“Black history is indeed American history, but it is also world history.”
― Angela Y. Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle
In the early days of the Obama years, I first got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” question as soon as Black History Month began, and I discussed what I might be teaching. We are in the second year of the second administration since and the same people are making the same asinine statements or asking the same asinine questions.
I will be disgusted because many asinine statements will come from former students, teaching peers, and friends I want to respect but find that I can’t. We can agree to disagree but not on racism, covert or overt. White is the default, a preselected option. When it is not, we can move on from Black History Month.
I question the motives of folk who comment negatively about Black History Month and wonder if the ghost of George Wallace or Strom Thurmond haunts them. I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?”
An answer to the last question, in a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T have Black History Month. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others that you can take the time to look up. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months that don’t begin with F.” I agree with my student and believe any child should be made to feel included.
Examples of it not being a perfect world include protest, verbal and physical, over CRT, kneeling football players, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and The 1619 Project, a book I am presently reading. Parents are outraged over naked mice in Maus and language that they themselves use when yelling down school board members. Examples of an imperfect world date to when “We hold these to be self-evident, all men are created equal” was written. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were both an ideal and a lie and evidence of an imperfect world when they were first penned.
As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly European-American point of view…well…at least where I taught, a deeply red, conservative state. A state that almost required D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as required viewing, along with Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” and Walter Raleigh’s “Ivanhoe” as required reading. I find little has changed in the time since I retired as it relates to most non-European-American history.
During a year, Asian-Americans are mentioned a few times. Transcontinental Railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Gentleman’s Agreement, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist, Korea and Vietnam.
Hispanic contributions, a bit more. Spanish colonization, the Mexican-American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Wait, we fixed that one, didn’t we? Since I’ve retired, I’m sure illegal immigration is a topic. Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from a white European point of view and not a celebration at all.
Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed as a glorious massacre, brave men falling to war painted heathens. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress. The Washington Football Team, formally Redskins and now Commanders, cured all those ills. (Said with sarcasm)
I rarely taught Black history exclusively during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking that I taught EVERYONE’S HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on a Black History Month. It wasn’t until late in my career that I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy.
Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to certain peculiar aspects of African American lives and American history. A decidedly important aspect but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes, there was nothing about other contributions.
Why didn’t I teach other aspects of Black culture and history? Because I hadn’t been taught Black culture and history. During my college days, Black culture and history were after thoughts…not even after thoughts. I grew up in a segregated society that had just begun to transition as I entered college. I did run across an African Studies course as I finished my specialist’s degree thirty years later, but I did not enroll.
Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. It should focus on the less obvious, not just slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights.
Musicians, artists, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, businesspeople, soldiers, etc. should be spotlighted. It should be an opportunity for us all to learn. As I have learned, Black History is American History and a rich, patriotic history at that.
Three years before my second retirement were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity, really teaching everyone’s history and culture, all year long. I would like to think my best efforts as a teacher came during those three years.
A paragraph I wrote in one of my many musings sums up my feelings, “Today I look toward diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? Or music, or art, or etc….. My life without Latin, Soul, Asian, and Cajun foods would not be life-ending, but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican, or German beer, a Mojito, or some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. We should play some Blues, Reggae, Blue Grass, or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”
I am a social liberal swimming in a red sea of conservatism and make no excuses for my beliefs. I don’t believe books should be banned or that CRT is being forced down our children’s throats by liberal teachers who hate America.
I believe that the rights that someone else is given do not take my rights away from me including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in and by doing so believe I am not only a better American but a better human.
I know my quote by Angela Y. Davis will rankle some folk. Yes, she is a Communist and yes, she was arrested for the crime of murder…and acquitted by an all-white jury I might add. She is also a lesbian and a liberal university professor. Many will discount anything I said because I used her quote. In this case it is about the message not the messenger. Black history is world history.
Don Miller’s Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0mzivK_bmnTjG4D9RL1KGMQ4TurZ8y7hrFca8ExoRa_XmkEUStmSylMCc