. That there are times throughout the history of this new world slavery, if you will, that governments, that individuals and of course, those who are being enslaved themselves are actually trying to end the system. And yet it persists for centuries, and not by accident, but rather because of the purposeful actions of certain individuals, as well as the purposeful actions of companies, corporations, businesses and governments. And that ought not be lost. The persistence of slavery isn't an accident of history, it's the result of people wanting to maintain this institution of exploitation for personal profit and gain. And you really see that over the centuries, and the ties, the mirror reflections and interactions between the enslavement of Indigenous people and the enslavement of African people.
Bethany Jay: One of the more powerful, you know, little—not little, but one of the more powerful realizations that came through in season two was this idea that maybe slavery as we've always imagined it, thinking about the African-American experience of enslavement is the exception to the rule, right? The legal, out in the open version of slavery that we are so used to, that really the sort of more under the radar, legally ambiguous sort of forms of slavery is actually more the rule for how slavery has existed and still does exist today. And then that African-American experience is in some ways exceptional in how out in the open and legal and protected it was.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Yeah, that's an interesting notion, because in some ways that makes for considering the enslaving of African people here, you know, an extension of more common traditions, more common forms. But then it also, I think, helps explain why, with abolition and emancipation in 1865, you still have these versions of unfreedom and unforced labor, because you almost have a reversion back to the ways in which people were being enslaved beyond and outside of what we consider to be the enslavement, the system of transatlantic world slavery as it related to African-Americans. Which would help explain too, why it's been so hard to get rid of and eliminate and completely abolish the institution of slavery as it has existed in sort of New World terms, if you will, post-1500, and continues to exist in various facets across the world today.
Bethany Jay: I keep coming back to that saying, you know, history doesn't repeat, it rhymes. And that saying was sort of going through my head as I listened to the entire second season. And thinking in some places, we really do see history repeating here more than just rhyming, as we look at these tactics that are being used.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And applied to different groups at different times.
Bethany Jay: Yep.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Right? In part because they have been tried and they have been tested. You mentioned Andrés Reséndez in episode seven and eight, talking about debt peonage and the forms of involuntary servitude that we see African Americans trapped in the late 1800s, certainly have been practiced and tried and tested and worked with regard to the enslavement of Indigenous people earlier on.
Bethany Jay: That, to me, was one of the most powerful discussions of the second season, and really I think that conversation with Andrés brought together these two seasons so well.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Bethany, you had mentioned this idea that students approach the study of this subject thinking about African Americans, Native Americans, Indigenous people, colonists, as sort of existing in these siloed groups. And well, clearly they were not, right? They're interacting. They're engaging. They're almost never apart. And because of that, you know, maintaining the institution of slavery or the institutions of slavery actually takes work. I mean, one of the things that we don't do a very good job of is talking about and teaching the ways in which the institution of slavery is maintained. It's not a natural law that there will be enslaved people and there will be free people. It actually takes a lot of work. It strikes me that the systems used to maintain, the many varied systems used to maintain slavery are one of these areas of continuity, or at least there are some real parallels between the systems used to maintain the enslavement of Indigenous people and the systems used to maintain the enslavement of African people. Is that something that you saw as well?
Bethany Jay: I think we see that so much across both seasons as really probably the predominant way that slavery is maintained. The persistence of violence as a mechanism to maintain slavery, violence or the threat of violence, but then also looking at the ways in which governments and legal codes adapt to the changing nature of slavery. And we see this in the African experience as we watch the sort of Virginia laws slowly mutate until they become a real slave society. And we see it with Indigenous slavery as well. The way that the laws adapt and change and find ways to keep people enslaved. So the legal system, the system of violence, and then systems that pull apart and separate people from their culture. And that's, of course, key to the transatlantic slave trade: separate people from whomever might speak their language, right? Whoever might provide an opportunity to resist.
Bethany Jay: And we also see that with Indigenous slavery, where we see social separation is a key tactic of how do you enslave people? Well, you separate them from groups that can provide aid or help to organize resistance. Key to both of those, though, both the legal mechanisms that allow for slavery, these sort of tactics of violence and social separation, is we see that they have their limits as well. And I think that gets us to the other sort of continuity, is that for all of these mechanisms used to perpetuate slavery, there are enslaved people across the board who resist every single one of those mechanisms. And as much as we want to talk about those cultures being in contact and that being necessary to maintain a system of slavery, that's not the only relationship that was happening here, right? That we also have Native American people and we have African-American people who are resisting those systems as well.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I just want to underscore something that you had pointed out, and that is the importance and the omnipresence of violence. I mean, we certainly see that in the African-American experience. The cornerstone of slavery was violence. But we also see, when we explore the enslavement of Indigenous people, that the cornerstone of that enslavement was also violence. And part of the reason for that, seems to me, is because those who were being enslaved are constantly resisting. You have to use violence and the threat of violence and make it real, whether that's the physical violence of beating and the like, or that sort of social violence of separating person from community and family, that that is really undergirding this whole thing because people who are being enslaved, Indigenous folk, African Americans, are constantly resisting. There's never a moment where we don't see people resisting at either sort of an individual level or rising to the level of mass rebellion. That strikes me as one of these important resonances across the two seasons and these subjects as well.
Bethany Jay: I keep going back to Christina Snyder. You know, everybody talks about the demographic decline of Indigenous people after settlement, and we often frame that as a result of disease and other issues. But, you know, Christina Snyder's estimate that for every one Indigenous person taken alive and enslaved, three people died resisting, that to me, that's a data point that we can talk about as teachers that allow us to sort of think about this moment in a different way with our students, right? It's just a sentence, but it really reframes this moment for our students, that it's not just that native people are dying, native people are being sold into slavery, and native people are resisting those actions and dying in the process.
Meredith McCoy: And for Indigenous people, another way that this violence manifests is the separation from your land. There is a particular form of violence that is inherent to that displacement, that deals with the severing of botanical relationships to medicines, and the disconnection of places where your people have their stories of how they understand themselves since time immemorial. So when we think about the kind of interpersonal violence of slavery, we cannot lose sight of the broader social and territorial violence that was also a component of the separation of people from their homelands.
