I read a news report recently about a charter school in Utah where parents were given the option to “opt out” of Black History Month curricula. Apparently, some families asked that their children not have to learn about Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. The school’s director issued a statement that he “reluctantly” decided to allow families to “exercise their civil rights to not participate in Black History Month at the school.”
That decision was changed quickly and the director sent an email telling parents that “no families are opting out of our planned activities.” I have been thinking about that school for two days now, trying to imagine the parents who wrote letters demanding that their children not be forced to learn about Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.
I know nothing about these parents or their children, but I think it’s safe to assume they are not black. I have been trying to imagine being so fragile that, even when your kids are at a school that is 70% white and that focuses on white history for eleven months out of the year, hearing about Maya Angelou and James Baldwin is simply too much.
You know that Black History Month was supposed to be temporary, right? The eminent historian Carter G. Woodson came up with the idea of Negro History Week in 1926. “What we need,” Woodson said, “Is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.”
Setting aside a week, and later a month, to focus on the achievements and contributions of Black Americans was meant to be a temporary fix. It was meant to bring attention to this intentionally ignored history until the curricula was changed to include it, and the history books were re-written.
Instead, it’s been nearly a hundred years since Woodson first suggested that kids be taught about Black history for one week out of 52. Yet, somehow we still need to set aside time every year because textbook publishers and school administrators feel it’s too soon to make room for Gordon Parks in July or Rosa Parks in November.
It’s too soon! We’re not ready! 100 years is not enough time to put Black people in the books and the documentaries!