"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” -Carter Woodson, historian and co-founder of Negro History Week in 1926, the precursor of Black History Month.
Although our fondest wish is that African American History and the histories of all peoples be included in the American narrative, this is not yet even close to being the case. February is the month we have set aside to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans, but it should not be the only time these achievements are recognized.
Unfortunately, history, as they say is written by the conquerors. Take for example school history textbooks. People on the right feel that they have become overly politically correct, while for progressives and people who are not fully represented or recognized, the textbooks practice erasure of the more difficult, painful, and embarrassing truths of the nation’s origins. What is true is that we risk a commercialization, or sanitization that directly impacts the lives of children. History isn’t just a collection of incidents or agreed upon facts, it is uncovered in the basic practice of humanities to build a better understanding of ourselves as individuals and as a society. To learn, to reflect, to aspire. We owe that education to all our children.
In 2015, controversy arose about the content of textbooks produced in Texas and then shipped around the country for broad use in public schools. It brought to light how the practice of vetting content works and the power of the editor to determine whose history deserves to be recorded. It was a shocking revelation to many of us. (If you want to find out more, read Alia Wong’s piece in The Atlantic, History Class and the Fictions About Race in America from that year.)
There is hope in many national and local efforts to right these wrongs, but we must stay vigilant. The website of Teaching Tolerance, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides an array of articles for teachers on teaching black history during February and throughout the year—and it makes me grateful that we have such examples before us, not just for February, but for always.
All the best,