With February being Black History Month, the question of “why do we only get a month when white history is taught all year ‘round?” is prevalent in many conversations. It makes sense to wonder why our children are learning what the white men of history did but not the black men. That question is a very valid one to ask. However, many black people are going about it the wrong way. The question should not be about why we only get a month and not a full year, but whether how our history is taught across the entire curriculum.
I recently had a debate with a friend who said that “the American History curriculum needs to be changed to fit the profound black men and women in history…the ones who did more than led marches and led people down the path of the underground railroads. What about the inventor and educators who had an active role in the uplifting of people?” This argument makes very much sense, highlighting the lack of black history actually taught in schools. But there is a problem with this method of teaching black history. History in the American curriculum is filled with conflicts between people, wars, slavery, presidents, and leaders who changed the face of America. This part of our history is actually covered, and for every black man or woman who goes unremembered for their duty, there is a white man who is just as forgotten. Learning history in the span of nine months or even a semester can only cover so many things, so the remedy is not to add more black history into American history; it is to add black history into everything.
When learning American literature, the average student learns a majority of old, dead, white authors. However, a part of learning about American literature is how the slave narrative gave the struggle of slavery an actual story to be written in the history books. It gave the average black slave an identity, an education (both being something that was consistently taken from them), mental freedom, and most importantly, a voice. You would not learn how to analyze Frederick Douglass’ narrative as prose in history class, you would only learn about how it is relevant to his abolitionist actions. His literature would be taught in a literature class. This argument fits for all aspects of black history. You must learn about these historic black figures in the context of which they fit. Learning about George Washington Carver in science class where his achievements fit makes more sense then learning about him in a history class.
Black history should be added into our curriculum, but it has to be in a beneficial way, not just crammed into one month or even one class, but spread out so that the achievements can shine in the right settings. Will this change? It can, but it takes the teacher who decides to write Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston into her lesson plan when talking about the literature of the 1920’s. It is an active change that we all must make.