Too often I encounter people of all races, including native Africans and African-Americans, with very limited knowledge about Africa and very negative perceptions of African-Americans. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who instilled in me the value of Black History. I learned about many Black inventors, pioneers, historians, scientists, and all of their invaluable contributions to American society. Later, I had the opportunity to attend Howard University, one of the most prestigious historically Black colleges in America, to learn extensive lessons about Black history in several courses which centered on African-American Studies. The information that I learned in those courses was truly empowering and has motivated me to excel at everything I do and to also give back to my community. However, what about the many students who aren’t as fortunate, who have no one in their lives or in their communities who appreciate being Black in America, who are proud of being of African descent? Where will these children get their empowering education about who they are and from where their ancestors come?
I believe every child should at least be presented with the choice to take an African-American Studies course. Also, every school, private, charter, or public school, should offer an African-American studies course so that students who aren’t African American can learn about and better appreciate the contributions of African-Americans. I can’t express how disappointing it is to observe non-Black adults treating Black people with such disrespect, because they know anything about African-Americans and what they’ve contributed to America and to the world. Still today, in the 21st century, so many White Americans have so few encounters and positive relationships with Black Americans. At least in an African-American Studies course, people might learn about phenomenal African-Americans who have contributed so much towards the advancement and the ideals of America.
As far as what should be taught in an African-American Studies course, lessons should definitely reveal the complexities of slavery, but an emphasis should be placed on the victors of Africa (e.g., the Kings and the Queens of Africa), and not just the victims of Africa (e.g., the servants and the slaves from Africa). Not enough is being taught about what African people contribute to world. And too much attention is on criminalizing Black people and portraying Africans and African-Americans as poor, underdeveloped, and dependent. It is no wonder then that people, not even Black people, want to be associated with Africa. And interestingly enough, most public high schools require students to take at least two foreign language courses. And yet these same students who are learning French and Spanish in local high schools can’t identify one country in Africa or one African language. This makes no sense to someone who understands that people who know nothing about themselves cannot possibly maximize their potentials. Every group of people who has ever done great things in the world knew their worth, loved who they are, and had strong ties to their heritages. Is it too far-fetched to think that Black people might need the same?
For too long, African and African-American history has been distilled into two topics: Slavery and Civil Rights. Let us demand what all children deserve: a more diverse, expansive and rich cultural education that informs everyone about the contributions of African people.