February is Black History Month, even though we as Black folks experience our history every day. Yet, Across America, white conservatives — including governors who want to be president — are using the critical race theory controversy as camouflage to promote a false narrative of white history and minimize Black history.
Could it be that with the growing population of people of color in America, this campaign against everything except a white worldview of history is not just a ploy to avoid guilt or shame but a strategy to demean and disempower people of color as they grow in number?
As early as the 1920s, Carter G. Woodson, recognized by many as the “Father of Black History,” stressed the importance of filing the glaring hole in the United States’ educational system. When you read his words, Woodson spoke truth to power in his book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro.”
“The present system under the control of the whites trains the Negro to be white and at the same time convinces him of the impropriety or the impossibility of his becoming white…the Negros will have no outlet but to go down a blind alley, if the sort of education which they are now receiving is to enable them to find the way out of their present difficulties.”
“If you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race. Such an effort would upset the program of the oppressor in Africa and America.
As I read more quotes from Woodson’s book, I reflected on my own life journey. My dad was a World War II veteran confronted with racism but who cashed in on the benefits from a GI-funded education at Prairie View A&M University. He met my mom in college. They married after graduation and began their life as educators in the Goose Creek School District in Baytown, Texas, just east of Houston.
As the oldest of three children growing up in Baytown, I saw the struggles of my parents in a system that was allegedly equal but was, in reality, fundamentally unjust and unequal. When the integration of schools came along, I was selected as one of a handful of students to integrate Highlands Junior High. That first year was a hard test for me and my parents as my mom gained a reputation as a Black woman who did not take stuff from anyone. When it came to treating me fairly, that school and those teachers learned you’d better not mess with her child.
In our public school system back then —as is still the case in some school districts across the United States — there was almost no Black history taught except for mentions of George Washington Carver or Frederick Douglass.
When I got to college at North Texas State University, I joined the student movement in protest of no African American Studies on campus, which led me to join the Black Panther Party, where I headed the Breakfast Program and Liberation School for the Dreamland Project kids. There, I witnessed Black children blossom like flowers absorbing sunlight. I saw that learning Black history builds self-pride and self-esteem, which equates to self-confidence and self-worth.
Granted, we should continue the fight to educate our white colleagues and their children about the true history of this nation, but our top priority should be to educate Black children and build them up. It starts with us — parents, other concerned citizens, and institutions — creating programs to empower our children with our Black history. Woodson’s words of wisdom reinforce this point:
“Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educators: ‘that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds, the latter is by far the more desirable. Indeed, all that is most worthy in the man he must work out and conquer for himself. It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.”
We can’t wait for white politicians to give the green light to critical race theory, or to teaching the truth about who Black people are and how we built — and continue to build — this country.
Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah Jiles is CEO of the Houston Defender Network.