New Study About White Supremacy and Anti-Black Racism in the Virginia History Curriculum

A new study co-authored by Teaching for Change board member Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, Teaching for Change volunteer Chris Seeger, and researcher Maria Gabriela Paz seeks to better understand how white supremacy and anti-Black racism are portrayed in the Virginia U.S. history standards. The study, Reckoning with white supremacy and anti-Black racism in the Virginia US history standards, is relevant to our Zinn Education Project critique of the state standards on Reconstruction and will be the topic of a workshop at the 2023 Black Lives Matter at School Curriculum Fair.


Report Summary

There are many standards that portray Black people as the victims of anti-Black racism, but white people and their social institutions are never portrayed as the creators, enforcers, or beneficiaries of a racist society. This reckoning is a step towards new standards that are centered on social justice, diverse perspectives, and full humanity for all groups.

Key Findings

White men comprise 70% of the individuals in the Virginia U.S. history standards. 

Figure 1: Individual People Referenced in the Virginia U.S. History Standards of Learning

Note: Total individual references in grades 4-11: White (184), Black (40), American Indian (5), Asian (3), Latinx (1), Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (0)

Figure 2: Individual References to Men and Women in the Virginia U.S. History Standards of Learning

Note: Total combined references in grades 4-11: White Men (166), White Women (18), Black Men (30), Black Women (10)
White people are mostly portrayed as individuals and almost never as a racialized group, whereas Black people are mostly portrayed as a monolithic group and less often as individuals.

Figure 3: Individual vs Group References in the Virginia U.S. History Standards of Learning

Note: Total individual references in grades 4-11: White (184), Black (40). Total group references: White (7), Black (70).
Strategies of white supremacy
Avoiding Accountability White communities, white men, and/or white supremacist social institutions are never named as the designers, enforcers, and beneficiaries of racism. Instead, the standards use the passive voice to disassociate the actor from the action, depicting racism, sexism, and poverty as mysterious forces.
Playing the Victim White people avoid accountability by positioning themselves as the victims of Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser. By playing the victim, white society attempts to gaslight its victims into believing that their oppression is justified. It is notable that there are no similar references to Black people’s fear of white violence.
Myth of the Confederate Lost Cause The lost cause is a set of myths and beliefs about white Southern society that reframes slavery as a beneficial institution and the Civil War as an attempt by the Southern states to heroically resist an overly powerful federal government (Dean, 2009; Gallagher & Nolan, 2000).
Strategies of anti-Black Racism
Black Messiahs Complex histories are reduced to oversimplified hero narratives (i.e., Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells & MLK) undermining their own complex histories and the many individuals, organizations, and communities who agitated in various ways for justice.
Illusions of Inclusion Black people’s accomplishments and experiences are misrepresented in order to be compatible with a white U.S. tale.
Silos of Black Victimhood Black people are mostly portrayed as the victims of mysterious forces of racism. This neglects the full humanity of their experiences. The narrative is also misleading about the duration of slavery and Jim Crow.

Access Full Article