By Erin Long, President and Founder of Worldwide Speech
Black History Month was formally established by President Gerald Ford in 1976. Ford called on Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black American in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Every February since there has been an effort to honor the successes of distinguished Black Americans. There has also been some recognition of the struggles and inequities suffered by Black Americans. But let’s ask ourselves, what has it accomplished?
As February 2021 arrived, it came with the backdrop of protests after the unjust deaths of unarmed and non-dangerous people who are not with us today solely because of the color of their skin. It also came with the image of a Confederate flag being carried through the US Capitol on January 6th. This February, America is not so much celebrating the accomplishments of Black people but rather asking the question, how did we come to this moment in history?
Simply put, there is no one answer and there is much to discuss. As educators and parents, we must also remember we are not the only ones taking all this in. Our children are seeing these images and hearing our conversations. We can make a real difference for our children and help them understand the depths and darkness of racism but only if we ourselves are going to acknowledge that we have a lot to learn as well.
Traditionally, American history books have talked about slavery as a factual topic, it existed, it was a terrible practice but it’s over now – problem solved – the end.
When teaching American history, we need a fuller account of how slaves were mistreated and a better understanding of what came after the Civil War. Let me ask you, did you ever hear about the Tulsa Massacre of 1921? If you did, when? I know I was never taught about it in school. I have to believe hearing about white militants, armed with the help of city officials, who murdered and beat the Black citizens of Tulsa, would have stuck in my mind. What about the “The Negro Motorist Green Book?” Or “Sundown Towns?” (the answers are available in Traveling While Black – below)
None of this is to make anyone feel guilty or ignorant. For almost all of us, we were only told half of the story – at best.
I list these examples only to highlight how American schools have not given us the information or knowledge we need before we can truly understand the reality and legacy of slavery. It is not unreasonable for us to expect our schools to do a better job teaching our children. Our kids will not be any different from us if they do not receive more information about the true horrors of slavery.
Schools aren’t the only place we can expect our children to learn about racism. For many of us, our children are attending international schools, where American history is not taught. What do we do in that situation? We can talk about this topic at home as a family, we can also inquire with schools to see if they have any books about how to be anti-racist. There are many wonderful books and resources available to teach children about the prevalence of racism and violence that exists because of it.
Openly talking about racism, naming it, and acknowledging it is difficult. It is a subject many people do not feel comfortable or knowledgeable enough to give their opinions and share their beliefs. But until we have open conversations, acknowledge our own beliefs, seek the information we need to talk about racism, we can not expect much to change. As parents and educators, we ourselves will have to do a little learning on our own and take the journey with our children toward being better world citizens.
As February comes to its close, George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, and so many more innocent black people will still be dead. Most of the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th will still have their beliefs. What can we as individuals do to contribute even in the smallest way? That is a personal question we will all have to decide for ourselves but one thing we can all do is equip our children with real knowledge and understanding so they themselves can go out and contribute to a better world for everyone.
- The Washington Post : Teaching America’s Truth
- The Washington Post: Traveling While Black
- This is the Black Renaissance. By Ibram X Kendi