Editor’s note: At the beginning February, Black History Month, Boardhawk posed this question on social media and invited responses: What do you wish you learned about Black history during your education? How would it shape who you are today? In response four members of Ednium, a “collective” of Denver Public Schools alums, submitted heartfelt essays. We will publish them over the next couple of weeks. This is the fourth and final installment.
February is an interesting month. We give 28 days for people to highlight Black culture, Black accomplishment, and Black genius.
Any other time of year we focus on Black trauma, pain and injustice. We all collectively buy into the idea that this is the one time of year that we have to focus on “Black issues,” forgetting that Black issues are everybody’s issues and that they take place year-round, including in February.
When I reflect on my own educational experience, there’s a clear lack of interest in Black folx and their contributions to society.
I can name on one hand the Black folx that I spent most of my time learning about in school: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, and Jackie Robinson. Now if I dig “deep” I can name a few more that we talked about in passing or as the focus of a lesson, like Emmet Till or Rosa Parks.
I remember many conversations around the pain and trauma of Black folx, but I remember very little celebration or honoring of Black culture and accomplishment. In this moment I reflect on the importance of things like listening, accountability, and action.
While I love highlighting all things Black, I know that equity doesn’t come through Black history month. Equity comes from listening to the needs/desires of community, being accountable to community, and taking action to make systemic change happen.
Instead of learning only about the historical trauma of Black people, I wish that I’d been taught the truth about Black people and our history. I wish that I’d been told more than a single story about what it means to be a Black person or about what’s possible when you’re a Black person.
I wish that we had consciously critical conversations about the impact of both historical and present actions that harm Black bodies. I wish that I learned more than slavery, the Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights. I wish that I was able to explore the contributions of amazing Black writers, artists, and performers.
I wish that we talked about how many genres of music originated in Black communities. I wish we talked about more than Black athletic prowess. I wish that we learned about Black joy, Black brilliance, and Black resilience. I wish we learned about how we have deep roots with the land and agriculture.
I wish we talked about how activism and advocacy are in the blood of Black folx. I wish we talked about Black super powers, Black wisdom, and Black herbalism. I wish we talked about all the teachings and learnings that were stolen from Black culture and Black people globally.
I wish we learned the truth about the systems we are all steeped in as human beings from birth and how those things impact the lives of people who look like me. I wish that my accomplishments would’ve been valued for what they were worth. I wish that my Blackness had been allowed to exist outside of February too.
Black history is American history. I repeat, Black history is American history. We’ve been here shooting in the gym since the beginning; if you’re wondering how and why, go ahead and reference slavery to start!
I wish that people would be accountable to the fact that Black history has been intentionally erased from the narrative in order to uphold a white supremacist system of power and control that persists in all spaces today. Most of all, I wish people would act like every month is Black History Month.
Honor the accomplishments of your Black friends year-round. Honor their work, their emotional and intellectual labor. Pay them. Tell history accurately. Be intolerant of hate all 365 days even when/if it comes from people you love. Stop being anti-Black! Support/protect Black womxn!
Remember that the further you are from whiteness the more disenfranchised you are. Stop being so sensitive and recognize that we are all culpable for committing harm and we are all responsible for fixing it, albeit in very different ways.
Do your self-work and hold others accountable. Those are steps to justice. Those are steps to my Blackness being allowed to exist outside of February and to treating Black people like a part of American history instead of just folx who happen to be here.
We are beautiful and brilliant every day and it’s time everybody started acting that way.