Memory  /  Survey

Democrats and Republicans Are Increasingly Divided On the Value of Teaching Black History

Partisanship is much more polarized by racial attitudes than it was 20 years ago.
Michael Tesler/Washington Post

Wednesday marks the end of Black History Month. And like prior Februaries, this month has seen its fair share of articles lamenting Americans’ lack of knowledge about African American history. A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that schools are not adequately teaching the history of slavery in particular.

Despite these laments, Americans remain fundamentally divided on the teaching of black history. That’s not new. What is new is the growing polarization of Democrats and Republicans on this issue.

In a February YouGov/Economist Poll, 85 percent of African Americans and 32 percent of whites said that there’s not enough black history in our schools. This large racial divide isn’t surprising. The last time that major polling firms asked about teaching black history, two polls in 2000 showed that African Americans were over 40 points more likely than whites to want more black history taught in schools.

In the February poll, Democrats and Republicans were miles apart: 67 percent of Democrats thought our schools should be teaching more black history, compared with just 10 percent of Republicans. This divide, unlike the racial divide, is more recent. The left graph below shows that in 2000, Democrats and Republicans were about 20 points apart. The partisan divide is now 57 points.

The graph on the right shows that Democrats and Republicans have also grown increasingly divided over whether schools are teaching too much black history. In 2000, Democrats and Republicans didn’t differ on this, and Democrats haven’t changed in the past two decades.

Republicans, however, are now 30 points more likely to say schools should teach less black history. In fact, one-third of President Trump voters in the February YouGov/Economist poll said that “American children should solely be taught about Western civilization and European/U.S. history.”