Bethany Jay: And I think the other place that was a sort of a-ha moment for me is I spent a lot of time in my American history courses talking about Bacon's Rebellion. And I can remember as a student in college learning about Bacon's Rebellion and being like, whoa, this is a big deal that I've never heard about before, right? And I always take the time to talk about that. And Hasan, I think even in the episodes you say this is one of the main ways that we really talk about the kind of shift to African slavery, this sort of wholesale commitment to African slavery. And as I was listening to the episodes this season, you know, the Yamasee War really popped out at me as I need to teach these two things sort of side by side because whereas, you know, Bacon's whole plan in Bacon's Rebellion is to exterminate the native people, here in the Yamasee War, we see the native people sort of acting as agents, resisting this colonial enterprise. They both end up having sort of the same effect, to sort of reaffirm a commitment to African slavery at the end of the day in South Carolina and Virginia, but we see Native American people playing very different roles in those two narratives. Again, it's a place where I can see right in my existing curriculum that I can take this example and I can provide my students with a different way to think about the colonial moment, and I know this will make sense to my students as well.
Meredith McCoy: And I think for teachers and pre-service students who are looking for strategies, some of those strategies that you've just mentioned are very closely linked to the strategies that we heard from teachers in our call-in episode this season, about things like emphasizing resistance and using data points as ways to help students understand histories of enslavement across the continent.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So Bethany, I really like that you brought up the Yamasee War because that was one of the things that really leapt out for me as well. And I really appreciate you putting it into conversation with Bacon's Rebellion, because it seems to me that one of the important things that needs to be done in the classroom is to get our students to think in different ways about what it meant to be an Indigenous person living during this time, what it meant to be an African enslaved person living during this time, and in and next to these systems. So the importance of teaching resistance for me is just so critical. And it was reaffirmed by this season as well, because I see that as the way of conveying the humanity of these groups of people who were not only dehumanized then, but are also dehumanized now in the way that we teach them. But by putting them in the context of folk who resisted and who are fighting for their individual lives and the lives of their communities, we see their humanity. I wonder if you could say a little bit about, not only the importance of teaching resistance, but how do you go about teaching resistance, both from the perspective of incorporating the African-American experience, but then also the Indigenous experience as it relates to fighting slavery?
Bethany Jay: The other thing that I think is so incredibly important about the Yamasee War is that we see another mechanism of resistance, which is making calculated political decisions to try to better one's life. Before the Yamasee enter this military campaign against South Carolina and the traders in South Carolina, they're trying to fit themselves within that system. I think that's an interesting way and an important way to think about resistance, and not just as happening within a very particular context and as framed by limited sets of options. And that's really how I often think about resistance when I talk about the African-American experience. Like many others, my students come to the classroom and they think of resistance as Nat Turner, and that's the end of it. And when we start to talk about other forms of resistance, I think sometimes my students feel like this is maybe disappointing. That breaking tools or working slowly, it's not the dramatic narrative that they want.
Bethany Jay: But then we talk about the systems, right, in which that resistance operated, and what that resistance actually allowed people to do. So, you know, resistance can be running away for just a night or two to go see your wife or children. This allows you to maintain your humanity. It allows you to maintain a sense of community and self. So it matters. These big acts and these small acts of resistance, they all are a way in which people maintained a sense of individuality, community, worship and practicing your own forms of religion, also a mechanism of resistance, that provide continuity in a system that's meant to destroy it. And so thinking about the array of different ways in which people resisted, and the contexts in which that resistance happened, I think is so important for our students. And I think with both Indigenous communities and with African-American communities we can see this, and we can see it in the cultural continuity and the impacts that those communities have had on larger culture even today. We can see the sort of power of those movements of resistance.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I would add as well that I think incorporating native resistance to slavery, what it actually does is expand the spectrum of resistance options and how resistance manifests itself, because every one, every group, everybody in all times make choices. Everyone has choices, but not everybody has the same set of choices. And this is why I think what you are pointing out is context matters so much, because often in the classroom you have students just like you said, well, hell, if everybody is not Nat Turner then what are they doing, right? And it's like, okay, everybody has choices, but not the same set of choices. And everybody's trying to live. These aren't suicide missions. So trying to negotiate within the context of what's existing, I think shifts the dynamic and offers a kind of agency that we often overlook, that people are trying to survive individually and collectively. And sometimes that rises to the level of we don't have a choice but to pick up arms, and in other ways it's like, how can I just make my life more meaningful, ameliorate these conditions, so that I can survive with a greater degree of humanity in this hell that I find myself in?
Meredith McCoy: And so much of this is always focused on your children. How can I make this moment better for me? But then if you have kids, how am I looking forward to the next generation and the generation after that? And how do I navigate my own forms of resistance that preserve my dignity as a human being, and that also tries to create a little bit more space within the constrained circumstances in which I find myself for them?
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Yeah. I think that's a great point, because people certainly are resisting and thinking about obviously the individual lives, but they're always thinking ahead. I mean, they're always thinking for their children, for their children's children. How do I make this situation, just like you said, not only better for me individually, but for those who I love, those who I'm concerned about, my community, whether it's a small, defined plantation community or a broader Indigenous nation, how can I help perpetuate that into the future? That's part of that calculation. That's an important variable going into the equation that people are evaluating when they're making the decisions of how to resist—not should we resist, but rather how do we resist?
Meredith McCoy: So, Bethany, as we've been thinking about these resonances across the two seasons, one of the others has been this question of pedagogical strategy.
Bethany Jay: Sure. I mean, in both seasons, I think we see some strategies that are really grounded in the choices that teachers make about content. So when we are talking about African-American slavery or we're talking about Indigenous slavery, thinking about how people are represented, right, is a throughline in our curriculum. And resistance is a big piece of that. But then the other piece of thinking about how we do this in our classrooms is really thinking about that classroom experience. How are we setting up a classroom that is conducive to difficult conversations? How are we getting to know our students so that we can guide them through this kind of content and these kinds of discussions? How are we making our classrooms safe spaces? Those processes aren't easy, and one of the best people that I know to sort of lead us through those discussions is Steven Oliver, my colleague at Salem State University, who wrote a chapter on this in Understanding and Teaching American Slavery, and is back with us today to think about it in the context of both native peoples and African-American peoples and enslavement.
Meredith McCoy: Hi, Steven. Welcome.
Steven Oliver: Hello, hello. Thank you for the invitation.
Meredith McCoy: We're thrilled to have you.
Bethany Jay: Steven, I know you've done a lot of thinking about African-American slavery in the context of the book and in the context of your teaching. I was wondering if you could let us know your reactions to thinking about Indigenous slavery more carefully in season two.
