It’s that time of the year again: the groundhog’s out looking for his shadow, couples are making their Valentine’s Day plans and single students are debating the merits of “Netflix and Chilling” alone. Most importantly, however, the media and educational institutions across the nation are now dropping articles, segments, and posts and features in honor of Black History Month.
Children in school will probably go over the Emancipation Proclamation, memorize the I Have a Dream Speech, hear the story of Emmett Till and George Washington Carver. This is all well and good, and I’m glad for all of the exposure, however, there isn’t enough emphasis put on positive black history not only during black history month but also intertwined in the history curriculum.
The importance of history cannot be stressed enough. Often times we talk about learning history so we do not repeat it. But what about learning history to celebrate the achievements of those came before us? As a young black child growing up in the United States, I heard a lot about oppression, I learned about slavery, I learned about civil rights, I read about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and not nearly enough about Malcolm X. But what I wish more than anything is that I’d learned about the men and women who despite everything still managed to be successful in everyday careers — careers that I would like to pursue.
I spent 11 years of my schooling learning about American history. Not once did I learn about how black musicians in the ’20s heavily influenced rock or how most music at the time was taken from black musicians to be performed by white people in order to seem more marketable. The achievement of Daniel H. Williams, the first man to successfully perform open-heart surgery, was only skimmed over, and I never even heard that he opened the first interracial hospital. Never once did I hear about Maggie L. Walker, the woman who established a newspaper in 1902 and then founded a bank in 1903.
Black history is rich with great achievements and inspirational leaders. However, often times we focus only on the oppression, not the success we’ve had despite the oppression.
It is deeply important for children to see role models that they can identify with. For young black children, young latino children, or children of any other races, if they see that there are others who went before them, who faced the same challenges of race and discrimination that is so real even to this day, they can have more hope that it’s possible to be more than just their struggle. We’ve white-washed history and when we do talk about black history, we’ve represented it in such an incomplete manner. Instead we’ve painted a whole race as victim and forgotten the victors that have arisen even through the hardships.