I’m all for celebrating the accomplishments of people of all backgrounds – of course! But, sometimes, we can minimize the depth of people’s experiences by turning heritage month celebrations into lists of who invented what.
We can do better than that!
Sometimes, those of us who are not identified as African American think of Black History Month as a time to commemorate when Americans of African descent got the right to vote or the right to sit at a lunch counter. Those rights were no small deal, however, the obstacles faced by African Americans and other traditional outsiders were so much deeper and wider than that and included: the right to know your own name, the right to know and live with your family, the right to read, the right to go to school, the right to hold office, the right to be in the military, the right to sign contracts, the right to buy homes, the right to enter most professions, the right to medical care, the right to refuse sterilization, the right to sit on a jury, the right to give evidence against whites, the right to live without constant threat of physical harm and death to you and your loved ones and on and on.
The fact that, in spite of all this danger, disrespect and discrimination, African Americans made contributions in every field of American life is a true testament to the human spirit.
In order to survive and even thrive under this constant onslaught to their humanity, African Americans were able to lean on the gifts from their African cultures as well as develop a unique African American culture that is nurturing, strong and varied.
Each African American child deserves to know about the beauty and struggle from which they come and all American students need to understand and appreciate how the United States is as democratic and as true to its ideals as it is today because of African Americans’ ideals and sacrifices.
Black History illuminates the tragedy of discrimination and invisibility as it makes visible the best in all of us.
Sue O’Halloran is a diversity consultant working for more inclusive schools, businesses and faith-based organizations. High school teachers, Sue will be offering a free webinar in 2018 – 3 Common Mistakes High School Teachers Make that Have Them Unintentionally Offending Students & Parents of Different Races. Watch for announcements!