Steven Oliver: Yeah, I thought it was an amazing season and filled in a lot of the blanks for me. This was something that I knew about on a surface level, I'd heard about it throughout the years, but to now have access to more in-depth knowledge of how these different systems worked, the numbers of people that were actually enslaved. I didn't know the whole piece about Indigenous people being brought back to Europe and enslaved in Europe. So there are so many nuances that season two really brought to the light. And for all of these things, I'm always thinking about how all of these things connect back to larger issues of power and access to resources, and how whether we're talking about African slavery or Indigenous slavery or other struggles that have happened other places in the world. that we come back to this sort of core central dynamic. So for me, that was a powerful throughline that existed through season one and season two.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Steve, what are some of the ways that you are thinking about suggesting to teachers that they incorporate this new knowledge into the classroom?
Steven Oliver: For me, it's always important that we provide students with a context and a reason for having the conversation, right? This idea that introducing this new knowledge is going to interrupt people's worldviews and understandings of the past. So there's places in season two where teachers are telling the story of students saying, "Well, wait a minute. You mean all the stories that I've heard and all those worksheets that I worked on, all those things were not true?" I mean, that's a powerful moment to take students through with a range of emotions that come up. And there has to be a reason for that. And the reason is so that we can understand how these systems have worked in the past, how they're related to things that we're observing in our world today, and how education and their role as teachers can hopefully be part of interrupting, disrupting, dismantling some of these systems so that the society becomes better for everyone. We're having this conversation to enlist them in the service of addressing these issues so they don't continue in any form in the years to come. And I think that framing it that way is so important. You know, it's the truth of what happened, and we need to make sure that our students have access to the truth, and that we give them time and space to have those kind of a-ha moments.
Bethany Jay: Steven, what you're talking about, you know, learning about this difficult past to enlist students in making a sort of better future is so important, but it's also not easy. And I know with the pre-service teachers that I work with—and I'm sure you see it in your students as well—there is a real concern that they're going to say or do something wrong that will get them in trouble. What do you see as some of the sort of struggles that teachers might have as they try to incorporate this sort of history? And how can we sort of help to allay some of those fears of, you know, going viral as it were, so that they're willing to engage in these conversations?
Steven Oliver: You know, it's an interesting and an important question. When you first were posing it, part of what was coming up in my mind was the question of, well, what is the other option here, right? The only other option is to not deal with the truth. And I know that we frame so many of these discussions as difficult. And they are. But one of the things that I always find myself talking about is the importance of meeting fear head on. And the fact that when we confront our own fear and then deal with things as they are, that that fear tends to dissipate. So I want to challenge people to be willing to face the fear head on, to trust that our students are more resilient often than we give them credit for, and the importance of building the kind of relationships that are strong enough to hold these kinds of challenging discussions. It's not easy to do. But again, to say well, what are the options? What's the alternative? So I want to acknowledge the fear as a real thing, but I also don't want to allow it to be the driver of our reality as educators.
Steven Oliver: I think also, you know, I'm coming at it from the perspective of a person of color, as an African-American man, Right? Not dealing with it, not having the conversations and allowing people to walk into their careers with serious gaps in their knowledge, that's a far more terrifying prospect to me. And I'm trying to model for them through my own stories, the fact that I make mistakes all the time, they will make mistakes all the time, and that if we're going to make mistakes, then this classroom space is the place to do it. Let's do it. Let's do it here. Because I'd rather have it happen in the context of our classroom than for students to go out into their careers as teachers and be making those mistakes in their own classrooms, or trying to engage with individuals or communities where there could be much more likelihood that they can cause indelible harm.
Bethany Jay: What you're saying reminds me so much of one of the guests this season, Alice Mitchell, who talks about teachers need to give themselves grace, right? To be able to be messy and to make mistakes in the classroom. That we allow that of our students, but we don't allow that for ourselves. And often if we just talk to our students about the fact that we might make a mistake, but this is why we're doing it, we can get over those hurdles.
Steven Oliver: Yeah.
Bethany Jay: A little bit easier.
Steven Oliver: I think that's definitely true. I'm often saying to students, when we know better, we do better, right? And I have a couple of stories that I offer them of times where I've made mistakes, and where my own students have called me on things. And I'm thankful that they did, because if they didn't, I would continue to make that same mistake in perpetuity. I think it's important in the kinds of assignments that I give, and I'm steeped in this idea of contemplative pedagogy, where I want people to write for what's arising for them in the present moment, and being clear to them that I don't want you to write for what you think I want to hear, right? And a lot of our students have learned how to write these reflections in a way that sometimes has little resemblance to what they actually think and feel about something. And I really don't want them to do that, because I want them to feel free to write whatever is emerging for them. And then if there's any, you know, thing that I need to do to sort of enhance their understanding of something, then that's on me to teach more to a particular aspect. But I want them to feel very free to get all those thoughts and ideas out there so we can see things for what they are.
Meredith McCoy: You know, when you're talking about giving students a place to put those uncomfortable feelings that might be coming up for them, something that I've found effective with my students is just giving them that vocabulary of settler colonialism and white supremacy as a way to frame their understanding of these things that maybe they've never really had to sit with deeply before. How do you think about those kinds of conversations about vocabulary, and where did those frameworks fit for you in your own approach to your students?
Steven Oliver: By knowing about these things, we can do something about it. We can have a part in dismantling some of these systems. But in order to do that, and I remember mentioning in my episode this notion that comes from James Baldwin, this idea that, you know, the only way to get through life is to first understand all the worst things about it, right? It's also a notion that comes from Paulo Freire and the pedagogy of the oppressed, the idea that in order for people who are oppressed to transform their own situation, they first have to understand all the mechanics by which they have come to be oppressed in order for them to be able to act upon it. So I see the discussion of white supremacy and settler colonialism and all the ways in which this language continues to evolve to be part of that kind of process. But as an African-American man working with mostly white students, I have to be really clear with them about why we're having the conversation. Otherwise, students will become defensive and they will shut down.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So, Steven, on that note, what are some of your classroom approaches to getting students—especially white students—to receive this history and its contemporary implications as something other than a personal indictment against them that would then lead to them pushing back, resisting and then shutting down in the classroom?
