Black (unappreciated) History

February is Black History month in America. A month designated as such because of the underwhelming amount of Black history that is taught to Americans, and because of the *wrong” Black History taught to Americans. And, finally, it is in place because the people who need to learn Black History are the very ones who have prevented it from being taught in school.

Many Americans have a vague idea of Black History that goes something like this:

Africans sold people to benevolent capitalists. Those capitalists took their newly purchased cargo of “immigrants” to the land of milk and honey and together the whites and Blacks worked to make a new country. There were some differences of opinion that white leaders resolved in the noble war between brothers that was settled by a great speech at Gettysburg, and proven by manifest destiny, as God intended.

Interlude

Great white men of America saved the world from a not great white European man.

Everything was fine until there were some new disagreements with Rosa Parks, so Dr. King gave a speech about it and unheralded President Lyndon Johnson single handedly signed legislation to resolve all differences between Black and white folk.

Interlude

Everyone voted for Obama and America achieved equity and racial harmony.

You dear reader have just passed Black History 101 as learned by *most of America.

The struggle and failure to tell the complete story of America is as old as America, as old as American schools, colleges and universities, and as old as the press.

Many of the articles and stories that will be written this month will mostly center historical figures like Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall, and Sally Hemings. There will be remembrances of Michael Jackson, Prince, Ella Fitzgerald, Muhammad Ali, Cicely Tyson, and Wilt Chamberlain. Each of whom is worthy of the honor granted them this month.

Black writers will share details about Nat Turner, Marcus Garvey, Huey P. Newton, and Madam CJ Walker, the Tuskegee airmen, famous Black scientists, astronauts, engineers, inventors, scholars, doctors, and CEO’s. White writers will cover how Black folk trail white people in every index imaginable while slyly pivoting to what the Biden administration can do, and where the Obama administration tried and achieved some but not all of what Black society needs.

Conservatives will blame the Democratic Party for failing Black America. And before anyone realizes it, the short month will be over and the nation will return to “everyone in their place again.” Happy Black History month, the tweets, posts, pictures, and even an awkward coworker will offer earnestly. History is complicated and messy the historians will say. America and democracy are the best hope for everyone, including Black people.

Can there be hope if there isn’t acknowledgment and understanding of “why” there needs to be hope?

The under-appreciated history of Black Americans is thorough and accepted by the highest institutions of learning. The very institutions that set the standard for teaching and learning routinely ignores Black history that is untethered to its own history and its hiring practices.

Black teachers have to find creative ways to include Black history throughout the school year using the same tactics Black parents use – by adding in Black perspective and facts to whatever historical event is being studied or reported on.

But what about our children who are subject to white teachers? Or white parents? And what about white children who get almost no actual Black history beyond a 30 second McDonald’s commercial?

America’s constant and never-ending racial issues are directly connected to America refusing to learn and teach the fullness of its history. The country remains stuck in its original lie unable to free itself from its racial prison of its own making. Instead of walking out the open door of its prison the country is sitting in the corner of the cell refusing to acknowledge why it is there, refusing to apologize for its actions, and refusing to ask for help or pledge to do better.

Instead, the country has chosen the barest of minimums to achieve racial harmony and shared history.

There is a better way, of course, and it can start by acknowledging the fullness of American history that includes Indigenous people, Black people as equal architects and builders, Mexican history that is centuries-long in parts of this country that was previously Mexican territory, and the breadth of Asian history – from early Chinese and Japanese settlers, to Filipino and Vietnamese immigrants. America’s melting pot did not start in the 1980’s or even the 1880’s. The racial ingredients that make up who we are have long been on these shores, in these institutions, fields, and farms. And it is time that America sees itself for what it is and not what television and media tells itself it is: A white nation built by and for white people.

The original sin of slavery is sustained by the original lie of whiteness. By letting the lie go America can finally leave its jail cell and begin to rehabilitate itself for the rest of its natural life.

The way forward is right there in front of us.

America just has to begin to walk.

© 2021 by Myron J. Clifton. All Rights Reserved.

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