Yesterday, a student asked a colleague of mine why there isn’t a White History Month. The student, who happens to be Black, asked the question with all seriousness. I didn’t want my facial expression to give way to the 20-floor drop that my heart took to the pit of my stomach as soon as I heard the question uttered. My fellow educator answered the student’s question sufficiently and moved on with the lesson. But I, being who I am, couldn’t let it go. The student’s question deeply troubled me. I encouraged the student to over the break, go and see the blockbuster film “Black Panther.”
Here’s why: as Matthew Jacobs rightfully highlights, “no superhero flick has ever looked like this. None has had an almost exclusively black cast, and most are likelier to take place in the far reaches of outer space or some version of New York City than they are a fictional utopia in Africa.”
Due to its purposeful obliteration from the curriculum within the New York City Board of Education, Black children have been denied the rich knowledge of their ancestors in their day-to-day educational experiences. They are so unacquainted with our historical and present-day creative, intelligent, and resilient energy. Black children need to see that they are cut from superhero cloth. Black children need to see that Africa, the cradle of human civilization, is not a place of which to be ashamed, nor is it a land of Tarzan and Jane.
The reality is that Black students are so used to not seeing people who look like them represented in the lessons they are taught that when there is consistent mention of the accomplishments, attributions, and actions of Black people in school for a few days in February each year, it throws them off. Can you believe that during the course of my career, I’ve actually had Black students tell me that they are tired of hearing about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? That’s because, like I wrote the other day, he and a few other Black heroes that White people have vetted and deemed acceptable, are the only people they learn about in their entire 13-14 years being educated in NYC public schools.
That’s a shame, but no accident. I want to make that very clear. Such omissions are very strategic and very much borne from racist, Willy Lynch “How To Make A Slave” methodologies for enslaving African-Americans after the literal chains were removed. I remember when I was growing up that many people had a hard time accepting the premise of “The Cosby Show” because it had a Black wife and mother who was a lawyer and a Black husband and father who was a doctor. The message: Black excellence and success is unrealistic.
I think not.
I feel strongly that it is my job as a “woke” teacher of Black and Brown children that I guide them at every turn to learn about our rich history. We are such a beautiful people….if only we knew. It is my hope that watching “Black Panther” will in some way become a springboard for more authentic inquiry by students into Black history. Black excellence among the plethora of Black children attending schools in NYC is my goal.