Some parents at a Utah charter school were so against their kids learning about Black history this month that the school recently offered an opt-out option from such lessons.
The Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden has since reversed its decision to allow some children to skip Black History Month lessons and festivities as the school “works to change hearts and minds with grace and courtesy,” school director Micah Hirokawa wrote in a Facebook post addressing the issue.
But why were these close-minded parents ever allowed to dismiss a vital learning moment? Black history is as important as math, English or American history. It is not some throwaway subject people can do without. What exactly were these parents so offended by that they needed to be handled with such sensitivity and felt the need to protect their children? It’s unclear if the parents were against the events or the way the history was being taught. The school isn’t disclosing what all the hoopla was about so we can only guess.
And that is not the only way Black history is being attacked. In another snub at Black roots in America, several states are also trying to stop teaching of the 1619 Project, a collection of stories by the New York Times that looks at U.S. history through the prism of the legacy of slavery and contributions of African Americans — a telling that turns the inaccurate, white-centered American story on its head.
Bills recently introduced by state legislators in Arkansas, Iowa and Mississippi argue that the project misrepresents U.S. history and would take away partial state funding to school districts that choose to teach it, according to Education Week.
Even as police brutality and COVID-19 have forced the country to face structural racism and inequities built into the very fabric of the country, there is a backlash on portraying an accurate depiction of American history and the ugly treatment of African Americans over time.
I understand that it’s not a pretty history, that it’s one that some would probably rather not relive. It may be hard to swallow for some that their ancestors may have contributed to the brutalization of a whole race, and many people may want to leave that in the past. They can do without the reminders. But the ramifications of the past are still very much alive in the present and so cannot be ignored, especially if the country really wants to undergo a racial transformation beyond Black Lives Matters signs in windows. Want to disrupt the racial injustice in the prison system? You have to look at the role of slavery in how it came to be.
What’s even scarier than those that want to ignore history is those who have doctored it. Black history has been so watered down over the years, that it has tainted some people’s thinking of what really was. White historians have largely told the story of America’s past that is presented in the mainstream, while Black voices have been left out or downplayed. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, but he wasn’t assassinated simply because he wanted Black and white people to live together in harmony. Hank Aaron was a baseball legend, but let’s just not talk about his records, but also the racism and hardship he faced as he broke them.
So when critics of the 1619 (the year African slaves arrived to the Colony of Virginia) Project say it is inaccurate and promotes divisiveness, they are mistaken. It tells the truth — and not what people want the truth to be. It is an uncomfortable truth that refuses to erase the experience of a whole race of people, but it is the story of this country.
In an ideal world, Black history would be a full part of American history. Some African Americans have written on social media that they don’t celebrate Black History month in February because they live it all year long. In concept, that is 1,000% the truth. African Americans built this country, and we are its history. Of course, we should be acknowledged every day of the year. In reality, that story isn’t told in all parts of the country and in all history books. Or when it is told, it doesn’t resonate.
We need Black History Month. The country is not at a place where it shouldn’t exist. I embrace it and celebrate it as we all should. I discover unsung heroes, support Black businesses and celebrate our achievements. I don’t take it for granted, because some people, like a few parents in Utah, would be happy if we didn’t acknowledge Black history at all.
Andrea K. McDaniels is The Sun’s deputy editorial page editor. Please send her ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Twitter address is @ankwalker.