Opinion: We need Black history to understand the present

Teachers+and+organizations+decorated+the+halls+with+information+on+Black+history+for+the+month+of+February.

Photo by Kai Fernando

Teachers and organizations decorated the halls with information on Black history for the month of February.

 

“Slavery ended a long time ago. Why are we still focusing on race and creating more division?” This is a common misconception that arises during any discussion of racial reconciliation, equity or accountability. While the Civil War ended slavery centuries ago, the oppression of Black people and systemic racism did not stop there. 

Since then, Black people have faced issues such as black codes, Jim Crow, the Klu Klux Klan, redlining, the crack epidemic, police brutality, underperforming schools and food deserts. The fact that many people do not understand why we are still talking about race is evidence we need more accessible education about Black history in America.

As many of my friends’ only Black friend, I have been told every hurtful and problematic stereotype imaginable that parents of all races tell their kids. “Black people are just lazy — that’s why they’re so behind” and “Violence is just a part of their culture — avoid them.” In reality, jealousy-driven lynchings of successful Black people and burnings of successful Black businesses took a toll on Black ambition and forced people into poverty and crime. 

In actuality, any violence enacted by people of African descent does not come close to the conquering, raping and pillaging enacted by people of European descent throughout history. I would prefer that people be educated on the whole history of Black people in the U.S. so that they do not fall prey to ignorant and incomplete stereotypes. 

From a young age, I have had discussions and watched movies about Black history with my family, and not just during February. This education was crucial for me to understand Black peoples’ “lower” economic and professional status was not due to innate inferiority, but systemic oppression through history. As I grew older, I realized the depth of some of my peers’ ignorance on Black history, but I do not begrudge them for it. I do not hold the expectation, or even hope, that parents of all colors will educate their children on Black history as extensively as mine did. 

Consequently, we should create a society with ample opportunities for educating oneself. Not all reminders of the Confederacy that litter the South should be dismantled, especially since knowledge of Black history is at risk as we become an increasingly diverse country that is further away from past eras. Walking by a statue and Google searching a Confederate general is one opportunity for people to regain the knowledge their parents and schools failed to give them and better understand the brunt of the oppression African-Americans faced in this country.

It is hard to remember the worst of Black history, but it is easy to forget it. Black history matters because everyone should know the trials African-Americans have faced in this country, so we can all dedicate ourselves to a better future.