Early in elementary school I didn’t like seeing newsreels of black folks, my folks, being hosed with water and hit with fists and hateful words. This time made me sad and mad that white folks could hate black folks because they weren’t white, that laws supported and encouraged more hate and my people had to fight for basic God-given rights that humans had the nerve to try to alter. I can now put my feelings into words, but when I was a child, I just knew how I felt. Though my well-meaning teachers, who taught us black history beyond Black History Month, would often seek to end the late 20th century Civil Rights Movement segment on a high note by having us sing “We Shall Overcome,” my angst would remain. I could not see any overcoming, only hating and fighting, and I was not moved. The only reason I didn’t harbor my angst because I lived in a home and attended schools that celebrated black history. As a result, I never questioned if black was beautiful. I simply knew that it was because my daddy said so.
My caramel-colored daddy with the eternal afro was a history professor and made sure my siblings and I knew the history he taught his students. And he applauded Mrs. Tinsley, my 4th grade teacher, who made sure we knew about African kings and queens and other great figures that supplemented his teachings on people like Renaissance man Paul Robeson, blues singer Bessie Smith, singer and actress Ethel Waters and surgeon Daniel Hale Williams. Learning about these black contributions to the world had me reading on my own to find out more. Though my mom would often say, “People are people are people,” her way of expressing that skin color shouldn’t color our love or create hate toward a certain group of people, my daddy held firm to his hatred for systemic racism, which he often targeted toward white people. I know my mom’s ability to see people and not just race helped to curb my black militant leaning, but I have never shirked my vocal or physical expression of being black and proud.
I have taken for granted my long-time knowledge and feelings and naturally have shared with my sons, but last week, when reading a news article my 11-year-old said he didn’t know who the Tuskegee Airmen were, I felt I had failed in my teaching. I know that at 11 my oldest son may not know everything that I know about black history, but I have to be more intentional about imparting this knowledge to him. I have tried to walk the fine line of truth with hate and pride on either side. I have wanted him and his brothers to know the history, its glory and goriness, without causing them to fall into deep pride or hate. Not always knowing how to do that has caused me to not teach as aggressively as I believe I should. I have not tapped into the greatest power in the universe—God in me—for direction on this. After seeing I needed help, I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me teach my sons what they need to learn, how they need to learn it and when they need to learn it. I will use to anchor my black history lessons my perpetual teaching that from the blood of one man came all nations of men so they know greatness resides in us all and, because of the fall of man, sin resides in us all (Acts 17:24-26; Genesis 3). I know to love them is to teach them and that includes black history, not just in February, Black History Month in the United States, but always.
As my daddy would say to his all white classes where students would lament about having to learn about blacks and Native Americans, “When are we going to get to American history?”: “Black history is American history” and we know that it is also world history. History is the stories of all peoples. Therefore, we all need to know black history for our better individual and collective selves. There is no truth and love in erasure for comfort’s sake, only deception, oppression and delusion. No one can fully live without trying to fully love, and teaching—then living—the truth helps us to do that.
Take a Risk Challenge: Go beyond your comfort zone and teach black history to someone else. If you need to begin with you, teach yourself so you can teach another. Teaching history of a consistently marginalized people is a radical act of love.