“Today at school, we learned about a little brown girl name Ruby, and people didn’t like her because she was brown and they didn’t want her to go to school, and some of the adults even wanted to poison her because she was brown. But she was brave and went to school anyway.”
On Marley’s face was the look of worry, and perhaps a little thrill in sharing with us an unbelievable story that we were just hearing for the first time, as she hastily recanted the story she was taught in her 1st Grade class today.
We could sense her concern (as well as our own), being that this was her first introduction to past racism and institutionalized discrimination because of skin color. Up until now, none of our girls have ever expressed any knowledge of racial differences other than the obvious – skin color , and language. To them, if it’s not English, it’s Spanish!
I’m inclined to say that still at this age, skin color truly has no real implications – unless learned of course. Kids just play with each other. Listening to the girls talk, they seem to be more concerned with who’s nice, or doesn’t play right, or even whose in trouble at school the most because they don’t listen or follow directions.
As people of color in this country, Marc and I have struggled with how, and when we were going to introduce our children to the injustices orchestrated against our ancestors, as well as educate them on the probable opportunity that at some point in their young lives, they may yet still encounter some subtle residual, if not blatant issues by some ignorant and ill meaning people because of the color of their skin.
Today’s introduction at school, was not the way we had planned.
Both Marc and I, can remember sitting uncomfortably in our elementary school classes feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and alienated, as we were “educated” about black people in this country – especially from the white perspective.
In a nutshell, it went something like this: Black people were brought over from African on slave ships; white people were better than black people so they deserved to be slaves thus had no rights or freedoms; black people were whipped, beaten & mistreated by their slave masters (complete with visual aides of the brutality and suffering); Some white people wanted to help free the black people so in steps Abraham Lincoln, The Civil War. Flash forward to the Civil Rights Movement, where black people were still treated with hate, and treated unfairly; Then our savior Dr. King shows up on the scene with his passive resistance and all the people of the land love him, and this is when things start to get better for black people – of course, then he’s murdered.
It sure didn’t make me feel good about being black at the time, and I can’t imagine how it could have had a positive impact on any of the kids in our class – regardless of color. Yes, the curriculum sprinkled in a little bit about notable historical black people such as Harriet Tubman, the peanut man (George Washington Carver), Fredrick Douglas, – you know, the same old redundant antiquated figures of yesteryear (no disrespect meant towards these important figures).
However, our black history, which is still American History is much richer than that, and that’s what I wish our basic school curriculums detailed. Instead of just teaching that we were shipped here from Africa, why not expound and tell more uplifting facts – such as how Africa was a very exotic and rich land, how our ancestors also came from royalty and were kings and queens, how intelligent beyond their times as compared to most parts of the world Africans were, that most of the African nation greatly contributed to the western hemisphere with contributions such as architecture, astronomy, medicine, advanced civilization, etc. The majority of the African nation collectively were NOT just running around naked, poor, destitute, as most of us were taught to believe. For we have contributed far more than just our backs for the building of this great nation.
If we are going to “celebrate” black history month in school, how about minimizing the socio-political aspect of it – the little Ruby stories, the Rosa Park stories, the King speeches – for we know these hard fought victories and achievements have a great and significant place in our history, and for the most part are the cornerstone of the skimpy education that is received in school. Oh they will learn this, over and over and over again.
But how about highlighting more of the vast amount of contributions made by the even more extensive amount of black individuals? The contributions are endless, yet so obscure because they were entirely neglected from the history books, underrepresented, or grossly misrepresented.
Unfortunately, in order to learn it you have to self seek, be fortunate enough to have parents or another informed person teach it to you at a young age, or if you’re patient enough, be willing to take a slightly watered down Black History course in college. But by then, my friend, I fret it’s almost too late to have any meaningful impact on a youth’s impressionable self -esteem, self-worth, pride, and the feeling of unity, singularity, oneness, – which is all of our truth.
I don’t want my daughters to be institutionally indoctrinated into the still yet divisive, lop-sided, non-reconciling, insensitive, and most importantly LOVELESS, miseducation about who they are and whence they came. From past experience, and current reality, we don’t count on, nor expect the educational system to teach them our history from an honest and enlightened point of view that reciprocates mutual understanding, and respect for all.
So until then, we will respectfully speak with their teachers (again) to pre screen the black history lesson and perspective, and if we have any concerns about the material not positively contributing to the esteem of our children, or if we deem it too politically charged – which we feel is age inappropriate at this time, we will humbly ask that they not participate and be removed to work on another activity.
Several weeks ago, when we were debating whether or not to allow Delaney to attend her Kindergarten school field trip to one of Virginia’s historic plantation’s, we had concerns. Concerns of how black people would be represented, what would be detailed, and how. We expressed our concerns to her teacher – who was more surprisingly understanding than expected, and followed up by calling the plantation and outlining for us the details of the tour. It turned out to be a non issue. She thanked us and appreciated our concern.
I know that people may have many thoughts and opinions about this, however this is a very personal and well thought out decision that we feel is important in raising our girls with good intention, and with values that are important to us and that we feel will serve them well.
Our preemptive initiation of black history education at home has now officially begun.
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