Slavery isn't black history
and other truths you should be teaching
Today marks the first day of February and the beginning of Black History Month.
This means it's time for teachers to pull up Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech, read a few poems by Maya Angelou, and study the Emancipation Proclamation. You know the basic Black History Month requirements.
Don't get me wrong, the words of Dr. King, Maya Angelou, and President Lincoln are incredibly important and should be read, recited, and understood. But, to me it is incredibly limiting.
The limited scope of how our nation discusses the African-American narrative is disheartening. The history of African-Americans in our country stretches far beyond the ending of slavery and the overturning of Jim Crow laws.
It's time to expand the narrative.
Today, I am sharing five truths we should be teaching about Black History in our classrooms.
1) It's Everyone's History.
Simply put, Black History is everyone's history.
We must stop presenting Black History as something separate from American History. Life doesn't happen in a vacuum.
Therefore, Black History hasn't taken place in a vacuum:
Black History our history. Jim Crow laws are Black History our history. Mass incarceration is Black History our history and present reality. Segregation is Black History our history.
All of it, the good and bad, has impacted and influenced every crack and crevice of American society - both in the past and present.
This reality must be our first priority in teaching about Black History.
2) It Isn't Pretty.
The history of African-Americans in the United States is not pretty or flattering in any way, shape, or form. The atrocities that have been inflicted and continue to be inflicted on the African-American people is disgusting and appalling.
These realities must not be sugarcoated.
Learning about the horrors of our ancestors is uncomfortable, shameful, and embarrassing. Which is exactly why we can't deny our students the truth. We feel shame and guilt for a reason - they're our moral compass.
Therefore, we should feel shame and guilt when we teach and learn about Black History because it exposes humans at our worst. And if we don't allow the shame and guilt of our ancestors' mistakes to move us and change our hearts, we are no better than those before us and we will repeat the same horrific mistakes.
3) It Goes Far Beyond Slavery, A Dream, And A Speech.
The sugarcoated version of Black History goes something like this » >Honest Abe abolished slavery » Rosa sat on a bus » Martin had a dream » Barack became president » The end
This version of history is false. Yes, the mentioned events are true. But it is disrespectful and dishonest to portray this partial history.
As educators, it is our duty to expand this narrative and fill in the gruesome details. We need to understand what came before the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. And we need to open our eyes to the present realities of what it means to be Black in America today.
We must expose the heinous behavior of those who oppressed humans for hundreds of years before and after slavery. And we must highlight the heroics of individuals, of all skin tones, who have fought for equality and freedom at every stage of our nation's history.
4) History Is Happening. Now.
The story isn't over.
Equality did not come when Dr. King shared his dream. Freedom did not come when the 13th Amendment became law. Segregation did not end when Ruby stepped off that school bus.
The book of Black History is a work in progress. History is happening all around as we have yet to create liberty and justice for all.
Our students need to understand this because they are the authors of history. They are the ones who will determine what comes next!
5) Stop Being Scared To Talk About Race.
My final thoughts are simple, we need to stop being scared of talking about race. Yes, it is uncomfortable and difficult but it is the only way to heal a broken nation.
More importantly, we must stop being scared to listen. Listening empowers us to cultivate empathy for people whose stories are different than ours. In turn, empathy changes our heart and understanding of the world.
No, we are not living in a post-racial world. And by not talking about race we are guaranteeing that we continue living in the midst of division. Honestly evaluating and understanding our past along with creating space for conversation is our only hope for the future.
Free Black History Month Activity!
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A middle school health teacher turned curriculum developer (and #WAHM). I'm on a mission to share the easiest-to-teach, most impactful health lesson plans on the Internet. Because your time and energy is better spent on teaching and connecting, not on planning and prep.