The current curriculum of Black history which focuses on historic Black Americans in the USA, to put it bluntly, is whitewashed and sterilized. It still operates within a paradigm of when no Black Americans were discussed in American schools (and in many still aren’t). As it stands in many schools it’s an inspiring story about siting on a bus, some smart innovations with peanuts, nice speeches about civil rights – and we are done. The content which young Americans learn about Black Americans in history still uses ‘cookie politics’: it gives little ‘treats’ to a marginalized group but falls short of providing a ‘meal’ of sustenance.
Why is this so? Lots of ground to cover with this question. Bell Hooks is an amazing Black author who has written about how discourse in America works against Blacks and marginalizes Blacks’ lived experiences even when it tries to ‘do good’. This issue is exhaustively studied and well written about by many, yet it still pervades multiple generations of the USA education system. A point to focus on which would be less discussed then, is that a more meaningful study of Black Americans in USA school systems primarily has everything to do with social control and child socialization – of every American regardless of their race.
To use an example, George Washington Carver is treated as sort of a benign subject in school textbooks. He is framed as being an intelligent innovator who rose above adversity, and all that nice stuff. It’s nice, but it’s not empowering as it should be. In reality Carver in his life became the site of international politics. While he albeit was getting amounts of prestige in the USA for his work (but some of the groups who praised his work later when on to do some of the most unethical experiments in USA history…..so how meaningful was their praise?), he also was entered into some of Europe’s most prestigious scientific societies that at the time almost no Americans were in. Carver’s life became a site where international culture and politics were debated, and more importantly, his advancements abroad meant that this symbolically critiqued American culture and politics. Something America still needs more of. Carver of course isn’t alone, most historical Black Americans in their lives became international symbols showing how broken USA culture/politics was and still is.
If you know your history there is one simple historical fact: Black Americans in history have been the most revolutionary and progressive group of Americans, whose’ lived experience in history sharply critiques and debates the fundamentals of the current USA system which is built on racism, an unequal capitalism, and a facade democracy. That is why when American children learn of historical Black Americans they get the cupcake and sprinkles version: because to truly display and teach what Black Americans were in history, this would embolden American students with the reality that Americans like them have power. It would give American children role models to combat the problems of today by knowing the true nature of these historical Americans’ lives – to know without any manipulation exactly what they were fighting against just by being American and Black.
To say it more simply, to teach real Black American history, the education system would have to also deeply explore what Black Americans fought against in the past (and today). This is why a superficial history of Black Americans’ in schools are taught: because actually educating on Black’s real history and impact as Americans would educate all American youth to know what the problems are and give them conceptual tools rooted in material reality. The current curriculum might have worked and had impact in the 1960s, but there is just too much more about historical Black Americans to focus on and needed right now. Don’t buy this argument? Well think about this then – why the f**k is everyone in (mostly white) Hollywood circle jerking over a movie like ’12 years a slave’ when they could have made a movie about Frederick Douglass and what he did revolutionizing intelligent protest in the USA? Ponder that. If a movie were made on Frederick Douglass’s life and philosophy, which movie do you think would be more meaningful in contemporary society?
( photo credit: www.internationalspiritualexperience.com )