The very existence of the United States of America presents itself as perhaps one of the most confounding paradoxes. A country that claims a perfectly veneered foundation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, interstate highways tarred with gold and a guarantee of the ever-fleeting American dream. This is a country that is simultaneously founded on the backs of Indigenous peoples, immigrants and Black Americans — on marginalized communities whose contributions constitute the leather binding that establishes this nation’s narrative. While the pages of this narrative are slick with their blood, sweat, and tears, I’ve found that the complexities and intricacies of their history are consistently excluded from the story that has come to define All-Americana. Nonetheless, the majority of U.S. History courses I’ve taken seem to accept this account as a baseline standard in the classroom. This begs the question of whether neglecting to rawly and honestly teach said communities the jarring truth that this nation was once a colonizer state — deriving its power from ethnic cleansing, the bloody bondages of slavery, and widespread imperialism — is a product of pure altruistic intent, an attempt to shield our children from the harshness of reality. Or rather, is this ahistoric failure a tragic and deliberate miseducation of the masses; a strategic maneuver bred from the knowledge that a thorough education serves as the unofficial language of revolution, capable of deteriorating the power that characterizes a modern day portrait of America
At the forefront of a growing movement towards rectifying the falsities that countless Boards of Education have deemed a proper recollection of American history is the African American Integration Initiative (AAII), a new student organization at the University of Michigan. AAII aims to draft state legislation that would require increased hiring of educators of color, an unreserved and forthright teaching of African American history, and racial ethics in order to emphasize an essential truth: that there is simply no American history without African American history. I spoke with LSA freshman AAII founder, Shelbie Taylor, and LSA freshmen team leaders Vicky Wang and Monica Khalique to gain a full understanding of what led to the conception of AAII, its organizational hierarchy, and how such a student organization fits within the complex framework of a predominantly white institution.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder,riots soon followed. Taylor spoke to me about activism fatigue and a summer of America on fire.Taylor tells me she was compelled to make a tangible change, to drive a new sort of racial reckoning. Much more deeply though, for Taylor, the genesis of AAII was not only a testament to the reality that racism is an early product of ignorance and the manifestation of an education gone wrong. It was also an amendment to a childhood of gritted teeth, clenched fists, and inky blue lonelinessbecause more often than not, Taylor had lived a grating existence of being the only Black student on any given day in any given room.
AAII is a well-oiled, complex machine, consisting of three parts: Data Gathering, Networking and Allyship, and Marketing and Public Image. Taylor leads Data Gathering, in which members collect budding statistical data, surveying students on the extent of their knowledge surrounding African American history. The goal is to build an all encompassing curriculum tailored to their responses. Taylor tells me she expects these results to serve as tangible proof of an education system in need of dire reform. Monica Khalique is team leader of Networking and Allyship, the sector of AAII dedicated to reaching out to professors and administrators at the university with the intent of establishing a presence and gaining endorsement and mentorship opportunities. Vicky Wang is co-leader of the Marketing/Public Image team, which aims to amplify AAII’s presence as a student organization on campus through social media and campaign initiatives. A typical AAII meeting consists not only of brute groundwork through data gathering and analysis, it also serves as a safe haven for many of those shunned by the dividing lines of America. It is a space to discuss the disturbing stratifications of race and occurences of racism that have been shoved in the backs of filing cabinets and under yellowed manila folders. Moreover, Wang and Khalique speak of a life riddled with microaggressions and a lack of representation. Both describe grappling with the difficult task of defining what it means to be a woman of color amid the perils of a world that seemingly wasn’t designed for them. Wang tells me that even in Ann Arbor, a community that lauds itself as one of the epicenters of social change and progression in the midwest, her run-ins with prejudice are still potent. Only here, though, they are slyly leveled under the table, presenting themselves in shifty eyes, altered body language and ultimately a crippling sense of discomfort in every corner of the city.
Looking forward, AAII aims to go beyond drafting a new curriculum and passing state legislation, solidifying its place at the University of Michigan as a student organization that serves as the next generation’s counselor, mentor and teacher that Taylor, Wang, Khalique, and young kids like them had never had. AAII and similar alliances are crucial in rearing the broken and racially skewed American education system.