Today, February 1st, marks the beginning of Black History Month in the United States for the year 2023. At least in any school district still allowed to teach it.
In the past, I have observed the month by trying to put forth a series of social media deep dives into the lives of the Black men and women whose incredible contributions to medical, industrial, technological, and social advancement of our nation have largely been erased from our societal record while their contributions remain a part of our daily lives. My intent was to focus on those individuals overlooked in favor of the constantly rehashed chosen few deemed worthy of very brief cherry-picked [white-washed] discussion by those in charge of the curricula.
This year, in light of the assault on all aspects of Black History education by White Nationalist American conservatives and evangelical Christians, I am only going to write this one essay on the subject.
Contrary to what Republicans would have you believe, a focus on teaching Black History in our schools (even for just a month) is intended to show that People of Color, most specifically Black people, have contributed so much to the advancement of our society, culture, nation, and world that most of us take for granted. In most cases this was done both for, and in spite of, a society, culture, nation and world that has long sought to belittle, demean, exploit, dehumanize, gaslight, enslave, and eradicate them.
The lessons on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., always focus on largely white-washed highlights of his “I have a dream speech. The lessons on the Black Panthers always focus on the fact that they were walking around in public armed with pistols and long guns. Teaching about Harriet Tubman focuses on her as a matriarch leading countless slaves to freedom.
Modern American Republicans (those political conservatives and evangelicals) want you to believe that learning these things somehow harms the emotional and psychological health of modern White children. They have chosen to mislabel it as Critical Race Theory which is not now and has not ever been a focus of any public elementary, middle or junior high, or high school curricula, not even for one month a year.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a largely academic exercise for jurisprudence and political scholars. It explores how racial bias and discrimination have become embedded within societal systems and that harm that creates directly for those targeted by it and indirectly for our society as a whole. It then forces us to look for ways we can begin to excise those biases and discriminations from those systems to create a more fair and equitable society for us all. Accomplishing this would not in any way diminish or harm any White child, it would only help put an end to continuing the diminishment and harm they inflict on all People of Color.
Encyclopedia Britannica’s online entry for Critical Race Theory states:
“[R]acism in the United States is normal, not aberrational: it is the ordinary experience of most people of colour. Although extreme racist attitudes and beliefs are less common among whites than they were before the mid-20th century, and explicitly racist laws and legal practices—epitomized by the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and denied basic civil rights to African Americans in the South—have been largely eliminated, most people of colour continue to be routinely discriminated against or otherwise unfairly treated in both public and private spheres, as demonstrated by numerous social indicators. African Americans and Hispanic Americans (Latinxs), for example, are on average more likely than similarly qualified white persons to be denied loans or jobs; they tend to pay more than whites for a broad range of products and services (e.g., automobiles); they are more likely than whites to be unjustly suspected of criminal behaviour by police or private (white) citizens; and they are more likely than whites to be victims of police brutality, including the unjustified use of lethal force. If convicted of a crime, people of colour, particularly African Americans, are generally imprisoned more often and for longer periods than whites who are found guilty of the same offenses. Many Blacks and Hispanics continue to live in racially segregated and impoverished neighbourhoods, in part because of zoning restrictions in many predominantly white neighbourhoods that effectively exclude lower-income residents. Predominantly Black or Hispanic neighbourhoods also tend to receive fewer or inferior public services, notably including public education. The lack of quality education in turn limits job opportunities, which makes it even more difficult to leave impoverished neighbourhoods. On average, Blacks and Hispanics also receive less or inferior medical care than whites and consequently lead shorter lives.”
If we were to approach those oft-revisited Black History Month lessons from above with a CRT viewpoint we’d be doing a critical analysis of Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as well as why it was necessary to be written from a jail cell. We’d be talking about the reason the Black Panthers were armed was to protect Black citizens from racist attacks which led to White conservative politicians led by Ronald Reagan and the NRA to establish California’s first major gun control restrictions, the Mulford Act. We’d also discuss how that same organization, the Black Panthers, were responsible for the creation of the school breakfast programs that greatly benefited all impoverished children, including White children. We’d learn about how the 2nd Amendment was established in large part to maintain armed slave patrol militias to recapture escaped slaves the the warrior-spy Harriet Tubman was forced to become to protect those she was helping reach safety.
This month, I encourage and implore you to learn some real facts about both Black History and Critical Race Theory.
Set aside a few hours to learn how the history of American Slavery has affected every aspect of the American society that was built both by and atop it, and learn how that same society has worked hard to erase the memory of those contributions while still benefiting from them.
Go watch Hulu’s short series of episodes based on the Pulitzer Prize winning “1619 Project.”
Hopefully, that will pique your interest enough to go read the full award winning series of articles created for the New York Times by Nikole Hannah-Jones.