on self doubt and Black History Month
As we enter February and as we come off the inauguration of the second term of the U.S.’s first African American president, it seems appropriate to talk about Black History Month and its place in school cultures.
Straight up, should we continue to celebrate Black History Month? Yes. Why? We struggle with the application of multicultural education during this one month; it essentially confirms that whiteness is the standard in U.S. education, right? Look at it this way though. Explicitly participating in Black History Month events enables educators to have all students confront our history of racialized violence in the United States and then affirm that race, although social constructed, is continually relevant to all lives.
On the other hand, is this heavy month long focus on the accomplishments of African Americans a way to further pathologize Blackness? Meaning, by presenting all students with our racialized past AND present, are we continuing to isolate our students of color? In our well intentioned presentations of African American history and texts are we forcing their hands to a sense of pride in this one aspect of their identity?
No. As critical thinking educators committed to antiracism we have to shy away from self doubt. It is time to end being soft on racism—the racist statements of our students, fellow teachers, and school administrators in the age of “postracialism”. We need to continue to speak and educate with a focus on race and bash back against the cries of “being too sensitive”/”it’s not all about race” arguments. We need to stand with our students and assure them that we are committed to presenting their stories and histories as valid to themselves and all students. It is imperative that we construct curriculums that throughout the year are rooted in antiracism and the histories of non-white cultures/individuals AND also continue to celebrate Black HIstory Month with our students. It is imperative because we do not live in a post racial world. What we live in is a world that does not publicize the deaths of CHILDREN of color. Whether seven or seventeen, we need to remind ourselves constantly that the death of a child is the death of a child, regardless of the neighborhood they grew up in or what they might post on facebook. Speaking of Black History Month, what we live in is a world that remembers and honors the respectable Rosa Parks but forgets Claudette Colvin. What we live in is a world that reduces Martin Luther King Jr. to I have a dream and Malcolm X as his direct opposite.
When it comes to schools, Black History month becomes a time to incorporate Black histories into our classroom curriculums. Not only is February the shortest month, but what kind of message our we sending to our Black students when we make their histories a priority only during one month of the year? For one month, schools and libraries showcase their favorite books about Black histories, and we teach our students about the famous and well known names. I cannot say whether or not our curriculum choices are making an imprint on our students lives, but during this month I challenge all educators to take up a spirit of inquiry and discomfort with their youth. Teaching about black histories and racist acts should not be comfortable. The struggle is not over. As stated previously, we are not living in a post racial society. To conintue to focus primarily on a Timeline of Black History that starts with 1) Slavery was bad 2) Lincoln freed the slaves 3) African Americans are now equal thanks to the March on Washington and 4) there are no civil rights issues since 1968 continues to absolve whiteness and ignore the racist acts our students of color face on a daily basis – Black president or not. This is because it is a touchy area and people do not want to hurt other people, and in my opinion, offend the white majority – which is what we really need to get over. Multicultural education is not easy work – it is emotional, it is uncomfortable, and it is ambiguous.
With no self doubt, this queer, white, antiracist, class conscious educator will not only support “multicultural education” but also Black History Month.