How We Remember Our Past Determines Our Future

Historical memory is far more than an academic exercise

Tim Wise
Published in
6 min readJan 25, 2022


Image, from 1963 March on Washington, by Rowland Scherman, Flickr, Archives Foundation. Creative Commons License 2.0

Imagine you were to seek out a therapist, perhaps to help you work through some childhood and adolescent traumas that continued to impact your life as an adult.

You wish to get to the bottom of your current damage by exploring your past, hopeful that with proper guidance, you can learn from it — the good and the bad — and begin building a healthier present and more hopeful future.

Now imagine that upon sitting down on the couch, your therapist said that they looked forward to helping you, but unfortunately, they wouldn’t be able to examine anything from your past that might make you feel discomfort.

Or sadness. Or shame.

Even if their purpose is to help you navigate those feelings, and even if they have the professional tools to help you work through them — should they arise — they cannot.

Imagine your therapist were to tell you they look forward to helping you, but won’t be able to examine anything from your past that might make you feel discomfort…

And why? Because the state that licenses their profession has told them they cannot. Protecting your feelings takes priority over helping you face reality.

In such a scenario, one would assume that state officials had gone mad, or at the very least didn’t understand how therapy works and why it’s essential to confront the past, even when it’s ugly.

Conservatives sacrifice truth on the altar of comfort…

In some regards, this is what officials in dozens of states are doing with K-12 education — telling teachers they cannot honestly explore the nation’s past or the effects of that past on the present, at least the parts involving racism.

To do so, they insist, risks making white children feel discomfort, guilt, or shame for the actions of their ancestors, and so, this material cannot be explored.

Or if it is, it should be sanitized, scrubbed of clear judgments as to who was right and wrong…



Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)