“That Black History stuff is just going to make Black people mad.” Both Whites and Blacks made variations of this expression to me many years ago. At the time, I could not really explain the fatal flaw in their reasoning. I can now because I know how Black History made me love, not hate. I know how Black History made me peaceful, not mad.
When I was a child, I was always angry, always overreacting, and always being mean. I did not understand my meanness at the time. I did not know that I was really angry with myself. Even when I came to this realization, I did not understand why I was so angry with myself. Black History helped me to understand myself, Black people and all people. Black History made me love, not hate. Black History made me peaceful, not mad.
Some Whites are very afraid of Black History. So are many Blacks. They see Black History as focusing on what White people did to Black people. I understand this common but misguided thinking. Taking a people by brutal force from their homes, their families, their villages, their tribes, and their continent was indeed terrible. Taking a people packed in cargo holds of ships through the Middle Passage was indeed terrible. Placing Black people in the most dehumanizing slavery known to humankind was indeed terrible. Taking every element of identity – name, family, history, religion, language, ownership, etc. – was indeed terrible. Segregation enforced by laws, lynching and state-sanctioned terrorism was indeed terrible. But I learned that Black history commenced thousands of years before American slavery. Black History helped me to love myself, Black people and all people.
My love for myself grew when I understood not only what was done to Black people but what Black people did to overcome. Black History places the focus on Black people’s actions, not others people’s actions. I learned that Black history, and indeed all history, is ultimately about overcoming. Black History helped me to love myself, love Black people and love all people.
Don’t get me wrong. All that was done to Black people did make Black people mad. However, this anger was too often directed at Black people. Many Whites fear the opposite, but they do not understand. They cannot understand. Brutal oppression often makes those who have been beaten down turn on themselves and each other. Black History helped me to understand Black people and helped me to love myself, love Black people and love all people.
When I learned the myriad of ways Black people resisted slavery, I was proud. When I learned that Black people fought in the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, I was proud. When I learned that 200,000 Black soldiers fought for freedom during the Civil War with 40,000 dying, I was proud. I was proud when I learned that so many Black people freed themselves by flight of foot, not just by presidential proclamations. There was so much more that made me proud. Black History helped me to love myself, Black people and all people.
It is very hard to achieve when we hate ourselves. Everything in us turns on us, weighing us down. Then it turns on those closest to us, weighing them down. Then it spreads abroad. Hate of self produces hate of others, weighing all down. Love of self produces love of others, lifting all. Black History helped me to love and lift myself, love and lift Black people, love and lift all people.
I realized that at an earlier time in my life, I unconsciously felt inferior. I unconsciously felt that Black people were inferior. When I understood that all that Black people had overcome, I was no longer saddled with such feelings. I appreciated the dimensions of every accomplishment. I appreciated that no other people were brought to this country in chains, declared subhuman for centuries, and yet continue to overcome. Black History made me love and lift myself, love and lift Black people, love and lift all people.
I appreciate the critical role my family played in any success that I may have achieved. I am very thankful. But I was mean and hateful even with all my family contributions. I needed more. Black History helped me to understand why I felt the way I did. It also helped me to understand the myriad of obstacles facing Black people. Black history helped me to overcome whatever came my way. Black History helped me to love and lift myself, love and lift Black people, love and lift all people.
If I could give just one gift to every Black child in these United States of America, I would infuse Black History in their lives. I don’t mean a Black History course. I don’t mean a list of Black History facts. I mean Black History infused throughout everyday learning activities. I wish that everyone could understand how Black History helped me love and lift myself, love and lift Black people, love and lift all people. I wish everyone could understand how Black History can lift millions more.
EPILOGUE – Some things impact us profoundly, but we cannot begin to understand. Some of these things happen to us, and we recognize them. Some are things that did not happen to us, and we don’t recognize the absence. Black History is an absence with profound consequences that most of us don’t even recognize.