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By Cheyanne M. Daniels, The Hill —

Advocates are sounding the alarm about growing pushes from conservative-led states to downplay the impact of slavery and racism on U.S. history and change the way Black Americans’ stories are taught in classrooms.

As Black History Month nears its end, they say it’s a subject that should be getting more attention, warning the shift will wind up hurting students.

“We should be scared of undercutting the future of America by not endowing our students with the knowledge they need to not only compete in this society but in global society,” Ashley White, the NAACP’s inaugural education fellow for equity access and opportunity, told The Hill’s “The Switch Up.”

“This is about so much more than making sure that our children know what happened in America,” White added. “It’s also about our economic prosperity, because if you cannot deal in the global economic environment, we will not be able to maintain our status as a nation, and you cannot deal in that global environment if you do not know history.”

Mounting limitations

Since January 2021, 44 states have introduced bills to limit teaching students critical race theory or how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to a report by Education Week.

In some ways, this type of legislation can be traced back to September 2020, when then-President Trump signed an executive order banning certain types of diversity training for promoting “divisive concepts.”

The next year, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas used the same language to pass legislation banning teachers from instructing students in ways that make them feel guilt or anguish because of their race or sex, or teaching the idea that anyone is inherently racist or sexist.

Then, in 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) led a charge against a new Advanced Placement African American studies pilot course. DeSantis said the course, which initially required lessons on intersectionality, the Black Lives Matter movement and Black queer studies, lacked educational value. Arkansas soon followed suit and banned the course in August.

Florida made headlines again when the state’s Department of Education passed guidelines requiring students be taught that slavery was beneficial because it helped enslaved people to learn useful skills.

The curriculum swiftly drew backlash, including from Vice President Harris, who accused “extremists in Florida” of pushing propaganda on children.

“Adults know what slavery really involved,” Harris said. “It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby from their mother. It involved some of the worst examples of depriving people of humanity in our world. So in the context of that, how is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?”

‘A huge rise in resistance’

Sonya Douglass, director of the Black Education Research Center (BERC) at the Teachers College of Columbia University, told The Hill that these restrictions should not be surprising because anti-Black sentiment has been growing since the election of the nation’s first Black president.

“With the election of President Obama, we saw a huge rise in resistance. We saw the development of the birther movement, and then we would later see the individual who was leading the birther movement become president,” Douglass said.

“I think a better understanding of Black history and a fuller account of American history would help us to not be terribly surprised by some of the things that we’ve seen over the last 10 to 20 years,” she added.

If students had a comprehensive understanding of Black history, Douglass said, they would understand that the topic dates back to well before Africans were enslaved and brought to America in the 1600s.

Douglass said Africans were scientists and alchemists, and their knowledge had a significant role to play in the shaping of societies and communities, including how government works.

“Much of that has been misrepresented in terms of who we view as the original progenitors of knowledge, whether it’s the Greeks or the Romans, but many of those knowledge systems were taken from ancient Kemet and other places in Africa,” she explained.

For Black students in particular to have this knowledge would change their perception of how they fit into not only American society, but global society.

“I think that is why we see a lot of the fight and the resistance to teaching these topics, because it does shift power in many ways,” Douglass said. “It shifts who we value in terms of those who create knowledge, those who are producing information, as opposed to only consuming it. And I think for many people, that can be a bit frightening.”

The BERC is now developing a K-12 Black history and studies curriculum for New York schools, and Douglass said it will include significant history prior to the enslavement of Africans.

In a survey the center conducted in October, 73 percent of respondents approved of the curriculum.

Teaching students an incomplete American history

As some Republican leaders and parents continue to take a stance against topics such as the teaching of systemic racism, a recent study by Pew Research Center found that nearly half of students said they’d rather learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black Americans today.

Thirty-six percent of white adults said parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about topics related to racism or racial inequality, but Marvin Dulaney, president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, said this could have devastating effects.

Dulaney has spent time researching police officers’ attitudes toward Black Americans. In his work, he found that many did not know much Black history, and he posits it makes police killings of Black Americans easier to justify.

“They believe we haven’t contributed anything, that we are people who are a drag on society,” Dulaney said. “They don’t know our history and, of course, they sort of grew up there with these negative attitudes and feelings about Black people, and they act on them on the streets, in terms of arrest and brutality and shootings. They don’t have the empathy that is needed to treat us like regular human beings.”

The effects of limitations on Black history are unclear at this time, but advocates are adamant that it should be taught for the simple fact that American history is incomplete without it.

“Quite frankly, without the contributions of our ancestors, America would not be what it is,” White said. “And I would dare to say that given the historical context of the Atlantic slave trade, etc., Black history is also the history of many other countries and nations beyond the U.S., so the implications for the importance of Black history and its contribution to American society and global society at large should be recognized for more than anything so that we can capitalize upon those contributions as a collective.”

Source: The Hill
Featured image: Credit – Mediaphotos


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.