Making Sure History Is Made Relevant

At the start of each history course I’ve taught so far, I ask a few introductory questions to the students. Foremost among them are “what is history?” and “is history important?” 99% of my students have answered “yes” to the second and then gone on to provide explanations that usually center around something like, “it helps us avoid past mistakes” or “ it can give us insight about today.”

My reasoning for such an introduction to a lower-division history course is overly-conceived, but one purpose is aimed toward the conclusion of the class. Arguably didactic in nature (it is teaching after all), it isn’t explicit: on the last day of the class I sought to bring the course full-circle with a short lecture and powerpoint presentation called “The State of Things Today” in which I presented a wide-ranging collection of stats, graphs, and maps.

Since 99% of the students told me and their fellows that history was A) important and B) it helps us understand current society, it makes sense to give them a snapshot of things today—in this case as they relate to social reform and to the social movements we covered in the class (mostly Feminism, the African-American Freedom Struggle, and the labor movement).

Here’s some of the stuff I covered, presented here in compelling bullet-style format:

  • Economic Inequality among Racial Groups:
    • As of 2007, African American families were paid 38% less than white families
    • Median Net Worth of Households by Race (2009):
      • Black $5677
      • White $113,149
  • Unemployment in 2010:
    • Whites = 8.5%
    • Blacks = 16%
    • Latinos = 12%
  • Families in Poverty in 2010:
    • Whites = 13%
    • Blacks = 27%
    • Latinos = 27%
  • Health Differences by Race:
    • Infant Mortality in 2010 (per 100,000):
      • Whites = 5.19     Blacks = 11.61
      • Rate in 1969 was 1.93x worse for blacks
      • Rate in 2010 is 2.24x worse for blacks
  • And the general level of wealth inequality:

Distribution of Wealth in US

  • Recent Affirmative Action Changes:

Affirmative Action race college attendance

  • Education General
    • 40% of incoming college students in Ohio need remediation in English AND Math

Intergen Mobility income inequality 22 countries

  • The “New Jim Crow”
    • In what scholars have terms the “school to prison pipeline” for example, 70% of in-school arrests are of black and Latino kids
    • In the “drug war,” African Americans constitute only 14% of the nation’s drug user, constitute 37% of those arrested for drug offenses, 59% of those convicted for drug offenses, and 74% of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense
    • “Stop and Frisk” Policy: in 2011, young black and Latino men accounted for almost half of all of the 680,000+ stops reported by police. Young black and Latino men account for just 4.6% of the city’s total population. 90% of young black and Latino men stopped were found to be innocent
    • The state of public defenders:

    time public defender has on case

  • Continuing Residential Racial Segregation
    • I presented a number of maps by Bill Rankin, which can be found here, because they’re so visually striking.
    • Similarly, I also presented them with a link to the Urban Institute’s map featured on Atlantic Cities’ website, which gives a set-up a side-by-side comparison of segregation in 1970 and 2010 of 268 metro areas!
  • Cultural Examples of Racism
    • As an example here, I presented a case that makes my fists clench and my stomach turn. In the novel The Hunger Games, the character Rue is described thusly: “…a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that’s she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor…” (pp. 45)
    • The book was adapted into a major blockbuster film, and on its opening weekend many people sent out viciously racist tweets about their disappointment at the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue (pictured below).
    • Other sites like Jezebel and HuffPost reported on the tweets, so I’ll let you peruse those at your leisure.

    Rue Hunger Games

  • Lastly, I covered rape in the U.S.
    • Out of every 100 rapes, 46 are reported to the police, 12 lead to an arrest, 9 get prosecuted, 5 lead to a felony conviction, 3 spend at least 1 day in jail. That leaves 97 walking away completely free.
    • 1 in 6 women in the U.S. has been the victim of a sexual assault and 1 in 4 of women who attend college
    • The FBI found only 2% of all sexual assault reports were false (no higher than any other crime)

As I hinted above, I made no explicit argument in the presentation (I usually do when lecturing). I simply presented issues and facts relevant to US social movement history and sent the students on their way. Perhaps, just maybe, a few will decide that they want to create some reform themselves.

There you go. Have a great week.

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