Comedian Chris Rock frequently pokes fun at the notion of February as Black History Month — the coldest, shortest month of the year. And he isn’t wrong. All too often, the American school system chooses to only educate students on the heroes of the Black community, who helped to shape our nation, as a novelty lesson for a few short weeks in February.
While Black History Month has helped open the door to difficult conversations about race in schools and taught students about pillars in the Black community, this simply isn’t enough anymore.
In a year marked by civil unrest and a global cry for racial reckoning, every aspect of society is being called into question to ensure it is equitable and fair. Isn’t it time we reevaluate the historical narratives taught in our schools?
Although it is incredibly important to honor, remember and celebrate Black History Month, it cannot be the only exposure students have to the Black community.
Growing up in a predominantly white area, it was custom to learn about MLK and Rosa Park during February, but teachers were unwilling to discuss harder topics like the legacy of Malcolm X and the Tulsa Race Massacre come March.
We need to address the lack of diversity in the American education system at every level, starting with a highly white-washed curriculum.
By and large, students in public schools across the country read novels and textbooks written by white authors. Yes, Huckleberry Finn can be one way to start a conversation about race in the classroom. But if the intention is a holistic educational experience with honest depictions of American life, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or Toni Morrison’s Beloved give a much more honest look at life for Black women than any novels by their white counterparts.
While initiatives like the New York Time’s 1619 Project, an education system that places slavery and the Black experience at the forefront of the narrative of American history, are a great, they often can be viewed as too ambitious for school districts to adopt. As a result, schools continue to regale Black history to the backburner.
Black history is at the heart of American history. The Black experience is essential to the American experience. And we cannot overlook it — no matter how uncomfortable these lessons might be.
Ignoring the difficult and painful past, and present, experiences of Black Americans only perpetuates the notion that racism is a thing of the past. As this year clearly showed us, it is unfortunately alive and well at home and across the globe.
Our greatest weapon in the war against racism and injustice is education. And we cannot continue to ignore it’s role in developing strong, citizens who seek justice.
Learning about the Black community and Black history cannot be exiled to a single month — especially not the coldest, shortest one.