Are schools responsible for teaching our youth about their racial identity?
With all the negative images of Blacks featured in news and music, when will our kids be able to understand the rich history and strength of their cultural identities?
Our minds and discussion boards are constantly plagued by negative stereotypes portrayed on social media and reality television, high incarceration and murder rates in our communities, and images of minorities being murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve.
Where is the perseverance? Where is the triumph? Where is the power?
In a system driven by what often appears to be high control of and low support for blacks, most Black students already feel like they don’t have a voice, and minimizing African American studies within schools may only perpetuate these feelings of inferiority.
An op-ed in The Guardian rightly points out that African American history is only taught within the contexts of slavery, the Civil War and the civil rights movement, “treating the black experience as a separate entity – only worth noting in climatic moments of social change.”
Despite African Americans having spent over 300 years in North America, our history is reduced to three bullet points in a curriculum outline.
There is no specific mention of the Harlem Renaissance, which emphasized the rise of African American literature, politics, art, and music. The works of Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and other great African American artists are relevant to this day.
There is no focus on the impact of sports, specifically Jackie Robinson and how he became the first to successfully integrate Major League Baseball, paving the way for Black athletes in other sports.
What about W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and others?
Washington was president of Alabama’s Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute and he urged Blacks to seek industrial or vocational training that allowed them to gain a foothold in the American economy.
It’s also important that our students know about the many students before them—for example, the Little Rock Nine and Ruby Bridges—who forced their way into school buildings, pushed for desegregation and demanded access to the same education as their white peers.
Are our students even aware of this legacy?
There is little to no push to ensure that students receive a curriculum that is representative of more diversity, so students are left to their own devices to learn who they are and where they come from. Seeing as students are typically at school longer than they are at home, schools must ensure that the students they serve are able to learn about themselves and their history so that they feel empowered and are aware of the sacrifices and journeys of those who fought for the freedoms we do have.
This does not mean that teachers need to plaster pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King all over their classrooms. This is a simple plea for teachers to deliver content associated with African American studies year-round, not only during the month of February, because our history is about more than having a dream.
Our history is a reality of oppression, perseverance, and triumph. Our history is a reminder that our current state of race relations can be overturned through education, persistence, and unity. Our history represents hope.