Two weeks ago, I wrote about why we don’t talk about Black present or future, and mused about whether we are helping all people to learn from Black History when we talk and teach about it.
A few things have happened since then that I need to share:
Musings on Black History from 4- and 5-year-olds
Our four-year-old blurted out a brief story about Rosa Parks on the way to the bath. It went something like this: “Rosa Parks was Black and she was on the bus and she was tired so she sat down. Then she went to jail, but she did the right thing because she stood up for herself.”
Later on in the week, she told me about “the guy with a little bit of hair, that went to jail because he broke the rules and was called a troublemaker”. We established that she was talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and when I asked her why he broke the rules, she said, “Because they were unreasonable!”.
She also told me emphatically that,“You have to stand up for yourself, like Rosa Parks!”
So perhaps there is some crucial messaging getting through about equity and equality. For kindergarten, that’s pretty good.
But then her friend was taking the streetcar with his Dad. When they got on, he said: “”Do we have to sit at the back like Rosa Parks? I want to sit at the front with the White people.”
The Black History Month Narrative
Which brings me back to the point for this week; the narrative of colonization and the value of Black people that we continue to perpetuate with Black History Month.
Again, I understand the importance of a month dedicated to history that not so long ago was not told at all.
But if you think about it critically, Black History Month largely tells a particular story: a story of slavery, the Underground Railroad (that led to Canada – where apparently there was no slavery! Really?!), segregation and the civil rights movement. When I hear the comments from these four-and-five-year-olds, I wonder – what are we really teaching and learning about what it means to be Black? This time period that we focus on is, afterall, a fraction of Black history, and it starts with the Black person as considered “less than”.
What if we had African History Month instead?
What if we learned, watched, and talked about the great civilizations on the continent of Africa and their histories? Astronomy, math, architecture, medicine, metallurgy and tools. The pyramids that still intrigue us. Navigation – the fact that African ships and explorers landed in the Caribbean long before Columbus.
If we had African History Month, we would teach, learn, and create an appreciation for, and awareness of, humanity as a whole and the deep pain and injustice of Black history in North America because we would learn the richness of where Black people came from – instead of their history starting with the ships or the African person’s reality upon arrival in North America via those slave ships.
Then what we now teach as Black history – the time where Black people were stolen from Africa, bought and sold in North America and then treated like property and seen as less than human – would be a tiny part of the history of Black people. A part that would shine a light on and demand real discussion about race, colonization, and racism – and the ways we (still!) see and treat each other as a result.
It could lead to deeper conversations about equity, human rights and social justice today. And how we want the future to be different.