Steven Oliver: In the course of one semester, we might deal with several different topics. Race might be one topic, but we're also talking about gender, and we're also talking about sexual orientation and we're also talking about class. So this throughline of power and access to resources and how these things have manifested throughout time, allow them to understand that. And I often talk about the fact that I don't prioritize whiteness in the work that I do, where there's lots of talk now about decentralizing whiteness. So whiteness is part of the story, but it's not going to be the whole story. And I think in doing that, it gives students sort of different points of connections, because they're able to see me coming at lots of different things from lots of different perspectives.
Steven Oliver: To the degree that I can, I bring a lot of my own narrative, and the various identities that I hold come into play as an African-American man. I am also a gay-identified man. So I'm able to talk about issues related to gender and sexual orientation in ways that they can see that I am applying similar thought processes and strategies when dealing with issues of power wherever it manifests. And I think the other important part is trying to communicate to students that there have always been people of different backgrounds across all points in history that have been working in the struggle against, whether it's white supremacy or settler colonialism, and wherever possible, providing them of examples. You know, in this case of white people who are writing and thinking about how they can do this, how they can be part of this struggle. Because I find if I don't do that, if students don't have any way of seeing themselves as part of the struggle, then again, they're more likely to shut down.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You know, from the perspective of a teacher, part of that struggle is to get students to understand that exploring the past is important so that we can disrupt its continuities. In other words, white supremacy isn't just a thing of the past, a system of the past. It's something that we are still struggling with now, and so they have a responsibility to explore the past so that we don't continue the practices that have led to the kinds of inequality that we see in the past and that we are experiencing in the present. It's an important challenge, it's a difficult challenge to get students ready to face. So I really appreciate what you're saying.
Steven Oliver: It definitely is difficult. You know, I was listening to a talk recently by a Reverend Kyodo Williams, who is a Black lesbian Buddhist teacher. They were talking about this issue of white supremacy, and upholding white supremacy, and who benefits from white supremacy. And there was this really nuanced discussion that I found challenging. They were putting forth the idea that, in order to uphold white supremacy, you don't even necessarily have to be white, right? And, you know, back to your earlier question, you know, when I'm talking about sort of not prioritizing whiteness or centering whiteness, or having it be something that would cause white students to shut down, if you add that nuance to it and look at the ways in which, you know, all of us, regardless of the identities we hold, can be part of upholding this construct, that becomes a really powerful thing to consider.
Meredith McCoy: And that is true for settler colonialism as well. There's a lot of thinking in settler colonial studies about who is a settler? Recognizing that anyone who is not actively working against settler colonialism is at least complicit, and benefiting in some way from the ongoing possession and occupation of Indigenous lands and the ongoing theft and exploitation of Indigenous resources. So I think the way that you're framing that does open up this question of what is the role of all of us, regardless of where we come to these issues in helping to dismantle them and envision different futures.
Steven Oliver: Absolutely. Well, what's at stake if we don't do this work? And if we don't do this work of making sure that our students are aware of this history, then who is going to do it, right? And, you know, as I listen to season two, just being blown away by the level and depth of things that I just simply was not aware of pertaining to the places that I live and move and have my being now. And so I'm so thankful to everybody that participated in season two for not only sharing their knowledge, but also pointing me in the direction of where and how I can learn more so that these become things that I can incorporate into the work that I'm doing with students and continue to grapple with. And model for students this idea that we never arrive, and there's always more to learn. And this is what we hope their journey as educators is going to be about, and that they see these things as opportunities more so than they see them as challenges. If we have this conversation, what then becomes possible? If more students understand this history, if more people in this society understand this history, then what becomes possible? That's far more powerful and compelling to me than to sit with the question of how do we move people past their fear?
Meredith McCoy: That was great. In the spirit of lifelong learning, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn with you, both from your episode in the first season and today on this episode. Thank you so much for joining us.
Steven Oliver: Thank you. I've enjoyed the conversation, and I so appreciate the work that all of you do.
Meredith McCoy: Thank you.
Bethany Jay: Thanks, Steven.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Yeah, thanks Steven.
Steven Oliver: Thank you.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So Bethany, one of the key revisions that was made in the updated framework was to focus specifically on how to teach the history of enslavement in America at the earlier grade levels. Could you say a little word about some of the key takeaways for teachers in K-5 and in middle school?
Bethany Jay: You know, I approach this sort of question from both my experience in training future teachers who are products of an educational system that dealt with slavery in a certain way, and as a parent who's watching my twin nine year olds and my 12-year-old son move through elementary school. And what I've noticed is that one of the challenges that comes with teaching my students how to approach this kind of history in their future classrooms is that they're products of this kind of siloed narrative, where they're thinking about native people, they're thinking about enslaved people only in very certain places and contexts: Thanksgiving, right? 1830's South, the Civil War, right? That it is hard for them as students, and as students who are imagining themselves as teachers, to envision a curriculum that is more inclusive. So in college now, we're starting sort of from the ground up. The frameworks help us to do that because they operate very well with curriculum frameworks. They are an overlay to what my students have to use in the classroom that allow them to see these sort of points of intersection. So I think as we see these sort of frameworks implemented it's going to have a kind of snowball effect. When you have students who are the products of a more inclusive history, then they imagine history as being more inclusive from the start.
Bethany Jay: And that's where I think this sort of elementary work that we're doing is so important. That's where the incorporation of Indigenous and African-American slavery into the middle and high school context is so important. The other piece of the elementary education, the conversation that really sort of stuck with me was thinking about the representation of slavery in children's literature. Ebony Thomas's as well as Debbie Reese's episode about how African-American slavery and how Indigenous peoples in general are sort of represented in children's literature. As a parent, I see that most of the ways that my children are learning history is through children's books. And not all of those books that they've come home with, whether they were assigned or whether they just found them in the library and brought them home, have been books that have done a good job of representing enslaved people or representing Indigenous people in the ways that, you know, Thomas and Reese are talking about kind of vetting books. And so that intersection, because elementary schools have so little time for actual social studies work or actual history work, it ends up getting sort of subsumed with ELA. And so that children's literature piece I think is so incredibly important.
