February may be the shortest month of the year, but it is replete with celebrations. Besides Groundhogs and Presidents, individual days celebrate, among other things, Pizza, Peanut Butter, Pancakes, and Pistachios. February 22nd is National Margarita Day, and February 23rd commemorates the Battle of the Alamo. Gotta love that scheduling fluke!
Of course, February is also Black History Month, not because it is the shortest month of the year but because it observes the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is a time for Americans to contemplate Black history and acknowledge that it is inextricably linked to American history. It is about the Black experience in America, and how that has shaped all of us.
When I was a kid, Black history was represented by Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Today it includes Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery … Missing from these lists are the anonymous slaves, who suffered in bondage, and their descendants, who endured Jim Crow and its current iterations. So how do we amend the lists, include the stories that were forgotten or, worse yet, systematically erased from memory, and correct the history by filling in the gaps?
That used to fall to the schools. But with over 23 states banning Critical Race Theory, children are denied access to the complete story of America under the guise of protecting them from a liberal agenda that would teach them to hate one another and our country. Insofar as CRT considers race, it reveals that racism and the divisions it spawns are not just based on personal prejudices but are inscribed in some of our country’s institutions, that inequality and inequity are systemic and systematized, not merely coincidence. This understanding, rather than the divisive fearmongering of politicians like Gregg Abbott, should be used by educators to stimulate critical thinking, an objective analysis of the factors contributing to these disparities and an evaluation of cause and effect relationships that result in discrimination in too many areas of American life. How is making our country better hateful?
Now, imagine any classroom in one of these 23 states.
How would one teach American History without discussing slavery, Harriet Tubman, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights Movement, MLK, Malcolm X, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Barack Obama.
How would one teach Political Science without discussing the Constitution, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, the yet-unnamed Black female Supreme Court Justice, Dred Scott, Plessy v Ferguson, Brown v the Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Gerrymandering, The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
How would one teach American literature without discussing Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, WEB DuBois, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, August Wilson, Toni Morrison, Coleson Whitehead, Amanda Gorman.
How would one teach Science without discussing George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Charles Drew, Benjamin Banneker, Bessie Coleman, Matthew Henson, Mae Jemison, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lonnie Johnson, Marie Maynard Daly, Mary McLeod Bethune, Henrietta Lacks, Tuskegee.
How would one teach Public Speaking without discussing Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Maria W. Stewart, Henry Highland Garnett, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, MLK, Minnie Jocelyn Elders, Ralph Bunche, Jesse Jackson.
How would one teach Fine Arts without discussing spirituals, gospel, ragtime, jazz, R&B, Motown, rap, Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Jacob Lawrence, Augusta Savage, Edmonia Lewis, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Faith Ringgold, Gordon Parks, Bisa Butler, Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, Alvin Ailey, Savion Glover, Bill Robinson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Hines, Master Juba, Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, Misty Copeland, Ebony Williams, Desmond Richardson, Hattie McDaniel, Cicely Tyson, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Morgan Freeman, Regina King, Halle Berry, Viola Davis, James Earl Jones, Oprah Winfrey, every street performer and graffiti artist in every neighborhood in America.
How would one coach any sport without discussing Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mohammed Ali, Jack Johnson, Wilma Rudolph, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Jim Brown, Colin Kaepernick, Brian Flores, Fritz Pollard, Bobby Marshall, Venus and Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles.
These lists are by no means complete, but too many students don’t even recognize the names included here nor appreciate their significance in American history, let alone Black history. Too many students don’t know who’s missing or why and, because education in America is being censored, they never will. Unfortunately, because they do not learn history, they are doomed to repeat it.