Thomas Jefferson once wrote that black people are inferior to whites. Here's my response.

In my American history class, I heard lots of stories about the men who founded this country.

I was taught that men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison personified the best of what our country had to offer. They saved us from imperialistic rule in order to build a country predicated on freedom.


Our Founding Fathers. Photo via iStock.

They made America what it is today.

But what I didn't know: 12 presidents of the United States owned slaves, eight of those while they were in office.

Those eight included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor.

This poem is my letter to the first five of them:

History Reconsidered

Letter to five of the presidents who owned slaves while they were in office.

George Washington—when you won the revolution how many of your soldiers did you send from the battlefield to the cotton field? How many had to trade in their rifles for plows? Can you blame the slaves who ran away to fight for the British because at least the Redcoats were honest about their oppression?

Thomas Jefferson—when you told Sally Hemings that you would free her children if she remained your mistress did you think there was honor in your ultimatum? Did you think that we wouldn’t be able to recognize the assault in your signature? Does raping your slave when you disguise it as bribery make it less of a crime? When you wrote the Declaration of Independence did you ever intend for black people to have freedom over their bodies?

James Madison—when you wrote to Congress that black people count as three-fifths of a person how long did you have to look at your slaves to figure out the math? Was it easy to chop them? Did you think they’d be happy being more than half human?

James Monroe—when you proposed sending slaves back to Africa, did black bodies feel like rented tools? When you branded them did the scars on their chest include an expiration date? When you named the country Liberia, were you trying to be ironic? Does this really count as liberation?

Andrew Jackson—was the Trail of Tears not enough for you? Was killing Cherokee, Choctaw, Creeks, and Seminoles not enough to quench your imperialism? How many brown bodies do you have to bulldoze before you can call it “progress”?

Mr. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson—when you put your hand on the bible and swore to protect this country let’s be honest in who you were talking about. When the first Independence Day fireworks set the sky aflame, don’t forget where we were watching from.

So when you remember Jefferson’s genius, don’t forget the slaves who built the bookshelves in his library. When you remember Jackson’s victories in war, don’t forget what he was fighting to preserve. When you sing that this country was founded on freedom don’t forget the duet of shackles dragging against the ground.

My entire life I have been taught how perfect this country was. But no one ever told me about the pages torn out of my textbooks. How black and brown bodies have been bludgeoned for three centuries, but find no place in the curriculum.

Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter. If you only hear one side of the story, at some point you have to question who the writer is.

What we learn in our history classes doesn’t tell us the full story of our country’s relationship with race.

Take Jefferson, for example. In his book, "Notes on the State of Virginia," our third president wrote that black people were "inferior to the whites in the endowment both of body and mind" and "that in imagination, they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous."

Yes, Jefferson was an American leader ... but he was also a slave owner. Photo via iStock.

He wrote that black men did not have the capacity to sustain complex emotions. And he also believed that black people did not possess the creative or intellectual acumen to create art, writing that Phyllis Wheatley (who is considered to be the first published black American poet) produced work that was "below the dignity of criticism."

Jefferson, in large part, serves as a microcosm for how American history is often taught — myopic, one-dimensional, and not illuminative of the whole truth of our nation’s past. We need to more seriously grapple with the complicated, and often contradictory, parts of our history if we want to be more honest about how we can effectively move forward.

We are in the midst of a moment where the conversation around race in this country has been brought to the forefront of our political discourse — as it should be.

The problem, however, is that if we don’t understand the historical context that has shaped our contemporary racial dynamics, then we can’t fully understand the totality of the problem, and thus we risk misdiagnosing the solution.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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