Why Explore Black History?

Why Explore Black History?
Posted on April 9, 2023 by Dr. Shannon

Imagine what it would be like for our Black children to grow up knowing the beauty and strength of their culture and heritage. To know that they come from a people whose creativity and achievements influenced the world. To know their presence has impacted every sector of the world- science, literature, music, politics, sports, film, food, businesses, the arts, fashion industry - everything. I’ve been in the education field for over twenty years and I’ve seen very little change in the curriculum concerning how Black history is taught. First, when students learn about Black history, it usually starts at the point of struggle - slavery or the civil rights movement - and often ends there too. And the discussion of slavery seldom highlights the ingenuity of the enslaved persons and how they survived; or that not every Black person during that time was enslaved, that there were free Black people who were scientists, land owners, explorers, entrepreneurs, writers, artists and so much more. The curriculum also ignores Black people in most other time periods, leaving the learner to think Black people’s history begins with slavery and ends with the civil rights movement.

Second, most instruction of Black history is relegated to February- Black History Month- when again, the focus is on heroes and events that highlight the Black struggle and not the many contributions and historic events that are foundational to American society. Third, students do not learn about Africa and the African diaspora. Africa is made up of over 54 beautiful countries, each distinct, with its own culture, traditions, and impact. Or the diaspora that encompasses Black people in many other countries on different continents and their impact. Their influence is all over the world today. 

Teach Black History throughout the school year.

Black history should be taught throughout the year - as American history or world history. Where Black students can see themselves throughout the curriculum as regular participants in society. For instance when they learn about the “race to space,” students should learn that Katherine Johnson, a brilliant mathematician was the “human computer” that calculated the flight path for the astronauts to get to the moon. Or when the primary grades learn about the postal system, they can learn about one of the first female postal workers, Mary Fields. Or when students learn about the French Revolution, they should learn about Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George, a soldier during that time who was also a master violinist and fencemen or Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie, a French general who played a significant role in the war, and later became the father to Alexander Dumas the author of the Three Musketeers and other great literary works. There is a wealth of information to teach, that could be taught in the various subjects throughout with the “standard” curriculum already required. 

When Black children learn their history, there are several benefits.

James Baldwin wrote, “If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” His quote speaks to the benefits of knowing one’s history. For Black children to have a complete understanding of their history and not just the bits and pieces they get from schools, or the film industry, would benefit them in many ways. I list a few below.

Self-Identity and Empowerment. When children understand their culture, history, and heritage, it provides a strong foundation for developing a positive self-identity. Knowing about the achievements, struggles, and resilience of Black ancestors fosters a sense of pride, confidence, and empowerment. It allows Black students to see themselves represented in a rich and diverse historical narrative, challenging stereotypes and promoting self-worth.

Cultural Connection and Belonging. Knowledge of one's culture, history, and heritage strengthens the sense of belonging and connection to a community with shared experiences and values. It provides a framework for understanding and appreciating cultural traditions, customs, music, art, literature, and cuisine that have been passed down through generations. Connecting with one's roots promotes a sense of cultural continuity, fosters intergenerational relationships, and strengthens family bonds.

Resilience and Strength. Understanding the history of Black resistance, resilience, and triumphs in the face of adversity inspires and instills a sense of resilience in Black students. Learning about the struggles and accomplishments of historical figures like civil rights activists, inventors, artists, and scholars demonstrates the strength and potential within the Black community. Knowledge of the past serves as a reminder that Black students can overcome challenges and make significant contributions to society. 

Counteracting Stereotypes and Discrimination. Knowing one's history and heritage equips Black students with the knowledge to challenge and counteract negative stereotypes and racial biases that may be perpetuated in various settings. It allows them to understand the historical context of racial injustices and discrimination, empowering them to advocate for equality, justice, and social change. Awareness of past struggles helps Black students recognize and respond to systemic inequalities, promoting a more inclusive and equitable society.

Academic Excellence and Achievement. Studying Black history and heritage contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of global history and human achievements. It provides Black students with a broader perspective and critical thinking skills that can enhance their academic performance in various subjects. By highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of Black individuals in different fields, it inspires and encourages Black students to excel academically and pursue their aspirations.

The benefits our children will receive when they learn their history is invaluable. We can’t leave it to the schools, because they are doing a bad job at it. In fact, in many places, what is being taught is being watered down (i.e. "millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations" -this written in an 11th grade history textbook to describe immigration patterns) or eliminated (i.e. Tony Morrison’s The Bluest Eye). (And yes, the first example was “fixed” after much outrage, but the point is it made it into a textbook that had hundreds of reviewers!) This is one of the main reasons why I started the Explore Black History on the Go Podcast for Kids and the Explore Black History Academy. I join a growing community of service providers - micro-schools, faith-based institutions, museums, Saturday school programs, and afterschool programs who provide spaces for children to learn the Black history that isn't taught in schools. Similar to the Freedom Schools of 1964, sometimes we need to look inward to do the job that we want to get done.

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