Meredith McCoy: That's super. Bethany, I'm glad that you brought up the Debbie Reese and Ebony Thomas episodes. You know, both of those really helped me to think through the process of understanding whether or not a children's book is accurately and appropriately representing the experiences of enslaved people and Indigenous people. And I think this is something, you know, we've heard this season from teachers, and we also have gotten an opportunity to hear from librarians who are similarly thinking about what might their responsibilities and opportunities be within this process of teaching hard history. And in particular, we heard from Elaine Westbrooks, who is the vice provost of university libraries and the university librarian at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So let's take a second and hear what Elaine shared with us when she called in.
[Elaine Westbrooks: Hi. I just want to tell you I've been listening to this podcast as I do my walking, and it's just amazing. I am not a teacher, although I used to be a teacher. Now I'm a librarian. I just want to mention that a big user of the documents you talk about are librarians. And not only are we users, we're the ones that are digitizing this material, we're the ones that collect it, and we're the ones that try to make it accessible to teachers all over the world. And I want to know any way that librarians or archivists can support this work, teaching this hard history and making sure that the truth comes to light I'm supportive of. Thank you.]
Bethany Jay: That's great.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You know, Meredith, I'm so glad Dr. Westbrooks called in and made the point that those who are not just listening to the podcast but who are using this material aren't just teachers in the classroom, but are librarians. Because librarians truly are the gatekeepers of knowledge in our society, which means that they are pivotal to maintaining democracy. They have the keys to this access of knowledge, right? What has actually happened in the past that we need to know about? And it's through librarians, through media resource people, that we're able to disseminate information. And in so many ways, because they have librarians, because they have this access to what is out there and what has been archived and what has been stored, you know, they can really make teaching hard history possible by making accessible these primary source documents and resources, by making accessible the kinds of books and reading material and literature that kids would gain and benefit the most from. I think, you know, they have to be a part of this conversation. And that's not just, you know, school librarians, per se. You know, Dr. Westbrooks, is the university librarian for UNC Chapel Hill, for your alma mater. You know, this is where knowledge is being kept and stored. And so they have to be really a part of the conversation when we begin to discuss and think about how to disseminate information that allows for a thorough and honest teaching of these difficult subjects from the past.
Meredith McCoy: Yeah. You know, at the K-12 level, school librarians are some of our biggest resources as classroom teachers. They are the ones who help us to know what books are at appropriate levels for our growing readers, and for those librarians who are keyed into the diverse books movement, they're doing that critical work of making sure that school libraries reflect the experiences of their students by identifying books that are created by, written by, illustrated by people who deeply understand and share the experiences of our students. And then in higher education, I think about, for example, what universities can do. There is a long colonial history of archives having exploitative relationships to native communities. And so librarians and archivists in higher education could think about adopting the protocols for Native American archival materials that was adopted by the Society of American Archivists in 2018, and recognizing the kind of opportunities and responsibilities to undo some of those histories of harm, and to engage in ongoing relationships with native people and native nations.
Bethany Jay: One of the things that Dr. Westbrooks talked about was the work of librarians and archivists to digitize resources, and that makes me think of Lynn Lyerly's WPA episode from this season about the WPA slave narratives, picking up on her chapter from Understanding and Teaching American Slavery, I think is so key to use those complicated resources. And then we also had an episode that talked about the WPA narratives that dealt with Native Americans from the same era, and their importance and their utility in the classroom. So I'm so glad Lynn Lyerly could be part of season two. As you folks know, she is the co-editor of Understanding and Teaching American Slavery, and she has played a very pivotal role in the way that the book developed, and I'm so happy that we could get her on the podcast. She was one of my teachers, one of the professors that taught me about American slavery, and I'm glad she can share that knowledge more broadly because she's fantastic. Being able to do this work so much relies on having the resources that we need, and we all know that for enslaved people and for native people, those resources are harder to come by. And so the work of librarians and archivists becomes especially important in these fields.
Meredith McCoy: I'm so excited to give us an opportunity to hear from Elaine Westbrooks, who is the vice provost of university libraries and the university librarian at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Vice Provost Westbrooks, thank you for calling in and for sharing your thoughts with us, and for helping us to think about the critical role that librarians and archivists play in implementing frameworks like Teaching Hard History.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So Bethany and Meredith, we received another call from James Stewart, who was actually a contributor to Understanding and Teaching American Slavery, and one of the co-founders of Historians Against Slavery, really a fantastic organization whose motto is, "Using history to make slavery history." Really focusing on the contemporary manifestations of slavery, how slavery exists in today's society. So let's listen to James Stewart's question.
[James B. Stewart: Hello. Knowing a lot about African-American slavery in the past can allow us to be able to see much more deeply and much more critically, and develop much better action plans when it comes to the problem of confronting human bondage in the United States and around the world today. So the question that I really would like to try and ask is a hard one. And it's based on a book that was written a long time ago by a historian named Ira Berlin. And Ira Berlin's book was about un-enslaved African-American people living in the South. In other words, free Blacks living in the slave society. But the title of his book is very disturbing. The title of his book—even though the people are technically free, the title of his book was Slaves Without Masters. Which seems like a really strange thing to think about. But the point he was trying to make in titling his book this way was to say that the really deep power of enslavement goes way, way, way beyond what we're customarily thinking about as the slavery that we've seen in the South.]
[James B. Stewart: Now I started thinking about this much more as I listened to the Nakia Parker talk about the relationship between the spread of Southern slavery and the removal of the Southern five Indian tribes. And I thought about it some more as I was listening to Andrés Reséndez talking about Indian slavery. That's slavery that's very, very different from the slavery in the South, just as this enslavement that we have today is very, very different than the enslavement that we had in the South. And one of our problems today is where does the boundaries of slavery end? Can we possibly have masterless slaves?]
[James B. Stewart: It's a really old, difficult concept because alongside of it is a big claim that came out of very oppressed workers in England and the early United States during the time of the first industrial revolution, who called themselves wages slaves. In other words, here were people who claimed that they were enslaved even though they took home a paycheck. And their point was that the paycheck was way too small to do anything but to allow them minimally to survive, and they did not have the option to walk away because there was no other job for them to go to. In other words, they were trapped into an exploitative system where they didn't have a personal master, but their argument was that they had an institutional master: a big corporation, a steel mill, an assembly plant, a garment factory. All of these different sectors of industries in the United States and in other parts of the world who had their workers who take home pay claim—and get serious attention for the claim—that nevertheless they are slaves without masters. They are slaves with employment, but slaves nevertheless, because they have no freedom to choose.]
