Black History is American History

I recently had a mother write to me. Being an adoption professional, I thought it was about her struggles with adoption. That was simply not the case. She was a white mom from the Midwest who shared that at the age of 36 she was reading the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the first time. I literally had to read that line a few times. Let that soak in. For the first time.  She contacted me realizing that she had been deprived of our full American history growing up. She also had realized that Black history is American history. Her hope was that I somehow could help her discover what to learn so that she, in turn, could change the narrative for her children.   

 Peralta Project, NYC  

Peralta Project, NYC  

Black history points us to a truth we have often been denied in the classroom. I remember in school learning that the Black American narrative is a lineage of suffering, survival and sacrifice.  It is a story of how a people survived the Ku Klux Klan, domestic terror, and Jim Crow then and now. What I wasn’t taught is that in the midst of that suffering, we see a heritage of grit, resilience, and a purpose to reject the falsehood that Black Americans are insignificant to our American story. Isn’t that what makes the story of America a wonderful tale? We defied the odds by creating a nation whose people had grit, were resilient and had purpose.

The Black American influence on our history is important and is profoundly imprinted in the fabric of America. This cannot be denied.  This is why we cannot simply talk about American history and black history as if they are two separate entities. They are interwoven and forever bonded. But we haven’t gotten that right in our schools, in our homes, in our county. That is why we celebrate and honor Black History Month.  We are tired of our complete American history being tainted and glazed over for far too long. We must do better for ourselves and for children.

Our history is hard. It is often difficult to deny the appalling legacy of slavery and how white supremacy that has been embedded in life in the United States. We can’t deny that it is all around us to this day. All we need to do is turn on the television to see disproportionate mass incarcerations, police violence in Black communities, and even in our nation's acceptance of poverty and poor educational opportunities for families of color. 

Why is Black History Month not enough?

Black Americans have left an incredible imprint on literaturetheologymathematicsscienceart, and music, to name a few. To me, celebrating Black History Month is not just about pointing out the systemic woes of our Black brothers and sisters, it can also be about pride, compassion, and understanding the significance of difference. 

obama.jpg

President Obama

Taken by : Kehindle Wiley

It’s great that we celebrate Black History Month every year. However, like the mom who was brave enough to write me and ask for guidance, we need to be stretched in this country. We need to be brave and lean into our true narrative. Celebrating or acknowledging Black history during the shortest month of the year doesn’t let us off the hook. Anyone who turns on the news knows we have a long way to go. My hope is that we will be challenged to dig deeper and embrace a new narrative of inclusivity in the history we make each day. 

What can we do?

I have found that education and connection are the key to embracing the narrative about our complex American history. I spend a great deal of time writing and educating others about my own multicultural experience in America.  In a recent blog post entitled , The New South, I address challenges I have experienced while raising our multiracial family in the South. It’s time that we, Americans, embrace that just like my family our history is multiracial too.

There are tons of sites that are dedicated to America’s true history. I recently discovered a wonderful website known as  Teaching Tolerance. This is a good resource dedicated to “reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and support equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.” What I love about this site is that they offer a quarterly themed magazine with titles like, “The School to Prison Pipeline, “Once Upon a Time in America,” and The Dream Deferred, America After the King Years.” Having the tools to have hard conversations about our rich history is critical and Teaching Tolerance does a great job of providing resources and tools that can be used in the home and school.

Our history is hard, beautiful and tells the story of a resilient people who never gave up and continue to make history every single day. Michelle Obama said it best, “Though the month of February is set aside to celebrate Black history by remembering the lives of our forebearers who relentlessly sacrificed their lives as martyrs for liberation and the advancement of the Black community, we must not forget that every day in America, Black history is being made. African-Americans have struggled through decades of injustice, and still carry on in that legacy today; yet with persistent resolve and unwavering grit, we continue to shatter the glass ceiling. We must not be confined to a month in telling our stories, but our stories must be told each and every day. “

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Michelle Obama

Taken by Amy Sherald