Friday, February 3, 2012

Black History Month Must Have Connections

Since 1926, through the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson, there has been an annual celebration of the accomplishments and contributions that Black Americans have made in this country.  Since 1976 February has been designated as Black History Month, and the dominant narrative in the country during the 28-29 days usually centers on a reflection of the Civil Rights Movement, and it's central players. The legacies of activists such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medger Evers, and Fannie Lou Hamer are celebrated. The contributions of George Washington Carver, Benjamin Banneker, and Madame CJ Walker are lauded. The artistic greatness of Josephine Baker, Oscar Micheaux, and countless others is showcased.  While the celebration of these feats is inspiring and helps provide a solid foundation upon which a strong sense of Black identity can be built, I wish there was more discussion of the connections of that legacy to current Black life and global citizenship so that there would be a greater sense that Black History did not die when Martin and Malcolm were assassinated, but instead is living and vibrant with new pages being added to the record everyday.  In addition, this history is firmly embedded within the larger American tale in ways that need to be illuminated now more than ever.

Ethnic studies programs in K-12 schools are under assault today, with recent court rulings in Arizona serving as the prime example. This comes at a time when the notions of race and ethnicity are as complicated as ever to decipher.  This means it is incumbent upon both teachers and parents to help make connections both within their ethnic groups and between groups which will promote a better understanding of shared experience. So if, for example you are reading about Dr. King, you can look, for example at his education at Morehouse College, and examine who leads that institution today.  You can also look at some of the protests he participated in, and compare them to current protest movements both domestically and abroad to get an idea for the issues that are currently being fought for such as fair housing, health care, fair business practice, etc. In this way, the teachable moment that Black History Month embodies becomes instructive and a unifying moment instead of a divisive one. The notion of race has become more complicated globally and skin color alone is not the most salient aspect of racial identification for many young people. So in kind, those responsible for guiding today's youth must therefore adapt so that young Black children can continue to use Black History Month to build and affirm a  sense of self while also helping them see how they are interconnected to their peers.

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