I am the product of a pro-black family. From the time my first memory became etched in my psyche, my family sat around the dinner table discussing poverty, oppression, and black history daily. My father regularly yelled out MLK quotes, and Eyes on the Prize played in rotation. We were always discussing the Civil Rights Movement, Jesse Jackson, or the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. My whole life felt like a never-ending field trip in a black history museum.
My family was also privileged. We had nice things, traveled the world, and never went without. And yet, all of our conversations centered around the less-fortunate and the oppressed world we lived in. See, my parents taught me the difference between my privilege and the reality for so many others. I also understood that I could have just as easily fallen into the have-not category, and vowed to never take my position in life for granted
For the first 7 years of my life, I lived a rather traditional American life in a “perfect” little college town, where all lives mattered, skin color wasn’t an issue, and all rights were seemingly equal. At least, that’s how I saw it. It wasn’t until I moved into the most segregated city of the nation that the veil was removed from my eyes. When I started my new school as a 3rd grader, I became a new person.
My parents encouraged me to step outside of my privilege
By age 8, I was studying the middle passage, enraged over slavery, and obsessed with Black history. Our 3rd grade teacher instructed our class to present on a topic and I recreated a slave ship, complete with the kidnapped Africans chained together (with my mother’s bracelets). I even grappled with why we said the pledge every morning and found myself conflicted over this expectation. As I studied those words, I wondered if I were the only one in my class that felt odd, betrayed, and angry at the script. I made a decision about whether I would say the pledge going forward. I won’t share my decision, but let’s just say even at that young age, I was not afraid to stand up for what I believed in.
My parents encouraged me to think. They provided the platform to learn about painful realities and challenged me to discern right from wrong. I was forced to understand Black history and what it meant to our society; this was not a choice in our household. I felt encouraged to step outside of my life of privilege and donate my time and thinking into making the world a better place for everyone. Every month was Black history month in my home. My parents even provided us with a collection of Black history books to read in our spare time. I learned to appreciate the unique contributions Black Americans made over the decades.
So why must we teach our children Black history at home? Here are some reasons:
1. Too many Americans are totally clueless
Yes, pretty much everyone knows who Martin Luther King is. Rosa Parks is a familiar name. And shame on anyone who has not at least heard about Malcolm X. But many don’t know the devastating story of Emmett Till, the charismatic views of Stokley Carmichael, the bravery of Fannie Lou Hamer, or the gut-wrenching journey of The Little Rock 9. At best, Americans know of the same 3 names branded into the mainstream narrative. Little do they know, they aren’t even scraping the surface on the depth of Black history.
Just recently, we watched the President and White House Press Secretary awkwardly stumble over the mention of Frederick Douglass. It was clear that they had no idea who this man even was or in which era he lived. Americans need to step up their game on history in general to begin to understand our world today. Parents have the responsibility to teach outside of the box and make sure their own children don’t become a mindless and uninformed statistic.
2. Black history is not always taught in school
I can remember in 7th grade, our history teacher told us to open our huge, 500 page U.S. American history book and turn to chapter 8. On the first page of that chapter, there was a heading entitled “Slavery.” It was a single paragraph that spoke to the entire 245 years of U.S. human bondage in America. The statement introduced slavery as if it were one, isolated event that took place long ago.
It went on to paint a mild and refreshing perspective that spoke to how happy slaves were and how much they enjoyed their duties on the plantation. The next chapter skipped to the modern era without so much as brushing over the devastating impacts of slavery, Jim Crow, W.E.B. DuBois and the founding of the NAACP, or any part of history that included the millions of Black citizens.
My teacher pointed out the disgrace and promptly instructed us to shut our books. She went on to explain that the book assigned to her course was embarrassingly inadequate and that she would teach us the real history on her own. As a class, we ventured into the uncomfortable, dark, and disheartening story of America. Many teachers do the same, but many do not. It is up to parents to supplement the teachings because most kids don’t have history teachers like mine.
3. Inclusion is learned in the home
They say children don’t see color until around age 5. Around that time, kids begin noticing physical and cultural differences between each other. They begin to grasp the fact that there are many different types of people in this world and that some groups are treated differently. Those revelations can be shocking and confusing if they are not further explained in the home. Children develop social intelligence and practice inclusive behavior through classroom encounters and intentional instruction. However, the real learning takes place in the home where classroom lessons are expanded upon and made applicable. Parents must teach their children the history of why children are different, and begin to broach age-appropriate topics of oppression and racism. Kids are impressionable and will look for your guidance on these complicated topics. They will also model your behavior.
4. You will teach your child to challenge the system
If you leave teaching solely up to the schools, you will rob your family of the important round-table discussions on how to apply everything that was learned. Teaching Black history lessons in the home will generate family questions and spark a concern for our society’s troubles. Over time, your child will understand institutional oppression against minorities, poor people, and women and develop a yearning to produce greater equality. As they begin to apply these life lessons to their own lives, it is your responsibility to help them work through the questions. As they gain knowledge and age, they will begin to challenge the system and want to play a role in deconstructing institutional barriers.
5. You will teach your child to speak up and lead
Once you expose your child, they will begin to understand the truth about how Black history and oppression are intertwined in American history. You will help to build a fire in them about morality and the pursuance of civil rights. Those that understand the real history are seldom able to stay quiet and your child will eventually be propelled to share the truth with others. Americans are silent because they don’t know their history, aren’t interested in learning, or simply don’t care. By having these lessons at home early in life, you will feed the soul of a future leader. Their young minds will begin to bloom and open to the possibilities of equality. Your child will yearn to become part of the solution, and that is what will make America great.
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