I wanted to write a Black History Month post, but when I started researching online I got frustrated by the lack of current material. So I turned to my kids, asking them what they do at school. My youngest laid it out plainly: “We study Martin Luther King Jr Mom….every year.” Ugh.
I was getting even more frustrated so I turned to some of my fellow African American parents. I sent out some texts:
“Would you please email me a couple of your favorite ideas or facts celebrating black history month?”
The first response I got was from my best friend, lawyer, parent activist and history aficionado, Dee. She said,
“I would start with the simple fact that black history is American history, yet it is left out of most, if not all, text books for grades 1-12.”
Now Dee is one of my most prolific friends, who is very well versed in history and racism, so I kind of expected such a “provocative” response. But I didn’t want to be seen as “radical” in my post. I was hoping to just create a puff piece offering parents some suggestions about how they could honor the month at their house or in school. I wanted some light fare, so I thought I wouldn’t use her quote so as not to “stir up trouble.”
I reached out to another mom I know, Jacquelyn. She has six kids from 8th grade down. Jacqui is who I want to be when I grow up. She is so good at mothering, and she does so with such kindness. I asked her the same question I asked Dee, and I was sobered by her response.
“During black history month we work on our family tree tracing our lineage back as far as we can. It’s hard for children to be prideful of a history that is tainted in shame, and disregarded in history books and in the classroom! So, we research our own past and make connections with other unrecognized historical figures to see how that has dictated our journey in some cases.”
Oh boy. After reading Jacquelyn’s response I was the one who felt ashamed for even considering dismissing Dee’s comment in the first place. Not so “radical” after all. Then, adding fuel to the fire, I got a response from Natasha.
“We take the responsibility of intertwining black history with whatever else they’re learning at school, which isn’t much. Since no assemblies take place anymore at school in our home we use the month to focus on a specific area of black history. This year it’s authors. We help our children learn about an African American author each day, paying special attention to the craft of writing, delving deeper into black Americans from that area.”Natasha Nicholes HousefulofNichoes.com @HFofNicholes
Wait a minute. Why the heck do we have Black History Month at all if schools are barely rising above the easy subject matter of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and parents are left to try and supplement their children’s education, and public programs struggle for recognition and attendance?
I decided to up the ante of my research and go home to mom. My mom is white. Born in Ohio, she had to face racism head-on when she chose to marry my father, a black man. She marched for civil rights. She marched for school desegregation. She marched for Black History Month. I figured she would have more than a few things to say. I was right, but I was also surprised.
“It is coming. We’ve talked about it for so long. We have wanted black history not to be a separate month, but to be a celebration of all history of which black people are a part of. We see this wonderful man who is our president making history every day and he happens to be a black man making that history. General Colin Powell, a military man calling for control over all of this gun-violence craziness. He is making history and that is inspiring. We see men, people like Herman Cain and the horrible idiot down in Florida competing to be a part of our government, but the people saying that they are not up to our standards and nobody mentions that they are black just that they are incompetent. That is an improvement.”
Improvement, yes. But are we really there yet? I mean, we are HERE in present time, making the history of the future, but have we achieved the recognition for our past contributions that we as a people deserve? I don’t think so. No, scratch that, I know we haven’t. I believe Dee and Jacquelyn are right. How can we rest on our laurels when not all of those laurels are recognized in the history books used to educate our children, of every color? I understand the instinct to say, “Let’s dispense with labels and all just be American,” but that only works if the history books tell the complete story. And at present they don’t.
But I am just 42 years old. I have faced racism, but not the kind of racism that my father has. So I turned to Chuck Holton, who was the first African American to graduate from St. Norberts College in Wisconsin, and who a few years ago had a multi-cultural center named after him at the college to honor his contribution to the school’s history. I wanted to hear how he felt about Black History Month.
“I think it is dying, (Black History month). Usually by now we would have heard a lot things and a lot of programs planned but I haven’t heard much of anything. And I’m thinking that maybe what has been going on in the World has relegated the month to lower visibility, up against gun violence and the economy. Maybe we are living black history now with Obama in there, (the White House)? I can remember the time when a lot of us thought that we dont have to have black history week, but that was when we thought black history would be woven into American history. We were focused on our own people because before we can teach it to other people we have to know our history ourselves. I’m not sure we have achieved that.”
I think my father is right. Until we rectify the glaring absence of African American contributions in the history books about this country, we still have work to do. And Black History Month, an activate Black History month, is imperative. How can our children value the true accomplishment of having an African American president if they don’t know from whence we came, the true and sometimes very unpleasant history of this country? Learning from mistakes is a very important part of the development of wisdom. but you have to own up to the mistakes to learn from them. Likewise, you have to acknowledge all who contributed to the erection of society through the years, not just white inventors, policy makers, and social activists peppered with the occasional person of color who is an appealing anecdote, or a wel-established quantity.
For myself, I have realized that I am personally not doing enough in this month or any. I talk about race relations. I encourage my children to feel prideful of their ethnicity, but I don’t do enough to stoke the fires of their pride by increasing their knowledge of historical black figures. It was so important to me to take my kids to Washington, D.C., in 2011 because I wanted my children to experience our nation’s capital under the umbrella of a black presidency and to share in the great honor of the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. On some level I guess I understood that the African American race is not fully represented in history, so going to our nation’s capital with the literal image of a black president hanging on the walls of every public government building and great historical edifices was vital to me in order to solidify my children’s sense of themselves in the American landscape – past, present and future. But it is vital to all children. Black History Month shouldn’t just be for black people. It’s for all people, so that we can read from the same page of history with a more complete understanding of the wealth of contributions made to this country by a diverse population of movers and shakers. Black History Month is a celebration of our shared history. The advancements spearheaded by black Americans served to influence and benefit all Americans, and should therefore be taught universally.
We aren’t there yet because we don’t have it in writing yet that we, black people, have been here, actively shaping America, from the beginning. At least that’s my opinion. What do you think?
For more insights and ideas about Black History month check out these posts from some of my esteemed colleagues:Frederick J. Goodall @Mochadad Tracey Becker @JustAnotherMom
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