[James B. Stewart: Now that becomes a very fascinating question right now, it seems to me. It's a hard question, all involved with what we can think about today when we think about modern American prisons. Modern American prisons, many of them are prisons that use imprisoned labor to create products for major corporations of all kinds. And for a great deal of the work that is done to produce material for the Defense Department, where the people inside doing the work are really not getting paid for it at all. Think about that, and think then about the proportion of dark-skinned and light-skinned people who find themselves in prisons now. Another way to think about this, which is very disturbing, has to do something with the COVID virus that we're going through now. If there are people who have no choice but to work where they are, even at the risk of death, danger and starvation, is that slavery with another name? Is it a slave without a master? Can undocumented people working in poultry factories disassembling chickens in the middle of the COVID virus, who will be fired and have no place to go unless they continue to come to work at low pay and at risk of their lives, how close does that approximate the condition of being enslaved?]
[James B: Stewart: So the broader question is, what's the idea behind, if there is a good idea behind the concept of slaves without masters in the past or today? Part of this question came to me once I began to understand how different American Indian enslavement was, and maybe still is, because plantations have nothing to do with this. Everything has to do with conquest, with force, and with disposable people. Which sounds very much to me, much more like contemporary slavery today than the plantation seems to. My only point is to get people thinking about this, and I'm glad you've given me the chance to take a second crack at this. Take care. Bye.]
Bethany Jay: I feel like I'm back in my comp exams. I've got a whole list of notes here. It seems like at the heart of Jim's question, which is a very good question, is thinking about how do we define slavery? And thinking about slavery, not just perhaps as being a person who is owned by another individual—movable property—but thinking about slavery in a very kind of structural sense. You know, what are the factors that allow people's labor to be exploited, right? What are the factors that can narrow or even eliminate choice for workers? And as Jim's question highlights, there are a variety of different ways in which we can see this operating within the United States today and the sort of larger world.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And I think you highlighted one characteristic that's critically important, and that's this notion of chattel slavery and property. So when we're talking about specifically and explicitly the African-American context, which extends in various iterations dependent upon where and when you're looking and talking about with regard to Indigenous enslavement, and that is the reduction of the laborer to property, property that could be bought and sold. We try to apply that to the contemporary context for the worker who's in the early-20th century textile mill or the factory shop or the poultry plant today. Certainly there are questions of poor wages, questions of being forced to work. Even in prison. When you move into prisons, I think the lines begin to blur, right? Because certainly these are gradations. But, you know, there's a difference between someone who's being literally forced to work for starvation wages or they lose their job, and somebody who could be sold and considered property, and all the other rights that are denied them outside of the workplace. Because whereas slavery certainly was across the board—and Historians Against Slavery, their sort of definition of slavery connects to this, when people are forced to work against their will for the profit of others, slavery absolutely is an economic system in all of its iterations that has these social components as well to help justify it.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: But it is more than just that sort of putting people to work. That may be the purpose. I think those other social components: the denying people their right to mobility, to move, and the stripping away of all these other basic human rights, is a critical component of that broader definition. And I think Jim was getting at this. It's not so much is this the same thing as what existed before, but rather, how do these forms of forced labor, unfair labor or exploitative labor that exist today, that we see today, how do they connect to this universe of unfree labor? And I think that's important to keep in the conversation, because at the heart of slavery—and I think we learned this through your work, we learned this through the first season and the second season—is this exploitation of people, the extraction of their labor. And that's the heart of it. And that doesn't suddenly end when the explicit systems of enslavement end. The goal is to extract labor at minimum cost. That's capitalism. And we're still in that system, and when you look at the margins of that system, we see these practices that are unfair, that really connect back, or should be. We should think of them as extensions of connections to these earlier systems of unfreedom.
Bethany Jay: Yeah. And I guess sort of Jim's challenging us really to think about expanding that definition of slavery. That just because a person is not physically owned by another person doesn't mean that an exploitive system is not in place.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: There is like two elements to that that we need to think about when we're talking about these systems of unfreedom in a contemporary context and what amounts to slavery, is that you want to be able to explain and use language and descriptions that capture the essence of what this is. And at the same time, you don't want to deny the differences that existed between what came before and what we have now. I think the challenge is to put the contemporary and the historical both in proper context so that you can better understand both. As opposed to saying, "Oh, well, that's just not that," because that's not very helpful.
Bethany Jay: Yeah, see both the throughlines and the ways in which these two systems are different than one another. And that context has been so much of what we've been talking about today, and so much of what the various historians and educators on the podcast have been talking about, right? Really, the importance of thinking about all of these things in their proper time and place.
Meredith McCoy: There are a lot of different ways to think about what it means to be held against your will. And we thought about this when we were looking at what definition of slavery to use in the Teaching Tolerance framework for Teaching Hard History. So the definition and the framework is: "Slavery is the holding of people through force, fraud or coercion, for purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor, so that the enslaver can extract profit." If you're looking for it, that's in summary objective one in the framework for grades 6 through 12, and it's adapted from Free the Slaves.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Well, we want to thank James for his questions. Very thoughtful and provocative. And, you know, Jim's point about contemporary manifestations of slavery and unfreedom really got me thinking as well about what are the legacies of Indigenous enslavement and the enslavement of African Americans, Africans here in the United States, and how do some of the things that we see, exploitative labor practices that exist today in a contemporary moment, what are the throughlines, as you had just said, between that and what became earlier? So Bethany, let me just ask you, what do you see as some of the principal legacies of American slavery that carry through the last century and a half into the present?
Bethany Jay: One of the biggest ones—and Jim's questions referred to this—is really white supremacy. When I use that term with my students, I think they often just think of white supremacy as Ku Klux Klan rallies, or people with swastikas tattooed on their bodies. They don't think of it as a whole system, right? And so I think really the biggest throughline that we see is white supremacy and legal, economic, political and cultural structures that help to support it. The prison-industrial complex and the racial disparities within it, right? Access to voting rights. I mean, all of these different ways that white supremacy manifests itself in our society today.
