For the past month, much has been said about the current racial climate in America. The eyes of the world are focused on the plight of Black people in the good ol’ US of A.
Everybody from politicians to professional athletes are putting their two cents into the discussion about how African Americans can achieve equality in this country.
But what about those who are educating our future leaders?
For many years, activists have lobbied for mandatory Black history education in North Carolina classrooms. Their calls are usually ignored, or activists are given some song and dance about how Ms. O’Leary dedicates February to teaching her students about slavery. And how she throws in a dash of Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks for good measure.
However, activists are not asking for random acts of blackness; we demand policy change.
It’s not like there isn’t precedent for making Black history a mandatory part of the curriculum in North Carolina. Several states already have such a mandate in place. Others have already required mandatory LGBTQ history classes.
Adding Black history to the curriculum would be complex. It can’t happen overnight if it’s done correctly.
We are dealing with generations of white supremacist indoctrination through reading, writing and arithmetic. To correct this, there must be a complete overhaul of traditional Western thought masquerading as enlightenment. Or, to borrow from author, historian and sociologist James Lowen, who captured the sentiment in his 1995 book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, somebody’s got to fess up to the “lies my teacher told me” during my formal education.
The fundamental question is, what exactly is Black history? Are we dealing with a narrow history that goes back only a couple of hundred years? Or, are we dealing with a stolen legacy that stretches back for millennia?
Afrocentrism has been a touchy subject in this country since being introduced in the early 1990s by educators such as Asa Hilliard and Molefi Asanti. While many teachers have no problem teaching their students about U.S history, post 1865, exploring anything deeper than Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery has been problematic.
The uncomfortable truth is that Black people weren’t born into this world as slaves. If one would flip through the works of George G.M. James or Anthony Browder, one would learn that ancient civilizations existed in Africa long before the first European set foot on the continent.
However, this fact is often overlooked under the best circumstances in most school systems. Educators prefer to stick with the familiar stories of Black inventors George Washington Carver and Garret Morgan as evidence that a handful of my ancestors knew how to do more than pick cotton and roll tobacco in the hot summer sun.
In fairness, maybe the hesitancy to teach a broader Black history revolves around the fact that many educators don’t know diddly about the subject themselves. Writer Gary Howard best captures this challenging dilemma in his book, We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know.
So herein lies the rub: How under the current educational system do we teach students that Imhotep was the Father of Medicine — and not Hippocrates — without disrupting the entire U.S. school system? How do you get Mr. Oppenheimer from upstate Vermont to talk about ancient civilizations of Ghana, without him sounding like a blubbering idiot?
The truth is you can’t without an education revolution. But we are living in revolutionary times, aren’t we?
Confederate statues are being torn down across the land. So, let’s rip up the current history curriculum and replace it with something that better reflects the history of Blacks in America. We can’t exempt America’s system of public schools from the changes that are sweeping across the world.
The most expedient solution in North Carolina would be to add mandatory Black history to a bill along the lines of House Bill 437 , a 2019 proposal that would have required education about the Holocaust and genocide to be integrated into the English and social studies standards used in middle schools and high schools. While the substance of the bill was added to the final budget bill, it never became law due to the wrangling over other matters between legislative leaders and the governor.
Surely, there are African American organizations that would jump at the chance to oversee curriculum change.
We are in a season of rapid change. It would be a shame for the Tar Heel State to be left stuck in, well, tar.
All over the planet people are screaming that “Black Lives Matter!” It’s time to start yelling that Black history matters, too.
Minister Paul Scott is an activist and founder of the Black Messiah Movement based in Durham. He can be reached at (919) 972-8305 or [email protected]