Racist Rep. Jim Olsen’s slavery education bill is another case of White fragility 

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor

No longer content with shamelessly shielding their own children from the visceral truth about U.S. slavery, conservatives now want to reshape the way all students learn about it. 

In an extreme case of revisionist history and government overreach, conservative Oklahoma lawmaker Jim Olsen (R-Roland) recently filed HB 2988, which bans schools, universities and state agencies from teaching that the U.S. had a unique role in the practice of slavery.

While some are calling the proposed law an embarrassment, it’s actually much more serious and dangerous than mere ignorance. 

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Oklahoma state Rep. Jim Olsen (Republican) claimed abortion is worse than slavery during debate on an abortion bill in the Oklahoma legislature earlier this year. / Screenshot.

Slavery denial bill adds to racist resume

Specifically, the bill punishes institutions for “Any teaching that America has more culpability, in general, than other nations for the institution of slavery; 2. That one race is the unique oppressor in the institution of slavery; 3. That another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery.”

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews rightfully called it “disgusting” in an exchange on social media.

Rep. Olsen, who looks likes a mix between roll-on deodorant and the cave creatures from the horror film The Descent (2005), would be hard-pressed to find any historian who would deny that the vast majority of slaveholders were White Europeans and the vast majority of enslaved people were of African descent.

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Ultimately, Rep. Olsen, who gained coverage earlier this year for saying he’d rather be a slave than an aborted fetus, clearly isn’t concerned about upsetting Black Oklahomans. He’s an agent of chaos, eager to spin the wheels of racial division for sheer amusement.

But he doesn’t stop there.

In this Aug. 24, 2019 file photo, Jerome Jones explores inside the Fort Monroe Visitor And Education Center during the First African Landing Commemorative Ceremony at Fort Monroe, Va. Officials observed the arrival of enslaved Africans 400 years earlier to what is now Virginia. Proposals in Arkansas, Iowa and Mississippi would prohibit schools from using a New York Times project that focused on slavery’s legacy. (Jonathon Gruenke/The Daily Press via AP)

U.S. slavery was uniquely depraved

Additionally, the bill bans teaching “That America, in general, had slavery more extensively and for a later period of time than other nations” or that “the primary and overarching purpose for the founding of America was the initiation and perpetuation of slavery.”

The U.S. was one of the last countries in the Americas to end the morbid practice, which saw babies plucked from their mothers, used as bait for alligators, and which resulted in the genocide of millions.

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Since the launch of the 1619 Project, which seeks to center the enslavement of African people as a foundational element of America’s founding, conservatives around the nation have pushed back with laws to prevent deep analysis of the profound impact slavery had on the nation’s founding and subsequent growth.

While the debate continues over just how much U.S. founders’ ideals of freedom were motivated by desires to enslave human beings (both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned enslaved Africans), there’s no denying that the explosion of wealth the U.S. gained in the 18th and 19th centuries came from forced, free labor.

gop systemic racism critical race theory

White guilt on full display in Oklahoma

Award-winning New York Times journalist and 1619 project co-author Nikole Hannah-Jones called the bill an “anti-history memory law” that was opposed to truth in a Tweet on Wednesday.

Notably, Rep. Olsen didn’t even bother to look at the state’s curriculum standards before filing the bill, according to a report from the Oklahoman.

“My basic intention is to be proactive,” Olsen said, probably with a smile.

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For many, like myself, it isn’t a shock to learn that conservatives like Olsen would drum up a bill that further causes mental trauma for Black Oklahomans. 

I learned about the depravity of White guilt as far back as high school when my AP U.S. History teacher at Lawton High School, Ms. Belter, told our class that “slavery wasn’t that bad.” Come to find out, her not-to-distant ancestors owned human beings and wanted to clarify to a room full of teenagers that they were treated with the utmost respect possibly afforded to an owned person. She’s still employed at the school, infecting more generations of students with her guilt-laden ignorance.

Olsen’s legislative colleagues will either ignore or condone his behavior

It would, however, be shocking if, when the legislature reconvenes in February 2022, Olsen’s fellow conservative lawmakers reprimanded him in any way for his violent recasting of the country’s original sin. I won’t hold my breath for that, and neither should you.

Instead, it has become even more crucial for teachers and administrators to break the fragile chains of White supremacy by ensuring the next generation of Oklahoma students are educated on the unique evils of U.S. slavery, along with the ways systemic racism plagues society today. 

If not for their enlightenment, educators and White parents should ensure their children are adequately educated on racism at least so that they don’t get punched in the mouth for spewing ignorance in front of the wrong person. 

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