Meredith McCoy: You know, the thing that always comes up for me when I think about the kind of intergenerational echoes or permutations of enslavement in a contemporary context for Indigenous people is missing and murdered Indigenous women. We know that there is an epidemic of Indigenous women and two-spirit people and girls who are being held against their will for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. And so I want to make sure that we continue to keep an eye on that problem, and the many efforts of Indigenous people to locate their missing relatives and to end this epidemic in Indian Country. And something else I think we should consider is the relationship of Indigenous youth to the judicial system. We know that the school-to-prison pipeline is very active in Indian country, and research coming out of the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center details that, you know, native students are only one percent of the student population, but they're two percent of all school arrests and they're three percent of referrals to law enforcement. And so, as we think about mass incarceration, we have to also remember that native youth are also disproportionately impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Bethany, I'm glad you keyed in on white supremacy, because I'm often asked, you know, what's the legacy of slavery? And I think the principal legacy of slavery is, in fact, white supremacy. You know, sometimes we don't want to talk about it, we get a little nervous, but you have to talk about white supremacy, otherwise, none of what we're actually seeing makes sense. And that is what we see. I mean, the versions of white supremacy, in other words the racism that we see—but it's not just racism, I don't think that's specific enough, but the term, the terminology "white supremacy," which inherent in that definition is the idea that people of European descent are somehow socially, culturally superior to people of African descent, people of color, that is so critically important to the institution of slavery, for justifying it. Why Jefferson can say all men are created equal and still be enslaving people.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And it is so critically important to what we see after slavery is abolished. Why, after the enslavement of African Americans ends, you can see peonage and sharecropping emerge. Why, after you can have the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, you can still see the enslavement of Indigenous people across North America. White supremacy provides the justification for the exploitation of people of color in American society. It provided the justification for slavery. It provided the justification for Jim Crow. And it has provided the justification for mass incarceration, both explicitly and implicitly. And you have to have a socially acceptable justification for society to accept the conditions and the treatment of people.
Bethany Jay: If you don't talk about white supremacy as a structure that is determining a lot of the way that our culture and society works, then you're almost taking its tenets for granted, right? For example, if you don't think about white supremacy in who can get a mortgage or de facto kind of school desegregation that exists in wealthy towns and neighborhoods, then you take it for granted that well, Black people just must not be able to live here. Black people can't get a mortgage because of some inherent flaw in that person and not a problem in the system. So we have to talk about white supremacy in order to name it, identify it, and then start to undo it. Otherwise, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And then the inequality that it helps create, that is certainly justifies, then becomes, as you rightly point out, considered natural. It's just the natural order of things.
Bethany Jay: Right.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: When we know, in fact, that inequality is the product of purposeful decision-making, policies and practices over the course of generations.
Bethany Jay: Centuries.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Over centuries, absolutely. And so we have to name it in order to be able to explain it.
Bethany Jay: Right. And that's where the American problem of talking about race, and not just race is something that belongs to African-American people, but also thinking about whiteness and white supremacy, and our problem with having those big conversations sort of dooms us into this cycle. That's what I'm hoping that Teaching Hard History can help us to remedy.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Absolutely. We're not just interested in exploring oppression. We're not just interested in sort of dissecting and trying to make sense of that, although you absolutely have to. That's the context, those are the systems that we're dealing with. But also recognizing the agency of the people who are being exploited by these various systems, who are being oppressed. So studying the marginalized people and giving them voice. And one way to do that, of course, is to focus on resistance, the way they fight back, and the change that they have made over the centuries. Whether that's folk engaged in rebellion in what has become New Mexico or people who are taking to the streets in Watts or calling for Black power in Mississippi. And we are going to be continuing that exploration in our third season. Season one and two really focused on American slavery, drawing on the work that you and Cynthia Lynn Lyerly did with Understanding and Teaching American Slavery. And for our third season, we are going to be focusing on the African-American freedom struggle in the 20th century, centered on the civil rights movement, taking a deep dive into the ways in which African Americans have continued this struggle for freedom.
Bethany Jay: It's going to be good.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: We're sort of placed in this sequence in part because you can't understand the obstacles that Black folk were facing and what they were fighting against, as well as what they were fighting for—these basic civil rights and human rights that continue to be denied them after the moment of emancipation, unless you understand this centuries-long history of enslavement, and then what came after.
Bethany Jay: I love that your book on Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement has come out, and I love that this is the next season for Teaching Hard History, because this is one of the principal things that I hear from my friends who are teachers in elementary, middle and high school classrooms, that the way the frameworks are written in so many states, you have kind of Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass, and then you've got Martin Luther King. And those are some of the only people and moments that curriculum encourages us to think about an African-American experience. Ebony Thomas, I think, also talked about this in her podcast episode, and what my friends in the classroom have said and what I've talked with my students who are going to be teachers about is, how can you understand the civil rights movement if you don't understand slavery, if you don't understand segregation, if you don't understand everything that came before? So having spent these two seasons really thinking carefully about what does slavery look like, I love that we get to pivot in season three and think about the leaders, the everyday people who worked together to make a change during the civil rights movement.
Meredith McCoy: And I would just echo that, as teachers have thought about the intersections of Black and Indigenous experiences and the kinds of solidarities between Black and Indigenous people, that they carry that interest with them into the next season, and continue to think about the intersections between the American Indian Movement and the civil rights movement and other struggles for Indigenous freedom.
Bethany Jay: I think we can see how carrying all these threads, all of these threads, that we have to continue to bring through the curriculum.
Meredith McCoy: Yeah, and I think what you're describing in terms of understanding the civil rights movement because you understand this history of enslavement, is also true for understanding contemporary movements for Indigenous freedom. So when we think about, for example, the current standoff between native nations in South Dakota and the South Dakota governor, or just a couple of years ago, when we think about the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in order to understand these efforts to protect and promote tribal sovereignty, we have to see them within this legacy of 500 years of fighting against settler colonial encroachment, including fighting against these longer legacies of the various permutations of enslavement.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Meredith, before we go, I understand that we received another voicemail that we need to listen to and get some reactions from.
Meredith McCoy: Okay.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So let's cue that up and play it now.
Meredith McCoy: Let's go for it.
[Monita Bell: Hey, Meredith. This is Monita Bell, interim co-director for Teaching Tolerance. I just want to give you a special thank you for stepping in to lend your voice and your perspective to this season of the podcast. We will miss you so much. And thank you for continuing to serve on the Teaching Hard History Advisory Board. Your contribution is just invaluable. So thank you and kudos for all your excellent work. We just wish you all the best for the endeavors that you have ahead of you. And we will be in touch.]
Meredith McCoy: That is so kind!
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I totally didn't know that was gonna happen.
