The Importance of Black History Month

Image courtesy of https://pixabay.com.

Image courtesy of https://pixabay.com.

As someone who lives and thrives in the world of education, who has much faith in its transformative qualities, I always look at the K-12 system to see what is being done around the country for Black History Month. It is the one opportunity where we as a nation can take deliberate steps to understand the relationship of Blacks and Whites in the United States using many lenses, history only being one of them.

Focusing locally, I see that once again, my children’s school district, Irvine Unified in southern California, has done nothing to commemorate the month. There is no established curriculum, or coordinated efforts, even at the level of individual schools, to have the necessary discussions to advance our understanding of race relations in the United States. The efforts are left to the individual teachers to integrate readings or video clips and engage in conversation with their students.

After speaking with the district representative who coordinates the Social Science and Content Literacy unity for the district, the response was that efforts are being made to develop an Ethnic Studies class to the IUSD curriculum. He followed with a declaration that “Irvine is a majority-Asian city”. This was his response to a request from me for more information on what the district is doing for Black History Month. I’m not sure what to make of this declaration, given that even Asian and Asian American people must learn about the history of Black people in the United States.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It goes without saying that Black history is US history. The destinies of Blacks and Whites in the United States have been intertwined ever since the very first enslaved Africans were brought over to the Americas in the 1600s. Since then, in the United States, enslaved Africans have been used to prop up the economic system on which this country continues to prosper. Give the overwhelming and extensively researched consensus of these facts, why is it that many school districts across the country fail to have commemorations during the month of February?

As a general rule, we do not engage in meaningful conversations surrounding race. This creates ample opportunities for mis-statements, misunderstandings, mishaps, and malicious acts. In her recent article addressing the need for White parents to speak to their children about racism, blogger Rebecca Ruiz states that “for parents who have little practice discussing race and racism, it can be tempting to reach for the safest thing to say, or to say nothing at all. But generations of parents tried that and America remains a country steeped in racist policies and views, a reality that many white Americans can't seem to fully grasp.” Because of this, schools must fully embrace their role as educators and ensure that all of its students have an understanding of the history of race in the United States.

There are ample resources available online. One excellent example is a New York Public Library podcast called “How to Make Black Lives Matter at School”.

There are also websites that provide lesson plans and classroom resources to begin and/or continue conversations surrounding Black History and its impact on the lives of students in school:

These are just three of a whole host of resources available online.

Silence, colorblindness, ignorance, inaction, all these approaches have not brought us any closer to diminishing the life-threatening experiences that Black people suffer at the hands of others in this country. From institutional racism and physical acts of violence, Blacks have endured much over these centuries. Despite it all, we persist and endure, and our accomplishments are many. Asian-American students, like all students, must also learn the dynamic history of Black people in the United States. From microaggressions to comments on the playground, children know and understand race from as young as six years of age. IUSD should know better, as should so many other school districts who do absolutely nothing during Black History Month to inform and educate. This inaction continues the harm towards all of our students, and particularly those of African descent.