Black History Month is over, but the need to elevate the stories and achievements of Black Americans to their rightful place in American history books and curricula is still in its infancy. In actuality, history has been dominated by the achievements of White Males to the exclusion of many other important voices, stories and heroes.
Remember the old adage, know better, do better? When I found out butter was better than margarine and olive oil was better than both, I began to use my oils in different settings, but all have a place in my cupboard. Likewise, now that we know Beethoven and Bach are not the only classical composers, van Gogh and Dali are not the only famous artists and Newton and Einstein weren’t the only scientists, I can go looking for the achievements of people from diverse communities so that my students who are not white or male can see themselves reflected and know that the world is theirs for the taking.
It’s important for my Black kids to know they can be more than rappers and athletes, so I make sure they see Mae Jemison and Bryan Williams. My Hispanic kids may not see themselves as artists so I make sure they know Frieda Kahlo—and that Picasso was Spanish. My White kids may also not know that Newton, Einstein, Beethoven and Bach all had countries and heritages that may be similar or dissimilar to their own. Newton was English, Einstein Jewish, Beethoven and Bach German. Side by side, Germans, Jews and the English may all have similar amounts of melanin, but culturally they are quite different, even having fought on different sides of great wars.
Since navigating teaching truth in schools these days is akin to navigating a minefield, perhaps we should instead look at Google and ask our students why the representation of any search for famous_____ yields largely males of European descent. Their answers might surprise you.
Why is “White” “White”?
We can also ask them how WWII enemies came to be one cultural group. If we’re going to amplify diverse voices, let’s have a talk about what diversity really means, whose narratives are missing and whose narratives continue to play a starring role. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ask you why everyone’s story should not be told.
Goodbye Black History, Hello History
Meanwhile, as we close out one more Black History Month, remember that stories matter, representation matters. Do what you can to make sure your kids learn truth. Unlike Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who were deemed subversive in their day but proclaimed heroes by history, those who seek to silence truth may not be remembered so kindly. As much as you can, be on the right side of history.
For a look at ‘whiteness’ and ethnic groups in America, go here.