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OPINION | By Nehemiah D. Frank
As an African American, Independence Day will forever persist perpetually in my mind as the half-truth history lesson that I received during my primary and secondary educational years.
I remember sitting in my high school history class, watching my white classmates smile proudly around me upon reading about the Patriots’ victory in their textbooks.
Their ancestors had won the war against the British, but my teacher never braved the courage to explain the story of my people, that woebegone chronicle of the half million enslaved Africans that were forcefully building the Patriots’ greatest dream called America. Somehow that account of legalized chattel slavery was either conveniently considered insignificant or controversially deemed unsuitable for class curriculum or discussion.
I felt marginalized. And yet, the term “marginalization” was a vocabulary word and concept unfamiliar to me. I was invisible, too afraid to speak up for fear of appearing ignorant.
The burden of being one of only two African American students — amid a sea of white, privileged, suburban kids — could not be more self-evident in that classroom. I was in their world, and inquiring about black history at that very moment would have placed a damper on my classmates’ seemingly happy mood. February was still four long months away.
My high school history teacher did a disservice to her students, but I didn’t realize this until years later. And while she had the opportunity back then to teach her students about injustice and how to empathize with the black experience, she failed to humanize me and every other black student in her classroom.
The thing is, many white Americans will miss our perspective, the African American’s point of view. Although it may not have been my teacher’s intention, she made me feel inferior because I could not happily relate to the Patriots’ victory as my white classmates did. For me, the Patriots’ victory meant a continued hellish nightmare — another century of legalized slavery, human trafficking, and all that comes with being owned as property. That was my takeaway, and no one ever asked how I felt.
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To be frank, it was the first reality check I received as a student of color, and the first time I’d be academically disenfranchised. Moreover, for fear of being reprimanded and having my participation grade tampered, I dug deep. I seemingly tried burying my emotions, and so I smiled. I pretended to be proud. I danced with cognitive dissonance. After all, I was still an American, right? But beneath the surface, bewilderment drowned my virgin spirit.
Back then, I had so many questions. I’m sure at least one of my white classmates had additional questions, too. But when you are a single black rose amid the sea of millions of white roses, you’re far too often overlooked. You are consciously aware that you are the problematic thread they cut from the black sheep. You are dipped and dyed as the color red and forcibly threaded into the fabric of American patriotism. Given this, you succumb to the social pressures that you receive from the dominant culture. You wrestle with and suppress your own virtue. You subconsciously internalize and elope with hegemony.
As a teacher, I pledge to teach my students the whole truth about America’s Independence Day. I live for the era that Emancipation Day and Juneteenth are just as revered as Independence Day. Perhaps one day they’ll receive the same amount of academic attention.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a political science degree from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018.