Minorities have been excluded in America since its founding.
When the framers set out during the 18th century to construct the Constitution, they opened with the famous line “We the people”—a phrase sounding inclusive, but really only extending to wealthy and educated white men of the time.
Though history is often seen as building blocks for our future, and historians warn that if we don’t know our history we are bound to repeat it, it can be argued that many of us don’t know a well-rounded narrative of history at all.
The history that we’re repeatedly taught from elementary school through high school is from the lens of white historians, retelling the same whitewashed narratives time and time again.
Whitewashing history is so deeply engrained into our lives, we often don’t bat an eye to it. Like how Jesus is portrayed as white in all Western religions, despite being born in the Middle East. Or how in Western films, the Indians are portrayed as the bad guys and the white cowboys the heroes, despite invading their homeland and committing mass genocide.
As a society, we seem to accept this one-note tune in history, though recent reflections on history have expanded. White history dominates school curriculums, while Black history is chained to the shortest month of the year.
Black History Month is a strange phenomena. Black history is recognized for one month of the year, as if Black people aren’t a part of all history.
There is no reason why Black history should be categorized and boxed away only to be dusted off and reflected on once in a blue moon. It was Black people who built this country on their backs, who set the blueprint for protesting civil rights, who revolutionized this country towards being inclusive.
Black people are responsible for many inventions that are imbedded into our daily lives. Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the mother of rock n’ roll, though her name is one scarcely heard, especially in comparison with Elvis Presley, who was inspired by her music.
Black inventors’ creations are as common as the three-light traffic light, created by Garrett Morgan and automatic elevator doors, which Alexander Miles created.
I never learned about Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, who served seven terms representing New York’s 12th congressional district. Or Madame C. J. Walker, America’s first self-made female billionaire, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Though Black people are referred to in the current white-dominated curriculum in history, it is again a single note. Black people learn they were slaves, oppressed by Jim Crow laws in the south and paved their own way for rights. We talk about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.
We learn the watered-down, muzzled versions of history. Like the myth that Martin Luther King Jr., who was considered radical for his time, led only peaceful movements that were received well by the public.
Police attacked Black men, women and children for fighting for their rights with high-pressure water hoses and and by setting dogs on them. The FBI’s fixation and close monitoring of King led his family to believe that the FBI played a vital role in King’s assassination.
Yet in class, all we hear about is sit-ins at lunch counters and peaceful marches through streets, and on King’s birthday the FBI’s Twitter account commends King’s accomplishments as if they didn’t spend his entire career discrediting him and attempting to take away his platform.
The only history Black people are taught are about suffering and overcoming. Simplifying Black history to that extent is incredibly limiting. It teaches Black people that they’ve always been less than, always been fighting for their rights, always under the thumb of the white man, when that couldn’t be farther from truth.
Enslaved Africans came from greatness. Egypt, one of Africa’s earliest and greatest civilizations, thrived for thousands of years. The Kingdom of Ghana, in West Africa, was rich with copper, gold and salt, which played a major role in trade. Prosperous kingdoms spread throughout the continent, wealthy with culture, life, art, music and resources. But because of all the rivalry kingdoms, there was war among African tribes.
Enslavement of Africans was implemented before Europeans even arrived, but that was different in that slaves were captured during wars. Often as a temporary punishment for crimes, there was the ability to work for freedom and children of enslaved people weren’t automatically deemed slaves.
Historically, white people created the narrative that Black people were uncivilized and inhumane to justify the atrocities they were committing on a mass scale. The watering down of American abominations is a reflection of white guilt.
Yet in countries like Germany, whose history is scarred with the Holocaust, white people take full responsibility for their ugly history. Students learn about the Holocaust around age 12 in full so they’re at an age to fully grasp it, visit memorials and teachers emphasize that survivors are “not just victims.”
To diminish Black history to the shortest month of the year when it is engrained in every part of life is just further oppressing Black people.
Teaching us our generational trauma while omitting our historical accomplishments is an attempt to brainwash Black people to be complicit to the lesser-than role America has forever tried to limit Black people to. It’s an attempt to get Black people to accept oppression, to define their identities with these struggles. But we are so much more.
If Black history is truly valuable to this country, if Black lives truly matter, if oppression is over and equality reigns, then we shouldn’t have a separate month to reflect on Black history.
Black history, Black historical figures, Black accomplishments should be taught, reflected on and celebrated, alongside the teachings of European history.
A well-rounded picture should be painted of history, one with consideration of minorities experiences, not blinded by those white people in power in the past who dictated how the narrative was spun.