A few days ago, I watched the music video Black Gold, performed by two extremely gifted artists – Esperanza Spalding and Algebra Blessett.
The video begins with a father and his two young sons discussing what the boys learned that day in school as they walk home. The boys tell their father that their world history class had learned Africa’s entire history in a single day. Their father voices his surprise that only one day would be devoted to teaching his sons about an entire continent that boasts a rich, complex history spanning thousands of years.
As the boys hunched their shoulders and summarized what they learned about the continent’s history – i.e. 86 countries in Africa; pharaohs in Egypt; slaves taken from West Africa – their father, visibly unimpressed, asked if they knew about Africa’s kings and queens from the world’s earliest democratic societies, or about the diversity of languages and religions that remain in Africa today. Sadly, the boys had not. The father’s solution: to teach his boys about their heritage himself.
This video is a poignant reminder that a few days set aside in a world history class, or a month to acknowledge the history of Africa and its descendants is not nearly enough time to educate a nation about how a continent helped shape the world as we currently know it. In the U.S., both federal and state lawmakers influencing education policy should continue working with the African diaspora community to include the works of African-American historians – such as Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Dr. John Hope Franklin, and the many who have built on the foundation of their work – into mainstream courses for students of all ages.
Like the father in the video, my parents and other members of my community filled in the many gaps left by school when it came to learning about my cultural ancestry. Had they not, my knowledge of U.S. black history would have been limited to the woes of slavery and Jim Crow, and the 20th century fight for equal access and fair consideration. I would not know about the black innovators who invented everyday essentials like the traffic light, vacuum cleaner, iron and oven range. Nor would I have any idea how the successful Haitian slave revolt against Napoleon and his army led to the Louisiana Purchase.
My knowledge of ancestral contributions to the progress of human civilization has given me strength against the ignorance of those who have failed to challenge historians, religious and political leaders who declare African inferiority as truth. The village that raised me ensured the tools needed to educate those who thought less of me because of how I looked. Unfortunately, many children and adults of African descent in the U.S. have not been so fortunate.
A father educating his son about Africa’s contributions to world history reminded me that what we currently call "black history" is really world history. Until people make this connection, ignorance and discrimination will continue to persist.
Photo Credit: U.S. Army