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“American citizenship brings legal rights, protections, and responsibilities. But its meaning goes deeper. To be a citizen is to be accepted, to feel safe, to be ‘one of us.’ ”
Racism is rooted in our country's history and is embedded in our culture, and yet the history of structural racism is rarely taught or portrayed. Racism is still one of the greatest barriers to fulfilling the promise of our democracy. That is why Everyday Democracy uses a racial equity lens in all the work we do.
Unfortunately, most people in the U.S. have not had the chance to study and understand how racism has evolved and how it continues to affect every area of our lives. We don’t usually learn about it in school, except in cursory ways. Even then, it is often portrayed as a part of a distant past that stopped with the fight for civil rights in the 60s. That, in itself, is part of the “invisible” power of structural racism.
There are many people who don’t realize that, as a country, we still have work to do to create equal opportunities for all. And many aren’t aware that all of us – of every region of the country, of every color and ethnic background – are still dealing with the impact of slavery, Jim Crow, and other policies that have perpetuated unfair advantages based on color. All of us need to deepen our understanding of our full history, so that we can move beyond “us vs. them” to “us.” Only as we understand the forces that have shaped our lives can we begin imagine and create a democracy that supports voice and belonging for all.
To share an important part of this history, the New York Historical Society (NYHS) has developed a curriculum to help students and communities explore the legacy of racism. It includes three comprehensive units and printable resources. This curriculum was developed as part of NYHS’s current exhibit, Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, that explores the struggle for full citizenship and racial equity. This powerful exhibit uncovers not only the overt and hidden racism that marked a pivotal era in our history, it highlights the day-to-day acts of courage that so many people took to claim citizenship as belonging. It is impossible to see this exhibit without thinking about the parallels for today.
We invite you to use and share this curriculum with students, coworkers, family members, and community members. And then we invite you to work with us at Everyday Democracy to use your learning as a catalyst for expanding the dialogue and creating equitable change in your community and our country.