How Important is it to Teach Black History at Home?
I can remember it like it was yesterday. There I sat in my high school Latin class, the only brown face in the classroom. Not only did I look different, but I spoke differently too. On this day, for some reason, I had to say the word salmon. ‘Sal-mon’ I said. I pronounced each syllable and letter, giving voice to the first syllable as if it was a man’s first name. The class snickered. Even the teacher had a hint of a smile. The class’ eyes seem to zoom in on me. Horrified, I looked around. What did I say wrong? “It’s salmon. The ‘l’ is silent.” The teacher let me know gently. I sat still in my seat, my body on fire, my mind moved with rapid thoughts of self-doubt. Oh no! Do they now think I am not smart? Do they think Black people are not smart? Would they now forget all about my hard work, scoring well on tests and quizzes, answering questions right in class? My perceived humiliation that day was brief, but pungent. How could mispronouncing a word cause so much stress? It’s the impending consequence of someone thinking you’re inferior. As far as I saw it the stakes were high. To me a mistake in front of this class, or any that looked like it, could haunt me later. After being told at home or in the Black community that as a Black child you have to work twice as hard, and be extra prepared I didn't want to give someone just cause to believe I belonged in the intelligently inferior category. I thought about this incident last week. My oldest came home and reported that she needed tutoring. Her teacher had gone over a study guide and although my oldest had a question she did not ask. “It’s honors…you don’t ask questions! Everybody knows that.” She explained with exasperation. My look of complete bafflement didn't stop her from seeing that she made absolutely no sense. “With all those white people looking at me in class. Ah, uh!” My oldest experience no doubt resonated with me. My response to such experiences: Positive Youth Development (PYD). It’s exactly what my parents (and African American parents in general) did for me and my sister. I do this by first encouraging my oldest to ask a question if necessary – because her voice deserves to be heard. Then, second as her mama I also take the standing on many others shoulders approach. Through racial and cultural socialization we promote positive youth development by showcasing successful African Americans that have had the same experiences and thrived. As often as possible we try to include lessons about role models that embody leadership, character, and civic engagement. In addition research has shown that parents’ positive messages about race and ethnicity:
- can have important direct and moderating effects on grades and overall academic outcomes.
- have been associated with greater classroom and school engagement.
- promote positive mental health outcomes when coupled with preparation for encountering bias.