Getting Beyond Black History Month

black history month

It’s no secret that every February, Black History Month forces many educators scramble to develop curriculum that celebrates the contributions of African-Americans. However, we must take a step back in order to leap forward and ensure that these valuable legacies are celebrated all year round.

We must reflect upon our current practices. Focusing on African-Americans primarily during the month of February contributes to the marginalization of people of African descent. Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week in 1925 as a starting point, knowing how racist the nation was at the time.

If we are developing curriculum that reflects the perspectives and contributions of all Americans, all the time, there would be no need for acknowledgement months. African-American achievements, struggles, and perspectives, must be weaved into the fabric of the curriculum all year round and in every subject because they are important and represent American history.

Here are four tips to continue this effort:

Recognize the benefit of culturally relevant pedagogy. In order teach effectively and prepare students for a multicultural society, educators must teach in a more holistic, inclusive and integrated manner. Research shows that students can benefit significantly from learning about other cultures and from seeing their own complex cultures reflected throughout the curriculum.

Expand knowledge. Many educators use the excuse that they can’t teach much about African-Americans because there aren’t many African-Americans represented in certain disciplines. In just about all cases, this is false information. It’s impossible to teach what you don’t know. Just because you don’t know about the contributions of a certain group doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Understand that we were taught within the same Eurocentric confines that many of us replicate in our teaching. Educators must unlearn much of what we’ve been taught, exhibit some intellectual humility to admit what we don’t know and be willing to engage in rigorous and sustained study of African-American culture, especially through the lens of the specific disciplines being taught. Do your due diligence and begin building the curriculum based on developed knowledge not limiting assumptions.

Focus on social reconstruction. Since we are aware that American education has been constructed from a dominant WASP narrative, we must deftly reconstruct that narrative. Educators must consciously insert texts and perspectives that produce the type of global citizens, inquiry and equity we want to see, instead of following the same monocultural script which devalues and ignores cultural variation and social complexity.

Check implicit bias to improve cultural competency. When a parent at a selective high school asked the chair of the English department why there weren’t more texts from authors of color assigned, she responded, “We are trying to prepare students to do well on the ACT.” This faulty logic suggests that texts by authors of color can’t be rigorous or valuable. This is dangerous thinking and promotes ethnocentrism, seeing certain groups as superior and as the only standard of excellence. If we are serious about diversity, inclusion, anti-racism, and constructing more accurate accounts of the American experience, we must move beyond this mentality to evolve our institutions, students and society.

Tina Fakhrid Deen headshot

Tina Fakhrid-Deen is a freelance writer, consultant and professor at Oakton Community College whose writing and research interests include critical race and feminist theory, urban education, youth development, and human relationships. She is the author of Let’s Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents. Her public writing and cultural commentary have been featured in diverse media outlets and publications including The Root, NPR: Eight-Forty-Eight, News One, The Dr. Laura Berman Show on Oprah Radio, Not-for-Tourists, and Pearson Scott Foresman.