Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research.–Malcolm X
So, you want to teach REAL history …
You’re a teacher. Maybe you’re even a history teacher. But truth is, you didn’t learn much other than white supremacy propaganda during your formal education.
But you’ve gotten a taste of truth. You’ve heard the terms white supremacy, systemic racism, and institutional racism. You’ve discovered the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Underground Railroad that led to Mexico, and Juneteenth. You want to teach that history, the marginalized voices who can attest to that history, and more.
That’s a good thing. But that’s not the only thing.
Teach the History, But Teach the Application Too
Teach the history. Teach the truth. But when you teach it, you must teach the actions associated with it as well, connecting the two. By action, I mean the mobilizing of the people and organizing by the people on the ground to fight injustice.
The Black Freedom Struggle is a struggle. Meaning that injustices waged upon Black peoples are always followed by Black resistance. That resistance comes by way of mobilizing and organizing.
It’s not enough to teach the injustices and horrors of enslavement. You must also teach how the enslaved mobilized and organized to resist. Because enslavement, and the resistance it naturally forges, are connected. Mobilizing and organizing efforts are the glue that connects the two.
It’s not enough to teach the injustices of police brutality. You must teach how Black people and our allies have resisted to the point where fewer police shootings happen where Black Lives Matter protests took place. That couldn’t have happened without the people mobilizing and organizing.
This is the fear behind white angst expressed primarily by white conservative Republicans.
The 1619 Project and critical race theory aren’t what scares them. What scares them is the impetus for action that will precipitate due to enlightenment. Education without application is simply information, and what the power structure doesn’t want is the application of education to change the program.
Sure, they’ll say, Juneteenth can be a national holiday (information minus application). However, there’s no need for a national campaign to ensure the voting rights of Black people are protected (education by way of application).
So, teaching real history is great. But making a difference means both teaching about systemic racism, instances of systemic racism and how to mobilize and organize against it.
If teaching the truth is the first step, and teaching about the mobilizing and organizing efforts of the people (and how they themselves can do both) is the second step, then teaching about whose voices to honor when engaging with the people is the third step.
Elevating Marginalized Voices
If you’re teaching a unit on the Civil Rights Movement for example, and you’re considering where to go after teaching about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the organizers, and their strategies, you must also teach about those voices and perspectives that must be both honored and prioritized within such efforts.
Again, this vocation to which you are called isn’t simply passing along information, it’s to provide education—and that means providing skills whereby young people can apply what they’ve learned. But you must also provide education on how and why to elevate marginalized voices, which tend to be the voices of those oppressed.
Whose voices, experiences, and perspectives are missing? These are framing questions that can be applied to any situation that calls for critical thinking.
A white supremacist society is such that the oppressed peoples continually have their voices pushed to the margins, or even worse, completely silenced. Your work must ensure that no voice in your classroom is either marginalized or silenced. Your work must ensure that your students never marginalize or silence voices within the classroom and beyond it.
THERE’S REALLY NO SUCH THING AS THE ‘VOICELESS’. THERE ARE ONLY THE DELIBERATELY SILENCED, OR THE PREFERABLY UNHEARD.― ARUNDHATI ROY
Walk It Like You Talk It
Lastly, in the words of the Migos, you’ve got to walk it like you talk it.
You must live out what you teach, in other words, you must apply what it is you’re imparting to your students. It’s not enough to demand excellence from your students without holding yourself accountable for the same. Because you teach the history of this nation, you must think with that history in mind and act accordingly when living your life. Because you’re instructing on how to mobilize the people and organize the people, when you should always take that knowledge to be applied on behalf of the people.
Because you’re instructing on elevating marginalized and historically oppressed voices, you must do the same in your own life.
It is no longer acceptable to teach from a “do as I say not as I do” mindset. We must practice what we preach and live out what we teach. This is what it means to confront systemic racism and white supremacy in our classrooms.
We must do these things unapologetically and without fear nor favor. We must do these things when it’s popular and when its unpopular. If your commitment is to the work, then your commitment is to the people. And if the people are the priority, then truth must be your testimony for the transformation of a broken society.
Or … you could teach in ways that keep the society broken. You wouldn’t be useless; however, you’d be useful to the power structure whether directly or indirectly.
An educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.– Lerone Bennett, Jr.
Teaching is indeed political, so you must ask yourself: Do my politics within the frame of the education industry align with the power or with the people? My prayer is that it aligns with the latter—and if not, may the students give you hell.