Meredith McCoy: Oh, that is so lovely. Thank you. I have really appreciated and enjoyed this opportunity to learn by doing the podcast with you, Hasan, this season, and learning from our guests and learning from engaging with the teachers who have been listening to us. And it's just been a wonderful experience for me, and I hope that I have shared as much with y'all as you have shared with me. So thank you.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Absolutely. It's been a great joy. And, you know, we also have our executive producer, Kate Shuster, on the line. Kate, would you like to say a few words?
Kate Shuster: Yeah, I definitely would. This 18 months or so that I have worked with Meredith has changed my life. It hasn't just changed my life, it's changed my practice and the practice of tens of thousands of teachers, and by proxy, hundreds of thousands of students. And I don't think that's an exaggeration. And I do want to say to you, Meredith, that you have been incredibly patient in answering the questions that I've asked and a lot of people have asked as we took on the ambitious task of rewriting the frameworks and putting together this podcast. I feel like you're incredibly erudite, a living bibliography. That there has never been a time in our acquaintance where I didn't say, "Hi, do you know where I can find this information?" and you would know where to find it. And I feel like you've just been this incredible collaborator, that you've taken up new projects, often with a ragtag bunch of strangers, and you've really shown all of us on your team how essential teamwork really is to generate genuinely interdisciplinary scholarship. And so I just cannot say enough that, well, I think you have a face for TV, you definitely have a voice for radio.
Meredith McCoy: [laughs]
Kate Shuster: And we literally could not have made, not just this season, but the K-12 framework without you, so I'm just deeply grateful, not just for myself and not just for Teaching Tolerance, but for the ways your contribution for the work are going to help us continue to try to dismantle as much as we can the poisonous legacies of settler colonialism and white supremacy. So you are a superstar, and I am excited not just to say I know you now, but I'm going to have known you when. And I don't know if I'm saying this right, but is the way to say it "miigwetch?"
Meredith McCoy: Aw! Yeah, miigwetch. Miigwetch. Thank you for that. You know, I think one of the things that I love so much about this podcast is that it is a way to facilitate the necessary conversations between teachers who are doing the work in the classroom everyday, and those of us who are trying to brainstorm the best ways that we can support and contribute to that important work. And so I, as a former middle school teacher who has a lot of longing to be back with my 12 year olds, have been really grateful for this opportunity to think about classroom practice in this kind of communication with Hasan and with all of our guests and all of our listeners. And I just also want to note that the insights that I have been able to share here on the podcast, that I have tried to bring into this conversation, are the result of conversations happening far beyond me, conversations happening with the many Indigenous scholars who have been doing this work in history and in American studies and in Indigenous studies and in education for decades. And so I can't take any of the praise here for this. This is the thinking that has shaped me that has come from Indigenous scholars who have walked me through this process and who will be here to pick up the work when I'm done with it. So a big shout out to them as well.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Well, from everyone on the Teaching Hard History podcast team, Meredith, we really thank you for all that you have brought to the table. And I personally thank you for being a co-host. You've just made this such an enjoyable experience. And I've often found myself just sitting back and listening probably too much. I was, like, taking notes and I was like, "Oh, wait. No, Meredith got that. I don't need to add anything. No, this is good." Made life so easy.
Meredith McCoy: I feel the same way about you. Thank you, Hasan.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: It's been a real joy, and I have listened and learned so much in the season. It just wouldn't have been a season without you. And I know how much work it takes, so I'm so glad that you made the time to be a part of this special podcast, this special team. And we know we got to let you go. We know you have other things, career things, personal things that you got to handle, that you've got to make work. You're gonna do wonderful things. But we will find a way to bring you in next season. So don't go too far. There's still some work to be done, and I'm sure the audience members for next year would gain tremendously from hearing your insights on the contemporary struggles for freedom in the United States.
Meredith McCoy: Well, thank you. I would love to come back and join whenever there might be an opportunity for that. But in the meantime, I am looking forward to kicking back and listening to you and the direction that you take next season in.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: There we go. Bethany, we want to thank you so much for taking time out to join us for this final episode of the second season. And to thank you, of course, for really laying the groundwork, you and Cynthia, for laying the groundwork for this entire podcast, for the framework. We certainly wouldn't be doing what we have been able to do without your hard work.
Bethany Jay: Well, I always have fun hanging out with you, Hasan, and it was great to meet Meredith.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Before we head out of here, do you have any last words that you would like to share?
Bethany Jay: You know, really in season two, I've gone through this journey with our listeners, and I've been inspired and encouraged to do even more with Indigenous slavery than I have been doing in the past with my classes. I've been inspired to talk with my students about elementary education and slavery. And I'm really looking forward to digging even more into some of these great resources on Teaching Hard History, to go forth and do this work. And I hope others are, too.
Meredith McCoy: Thank you, Bethany. Thank you so much for being here and for doing this work.
Bethany Jay: Thank you.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Bethany Jay is an associate professor of history at Salem State University, where she teaches courses on 19th-century American history, African-American history and history education. She is also co-editor of Understanding and Teaching American Slavery from the University of Wisconsin Press.
Meredith McCoy: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, helping teachers and schools prepare their students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Teaching Tolerance offers free resources to educators who work with children from kindergarten through high school. You can find these online ...
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And resources mentioned during this episode ...
Meredith McCoy: ... at Tolerance.org
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: /podcasts. Teaching Hard History is produced by Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer, with additional support from Barrett Golding. Gabriel Smith provides content guidance, and Kate Schuster is our executive producer.
Meredith McCoy: Our theme song is "Different Heroes" by A Tribe Called Red, featuring Northern Voice, who graciously let us use it for this series.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: And we'll be back in a couple of months with season three. And the focus, of course, will be on the civil rights movement. And I'm gonna tell you right now, it's about to be fire. We have new ways of focusing on teaching the African-American freedom struggle. We're going to have civil rights playlists, Spotify lists. We're going to be talking about nonviolence and self-defense, complicating King, complicating Malcolm X. How do you teach them? So stay tight. Come back and be ready for some more.
Meredith McCoy: Man, I cannot wait to listen to those episodes. In the meantime, that's a wrap for season two. Stay healthy, stay safe, y'all.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I'm Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University.
Meredith McCoy: I'm Dr. Meredith McCoy, assistant professor of American studies and history at Carleton College.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries and Meredith McCoy: And we're your hosts for Teaching Hard History: American Slavery.