We have all been the “Others”

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”

–  Jimi Hendrix

In my experience as a history teacher in the 1970s, it became clear to me that many people don’t have a broad knowledge of US history. Many aspects of US history have been excluded from mainstream messaging, let alone deliberately hidden or presented only from a white perspective.

When I was teaching high school juniors and seniors 50 years ago — primarily African American and Hispanic students — I incorporated works such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Black Elk Speaks, and Custer Died For Your Sins, along with information on such influential figures as inventor Benjamin Banneker, activist Sojourner Truth, American spy James Armistead, or Sauk leader Black Hawk, who stood his ground in Illinois during the Black Hawk War. I wanted to share the stories of people who had suffered but gave back to this country from the beginning.

Eliminating key events from the record of history has had enormous bearing — and worse — on the stereotyping of various groups of people. I assigned my students books to expand their knowledge of the real experiences of African Americans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans as valuable contributors to American heritage. I watched my students explore their own ancestry, taking pride in who they were and where they came from.

In the past decade in particular much has happened on a global scale to foster polarizing opinions, heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Disinformation has appeared as a strategic weapon used by some in power, and everyday citizens have become siloed in how we obtain news. The rise of extremism and the war in Ukraine have also had clear impacts on democracy.

I searched my own family’s history to take stock of how we can move forward as a community, as a nation, and as global citizens. Improving ourselves is hard work — trench work — but each generation has to move the needle forward. Understanding where we come from and what we bring to the table means we can have a path to peace.

Patricia Marino