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You Can't Chop Down A Tree Without Exposing Its Roots: Slavery, Multiculturalism, and the Possibility of Anti-Racism in a High School History Textbook

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Title: You Can't Chop Down A Tree Without Exposing Its Roots: Slavery, Multiculturalism, and the Possibility of Anti-Racism in a High School History Textbook
Author: Ernst, Margaret
Advisor: Hucks, Tracey E.
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Religion
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: In this essay, I identify an interpretation of American history that reflects the religious notion of millennialism within a high school history textbook published in 2002, The Americans. The authors of The Americans display a strong ethos of multiculturalism which, I argue, relates to an implicitly theological meta-narrative in the textbook that conceives of American history as a unique plane of the possible perfection of men through the realization of multicultural democracy. This story stems from the authors' language which shades the "meeting" of Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans as the beginning of not only American history, but as a more ideal stage of human history; it is also present visually and in other ways textually throughout the textbook. The textbook's appropriation of millennial views of American history, which in other contexts have functioned both to promote and oppose anti-racist projects, The Americans differs significantly from these narratives because of the little attention it pays to white racial ideology as an object of study and thus as an object of criticism. In describing the history of slavery and racism in the United States, the text frequently identifies the fact and inhuman quality of white discrimination against blacks, both during and after slavery. Besides mentioning that Uncle Tom's Cabin included stereotypes of black characters and that Sojourner Truth might be considered unfeminine because of her blackness, it does not further clarify any of the ideologies that justified white racist behaviors. I conclude that while the theologically-informed lens of The Americans represents the social structure of slavery as a sin within American history, it does not take advantage of the prophetic uses of its meta-narrative when it comes to what sociologists call the "superstructure" of white racism. Yet If white racial ideology was articulated clearly as a system of symbols, students would be equipped to interpret that symbolism as a barrier to a successfully multicultural democracy--the textbook's imagined millennial era--just as the text interprets slavery and limited rights for blacks as similar barriers.
Subject: Multiculturalism -- United States -- Religious aspects
Subject: Racism -- United States -- Religious aspects
Subject: Slavery -- United States -- Religious aspects
Subject: United States -- History -- Religious aspects
Description: 2011 Religion Thesis Prize Winner
Terms of Use: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/
Permanent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10066/7946

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Citation

Ernst, Margaret. "You Can't Chop Down A Tree Without Exposing Its Roots: Slavery, Multiculturalism, and the Possibility of Anti-Racism in a High School History Textbook". 2011. Available electronically from http://hdl.handle.net/10066/7946.

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http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/ Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/us/

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