On Wednesday, State Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) went before the House State Affairs Committee to advocate for House Bill 2497, which would create the 1836 Project. We should be very worried that it’s a bunch of Confederate glorifications in disguise.
The bill would create an advisory board to promote “patriotic education” in Texas schools. The name is taken from the founding of the Republic of Texas in 1836 but is also obviously a call back to former President Donald Trump’s ridiculous 1776 Commission. That initiative was itself a ham-fisted and bigoted response to the 1619 Project that was designed to reframe slavery and Black Americans’ contribution to history. President Joe Biden shut down the commission, which historians said was filled with errors, inaccuracies, and partisan politics.
Parker did not set a very good stage at the hearing, making sure to open with a snide remark about “cancel culture.”
“Members, we’ve all heard stories from across the nation about so-called cancel culture and attempts to rewrite history,” he said. “Regardless of an individual’s opinion on this topic, HB 2497 does not seek to become a matter for partisan politics.”
Though Parker assured the members of the committee that he was dedicated to a full spectrum of history, including that of Native Americans and the rich contributions of Tejanos, it’s telling that he did not address the enslaved elephant in the room. Texas’ secession from Mexico was at least partially inspired by a desire to keep and own Black slaves, a fact that is often missing from Texas history books. Founding figures like Jim Bowie are often treated as heroes while neglecting their histories as cruel, race-based oppressors.
Parker has been a careful man. There are no unhinged rants from the representative that indicate he is a Confederate fanatic, but what he doesn’t say is pretty loud. When state lawmakers began the process of removing Confederate monuments and plaques from the Capitol last year, Parker was one of the only members of the House Committee on Appropriations to remain stubbornly silent. However, in a news release about the 1836 Project, we was very clear that monuments were an important aspect of his vision of how Texas treats its history.
On its surface and in its texts, HB 2497 is a laudable endeavor that seeks to highlight the state’s unique history. However, Parker has given no assurances that what he is seeking to do will tackle how we educate Texans on our role in slavery. The fact that he does not seem to even acknowledge that the backlash to the 1619 Project was the catalyst for his bill is pretty compelling evidence that he hopes to avoid the subject in his quest to keep statues of dead slaveowners up wherever they may be.
The 1836 Project has the potential to be a great thing, but someone is going to have to sit the architect of it down and make him admit that the way we teach Black history in this state is a travesty. Continuing to ignore the effects of white supremacy in Texas is the rewriting of history that Parker claims to abhor. His whole idea feels like a bad faith attempt to frame our growing understanding of the enduring effects of slavery as some sort of liberal erasure of facts. This is, frankly, trash, and we should all be worried about it.
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