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By Tanesha Peeples, Deputy Director of Outreach for Education Post
I swear I wasn’t trying to end Black History Month with white people and skinfolk that ain’t kinfolk foolery but …
Yesterday my homie, Dr. Charles Cole III, tagged me in a tweet with a screenshot of a proposed resolution by the Stockton, California school district to proclaim February 2021 as “Indigenous History Month”.
Now I don’t know about y’all but as long as I’ve been alive, February has always been Black History Month. And for those who don’t know, America didn’t just give us a Black History Month because it loves the hell out of us and thought we should have some time in the year commemorating and teaching our history … oh, absolutely not! It was Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History that kicked it off in 1926 with announcing the second week of the month as “Negro History Week.” And when it became a more widespread and month-long celebration, President Gerald Ford made it official in 1976.
IT’S AN EXAMPLE OF THE CONTINUED DISRESPECT, WATERING DOWN AND ERASURE OF BLACK HISTORY IN EDUCATION.
So when I saw this screenshot, I immediately got irritated. Not because I’m against the celebration and representation of all indigenous people but because it’s an example of the continued disrespect, watering down and erasure of Black history in education.
This resolution was not passed, but the fact that this was even considered and proposed for February is still an ashy, heavy-handed slap to the face—hell, as I’ve said before, it’s added pressure from the knee that’s been on the neck of public education.
Stuff like this makes me keep asking myself and others why we—Black people—continue to entrust this raggedy, hateful and oppressive system with our most prized possessions? Because time and time again, we’ve proven that we are capable of doing this education and building strong communities thing ourselves—and, might I add, we do a damn good job at it.
There’s a blueprint for success that exists in our history, y’all. On one of our episodes of Talk Dat Real Shit, we dove into the significance of HBCUs to Black communities as esteemed centers of higher learning, as well as breeding grounds for liberation movements and self-determination. We built these institutions because we had to and they have not only transformed our educational experiences but also our lives.
In this pandemic, many Black families are struggling and have had to figure out how to make a way out of no way. Parents have had to make decisions around quitting their jobs to stay home and support their kids in distance learning or continue to work, leave their kids at home unsupervised but risk being criminalized and penalized by the system that backed them into this corner.
Also, I’m pretty damn sure that the lack of meaningful engagement in remote learning, the absence of socialization that’s a benefit of being in school and overall, the environmental factors that come with living in low-income communities have contributed to trauma and an increase in crime involving school-aged youth.
And through all of this, Black families remain political pawns in this everlasting power struggle between school districts and teachers unions in the decision to reopen schools.
But our community has and continues to pull it together in these dark and desperate times.
Because school districts still aren’t giving our kids what they need, organizations like Serve Your City and The Oakland REACH have stepped up to deliver hot spots, laptops, learning hubs and pods, activities to keep youth engaged and mutual aid for families–all while continuing to advocate and activate for relief and reparations from the government.
This is the work we’ve always done. This is the work we need right now.
So here’s the point I’m trying to make. The gatekeepers to white supremacy are going to continue to stand guard in protecting their racism and privilege while launching attacks on our history and existence. And while we’re fighting that battle, we’re losing the people fighting for.
Going forward, we need not devote all of our time and energy to what this country hasn’t given or what it isn’t doing for us because our communities are suffering and need us in this moment. We have to dedicate more effort to strategizing around how we can better do for ourselves.
We’ve built strong and self-sustaining communities before and we can have those again. It’s in the history this country keeps trying to suppress and erase, it’s in the power derived from our ancestors and it’s in the self-determination born in struggle and brilliance. We gotta tap in now.
An original version of this article was published at Education Post.