My son told me yesterday that he hates Black History Month. I had to stifle my urge to “correct him,” tell him how important it is. Tell him how highlighting things that have been forgotten or pushed aside makes room for them every day. Tell him how it’s our responsibility—we who have the privilege of education and stable living that comes on the backs and shoulders of people who gave their lives to give us a better chance of being seen as human in our own country—to make sure that these stories are not swept aside and forgotten.
Instead, I listened. It was hard to do. He talked about how weird and sad he felt on his class field trip to a nearby plantation. He talked about how strange it was that there was suddenly so much slavery talk, and how it made him feel bad about himself to hear it. He was confused as to why all the “important” history of black people was sad. Then I got sad. Not because of the sadness of the history or even the fact that he was sad. I got sad because I clearly haven’t been doing enough.
We pulled out our copy of Young, Gifted, and Black and flipped through the pages. The book is new to us (it just came out), so we spent a little while hunting up favorites. Then we talked about why we learn about atrocities. I told him that the enslaved Africans brought to this country by force were people. The fact of their enslavement does not reflect poorly on their humanity or his. It reflects the monstrousness of the people who were willing to do it or look away while someone else did. Then we started to think about how we could make things better. We agreed that all the history of Black people in American should not be concentrated into one month. It’s too much to process and, understandably, with only one month—the shortest month at that--teachers tend to hit the “most important” things, which means highlighting the same horrors and a couple of heroes over and over again. We think that Black History Month should be a time to reflect on how well and truly you have been telling the complete story of American History, a story that includes Black people. Stories are powerful, and how you tell them matters.