Black history is important every single day of the year, but Black History Month gives us an opportunity to intensify our love of black people and champion their accomplishments. In the name of celebrating black history, there are times when there are egregious missteps. This is a guide to help individuals understand what they won’t do during Black History Month if they are really trying to celebrate properly.
1. Focus on slavery
There is no denying the slave trade was real. People of African descent were kidnapped, taken to various places across the globe, and enslaved. I haven’t come across a history book that does not mention this. Children are already learning about a tragic time in history, so this should not be the focus of Black History Month. The month of February is an opportunity for children to learn about black trailblazers who made history. Not to focus on one of the most traumatic periods of our history.
2. Include Abraham Lincoln
For some reason, people who plan Black History Month events feel the need to remind us about Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Again, children already learn about this in school, so it does not need to be a focus during Black History Month. Can we have a celebration, book, or movie that doesn’t force a white savior into the narrative? Yes, President Lincoln signing this document was an important part of history; however, Abraham Lincoln is covered extensively in history books. If you must focus on honest Abe, then I’ll give you one concession during this month; do it on President’s Day.
3. Lean on black people for all your ideas
Yes, I realize the irony of including this since I’m a black person informing the reader about how to avoid missteps. Take this as a freebie. We know that the majority of the teaching profession is made up of white women. We also know that some of these white women choose to teach in schools where black children are the majority of the student body or make up a significant portion. If you are choosing to be in front of black children, you are obligated to make efforts to learn about their history. Your black colleague should not have to do the heavy lifting for you. Your black colleague should not have to provide resources for you.
4. Only make black people a focus in February
I have called out educators on this one. Unfortunately for them, not for me, their white fragility got triggered. “Shawnta, my classroom is diverse. I don’t understand why you are questioning me.” They don’t understand. Hmmm. Is that true, or is it that they don’t want to admit they need to do better?” Here are some questions I have asked:
- When you focused on the mystery genre, did you use any mysteries written by black authors?
- Is the only time you had posters of black people in your classroom during the month of February?
- During your history lessons, did you ever look at the narrative from the black perspective or was the focus only the version of the colonizer?
These questions make people uncomfortable. Instead of sitting in their discomfort and figuring out how to take action to improve, they settle for being offended.
5. Make the focus famous black people
Yes, we know that Dr. King had a dream. We know that Rosa Park refused to sit in the black of the bus. Right here in Indiana, where I am from, we all know that Madame C.J. Walker helped black people straighten out our curls. Yet, there are too many stories we don’t know. I even learned about one last week. I was an official book reviewer for Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and I was gifted a copy of The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery from Capstone Publishing for my honest review. No, this is not just a story about slavery; the reader also learns about the many accomplishments of Smalls. I had never heard about this man until I was given this book. I found his story powerful. There are so many more black unsung heroes. I suggest looking at the local level. Learn about black people in your city or state and share their accomplishments with students.
This is not an all-inclusive list; however, it is a good place to start. Black History Month should be uplifting. Black History Month should also be a catalyst for how to incorporate black people into lesson plans throughout the school year.