Morgan Freeman, who yes, is an actor and not a historian or politician, once said “Black History is American History” when commenting on Black History Month. He also said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an American hero as opposed to simply a Black hero.
I commented on another blog that there’s a lot of “Black” (as in African) History to be covered if you do your History in cycles and aren’t at the Modern period right now. The blogger’s reply was that she considers Black History month to be specifically about the Black experience in America. Fair enough, but I have some of the same problems with this take on Black History as Morgan Freeman does.
When I’m teaching History in our homeschool studies, I’m not just teaching the History of the Eurocentric Patriarchy. Africa was not just a land full of half-naked savages until the Europeans came along to “civilize” and enslave them. India and China weren’t over there pumping out curry, silk, and peppercorns for the European market with no other purpose or desire than to be part of the Silk Road trade route. Australia wasn’t a vast empty waiting to be filled with convicts and sheep. Women didn’t only give birth to men who did all the “important” stuff historically. A lot of other non-dominant groups, including children, have some interesting history of their own as well.
Why do we as US Americans study the History of Europe all through our timelines, and relegate then Black History and African History to modern History only? Even if you want to argue that Europe has more direct influence on the development of America than Africa, Africa had a profound effect on the development of Europe. Parts of Africa were Christian before Europe became Christianized.
We are all entwined, from the earliest days of Pre-History to right now. I don’t think that separating out “Black” History is a good idea. There is a need to emphasize Black History (and Women’s History and other non-dominant groups’ histories) because otherwise it gets ignored. Having a Black History and other “History” months really helps with this. But for me, “Black” History is never going to be only about the American experience, because Black Americans have heritage and history that stretches back far before 1776, just as we all do.
Learning about Black/African History is hard work. If you’re of African American heritage, you may not have any idea where your ancestors were from, because they were kidnapped, enslaved, and often stripped of their language, culture, and family members. Studying African History that isn’t all about Egypt or the Roman occupation of North Africa is hard because it’s hard to get people whose mindset is entirely entrenched in the European Patriarchy to view any history or research that isn’t theirs and doesn’t support the status quo view of “Savage Darkest Africa” seriously. Good, well researched works from highly educated scholars go in and out of print so quickly, you’ll never know they existed. Black History Month has done a lot to highlight this issue. I think we need to keep at it, keep teaching Black History and other non-dominant histories throughout our entire History timelines, in our unit studies– however we study History. I believe that to study History only from a Euro/White American male viewpoint is dishonest.
And this is yet another reason why I homeschool!
Previously: Black History Resources