Today marks the start of Black History Month. As a former history teacher, I welcome almost any occasion that leads us to examine our past. Some conservatives, like “Clueless” star and former Fox News contributor Stacey Dash, feel that Black History Month shouldn’t exist because it’s very existence leads to further racial angst. I respectfully disagree. As George Orwell said “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” African-Americans and their story are an integral part of American history. One cannot began to understand the origin of many of the struggles that we as a country are grappling with now if they fail to recognize the role of slavery and the subsequent systems put in place to prevent the advancement of Black people.
Unlike many of the new thought leaders-Ta’Nehisi Coates, Deray McKesson, Marc Lamont Hill- in Black America, my study of the past imbues me with optimism and hope for the future instead of a disdain for White America and a demand for reparations. Young Black people are woefully ignorant of the freedoms and opportunities that they now enjoy due to the disciplined and nonviolent Civil Rights leaders of the 1960’s. If we deny them the chance to study those who came before, they will believe that the twisted version of history that those in the Black Lives Matter movement and others present is the truth.
Conservatives who dismiss Black History Month do themselves and the children of this country a disservice. Learning more about the contributions of Black Americans serves to broaden perspectives and presents a part of history that is often underrepresented in the average history text. If students never learn about the achievements of people who look like them, they will be ignorant of the role models that they should aspire to emulate in their own lives. Knowing one’s history has a stabilizing effect. As Marcus Garvey said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
As a descendant of one of the largest Black families in South Carolina, I can personally attest to the fact that knowing my genealogy and the struggles that my ancestors endured on a plantation less than 200 miles away from where I currently live gives me determination and motivation to succeed.
On an anecdotal note, I was asked to teach a course in Hawaiian history over a decade ago. That exercise gave me a greater understanding of the Hawaiian perspective on haoles (outsiders) and the United States government. It enabled me to empathize with my students. It helped break down some of the preconceived ideas I had about their culture, as well as, understand how the European discovery of the islands influenced the present day situation. Conversely, my classes, composed primarily of those of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, gained a better understanding of slavery and the Civil War from a teacher who was herself the descendant of slaves.
There are many battles that conservatives should engage in but a fight against the existence of and need for Black History Month shouldn’t be one of them.