Hearings on Capitol Hill sometimes include ... let’s just say odd moments.
But on Thursday we saw something just straight-up bizarre during a hearing of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, when one Republican senator decided to go after a children’s book.
The shouty gentleman demanding to know whether it’s better to teach “Jesus Loves Me,” a Christian children’s song, or “Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race,” which is a children’s book about race, is Markwayne Mullin, a former cage fighter turned Republican senator from Oklahoma, who I should note claims Cherokee heritage and pointed that out in the hearing.
It was kind of a dumb question though, right? You wouldn’t teach a Jesus song in a public elementary school because, well, it’s not Sunday school. It’s not church — it’s a school!
And there are likely kids in that school who aren’t Christian, don’t know who Jesus is, and don’t care. And their parents, who might be Buddhist or Jewish or Muslim or atheists, etc., have a right to not have their kids’ teachers preach “the Jesus” to them.
But the other reason why what the senator said is dumb is that the scary book that he waved around is correct on the facts.
Allow me to quote the historians from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture right here in the nation’s capital. Quote:
Before the mid-1600s, there is no evidence that the English referred to themselves as being “white people.” This concept did not occur until 1613 when the English society first encountered and contrasted themselves against the East Indians through their colonial pursuits. Even then, there was not a large body of people who considered themselves “white” as we know the term today. From about the 1550s to 1600, “white” was exclusively used to describe elite English women, because the whiteness of skin signaled that they were persons of a high social class who did not go outside to labor. However, the term white did not refer to elite English men because the idea that men did not leave their homes to work could signal that they were lazy, sick, or unproductive. ... European colonists’ use of the word “white” to refer to people who looked like themselves, grew to become entangled with the word “race” and “slave” in the American colonies in the mid-1660s. These elites created “races” of “savage” Indians, “subhuman” Africans, and “white” men. The social inventions succeeded in uniting the white colonists, dispossessing and marginalizing native people, and permanently enslaving most African-descended people for generations.
Unquote. So the answer to your silly question, Senator: The book that’s best to use if you want to talk to kids about race is the actual book about race that’s grounded in historical fact. Because trust me, kids know that race is a thing.
But feel free to sing the Jesus song to your kids at home.
This is an excerpt from Thursday’s episode of “The ReidOut.” It has been slightly edited for length and clarity.