Monday, February 25, 2019
Reflecting on Black History Month in the US, the most common sentence I heard from whites was "I didn't know that!"
This is the month when we learn more of the rich history of men and women of color who have shaped our world and failed to receive recognition for their accomplishments nor compensation for their suffering. During February we have an abundance of lectures and films setting us straight on the past and present mistreatment of African Americans. Mainstream movies are bringing light to the history of mistreatment of African Americans in the US. "If Beale Street Could Talk" and "Black KkKlansman" are two of the movies that inform us of the modern history of the inhumane and degrading treatment people of color. "Twelve Years A Slave" revealed the abhorrent treatment of blacks by those who trafficked Africans and their descendants during the years when slavery was legal. "Green Book" addresses prior forms of discrimination - but from a white perspective- lulling some viewers into believing bias no longer exists. Only if that same audience would embrace the harsh historical lessons of the other movies as well. Spike Lee has pointed out that we very much need to accept the reality of current abuses of power.
All to raise the question: Who will re-write the history textbooks used in public education? Race has been a divisive issue in this country since the founding. Yet we ignore it's teaching with poor excuses and falsehoods. We say the race issue is in our past - why drag it up?- it makes us uncomfortable to discuss race ... and on and on. If teachers are not voluntarily having in-depth discussions on race - or are prohibited from doing so because of mandatory use of materials that limit its discussion, the question becomes, who is going to re-write the history books? And when are school administrators and parents going to demand that history courses include the underbelly of US history? Colonialism, human slave trafficking, the refusal to acknowledge not only the mistreatment of African Americans but the many ways in which we made sure their success was limited and that those successes remained hidden.
While waiting for textbook adoption and re-writing to transform readers understanding of racial disparity, perhaps the entire month of February should be devoted to teaching only black history, and without the excuses made on behalf of embarrassed or uncomfortable whites.
And then, let us move onto US genocide of indigenous people and the shaming of women and others.