Why should Black History be more integrated?
Unless you have been under a rock, you have heard the complaints about the Oscars being “too white.” Even if you don’t agree about that particular instance, the general reality in this country is non-whites don’t get the same consideration and praise as their white counterparts. I think one reason for this is the lack of education about the contributions of non-whites to history.
When I was in first grade, I was a pretty avid reader already. This played right into one of the teaching tools in the class, the SRA cards. It was a box of cards with stories and historical information on them, and I still remember the first one I picked because it changed my entire world view.
The cards had key words that were in bold type to study. The first one was prejudice and was defined as believing all people of a certain nationality or skin color were the same. The next was discrimination, defined as treating people differently based on nationality or skin color. The card I chose was about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Honestly, I chose this one first because my family was Lutheran and I had heard Martin Luther discussed by older family members. I had never heard of Dr. King.
I can still see this card if I close my eyes, because the information horrified me. I just could not understand in my first-grade brain why people would do this to each other. I remember looking up after I read this and scanning the children in my classroom. Most of us were white, but there were a couple of Hispanic kids with darker skin, and one African American boy. I got along fairly well with all my classmates, and I was trying to imagine what would be different if I was born just a few years sooner. I didn’t like what I imagined.
I put the card away and then went up to my teacher. She could tell I was upset and asked me why. I told her about the card I had read, then asked her how people could do this. She was quiet for a moment, then gently touched my shoulder and said, “Some people just don’t know how to be nice to others.” I know the teacher was having trouble giving an answer that a seven-year-old could digest, but I knew there was more to it. I didn’t like the answer then, and I don’t like it now.
Since then, I have read about a lot of important non-white historical figures. But every one of them was on my initiative. I never learned about George Washington Carver in any of my classes, even though he helped modernize agriculture, brought many people out of poverty, and was recognized around the world for his scientific contributions. No one discussed the barriers broken by Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson. I didn’t hear about Fredrick Douglass until I took AP History in my junior year in high school. Or Thurgood Marshall.
Every person mentioned is inspirational to me, even though I am white. I admire their perseverance, their willingness to affect change even in the face of personal harm. Many times I have reflected how much better the world is for their efforts. I also think how many more people might be inspired if these and other great non-white figures were given due mention in history classes. Especially to non-whites.
The fact that African American history is relegated to one month (and other groups don’t even get that much) is part of the reason we have some of the divisions that cause so much tension. Some people don’t want to talk about parts of our nation’s history because there are embarrassing things there. Some people cry foul, saying that the focus is too heavy on the negative and is, therefore, unpatriotic. Some people don’t want to remember the negative things because it is hurtful thinking about the treatment of their ancestors. If we would take a more inclusive and frank examination of history, everyone could revel in the success of every American. We could also look ourselves in the mirror and say, “Yes, these bad things happened. But we are moving forward from that.”
Changing our approach to history won’t make the world a better place overnight. But if a random reading card can make a first grader dig deeper into learning and get a better appreciation of people different than him, how much more would be accomplished if ALL children were given more complete education about their world?