It’s Black History Month and it’s that time for teachers to dust off the cardboard cut-outs of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman from the back of their classroom closets. Schoolroom doors and bulletin boards suddenly will include Black faces of trailblazers like Barack Obama, Madame C.J. Walker, Thurgood Marshall, and more. All of these leaders are well-deserving icons of Black History Month. Educators will teach about Black contributions to society as if our history occurred in a vacuum void of anything else happening in the world.
Is the truth about Black history too raw for white America?
Founder and publisher of Successful Black Parenting magazine. Janice is an early childhood specialist and former teacher.
Whitewashed Black History
Depending on where you live, your child is not likely to learn how hated some of these leaders were because that part of history has been ultimately whitewashed. At the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, he was one of the most hated men in the United States (Smithsonian). He was more radical than the sugarcoated historical accounts taught in most schools. His daughter, Bernice King, even tweeted about it, “Don’t act like everyone loved my father. He was assassinated. A 1967 poll reflected that he was one of the most hated men in America. Most hated. Many who quote him now and evoke him to deter justice today would likely hate, and may already hate, the authentic King.”
Where are the authentic lessons about the radicalized King? What about Malcolm X and his “by any means necessary” declaration? What do teachers know about Angela Davis or Stokley Carmichael? Will students even learn about the history of the Black Panthers? Can they watch movies produced by Ava DuVernay like 13th, Selma, or When They See Us, about the Central Park 5, where five Black boys were falsely accused of attacking and rapping a jogger? Is the truth about Black history too raw for white America?
What About Authenticity?
Teaching authentic history seems to evoke strong emotions from many white families in America. The fear of teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT), has white parents screaming at officials during board meetings. Their current angry outbursts about CRT in schools seem familiar. It is reminiscent of the intense anger and vitriol white people wielded toward Black bodies in historic civil rights photos. Some things change and some things stay the same. The interesting thing is, CRT is not taught in public schools; however, CRT tenets can easily creep into discussions about non-palatable Black history.
Teaching authentic history seems to evoke strong emotions from many white families in America.
When it comes to the discussion about CRT and teaching Black history in schools, white voices tend to resonate loudly but where are the Black parents’ voices? Since CRT is not actually being taught in schools, why aren’t Black parents just as loud about this fake fear and instead, leading the discussion about teaching true Black history? Perhaps, it’s because we never really expected white America to teach our genuine history because they never have. Black parents keep Black history alive 365 days a year with teachable moments at home, by visiting African American museums and monuments, reading the same books that are now being banned, and allowing our children to be armed with the truth. Could it be that we are watching them fight it out because no matter what they change, our children’s Black education will remain the same, if not intensified now? Maybe white America has put a spotlight on themselves and that spotlight has in turn shown Black parents how much more work we still have to do. Knowledge is power and the lack of it, is ignorance.
Did CRT Lead To Banning Books?
The answer is yes. The fear of Critical Race Theory (CRT) being taught to children in schools has led to banning books that discuss the harshness of the Black experience, including racism. The discussion of the theory has put a spotlight on what teachers can or cannot teach. States, like Texas, have passed laws against teaching CRT in schools (Reuters). In addition to books about the Black experience, the ban also includes books depicting sexual orientation or sexually suggestive material.
Banned Black Books
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin
Native Son by Richard Wright
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X, Alex Hailey, and Attallah Shabazz
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges