What History Class Won’t Tell You About Black History

Martin Luther King one of the many black heroes. Source: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/washington-dc-usa-february-23-2015-1288517266

Martin Luther King one of the many black heroes. Source: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/washington-dc-usa-february-23-2015-1288517266

Elleana Tanks-Gabor , Managing Editor

Where does African American history start? Slavery, right? NO– but that’s what you learn in your history books. This is the problem with the history curriculum, it does not tell the full truth and erases Black identity. 

African American history did not start with slavery, in fact, it starts with the complete opposite! African American history starts in Africa with us being queens and kings and living in advanced civilizations. We sold natural resources and were extremely wealthy, but this is not what they teach us in history class. In history class, we are taught that our history starts with us being shackled and treated like animals. 

There is a huge problem with this for many reasons. First being, it’s simply not true, our existence did not start with slavery. Second, it completely erases our identity. This, I believe, is a method used to degrade Black people and put them in an oppressed mindset. I mean, how would you feel if from a young age you were taught that since your people’s existence they were slaves?

“It’s incumbent that African Americans know their history starting back to ancient African civilizations so they can have a deep sense of pride,” African American history teacher Aaron Jeter said.   

Some people may say that there is no reason to go all the way back to African civilizations when this is U.S. history. This is a purely insensitive statement to make for multiple reasons, the first being that to understand a story you have to start in the beginning. Think about it, you don’t start reading a book in the fourth chapter, that’s because you would be lost and miss out on information that can be important for the rest of the story. When regarding such a sensitive topic, you must start from the beginning.

Another problem with the history taught in school is that it over-simplifies the harsh treatment of Blacks and the civil rights movement. Of course, you can only get so much of a feel of what happened from a history lesson, but it definitely isn’t presented as in-depth as it should be. The lesson kind of speeds through time and doesn’t give you an understanding of how hard it was to get “equal rights” and how people of color are still fighting for them today. 

“I think it’s important to make deep modern connections, for instance, I brought up the Breonna Taylor case in my class and made direct ties to how slavery has turned into over-policing in areas with minorities,” said Jeter  

There is a huge problem with not making modern connections because it adds to the narrative that slavery is in the past and is not relevant today– which is a complete lie. After segregation and slavery were illegal, there were still things put in place that stopped Blacks from thriving, and it still does till this very day.

One of these things is Redlining. Redlining is the illegal discriminatory practice in which a mortgage lender denies loans or an insurance provider restricts services to certain areas of a community, often because of the racial characteristics of the applicant’s neighborhood. Studies show that ¾ neighborhoods that were red-lined over 80 years ago still struggle today and are impoverished.

Other problems that have evolved from slavery still linger on today such as, mass incarceration. Although, I listed this as a problem that evolved from slavery it’s more so what slavery evolved into. The 13th Amendment says slavery is illegal UNLESS it is to pay off a debt or punishment for a crime. So, therefore, I do believe that that’s why Black people make up 34% of people under the control of the criminal justice system– it’s simply a modern version of slavery.

“I do believe that if there is a violent charge or violent criminality… Those people who are committing the crimes whether they’re White, Black, Asian…need to be put in jail, but I definitely believe African Americans are over-incarcerated and over-policed,” Jeter said regarding his opinion on mass incarceration.

People might say is that mass incarceration is not a thing, or that mass incarceration has nothing to do with ethnicity. That is not true, starting with mass- incarceration is definitely a thing, while yes people who wrongfully commit a crime should go to jail, there are a lot of black people that get sentenced for a crime they did not commit solely based on racial profiling. Black people makeup 47% of all wrongful convictions and exoneration’s and are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than a white person. The bigger picture is, people, don’t think mass-incarceration is a thing because it’s not talked about in history class. This is why we do need to discuss the lingering effects of slavery in class.

Briefly- another problem is voting. Black communities still struggle with voting. These problems consist of being told they lack proper identification to vote, being told they weren’t listed on voter rolls, trouble finding polls that are in their communities, financially unable to get time off work, not meeting new voting requirements, etc… Of course, these things can happen to everybody, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they are statistically shown to happen more to Black/Latin people.

There is no point in bringing up problems if I’m not going to offer a solution, so let’s talk about how to get rid of these problems and make the curriculum better as far as educating on true Black history.

I think first they should do what they should have done a long time ago and made the curriculum true by going all the way through Black history, starting with the times of our thriving African civilizations. This would help fix a lot of things, but the most important thing is that it will teach little black children that their people were once royal and not slaves since the beginning of existence. I believe this will help with confidence and not put children in an oppressed mindset.

To fix the other problem of over-simplifying the illiberal treatment of blacks and the civil rights movement, I think teachers should really take their time to thoroughly teach Black history from where it truly began. I think teachers should connect how racism, discrimination, segregation, redlining, etc. still affect minorities today and focus more on Black accomplishments. Just like how teachers teach about 9/11 and how it still affects so many families– Black history is just as important.  

Lastly, and most importantly, I think teachers should not be scared to make students feel a little uncomfortable– everything that happened in history is not going to be comfortable to talk about,  but, as people, we need to understand our own backgrounds and each other’s backgrounds. This is indispensable, not just in Solon but in schools around the world,  so we can better understand and help each other.