Why do we feel discomfort? When we break an arm diving onto home base, and we’re stuck in a cast for six weeks, why do we feel pain? According to The Pain Center of Arizona, discomfort “is a signal that your body has been damaged in some way” and “it’s a signal to your brain that something is not right.” In other words, discomfort indicates that something important, but sensitive, needs to be addressed.
Likewise, I believe the same reasoning can be applied to mental and emotional discomfort. When an issue incites internal discomfort, this signal alerts you that the issue remains unresolved and has not healed properly. Guilt is usually coupled with this discomfort, especially if you are directly or indirectly involved with perpetuating the issue. However, rather than resolve the issue, we may prefer to resolve the guilty conscious instead, causing us to deny or discredit the original issue being an issue worthy of discussion in the first place.
An example of this situation is evident in Florida, regarding the state government’s response to the new AP African American Studies. To briefly summarize, earlier this year, The College Board announced the release of a pilot AP African American Studies course for students. Concerned with the “wokeness” and “indoctrination” of the course, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis denounced the curriculum and prohibited public schools from participating in the pilot course. There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence.
Why did he denounce it?
Gov. DeSantis was displeased with the curriculum’s discussion of “woke” concepts of African American History, such as Black Queer theory and intersectionality. While appealing to parents, he claimed that this course, which includes examining critical race theory and the recent Black Lives Matter movement, is part of a liberal political agenda that is being enforced on their children.
In response to the heavy backlash, from constituents and politicians, The College Board ultimately revised the course’s curriculum, altering the “controversial topics” such as The Black Lives Matter movement, incarceration, queer life, and reparations from mandatory to optional research concepts instead.
Why does this matter?
Well, I would like to point out the irony of how a politician complained about an AP course pushing a political agenda so he could…push his own political agenda on said people, resulting in a dilution of the course’s historical potency.
More importantly, denial may be a river in Egypt, but it will not erase the truth that our red, white, and blue American flag is drenched in the destruction and devastation of minorities and marginalized demographics from 1776 to today. Banning the course is a short-term solution to relieving the discomfort and guilt associated with discussing America’s history with race. As discussed, discomfort is a signal that “something is not right” and if that signal is squashed, then the problem cannot be addressed. After you break your arm playing baseball, what’s the first thing you do when your arm doesn’t hurt anymore? You pick up a bat and swing. What happens if you disregard the pain and continue to swing the bat? Well, you risk exacerbating or never healing from your injury.
You could easily make a broad stroke and denounce Gov. DeSantis and his supporters as racists. But I am not here to discuss that. Rather, I am more so interested in the extensive discomfort surrounding this AP course and America’s history.
The course’s “raw representations of white violence against Black persons, families, and institutions make a lot of conservatives uncomfortable.” Furthermore, they are concerned that teaching such content will cause “white children to feel implicated by the actions of earlier generations.” If Gov. DeSantis and parents are concerned about political agendas, then consider what political agenda is being pushed by restricting our country’s history.
It is a political agenda of national innocence.
People are uncomfortable because they do not want to acknowledge the ugly, ugly, very ugly portions of America’s history because they feel guilty as they are inevitably associated with the previous generations’ immoral acts or, perhaps, they still share some of their ancestors’ sentiments. I will not debate if this course intends to promote “wokeness,” but I will firmly state that history cannot be denied.
There is no time machine to rectify the past, so our only chance of redemption is to strive to address the aftershocks of the past, such as mass incarceration, institutional racism, and urban segregation. Acknowledgement can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary.
Stepping down from my high horse, I know how history can be uncomfortable. As proud as a I am to be a Blue Devil, I must acknowledge what Duke University once was. Prior to the university’s institution, the land beneath Bryan Center, Western Union, Main Quad, and more, was once owned by Mr. Braxton Craven, the institution’s president.
Mr. Craven owned slaves.
Duke University was once a plantation.
Even after the institution of the university, the school would continue to “rent” enslaved labor. This knowledge disturbed and continues to disturb me. I know that I am not responsible for what Duke once was, but I inevitably feel associated with the immoral acts committed on these grounds. However, discomfort is an indication that there is something worthy of discussion; it is a signal that there is something wrong with our system and may require a diagnosis. It is your prerogative to decide whether the discomfort-inducing issue is worthy of your time and attention, but I implore you to consider who is at the forefront pleading for you to turn a blind eye. Why are they so fervently instructing you to ignore that discomfort?
We may not be responsible for our history, but we are responsible for acknowledging it, protecting it, because we need to heal from the previous injuries of slavery, segregation, World Wars, and many other influential historical periods. America’s traumatic past has always been a tough pill for many to swallow, but I guess swallowing one’s pride is even harder. Deflection and denial can only downplay the magnitude of America’s problematic history for so long until the unacknowledged remnants of our past infect our country’s soul and spread through our institutions like cancer.
By then, we’ll have a bigger problem than just a broken arm.
Linda Cao is a Trinity junior. Her column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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Linda Cao is a Trinity senior and an opinion managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.