Kaia Baker is a current junior at South Orange Highschool in New Jersey. Seeing a pattern of how history was being taught throughout her educational career, Kaia decided to write an essay about the portrayal of African Americans in American classrooms. Thank you for sharing Kaia!
Do History Curriculums Focused on Black Oppression Do A Disservice to Society?
Why am I proud to be black? Simply put, we are a cultivation of promising, gritty, quintessential “go-getters.” We maintain this nature by staying true to our roots and our ancestors, while simultaneously, undaunted by our struggle of a past. All of this I know, not from an education system within my eleven years of schooling, not through the mainstream media that is to provide so-called “noteworthy information,” but through firsthand experience. For longer than I have been alive, our country has exploited and marginalized the black race. Specifically, this problem exists within the schools and history curriculums, shedding far too much light on the struggles we as African Americans have endured throughout our history without teaching the children of America what we have done to come overcome this, as well as the successes we are accomplishing now. How are students of any race–black, white, latino, asian– supposed to understand and thoroughly respect the black culture if we are not exposed to the evolution of black prosperity? It is through the lack of evolution of history content within curriculums, the predominant focus on heroic white history, and the absence of teachings of black success that have contributed to the oppression of the black community.
When black history was first implemented into school curriculums, it was taught in a demeaning, negative way. As time went on, our history has been discussed and analyzed with more respect and nonpartisan–which has created the illusion that black history curriculums have positively progressed over time. However, the same, redundant and uninspirational context has remained within the curriculum. When taught in schools, topics such as slavery, segregation, and the civil rights movement led by leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, seem to be the only monumental or important events in our history. While these events are imperative and integral, they symbolize black suffrage and oppression. With that, there is a lack of focus on black success after our so-called “progression” amid troubling white America. Where do events like the rise of the Harlem Renaissance, where African-American literature, music, art, and politics went mainstream, stand? How do we as a black community understand the purpose behind our continuous protest to struggle without being exposed to the positive outcomes of those struggles? Although we’ve faced hundreds of years of repressions and lack of freedoms, our people have also achieved countless triumphs.
Through curriculums, students of the white race predominantly aspire to be lawyers, doctors, politicians, while black students aspire to become the archetypal professional athlete, singer, or comedian. Undoubtedly these professions are admirable, nevertheless, they are not practical, nor are they the only professions that are obtainable for black students. This issue of lack of inspiration to be established professions–such as those that their white counterparts aspire to be–originates from the teachings of poor history curriculums in schools. One of the problems within these curriculums is the predominant focus on white history. Throughout all of America’s history, the white race has dominated territories, governments, slaves, and economies. No matter the way they went about these dominations, they have been portrayed as a succeeding race. For white students in the classroom, they can aspire to be just as affluent and triumphant as their ancestors have been. Nicholas Ferroni, a white history teacher at a predominantly black school and author of the article, “We Teach Racism, Sexism and Discrimination in Schools,” discusses this issue. He notes that although society believes differently, within history textbooks, the white race is portrayed as superior to the black race. Focusing on white supremacy and black struggle, black students are “given the impression that their people were slaves and only a handful have done anything worth mentioning” (Ferroni 5). It is fair to assume while white students are finding inspiration in their history, black students are provided a lack of through these limiting curriculums.
Those who oppose this argument claim that all of American history must be taught. When incorporating black history, they believe the most significant events are those about slavery and its abolition, as well as the Civil Rights Movements, which are, in totality, stories of affliction upon the black race. Eleventh-grade U.S. history teacher Samantha Manchac says in the article, “How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions of History,” she does not want to rely solely on textbooks provided due to the fact that they misteach crucial issues such as slavery while dodging others like Jim Crow laws. It’s essentially an attempt in many instances to white-wash our history (Isensee 6). This statement explains the opposition’s intentions in these teachings; they choose to teach America’s history utilizing white chauvinist undertones to develop the mindset within all students that the white race is superior. Author of “What Kids Are Really Learning About Slavery,” Melinda D. Anderson supports this claim by stating:
A new report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project
points to the widespread failure to accurately teach the hard, and nuanced, history of
American slavery and enslaved people. Collectively, the report finds that slavery is
mistaught, mischaracterized, sanitized, and sentimentalized– leaving students poorly
educated, and contemporary issues of race and racism misunderstood. (Anderson 2)
Evidently, history can be taught through an endless amount of perspective. In the U.S. though, that is not the case. What can be done to mend these broken curriculums? From a credible black perspective, there needs to be far more incorporation of triumphs amongst the black community, both from past and modern day. One example would be the teaching of the Beatrice Transaction when the TLC Group, a black-owned New York investment firm, bought the Beatrice International Food company for $985 million, making it the largest black-owned company in the country in annual revenue. Teaching stories like this would not only provoke inspiration within black students, but it would begin to change the mindset amongst all students.
There is something to be said about these false teachings in our school curriculums. Evidently, black students are uninspired and ill-informed in the classroom. Not only does this affect the black community at young ages, but it transitions into their adulthood, leaving them mentally fixated on this central idea of “my people will continue to suffer”. It is essential that schools begin to integrate well-rounded black history curriculums within their schools. The way I see it, this is the only way we will be able to push this country further.
Join the conversation! Let Kaia know what you think about her essay by reaching out to her on her Instagram, @kaia.elise