Saturday, February 13, 2010

Token Black Historical Figures?

Typically when Black History Month rolls around, it's suddenly time for schoolchildren across America to learn about the civil rights movement through the stories of larger-than-life people like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. Despite the undeniable importance of these three figures, don't they act as America's token black historical figures?

The majority of history courses in America don't spend significant time acknowledging the African American perspective, or African history, but instead approach history from the European/"discoverer" perspective. In World History freshman year, I recall the textbook having more pages on Greek civilization than the entire African country continent.

While focusing on figures like MLK, Tubman, and Parks may seem to Americans to be a sufficient way to replace/make up for the lack of African American perspective in education, focusing on figures that are few-in-number but grand-in-persona makes it seem more like they’re exceptions to most of African American history rather than integral pieces of it. Almost as fast as these African Americans pop up in history courses, most traces of African Americans in American history disappear.

In the past, what has learning about African/African-American history been like for you? What aspects of African-American history should be incorporated more in to American education, if at all? What sort of picture does Black History Month paint about the nature of African-American history?

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