• Joanne Jacobs

What does 'we' mean?

Jay Wamsted, who is White, teaches math in an Atlanta middle school where most students are Black. Last year, before Georgia passed a law restricting teaching of "divisive concepts," he overheard several students discussing the Trail of Tears, which they'd learned about in history the day before. The school is built on what used to be Cherokee land.


This joke was old when I was young.

He joined the conversation, he writes in Education Week, saying, “It is no joke what we did to the Indigenous Americans.” A student said: “We?”

Wamsted said, “No, not ‘we.’ Me. My people. Sorry about that. It is no joke what white people did to Indigenous and Black Americans.”


"The student nodded, and class carried on," he writes.

If that happened this year, would the new law, which bans "race scapegoating," allow it, he wonders. "Did I perform 'race scapegoating' when I took historical responsibility for the removal of Indigenous Americans and placed it on white people, myself included?"


Wamsted thinks not taking the blame would be dishonest.


Perhaps he's descended from Europeans who settled America and displaced the Natives and exploited slaves. Most "white people" in this country came later. My grandparents arrived in the early years of the 20th century. Of course, they benefitted from everything that had been done before, like all Americans.


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