When I was in elementary school, Black History Month was only a week. When the week came, it was a time to do a book report about Martin Luther King, Jr. or Harriet Tubman, draw a couple of pictures, and see an assembly or video, then get back to business as usual. The “usual” generally didn’t include any tangible mention of black contributions to the founding fabric of America. I didn’t know what I didn’t know so I wasn’t aware of the disservice I was experiencing. I also wasn’t aware of how that disservice was grooming me to see myself, a black girl, as a second-class citizen.
In that school, my sister and I were the only two black students. I was bullied viciously, tormented by my all white classmates, yet I was convinced that the bullying was because of me — who I was as a person. It never occurred to me that the torment was because I was black. I had been groomed to take responsibility for other people’s racism. It was subtle, but the seed was planted and watered by a lack of education, until it blossomed into a full bouquet of self-doubt and self-loathing. My lack of understanding of black contributions in history was an integral part of that grooming, not just for me but for the kids who bullied me. We both needed a lesson in black humanity.
Even as an adult, my instinct to see discrimination as a personal issue of my making instead of other people’s racism was well-rooted. It wasn’t until my children went into school that I began to question that line of thought. All three of my children have been victims of racism: Discrimination and harassment by teachers and administrators at their schools. Some teachers have even lost pay for their actions. But the uphill battle for acknowledgment, remedy and justice has taken a huge toll on them, and me. Facing the faculty was bad enough, but other parents would also frown at me, or just blatantly pull away, considering me a trouble-maker for suggesting that discrimination even existed in the school at all in this day and age. Everyone thought themselves progressive because they have black friends, they hug black children, and they watch black shows. But that doesn’t render them exempt from enabling the continuation of systemic racism and racist practices, or from capitalizing on their white privilege.
Through maturation, self-education, and experience, I was finally able to take my groomed blinders off. I was almost embarrassed because once I did so, the racism was so obvious for me to see. That’s why black history month is so important to me. I consider it a month meant for chipping away at the grooming so many have experienced. Its a time for wiping away some of the film covering our eyes, and exposing the truth of America’s past and present, all in the hopes of unveiling a more inclusive, supportive, and diverse future.
We won’t get anywhere if Black History Month is regarded as nothing more than a month to sell things. My eldest told me he feels Black History Month is treated as just one big commercial. Retailers use it as an excuse to promote a sale or a product release. He said there doesn’t seem to be much investment in actually pushing the needle forward on understanding the importance of the contributions of black people throughout history. “And in school, Black History Month is almost an excuse for teachers to ignore black history the rest of the year.”
That’s why I am grateful that my youngest has found a school whose focus on developing socially-responsible world scholars places a great importance on the studying of all history. For them, black inclusive education is a full year commitment, not just a month. Think about it — one of the greatest examples of social justice is the Civil Rights Movement. Their students have drafted grassroots social campaigns, taken trips to the state capital, lobbied congressmen, spearheaded rallies and marched for change — and they are just in elementary school.
Knowing how to advocate for a cause or a belief is a critical part of maturation. If we want our kids to do better in the future we have to let them understand what they need to improve on and give them the tools to make those improvements today. Learning about black history, particularly the Civil Rights Movement, is a blueprint for children of all races to map out a proactive and more inclusive future.
We can’t dismiss Black History Month because history has shown us that when American education is left to its own devices, history will remain segregated and people of color won’t even be on the proverbial school bus. Therefore, even if your school doesn’t do its job, I encourage you, as parents, to take the reins yourself. Visit a museum, watch archival footage on the computer, read books together. Talk, share, listen. Black history is all of our history and deserves acknowledgment, not a repeat. Our future depends on it.More On