Saturday, December 10, 2011

Black history can't be taught in 28 days

Each year the month of February comes around and nationally we celebrate Black History Month.  The shortest month of the year was chosen to honor the History of Black people in America, and from March to January little seems to be mentioned about the accomplishments of Black people in this country.  The history of any people can’t be taught in that short amount of time, so why would Black History be any different?
Here is a breakdown of the month of February in a nutshell.  February 2011 has four Saturdays and four Sundays.  Take away one more day to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and another for those who chose to observe Presidents’ Day.  That leaves 18 school days to try and teach a rich history that can’t be taught in 18 months, let alone 18 days. Now that’s what you call marginalization.
Aside from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, Black History is conveniently put in the closet until next February and then pulled back out like winter clothes that have been packed and stored away in a closet. I’m not talking about the same McDonalds Black History tidbits we see year after year, I’m talking about real Black History.
The necessity for Black History to be recognized separately makes me question American History as it’s being taught in grade school and institutions of higher learning all over the country.  It should be very troubling to us all that Black Americans have been left out, or vaguely mentioned in traditional American History.  There is no disputing the contributions people of color made to help build this country, yet HIS-STORY conveniently leaves out some very important facts.
The real facts have been laid out in slave narratives and biographies of Black Americans that aren’t household names.  We’ve all heard the amazing stories of Fredrick Douglas and Harriet Tubman, but it amazes me that I never heard about the narratives of other female slaves, or Freemen until I took an African American History Class in college.
I do remember being taught some one sided stories of people like John Brown, Nat Turner, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, but I can’t recall ever hearing about David Walker’s Appeal, the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dread Scott Case, the Ft. Pillow Massacre involving Nathan Bedford Forrest (a Klansman the state of Mississippi is currently proposing to honor with a license plate), or the courageous story of Henry “Box” Brown.
Also not included in those lessons was any mention of The Civil Rights Bill of 1866, The Compromise of 1877, disenfranchisement laws that were put in place to keep black men from voting, Nixon vs. Herndon, or the case of The Scottsboro Boys.  I wonder why the murders of Medgar Evans, Emmitt Till, Wharlest Jackson and countless other Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement never made it into the chapters we covered.
The era of Jim Crow was breezed through pretty quickly, as if that period of time was as simple as the segregation of Blacks and Whites.  Along with slavery, the days of Jim Crow still baffle me to this day because slavery was abolished with the signing of the 13th Amendment (not with Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation like so many people have been falsely led to believe).  I can’t comprehend how anyone could justify why Black Americans were chained, beaten, lynched and forced to work without being paid.  I will never understand the ideology that Black Americans weren’t born with the same God given rights White Americans were born with.  Why was it such a big deal for Black Americans to sit at the back of the bus, or drink from a separate water fountain as a White American?
And these people had the nerve to claim that they were God-fearing Christians.  How dare they use the word of God like that.  If these people were Christians, I would have hated to see what things might have been like had they not been Christians.
If my memory of American History serves me correctly, the people that fought in the war to end slavery, The Civil War, were not Muslims, right?  So the people that want to scold and berate Muslims might want to take a look at the actions of the forefathers they like to quote so often.
Every Black History Month I ask my children what they learned in school that day about Black History and each day I heard the same answer. They either learned nothing, or were taught an erroneous story that was meant to demonize great Black men and women.  I.E. a couple of years ago a teacher told my daughter that Dr. King was non-violent and Malcolm X was violent.  Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.
A statement like that can harm the legacy of both men because it insinuates that the Civil Rights Movement was Martin vs. Malcolm and I needed to make sure she knew the facts about both men.
Therefore I referred her to several books about the movement and advised her to come up with her own conclusion.  I understood fully that the ball is in my court to teach my children about the true history of Black people in America and expose them to some facts they might never hear in a classroom setting.
My challenge to all of you is to do the same.  Talk to your kids about the importance of Black History, which requires parents to do some research and a lot of reading.  Don’t be afraid to take this head on because you can learn along with your children some very important historical facts.  You’ll also be able to explain some things to them that might be a little bit over their heads.
I want to give a special thanks to Dr. Eric Duke at the University of South Florida for inspiring me to read, explore and appreciate the fact that Black History can’t be taught in 28 days.  My mind has been stimulated and hopefully your thought process will be ignited as well.
Originally published by the Charlton County Herald on February 23, 2011

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