Use Our History To Understand Today

February is annually dedicated to Black History Month so we can take time to celebrate and commemorate the great achievements of African Americans. But it is also a time to reflect on what Black History actually means in the United States. We need to take a longitudinal view of where we began and where we are today to unravel the systematic oppression we still see even after the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation- all which distract from the reality of racist systems which still exist.

We as people believe our truths and lived experiences above all. We use our senses to understand the world around us and to make conclusions about people, places, etc. We then generalize our experiences to create a “cheat sheet” of sorts, so when we have similar experiences we can automatically understand the situation. We are naturally wired to work this way.

However, this natural wiring of our brain becomes dangerous in the lense of society and human relationships today because our generalizations are absent of deeper context. I am going to specifically discuss how this is harmful towards the African American community in education.

The United States of America was founded on structures and principles of oppression towards African Americans because they were used as property. As time went on, we realized the moral atrocity and decided this could be no more, so the Emancipation Proclamation was written into law. However, after the emancipation of slaves, there was still segregation and violence which was lawfully unprotected. The Civil Rights Movement effectively called for change. Desegregation occurred and it seemed racism was eventually going to subside because it was the modern way to be.

But what happened in education after desegregation? Almost every black school/ educator was wiped out. African American students were bussed to white schools, in white neighborhoods, with white teachers. Their community and culture in education was stripped from them within the blink of an eye. Today we see practically no black teachers in education or school administration nationwide, and students of color are disproportionately suspended compared to their white counterparts.

If you go by your “today” lived experience, what do you see? A lot of behavior challenges, lack of attendance, and insubordination. Educators blame the parents or home life. They build resentment towards having to deal with these types of behaviors and label them as “bad”. White educators generalize African Americans as a whole are simply too disinterested to be a productive part of education.

Now what happens to your perception when you factor in the historical obstacles, and how this country has structurally stripped black communities continuously of their opportunities in education time and again without apology? Do we still blame, or do we begin to understand how our country today is not much different than it was pre-civil rights? I hope you go with the latter and take a look inwards to understand what is happening around you. Lean in to the work of building equity in our education systems, our future truly depends on it.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”                      —Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bailee Bennett-Andrade
Social Media Manager, Epoch Education